A Prophet of Scientific Rigor-and a Covid Contrarian - 2020-05-01
I'm staring at a small sea of frowning faces on Zoom. "I'm really angry about this," says one of them. These are medical students at Columbia University, and I'm speaking to a class on communicating medicine. They've been friendly up until now, but that all changed when I brought up Stanford University epidemiologist John Ioannidis.
Ioannidis has been a fixture in medical-school curricula for years, achieving something akin to hero status. He's one of the most-cited scientists of any type in the world, and may be peerless on this metric among physicians. Amazingly, he's earned all this acclaim by dedicating his career to telling the fields of biomedicine (and others, too) how shoddy they are, and how little trust one should have in their published research.
But now the scientist celebrated for showing colleagues how their studies are screwed up has a new claim to fame. Its very different vibe is reflected in the faces of the medical students I'm addressing. Almost literally overnight Ioannidis has himself become a case study in how to screw up a medical study. And not just any study: This one concludes that Covid-19 isn't all that dangerous; that the current lockdowns to prevent its spread are a bigger threat to public health than the actual disease. In other words, Ioannidis' views on the pandemic sound closer to those of the governor of Georgia than to Anthony Fauci's.