It’s not just for journalists anymore

Researchers examining the thousands of pandemic studies of SARS-CoV-2, Covid-19 and related fallout have concluded some scientists might have become as fixated as journalists on attracting attention and honesty be damned.

Reporting in Scientometrics, an investigative journal, they say that a review of studies eventually withdrawn or retracted because they were flawed shows that such studies were “more likely to include bold claims that garnered a disproportionately high amount of attention within the scientific community.”

Not only that, many of the flawed studies went on to be cited as evidence by other scientists even after the studies were withdrawn or retracted.

The researchers from the University of Massachusetts TH Chan School of Medicine went so far as to use the C-word in describing what they believe happened.

“On average, a retracted COVID-19 publication had tenfold the number of citations compared to other articles in the journals in which they were published, many of which were presumably also related to the pandemic,” they wrote. “Retracted COVID-19 publications may have been more likely to include bold or novel claims that garnered a disproportionately high amount of attention from others in the scientific community. The phenomenon ofclickbait’ titles could explain how certain publications gained more attention and led to further writing on a potentially misleading claim.”

And it would appear that if those claims were juicy enough, no matter how unsupported or factually wrong, a lot of other scientists didn’t mind citing them to support or reinforce their work.

An analysis of 728 citations from 93 mistake-filled studies published in June or November of 2022 found “just shy of five citations of retracted COVID-19 papers per day,” they wrote. “It does not appear that measures taken to curb their citation have much effect either.

“For example, there was no significant difference in additional citations between those articles bearing ‘withdrawn’ or ‘retracted’ headings and those without them. Ultimately, this places the onus to limit the perpetuation of inaccurate, retracted information squarely on the scientific community itself. It is up to researchers to analyze their citations as closely as they analyze their conclusions.”

Playing nice

The researchers stopped short of calling out fellow scientists for using bogus research to reinforce their own conclusions, but they did take a shot at the scientific elite.

“It is well known that the number of citations per published article is used to quantify the prestige of scientific journals. This also applies to individual authors; citation counts are used to calculate metrics such as the H-index that evaluate the impact and quality of a scholar’s research,” they said.

The H-index provides a motive for some to lie given it is helpful for those on the tenure track at American universities.

“With so much at stake, it is easy to see the possible conscious or unconscious motive behind research practices that maximize the attention they garner from the scientific community,” the UMass researchers concluded.

Journalism deals with the same issue, but the researchers did not get into how flawed studies can be magnified by journalists reporting on them even when they appear questionable or explore the nexxus between flawed science and news promotion of the same on both sides of the political spectrum in a society where everything has become politicized.

Neither did they delve deep into how the pandemic has heightened desires for attention in a world increasinlgy focused on celebrity and so-called “media influencers”, although they did note that “articles published on the novel coronavirus have been retracted at a much higher rate than other articles published in similar journals. The reason for the retraction was not clear in all cases, highlighting the benefit of adherence to standardized guidelines for retraction documentation.

Twitter posts would indicate there has been a “scientist” or two or more trying to acquire a role as one of those influencers by riding the wave of pandemic “news.”

“In addition, these (pandemic) articles tended to be cited much more frequently than would be expected based on data for the journals they were published in. The reasons behind the surge in citations for these articles requires further investigation,” according to the UMass investigators.

Yes, there is much about the studies of the pandemic and the coverage of those studies in the news that requires further investigation.

Especially given that the pandemic of the old and the unfit might well have become the most misrepresented story of the 21st Century given its portrayal as a threat to the survival of humankind.

No equal opportunity killer

It wasn’t. The data is now clear on that. The virus was of virtually no threat to the young and of very little threat to those of reproductive age.

As a simple ecological matter, this makes it no threat at all to the species. Animals do not go extinct because of the deaths of those too old to reproduce. Animals go extinct when reproductive capacity is lost.

That was not the case with this pandemic among homo sapiens.

