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Firstenberg’s Covid Message

In a widely circulated essay from Arthur Firstenberg there were some things I felt compelled to comment on.

First of all, it the whole article is a wonderful compendium of every single reflexive “the opposite of what the authorities are telling us” idea that has been circulated lately. Of course really penetrating every single point would be the work of a lifetime. There are a few suspicious claims that pure logic can flag right away. The objection to masks, for example. While masks are not some magic talisman that immunizes the wearer, they do have their utility and are certainly more than nonsense when everyone is wearing one in public. And as to the death rate, with everyone at home there are a lot fewer non-medical deaths (traffic, etc) than otherwise. The single aggregate number (total deaths in a month) doesn’t tell you much about the virus. Especially if the data set ends in March.

In the third-to-last paragraph there is an easily checkable claim. It links to this headline: State Department cables warned of safety issues at Wuhan lab studying bat coronaviruses. But it claims that SARS has escaped multiple times from a Wuhan lab, and that this is documented in the article. That caught my attention because I had previously read the article, and because from what I recall there is no evidence that SARS has been infecting humans since 2002. So I re-read the article. Sure enough, it does not claim what Firstenberg claims. It is a fascinating view on the Wuhan lab, and thoroughly reported. But has been misrepresented.

It turns out on further research that technically I was wrong about this. There are two suspected SARS cases tracing back to lab infections, though not in Wuhan and not recently. The cases were from a Beijing lab, and they happened back in 2004. Inspectors were very concerned about lax safety in the Wuhan lab last year. But I’m not aware of any claims of lab infections tied to the Wuhan lab before Covid. Lab infections are a category of catastrophe that has worried all sorts of people for decades. And it is impossible to rule out in this case. But there is no evidence that it happened, either. Just a lot of circumstantial reasoning.

Another suspicious claim was that deaths are lower now than in past years. That may have been narrowly true through mid-March (I haven’t looked closely, but I’ll give the benefit of the doubt) that certainly has not continued to be true into April.

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