We Live In The Orwellian World, Folks!

Did the Protests Cause the Spike of Coronavirus Infection?

Dr. Valdemar Malin

“Results of elections are determined not by voters, but those who count their votes.” J. Stalin

Photo copyright: David Geitgey Sierralupe. CC BY 2.0

On July 1, 2020, Tommy Beer, a New York-based news desk reporter for Forbes, posted an article on Forbes.com under a sensational heading “Research Determines Protests Did Not Cause Spike in Coronavirus Cases.”

Recent sharp increase in Coronavirus (CV) cases all over the country went hand in hand with nationwide protests, violent rioting and looting in the streets of major American cities. In order to calm the alarmed population (and the rioters themselves), the concerned protest sponsors and organizers urgently needed evidence that the protesters did not cause the spike of the CV infection.

And such evidence were found without delay. An urgent study (normally tackled by virologists) was conducted by a team of economists from academia (Bently University; University of Colorado and San Diego State University). Hastily, they collected pertinent data from 315 cities and published their findings in a non-official working paper entitled “ blасk Lives Matter Protests, Social Distancing, and COVID-19” 1 released by National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER).

(NBER working papers are circulated for discussion and comment purposes. They have not been peer-reviewed or reviewed by NBER Board of Directors that accompanied official NBER publications).

Тhe academics-economists were in such a hurry that, even though their NBER report has not yet been peer-reviewed, they “pre-released” it for sympathetic reporters in the mainstream media. The eager reporters rapidly spread the report’s findings and conclusions among the alarmed population, but took the liberty to go even further than the authors themselves did by declaring that the protesters did not cause the spike of the CV pandemic.

One of those reporters was Tommy Beer from Forbes, a journal that is considered to be an objective, mostly factual and moderately conservative media source. Tommy Beer, well-known also as a sport reporter, selected this time for his article a serious scientific study conducted by respected scientists on a burning topic of the day—how the current protest demonstrations affect CV pandemic.

Objectivity is a golden standard both in sport journalism and in scientific research. То favor one of the competing teams is not allowed in the press box because it undermines credibility of the reporting. In scientific research, scientists should explain facts instead of trying to prove their hypotheses; to solve a problem rather than receive the desired answers.

That’s why it was expected that the scientists and the journalist will adhere to that golden standard of objectivity. False hopes! Judge by yourselves.

Forbes article is largely based on the NBER report and the paper published by Chelsea Janes in Washington Post2 heavily quoted and referenced by Beer.

You recognize bias, when a journalist reporting about a study, trusts the data and the results more than the authors themselves. One of them, Dhaval Dave, confesses that “a shortcoming of the (NBER) study is that it tracks Covid-19 prevalence in the city’s entire population.”

What does it mean? It means that the authors doubt the obtained data because of its ambiguity and uncertainty. Assume that in Minneapolis (population of 437,000), a crowd of 1,000 protesters hit the streets. (By the way, according to NBER report, “less than 1,000 protesters were reported in almost 2/3 of the protest cities”). Assume also that half (50%) the protesters catch CV (the number unheard for any pandemic). Then the increase in the city CV case load will be only 0.1%. For Seattle (population of 3,433,000), the increase will be just negligible 0.02%. Such statistics causes ambiguity and uncertainty, while masking the reality.

Jeff Duchin, Seattle public health officials, acknowledges also that the “the data may be imperfect.” But Chelsea Janes from Washington Post, a source so sympathetic to protesters, states it even more categorically—“the uncertain data may blare the evidence and dull the conclusions that may be drawn from it.” Even the title of her article does not inspire much confidence: “Protests probably didn’t lead to CV spikes, but it’s hard to know for sure” because “the impact of the protests is less clear.

This uncertainty raises a lot of questions. Why is the impact of the protests perfectly clear to the health officials quoted in the Forbes article? Despite the uncertain data, these officials claim that they “certainly don’t have any evidence” the protesters did cause the CV surge.

But how can anyone claim anything with confidence based on uncertain data? How can anyone ignore other sources that claim that the effect of protests on the spread of CV infection is not clear, yet?

If there were at least 15,000,000 protesters nationwide (as claimed by NY Times), how could such huge masses of people in the street not cause a surge of pandemic?

And the main question is how could Tommy Beer, despite all these doubts and uncertainty, arrive to a firm conclusion that the protests didn’t cause the CV surge?

Because it’s a game! Political game played by health officials, media and politicians acting as virologists. Michael T. Osterholm, Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the U of Minnesota described this game as follows:

“I put a sign up on my front lawn three years ago to say ‘No elephants allowed!’ I had not have an elephant on my lawn in three years. So you think, see, it works! Epidemiology requires much more than that.”

All these contradictory facts were known to Tommy Beer—he referenced them in his Forbes article. But he ignored them, anyway, out of respect, perhaps, to an avalanche of the statistical data brought in the 60-page NBER report—36 pages of graphs and tables! Well, there are lies, big lies and…statistics, as you know.

