- Date published:
7:00 am, April 15th, 2020 - 95 comments
Categories: accountability, covid-19, Ethics, health, science, the praiseworthy and the pitiful - Tags: academics, epidemiology, lockdown, public debate, public health
A couple of weeks ago, an Auckland epidemiologist wrote an opinion piece in which he argued that our lockdown measures were overkill [pardon the pun]. He finished his piece with these memorable words:
We don’t want to squash a flea with a sledgehammer and bring the house down. I believe that other countries, such as Sweden, are steering a more sensible course through this turbulent time.
At the time, I thought it was a controversial opinion but one reasonable well made, with some interesting metaphors, and it would stimulate public debate.
You would expect that with all the new data and information that have become available since a good scientist would incorporate this and sharpen his arguments. It appears he had not and doubled down on his arguments despite the fact that Sweden’s situation has taken a turn for the worse with marked increases in the numbers of both COVID-19 cases and deaths. An earlier version of the second article contained this telling part, which has since been deleted it seems:
If you catch Covid-19 your likelihood of dying is the same as your average likelihood of dying that year anyway. It has been described as squeezing your years [sic] mortality risk into two weeks.
Luckily, I could find it on Scoop 😉
Patients with (late stage advanced) cancer, for example, spend literally fortunes on drugs that could prolong their lives by a few months and potentially even cure them – some of those horrendously expensive treatments are subsidised by the Taxpayer (PHARMAC). Not many people would choose to squeeze their life, not matter how short it might be, into two weeks and speed up the inevitable. It sounds like a misguided argument in favour of one the referendums (referenda) scheduled for 19 September.
The epidemiologist has been joined by a few fellow academics. Academics should not shy away from academic debate. They also have a duty to engage in public debate. In both cases, however, they should not just wave their arms around but they should present the data, their modelling, their interpretations for scrutiny by their academic colleagues and the public. As far as I can tell, they have failed to meet this critical requirement. Which means their opinion is no better or worse than the average pundit’s is.
Thornley said the evidence thus far showed eradication of the virus in New Zealand, the Government’s stated aim, was not necessary.
What evidence? Where is it? Show us!
An even more damning verdict of these academics is their timing of their piss-poor messaging. While the Government and most of the NZ population are doing their best to eliminate the virus, a small and apparently growing minority is breaking the rules and potentially jeopardising the goal of this lockdown. As the lockdown goes on, it will be increasingly harder to avoid and resist complacency. In my view, the poor handling of the counter-opinion of these academics makes it more difficult to stay in lockdown and transition in a well-controlled manner into Alert Level 3 or 2 even. In other words, their spray & walkaway approach that runs counter to all Government messaging, which is informed by scientific evidence and data sharing with input from a range of experts such as the Technical Advisory Group, is bordering on being irresponsible. This is not a good way to engage in public debate on a matter of life and death.
In the interest of the public health of all New Zealanders, these academics must present their data and modelling and they must better control their messaging and consider the potential consequences and impact of their seemingly naive press release. If they have a case to be made, perhaps they should front at the Epidemic Response Committee. If they truly believe they have a genuine point then put up or shut up.
Addendum: Thanks to a blog that showed up later in this site’s Feeds section, it appears the academics mentioned in this Post have set up a dedicated website: http://www.covidplanb.co.nz/
There’s an awful lot of stuff on their website including the media release that triggered this Post. It is a pity that none of the MSM sources that I could find had bothered to link to the academics’ website.
Given that other scientists also challenged the academics to show their data and modelling, it is fair to assume that they also were not aware of the existence of that website or could not find what they asked for and/or remained unconvinced of the academics’ arguments. In any case, the fact remains that this is a poorly handled PR exercise and for this reason, I’ve decided to put up this Post regardless, as it might stimulate further constructive discussion.