As of this writing, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that of the more than 1.13 million U.S. deaths blamed on Covid-19, more than 93 percent involved people age 50 or older.

At the beginning of the pandemic, an old, white, male journalist friend of mine understood this well. Old, white men being the bane of some in America (Jane Fonda now holds them responsible for global warming and never you mind how much everyone wanted to enjoy the comforts provided by the burning of fossil fuels) and gallows humor being once a norm among reporters and editors before woke took over, he joked that “never have I seen so many young women wanting to run up and hug me.”

He understood how viral diseases are transmitted and, being over 70, had reason to be worried about possible carriers of the virus getting close. He was (and is) in a high-risk group.

Those under 50 aren’t and never were – unless already suffering from serious chronic illness – but the mainstream media did its best to distort this reality in the months that followed the start of the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

“The coronavirus is killing Americans under age 50,” the Washington Post headlined on April 16, 2020 as the pandemic was just beginning.

The story below added that “some people deny the seriousness of the global pandemic as a plot to get President Trump.”

From then on the fear-mongering in the mainstream would only grow, apparently driven by a desire to deny the deniers and rid the country of the Liar in Chief.

By September of 2020, the Anchorage Daily News – Alaska’s version of the mainstream – would be running a commentary by a former reporter there warning that “Covid doesn’t care if you’re young and healthy.”

“I’m 32 years old. I’m healthy and an avid runner, biker and skier,” she wrote beneath the headline. “I run marathons. I spent most of my summer biking through mountain passes on the Kenai Peninsula and hiking peaks in the Chugach front range. This virus still knocked me out.

“…I also sat on my couch and cried when a headache that lingered for days sucked the last bit of energy from me. I cried in the doctor’s office when they told me they’d be monitoring me closely for blood clots and to prepare myself for a visit to the emergency room if things didn’t get better. I was scared. I was angered to come home to see people post on social media how they were annoyed that public health officials are just ‘overreacting’ or proclaim that their freedom had been violated by mask mandates. While some gathered en masse to protest the idea of taking precautions, I struggled to fall asleep, wondering if a rogue blood clot would kill me in the middle of the night.”

How much of the anguish was physiological and how much was psychological is hard to say and, yes, Covid-19 could have killed her.

Strange things happen in life all the time. People regularly die unexpectedly. Some people who by all medical indications shouldn’t have died of Covid-19 died of Covid-19, and some laden with comorbidities, as we now call chronic illnesses, survived even when expected to die.

But you don’t judge a disease by the outliers. You judge a disease by the norm, and the norm was that 32-year-olds didn’t die.

Even Covid-19 czar Anthony Fauci, the darling of the mainstream, was conceding that back in 2020.

In a live-streamed Facebook interview with the company’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg in which Fauci chastised young Americans for not taking Covid-19 seriously, he also admitted that “the fact is, that even though young people … with some exceptions, as a group will not get seriously ill from this…They will and can get infected. And even though there may be minimal symptoms or no symptoms at all, they become the vector to infecting those people who are vulnerable, who can get in trouble.”

Fauci’s main concern was with young people infecting older people like him, but he went on to add that “you, yourself could be in harm’s way. I mean, obviously most of the difficulties are in people who are older and/or have underlying conditions. And many young people who’ve actually gotten into trouble did have underlying conditions…but you’re not out of danger.”

Of course not. Life is a death sentence. We’re all going to die of something. And it was possible, though the odds were slim, that some young person might end up dead Covid-19.

There were, however, far, far more likely to be killed in accidents,  such as a motor-vehicle crashes, or by drug overdoses, but Fauci didn’t mention that.

Life goes on

What is most strange in looking back is that what Fauci was saying early on did sound a bit like an understanding of the virus in line with the views of those who would later draft the Great Barrington Declaration, which was destined to find itself widely dissed by Fauci and others pushing the idea that any action to slow the pandemic could be justified if it saved even one life.

