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Conservative Skepticism and the Pandemic


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David Deavel

March 27th, 2020

Is it just me, asks a politically moderate friend, or is it mostly conservatives who are skeptical about the dangers involved in and the necessary precautions needed to contain the danger of the Wuhan corona virus? Why is that?

As one of the conservative friends he is probably thinking of, I’d like to answer him. I think he is right. Though there are some conservatives who do think that we are faced with an unparalleled medical crisis, and some liberals who are not, it is indeed more likely that conservatives are skeptical about the doom-and-gloom scenarios that are being presented as absolute certainties unless the country as a whole is essentially shut down for months. Many have expressed dismay about this skepticism, calling us “deniers” or simply accusing us of valuing money or our own comfort over human life. But this skepticism comes from a number of different reasons. While I think this skepticism, like any skepticism, can be taken too far absent other intellectual virtues, I think it is both eminently reasonable in the present case and will prove right in the long run.


The problem that those who are angry with our skepticism have to face is that they are relying on experts who don’t have all the data. Experts, however, don’t always agree.

Not only are these factors of knowledge in play, but U.S. businesses are hard at work on all sorts of projects to expand our medical capacity and treat the illness. G.M. and Ford are converting assembly lines to create more ventilators for the U.S. Researchers at the University of Minnesota are hard at work on a project to build ventilators from standard available medical equipment for a cost of about $500 per unit. Many clinical trials for vaccines have already begun both in the U.S. and abroad. If one of them works, we could have it available in a little over a year. Success has been found treating some patients who already have the virus with several different drugs already available for use with other drugs like malaria.

The difficulty with the “it’s exponential, stupid” crowd is that they are assuming not only that deaths will increase many times what they are now, but that they will stay that way. For those saying we will lose 2 million Americans over the next eighteen months, they have to assume that we will average nearly 3700 deaths per day every day during that time. Even 1.2 million would require 2200 deaths per day. I am certainly willing to believe that this virus might end up killing or contributing to the deaths of several times the number killed by our annual flu. But do the predictions seem reasonable given all that’s being done not only to change our behavior but also to solve the problem?

Uncertain Knowledge versus Certain Facts


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I would love to see a compilation of private-sector stand-and-perform companies (like GM and Ford, and MyPillow, for example), updated regularly, so that when we are freed to begin spending on a normal basis again, we will know where to apply that stimulus...

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