When out of the blue I start to hear a consistent narrative, remarkably similar, coming from a variety of people spread out across diverse geographical areas, I become suspicious. Over the past 10 days I’ve heard the following narrative coming from a spectrum of sources:
- The death rate for coronavirus infections is grossly overstated.
- The cost to America by having businesses closed, measured in deaths and ruined lives, will greatly exceed the pandemic if the society stays closed.
- Coronavirus infections are not much worse than a cold or the flu, just that the weak and sick are the ones to die. They are going to die anyway, even without coronavirus, so why punish all of society in our efforts to save these people who are going to die anyway?
- This whole hype over the coronavirus is being manufactured by those with a liberal agenda of government control of people.
Each morning I have a routine of finding out what’s happening in the world. My choice of information sources are based on the experts who evaluate media sources for accuracy and political balance. I start with NPR, listening through a smartphone app from my bed. Then I get up and listen to CNN on Hulu while I make and eat my breakfast. I recognize that CNN has an anti-Trump bias and I avoid several of their shows which are most biased, but they are mostly factual. I also tend to tune into the international version which is less Trump-centric. I stopped listening to MSNBC because of their bias. I eventually check out Fox News to see what they are saying and check out BBC and Al Jazeera (in the international and Arabic language news version) to see what’s happening in the world. I can do all of this information gathering within an hour. Additionally, about once a week I hold my nose and check out the far-right sources, Brietbart News Network, Judicial Watch, and Infowars. I believe that it is important to know what people are listening to, even if those latter news sources are so pathetically off the rails in their hateful agendas and pure bullshit.
After hearing this new narrative, I went back to look for the motherlode of misinformation about the pandemic and I found it within all those politically right sources, with the greatest exposure at Fox News. The fundamental narrative was not coming from public health or epidemiology researchers, but from the business world. After all, that makes the most sense because they have the most to lose (talking simply about money and wealth) by the societal shut down. They have almost nothing to lose from the disease itself because these are CEOs and owners who don’t work on the front lines and have minimal risk. They also have the funding to influence the public with this mis-information campaign. See: https://www.forbes.com/sites/jackbrewster/2020/04/09/a-fox-news-conspiracy-are-coronavirus-death-numbers-inflated-attacked-by-fauci-birx/#aff8ed816afe
Here is the factual narrative as expressed by the real experts, those who have spent their lives studying pandemics and the behavior of viruses.
- The death rate for coronavirus is being grossly under reported due to the lack of testing and a political pressure to keep the numbers as low as possible. (see https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/04/28/us/coronavirus-death-toll-total.html)
- We are sitting on a time bomb. As bad as things are, they could mushroom into the deaths of millions without social distancing.
- Even with present numbers, we are more than 1 ½ times the death rate form coronavirus than from suicides (est 47K per year) and the uptick in suicides from social distancing is pale when compared to the deaths of coronavirus infections. If the infection takes off, then it will 100-fold worse.
- This novel coronavirus is much worse than the cold or flu both it is ability to spread and mortality.
- While there is a disproportionate number of deaths among the elderly and ill, it is killing people at all age groups from toddlers to those in their teens, to those in their youth and higher. Some of the deaths occur in very healthy young people and for reasons that are not clear. Still others come out of the infection with serious injury to their lungs and kidneys, from which they will never recover.
- There is no political agenda behind the information about the global pandemic but factual information from the real experts. There is no conspiracy behind this.
One of the most troublesome aspect of this new narrative is that I’ve heard it mostly from my evangelical friends. But that makes sense. As I’ve said many times, I spent 25 years of my life in the evangelical camp. During the later years of this time, before I came to my senses, I, like all of my evangelical peers, became a consumer of Fox News and even Rush Limbaugh. But eventually I realized I was being brain-washed with right wing pro Republican, pro big business bullshit and unfortunately, I like my evangelical peers were blending this right wing political agenda, in a very dark way, with our own Christianity.
But I want to look at what is being said from a philosophical viewpoint to try and unscramble this egg.
The Atheistic-Evolutionary Model
First, I want to look at the perspective from an atheistic, evolutionary view of humanity. I know many people who have an evolutionary viewpoint but as Christians, Muslims, or pantheists so it is an error to think that evolutionists and atheism are synonymous.
