Questions About COVID-19

Following “the” science will get us nowhere – our pandemic response needs a greater diversity of strategies being explored and implemented

The lines above were the original title and subtitle for an opinion piece written by myself and five other Ontario academics, which was published this week in the Toronto Sun under the title “It’s time to follow the scientific method — and re-evaluate Canada’s COVID approach“. We did not intend to present any groundbreaking new findings around the disease or the pandemic response. We merely wanted to put another stake in the ground to argue for more open debate, the end of debasing, censoring, and deplatforming critical voices, and the return to common sense and evidence-based government decision-making.

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The greatest strengths of the piece, in my opinion, lies in the group of authors, which consisted of a biotechnologist, two geographers, a historian, a physicist, a physiologist, and a statistician. Across these natural and social science disciplines as well as the humanities, we are united in the conviction that the Western world’s pandemic response to SARS-CoV-2 was badly mismanaged. Importantly, we believe that at this point in the pandemic, you do not need to be a medical or public health expert to speak up; every single person in the world is a stakeholder in the pandemic that they are experiencing and often suffering from!

The questions we ask explicitly or implicitly include the following:

  • Why was and is the largely age-specific burden of COVID-19 not translated into an intelligent protection of elderly and other vulnerable groups based on long-established protocols?
  • Why has the changing scientific knowledge of SARS-CoV-2 transmission and the resulting disease not been used to adapt our pandemic response?
  • How can some jurisdictions end some, many, or even all restrictions without negative consequences, while others remain paralyzed by the fear of the virus and its “variants”?
  • Why were lockdowns not subject to a formal cost-benefit analysis, including their longterm “collateral” damage?
  • Why are dissenting medical, public health, and other academics and professionals being silenced instead of being celebrated by politicians, media, and public opinion?

The feedback on the op-ed was largely positive. There were 18 mostly supportive comments in the Toronto Sun itself; none in the Ottawa Sun; and 15 in the Winnipeg Sun that included some debate between readers. On reddit, the Canada subreddit shows fewer upvotes (46%) than downvotes and a lively debate with 31 comments, while the NoNewNormal subreddit has a balance of 7 upvotes (72%) and 4 comments of a rather interesting variety. On Facebook, the Toronto Sun’s post of the article garnered >200 likes, 182 shares, and 28 mostly supportive comments. The most impactful post was that by Conservative MP Derek Sloan with >4,000 likes, >1,000 shares, and 450 comments. As expected based on Sloan’s own critical stance with respect to COVID-19 politics, the comments are overwhelmingly positive. An issue arose from the photo that the Sun chose to go with the op-ed. The picture shows a roadside vaccination campaign sign and some commenters were misled to believe that the article supported the COVID-19 mass vaccination effort (which is not the case). This is likely also the reason that the post on the VaccineChoiceCanada Facebook page with its close to 20,000 followers only got 75 likes, 24 shares, and 4 comments.

Sample of Twitter conversations around the op-ed as of late evening on 2 July 2021, found primarily through the search URL

Last but not least, our opinion piece has been shared and discussed numerous times on Twitter. The most prominent threads are shown in the above table, including the original tweet by the Sun newspaper, the earliest tweet by Dr. Denis Rancourt, high-impact tweets by MPP Randy Hillier and Sun opinion editor Anthony Furey, and tweets or retweets by a broad range of individuals. In addition to pulling out different quotes from the article that people found important, many also added their own observations or a call to action. Some examples:

I hope we could contribute to the start of an adult conversation around SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19. We can no longer deal with the pandemic following one extreme approach — exclusive focus on one disease and fear-driven hysteria resulting in unprecedented mobility restrictions and anti-social distancing –, while ignoring or actively silencing opposing viewpoints, whether they are moderate (like I believe ours is) or extreme in their own ways. I fully expect that the way forward, out of this wicked problem that we are facing, will be paved with moderation and compromise.