Counting the dead: an exercise that one would think would be the ABC’s of Public Health scientists: Well no!
By Jean-Michel Claverie*
In an editorial published on June 9, 2022, an editor of the prestigious journal Nature reveals in detail how the team of “specialists” of the very official World Health Organization (WHO) was able to make a mistake of almost 40% in the simple calculation of the excess mortality caused by the Covid-19 epidemic (from 116/100,000 to 72.7/100,000 for Germany, for example).
Even more astonishing is that the most important errors (and acknowledged by the authors of the study), concern countries like Germany and Sweden, which are among the least suspected of publishing poor statistics.
No, the cause of these errors (but it would be more appropriate to speak of uncertainties, because the right values are still not known) really lies in a methodological problem of modeling that still does not seem to be solved among the “specialists”.
For the (retired) theoretician that I am, these modelling/extrapolation difficulties are really surprising, since it is a question of capturing a demographic phenomenon whose variations are slow and of low amplitude (relatively flat curves).
This kind of “scientific accident”, affecting moreover an international organization (WHO/WHO) which prides itself on playing a dominant role in the management of future pandemics, can only reinforce the growing suspicion on the reliability of global mathematical models of all kinds and the (political) empowerment of those who brandish their often very alarmist results.
The arrogance of the “armchair scientists” who model all kinds of things becomes all the more intolerable as their “errors” can lead to public policies (economy, health, ecology, etc.) whose possibly catastrophic (and irreversible) consequences concern us all.
It is really time to give back to scientific activity all the rigor that has been its strength until now.
*Jean-Michel Claverie was co-founder and former vice-president of the French Society of Virology and is a professor of Public Health and Virology at the University of Aix-Marseille.
Thought for the Day: “Forecasting is difficult, especially when it concerns the future.” (Pierre Dac)