On Covid-19, a Respected Science Watchdog Raises Eyebrows

Michael Schulson in Undark:

Over the past two decades, John Ioannidis, a professor of medicine, epidemiology, and population health at Stanford University, has gained a reputation as a widely respected gadfly of global science. His work consistently highlights flaws in research methods, pushing scientists and physicians to be more rigorous in evaluating and applying evidence. Ioannidis’ most famous paper, “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False,” has been downloaded millions of times and cited in thousands of other studies since its publication in 2005. A 2010 profile in The Atlantic stated that “Ioannidis may be one of the most influential scientists alive.”

Ioannidis’ latest work, though, has sparked pushback from many of his colleagues, with some suggesting that the researcher may be succumbing to the very sloppiness he has spent his career fighting. Since mid-March, Ioannidis has been arguing that the fatality rate of Covid-19 may be much lower than initially feared — and that, as a result, current public health restrictions could be overly strict. Last week, a Stanford-led study of Covid-19 infection rates in Santa Clara County, California, which lists Ioannidis as an author, seemed to offer some of the most forceful backing for that argument. The paper suggests that the fatality rate for Covid-19 may be 0.2 percent or less — lower than many other estimates, and much closer to the seasonal flu.

These arguments have earned Ioannidis widespread attention in conservative media, where many commentators are skeptical of the overall risk of Covid-19, and critical of the restrictions currently in place across much of the world.

In the past week, though, the Stanford study, and a related effort in Los Angeles, have come under fierce criticism from prominent statisticians and infectious disease experts.

More here.