Michael Fumento became prominent with his provocative book, The myth of heterosexual AIDS. On the whole I think Fumento’s point, that HIV-AIDS was not a major issue outside of “at-risk” groups in the United States, was the correct one.
I grew up as part of a generation that was taught about HIV-AIDS in a very apocalyptic manner. One of my health teachers even suggested that HIV-AIDS might lead to the extinction of the human race. When I saw Fumento make his case on a local public affairs television show, it was clear to me that despite everything I’d been told, he was probably correct. To counter his facts and figures the other guests appealed to anecdotes and vague predictions of the future.
So I noticed today that on March 16th, Fumento published Panic Never Helped Any Pandemic And Won’t Start Now:
COVID-19 is just the latest, albeit the most extreme, in a long series of epidemic hysterias I have covered going back to the “heterosexual AIDS explosion” (“Now No One is Safe from AIDS”) of the 1980s, avian flu, Ebola I and Ebola II, the Zika virus and others. They are known scientifically as “mass psychogenic illness,” and even more specifically as “moral panic” – the same type of hysteria that led to centuries of witch hunts.
Thus I was writing such articles as “Hysteria, Thy Name Is SARS” in 2003 while highly respected journals such as the New Scientist were screaming “SARS Could Eventually Kill Millions.” It ultimately killed only 774, and zero Americans, before simply disappearing in a hot July.
Yes, identified cases are still going up (albeit at a slower rate than before, per Farr’s Law), but that may just be an artifact. Indeed, it’s possible the epidemic is coming close to a worldwide plateau – in real terms, at least. The hint is in the category of “serious and critical cases.” It peaked in late February, with a steady decline to less than half that number. This in and of itself good news, of course. But why?
This time Fumento’s prediction was wrong:
What’s going on here? Fumento clearly knows a lot about the spread of infectious disease. He has a historical perspective. But perhaps he has too much? I’m old enough to remember the 1990s Ebola scare, SARS, H1N1, and, the second Ebola scare. It is entirely true to assert that these were sensationalized by the press. For various reasons, all of these outbreaks did not spread into a very lethal pandemic.
COVID-19 seems to be in a different category. Fumento talks about SARS and H1N1. It is important to remember that China did not shut-down in the way it did for COVID-19. They perceived it to be different, and it was. The best of models often don’t plan out. That’s why my own early alarmism was driven by the reaction of the Chinese authorities in Hubei. They clearly thought this was very dangerous.
I still think there is room to dissent from excessive panic and the hyperventilating of the press and its amen corner among the cultural elites. But it needs to be done calmly and judiciously.