CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Corona, Crisis, and Experts

Apr 20, 2020

The experts and their predictions must be carefully assessed – and questioned if need be:

Much of modern life involves relying on various experts. And much of modern life has to do with making predictions about things, offering projections, making guestimates, extrapolating from the known to the unknown, and so on. We need to do this as best we can to know how to move ahead in so many areas of life. We hope the numbers the experts give us are more or less accurate.

And this can be quite helpful and useful of course. There are plenty of examples of this. If you are a catering business and someone seeks your services, you ask them how many people they expect you will need to cater for. And if a new football stadium is to be built, there are guestimates as to how many people might regularly make use of it.

A book publisher might print 2000 copies of a new book. If it does not sell very well, they are stuck with the surplus stock. If it sells really well, they can always order another printing. So we see ordinary folks making projections and predictions all the time.

Governments and policy advisors usually resort to this as well, although things can be much more serious here – certainly if their predictions are way off. The truth is, often government “experts” can get things very wrong. And when they do get it so wrong, we seldom hear any apologies, mea culpas, or even humble words of ‘OK, this did not quite turn out as we expected it would’.

If those in the private sector got the numbers so very wrong and with such devastating consequences, their heads would roll. They would be looking for a new job pronto. But when governments – and especially entrenched bureaucrats – mess things up so badly, they are basically immune from the consequences.

Why am I reminded of the words of Thomas Sowell? “It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.” Yes, they often pay no price at all, but us peons do – big time.

The truth is, the numbers don’t lie. But people who want to put a spin on things sometimes do. The corona alarmists often play fast and loose with the numbers. Recall that the experts predicted up to 150,000 corona deaths in Australia. Consider this headline from March 16: “Australia prepares for 50,000 to 150,000 coronavirus deaths.”

The article begins:

Up to 150,000 Australians could die from the coronavirus under a worst case scenario, the Morrison government says, as it considers advice on restricting visits to pubs, cinemas and aged care homes. Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said that the number of infections would range between 20 per cent to 60 per cent of the population. He urged the public to comply with social distancing measures such as avoiding large gatherings of 500 or more people.
www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/australia-prepares-for-50-000-to-150-000-coronavirus-deaths-20200316-p54amn.html

Hmm, they seem to have gotten that one a bit wrong! I must once again quote from a distinguished Australian law professor and what he has had to say about experts:

First of all, good leaders do not hide behind a few medical “experts”. An expert is only an expert in one field and this current crisis is not solely a medical issue. It therefore requires a holistic approach and the balancing of multiple considerations. These medical advisers to the Morrison government have no holistic understanding of the problem. They have no expertise in the other relevant fields of sociology, economics and constitutional law. Besides, there are a number of medical practitioners who strongly oppose these draconian measures on solely health grounds. For instance, a rural GP has recently explained:

“The government should open up the economy for people under 65 to get back to socialising and working and those of us who are older to play it safe with continued social distancing and voluntary isolation. It appears our medical system will be able to cope with the much lower rates of hospitalisation and mortality becoming evident from the available data especially if we continue to protect the elderly. What can’t be coped with is the social and economic cost of this.” billmuehlenberg.com/2020/04/16/lies-damned-lies-and-corona-statistics/

Let me at this point slightly digress and say this: I know full well why so many folks – including so many Christians – will never speak out on the issues that matter. If they do, they know that all hell will break loose, and countless critics will come out of the woodwork, fully on the attack. They will blast you for anything you dare to say on these issues.

With over 40 corona articles now on my site, and so many social media posts on this, I know all about how the critics will go on the attack. If you dare to ask questions of the government, you will be accused of all sorts of things. I would not have thought that it would be necessary to discuss such things, but I guess I do.

Here’s the scoop: It may surprise some folks to realise that asking hard, honest questions of the government in this corona crisis and holding it to account is not being treasonous, is not being a conspiracy theorist, is not being unbiblical, and is not being cavalier about human life.

