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One Big Data Error Kicked Off this Crisis


Sometimes it pays to step back in history to understand exactly how something monumental was created. This is the story of how one data error turned our world upside down and ruined the lives of millions of people.

You may find it hard to believe that one big mistake (or lie, more precisely) could have created all the pandemic controls, especially lockdowns, school closings and quarantines, that devastated our lives, our economy and our society. But it happened. I will use two incisive analyses published in 2020 to support my thesis.

If a very powerful, influential person told the world in early 2020 that the new China virus that leads to COVID-19 infection was especially lethal, then you can imagine a fast, enormous response to protect public health. If the truth was being told.

But first it is important to discuss the meaning of critically important terms. 

One simple and correct way is how many people die from the infection caused by the virus: the Infection Fatality Rate (IFR). But another possible way would be to invoke the Case Fatality Rate (CFR); the fraction of documented cases of people with the virus that resulted in death.

How can you know how many people are infected? A lot of testing would be necessary. For our COVID pandemic there has been, surprisingly, very little wide blood testing across the whole population. Many people with infections have no symptoms or just mild ones and do not seek testing or medical attention. The CDC has done a terrible job of getting good data on infection numbers.

As to cases ascribed to COVID, there are reasons why that number surely underestimates how many people are really infected. Why?  Because only some people, usually with symptoms, get tested and if found positive become a case. 

On the other side, the PCR test method most widely used has often been implemented in a way to get false positive results. Mainly because the number of cycles the test is run is far too high (above 25) and picks up fragments of the virus (or any coronavirus) that does not document real COVID infection. Thus, the CFR is not a reliable or accurate measure of the real death rate despite widely published case numbers.

During a March 11, 2020 hearing of the House Oversight and Reform Committee on coronavirus preparedness, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, put it plainly: “The seasonal flu that we deal with every year has a mortality of 0.1%,” he told the congressional panel, whereas coronavirus is “10 times more lethal than the seasonal flu,” per STAT news. He also said: “The bottom line: It is going to get worse.” And this: “The stated mortality, overall, of [the coronavirus], when you look at all the data including China, is about 3%.”

Well, that figure of 3% is 30 times greater than the figure given for the seasonal flu.

What Fauci said put the country, with the help of big media, into convulsions. It created the foundation for authoritarian contagion controls driving a spike into the lives of Americans.

Great analysis

Now consider the detailed analysis “Public Health Lessons Learned From Biases in Coronavirus Mortality Overestimation” by Ronald B. Brown published in August 2020. He has doctoral degrees in public health and organizational behavior.

Here are highlights from this article that focused on what Fauci said.

“The validity of this estimation could benefit from vetting for biases and miscalculations. The main objective of this article is to critically appraise the coronavirus mortality estimation presented to Congress.”

[What Fauci said] “helped launch a campaign of social distancing, organizational and business lockdowns, and shelter-in-place orders.”

“Previous to the Congressional hearing, a less severe estimation of coronavirus mortality appeared in a February 28, 2020 editorial released by NIAID [Fauci’s department] and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Published online in the New England Journal of Medicine (, the editorial stated: ‘…the overall clinical consequences of Covid-19 may ultimately be more akin to those of a severe seasonal influenza (which has a case fatality rate of approximately 0.1%).’  Almost as a parenthetical afterthought, the NEJM editorial inaccurately stated that 0.1% is the approximate case fatality rate of seasonal influenza. By contrast, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that 0.1% or lower is the approximate influenza infection fatality rate, not the case fatality rate. “

Brown correctly hit the key semantic issue: CFR versus IFR.

“IFRs are estimated following an outbreak, often based on representative samples of blood tests of the immune system in individuals exposed to a virus. Estimation of the IFR in COVID-19 is urgently needed to assess the scale of the coronavirus pandemic.“   [Now, over a year later this has not happened.]

Brown correctly emphasized “it is imperative to not confuse fatality rates [CFR and IFR] with one another; else misleading calculations with significant consequences could result.”  [That is exactly what Fauci engineered.]

Brown said the 1% figure in the testimony was consistent with the “coronavirus CFR of 1.8-3.4% (median, 2.6%) reported by the CDC.”  [As I write this data in The Washington Post shows a CFR of 1.6%. This substantiates that the health care system has made progress in curbing COVID deaths. But this current CFR is still 16 times higher than the IFR figure for the seasonal flu. IFR remains the issue.]

Now Brown gets to the heart of the problem: “A comparison of coronavirus and seasonal influenza CFRs may have been intended during Congressional testimony, but due to misclassifying an IFR as a CFR, the comparison turned out to be between an adjusted coronavirus CFR of 1% and an influenza IFR of 0.1%.” 

