Doc’s note: There aren’t too many daily e-mails that I find myself reading past the headline and the opening paragraph. Like lots of folks, I just get too many e-mails to read them all. But Bill Bonner writes the e-mails I look forward to reading. And since I left medicine and started writing for Stansberry Research, he’s the guy who signed my paycheck.
Three decades ago, while I worked at Goldman Sachs, I subscribed to a travel letter that Bill wrote under the pseudonym William Chamberlayne. Stansberry Research’s founder, Porter Stansberry, never saw how much I loved newsletters of all kinds… until I shared a stack of Bill’s old newsletters, several of which I had used to entertain clients in London, Paris, and Germany. Yes, I’m a newsletter junkie of the highest order. Even today, just ask the office administrator who forwards FedEx boxes of my mail from the office.
Bill is a true Libertarian, and he puts his money where his mouth is. You might not like his seemingly middle of the road views on things, but there’s no doubt in my mind he hits the nail on the head more often than I can. Moreover, unlike Wall Street and the talking heads on TV, Bill knows history and can put things in context. Many times a week he gets me to think about how I can make the world a little better. And that’s what he’s doing today as he tackles the science behind COVID-19…
(This essay was originally published in Bill Bonner’s Diary on December 8, 2020.)
But the Earth does move!
– Physicist and philosopher, Galileo Galilei, recanting his recantation, after being tried for heresy
Now in its tenth month in the U.S., the coronavirus is becoming as familiar as bad breath. And many of the things we knew for sure about it in March… well… we’re not so sure anymore.
At first, we were told that face masks weren’t important. Later, we were told that the public health officials simply lied scientifically; they were afraid people might buy up all the available masks… thus depriving the “first line defenders” of their precious armor.
Then, face masks became compulsory. “The science” tells us that they help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. But if that were so, how come places that require face masks don’t have lower case counts?
According to the COVID Tracking Project, there is no difference in caseloads between places where face masks are required by law… and places where they are not.
We don’t know whether face masks help or not. But neither do the “scientists.”
Today, we write with no new information. Instead, we have an old observation: Science is overrated.
Every society has its elites – people with brains, ambition, talent, and confidence. These elites turn to government to get power. Then, they use that power to get money.
In the very old days, they claimed a special relationship with God. Today, it is scientific Truth that sits on their shoulders and whispers in their ears.
But science is never fixed… never solid… never, ever figured out.
Instead, it drifts on a river of uncertainty… picking up useful insights along the way… but never knowing where it is going, and never arriving at its final destination. One hypothesis is put forward. And then, discredited, another takes its place.
Aristotle wrote his essay, Physics, in the 4th century B.C. Then came Ptolemy… Copernicus… Galileo… Newton… and Einstein. And then, leaving Einstein like a baby abandoned in the bullrushes, came Werner Heisenberg, with his quantum physics.
Each one brought not just an incremental improvement, but a revolution. Each one came up with a better model. But none discovered the Complete Truth.
Always in Doubt
Only a quack scientist would ever say, “Lockdowns and face masks work.” Real scientists know that lockdowns and face masks are only ways to implement a hypothesis…
… that the coronavirus can be slowed by putting up barriers, which itself is just part of another hypothesis…
… that we should slow down the virus rather than let it speed up, a subset of still another hypothesis that it is better not to get the virus than to get it…
… which is just a subset of a further hypothesis, and so on.
Scientists never know anything for sure. Everything is a hypothesis. And it is only valid until it is disproven. Always and everywhere is doubt.
We have only a few pieces of the puzzle. Yes, we add pieces from time to time… And yes, we have a better picture today than we had 100 years ago.
But a real scientist knows that a few more pieces might alter the scene completely.
Brightest and Best
A pharaoh claimed to be a god himself. Later kings and queens claimed to have been divinely appointed. And now, we have leaders who think they have the right to boss us around – as long as they get a majority vote in the Electoral College.
When few people could read, the elites were said to have the Truth available to them – and only them – in the sacred books. And then, when reading and writing became ubiquitous, the Truth was made available to all through the public schools.
There, children were taught to pledge allegiance to the flag and to the Republic for which it stands. In “civics” class, they learned that democracy inevitably puts the brightest and best in command.
And these enlightened leaders claim to be guided neither by gods nor by tradition nor by self-interest… but by “The Science.” With their PhD advisers, they can be counted on to make the best decisions in every arena – foreign policy, domestic policy, money matters, public health issues… you name it.
The Nazis claimed, for example, that their master race theories were based on the science of eugenics (improving the human race), which was very popular before Hitler gave it a bad name.
Margaret Sanger, Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, John Maynard Keynes, and Linus Pauling all favored it to one degree or another. Germany’s race laws were supposedly based on California’s eugenics laws of the early 20th century.
Over in the Soviet Union, meanwhile, the Bolsheviks advertised that their whole system was based on science, from the Kremlin to the Gulag Archipelago. “Scientific socialism” they called it.
The term was used by German philosopher Friedrich Engels, among others, to describe a society ordered along supposedly rationalist – rather than traditionalist – lines.
Why leave it to the capricious “market” to decide who gets what, in other words? The Communist party elite could decide it themselves.
Constitutional Rights Trump Science
And in today’s America, many people are ready, once again, to bow before the graven image of Science. Here’s Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, claiming that science should overrule the U.S. Constitution:
When it ruled this week against New York state’s decision to limit religious gatherings in a few high-incidence parts of New York City, the court proved the dangers of scientifically illiterate judges overturning government decisions that were based on scientific evidence.
Quick-witted readers will realize that the Constitution clearly gives citizens the right to go to church. The Supreme Court did not say – in this year of The Plague – whether it was a good idea or not. It merely pointed out the obvious fact that observing the fundamental law of the land, as written in the Constitution, is not optional. Neither the mayor, the city council, nor the governor had the right to ignore it.
Dear readers who have been doing their homework also know that the “science” supporting lockdowns… closeouts… and button-ups is weak, at best.
Wearing a mask may or may not prevent you from spreading the virus… or from getting it; we don’t know. But we also know that the Constitution was written to limit the power of the feds – even when there’s a nasty bug going around.
Recall, too, that science worshippers went into hysterics when Amy Coney Barrett, during her Supreme Court confirmation hearings, dared to doubt the Global Climate Change creed. Said Ms. Barrett:
I don’t think that my views on global warming or climate change are relevant to the job I would do as a judge. Nor do I feel like I have views that are informed enough, and I haven’t studied scientific data. I’m not really in a position to offer any kind of informed opinion.
Fake scientists cannot tolerate open minds. It is like knocking over tombstones, says Shana Lazerow, a busybody in California:
The people who will be impacted the most are the low-income communities of color who already bear a disproportionate burden of our society’s industrial activities. Striking down our climate protections is a specific act of racism.
Suspend Your Disbelief
But our beat is money…
And that is where we find the most strident and most delusional of the science disciples.
There, they must not only suspend their disbelief… they must leave their good sense dangling, too, like a heretic hung from a willow tree.