In this framework, and if you see the goal as the survival of our species (some would even argue with this goal, thinking that a human-less universe would be better), then there should be no social distancing and allow the viruses, as it did for millions of years, to take its full toil. This would “weed out” the weak and in the end, after possibly a loss of 10% of the population, that the genetic pool would be stronger and more resistant to future infections and have a herd immunity to this infection. This is so logical within that philosophical framework, that I call in to question those atheists, and there are many of compassionate atheists, who don’t think we should go this way but that we should intervene to save human lives and reduce suffering.
The Christian Model
Within this framework, there is a fundamental belief that all of creation is special because a personal and loving God created it. They also hold that humans are more special than all else because we, alone, are created in God’s image. Therefore humans, and all of creation, have intrinsic value and worth. The basic Christian philosophical viewpoint also states that evil and suffering entered the universe from the fall of Adam and the universe was not created with these flaws. Therefore, our struggle against suffering is not a struggle against God’s creative purpose.
The Christian message, as clearly stated by Jesus himself, is that one of our biggest problems is our love of money and wealth. Jesus was not pro big business, but was pro people, all people.
So it is odd that my compassionate atheist friends want to reduce suffering and save lives, while my evangelical friends are advocating this Darwinistic approach of sacrificing the elderly, the weak, the poor, the minorities, and those with underlying illnesses (like me) for the sake of money and wealth… and that money and wealth will mostly fall into the hands of the millionaires and billionaires.
To me, this is yet another example where American Evangelicalism as completely lost its way, where it was blended with right wing politics and now that politics have totally supplanted their original Christian ideals.
9 responses to “Ramblings: A Troublesome Drumbeat of a New Pandemic Narrative”
We are carefully examining the news, too. Good insights.
This doctor seems to have a calm and rational approach. I would be interested in your take on it.
I read Dr. John M’s blog and many of the comments. First, we are not on opposite sides. Much of what he said is accurate and are reasonably good points. My major point is the devaluation of human life as in the narratives I’ve been hearing, “Old people in nursing homes are going to die anyway, so why ruin a good economy just for them?” If you believe that life has intrinsic value because we are created in God’s image, it has to be consistent across the spectrum from the unborn, to the poor, to the minority, to the ill, and to the elderly. It deeply troubles me to hear from evangelicals that it is worth sacrificing minorities, immigrants, the ill, and the elderly, for the sake of the economy. So, in other words, money. Money is money and nothing else.
The other thing I take issue with is the lying or misrepresenting of facts. As I’ve heard from Fox News many times and from Trump a downplaying of the severity of this virus, “oh, it’s just like the flu.” Or “The death rate from a closed economy will be higher.” The motivation for that misinformation campaign is big business. The workers on the front lines, many who have lost their jobs and livelihood, are not eager to go back to work if it is dangerous, and it is. But telling them it is not dangerous is a dreadful manipulation to get them back to work so that the big business people can keep their wealth at the expense of the front-line people.
Now the flattening of the curve accomplishes two things, both which have strong merits. The first, like the blogger said, is not to overwhelm the healthcare system. That overwhelming has occurred in the hot spots, while the rural hospitals have been spared. When healthcare systems are overwhelmed, more patients die, more staff get infected and etc.
But the second reason, and this is where I strongly disagree with him, time does buy lives and reduced morbidity. I agree that a good vaccine will not be available for at least 10 months, if not 2 years. I also agree that remdesivir, the way it was used in the studies, has had limited benefit. But as others have said, the success of remdesivir is the proof of concept. Hey, it works a little, so now let’s tweak it and make it work much better. There is great potential that remdesivir or many of the new things they are working on, will make a significant difference. Most of the experts believe that if remdesivir is started at the very onset of the infection, it may have far greater benefits. We don’t know until the trials are done. But there are many things being worked on now, especially monoclonal antibodies with great potential. This Dr. John was looking at past experience in bringing effective treatments to the market. But things have changed radically just within the past five years with the invention of things like CRISPR, which greatly accelerates the process of finding effective monoclonal antibodies.
