Guest column by Kevin Killough, Powell Tribune
It’s been said that we should “believe the science.”
It’s a misguided statement that says science is a set of beliefs that we have a moral obligation to accept. That’s not science. It’s religion. Everyone has a right to worship as they please, but it’s good practice to separate church and state.
Science is a tool by which we understand the facts of reality, which are true. It is perhaps one of the best tools we developed for that job, but to say “believe the science” is like saying “believe the crescent wrench.”
When science becomes dogma and that dogma informs policy, its value as a tool to assess the facts of reality vanishes, and there’s no better example of that than how we managed the pandemic.
“Two weeks to flatten the curve,” was the chant early in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic was fresh and the future uncertain. For those first few weeks, people were compliant with the directives to hunker down and stay safe, even here in Wyoming.
By the end of the year, Wyoming had few statewide or local restrictions remaining, leaving people to decide what steps to take for their own safety. Other states, such as Florida and Texas, also abandoned heavy handed government restrictions earlier than other states and those governors were accused of murdering people.
Now two years after “two weeks to flatten the curve,” people across the globe have become far less willing to surrender their economic and social wellbeing in the name of public health. A nationwide trucker convoy in Canada protesting vaccine mandates and other government restrictions descended on the nation’s capital of Ottawa, and there have been many protests throughout Europe, where lockdowns have been prescribed in response to the Omicron variant.
While lockdown proponents often label lockdown protesters as anti-science, there never was much science supporting the claim that lockdowns are an effective pandemic measure. Two years later, the science is showing they were a huge waste.
Aside from conservative leaning publications like Fox News, the national media have largely ignored a recent study by researchers with the Johns Hopkins Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business Enterprise. The study found lockdowns “only reduced COVID-19 mortality by 0.2% on average” and that there’s “no evidence that lockdowns, school closures, border closures, and limiting gatherings have had a noticeable effect on COVID-19 mortality.”
Published in January in the Studies in Applied Economics, the metaanalysis of 24 studies defined lockdowns as “the imposition of at least one compulsory, non-pharmaceutical intervention (NPI). NPIs are any government mandate that directly restrict [sic] peoples’ possibilities, such as policies that limit internal movement, close schools and businesses, and ban international travel.”
Extreme efforts such as “shelter in place” orders, which restrict people entirely to their homes except for the most basic necessities, reduced COVID-19 mortality by 2.9% on average, the study found. The study did find “some evidence” that closing bars reduced deaths.
A significant body of research shows that such approaches are also likely ineffective at stemming the spread of the disease. On its website, the American Institute of Economic Research keeps a list of 35 peer-reviewed studies that have concluded these policies don’t work or were not effective enough to justify the economic and social costs, which are astoundingly high.
It’s important to note these studies don’t explore the effectiveness of vaccines in reducing mortality, which is well documented.
Despite the moral certainty some invest in mask mandates, the evidence of their effectiveness at reducing transmission is pretty murky. However, many of these mandates remain in place. So, for example, flying is much more unpleasant than it needs to be and kids in some states are just now getting to enjoy mask-free childhoods.
Many of us would be happy to not see another pandemic in our lifetimes, but it would not be surprising if that did happen, people who love the theater of crisis will practically beg to be locked down again and insist anyone who objects are heretics who need to “follow the science.”
One of the key lessons from the pandemic is that politicized science is glaringly unreliable, and when that happens, questioning experts is not inherently anti-science.