No, You Can't Have Pandemic 'Amnesty'
The offensive demand to disregard the past
On October 31st, The Atlantic published an article by Professor Emily Oster that has generated an immense amount of outrage and discussion.
The subheading summarizes the purpose of the piece, which is to “forgive one another for what we did and said when we were in the dark about COVID.”
While there’s certainly an argument to be made that moving past pandemic divisions is a worthwhile, necessary goal, this framing accepts a premise that’s entirely inaccurate and, frankly, offensive.
The first two paragraphs of the article highlight one of the problems with Oster’s assertions:
In April 2020, with nothing else to do, my family took an enormous number of hikes. We all wore cloth masks that I had made myself. We had a family hand signal, which the person in the front would use if someone was approaching on the trail and we needed to put on our masks. Once, when another child got too close to my then-4-year-old son on a bridge, he yelled at her “SOCIAL DISTANCING!”
These precautions were totally misguided. In April 2020, no one got the coronavirus from passing someone else hiking. Outdoor transmission was vanishingly rare. Our cloth masks made out of old bandanas wouldn’t have done anything, anyway. But the thing is: We didn’t know.
She defends her and her family’s actions, such as wearing cloth masks, by claiming they “didn’t know” if it would work.
But that’s wrong. We did know.
We knew it wouldn’t work.
All of the available pre-pandemic evidence consistently suggested masks, especially cloth masks, would not be effective:
Even as late as March 28th of 2020, Science.org published an article describing the limitations of universal masking and the lack of evidence behind it.
One quote in particular summarized that there was no high quality evidence saying it would work:
“Randomized controlled trials focused on other viruses haven't proved that masking the public decreases infections”
The article expressed the skepticism of expert consensus, and expressed that even pro-masking advocates acknowledged whatever effect they might have would be “modest.”
“Even experts who favor masking the masses say their impact on the spread of disease is likely to be modest.”
Defending your actions because of uncertainty might be justifiable if there was actual uncertainty.
Instead, the push for masking was clearly motivated by panic, fear and wishful thinking, not new scientific evidence.
Anyone paying attention, or who was familiar with the pre-COVID literature, knew that masking by the general public was not scientifically justifiable.
Oster accepted, without question, the flip flop by “experts” such as Fauci and Redfield, because her ideology and prior beliefs required her to. Not because of new evidence, but because of politics.
This same forced ignorance informs the next section of the article as well.
She attempts to justify the extended school closures that persisted throughout the United States due to lack of information.
"Reasonable people,” she says, “advocated on both sides:”
Some of these choices turned out better than others. To take an example close to my own work, there is an emerging (if not universal) consensus that schools in the U.S. were closed for too long: The health risks of in-school spread were relatively low, whereas the costs to students’ well-being and educational progress were high. The latest figures on learning loss are alarming. But in spring and summer 2020, we had only glimmers of information. Reasonable people—people who cared about children and teachers—advocated on both sides of the reopening debate.
This is also remarkably misleading.
Countries throughout Europe opened schools far ahead of the United States.
England opened primary schools on June 1st, France opened schools September 1st, Germany opened them in early August. The Netherlands opened schools as normal in August with no masking required.
Schools in Norway were open on April 27th, with no masking or other “interventions” required.
And of course, Sweden never closed schools.
Notice the substantial effect that had on the spread of the virus by fall 2020?
These examples all throughout spring and summer of 2020 proved that it was safe to have schools open.
Advocating to keep schools closed was not a “reasonable decision.” It was a decision borne out of a political desire to hurt former President Trump.
Trump and his administration, with the help of Dr. Scott Atlas and other outside advisors who actually followed science, wanted schools open as soon as possible.
But teacher’s unions and Democratic political leaders made opposition to Trump their first and only priority.
So evidence was discarded, European examples ignored, all because contradicting Trump was their goal. It was politically advantageous to exclude European schools, so they were excluded.
To be fair to Oster, she was one of the first mainstream advocates for reopening schools, but that doesn’t excuse this inaccurate framing.
There is no equivalence between those who wanted schools open or closed.
But those who wanted them closed unsurprisingly share her political beliefs, therefore a defense must be mounted. Even if it’s an inaccurate one.
Oster’s misleading framing continues into more abstract territory too.
She claims to be concerned about “misinformation,” referencing suggestions of ingesting bleach as an example:
“Misinformation was, and remains, a huge problem. But most errors were made by people who were working in earnest for the good of society.”