This is not about me; it is about the principles I’ve mentioned. But I will talk about me for a second. My risk of dying from COVID-19, if I get it, is about 50%, not the >1% as many are quoting. I lived much of 2019 near death. When I was in ICU at the Peace Health hospital in Bellingham, when I was first diagnosed, I had a nurse suggest to me that I commit suicide. She said, “You’re old. You’ve had a good life, why fight this? There is a way out of this now.” I sensed that she had this evaluation of human life based on its contribution to society, not intrinsic merits. Schaeffer warned us about this back in the 1970s, I just never dreamt that it would come in through the “Christian” channels.
But for me, my goal is to remain COVID-19 free for six months. Then, if I got it then, I think I would have a much better chance of surviving. I hate the thoughts of dying by suffocation.
Now, regarding Dr. John’s telemedicine appointment with the older couple, I get it. I cannot see my own kids or grand kids. The cancer center told me that I must avoid anyone who does not live in my house. I have thought about the possibility that I may not live six months due to my cancer. Do I really want to spend my last six months apart form my family? Then there are the economic issues. I lost my job and my career probably ended for good due to COVID-19. I get that too. I am certainly not saying the issue about the economy is “all or none.” Keep the economy closed forever until a vaccine is available or opening it full to full beaches and partying. I’ve said since day one if we had plenty of testing, plenty of personal protective equipment, much of the economy could open today. I could hang out with my kids tonight if we could test me and them and get the results back instantly. So, we don’t have to choose between sacrificing our weak, old, and ill, or remaining locked up. Our government has failed us in procuring the needed equipment. To borrow a term from Trump, it is a total disgrace.
Thanks for your response. I do understand that a person, such as yourself, with serious health problems is in a very different situation than most. As someone pointed out, we may all be in the same storm, but we are not all in the same boat–your boat is very different from mine.) I also understand your concern for the devaluation of life that seems to be expressed by some (maybe evangelicals, though I haven’t noticed that much). And I agree the federal response has been, as usual, a clown show every time the president speaks. My biggest frustration, as I’ve tried to understand and engage the science, is that so many seem to think the science only offers a single way of looking at and responding to the crisis. But there are, in fact, very competent scientists, specialists in epidemiology, etc, that offer other solutions. The approach taken in Sweden was very different from other European countries, and the results seem to be in the middle–much better than France or UK, not as good as Norway, etc. Was their approach not scientific? Did it show a callous disregard for the vulnerable? Several professors and researchers at Stanford Medical school, including one Nobel prize winner, have offered interpretations of the data that reach different conclusions than those offered by Dr. Fauci and Birx, the WHO, etc. But those committed to the governmental approach dismiss them out of hand as quacks; if I accept what they say, I’m treated as a rube. I don’t get it. Doesn’t science and medicine usually advance when alternate theories from reputable scientists are given room rather than pushed aside? I’m not trying to pick an argument here, but valuing your medical knowledge and experience, I do appreciate hearing your perspective. God’s peace and healing be with you and yours.
I would have to see what this Stanford scientists are saying. I briefly tried to look it up and didn’t find it. But the general rule, per my experience, is that within medical science there is a general consensus. There is a “standard deviation” where there is a difference of opinion around the middle, but not far fetched ideas. The more extreme ideas rarely become true or mainstream, although occasionally they do. I give the example of the latter as the Australian doctor who came up with the idea that a bacterial (H pylori) causes stomach ulcers. He was treated as a nut job at first, but he did clean and high quality science, and was able to win over the masses and get a Nobel prize himself (this was in the 1980s). So most of the time, if you listen to the majority of those in the field, they are usually correct. I don’t believe that there is some grand conspiracy to keep some scientists out. I had published several papers on headache disorders and a couple of them were off the mainstream. However, I did the science very carefully, and it was accepted for publication without any qualms by the editor, although I wasn’t able to win over very many.
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Here is one of the earliest articles about Dr. Michael Levitt’s views https://www.latimes.com/science/story/2020-03-22/coronavirus-outbreak-nobel-laureate, will send a couple more links if I can find them.
Another Stanford professor is John Ioannidis: here is another early article https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/17/a-fiasco-in-the-making-as-the-coronavirus-pandemic-takes-hold-we-are-making-decisions-without-reliable-data/
https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.04.14.20062463v2, here is a paper done by staff at Standord: it has received lots of criticism, some say the work was sloppy
You should be able to verify their predictions as these were made in March. The mortality rate is around 3-3.5% so the prediction of less than 1% is so far proven wrong, but like they said, it is limited by the testing.