The Washington Times (not to be confused with the Washington Post) has published two recent articles with that “hoax” story. This is one of them: Washington Times
This article makes two points: first, that the models forecasting a large number of Covid-19 deaths in the US were wildly wrong, and second, that the real number of Covid-19 deaths will not be many more than in a bad flu year. The stories imply that the fear caused by the virus and the hugely costly political response of lockdown were unnecessary reactions to a mass media hoax. Are these stories right?.
The Models are Neither Right Nor Wrong
On the issue of the models, all very early forecasts of deaths from such models are likely to be inaccurate because of limited data and because they have to make assumptions about the future based on the present. But that inaccuracy doesn’t make them “wrong”, any more than the model would be “right” if the modeller had made a lucky guess and the forecast was quite accurate.
You cannot simply judge a model, after the fact, as having made right or wrong “predictions”. Models are not simple conclusions. They are hypothetical ‘if……then…..” statements.
In the coronavirus context this would mean something like: ‘If the death rates in China and Italy, with certain adjustments made, are applied to the US, with certain other adjustments made, and if the US takes no action to reduce the impact of the virus, then the estimated range of deaths in the US will likely be ……’ Of course, if death reports from China and Italy are inaccurate, and the adjustments made are inappropriate, and if the US does take drastic action to control the virus, the “then” part of the statement will also be inappropriate.
Once the US took drastic action to reduce the impacts of the virus, the entire “if…..then….” statement became obsolete, because such government action was intentionally excluded from the “if” assumptions.
I don’t suggest that models cannot be criticized. Some climate change models, for example, have been criticized for running too hot, showing more warming in model output numbers than in actual temperature observations. Similarly, the COVID-19 widely publicized and influential models from Imperial College (London, UK) can be criticized. But criticism with the advantage of hindsight of changed circumstances is unfair. Fair criticism would be showing that the assumptions, and the adjustments to raw data in creating the model, were unrealistic at the time they were made. But that is not what the Washington Times has done.
COVID-19 is Not Like the Seasonal Flu.
The most glaring error in the Washington Times story is its invalid conclusion that the deaths from the coronavirus and the deaths from the seasonal flu prove that the coronavirus is no more serious than a bad seasonal flu year.
The US is not put into a total lockdown with massive testing every year when the seasonal flu comes around. If that had been done annually, not only would there have been far fewer deaths from the seasonal flu but the US economy have been destroyed long ago. In short, it is wrong to compare two incomparable situations.
We will never know what would have happened if the US had done nothing about the coronavirus. There is no way to know, today, whether the original model output would have been accurate without the strong action taken. A model rendered obsolete by subsequent events cannot now be judged as having been right or wrong.
If the Washington Times had wanted to provide a reasonable criticism of the original Imperial College model it would have had to look into the model itself: to judge its selection of the raw data, the adjustments made to that data, the further assumptions, and then the computer code used to run the model. But the Washington Times didn’t do that. It simply – and wrongly – compared the COVID virus deaths after massive government intervention with the flu deaths after no government intervention.
If the stories claiming that the coronavirus is the biggest political hoax in history are true, I have yet to see any evidence of that.
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