By Andrew Glen, Ph.D. and James D. Agresti – Re-Blogged From WUWT
[There is a lot of good but somewhat dry material here, so I’ve skipped right to the Summary. –Bob]
One of the most important principles of epidemiology is weighing benefits and harms. A failure to do this can make virtually any medical treatment seem helpful or destructive. In the words of Ronald C. Kessler of the Harvard Medical School and healthcare economist Paul E. Greenberg, “medical interventions are appropriate only if their expected benefits clearly exceed the sum of their direct costs and their expected risks.”
Likewise, a 2020 paper about quarantines published in The Lancet states: “Separation from loved ones, the loss of freedom, uncertainty over disease status, and boredom can, on occasion, create dramatic effects. Suicide has been reported, substantial anger generated, and lawsuits brought following the imposition of quarantine in previous outbreaks. The potential benefits of mandatory mass quarantine need to be weighed carefully against the possible psychological costs.”
Yet, when dealing with Covid-19 and other issues, politicians sometimes ignore this essential principle of sound decision-making. For a prime example, NJ Governor Phil Murphy recently insisted that he must maintain a lockdown or “there will be blood on our hands.” What that statement fails to recognize is that lockdowns also kill people via the mechanisms detailed above.
Likewise, a reporter asked NY Governor Andrew Cuomo about the impacts of his lockdown on people who commit “suicide because they can’t pay their bills” and others who die from the economic repercussions and “mental illness.” In reply, Cuomo stated five times that these fatal outcomes are “not death.” He also asked the rhetorical question, “How can the cure be worse than the illness if the illness is potential death?” The obvious answer is that the cure is also potential death.
In situations like pandemics and many other realms of public policy, life-and-death tradeoffs are inevitable, and failing to recognize this can cause tremendous harm. This is the case with Covid-19, where a broad array of scientific facts overwhelmingly shows that anxiety from reactions to the disease will destroy at least seven times more years of life than can possibly be saved by lockdowns. Moreover, the total loss of life from all societal responses to this disease is likely to be more than 90 times greater than prevented by the lockdowns.
A final note for readers who are experiencing anxiety: Healthcare professionals can reduce these effects, so seek help.
Dr. Andrew Glen is a Professor Emeritus of Operations Research from the United States Military Academy. He is a thirty-year U.S. Army veteran and an award-winning researcher in the field of computational probability.