Even the assertive heading of the Forbes article “…the protests DID NOT cause…” is an exaggeration. The authors of the NBER study did not go that far. They just surveyed 90% of the protest cities (281 out of 315 with population over 100,000) to determine the effect of the protests on social distancing. (Social/physical distancing is a set of measures intended to limit physical contacts between people, including the sit-at-home policy).

But their study stopped short of asserting that the protests didn’t cause the resurgence of COVID-19. That’s what they concluded: “Prima facie (based on the first impression), given the increase in sheltering-at-home (during the protests), we would not expect any strong increases in COVID-19 case growth.” They are cautious and choose their words carefully realizing that the problem was more complex than it appears.

Even Washington Post acknowledges that “the relationship between being outside and exposure to the virus still remains murky,” although the protest organizers in Columbia, S.C. has already figured out that relationship (not acceptable for them, of course)—they had “to postpone further demonstrations after some protesters were tested positive for CV.”

But despite all these facts, Tommy Beer has come to a firm conclusion that the protests didn’t cause the resurgence of COVID-19.

Such disparaging treatment of the facts may raise suspicion that the main objective of the Forbes article is not to get to the root of the problem, not to find the real cause of the CV resurgence, but rather to exonerate the protests and the protesters. In fact, the root of the problem has been the hypocritical and contradictory attitude of the protest organizers and their sponsors to the “shelter-in-place” policy.

On one hand, they encourage, support and enforce this policy forcing everyone to stay at home as long as possible. They scare people with consequences of being infected, getting the deadly disease and spreading it. They even punish people for going outside. On the other hand, they encourage the protesters to go outside and support their actions despite those deadly consequences.

Why didn’t the objective NBER researchers or the media address or even mention this glaring contradiction? What is this? Short-sightedness, a blunder? No, this is а manifestation of the highest degree of hypocrisy—don’t do what I do, do what I say.

One of the objectives of the NBER study is to convince those, who live in the protest cities, especially in the “neighboring communities,” that the protest demonstrations are not dangerous for them. Did they prove it convincingly without bias? Judge by yourself.

The idea was to create a database to prove that the protests lead to the increase in the social distancing behavior among non-protesters. This is supposed to reduce the rate of CV infection, as suggested by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

And the NBER researchers have done a gigantic and unique work—they have collected a huge amount of data in 315 US cities using a technique of anonymous cellphone data tracking (tracking locations of the cellphones). They used also mathematical modelling to predict the effect of the main factors (among too many) on social distancing.

But today, there is strong skepticism in predictive power of modelling and models among epidemiologists. All these models failed to predict hospital bed requirements or mortality rates of the CV pandemic misinforming the health officials, government and the public. Some virologists even question applicability of models because of their imperfection.

Nevertheless, the NBER researchers used such models and came to a conclusion that the “cities that had protests saw an increase in the net social distancing behavior.”

However, there is another problem, in addition to the drawbacks of models and the “imperfect” data (acknowledged by the researchers themselves and others as discussed above). The term “net” means that “any decrease in social distancing among the protesters is more than offset by that of those who stay at home” yielding positive results.

Such approach distorts the reality and reminds a joke about a doctor reassuring a patient burning with fever, “At our hospital, the average temperature of all patients and medical personnel is almost normal.”

The researchers were evasive also in explaining the real reasons why such increase in distancing occurred. You may think the protests played a positive role in raising consciousness or improve discipline of the non-protesters. Not at all! The official explanation is that those who did not take part in the protests just “decided to stay home.”

But the word “decided” raises suspicions immediately. People did not “decide”—they had no choice! They did not fear the CV infection as much as they feared the protesters! As soon as the protesters (along with the violent and dangerous rioters and looters) show up, the people in the “neighboring communities” (even those who ignore “shelter-in-place” policy) run for their lives in fear of the mob. They hide in their homes and lock the doors.

Fear that’s what moves them. But there is no glamour in recognizing that the inspiring protests for noble causes may lower the infection rate and improve safety due to vile, primordial fear.

There is more. The researchers do not hide their bias. Instead of being objective, as the rules of scientific research require, they are sympathetic to the causes of the  blасk Lives Matter (BLM) movement. That’s why they warn that “the BLM protests are protected speech and non-criminal activity” but ignore the unlawful violent rioting and criminal looting. That’s why they call BLM protests peaceful but ignore the presence of discredited anarchists, Antifa and other violent militant groups among the BLM protesters marching hand-in-hand together.

They also downplay the magnitude of the violence stating that, although “the BLM protests may still be viewed as dangerous by non-attendees, the presence of violence is occasional.” Occasional? How can it be occasional if the authors themselves revealed that “out of the 281 cities with protests, 134 cities had violence?” Pure bias—almost half (48%) of these protests brought violence!

