A Few Months of Hindsight

Journalist George Gilder declared the pandemic over in April. Mathematician Isaac Ben-Israel insisted the virus would burn out everywhere 70 days after it began.

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In March, the Los Angeles Times ran a hopeful headline: Why this Nobel laureate predicts a quicker coronavirus recovery: ‘We’re going to be fine’.

The news article reported that Michael Levitt, who won the Nobel for chemistry in 2013, believed our troubles with COVID-19 would be over sooner than many health experts expected. The article told us “the data simply don’t support” a dire scenario involving “months, or even years, of massive social disruption and millions of deaths.” It said Levitt’s prediction that China would quickly overcome the disease had been “remarkably accurate.”

But the article failed to mention that China’s data can’t necessarily be trusted, that the Communist Party often publishes false information. Despite grave concerns that Iranian data is equally suspect, the news article similarly told us Levitt thought Iran’s outbreak was already “past the halfway mark.” He definitely got that wrong. Total coronavirus deaths in Iran numbered 1,812 on the day the news article appeared, but now stand at 18,800. 

Levitt thought the outbreak appeared to be “winding down” in South Korea. At the time that country had 111 deaths. It now has a modest 306. He correctly judged Italian cases to still be “on the upswing.” At the time, 6,000 people had died – about one-sixth the current death toll.

In hindsight, March was a bit early for a Nobel Laureate to assure us “we’re going to be fine.” There were only 378,000 global cases then. The total now is 20.5 million.

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On April 25th, a day in which the deaths of 6,000 people from COVID-19 were recorded (including 2,000 in America), US conservative journalist George Gilder declared the pandemic over. Since then, US deaths have tripled: from 54,000 to 168,000.

They’ve also tripled globally – rising from 203,000 to 746,000.

In India, they’ve increased 46 times: from 1,000 to 46,000.

Gilder cited research by Isaac Ben-Israel, a mathematician and chair of Israel’s Space Agency, who was then loudly insisting lockdowns were unnecessary. The spread of the virus was a matter of simple math, he declared on April 19th. Infections would decline to almost nothing 70 days after they first appeared in any locale, regardless of what governments did or did not do.

Concerning the situation in Israel, he declared: “It turns out that the peak of the virus’ spread has been behind us for about two weeks now, and will probably fade within two more weeks” (bold added).

A month later, on May 20th, Ben-Israel insisted he’d been proven correct. But while deaths have remained low in that country, they’ve more than doubled since he made that declaration (from 279 to 633).

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More significantly, rather than diminishing to zero during the first week of May as Ben-Israel predicted they would, new infections have risen dramatically. The 16,000 Israeli cases recorded as of May 7th have increased five-fold to 87,000 cases.

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Ben-Israel has no medical background. He has not put his own skin on the line by battling infectious diseases in remote, underdeveloped parts of the world – as many epidemiologists do. Yet he thought Israel’s government should make decisions based on his private, unvetted research. Publicly, he trashed the Prime Minister, insisting that the (short-lived) dip in Israeli cases and deaths was proof the PM’s policies had been pointless.

126 days have expired since Ben-Israel first posted his research online – rather longer than 70 days. 5,800 deaths from COVID-19 were recorded globally yesterday.

George Gilder likewise thought US officials should make decisions based on Ben-Israel’s research. The difference between elected officials and armchair quarterbacks is that the former are held accountable at the ballot box. The latter pay no price for being wrong. Ben-Israel won’t lose his job at the Space Agency. George Gilder will continue to express his opinions adamantly.

Perhaps it’s that tone which troubles me the most. How adamant so many people have been. How certain. How sure of themselves. And then a few months go by, and it becomes clear they had no idea what they were talking about.

 

 

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August 12, 2020 at 06:58AM

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