Why October 29th 2020 will be an important day for epidemiology
As those who occasionally read my musings here on Medium will know, I deplore the lack of scientific rigor associated with most so-called “scientific” studies and reports regarding SARS-CoV2, aka “the killer coronavirus.” As the Stanford University Medical Center pointed out in its analysis of 29 papers on covid-19 earlier in 2020, covid-19 is far too important a topic for the usual sloppy research comprising poorly designed experiments and misleading statistical analysis.
For those who haven’t been paying attention to primary research over the last 15 years, there’s a crisis in science. Both Nature and Science, the leading non-specialist journals, have noted that at least half of all scientific papers aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. A great many more fail to be reproduced on the rare occasions anyone tries to do so. In other words, much “science” is little more than career-propping fluff designed to garner the minimum necessary number of citations as the academic in question reaches desperately for tenure or attempts to justify her/his comfortably remunerated position.
Nowhere has junk science been more in evidence than with SARS-CoV2. While ignorant journalists eager for sensational headlines can’t judge and don’t even care whether or not a study is risibly flawed, the rest of us ought to care very much indeed. Those flawed and misleading studies influence behavior on a global scale. Populations are stampeded into mindless hysteria by totally bogus media reportage publicizing nonsensical claims, and then politicians flail around desperately in search of policies that will appear “to be doing something” so they can minimize loss of votes at the next election.
This combination of bogus science, panic, and policies driven by ignorant desperation has led to the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression and thrown 1.5 billion people out of work. The WHO estimates 250 million people have been put at severe risk of death by our global hysteria, which dramatically outweighs any “lives saved” on even the most wildly optimistic projections. Which is like cutting off our legs because we’re afraid a few of us may get ingrowing toenails.
Essentially, we’ve been total morons.
So this makes Dr Stefan Moritz of Halle University a rather important person because he decided to create a study that has adequate design and thus may actually yield meaningful results.
Unlike other so-called studies of covid-19, Dr Moritz had enough subjects to be meaningful. As anyone who’s ever taken a basic intro to statistics knows, with too few samples your results will be completely meaningless. That’s why those rodent studies with four (yes, four!) animals should never have been published, for example. Dr Moritz also realized than uncontrolled studies are just as worthless as studies with too few samples (hello, nearly every study published on covid-19 to date).
So Dr Moritz held three pop concerts all on the same day. The first was with facemasks only, the second was semi-hysteria (facemasks, wiping down surfaces, but no obsessive social distancing) and the third was full-on hysteria (facemasks, wiping everything, rigorously enforced social distancing). Approximately 4,000 volunteers were invited to participate, split into the three aforementioned groups. In the weeks following the event, which occurred on 22nd August, the research team repeatedly tested all participants to determine if and in what way infection spread among them.
Of course this experiment was far from ideal. There was no true control group (mask-free) for example, nor were there identified infected participants in any of the groups. No doubt these omissions were due to health & safety and ethics committee guidelines. The lack of a proper base-level control group will inevitably mean that Dr Moritz’ results, whatever they are, will be far less enlightening than they otherwise would have been.
Nevertheless this is an important study because it sets basic standards of empiricism and adequate experimental design — standards that have been entirely lacking until now.
The Halle University team is taking the unusual step of holding a press conference to announce their findings, rather than pre-publish on arxiv and then publish in a well-known journal. Perhaps their results controversial and the research team doesn’t want them to be ignored by the mass media (which ruthlessly ignores any story that would be off-message). But this is idle speculation. The fact is, we will have to wait until October 29th to learn the results of this important study.
So anyone interested in SARS-CoV2 beyond mindless media sensationalism should tune in to the streamed press conference on 29th October. The first proper study of transmission of covid-19 deserves our attention.