The Virus Modeling Scandal and “the Years of Living Hysterically”

by Newt Gingrich

Claire Berlinski writes an amazing blog called “Claire’s Invariably Interesting Thoughts.”

She recently wrote a series headlined “The Years of Living Hysterically:

Reflections on Joe Biden, Tara Reade, #MeToo, and our Hysterical Culture.”

The concept of “the hysterical culture” explains much of what I have been wrestling with living in Rome during the pandemic. I have had the opportunity (requirement) to avoid meetings and travel and have had the time to watch and reflect.

Two generations of over-protecting our children, seeking safe places, announcing “trigger warnings,” hyperventilating on social media, and having radio and TV starving for things to fill continuous 24/7 cycles, have all built up to a crescendo of noise.

“If it bleeds it leads” is an old rule of local news. You can add to that the need to create suspense and to hype each event as big, bigger, the biggest ever (just think of weather reports during hurricane season).

The bigger the threat the better.

The larger the number the better.

When the Imperial College of London reported in mid-March that its model predicted the COVID-19 virus could kill as many as 2.2 million Americans and more than 500,000 Britons if governments did nothing to control the spread of the virus, it became the benchmark for radical policies that were unbelievably destructive to society.

What might have been a more dangerous but manageable pandemic (which would be the fourth since 1975) suddenly became the species threatening, Spanish Flu-Black Death-end-of-times threat that required the most radical, draconian public health restrictions and economically suicidal behavior in modern history.

Consider the human cost of the last three pandemics. These are the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s figures:

  • 1957-1958 – the Asian Flu (H2N2) led to 116,000 American dead and 1.1 million dead worldwide.
  • 1968 – during the Avian or Hong Kong Flu (H3N2) about 100,000 Americans died and about 1 million people died worldwide. (In the same year, there were 16,899 “incidents or deaths” in the Vietnam War.)
  • 2009 – The H1N1 Flu killed an estimated 12,469 Americans and worldwide the estimate of the number dead ranged from 151,000 to 575,000.

Keep in mind that our population was about 40 percent smaller in the late 50s and 60s, so the numbers from those pandemics look smaller than they are relative to what we are experiencing today. In fact, their impacts were felt widely. Yet, these three pandemics were dealt with as medical events, and economic and social life proceeded with minimal disruption.

Today, the combination of news media desperation for something about which to be hysterical, the Chinese Communist Party’s role in hiding and then lying about the new virus, and absurdly overstated claims of supposedly scientific modelers has led to the greatest self-inflicted economic disaster in history.

The Chinese Communist dictatorship’s deception is the first great scandal of the COVID-19 virus. We should have thorough congressional hearings into the dictatorship’s role from November 2019 through February 2020.

But, the extraordinary influence of supposedly expert modelers is the second great scandal. We should also have congressional hearings into their destructive impact. In some cases, modelers completely misinformed government leaders, the news media, and ultimately the public about the scale of the threat.

The most influential model was the one created by the Imperial College in London, which estimated more than 500,000 Britons would die and more than 2.2 million Americans would die if governments did nothing. The model projected that in both countries the hospitals, intensive care units, and ventilators would be overwhelmed.

Faced with a projection that five times as many Americans could die this year as were killed in all of World War II, President Trump had no choice but to close the country. To tie the comparison to a more recent event, the Imperial College model predicted almost 1,000 times as many Americans would die from the virus as died in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Estimates of imminent death on this scale can make almost any radical response seem rational.

Unfortunately, too few people examined the assumptions behind the Imperial College model. First, it assumed an infection rate of over 80 percent of the population of the United States. By comparison, the deadliest pandemic in modern history was the Spanish Flu (also H1N1) of 1918-1919. It only infected 28 percent of the U.S. population.

Second, the Imperial College predictions were based off a model of taking zero precaution. Of course, this is an entirely irrational assumption based on basic human behavior. Just because the government is not forcing you to stay inside your house, limit contact with people, and wash your hands doesn’t mean that human beings will not take the precautions. All our experience from past pandemics show this.

So, projections which were disconnected from common sense and reality were able to guide public policy. The truth is, we should have immediately expected these dire predictions to be complete bunk. It turns out the chief author, Neil Ferguson, has become famous for making wildly absurd predictions about public health issues. As the Committee To Unleash Prosperity reported in its newsletter, citing reporting by the British newspaper The Telegraph:

“Ferguson has been wrong so often that some of his fellow modelers call him ‘The Master of Disaster.’

“Ferguson was behind the disputed research that sparked the mass culling of 11 million sheep and cattle during the 2001 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. He also predicted that up to 150,000 people could die.

“In 2002, Ferguson predicted that up to 50,000 people would likely die from exposure to BSE (mad cow disease) in beef. In the UK, there were only 177 deaths from BSE.

“In 2005, Ferguson predicted that up to 150 million people could be killed from bird flu. In the end, only 282 people died worldwide from the disease between 2003 and 2009.

“In 2009, a government estimate, based on Ferguson’s advice, said a ‘reasonable worst-case scenario’ was that the swine flu would lead to 65,000 British deaths. In the end, swine flu killed 457 people in the UK.”

I’ll add that Dr. Ferguson has since resigned, because he was caught breaking the draconian rules he championed in order to carry out an affair.

This deserves a serious congressional investigation. We were being guided in national policy by people who had no realistic scientific basis for – or demonstrable faith in – their claims. In effect, much of our pandemic public policy was being driven by fake science (which exists as a partner with the fake news and enthusiastically creates hysteria whenever it can).

For perspective, nearly two weeks after the Imperial College’s March 16 report – and despite the media’s rabid embrace of it – National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci’s initial top-end prediction for American fatalities was 10 percent of the Imperial College’s ludicrous 2.2 million figure. By April 9, after reviewing more real data, Fauci downgraded his prediction to roughly 60,000. As of this writing, the latest CDC numbers are at 68,279. This is much closer to Fauci’s prediction.

The whole role of hyping supposedly scientific, dire modeling predictions on issues like climate change is a key to understanding the bad policies leftwing scientists are trying to browbeat us into endorsing. As I write in my upcoming book Trump and the American Future, I first encountered this phenomenon of fake science in modeling when I taught environmental studies at West Georgia College in the early 1970s. We used a fascinating book called The Limits to Growth.

The Limits to Growth was published in 1972 by a group called the Club of Rome. It used computer simulations to project when the earth would run out of various raw materials. Through this computer modeling it projected a gloomy future of limits which would require radical leftwing policies to avoid.

After a couple of years, I began to realize the entire book was an absurdity. It ignored that innovations in resource management and efficiency would profoundly decrease our resource consumption. There is a rule in computing: Garbage in, garbage out. If you enter wrong assumptions, you will get the wrong answers. The idea that using a computer suddenly makes some projection scientific or valid is ridiculous. Garbage data leads to garbage answers.(In fact Ferguson’s COVID-19 model used 13-year-old code that was written for influenza – not a coronavirus).

If we look at all the different models of the COVID-19 viruses and their impacts on government policies, we will discover an extraordinary range of mistakes, which led to extraordinary damage to society.

Congress should investigate the entire modeling-advising process just as it should investigate the Chinese Communist dictatorship’s role in spreading the virus in the first place.