Public Hysteria Vs. Scientific Thinking

By Gilad Atzmon, 27 March 2020.
The Corona crisis has exposed our political and media establishments as
dysfunctional and possibly dangerous.  If the West was, until recently,
associated with scientific, analytical, rational and methodical thinking,
then  not much is left of that Athenian reasoning. Like houses of cards,
most of our Western democracies have succumbed to populist decision making that
is, by its nature, deeply unscientific. 

When I enrolled in university 35 years ago, scepticism
and critical thinking were regarded as precious Western values. This approach
has been discarded: skeptics are reduced into public enemies. They are scorned
by the media and often smeared by their professional colleagues.
No one, I guess, doubts that the world is facing a
hazardous health crisis, yet so many questions regarding the nature of this
crisis, its origin, the virus at its centre and possible solutions  are
brushed aside in a manner reminiscent of historical clerical witch hunts rather
than treated with the kind of reasoning that should be ingrained in us by
Western Liberal traditions.   
So far, only a few brave medical scholars and experts
have dared to question  the general trend.
Off Guardian
produced a good summary of the arguments advanced by some of the scientists who
are unimpressed by the current official narrative and the strategies applied by
our so-called elected politicians:
German specialist in microbiology, Dr
Sucharit Bhakdi
  confirms that the Corona death
rate is not a new phenomenon. “We are afraid that 1 million infections with the
new virus will lead to 30 deaths per day over the next 100 days. But we do not
realise that 20, 30, 40 or 100 patients positive for normal coronaviruses are
already dying every day.”
German physician Dr
Wolfgang Wodarg
is not convinced that Corona is as
dangerous as we have been told. He maintains that we should be asking questions
like, “How did you find out this virus was dangerous?”, “How was it before?”,
“Didn’t we have the same thing last year?”, “Is it even something new?”
John Ioannidis
is a Professor of Medicine, of Health
Research and Policy and of Biomedical Data Science, at Stanford University
School of Medicine.  Ioannidis posits that the cause of the current panic
may have something to do with the new diagnosis of Covid 19 rather than with
the general symptoms of the virus which aren’t new to us.  “If we had not
known about a new virus out there, and had not checked individuals with PCR
tests, the number of total deaths due to “influenza-like illness” would not
seem unusual this year. At most, we might have casually noted that flu this season
seems to be a bit worse than average.”
The Israeli doctor,  Yoram
, a public health specialist, 
informs us that “Italy is known for its enormous morbidity in respiratory
problems, more than three times any other European country…”
To this minority group of scientifically thinking
medical experts we should add Dr Siddhartha Mukherjee, a Pulitzer prize winning
author, who wrote a spectacular extended article for the
New Yorker
Mukherjee offers a different  perspective on
Covid 19 and its dangers. He explains that the impact of viruses is often
influenced by the dosage of the virus a patient is subjected to. Mukherjee
writes “three questions deserve particular attention, because their answers
could change the way we isolate, treat, and manage patients. First, what can we
learn about the “dose-response curve” for the initial infection—that is, can we
quantify the increase in the risk of infection as people are exposed to higher
doses of the virus? Second, is there a relationship between that initial “dose”
of virus and the severity of the disease—that is, does more exposure result in graver
illness? And, third, are there quantitative measures of how the virus behaves
in infected patients (e.g., the peak of your body’s viral load, the patterns of
its rise and fall) that predict the severity of their illness and how
infectious they are to others?”
Mukherjee notes that in the current crisis, “most
epidemiologists, given the paucity of data, have been forced to model the
spread of the new coronavirus as if it were a binary phenomenon
individuals are either exposed or unexposed, infected or uninfected,
symptomatic patients or asymptomatic carriers.”  Mukherjee argues that
viruses’ effects aren’t necessarily an on/off phenomenon.
For instance, he
compares Covid 19 to HIV. “People with a high set point [virus dose] tended to
progress more rapidly to aids; people with a low set point frequently proved to
be “slow progressors.” The viral load—a continuum, not a binary value—helped
predict the nature, course, and transmissibility of the disease.” In many
viral infection cases the more virus you shed, the more likely you are to
infect others.”
The Russian immunologist Ilya Metchnikoff, working in
the early nineteen-hundreds, described the phenomenon as “the struggle”—or Kampf,
in German editions of his work. Metchnikoff imagined an ongoing battle between
microbe and immunity. The Kampf was a matter of ground gained or lost.
What was the total “force” of the microbial presence? What host
factors—genetics, prior exposure, baseline immune competence—were limiting the
microbial invasion? And then: was the initial equilibrium tipped toward the
virus, or toward the host?
Mukherjee points out that in “a 2004 study of the
coronavirus that causes sars, a cousin of the one that causes covid 19, a team
from Hong Kong found that a higher initial load of virus—measured in the
nasopharynx, the cavity in the deep part of your throat above your palate—was
correlated with a more severe respiratory illness.”
This helps to explain the greater risks faced by front
line health care personnel who are exposed to high dosages of Covid 19  on
a daily basis and it also helps to explain why the hospital may be the most
dangerous place to be. Those who have already developed symptoms who then enter
emergency medical centres may well be exposed to even more serious or even fatal
outcomes from the high dose of Covid19 and the many other diseases they can be
exposed to. 
 This realisation adds to our understanding of
the current tragedy in Northern Italy and Spain. It may even be that, as a
general rule, the less you trust your public health system, the better
your chances to survive Corona and other viruses. In Britain, for instance, the
Government advised people who develop symptoms to
self isolate
and not to contact the NHS unless the respiratory situation seems to get out of
At a time of crisis and particularly at a time of
a crisis of such magnitude, an open scientific debate of the Athenian Agora
nature that includes the exchanges with qualified skeptics and critics 
provide the only light at the end of the tunnel.