As Covid-19 makes its way across the globe, we have witnessed a truly astounding degree of hysteria. Face masks are in such short supply that there are not enough for doctors; toilet paper has become a scarce commodity in many Western nations; severe restrictions on individual liberties have been imposed by most countries; and we are continually bombarded by the media with the idea that Covid-19 is a most severe illness.
This message has been dinned deeply into the minds of many people. Since cleverness in the 21st century is characterised by uncritical assent to authorities and the broad messages of the media class, this has led people to react as if the Bubonic Plague were on the march again.
Rare indeed is it to find anyone who musters up the intellectual fortitude to question the prevailing narrative. If you should encounter someone who is capable of thinking differently in this day and age, they should be seized upon as if they were gold. Unfortunately, even Christians have singularly failed to live up to the command of St. Paul to be renewed in our minds, and thus exercise independent rational thought that is strong enough to oppose that which is popular and current.
If the exhortation “do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” means anything, surely it means (in part) just this.
Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the great evangelical preacher of the 20th century, in a sermon on this topic observed that he had lived to see a trend whereby experts and authorities had been accorded the properties of a high priest.
“In the old days,” he said, “a patient would see a doctor and the doctor would tell the patient what he thought was wrong. The patient would then make an effort to understand the problem, and the treatment, and would believe himself capable of making up his own mind as to whether he should do as his doctor suggested.”
But, the good doctor opined, he had lived to see a great change take place in society where the patient comes to believe his mind is so much the inferior to that of the doctor that he would meekly accept whatever he is told without expending any effort at all to understand the treatment to which his physician will subject him.
Part of renewing our minds, Lloyd-Jones insisted, is to be determined to think differently from the world around us. To be independent in thought and reason, as guided by the word of God. It is to understand that our God-given brains allow us to critically weigh what we are told, and to critically consider the reliability even of experts and authorities.
This leads me to the sheer nonsense of mortality figures for Corvid-19 that abound.
A reputable Stanford epidemiologist has written a calm rebuttal to the general hysteria, and the mishandling of statistics by journalists (and others) who simply do not understand how to make sense of them.
Professor John Ioannidis says that if we were unable to test for coronavirus, it would be undetectable and unnoticed against the “background noise” of regular influenza. At worst, he says, we might perhaps casually note that flu season was a bit more severe this year than normal but we would not otherwise detect anything out of the ordinary.
He points out that the death rate of the virus has been wildly inflated by journalists who have adapted mortality profiles from cruise ships carrying a disproportionate number of elderly people. These statistics have then been applied to society at large. Other statistics are largely based on the cases presenting at hospitals, which are inevitably the most severe. To date, none of the statistical calculations grapples with the fact that there is an unknown number of very mild or asymptomatic cases.
Given this, how the heck can anyone develop a meaningful mortality profile without knowing the sum of cases in existence? It defies fundamental mathematics.
The professor estimates the average mortality rate at around 1% – consistent with increasing evidence across jurisdictions – and possibly as low as 0.5%. Essentially a bad cold, regardless of what a sensationalist and a panicked government might try to suggest.
This entire crisis is manufactured by fear, irrationality, melodrama, and paranoia. It is fuelled by apocalyptic visions of overburdened hospitals and mountains of dead. Even supposedly reputable media outlets have suggested “millions will die”. There has been a welter of the most dire predictions based on selective statistics as if these were predictions. But statistics are not predictions. They merely tell us what has been counted in the past. They are, essentially, historical data sets. Not prophecies.
Then selective manipulation of data does the rest. One of the worst instances of this has been the commentary about Italy.
Remember, as high as the mortality rate in Italy may seem (to use but one example), 3,400 deaths from coronavirus over several months* is dwarfed by the normative death rate from all causes.
In Italy there are 10.6 deaths per 1,000 head of population, which translates to 53,000 deaths per month or 650,000ish per year. Would the country really have noticed an increase in mortality of a two or three thousand more per month distributed over the whole country if nobody knew anything about coronavirus, if nobody could test for it, and if there were not relentless panic and worry from all quarters? Would it have been noticeable if there had been a monthly count of 56,000 deaths instead of 53,000?
Certainly, Italians may have noticed that their chaotic medical system was more chaotic than usual, but this is the side effect of poor administration in a nation with the second oldest population in the world, and not necessarily the disease itself. Disease is often a matter of context. For instance, healthy adults do not typically fear outbreaks of Whooping Cough, but if this disease were to appear in nurseries full of small infants we would quickly need emergency care for many small patients. We might find shortages of necessary equipment and we might witness similar chaotic scenes to those of Italian hospitals, especially if a medical system were mismanaged. That does not inevitably mean that such a disease is so much a threat that we need to grind the economy to dust to stop it.
The problem is, the bombardment of this poor quality information comes from sources people unquestioningly and uncritically believe. Indeed, the average person who flatters themselves as wise these days has been conditioned to believe that not thinking for oneself and simply accepting a version of reality from an authority is actually a sign of intelligence.
*Figure current when this article was originally circulated on social media