Did Fauci, the widely lauded expert, not know what he was doing?  Hard to believe this.

By May 2020 “it was clear that the coronavirus mortality total for the season would be nowhere near 800,000 deaths inferred from the 10-fold mortality overestimation reported to Congress [emphasis added]. Even after adjusting for the effect of successful mitigation measures that may have slowed down the rate of coronavirus transmission, it seems unlikely that so many deaths were completely eliminated by a nonpharmaceutical intervention such as social distancing, which was only intended to contain infection transmission, not suppress infections and related fatalities.”

As to getting good data to determine IFR, Brown noted: “A revised version of a non–peer-reviewed study on COVID-19 antibody seroprevalence in Santa Clara County, California, found that infections were many times more prevalent than confirmed cases. As more serosurveys are conducted throughout the country, a nationally coordinated COVID-19 serosurvey of a representative sample of the population is urgently needed, which can determine if the national IFR is low enough to expedite an across-the-board end to restrictive mitigating measures.” 

In other words, with systematic blood testing, if we have an IFR for COVID similar to the IFR for the seasonal flu, then the many disruptive and costly actions by the public health establishment are not justified. And they never were!

Another analysis

The title of this September 2020 article by Len Cabrera is “Mistake or Manipulation.”  An initial point made was: “A review of the early events mentioned in Dr. Brown’s paper and the lack of any corrections to the record suggest that the misstatement [by Fauci] before Congress was not a mistake.” If not a mistake, then it was intentional.

This point was dead on: “In his testimony, Dr. Fauci claimed the mortality of flu was 0.1% and that the case fatality rate of COVID was 3% but could be as low as 1% with asymptomatic cases. This is an apples-to-oranges comparison of the flu’s infection fatality rate (IFR) to COVID-19’s case fatality rate (CFR).”

And this critical point was made: “All cases are infections, but not all infections are confirmed cases, so the number of infections always exceeds the number of cases, making IFR less than CFR.”  In other words, if the number of deaths is the same, then a lower denominator for calculating CFR compared to that for getting the IFR results in a higher number for CFR.

Are we to believe that the esteemed Fauci did not know this?  Or is it reasonable to conclude that Fauci knew exactly what he was doing, namely using some simple data to create a pandemic crisis that required massive authoritarian government actions?  Fauci set the stage for his wait-for-the-vaccine pandemic strategy that he sold to President Trump. This required that the government establish blocks to wide use of the safe, cheap, effective and FDA approved generic medicines already found to cure COVID in early 2020, namely ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine. Details about these early treatment protocols are given in Pandemic Blunder.

Here is another point made: “A careful viewing of the testimony suggests the line [COVID being 10 times worse than flu] was not a mistake. Dr. Fauci was specifically asked if COVID was less lethal than H1N1 or SARS. Rather than refer to his own NEJM article saying SARS had a case fatality rate of 9-10% (3 to 10 times worse than COVID), Dr. Fauci said, “Absolutely not… the 2009 pandemic of H1N1 was even less lethal than regular flu… this is a really serious problem that we have to take seriously.” He repeated that COVID’s “mortality is 10 times that [of influenza]” and concluded with, “We have to stay ahead of the game in preventing this.”

This also was a prescient view: ”This was a perfect series of switches: IFR to CFR, voluntary isolation for the sick to mandatory isolation for everyone, two weeks to flatten the curve to indefinite lockdown until there’s a vaccine. (If you think it will be voluntary, you’re not paying attention.)”

Add this to the quest for truth: “A study in France looked at all-cause mortality data from 1946 to 2020 and concluded that ‘SARS-CoV-2 is not an unusually virulent viral respiratory disease pathogen” because there is no significant increase in mortality. Of the deaths in 2020, the study said, ‘unprecedented strict mass quarantine and isolation of both sick and healthy elderly people, together and separately, killed many of them.’”

Here is the article’s correct conclusion: “Sadly, many politicians were duped and went along with the recommendations for lockdowns and masks that followed from Dr. Fauci’s 10-times-deadlier testimony. Don’t expect them to admit their mistakes, either. Perhaps the only thing harder for a politician than telling the whole truth is admitting a mistake.”

What is the truth?

If you listen to many experts, you hear this truth based on CDC data: 99.8 or 99.9 percent of people across all ages who get infected by COVID do not die. That means that the IFR overall is 0.1 or 0.2 In other words, similar to the flu IFR.

