The Pandemic’s Toll on ScienceSeptember 14, 2020
Deep state conspiracies threaten science and degrade public trust in government amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m not convinced it’s real. I think it’s nothing more than the flu. If I die from the virus, it was just meant to be,” Thomas Seale, an attendee at the Sturgis Motorcycle rally, reportedly said of COVID-19.
An estimated 460,000 people who love motorcycle culture and the company of like-minded people attended the huge rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, population 7,000, for 10 days in August 2020. They rode around, had races, attended bike shows and concerts, and drank beer. Face masks were rare.
People told New York Times reporter Mark Walker about the core importance of the event: they met their spouses at earlier rallies, referred to their fellow participants as family, or had attended the rally for decades. When asked about the pandemic, the attendees explained they were not concerned enough to stay away or wear a mask, either because they did not believe that the virus was serious or they thought that if they got the disease, that outcome was intended.
A recent Institute of Labor Economics study found that the Sturgis “super spreader” event could be linked to 260,000 coronavirus cases in the United States and could create up to $12.2 billion in public health costs. These calculations were based on anonymized cell phone data that tracked the origin of the attendees, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on disease incidence around Sturgis and in origin counties, and a “synthetic control” approach to validate the statistics. The $12.2 billion cost estimate comes from a second study by Thomas Kniesner and Ryan Sullivan that priced the statistical cost of a COVID-19 case at $46,000, a number that omits whatever fatalities may have occurred. As a result, this estimate is conservative.
Unless the governor of South Dakota had called up the National Guard, a risky choice both politically and with respect to avoiding violence, no organized force of government could have stopped the event. The belief among attendees that masks and other precautions were unnecessary is disturbing and suggests that the nation is already suffering from a second different, but related, outbreak: widespread faith in conspiracy theories and deep skepticism of science.
Political scientists Joseph Uscinski and Adam Enders organized a poll in March 2020 that presented about 2,000 Americans with 22 popular conspiracy theories, including a few about the COVID-19 pandemic. Thirty-one percent of these Americans believed that the coronavirus was created and spread intentionally, and 29 percent believed that President Donald J. Trump’s opponents exaggerated the virus’s threats to harm his chances of reelection. The video “Plandemic,” which advanced these theories, was viewed an estimated 8 million times on social media until YouTube removed it.
Conspiracy theories are nothing new, and some turn out to be true. But political…