“Dr. Erickson COVID-19 Briefing” — a quick assessment

The “Dr. Erickson COVID-19 Briefing” keeps popping up.

A quick assessment, mainly derived from the first few minutes of this video which contain the strongest claims.

I am certain that “Dr. Erickson” overestimates his scientific capabilities, his ability to derive knowledge, his actual ability to contribute a novel aspect the wider discussion of how to deal with COVID-19 in society.

I am certain that at the same time he underestimates the previous findings of other research groups all over the world. He ignores them.

He claims to take a scientific approach, but at the same time he does not trust and consult the scientific community around him. It is very likely that he didn’t talk to other experts to get a critical eye on his conclusions before going viral. Isn’t that suspicious? To you?

If you like the content in this video and if you feel enthusiastic about it, here is what I think happened:

  • he made you like him
  • he didn’t contribute productively to a complex problem

Aren’t these key ingredients of populism? I might think so.

In any case we can try to asses who took advantage here. I think it’s him. It’s not you, it’s not society.

His communication is built on “simple truths”. The way “Dr. Erickson” describes the situation: it’s all so obvious, from the numbers they have looked at.

I hope that you can believe me that his house of cards is built on methodological flaws in his statistical analysis (I have studied physics and a PhD, so please allow me to judge). They had an intuition and found numbers to support that intuition. Their conclusions, though, are as wrong as they are dangerous and destructive.

With respect to complex problems you should not trust your intuition. You’re better off trusting your rationally developed, peer-reviewed, triple-checked model that has survived the test of time and thousands if not millions of critical reviews. At least when your goal is to productively contribute to a wider set of problems.

This is where my gut hurts: “Dr. Erickson” tries to make his points sound strong and convincing by saying that they have a lot of experience in immunology and microbiology. This is deceiving, this is ironic. Maybe you can’t (and that’s fine) but I can tell that this is a flash bang, a smoke grenade. They are clearly not experts in these fields (because then you have to master the basic tools of statistics), and they are clearly overestimating the sanity of their method, and the relevance of their findings.

Another way to say this is that the “statistical method” that they applied to derive their conclusions is utter nonsense. It doesn’t even deserve to be called a “method”. They didn’t discuss their findings in the context of published studies trying to address the same questions. That’s the least you have to do before going public so widely.

This is a great example for how easy it is to put bullshit into the world without “fact checkers” (I don’t like this terM) standing a chance to keep up with the sheer influx of bullshit.

I would love to discuss the details in-depth. But we all have limited time and resources and while it’s an important job to call out bullshit, it’s also incredibly frustrating.

A few quotes from a reddit thread about this video that I agree with:

I’m reading comments on the video (bad idea) of people who are angry that this guy is “the only one reporting hard numbers and facts” and that no one is listening to him and its frankly giving me an aneurism. He’s not doing that. He’s putting forward dubious extrapolation

If they can’t understand the importance of using representative data, then they really shouldn’t be posing as experts.

They also adopt the same misleading approach when comparing Norway and Sweden and tried to claim that both countries have similar numbers of cases and deaths. In reality, Sweden has 18,177 cases and 2,192 deaths (217 deaths per 1 million population) and Norway has 7,493 positive cases and 201 deaths (37 deaths per 1 million people). So contrary to their claims, Norway appears to be doing much better than Sweden, which supports the use of social distancing methods.

The doctor in the video grossly interpreted data incorrectly and “extrapolate” them into misleading conclusion (whether intentionally or not, that is another question).

Again these two are not experts. Yes they are physicians but I bet they do not have the type of training background as infectious disease specialist or epidemiologist. I do not see any type of credibility from them. And what they say could easily be used by certain political groups to instigate falsehood information. And this is not good because it affects public safety.