“Alarmist” Covid predictions outperform Covid deniers’ soothsaying

“HOLY MOTHER OF GOD—the new coronavirus is a 3.8!!!”

tweeted Harvard-affiliated public-health researcher Eric Feigl-Ding in January 2020.

“How bad is that reproductive R0 value? It is thermonuclear pandemic level bad—never seen an actual virality coefficient outside of Twitter in my entire career. I’m not exaggerating.”

The tweet catapulted Feigl-Ding to public prominence. It also led to a backlash; for instance, Ferris Jabr posted a Twitter thread including,

“The claim that “we are now faced with the most virulent virus epidemic the world has ever seen” and that the new coronavirus is 8x as infectious as SARS is completely untrue. Even if the R0 were 3.8 that would be nowhere near a record.”

Ferris Jabr, science writer

This thread was picked up by the Atlantic, in an article critical of Feigl-Ding, who deleted his tweet after it transpired the R number was somewhat lower:

How to Misinform Yourself About the Coronavirus

And yet, the coronavirus later called Covid indeed resulted in a pandemic akin to thermonuclear level bad. And Feigl-Ding has since become a major tweeter on the pandemic, still with warnings that have often proven correct.

Some disease experts were quick to criticise Feigl-Ding. Marc Lipsitch reportedly dubbed him a “charlatan”, yet for all his supposed expertise, in January 2020 Lipsitch was muted about the new coronavirus:

“I think it’s too early to tell whether it’s going to be SARS-like or milder or far more sustained”

I followed Lipsitch for a while on twitter, and found him more concerned about criticising Feigl-Ding than warning of the looming pandemic. Seemed to me Feigl-Ding had upset him with his chutzpah, arriving with a Bang! in a field that had been a rather cozy zone with more refined folk inhabiting ivory towers. What respect did this interloper have for the big fish in the small pond?!

On tweeted Feigl-Ding, as Covid surged around the world.

Yet throughout, there remained huge appeal in downplaying Covid.

Based on current trends, probably close to zero new cases in US too by end of April

Elon Musk, 20 March 2020

Several prominent non-experts were among those making predictions that proved completely wrong, as in the above tweet.

It will go away

Donald Trump

President Trump made so many wrong predictions, they led to an article with timeline by CNN:

‘It’s going to disappear’: A timeline of Trump’s claims that Covid-19 will vanish

It seems that the disinfo downplaying Covid was – and still is – from rightwing, mainly money-minded folks who perhaps don’t care too much about actual people.

One of the most egregious examples was from libertarian theorist Richard Epstein, who early on produced a blog post along with a graph forecasting how the coronavirus would peak and decline, with a maximum of 500 deaths in the US. Soon afterwards, as reality showed him wrong, he revised this to figure to 5000; still a pitiful effort. Epstein made the unsubstantiated claim that the virus kills few people; it’s other factors, comorbidities, to blame – a notion that has become popular among the Covid denier community, even with images of bodies piled into mass graves, mass cremations and so forth, with actual medical experts saying it’s Covid that’s responsible, even if other factors influence the likelihood of death.

Of course, we’re all tired of life in the time of Covid: masking, various restrictions, getting vaccinated maybe three times and with more surely to come – all things we could do without.

Hence, peddlers of disinformation remain popular: indicating it’s over or almost over, we’ll soon reach “herd immunity”, it’s milder now , all those restrictions can be done away with… Yet while some business people may carry on profiting, the only overall “winner” in this situation will be Covid, and its evolving variants.

Instead, the fight against Covid should surely be based on reality not wishful thinking, ie on science; and it’s not a simple choice between counter measures like lockdowns – even shutting people into their homes for days on end – or doing nothing. Instead, from my understanding of info from experts whose past predictions have largely proven correct, and are involved in the evolving Covid science, options include a mix of vaccinations, along with ventilation, air filtration, and use of effective facemasks.

Also, it seems best to check info from a range of sources who appear reliable: this is a complex situation, and no one mega brain has all the answers. For me, some to follow on Twitter – which can be excellent for evolving information in “real time”, if you can avoid the crud, are:

https://twitter.com/trishgreenhalgh – inc re airborne|

https://twitter.com/Craig_A_Spencer – on the frontlines

https://twitter.com/dgurdasani1 – science looks good; countering hopium inc folk who have often proved wrong but keep spouting stuff

Ben Cowling – Chair Prof of Epidemiology, The University of Hong Kong

I may add to this list; while on to a little more re Covid disinfo vs reality:

1,200 is More Than 6 – on Science Based Medicine Site, lambasting a notion that shouldn’t worry about Covid in children in the US; where “Since the start of the pandemic, over 1,200 children died of COVID-19, while 6 children died of the flu.”

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