In Four Steps to the Truth about the New Coronavirus
von Daniel von Wachter
18 April 2020
In this article I shall explain how I have arrived at the conclusion that the new coronavirus (NCoV) is not particularly dangerous. (I have investigated the issue in more detail in my German article “Eine philosophische Untersuchung des Neuen Coronavirus”.) When the discussion about the coronavirus began in March 2020, I thought that as a philosopher I cannot assess how dangerous the NCoV is. But after a while I realized that arguments are being used here which a philosopher, and anybody with common sense, can see to be flawed. and that we can derive from facts that are certain that the NCoV is not particularly dangerous, i.e. that it causes no or mild symptoms and that severe symptoms arise in people who are NCoV-infected only if they have serious pre-morbidities (diseases). Many medical scientists have pointed this out (see also swprs.org), but I want to present the argument in a philosophical way. Causation is a big research area of philosophy, to which I dedicated several years of my life. We investigate what causation is and how we know what causes what. Philosophy is of practical use.
Step 1: Ignore the Number of COVID-19 Deaths
The argument for my thesis that the NCoV is not particularly dangerous consists of four steps.
People are alarmed by the continuously rising number of “COVID-19 deaths” or “coronavirus deaths”, which is publicized by the World Health Organization (WHO) and by national government institutions like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the German Robert-Koch-Institut (RKI). By “COVID-19” they mean the disease of being infected by NCoV, so that by definition everybody who is infected by NCoV has COVID-19 even if he has no symptoms. Today, on 17 April 2020, the WHO is announcing 139,378 COVID-19 deaths worldwide, the CDC is announcing 31,071 COVID19 deaths in the U.S.A, and the RKI is announcing 3,868 COVID-19 deaths in Germany.
Responding to a question, the RIK confirmed at its Pressekonferenz on 20 March 2020: “We count as corona death anybody [who died and] who was tested positive for coronavirus infection.” Likewise, the head of the Italian Civil Defense, Angelo Borelli, explained on 21 March 2020: “I want to point out again that we are counting all deaths; we are not distinguishing between corona-infected people who died and corona-infected people who died because of the coronavirus. Likewise, the CDC writes: “A confirmed case or death is defined by meeting confirmatory laboratory evidence for COVID-19.”
Presenting this number as “COVID-19 deaths” creates the belief that the death of 139,378 people was caused by NCoV. One thing one could question here is whether the NCoV test, which is a PCR test, is reliable. There is a discussion whether it is too sensitive and thus produces too many positive cases. But let us assume for the sake of the argument that the PCR test be reliable. According to the WHO's way of counting, an 80 years old patient who is brought to hospital with cancer and heart failure and dies is counted as “COVID-19 death” if the PCR test result is positve. This creates the false impression that his death was caused by NCoV.
In philosophy in the debate about causation, we distinguish between full causes and partial causes. Also common sense recognizes that some events have many causes, some of which contribute more than others to the occurrence of the effect. If a man takes potassium cyanide and dies, then the true answer to the question what caused his death is: “He died through a dosis of potassium cyanide”. The intake of potassium cyanide is rightly called “the” cause of the death, it was the main cause. If this man had not taken potassium cyanide, would not have died. Through the intake of potassium cyanide the living man became a dead man.
Often deaths have many partial causes. If an 80 year old patient has high blood pressure and heart failure and then gets pneumonia before he dies, then the answer to the question of what he died is: “He had had high blood pressure and heart failure and then got pneumonia“. It would be misleading to say only: “His death was caused by pneumonia” or “His death was caused by the bacterium streptococcus pneumoniae”
The expression “139,378 COVID-19 deaths” implies that the NCoV caused the death of 139,378 humans, in the same sense in which taking in potassium cyanide causes the death of a man. But in fact it is not investigated at all how much the NCoV contributed to these deaths. It is not even investigated whether NCoV contributed anything to these deaths. Probably, some of them died of heart attack, and NCoV contributed nothing to their death. Probably, some of them were infected by Influenza A and then got pneumonia with streptococcus pneumoniae, and NCoV contributed little or nothing to their death.
Therefore the numbers of “Covid-19-deaths” which are being published in realtime by WHO, CDC, and RKI provide no evidence that these deaths were caused by NCoV. A rational person does not allow his opinion about how dangerous the NCoV is to be influenced by these numbers at all. The only thing these numbers show is that the WHO, CDC, and RKI want to make people believe that the NCoV is dangerous.
Step 2: Ignore the Mortality Rates
The same is true for the death rates published by the WHO and the RKI. The “case fatality rate” is the number of deaths from a certain disease divided the total number of people who have the disease within a certain region and time span. The case fatality rate of the NCoV is the number of people who died through NCoV infection divided by the number of people who are infected by NCoV.
