In addition to it being bad science, the antibody test that they used was grossly inaccurate, it turns out that their study was founded almost entirely by the founder of JetBlue, who had an interest in getting the shutdown relaxed as quickly as possible.
The big take-away here is that when ordinary people distrust "experts" and "scientists" they are not rejecting science or expertise, it is that they believe that the "Technocrats" are just as corrupt as every institution in our society:
A highly influential coronavirus antibody study was funded in part by David Neeleman, the JetBlue Airways founder and a vocal proponent of the idea that the pandemic isn’t deadly enough to justify continued lockdowns.These folks were corrupt as hell; bought and paid for, or specifically selected by those who were bought and paid for for their preexisting bias.
That’s according to a complaint from an anonymous whistleblower, filed with Stanford University last week and obtained by BuzzFeed News, about the study conducted by the famous scientist John Ioannidis and others. The complaint cites dozens of emails, including exchanges with the airline executive while the study was being conducted.
The study — released as a non-peer-reviewed paper, or preprint, on April 17 — made headlines around the world with a dramatic finding: Based on antibodies in thousands of Silicon Valley residents’ blood samples, the number of coronavirus infections was up to 85 times higher than believed. This true infection count was so high that it would drive down the virus’s local fatality rate to 0.12%–0.2% — far closer to the known death rate for the flu.
Almost immediately, the study became a flashpoint in the increasingly politicized debate over whether and how to reopen the economy. Although many scientists assailed its methods, leading the authors to post a revision nearly two weeks later, it was trumpeted by conservative media to support a growing theory: that fears of the coronavirus are overblown.
“Most of the population has minimal risk, in the range of dying while you’re driving from home to work and back,” Ioannidis said on the Fox News show Life, Liberty & Levin, a few days after the study’s release.
And emails cited within the complaint also suggest that the study’s authors disregarded warnings raised by two Stanford professors who tried to verify the accuracy of the antibody test used. The pair of scientists ultimately refused to put their names on the study because, they told the lead researchers, they could not stand by the test results. The complaint suggests that Neeleman “potentially used financial incentives to secure cooperation from” one of these scientists, who told colleagues by email that she was “alarmed” by aspects of the antibody test’s performance.
Asked if Neeleman donated to the study, Ioannidis said he was “not personally aware” he did. “David Neeleman has a particular perspective and some ideas and some thoughts,” he told BuzzFeed News. “I don’t know exactly who were the people who funded the study eventually. But whoever they were, none of them really told us it should be designed in a given way or done in a given way or find a particular type of result or report a particular type of result.”
But according to Neeleman, the authors did know he’d given money to fund the study. Neeleman confirmed that he made a $5,000 donation to Stanford to be given to these researchers and that he was in communication with them while they were conducting their research. He denied, however, that he influenced their process or results in any way, saying they had “tremendous integrity,” and said that he was not shown the results prior to release. He also rejected the accusation that he put financial pressure on the researcher who expressed misgivings about the test.
In response to a detailed set of questions about the whistleblower complaint, Stanford Medicine spokesperson Julie Greicius said: “Stanford Medicine is aware of serious concerns related to the Santa Clara County seroprevalence study. The integrity of Stanford Medicine’s research is core to our mission. When we receive concerns such as this, they are taken extremely seriously. This matter is being reviewed by the appropriate oversight mechanisms at Stanford.”
As one of the world’s most-cited researchers and a “godfather to the science reform crowd,” Ioannidis helped elevate the study to national news. In a landmark 2005 paper titled “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False,” he called out the factors that incentivize shoddy scientific work, from personal bias to tenure systems that reward quantity over quality. In doing so, he spurred a movement to root out bad science.
The whistleblower complaint alleges, however, that the coronavirus study was rife with some of the pitfalls Ioannidis has famously lambasted, from a sloppy statistical analysis to an apparent conflict of interest. In the COVID-19 era, as science and politics become increasingly intertwined, the Stanford study is perhaps the highest-profile instance of a hotly contested scientific finding fueling arguments for policies with life-and-death stakes.
And as for Neeleman, Lipsitch added, “This has nothing to do with science. This is wanting his airlines to thrive.”
Days prior to the op-ed, those scientists had overseen their massive antibody, or serological, survey in Santa Clara County. On April 3 and 4 in sunny Northern California, more than 3,300 people drove through pop-up testing sites at two parks and a church and stuck out their fingers to be pricked. If their blood turned out to have antibodies to the virus, that could indicate they’d recovered from an infection.
Many participants had learned about the test from Facebook. Others had received an email from Bhattacharya’s wife, falsely claiming that an “FDA approved” test would definitively reveal if they could “return to work without fear,” as BuzzFeed News has reported.
But so far, the coronavirus appears to be much more lethal than the flu. According to a preliminary analysis of more than a dozen recent studies, including Stanford’s, the infection fatality rate worldwide ranges from 0.49% to 1.01%. That would be 5 t0 10 times higher than the flu’s death rate from confirmed cases, at about 0.1%. (And the flu’s infection fatality rate is likely even lower, given the unknown number of people who don’t report having it.)
The whistleblower complaint alleges that Neeleman “sought out the study authors for their congruent policy views” on the pandemic and funded their work. The complaint is based on a series of screenshotted emails — some timestamped around early April, others with truncated dates and email addresses — and does not specify the value or nature of Neeleman’s funding.
Screenshots of two such emails came into the complainant’s possession by April 11, the complaint states. One undated screenshot shows the email addresses of Bogan, the investor and coauthor, and of David Neeleman. In another, undated message, “Andrew” expressed gratitude to “David”: “Thanks again for your willingness to help me and my friends in Silicon Valley support this groundbreaking and timely research work financially.”
The email adds, “I think we all agree how critically important that is to better informing public health and policy leadership’s decision making across the nation.”
Neeleman confirmed receiving the email. Bogan did not respond to a request for comment.