A government-media propaganda campaign (there is no other word) twisted the pandemic to make younger Americans ever more fearful the SARS-CoV virus was going to kill them, while too many older Americans familiar with past government propaganda campaigns, the Red Scare and the Vietnam War among them, chose to ignore the very real dangers facing them, especially after mask mandates led some to believe a face covering would ensure safety in enclosed spaces.

There is still an ongoing debate about whether masks did or didn’t do anything to alter the flow of the pandemic and if so to what degree. That debate is likely to go on for years.

But masks were never about the science, which is decidedly unclear, but about the nation’s culture war. Masks provided ammunition for the right to exploit the idea that civil liberties were again being eroded, while the left seized the moment to further encourage the idea that if the government says something is good, by God, you should listen and even more so the idea that the right is dominated by insensitive louts.

Thus the idea that everyone should wear a mask “to protect others,’‘ an idea which has even less science to support it than the idea that masks are self-protective. The problem here is one of physics.

An inhalation sucks the mask up against the face and helps to seal it. An exhalation pushes it away and air inevitably leaks around the top, bottom and sides of the mask.

How much, if any, SARS-CoV-2 virus a mask of any kind stops remains an unknown. If a mask does catch and hold onto some of the virus, how much virus the mask can trap before it becomes ineffective is an ever bigger unknown.

Scientifically, there are no signs the debate as to whether masks work or not or how well is going to be settled for a long time, if ever

There is no debate, however, about who did and didn’t die of Covid-19 in the U.S.

Since the pandemic began, 19,706 people between the ages of 30 to 39 – to go back specifically to the case of the fearful 32-year-old mentioned above – have died of Covid-19, according to the most recent CDC data.

That’s an annualized rate of about 6,500 deaths per year although the rate was far from steady with the 4,294 deaths in 2020 climbing to 11,577 in 2021 before falling back to 3,571 last year. 

The year 2021 was a bad one for those in the 30-39-year-old age group, but the CDC has yet to rank it as a source of mortality.

In 2020, the agency reports, Covid-19 ranked sixth as a cause of death in this inherently unlikely-to-die age group. That put Covid-19 just behind homicides, which left 57 percent more dead. Heart disease, not normally thought of as a deadly killer for those under the age of 40, killed nearly twice as many of 30-to-39s as Covid-19.

How many thirtysomethings reading this are living in fear of dying of heart disease even though the odds are higher than Covid-19 that they could become victims? The American Heart Association says it now appears 48 percent of the increasingly edentary U.S.  population –  about 121.5 million people – now suffer from some form of cardiovascular disease and most are probably unaware. 

And it’s even more doubtful those 30-to-39s worry about suicide, though more than twice as many in that group took their own lives than were killed by Covid-19 in 2020.

“Unintentional injuries” were, however, the big killer. More than 33,000 thirtysomethings were killed by such things as accidental poisonings, including accidental drug overdoses; motor-vehicle collisions and falls.

Little attention is paid to these deaths, with possible exception of overdose deaths, though they have been the leading cause of death for Americans age one to 44 since at least 1980 and continue to be the leading cause of death for that age group.

Protected by youth

Below the age of 30, Covid-19 almost falls off the charts as a significant cause of death.

Heart disease deaths, consiered rare in young people, top Covid-19 as a cause of death for every group younger than 34, and suicide deaths top Covid for every group from 10 to 34, according to the CDC data.

Under age 15, Covid doesn’t even make the top-10 causes of death for any of the age groups, according to CDC, and many parents are fretting about getting their children vaccinated against the disease when it would probably make more sense for them to worry about the mental health of their children.

Even among those ages five to nine, the 20 suicides in 2020 topped the number of deaths from Covid-19, and suicide death rates started climbing rapidly from age 10 on with 581 dead in the 10 to 14 age group and 6,062 dead in the age 14 to 24 age group.

