It’s the Long Run

At Pulitzer Price-winning columnist Mark Konkol affirms points I’ve been making for months—that Illinois Gov. Pritzker’s lack of transparency, arrogance, and playing fast and loose with the science has undermined his credibility in dealing with COVID-19:

A recent Cornell University study found that politicians who pontificate in deterministic terms about the pandemic science that guides them risk eroding the public’s trust in their policies and, worse, in science itself.

Dr. Sarah Kreps and Dr. Doug Kriner surveyed more than 6,000 people to shed light on how political messaging about scientific research guiding government responses to the pandemic affects the public’s trust in science and science-based public policy.

The study findings, published in the journal Science Advances, suggested that when politicians downplayed the scientific uncertainty of pandemic modeling, it appeared to create a short-term spike in support for pandemic policies.

But when scientific predictions don’t exactly jibe with reality, which they almost never do, the Cornell study showed the potential consequences — the erosion of the public trust.

“No model is right,” Kriner told me. “As the old saying goes, some models are just more useful than others. If we talk about it in these deterministic ways, when they will almost always not end up matching reality perfectly, there can be a downside.”

The study found: “Communicating the science in ways that are more categorical, sidestepping uncertainty, and weaving in fatalistic interpretations of the data are effective at building support at least in the short term. However, if projections prove incorrect, then arguments emphasizing reversals in projections can temper these gains and, potentially, even decrease support for science-based policymaking.”

From the pandemic’s start, Pritzker has consistently downplayed the omnipresent uncertainty of scientific research that guides him. His administration still keeps coronavirus predictive modeling that determines pandemic policy a state secret. And when faced with a Greek chorus of skeptics, the governor warned of the dangers of continued disobedience, stoking fear of the certain catastrophic consequences as the coronavirus crisis intensifies.

“What will it take to make this real for you?” Pritzker said last month in an attack on folks backing open rebellions against his coronavirus edicts.

“Do we have to get to a positivity rate of 50 percent like we’re seeing in Iowa? Fifty percent. Are you waiting for health care workers to get sick to a point where you don’t have staff in the local hospital to cover the next shift? What about if the hospitals get so overrun that your sick and your dying have nowhere left to turn?”

It’s the kind of coronavirus messaging the Cornell study suggests politicians might want to avoid.

“I’m sensitive to what politicians do. They’re using our best guess right now in trying to get people to take urgent action to try and save lives,” Kriner said. “But I think there is some danger when [scientific] guidance changes, and it always changes.”

As Illinoisans continue to struggle under the devastating economic shutdowns enacted in an attempt to slow the spread of spiking COVID-19 cases, it’s become increasingly clear that Pritzker’s reliance on “not scientific” coronavirus metrics that trigger the state’s tiered pandemic mitigation restrictions have created a credibility crisis that the governor has struggled to overcome.

It probably doesn’t help that he has sent his own family gallivanting out of the state, flitting among their many homes in Florida, Wisconsin, and who knows where, sending workman from Illinois up to his Wisconsin horse farm to make improvements, sending Illinois state troopers there, and generally making a mockery of the notion that we’re all in this together. It’s nearly as bad as when the mayor of Chicago allows rioters to loot Michigan Avenue but breaks up demonstrations near her own home.

I continue to believe that any plan that deems half of all workers essential or that closes down mom-and-pop stores while leaving major chains and online retailers conducting business as usual is absurd on its face, especially when reports of outbreaks in Amazon warehouses and Wal-Mart stores hit the news. It probably doesn’t help when other governors (and, we learn, mayors) flout the mandates they’ve imposed on others.

As I’ve been proposing since at least March, the strictest measures should be imposed first rather than imposing diktats that are not strict enough to have the desired effect but too strict to maintain in the long run. Eventually the long run arrives.

5 comments… add one
  • steve Link

    I don’t really understand people who think politicians are a good source of scientific information. I also dont really understand using bad behavior on the part of a politician to justify my own bad behavior. Seems a lot like the old parental question “just because your friends did it you did it too? If they jumped off a cliff would you do that too? Its bad leadership and that I get, but I dont let others determine my behavior based upon their bad judgments.


  • Grey Shambler Link

    Our mayor has a COVID danger dial, it’s now pegged at red, so it’s as bad as it can get. Gives you a sense of relief.
    I heard a news report today that
    one in three people in North Dakota know someone who’s died of COVID.
    Of course the other fact is two in three don’t so they aren’t sold on shutdowns, not yet at least.
    Policy would have been difficult for political leaders even if they were prescient at the onset, and that includes Trump.

  • Drew Link

    I think you have totally missed Dave’s longstanding two points, steve. The politician’s behavior breeds contempt and cynicism. Its called lack of leadership. YOU might not misbehave, but vast numbers will, rendering the policy initiative irrelevant. Secondly, people observe the politicians returning from their little junkets and guess what – they aren’t dead! What do you think people will conclude? How can they take this seriously? The pols tell us its serious………..but they don’t behave seriously.

    The entire situation is no different than I observed 6 months or more ago. If you have a “policy” or “strategy” that is impossible to implement, then you have no strategy at all. You have the equivalent of the 1970’s WIN (whip inflation now) buttons. You are just jerkin’ off. Its a carnival show.

    Secondly, the sole focus from day one should have been the elderly (pretty much 75-80+), and those with a select few co-morbidities: pulmonary disease, advanced heart failure, end stage renal failure, and diabetics contributing to those issues. Otherwise, its just a nasty flu.

    The reasons we haven’t, and rather have lionized people who did the opposite, like Cuomo, are clear to any thinking person.

  • steve Link

    Your list is terribly incomplete. It isn’t just ESRD (in this part of the country it is end stage renal disease) it is chronic kidney disease in general. The CDC has list of conditions which put you at risk of serious disease. Note that you left off obesity, but you had to didnt you? If you include that, plus everything else on the list then you are looking at 50% of the country. 40% of the country (adults) are obese. 10% have diabetes. Want to guess how many have chronic kidney disease? So even if we knew at the beginning who to protect, and we didnt, how would we protect everyone? And again, what about the people who just get sick and spend a couple of weeks in the hospital but dont die? No worries? There is no plan to do what you say you want. Well, other than masking, distancing, no large gatherings, etc.

    Chronic kidney disease
    COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
    Heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies
    Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant
    Obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 30 kg/m2 or higher but < 40 kg/m2)
    Severe Obesity (BMI ≥ 40 kg/m2)
    Sickle cell disease
    Type 2 diabetes mellitus

  • Grey Shambler Link

    Depressing list. Looks like we’re sitt’n ducks for the grim reaper.

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