This article is easily the best of the myriad that I have read on the subject of the Wuhan Virus. It is by Jefferey A. Tucker and was recently published at the A.I.E.R. Make sure that you fully understand what ‘epistemic’ means before continuing.
This pandemic crisis is not only about health and economics; we are
also experiencing an epistemic meltdown. The core question concerns:
knowledge. Information. Accurate information. What are the risks? The
infection and death rates? The demographics? The geography of the
spread? How contagious, how deadly, how can we know, and how can we find
out? Who can we trust with such wildly divergent opinions out there?
Everyone is doing their best poring over the data we have and can access thanks to digital media, places such as OurWorldinData, simply because the government’s official page
at the CDC doesn’t provide enough data and its employees apparently
take off for the weekend. Based on what we see, the infection rates are
falling, defying the direst predictions. But the data are incomplete:
testing is not universal, incubation rates are uncertain (5 to 14 days),
and data in general rely on collection, which is itself an unscientific
But think about the following. Above all else, the number one
question people have in this crisis is: do I have the Coronavirus? This
more than anything else is the central concern. Remarkably, Americans
did not know and had no means of finding out. The reason is now clear:
the Centers for Disease Control had previously nationalized all disease
testing. A government bureaucracy like any other. It’s hardly surprising
that it completely flopped.
AIER already explained
how a private researcher, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates
Foundation, was forcibly prevented from producing and distributing a
valid test. The CDC said no.
Now, more details are rolling in about how all this went down, thanks
to intrepid reporters who smelled a rat. The CDC in the first week of
February sent 160,000 tests to labs around the country. The tests were
faulty and produced confusing results. They were withdrawn, just as
private laboratories fixed the test.
Still, no approval was being given for private labs to produce tests. For the very curious, you can read the many stories
of private labs who were begging for a chance to do something about the
problem. The red tape, confusion, power struggles, and information
blockages are being documented by the day.
The Washington Post reports:
The U.S. efforts to distribute a working test stalled until Feb. 28, when federal officials revised the CDC test and began loosening up FDA rules that had limited who could develop coronavirus diagnostic tests.
The CDC/FDA bans on private tests were done in the name of health and
safety. That was the period in which panic enveloped the nation. No one
knew. We had no means to find out. Everyone and everything flipped out.
We replaced knowledge with insanity.
F.A. Hayek was right that the use of knowledge in society is the
central issue in economic and social organization. We had been cut off
from the knowledge flow that otherwise would have been ours had we left
this issue entirely to the private sector, which would have brought a
Coronavirus test to you as quickly as you can order a pizza.
Instead, there was nothing but confusion.
Shortly after Feb. 28, when CDC officials announced the decision to reconfigure the CDC test, the number of those tests run by public health labs soared, from roughly 25 or fewer per day to as many as 1,500. At the same time, authorities were allowing other facilities to use their own tests — including Cleveland Clinic, Stanford and Greninger’s at the University of Washington.
Even so, complaints of testing scarcity continued to roll in last week. As tests become more widely available, experts and officials have cautioned that a backlog will continue because of critical shortages: swabs to collect patient samples, machines to extract the genetic material from the swabs, workers qualified to run the tests.
Even if those problems are resolved, however, those critical early delays, when the CDC was struggling to issue tests to the states, significantly damaged efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus, experts said.
In a CDC tele-briefing on Feb. 29 that included some local and state public health directors, local officials lamented the initial inability to test. A reporter asked: “Did the lack of testing capabilities delay finding out who these cases were, particularly the person who died?”
In answering, Jeff Duchin, the public health chief in King County, Wash., where 37 deaths have been reported, suggested the lack of tests was critical, in addition to the fact that authorities had limited who could be tested. Initially, they had said tests would only be used for those who had traveled in affected regions of the globe or had otherwise been in contact with an infected person.
Another report adds:
The void created by the CDC’s faulty tests made it impossible for public-health authorities to get an accurate picture of how far and how fast the disease was spreading. In hotspots like Seattle, and probably elsewhere, COVID-19 spread undetected for several weeks, which in turn only multiplied the need for more tests.
Lacking that knowledge, public officials freaked out. Stay home. Keep
your distance. Everyone is a suspect. Anyone and everyone could be
positive for Corona. Socially shame anyone out and about. Board up the bars!
It was this sense, along with utter panic on the part of public
officials, that led the markets to crash. After all, you can’t have an
economy if people cannot engage and trade, can’t go to work, can’t
distribute goods and services, and forget about investment.
And here we find the key to understanding why this Coronavirus has
produced a social and economic calamity, whereas the H1N1 (Swine flu)
from ten years ago is barely remembered by most people. It came and went
with a large health cost (infections: 57 million; fatalities 12,469)
but low cost otherwise. The critical difference was that the CDC worked
with private laboratories and medical facilities to get the test out
there. A few public schools closed for part of the day but there was no
panic, no large economic loss. You can read about the response here.
In the midst of all of this, this panic learning and trying, this
speculation and searching, this mass national confusion, this endless
and chaotic longing to know, this constant grasping for intelligence,
one thing became certain: states at all levels decided to act. As if
they knew the right course. And they acted with extreme force. And their
message was always the same: stop whatever you are doing and do nothing
This was and is the ultimate expression of nihilism, the chaos that
follows ignorance. Officials in this country decided to shut down
society – as if this were even possible – as a replacement for reliable,
usable, actionable knowledge that we were all forcibly prevented from
gaining when we most needed it.
It’s a classic pretension of knowledge about which the government
itself is clueless. They tried to plan without reliable signs or
signals. That’s a recipe for chaotic, hasty, haphazard, and internally
contradictory policy decisions, all driven by the need to maintain the
appearance of an official response.
Such circumstances are ripe for abuse. Contrary perspectives, such as that offered by Stanford bio-statistician John P.A. Ioannidis, were ignored. In his view, we have absolutely no basis to assume that any existing models are right, and that the fatality rate could be extremely low (0.025%). Were these views ignored because he doesn’t have the right conclusion?
We got censorship of the problem when it first emerged, and now other
governments trying to cover their own rears for chaotic inaction as
it’s played out. Then all the vultures arrive, trying to append their
pet political projects to the response: authoritarian busybodies like
Cuomo and de Blasio instinctually calling out the police or calling for
nationalization of industry, Bernie using it to make the case for
Medicare for All, the UBI crowd trying to build that into a stimulus,
the nationalists demanding a shutdown of global trade.
Right now, there is a huge debate in this country about how bad
Coronavirus really is. Some people are saying that we are all going to
be infected. Many will die. Others are saying that this is completely
overwrought, that authorities have overreacted, and that viruses burn
themselves out and that the casualties will be few. The problem here is
that we haven’t had access to reliable, scientifically valid information
either to avoid panic and behave in a rational way.
The contrast with South Korea,
where infections have fallen and fallen, is striking. There were no
shutdowns, no geographic quarantines, no panics. Society was open for
business. Life went on as normal but for one thing: people had access to
testing, which is to say that people were given access to the essential
and most important piece of information that was necessary at the
That was not the case in the US.
And that is a major source of the problem. The information problem
turns out to be critical for the survival of economic life, exactly as
F.A. Hayek discovered
in the 20th century. Those information flows, when they are cut off by
force, for whatever reason, and in whatever form, lead to chaos. A
tragic and deeply damaging chaos.
The ray of hope is that reliable tests are going to be distributed
widely in the coming days, and that will solve the great epistemic
crisis created by the CDC/FDA. There is hope and light at the end of
this very dark tunnel of ignorance.