Mark Twain once opined that “it’s not the things that I don’t know that worry me, but rather the things that I know to be true that aren’t true that worry me”. We should be very careful about being certain or evoking “settled science” into any debate. There are two points that need to be considered as we move forward and we take the time to evaluate our response as a country, a state, and as a people to the political Covid-19 pandemic. Keeping an open mind is difficult when one is married to a political agenda.
Alternative hypotheses become heresy, and the facts over time become easier to change than the narrative. Prudence and discipline and an appreciation for the limitations of one’s ability to intervene in the course of natural events (humility) should be the underlying characteristics of the scientist and any leader who is in a position of responsibility and may find themselves in the position of having to assess risk based on the science that is presented to them. The collection of data is not science. The collection of information, coalescing that information into a hypothesis, and then testing the theory with an experiment is science. Then one must recollect the new data, reassess the results and form a new hypothesis and retest. Too many leaders, experts, and our elected officials became over concerned with the data, and over time were unable to step back and reevaluate their own hypothesis.
Aristotelian logic—deductive reasoning based on logic and proceeding from the specific to the general was insufficient to describe complex phenomena. Inductive reasoning—applying many general observations and proceeding to a unifying principle is today included in any description of the scientific method. Each form of reasoning has its’ place. Mathematics and the basic sciences have grown out of the Aristotelian method. Deductive reasoning must be based on premises that are incontrovertible and true and therefore conclusions based on such premises must likewise be true. In inductive reasoning based on many observations, the predicate for the argument may not be necessarily be true—that is why it must be tested. In most cases the deductive argument in science—the theory, is based on an experiment that proves the inductive premise.
In addition to my disagreement with many experts on the “facts” that were used to justify Covid mitigation strategy, I very much disagree with the process that was used in assessing those facts and then used to prescribe mitigation strategies—strategies that had no bases in science or history. In this regard I very much followed the writings of THE STANDFORD GROUP—Drs. Bhattacharya, Atlas, et.al. and the Johns Hopkins group, especially Dr.Marty Makaray. I also followed and mostly agreed with the physicians that signed onto the GREATER BARRINGTON PROJECT. I believe that as we assess the strategies and the many “experiments” in mitigation that occurred across the world we will find that the aforementioned groups were correct far more often than the public health experts at the NIH and CDC and in our own State of Idaho.
Out briefs and after-action reports are important as are morbidity and mortality evaluations in the clinical world. But let me just offer one observation before we begin to Monday morning quarterback: The role of the public health expert—Dr. Hahn in our State who did an excellent job of evaluating data, but the accumulation of that data remains suspect, is a very different role than what the Governor and his panel of “experts”, no ICU nurses or clinicians on the panel just lobbyists and representatives of special interests and those in the Department of Health and Welfare, played. We should be fair in saying up front that everyone—Public Health Specialists, political leaders, and even Presidents and Governor’s got caught with our pants down. We weren’t prepared. More importantly, we were arrogant from the very beginning in believing for the first time in the history of the world we could subdue and defeat an airborne viral pathogen by isolating and quarantining all of society. How conceited was this to believe that we could shut down the world and eradicate or even control such a virus. “Flattening the curve” even in the Tri-State area where for the first three months the intensity of the pandemic was most acute, the mobilization of resources and personnel stayed well ahead of the clinical demands of sick patients, proved to only prolong the epidemic.
Testing and tracking were necessary early on to define fatality rates—CFR and IFR, but once the pattern and cadence of the pandemic was defined, selective testing would have been more efficacious. Testing did not save one life—anywhere! And how can I make such a bold statement? Because a diagnostic test is not a clinical intervention. The test requires an action to make a difference and the actions based on number of positive tests, instead of numbers of actual cases only lead to increases in Type II mitigation—that I believe will prove in the future to have had little impact on the course of the disease. If 80% of the deaths occurred in 6% of the population then we needed to focus our public health and clinical strategies on that group of people.
There were a few isolated experiments throughout the world. Think of South Dakota, Florida, and Texas. Compare those states to North Dakota, New York, and California, Compare outcomes in the Netherlands to the rest of Europe. What was the difference? In those states and countries the leadership conferred with the experts—they didn’t defer. Governor DeSantis pushed and challenged the Public Health Department in his State to come up with alternative mitigation and treatment strategies. Florida has far more elderly as a percentage of population than most States and outcomes in this at risk group were far better than almost anywhere else. The economy in Florida, Texas, and South Dakota opened up early and schools opened up early. If the Governors of those States had listened to their “experts” and public health officials like our Governor did in this State, their outcomes would have been very different—worse.
Great leaders make great decisions. I think of Nick Sabin the head football coach at Alabama who three years ago at halftime in the National Championship Game, replaced his starting Quarterback who was a Heisman Trophy candidate, Player of the Year for his team and his conference, with the second string quarterback who had hardly played. At halftime, Alabama was two scores down, and at the end of the game they won by two scores. All the experts, all the assistant coaches—everybody, was critical of Coach Sabin for the move—until he was right. He conferred and considered his options. He didn’t “defer”. He acted and had the courage of his convictions. He better than anyone understood the risks and rewards. Like the Governors of South Dakota, Texas, and Florida he had the courage of his convictions and those under his charge benefited. Like a good businessman or a scientist—he adjusted. The predicate for his game plan changed—he changed the terms of the transaction or the conditions of the experiment. He wasn’t wedded to the “experts”. Conventual wisdom can win a battle, but ingenuity and critical thinking win the war.
Our current Governor is a good man. It is obvious he is proud of and loves his family. Unfortunately for too many years, he has been part of the “system” of cronyism and corruption that has infected our State government—not just our politicians, but throughout the State bureaucracy. The seeds for failure in the past political pandemic were sown long before Governor Little took office. The sclerotic inertia within State government made it impossible for a nimble and agile government response. Too many people in too many places for too long a time. Relying on experts who weren’t experts was a terrible mistake. But the biggest mistake of all was not knowing his team—the people of Idaho and not knowing or trusting in their ability to individually and as families decide how best to negotiate and mitigate the pandemic. Trusting in experts and the teachers lobby, and the large hospital systems, instead of realizing that he wasn’t elected to represent them, but rather to represent the people of Idaho, in the end proved to be his downfall. And like so many of our leaders who have been part of the system for so long he might not even understand how he has failed the people of Idaho.
Time to make a halftime change. Our Lt. Governor knows and trusts us. She has a healthy suspicion of the cronyism and corruption that is infecting our state and for many years to come will have a far more deleterious impact on liberty and the way we live our lives, than even the pandemic. Watch out Madame Lt, Governor. The Idaho “swamp” will come after you hard and fast—it has already started. Just like with Mr. Trump in DC, those that have a vested interest in the status quo, those who stand to benefit most from the “cronyism” and corruption so embedded in the Idaho ruling class, will do anything to maintain their positions because outside of government they have little to offer in the private sector. They are afraid. Be ready. Lots of people including me are standing beside you.
Crises define and expose character. Our leadership in Idaho, and even many of our people have been exposed for being willing to sacrifice their own liberty for their own security. As the saying goes—without liberty one has neither.