There’s a terrific piece in the Tablet by John P.A. Ioannidis, Professor of Medicine at Stanford and among a small group of scientists who’ve been willing to publish research that runs counter to the official Covid narrative, about what has gone wrong in the scientific and public health communities in the past 18 months. In essence, the scientific values of scepticism, disinterestedness and transparency have been thrown aside as the pandemic has become politicised, creating an opening for a new breed of ‘experts’ to influence public health policy while at the same time advancing their commercial and political interests. Here is an extract:
The pandemic led seemingly overnight to a scary new form of scientific universalism. Everyone did COVID-19 science or commented on it. By August 2021, 330,000 scientific papers were published on COVID-19, involving roughly a million different authors. An analysis showed that scientists from every single one of the 174 disciplines that comprise what we know as science has published on COVID-19. By the end of 2020, only automobile engineering didn’t have scientists publishing on COVID-19. By early 2021, the automobile engineers had their say, too.
At first sight, this was an unprecedented mobilization of interdisciplinary talent. However, most of this work was of low quality, often wrong, and sometimes highly misleading. Many people without subject-matter technical expertise became experts overnight, emphatically saving the world. As these spurious experts multiplied, evidence-based approaches—like randomized trials and collection of more accurate, unbiased data—were frequently dismissed as inappropriate, too slow, and harmful. The disdain for reliable study designs was even celebrated.
Many amazing scientists have worked on COVID-19. I admire their work. Their contributions have taught us so much. My gratitude extends to the many extremely talented and well-trained young investigators who rejuvenate our aging scientific workforce. However, alongside thousands of solid scientists came freshly minted experts with questionable, irrelevant, or nonexistent credentials and questionable, irrelevant, or nonexistent data.
Social and mainstream media have helped to manufacture this new breed of experts. Anyone who was not an epidemiologist or health policy specialist could suddenly be cited as an epidemiologist or health policy specialist by reporters who often knew little about those fields but knew immediately which opinions were true. Conversely, some of the best epidemiologists and health policy specialists in America were smeared as clueless and dangerous by people who believed themselves fit to summarily arbitrate differences of scientific opinion without understanding the methodology or data at issue.
Disinterestedness suffered gravely. In the past, conflicted entities mostly tried to hide their agendas. During the pandemic, these same conflicted entities were raised to the status of heroes. For example, Big Pharma companies clearly produced useful drugs, vaccines, and other interventions that saved lives, though it was also known that profit was and is their main motive. Big Tobacco was known to kill many millions of people every year and to continuously mislead when promoting its old and new, equally harmful, products. Yet during the pandemic, requesting better evidence on effectiveness and adverse events was often considered anathema. This dismissive, authoritarian approach “in defense of science” may sadly have enhanced vaccine hesitancy and the anti-vax movement, wasting a unique opportunity that was created by the fantastic rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines. Even the tobacco industry upgraded its reputation: Philip Morris donated ventilators to propel a profile of corporate responsibility and saving lives, a tiny fraction of which were put at risk of death from COVID-19 because of background diseases caused by tobacco products.
Other potentially conflicted entities became the new societal regulators, rather than the ones being regulated. Big Tech companies, which gained trillions of dollars in cumulative market value from the virtual transformation of human life during lockdown, developed powerful censorship machineries that skewed the information available to users on their platforms. Consultants who made millions of dollars from corporate and government consultation were given prestigious positions, power, and public praise, while unconflicted scientists who worked pro bono but dared to question dominant narratives were smeared as being conflicted. Organised scepticism was seen as a threat to public health. There was a clash between two schools of thought, authoritarian public health versus science – and science lost.
Worth reading in full.