Despite the contradictions, the net increase in social distancing (convincingly proven or not) allows the researchers to imply that the protests should bring the rate of CV infection down in the protest cities and the neighboring communities.

Such conclusion gave the media a reason to spread a good news that the protests did not cause spike in CV infection and, at the same time, to instill a treacherous thought in the minds of non-protesters: don’t fear the protests, rioting, looting and violence because protests may improve safety—they facilitate cautious and safe behavior, and, thus, improve…safety.

But by the same circular logic, crime may improve your safety too—it facilitates cautious and safe behavior, and, thus, reduces…crime.

Another objective of the Forbes article is to convince the protesters themselves that they do not take high risk of being infected.

As evidence, the Forbes article reports that, in the cities experiencing mass protests and the CV resurgence (Seattle, WA; Portland, Ore; Oakland, CA), officials “have asked people tested positive (for COVID-19) whether they attended protests, and few said they had.” The same happened in Minneapolis in which “less than 1%” of the protesters caught the disease.

But will you trust these officials? They have conflicts of interest by representing the administrations of the cities in which the protests were especially violent, the administrations that incited these demonstrations and supported the protesters.

You cannot trust the answers of the protest-attendees, either. Who will willingly or honestly admit that they were at the places of unlawful rioting and criminal looting? Will the violent  blасk-shirt protesters from Antifa masking their faces to avoid recognition admit that? No way! They may run a risk of being recognized and becoming suspects.

Will the peaceful protesters marching for their noble causes and high ideals admit that they caught COVID-19 doing that? No way! Such admission may defeat their causes and tarnish the appeal of their ideals.

You don’t have to be a virologist or even an economist to understand what has been happening—just apply elementary logic.

When a mob of agitated people is marching in the streets, the physical distancing along with their safety are going down the tube. Predominantly young people, they wear masks that do not guarantee 100% safety, some being even without masks. They walk almost shoulder-to-shoulder in the streets talking to and panting in the neck of each other. They shout slogans, yell at the police spitting saliva and cough because of pepper sprays and tear gas. And they riot, loot and commit acts of violence—all of them are in grave danger of being infected.

All these people are supposed to take an incomparably higher risk of being infected than those who are watching them on TV in the safety of their homes? Even the authors of the NBER study admit that “the local protesters who travel back home may be spreading the CV to others.” So are the out-of-town protesters (agitators) who may comprise up to 80% of protesters, according to Mayor of Minneapolis. But “such data are not available, either.”

Those, who do catch infection, “do not appear on the official list of infected” because “healthy young people show very mild symptoms and don’t care to call a doctor’s office.”

Yet, such arguments do not bother the author of the Forbes article who is firmly convinced that the protesters could not cause the spike of CV infection.

These contradictions are begging for a really good explanation to fill the credibility gap. That’s why Tommy Beer brings to the rescue the most “trustful and credible” witnesses he was able to find—the officials of Minneapolis, the city in which the protests started, not without encouragement from and direct aid by the same officials.

Here are the reasons given by Doug Schultz, the spokesman of Minneapolis Health Department, to explain why so few protesters got sick:

1) “The protesters were outside.” (But we were told that staying at home was safer).

2) “Most of them wore masks.” (Most of us do, but we bring CV infection home, anyway—probably because of those who do not wear masks).

3) “They spent most of their time in motion circulating through the crowd.” (That’s what we do shopping inside a grocery store, but can’t avoid the virus).

The bogus nature of such explanations is obvious—those are exactly the same situations we were told to avoid at any costs in order to stay safe. Except that for the protest sponsors and organizers the number of infected and sick does not matter—“the goal of protests may be worth the costs.”

The Forbes article is full of such glaring contradictions, which defy common sense, logic and reality. They may undermine credibility of the NBER research and the article raising suspicions that the research was deliberately misinterpreted to arrive to a desired conclusion: VIOLENT PROTESTING IN THE STREETS IS AS SAVE AS SITTING AT HOME!

What a beautiful oxymoron! It will be as famous as that coined by Mayor of Seattle Jenny Durkan in reference to anarchy created in the city by the BLM and Antifa protesters: ANARCHY IS SUMMER OF LOVE!

Wait a minute! Why do these oxymoron sound so familiar? Oh, both of them look like the catch phrases from the novel “1984” by George Orwell in which he described an anti-life world where the Doublethink turned thoughts upside-down and made people believe that FREEDOM IS SLАVЕRY!

…WE LIVE IN THE ORWELLIAN WORLD, FOLKS!

REFERENCES:

  1. Dhaval M. Dave, et al. “ blасk Lives Matter Protests, Social Distancing, and COVID-19,” June 2020, NBER working paper 27408, http://www.nber.org/papers/w27408.
  2. Chelsea Janes, “Protests probably didn’t lead to CV spikes, but it’s hard to know for sure.” Washington Post, June 30, 2020.

Dr. Valdemar Malin is the author of the book “Altruism, the Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (Amazon.com).