Team Lockdown and Shrub Science
The idea has been around for centuries. But it took a high school science fair, George W. Bush, history lessons and some determined researchers to overcome skepticism and make it federal policy.
By Eric Lipton and Jennifer Steinhauer
April 22, 2020
The concept of social distancing is now intimately familiar to almost everyone. But as it first made its way through the federal bureaucracy in 2006 and 2007, it was viewed as impractical, unnecessary and politically infeasible.
“There were two words between ‘shut’ and ‘up’” initially, said Dr. Howard Markel, who directs the University of Michigan’s Center for the History of Medicine and who played a role in shaping the policy as a member of the Pentagon research team. “It was really ugly.”
My first response when I heard about the national policy of locking down public life was, "Are you shitting me? This can't work." We were all disoriented at the time, and I certainly did not fancy myself a scientist, a doctor or even minimally knowledgeable about the medical dimensions of this impending pandemic. So, I reluctantly went along with the regulations. I was lucky enough to be able to work from home, and I put a mask on whenever I left my home. Seven months later I am still going along with it -- and still thinking that this shit was crazy.
It turns out that some people who really did know something about public health had the same reaction I did to this idea.
One particularly vociferous critic was Dr. D.A. Henderson, who had been the leader of the international effort to eradicate smallpox and had been named by Mr. Bush to help oversee the nation’s biodefense efforts after the 2001 terrorist attacks. /snip/ The measures embraced by Drs. Mecher and Hatchett would “result in significant disruption of the social functioning of communities and result in possibly serious economic problems,” Dr. Henderson wrote in his own academic paper responding to their ideas.
The answer, he insisted, was to tough it out: Let the pandemic spread, treat people who get sick and work quickly to develop a vaccine to prevent it from coming back.
I lost a friend in real life when I just asked the question, "Is the cure worse than the disease?"
The New York Times article goes on to say that the Bush Administration eventually decided in favor of the new and totally untried strategy -- and the decision was "little noticed" outside specialists in the field.
This means that the current strategy for fighting the virus was the result of a political process that resolved a disagreement between experts. It was not a decision made by "science." The lead voice in support of this strategy is quoted at the end of the article with this bit of perspective:
Dr. Markel called it “very gratifying to see our work used to help save lives.” But, he added, “it is also horrifying. We always knew this would be applied in worst-case scenarios,” he said. “Even when you are working on dystopian concepts, you always hope it will never be used.”
Team Lockdown is comprised of all the reporters, bloggers and internet voices who vehemently criticize anyone who expresses any level of doubt whatsoever about the Social Distancing policy. On this board I have asked the question about what Dr. Merkel understood to be the horrifying reality that his policy was dystopian and must only be used in a worst-case scenario. Nobody tried to answer the basic question.
In support of the the Lockdown, we have heard a 7 month long procession of numbers. Numbers of deaths, numbers of cases, numbers of new cases, numbers of hospitalizations, numbers relating the rate of change of each of those numbers. All that quantification sounds all science-y, but it really does not explain anything about the prime question posed by Dr. Markel: Is this a worst case scenario?
It no longer matters. Social distancing has done its worst already. We might as well keep all the restrictions in place forever or until the virus is "contained" -- whatever that is supposed to mean. Nevertheless, I am extremely angry at Team Lockdown for its fundamental dishonesty in getting us to this pass. And at some point, if civilization survives this dystopian nightmare, we will need a Truth Commission to sort out how all this insanity played out.
The article points out something I missed at the time, while really wondering how it happened that corporate America started the lockdown before any government took action. I can relate to the idea that somebody SHOULD take action when political "leaders" like Trump are preventing necessary action. If they were right, the various private parties described in the article who forced implementation of the strategy should be considered heroes. If they were right.
Team Lockdown tirelessly suppresses any discussion of that primary question -- was the guy who fought smallpox, Dr. Henderson, right in the first place that this kind of "cure" was too disruptive to be a practicable strategy? And were these guys who might be heroes right in their assessment that dystopia was less damaging than the virus?
The primary tactic for diverting any discussion of the First Premise of the lockdown is the False Dichotomy. Do you support Science or do you support the Prince of Idiots and his followers? This is a venerable tactic that the Status Quo uses to prevent consideration of facts that contradict the Prevailing Narrative. It has worked very well for decades.
The first time I noticed the technique was during the Reagan Years. I saw Jean Kirkpatrick on TV, responding to a question about intervention in Nicaragua, "So it appears that you prefer the Sandinistas to Freedom Fighters." This prevents consideration of the idea that it is none of our freaking business who runs Nicaragua. This gag comes back into play decade after decade. Do you prefer a brutal dictator like Saddam Hussein, Sadat or Khadaffi? I could not care less who runs other countries, but my point of view is banished from public debate by this clever technique of binary framing.
So to preempt the usual routine of explaining the "science" of the virus and all the spikes and surges, rather than giving a straight answer to the question of what would have happen if we did not use the Bush Technique -- let me make these concessions in the debate:
1. The virus is not a hoax. It is a very serious health threat.
2. I do not care about "freedom" with respect to resisting the virus. By analogy to war and natural catastrophes like earthquakes and wildfires, we all have to surrender our personal preferences in order to preserve lives.
3. I do not care about the mask. I wear one whenever I leave my residence. It is only a minor inconvenience.
My objection to Team Lockdown is the obstinate refusal to make a case for their policy, instead falsely claiming that they are defending science. No they are not. They are defending a political decision made in 2007 by George W. Bush. It might be a good political decision, based on the actual experience of our citizenry. That looks like a very dubious proposition seven months into this experiment in social discipline. But it could still ultimately be vindicated -- depending on how much damage the lockdown ultimately causes. If we wind up with an economic "recovery," that allows a return to stability, the policy will have worked.
If the Depression is as disruptive as I think it will be, then Team Lockdown will have committed mass murder.