When the history of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is written years from now, one of the most notable consequences might prove to be the damage done to science by scientists or those who profess a belief in science.
Since the pandemic began, the pontificating of too many of them has been doing a great job of making the same wreck of science that mainstream journalists made of journalism, and pretty much everyone knows what happened there.
For those who don’t, an April poll by The Economist and YouGov about says it all. The poll found the only “media” source a majority of Americans trust is “The Weather Channel,” which was rated “very trustworthy or somewhat trustworthy” by just over 50 percent of the country.
PBS was the only actual news organization polling over 40 percent positive, and then just barely. The major TV network news shows came in second best at 37 to 38 percent. The New York Times, once considered a pillar of American journalism, was at 36 percent with Democrats (63 percent believers) and Republicans (86 percent disbelievers) widely split and the non-partisans skewing right.
Journalists effectively used their rush to judgment, know-it-allism to piss away their credibility in the eyes of most Americans. And scientists, who should know better, have fallen into the same trap.
Case in point:
That was Dr. Jonathon Reiner, a regular CNN talking head, a professor at the George Washington School of Medicine & Health Sciences and a fellow of the American College of Cardiology, Tweeting away on April 19 after a federal judge struck down the mandate for masks on commercial airlines.
He took a guess on the future, and he guessed wrong.
A wiser man, knowing no one can predict the future, might have had the sense to couch the prediction in more sensible (dare one say ‘scientific’) terms by observing, for instance, that “it is possible that in the coming weeks we could see large numbers of canceled flights.”
But such a reasoned statement isn’t going to get all the clicks and shares that feed the egos of Twitterati like Reiner. Yelling that the sky is falling is so much more dramatic.
The sky isn’t falling
Unfortunately, in this case, the sky didn’t fall, and reporter Ian Miller, who runs the “Unmasked” site on substack, went looking to see what had happened in the first couple of weeks after the masks came off.
‘Yesterday, May 1st, cancellation percentages were as follows,” he reported:
- Southwest 0%
- Frontier 0%
- United 1%
- American Airlines 0%
- Delta 1%
- Jet Blue 4%
“So far today, thru mid-afternoon eastern time, cancellations were nearly identical:
- Southwest 0%
- Delta 0%
- Jet Blue 0%
- Frontier 2%
- American Airlines 0%
- United 0%
“For Sunday, the average cancellation percentage for those six airlines was 1 percent.
“So far today, it’s 0.33 percent, and a grand total of 52 flights have been canceled out of thousands of scheduled trips.
“Another easy method to check if flights have been canceled en masse is to visit Google and check for recent news reports,” he added.
Anyone can do that. If you did it on Sunday, you would have found headlines about Alaska Airlines flights canceled as the company struggles to deal with disgruntled pilots, British Airways flights canceled because the airline is having trouble hiring enough staff to ramp up operations, and this from Time magazine:
That story is old news. The headline topped a report dated April 5, about two weeks before the mask mandate was lifted on the order of a federal judge. But there are so few other canceled flight stories being written now that the story is still in the Google rotation.
It did report that in early April “more than 10,000 U.S. flights were canceled or delayed, according to flight tracker FlightAware, with another 5,085 delayed and 779 canceled on Monday….”Southwest (Airlines) alone canceled 920 flights between Saturday and Sunday, with 43 percent of its scheduled Saturday flights delayed. On Sunday, JetBlue canceled 25 percent of its flights.”
Those cancellations would qualify as “massive,” but they had little to do with Covid-19. The cancelations were weather and technology related.
Not that there haven’t been pandemic-related cancellations. Citing a federal report, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday reported that “severe disruptions caused by the January COVID-19 surge” persisted into February.
“Airlines canceled 4.5 percent of their domestic flights in February, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, after canceling 6.3 percent of their flights in January, during the height of the omicron variant.”
Again, this was before the mask mandate was lifted. Since then, the problems caused by Covid-19 appear to have only lessened.
The Federal Aviation Administration says there are about 45,000 flights daily in the U.S., so 80 cancellations would equal about 0.2 percent of all flights. Based on FAA flight numbers and flight cancellations numbers compiled by the data-crunching website Statista, the national average cancellation rate over the last 20 years would appear to be somewhere around 0.5 percent.
The evidence makes a mockery of the predictions of Reiner and others who panicked in the wake of the judge’s decision and started predicting doom.
This is not to say that Covid-19 problems won’t arise among the unmasked on airlines. They almost certainly will, given that it is inevitable that another wave of the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus will come just as the waves of flu have come year after year since the Spanish flu in 1918.
One would be a fool to make a prediction that this won’t happen. Such a prediction would be even more foolish than declaring that removing masks while traveling in well-ventilated airlines would automatically drive a surge in Covid-19 infections.
And that is the problem.
Scientists are supposed to be people who know what they are talking about when it comes to science. When they make bold, know-it-all predictions that don’t come true, they undermine both their own credibility and science.
In theory, the “listen to the scientists” mantra is good, but why would any reasonable person want to listen to scientists if too many of them are talking gibberish?