Early in 2020 Western governments, alarmed by reports from China, asked the international public health community whether they should close borders to limit the spread of coronavirus into their country. …
“The evidence on travel bans for diseases like coronavirus is clear: They don’t work. They’re political theater, not good public health policy.” – Vox
“Travel and trade restrictions might seem like a common-sense public health response — so why does the WHO frequently recommend against them? Here’s why border measures do not work” – Washington Post
“Health experts overwhelmingly decry travel and trade restrictions as bad policy and irresponsible violations of international law. Yet governments continue to implement them, even though scientific evidence — and economic self-interest — advises otherwise” – Foreign Policy
“World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Tuesday that widespread travel bans and restrictions weren’t needed to stop the outbreak and could “have the effect of increasing fear and stigma, with little public health benefit.” – Politico
“Border controls are more an expression of xenophobic policy than an enduring solution to an infectious threat. Today, there’s far more to gain through international cooperation than by keeping borders locked down” – Politico again
“Countries are taking measures to ban travel. These changes rarely prevent the spread of disease, but they are likely to spur devastating economic and health consequences. They may also violate international health law.” – Think Global Health
So that was the politically correct opinion, which most western governments acted on. With the benefit of hindsight, it was obviously wrong. The countries that closed their borders suffered few casualties and relatively little economic disruption — examples include Vietnam, Taiwan, Australia, and New Zealand.
I might add that this blog was calling for border closures by mid February, but Australia didn’t close its borders until late March. That delay caused quite a few deaths and a lot of economic disruption as Australia then locked down for weeks to eliminate the virus.
The left obviously desires to keep borders open to keep the flow of new illegal voters from the third world coming into the US and fundamentally transforming Europe. But how was this the politically correct view enforced in the immunology community?
The straightforward lesson to take from this is that international public health experts belong to a social and political class which thinks closing borders is bad for mostly domestic political reasons, and in the absence of external reality checks like a pandemic, people wanting to make a career public health can really only advance by mimicking the beliefs of the senior people who are the gatekeepers for advancement. If they hate border closures, and you want them to give you a job, well you’d better hate border closures too. …
If you had attended the conference … at which the international pandemic preparedness index was created, a conference which judged a country less prepared for a pandemic if it favoured closing borders in response to a disease outbreak, and said you thought that idea was silly and anyone thinking about it for five minutes would reach the obvious conclusion that a disease which spreads from person to person will not spread if a person doesn’t cross the border and encounter another person, you’d have been right of course, but what does that count for? Is there any mechanism at all for alternative views to surface? …
I think if you were an early career researcher in public health and sceptical about the prevailing beliefs, there basically isn’t much of a way for you to speak your mind at all and even if you did, if global pandemics happen every 100 years, you could have lived your whole life before being proved correct. The experts can stay wrong longer than you can stay alive
The scary lesson in all this is that for unusual risks like pandemics, where the real-life test of expert theories occurs very rarely, we should expect many expert consensus views to be completely back-to-front wrong, because the in-group incentives will drown out any real-world test of their theories and beliefs.
Just like climate change.
Is there anything that political correctness doesn’t turn to crap?