But this defense is also unjustifiable.
It’s not realistic or acceptable to claim that those who advocated for the exclusion of the “unvaccinated” based on misinformation from health authorities were acting “for the good of society.”
As early as October of 2021, the case against vaccine mandates and passports was overwhelming:
Yet politicians and the “expert” community continued to advocate for restrictions on the “unvaccinated,” using dehumanizing rhetoric regardless. Just one of many compilations illustrates how comprehensive this discriminatory effort was:
But beyond the misinformation used and disseminated by Oster’s colleagues and ideological allies, asking for an amnesty is unacceptable without satisfactory mea culpas.
And those who imposed policies discriminating against those who didn’t follow mandates refuse to apologize.
In fact, far from it.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul just recently said she would fire unvaccinated health care workers again, despite the conclusive evidence that the mRNA vaccines have failed to prevent infection or transmission.
Hochul could have apologized, owned up to her mistake and asked for “amnesty.” But she didn’t.
She doubled down on an indefensible policy, because politics must always come first.
Pfizer also recently admitted that they never had any idea if the vaccines would prevent transmission or infection:
Yet no one from the company has apologized for CEO Albert Bourla’s tweets suggesting their vaccine was 100% effective in preventing COVID cases.
The concern over “misinformation” only extends as far as Oster’s politics allows it to extend, and ignoring and excusing examples from her “team” disqualifies her arguments.
The Wrong Reasons
Finally, Oster refuses to examine the process which allowed The Experts™ and politicians to be so wrong.
Poor decision making process in combination with rushed, overconfident declarative assertions was commonplace. As such, expertise was responsible for hurting millions of people with insufficient evidence. But she hand waves off those concerns and underlying issues:
In some instances, the right people were right for the wrong reasons. In other instances, they had a prescient understanding of the available information.
The people who got it right, for whatever reason, may want to gloat. Those who got it wrong, for whatever reason, may feel defensive and retrench into a position that doesn’t accord with the facts. All of this gloating and defensiveness continues to gobble up a lot of social energy and to drive the culture wars, especially on the internet.
This is, without a doubt, gaslighting of the highest order.
Reframing the lack of evidence-based decision making as “for whatever reason” is quite simply unacceptable.
By ascribing the correct evaluations of pandemic policy to luck, Oster paves the way for the eventual, inevitable return of restrictions.
“In the face of so much uncertainty, getting something right had a hefty element of luck.”
There can be no movement forward until those who were wrong admit why they stubbornly remained resistant to reality. It was not as a result of “whatever reason,” but because they panicked, tossed out pre-pandemic planning, ignored evidence that was inconvenient, and hid behind a wall of media protection.
Appeals to authority were endless; “you aren’t qualified,” “I only listen to doctors,” “I’m sure you just ‘did your own research,’ grandma killer.”
Without acknowledging that those who actually did the research were right, because they did the research, Oster’s arguments allows credentialism to thrive.
It’s not enough to admit that they were wrong. It is imperative that they acknowledge the expert class failed because they refused to listen, learn, or update their thinking.
What Should Happen
Oster’s willingness to move on is entirely driven by the fact that her “team” was indeed very wrong.
If the “experts” had been right, imagine how different life would be in late-2022.
The “unvaccinated” might still be barred from society in some parts of the world. Schools might still be closed and masks would almost certainly still be required to go through normal life.
Travel bans would still be enforced.
Fauci, Wen, Hotez, Slavitt, Walensky and others would be making daily appearances advocating for continued discrimination.
Social media would be filled with users insisting that hospital beds should be denied based on vaccination status.
Does anyone really believe that had Oster’s side been right, they wouldn’t be demanding apologies, or worse?
But because “the wrong people” were correct, those who followed the actual science must forgive and forget, for the good of society.
Except none of those activist “experts” have asked for forgiveness, or admitted why they need it.
So no, they can’t have “amnesty.” They don’t deserve it. And worse, giving it to them gives them the green light to do it all over again.
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They still, inexcusably, are enforced to enter the United States
You're another wonderful example of people who put in the work and were mocked for it. Nobody 'got lucky', as she insinuates in her article. The data was always right there, available for anybody with an internet connect, a couple spare hours, and a sense of curiosity -- and we know Emily had the first two.
It's inexcusable because the evidence was not merely ignored; it was actively, deliberately stifled - with fact checks, platform bans, smear campaigns, and algorithm alchemy for the great and obscure alike.