In September 2020 these CDC age related data were reported:

Updated survival rates by age group:
0-19: 99.997%, IFR .003
20-49: 99.98%, IFR .02
50-69: 99.5%, IFR .5
70+: 94.6%, IFR 5.4

It is reasonable to think that today those figures are even better, but CDC does not seem to report that data regularly. A very recent article said this: “While estimates of COVID-19’s infection fatality rate (IFR) range from study to study, the expert consensus does indeed place the death rate at below 1 percent for most age groups.”  Fauci did indeed overhype COVID for all but the very elderly. This supports the view of the eminent Dr. Peter McCollough that a wise COVID vaccine strategy would have been to target the elderly, not the entire population.

A new report from the defense department gives data on 5.6 million fully vaccinated Medicare participants age 65 and older. There were 161,000 recent breakthrough COVID infections and the IFR was .021. It noted an IFR for this group of 0.12 during the March to December 2020 period when there was no mass vaccination. Both IFRs are rather low, far from a very lethal viral pandemic.


What was the motivation for Fauci to intentionally tell the public that the new virus was so much worse than seasonal flu? That motivation was to set in motion an onerous set of government actions justified on the basis of protecting public health. 

Why would anyone want to overstate the lethality of the new COVID-19 virus?  It was the only way to use pandemic control and management methods that Fauci favored. It was necessary to set in motion a COVID vaccine program. Most of all, his strategy was used to create very high levels of fear in the public so that they would accept his favored government actions.

Understand this. Fauci was not a trained public health expert, nor a trained epidemiologist or virologist. He was a plain physician who over many decades as a top NIH bureaucrat accumulated enormous power. He never did what true public health experts have an ethical obligation to do. That is to tell the public both the positives and negatives of public health policies and actions.

The point is this: By pushing the need for pandemic actions to address a very lethal virus a host of government actions produced so much economic, social and personal hardships and dislocations. And many analyses have concluded that more Americans died from the government actions than from the COVID virus. Perversely, pandemic public health actions actually harmed public health. But with widespread mainstream media support Fauci got away with everything.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans died unnecessarily. Fauci is guilty of negligence stemming from his initial and very public overstatement of the lethality of the COVID virus. 

With his power he created policies that created data to support this lethality claim. One big action was to create a testing protocol using the PCR technology in ways that created very high case levels. The inventor of that technology said it was inappropriate for diagnosing the viral infection. Millions of COVID cases resulted from running PCR equipment at very high cycle rates. Meanwhile the government never did widespread blood testing to get data for knowing the IFR.

The other major way to keep up public support for pandemic controls was to ensure high numbers of COVID deaths. This was done through directives on how death certificates should be filled out and through financial incentives for hospitals to certify deaths as COVID ones.

The combination of false high levels of cases and deaths helped support high numbers for CFR, helping to maintain public fear of a very lethal virus.

To sum up: COVID was overhyped by Fauci as a very deadly disease to justify the most extreme public health actions. Most valid data now show COVID lethality is similar to that for seasonal flu that has not motivated or justified the array of excessive government actions used for the false pandemic.

Yes, many people have died from COVID, but many believe deaths have been overreported and misclassified, and many could have been prevented by using generic therapeutics. As has been pointed out by many people, the average age of most COVID deaths for elderly victims have been consistently higher than average life expectancy ages. There is no doubt that a great many people die with COVID but not FROM COVID, also arguing for a low IFR. At one point CDC said that only 6% of deaths resulted only from COVID, making the IFR even lower.

Finally, recognizing the true lower IFR for COVID the whole rationale for mass vaccination collapses, especially in view of very high levels of adverse effects and deaths from the vaccines themselves. A very new research article has made important observations. The main one is that countries with low vaccination levels have been doing better than those with mass vaccination programs, like the US. The results are consistent with a widely accepted understanding that the vaccines do not effectively stem virus infection or transmission. More vaccination equated to more viral spreading. The new study ended with advice to learn “to live with COVID-19 in the same manner we continue to live 100 years later with various seasonal alterations of the 1918 Influenza virus.”

Which makes perfect sense if you appreciate that the COVID IFR is similar to the flu IFR.

Published under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
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  • Joel Hirschhorn

    Dr. Joel S. Hirschhorn, author of Pandemic Blunder and many articles on the pandemic, worked on health issues for decades. As a full professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, he directed a medical research program between the colleges of engineering and medicine. As a senior official at the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the National Governors Association, he directed major studies on health-related subjects; he testified at over 50 US Senate and House hearings and authored hundreds of articles and op-ed articles in major newspapers. He has served as an executive volunteer at a major hospital for more than 10 years. He is a member of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, and America’s Frontline Doctors.

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