Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. New posts: Mondays & Wednesdays.
Be careful of your words, lest the future make a fool of you.
Six months ago, Sebastian Rushworth wrote a blog post titled How bad is covid really? (A Swedish doctor’s perspective). Employed by a large hospital in the emergency department, he described how
Covid hit Stockholm like a storm in mid-March…Practically everyone who was tested had covid, regardless of what the presenting symtom [sic] was. People came in with a nose bleed and they had covid. They came in with stomach pain and they had covid.
Then, after a few months, all the covid patients disappeared. It is now four months since the start of the pandemic, and I haven’t seen a single covid patient in over a month.
The remainder of Rushworth’s post contains several statements that might be disputed. But let us examine this pair:
#1 – “Sweden ripped the metaphorical band-aid off quickly and got the epidemic over and done with in a short amount of time.”
#2 – “covid is over in Sweden.” [bold added]
In fact, Sweden did well during the summer months, as did many other countries. Afterward, COVID deaths rose sharply there, as elsewhere. COVID wasn’t over in Sweden six months ago, and it isn’t over now.
His blog post also contained this proclamation:
# 3 – “Covid has at present killed less than 6000 in Sweden. It is very unlikely that the number of dead will go above 7,000.” [bold added]
In fact, Sweden crossed that very unlikely threshold back in November. As of today, 11,939 Swedes have officially perished.
Rushworth wasn’t merely slightly mistaken. More people have died since he wrote that blog post than had died up until that point.
I’m sure Rushworth is a competent physician who saves people’s lives every week. But being in the trenches gives us no special ability to predict the future. When he’s reporting what’s happening in his hospital here and now, he deserves careful consideration.
But when he speculates about the future, when he utters grand conclusions about which society-wide measures work and which don’t, he is as likely as everyone else to be spectacularly wrong.
The world first heard about a new, highly infectious virus in China on the last day of 2019. Thirteen weeks later that virus had spread to every nation on the planet.
Predictions that public health officials made about this virus were wrong. Predictions by doctors in the thick of things have also been wrong. This should make all of us extra humble, and extra careful with our words. It should remind us to be perpetually skeptical.
The About page on Rushworth’s blog says he graduated from medical school in January 2020. A seasoned physician he is not. On that same page, he says: “My goal is to counter the misinformation by getting correct, scientifically sound, evidence based information out to as many people as possible.”
The COVID era is chock-a-block with people who claim to be countering misinformation, yet become inadvertent purveyors of it themselves.
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