Researchers studying suicides report they increased among those five to 24 in 2020 and, in a peer-reviewed study published in the journal Pediatrics, wrote that “depression, anxiety, isolation, and decreased social support associated with the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic and related lockdowns have likely contributed to increased suicide risk in youth.”

Some young people apparently paid the price for the fear-mongering and protective measures imposed on society in general to protect those over 50 in a country that couldn’t bring itself to have a rational discussion about the new disease.

All of which might help explain why the U.S. had an excess death rate during the pandemic – a measure of all deaths, not just Covid-19 – that reached of 179.3 per 100,000 or almost twice the 91.2 per 100,000 rate for Sweden, according to a peer-reviewed study in The Lancet.

Sweden took a much more laidback approach to the pandemic than did the U.S. It seems to have served younger Swedes well, though Swedish officials have blamed themselves for a higher than hoped-for number of  Covid-19 deaths due to their failure to adequately protect old people from the virus.

Four U.S. states could claim excess death rates lower than Sweden. They were led by North Dakota at 11.3 per 100,000, followed by Hawaii at 31.2, Utah at 78.1 and Washington at 90.8

Those states took widely different approaches to the pandemic. North Dakota’s governor was criticized for failing to mandate masks and limit the size of meeting groups for much of 2020, and when he finally ordered restrictions in November of that year, they didn’t last long.

State lawmakers only months later voted to ban mandatory masking, and mandatory masking was outlawed in April 2021.

Hawaii, on the other hand, went into lockdown, required all travelers to quarantine for 14 days and made masking mandatory in April 2020.

The data makes its hard to draw any conclusions from widely varying excess deaths in U.S. states. Excess deaths were high in New York at 204.8 per 100,000, but even higher in Mississippi at 329.7, making it the natinal leader in excess deaths and the only state to top 300.

Mississippi is the nation’s fifth most obese state, and the nation’s least active state with the CDC reporting a third of the people there are physically “inactive.”

Obesity was linked to increased odds for severe Covid-19 and death early in the pandemic and lack of fitness due to inactivity has been found to be even more closely linked to deaths.

Deadly cost of inactivity

The CDC’s five least active states – Mississippi, Kentucky, Arkansas, Lousiana and Alabama, in that order – all had death rates over 241.5 per 100,000 and an average rate of 275 per 100,000.

The five most active states – Colorado, Utah, Washington, Vermont and Oregon, in that order – all had death rates under 173.1 per 100,000 and an average rate of 116.5 per 100,000.

Exercise, of course, has been shown to be protective against not only Covid-19 but many other causes of death, most especially including heart disease. Still, there appear to have been great state-by-state disparities as to the how “bad” the pandemic.

Mississippi’s rate of excess deaths was more than four times that of Utah which registered  78.1 excess deaths per 100,000 residents.

Northern states generally faired better than southern states, but Vermont, despite its active populations, had an excess death rate of 173.1 per 1`00,000, which was higher than Virginia at 151.8 deaths per 100,000. Virginia did, however, have the lowest excess death rate among the southern states.

How this all gets spun in the weeks, months and years ahead will depend a lot on how much local media is driven by clicks and in which direction, given the media on the right is generally against any restrictions on individual freedoms and media on the left favoring any restrictions that would save even one life.

But given the world in which we’re living, you can rest assured, it will get spun. Sometimes by scientists as well as journs and politicians.













9 replies »

  1. And with cheaper drugs already on the market many deaths could have been prevented if the money hungry people and big pharma weren’t more interesed in making money than saving lives! 🤨

  2. I suggest that you review Michael Hiltzik article in LA times from 5-23-23. “These ‘experts’ sold the U.S. on a disastrous COVID plan, and never paid a professional price.” More than 1,600 American children under the age of 18 died from Covid. To all these amateur scientists that did their own research and convinced friends and family not to get vaccinated after the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines were readily available – it would seem to indicate you probably caused unneeded casualties.

