The National Association of Scholars has released a report Shifting Sands: The Confounded Errors of Public Health Policy Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic, the third report of a series which examines the interface of science and government. The realization that science, medicine, the government, and both the professional and lay media performed badly during the recent pandemic is now widespread. It was apparent to many medical observers right from the start that what was being forced on the public was poorly reasoned, badly executed, and ineffective. These critics were largely silenced and accused of spreading disinformation. The attacks on them went beyond criticism and put them at risk of professional peril. The whole COVID-19 story is one of the most shameful in American history. The following excerpts are from the report. The first is by the NAS president Peter Wood. It’s from his introduction.

The justifiers of regulations based on flimsy or inadequate research often cite a version of what is known as the “precautionary principle.” This means that, rather than basing a regulation on science that has withstood rigorous tests of reproducibility, they base the regulation on the possibility that a scientific claim is accurate. They do this with the logic that it is too dangerous to wait for the actual validation of a hypothesis, and that a lower standard of reliability is necessary when dealing with matters that might involve severely adverse outcomes if no action is taken.

The second excerpt is from the Executive Summary of the document. The full report is at the end of this article as a PDF download

The COVID-19 virus is not the plague or the Spanish flu. In effect, it is a very ordinary, new respiratory virus. It has a rather low case fatality rate. Over time it has become less lethal and more infectious, in line with viral evolutionary thinking. Historical wisdom for dealing with a new virus was to protect the weak and let natural immunity lead to herd immunity. Whereas COVID-19 infections were lethal primarily to elderly persons with comorbidities, the virus was sold to us by public health officials as a lethal danger to one and all...

We found persuasive circumstantial evidence that lockdowns and masking had no proven benefit to public health outcomes. Our technical studies suggest a far greater frailty (failure) in the system of epidemiological modeling and policy recommendations. That system, generally, grossly overestimated the potential effects of COVID-19 and, particularly, overestimated the potential benefit of lockdowns and masking. We believe our technical studies support recommendations for policy change to restructure the entire system of government policy based on epidemiological modeling, and not simply to apply cosmetic reforms to the existing system...

We offer several recommendations to the CDC in particular, to government more generally, to the modeling profession, and to Americans as a whole about public health interventions.

Regarding civil liberty:

  • Congress and the president should jointly convene an expert commission to set boundaries on the areas of private life which may be the subject of public health interventions.
  • This commission’s rules should explicitly limit the scope of public health interventions to physical health, narrowly and carefully defined.
  • All such public health interventions should be required to receive explicit sanction from both houses of Congress.

Regarding epidemiological (mathematical) modeling that forms a basis for CDC policymaking:

  • Require pre-registration of mathematical modeling studies.
  • Require mathematical modeling transparency and reproducibility.
  • Formulate rules to reduce intervention degrees of freedom (see definition below) for modeling public health interventions to limit state action.
  • Formulate guidelines that make explicit that modeling is meant to quantify the uncertainty of action, and that the CDC should convey to policymakers a quantification of the uncertainty of action rather than a prescription of certainty to justify action.
  • The CDC should charter a commission to advise it in how to achieve these goals.

Regarding further commissions:

  • The federal government should establish a commission to undertake a full-scale investigation and report on the origins and nature of COVID-19, as well as of public health policy errors committed during the response to COVID-19 by the CDC.
  • As public health modeling naturally aligns with the use of computer science algorithms, social media censorship of heterodox, COVID-19-related posts depended on both. The federal government should establish a commission to provide guidelines for the federal funding, conduct, and regulation of the use of computer science algorithms, particularly as they are used by the federal government and by social media companies.

I lack faith that government sponsored commissions will lead to effective action. These commissions tend to bloviate, take too long, and issue prolix reports that are typically ignored. I think the only way we’ll avoid a repeat of the late catastrophe is to fully publicize the errors that were committed on the road to hell. The power of the government to intervene contrary to the rights guaranteed in our national charter should be placed beyond arbitrary executive malfeasance by additional restrictive laws. Nothing less than the prohibition of unfettered regulation will do.

Also needed, is holding the media to account for their awful performance during the past three years. This remedy is even harder than getting congress to act intelligently. Perhaps the only fix is to ignore most of them. Given that they rarely come close to realizing their mission, the unbiased presentation of the news, little would be lost.

The unhinged response to a public health problem that was far worse than the disease against which it was directed will be with us for generations.