Post hoc ergo propter hoc is airborne
EVEN though it has been mostly amicable, the circularity of debate here and elsewhere (and everywhere) about the relative deadliness of COVID-19 – especially in relation to the proportionality of government reaction – can be grating to all involved. We want to be understood and we’re struggling. In several posts, I’ve tried to make it clear where I stand on proportionality. There is a relationship between those views and the scientific/statistical question of lethality but not necessarily a direct one. That is, my criticism of fascism as prophylaxis remains the same whether or not coronavirus and bad seasonal flus are within the margin of error to each other or not. This, in turn, is not the same as arguing governments have no role to play in protecting the vulnerable and educating the public to observe a new, strict degree of hygiene (enforced by law).
Moreover, there is no moral or logical obligation to pay deference to a merely “scientific/statistical” conclusion about lethality (not that there is one) vis-à-vis shut-downs of society, the economy, democracy and the rule of law. This global crisis (of body, mind and soul) is an epic case study in how ‘expertise’ should never be left in the company of politicians unchaperoned by subjective moral judgement. For even if the CFR is closer to five percent than 0.1, of itself that tells us nothing about the value of human aspirations ruined, likely excess deaths from despair or the merits of causing so much damage to the living to forestall the demise of a (usually frail) minority; a minority we are called to protect but not at the price of national self-immolation.
If the world’s authority-drunk governments want to ban something new this week – which I’m quite sure they do – they could do a lot worse than prohibit the media from publishing round-the-clock “x new cases” updates. This isn’t a test match and COVID-19 isn’t Steve Smith. Almost all of these “cases” – these people – will recover. Of those who may deteriorate, we know nothing of their overall health or circumstances. Nothing pertaining to crisis scale follows from a raw number of positive diagnoses, nor – necessarily – from a raw number of deaths attributed to coronavirus. The media is promoting dread in terms simplistic enough for an audience of average intelligence to – not understand – but experience. One corollary of this is that governments are now forced by a daily swirl of factoids and unrefined numbers – ‘forced,’ according to their own self-aggrandising psephological calculus – to take “further action.”
Retired pathology professor John Lee has published an excellent piece at the UK Spectator which explains how fallacy and ignorance of coronial protocols are raising death tolls erroneously and corrupting the extrapolations driving shut-down mania throughout the world. He argues that as a new notifiable disease (flu isn’t one, by the way), coronavirus is being listed as the cause of death in patients with far more elaborate medical histories and co-morbidities – as also an atypical exposure to infectious surroundings (namely, hospitals). Filled with useful comparative statistics, Lee’s article is a must-read.