    • Quentin: You need to read stories before you comment on them. I won’t even comment on Hitlzik except to say that he’s an idiot. It is now clear American children are going to paying for the consequences of the policy we followed for years to come. The policy Hiltzik criticizes is similar to what Sweden actually did, and Swedish kids are today a lot less messed up as a consequence of the pandemic.

      But, this being a free country, the wonderful thing is that you are entitled to believe whatever you want to believe no matter what data or sense says.

  3. I appreciate the look back, I seem to recall saying that we will see where we stand 2-3 years down the road when all the data comes in. At first I thought it was a nothing burger, then it took off and became a pandemic. It’s now just a bump in the footnotes of history, yep people are dying from covid. Somehow we also now have “new” colds and other respiratory diseases that we’ve always had but doctors have genetically isolated and the news is willing to exploit, even though it means nothing to the average person if they have a cold or a “human metapneumovirus” which is apparently the newest and “most important virus you’ve never heard of”…according to CNN.

    It’s inconceivable when people bring up ivermectin and still cite the meta-analysis studies that include the fraudulent Ahmed Elgazzar data. Now we have “artificial intelligence” which isn’t intelligence at all, but a massive data processing ability (so vast as to be able to compute or “read” the entirety of everything posted on the internet…ever, also known as just about the entire written history of the world). So humanity as a whole is creating a machine that is capable of processing everything ever written that has been put on to the internet, and we are somehow hoping it is capable of discerning what is right and wrong, what is correct and what is incorrect, what is factual and what is a lie?

    We’re fucked.

  4. “There is no debate about who did or didn’t die from Covid-19”. Craig … I disagree. A more accurate sentence would be: “There is no debate about who did or didn’t die with the Covid cause of death checkbox marked so the hospital could get money ($13K, $39K with ventilator) from the government.” When there is a financial incentive to say the cause of death is Covid, and no oversight, many of the 2.5 million people that are going to die anyway each year (due to the mortality rate) were targets of Covid fraud. We have no clue how many people died from Covid in the US. Because people lie when it financially benefits them to do so.

    • Spot on Jim.
      Words mean everything. Died “with” Covid vs “From” Covid for example. There is a huge difference. But under WHO, CDC, HHS, and this administration if a person leaped out of skyscraper or was run over by a bus and killed instantly and an autopsy showed they had the Covid virus, their death wad counted as caused by or “from” Covid”. The reason: $$$$!
      It is very likely that hundreds of thousands of people died as a result of other causes yet were listed as Covid caused. There was no money to be paid for a death caused by a fall or vehicle accident. But list it as caused or from Covid and the money rolled in.
      Regrettably this country will never be the same as a result of how it handled the virus.

      • There is no doubt a lot of folks who would have died in days, weeks or months died sooner because of Covid. But how many that was surely won’t be sorted out for a long time if ever.

        In an ecological sense, we were lucky that in this case it was a disease that removed the weak and the old and not the young, which is reguarly the first cohort to suffer and suffer the most.

  5. Governors of New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, California, and New Jersey, forced nursing homes to accept COVID patients AFTER Fauci warned of the danger to the nursing home residents. Killing the residents likely saved the state and federal governments billions of dollars in healthcare expenses.

    On March 8, 2020 Fauci stated that Grandkids shouldn’t visit their Grandparents as the elderly were the most vulnerable to COVID. This was in part due to college kids going to Florida against Fauci’s advice.

    PA Health Secretary Rachel Levine Moved Mother Out Of Personal Care Home After Ordering Nursing Homes to Accept COVID Patients (18 March 2020)

    Here is a timeline of the Governor Cuomo controversy:

    March 1, 2020 — The first case of COVID-19 in New York state is confirmed.
    March 7, 2020 — Gov. Andrew Cuomo declares a state of emergency as statewide case tally reaches 76.
    March 25, 2020 — The Cuomo administration issues nursing home advisory directing nursing homes in the state to accept patients who had or were suspected of having COVID-19.

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