From day one I have said that there is a place for some government intervention here. But it is incumbent on every single person to not just be docile sheep. This entails that we ask questions when necessary, challenging the official narrative at times, and seek to have full transparency. We do know – or should know – from history how a reluctance to do this has worked out in too many countries. It was not a pretty outcome.

But let me get back to the experts, and the current state of play concerning the reality of this crisis. It is interesting that so many corona alarmists run with whatever these ‘expert’ bodies say, treating it as gospel, be it the UN, or WHO, or the CDC. If that is the case, maybe they will pay attention to what the UN has just said about the economic fallout of this crisis:

“Hundreds of thousands of children could die this year due to the global economic downturn sparked by the coronavirus pandemic and tens of millions more could fall into extreme poverty as a result of the crisis, the United Nations warned on Thursday.” www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-children-un/u-n-warns-economic-downturn-could-kill-hundreds-of-thousands-of-children-in-2020-idUSKBN21Y2X7

Hmm, crickets chirping here. That does not seem to fit in with the alarmist narrative that the disease alone is the sole threat and the only one that must be addressed. But as so many of us have been saying all along, the cure can easily become worse than the disease. There are other ramifications to all this.

As two American economists have recently argued, “How Shutting Down the Economy Much Longer Could Kill Tens of Thousands of Americans.” See their piece here: thefederalist.com/2020/03/30/how-shutting-down-the-economy-much-longer-could-kill-tens-of-thousands-of-americans/

As I have said so often now, an economic crash can be equally disastrous. And as I have also said so often now, during the great Depression some 40,000 Americans committed suicide. Guess what? All lives matter. Yes those who die from the virus matter. But so too do those who die from the consequences of draconian and long-lasting lockdowns.

So let me return to the actual numbers here. It really does not seem like we will get to anything close to the 150,000 deaths some of the experts have predicted. And I still keep recalling how one guy actually told me that a million Australians might die from corona!

We have plenty of figures flying all over the place. But we do have some hard numbers here. So far we have had 71 deaths. As such, it seems that corona may be only slightly more fatal than the flu (last year 900 Australians died from the flu). These are the latest numbers:

-6619 confirmed cases
-260 cases per 1 million population
-71 deaths
-3 deaths per 1 million population
-4258 recovered cases

It is sad when anyone dies from a virus like this, but it seems we have lost a bit of perspective here. Yes, things may change. Yes, the numbers may yet again spike. But right now the curve is as flat as a pancake. The only thing that is really alarming is all the hype and catastrophism we find here.

So too are all the angry and emotive reactions you will get if you dare to just calmly discuss the actual numbers, and question whether all the government reactions have been proportional and fully helpful. I for one will keep asking questions. I think we all should. Citizens have every right to hold their governments to account – especially during a time of crisis.

When the figures are all over the place, and so many actual numbers are simply not known at all, then projections end up being little more than guessing. There simply are just far too many unknowns here, too many variables, and the experts themselves keep disagreeing with each other on the numbers. So caution is needed here, or the cure will end up being far worse than the disease, as many other experts are now warning.

Yes we should continue to take sensible precautions. But a national lockdown and the economic devastation it can cause also means lives are being lost. As I have said repeatedly, it is not lives versus the economy, but lives versus lives. The corona alarmists should rally behind all human lives impacted by this – whether by the virus itself or by the draconian statist steps in response to it.

At the moment, here is my take on all this. I am shocked and saddened by three things:
-the virus itself and the dangers it poses to us;
-the ease and speed in which governments can shut down entire nations; and
-the widespread unquestioning acceptance of all this by masses.

All three are a concern, but sometimes I wonder if the last two might be the real problem here. In sum, all projections, based on uncertain numbers, have to be taken with a grain of salt. Yes there is a place for modelling, for predictions, and the like. But we must have some rational and balanced interaction here.

Let me say this to wrap things up: I am obviously not a corona alarmist, so those who are will have to simply differ with me on this. But I will keep asking hard questions, and I will keep holding the government to account. If some folks so dislike that, no one is forcing them to stay here.

