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I think in science, there is no ‘godlike figure’ neither is any one scientist the arbiter of truth. I think Goldacre should know better than to make such a statement.
I grant you Ioannides is a giant figure in the analysis of research and data. He is of course right that there is insufficient data. But in a pandemic which is fast growing (very few had heard of this virus in December 2019) it is impossible to get mature data of the nature that Ioannidis would like. His interview after all was also short of presenting any data and was an opinion piece, not peer reviewed or indeed peer reviewable. All of the points he made and you quite rightly summarise are valid and of course it is important to get accurate data. But sometimes this is not possible when people are dying in large numbers.
It is important not to make a fetish of getting data before acting. Sufficient information was known about the virus by mid to late January to know that there was cause for concern, and we have also experienced the exponential rise of infections with major differences of infected individuals.
Figures for 17th March 2020 Total world cases 197 K US 6.1 K U.K. 2 K Italy 31.5 K
and for 17April 2020 Total world cases 2.2 million US 700 U.K. 110 K Italy 172 K
And so on for other countries. This is a massive increase and there is simply no way of knowing at this stage whether this exponential rise will continue or will flatten out with or without the measures taken.
The death rates also followed. Notice that some of the glaring deficiencies here that Ioannides has referred to are actually due to the limited testing, a policy that has been decided upon at least in UK and USA against the advice of the WHO. Testing, contact tracing and isolation are three key areas of dealing with pandemics but the west ignored these, because the leaders thought it was ‘just another flu’.
Also Ioannides was not saying that this is ‘just another flu’ he was advocating caution with regards to the solution advocated which may have worse effects than the epidemic. This is also true because the half hearted measures, the ignoring of basic ways of dealing with epidemics, the poor data has all hampered effective dealing with this virus. A short sharp suppression is attainable at the beginning of an outbreak, not when you have millions of contacts. And China showed that this can be done, whilst South Korea, HK and Taiwan and Singapore, showed that the infection can be slowed using these measures. It would be interesting to see what Ioannides has to say now that there is more data.