And I do tire of having to repeat myself. No one is calling for a total, immediate lifting of all restrictions – we still should be cautious and do sensible things of course. What we ARE saying is the fatality rate for corona appears to be nowhere near as bad as first thought. What we want is a proportional government response, not an overreaction that will possibly cause far more harm than good.

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7 Responses to Corona, Crisis, and Experts

  • Excellent summary Bill. This is far darker and evil than we think.
    The following link has a lot of food for thought and an alternative view on what is happening in our world today.
    https://www.xyz.net.au/the-grand-solar-minimum-plague-famine-tyranny-and-war/

  • How about we open up the golf courses in Victoria like all other States have done. May be trivial (except to golfers) but easy to keep social distancing a good place to start.

  • Funny since at least the 50’s we have had to have “experts” to tell us how to do things, (parenting, routine care, and just about every other aspect of life), things we used to have the innate God given wisdom to know how to do.

  • Hi Bill, excellent points raised. I would like to see some (terrible) statistics on how many suicides have been attempted and accomplished since these measures have been taken. Also, maybe ACOSS will publish some data on how many families have become homeless or fallen below the poverty line since March. And if this is as serious as they claim, please can hospitals/government publish some statistics to show that Covid19 deaths are on top of all the other causes of death (and not just a blanket label given to every death in the last few months)?
    Keep up your good work.
    Regards, Margaret Jaeger

  • David, we could wedge the issue by exercising on the golf course with clubs, but leave the little white round things in the clubhouse.

    There are many activities, that could be opened up, especially if we can cater for the nervous.
    Social distancing and hygiene rules, seem to be the two main provisos.
    Stricter rules, for and around vulnerable people, is a little harder because defining “vulnerable” can be fraught with prejudice especially by those who are “basically immune from the consequences”.
    I am 72 and in very good health, so I do not regard myself as being unquestionably vulnerable.

    Some have suggested that businesses with under 50 employees should resume trading, and restaurants could allow 50% normal capacity. I get the idea, but both of these parameters are arbitrary and guess work. All businesses that can and will operate with social distancing and the hygiene rules should be allowed to open.

    I have also noticed that part of the discussion about social distancing has to do with the period of time people are together and the environment. Outdoors is better than indoors, and then there are many types of “indoors”. When I am out walking, some people have wanted to observe the 1.5m “rule” even though it would have been for only 2 seconds, Businesses that have a lot of movement, eg supermarkets, seemingly, (and I agree) get away with a less strict version of this unless one is waiting in line.

  • I have been surprised by how simple the projections from some of the “experts” have been. Some of them have been little more than exponential extrapolation, but of course the reality is much more complex than that. It seems to me that, with so many people having been exposed to the virus already, many of those without even realizing, that the level of herd immunity may be much higher than anticipated.

    I have heard of many non-experts, e.g. Donald Trump and some Christian leaders, saying they felt there was going to be a turn-around after Easter. That looks to me to be on track.

    When things are this complex you know there is no way even the most talented expert is going to have all the answers. This, of course, is why we all need faith in Jehovah Rapha – our God who heals us. We are a long way from understanding how our immunity works and the evidence we see around us seems to suggest that our fate, fortunately, is not in the hands of “experts”.

  • “eX” – an unknown quantity, “spert” – a drip under pressure. Far too many of these so called wanting their time in the sun. To date, suicide rates for the corresponding period with only last year have doubled, Domestic Violence cases almost so. Figures for last years ‘flu season – 1500++ deaths in AUS, over 70,000 in USA, over 50,000 in UK, 2 million world wide – nowhere near that with covid 19. More died with covid 9 = SARS, yet we didn’t close down countries economies. No, I am not a pessimist, but I am so glad I am at this age in my life – I have seen the best of my country – good education, good health systems, a good social structure when I was a child and teen, respect for others – even for those in authority – and, mostly, financial security – all gone now, I very much doubt I will see even a modicum of recovery.

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