On 27 February 2020, the president of the Robert-Koch-Institut, Lothar Wieler, said at a press conference:
With the flu we have case fatality rates of 0.1 to 0.2 %. The rates that we are seeing thus far with the coronavirus are higher. Five to ten times higher. [Transl. dvw]
The director of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, declared on 3 March 2020:
Globally, about 3.4 % of reported COVID-19 cases have died. By comparison, seasonal flu generally kills far fewer than 1 % of those infected.
This number alarmed people. In Germany, people thought: Even if the case fatality rate were to turn out to be only 1 %, that would, if 70 % of the popluation are infected, amout to 581.000 deaths and many more case that need intensive care in hospitals. Therefore the cry arose: “We need to do all we can to flatten the curve, so that the people who are ill at the same time is lowered!” So the lockdown was implemented. On 3 April, Lothar Wieler, said at a press conference: “Still we cannot be certain that the capacities [in our hospitals] will suffice. Personally, I think that they will not suffice.”
But these case fatality rates are not only uncertain but entirely unfounded. We have no idea how many people are infected with NCoV. In order to find out, the whole population, or a large representative sample, would have to be tested. But in fact mainly those people are being tested who are suspected to be infected and those who are brought to a hospital. That is not at all a representative sample. Many people who are infected by NCoV have no symptoms. They are not ill, even though they are now said to have the COVID-19 “disease”. They have the NCoV in their bodies in small amounts, but their immune system prevents the reproduction, therefore no symptoms arise. Every winter the influenza A virus is spread widely, but we do not investigate how widely it is spread. We test only people who are sick, in order to be able to choose the best therapy. It is hardly possible and not useful to test how far a certain virus is spread in the whole population.
The WHO and the RKI calculate their case fatality rates by dividing the number of “COVID-19 deaths” by the number of people who were tested with positive result. The RKI published on 17 April 2020 that the rate in Germany is now 2.9 %.
But the number of people tested positive does not tell us how many people are infected in the entire population. And, as shown above, the number of “COVID-19 deaths” does not tell us how many people died through NCoV.
The case fatality rates that are published by the WHO and the RKI therefore are entirely unfounded. They justify no prognoses about deaths and about hospitalizations. A rational person does not allow his opinion about how dangerous the NCoV is and whether the capacities of the hospitals will suffice to be influenced by these numbers. The only thing these numbers show is that the WHO, CDC, and RKI want to make people believe that the NCoV is dangerous and that we need the lockdown.
Step 3: Investigate what NCoV causes
The effect and the dangerousness of a virus cannot be discovered by estimating the case fatality rate but only by a causal analysis. If you want to find out what eating fly agaric causes, you have to observe people who ate fly agaric and no other things which could cause symptoms. Somebody who ate fly agaric but also beta blocker and cocaine you should exclude from your observation group, because if he has symptoms then you cannot tell apart by what they were caused. In order to discover the effect of a certain substance x on the human body, you have to investigate people who have taken in x but nothing else that could cause something that could be confused with the effect of x. If you observe that people who ate fly agaric and nothing else that is suspicious get hallucinations, then you know that eating fly agaric causes hallucinations.
Likewise you find out the effect of the NCoV by observing people who were infected by NCoV, who are healthy, and who are exposed to no other factors which might cause symptoms. You have to observe people who were infected by NCoV, who have no serious illnesses, who have not received medicine, and who are not exposed to grave air pollution. Even if there is just a suspiction that a certain factor is contributing to symptoms, cases in which this factor is present should be excluded from the set of cases with which the effect of NCoV is investigated.
Sometimes an interfering factor is overlooked. For example, in the investigation of a medication one person in the test group might have failed to declare that he has taken cocaine. Or in the investigation of the NCoV one might overlook that a person has taken a certain medicine or has tuberculosis. For that reason one investigates several cases. If one observes a set of 100 cases from which one has tried to exclude cases with possibly interfering factors, and 5 of them then exhibit different symptoms than the other 95, then it is reasonable to assume that in those 5 cases there were interfering factors which one has overlooked. You do not need a very high number of cases to discover the effect of a certain substance. Excluding cases in which there are factors that might be interfering is more important.
For the NCoV it is observed: People who are generally healthy and who are infected by NCoV get no or mild symptoms (i.e. ones which require no hospitalization). (For this we depend on reports by physicians. For references see § 8 of my longer, German article and von-wachter.de/cov/.)
The media, the WHO, and the RKI present to people news about catastrophic situations in China and in Italy. But in order to discover the effect of NCoV the news from Italy are at first irrelevant (we will consider them in step 4). Because we are observing that in a sufficiently large number of people who are generally healthy the NCoV causes no or mild symptoms, we can conclude: if elsewhere, e.g. in northern Italy, there are grave symptoms, then these people were not generally healthy or there were other factors at work. We should maintain: The NCoV causes no or mild symptoms.
Step 4: Investigate Deaths
Because the NCoV causes in people who are generally healty no or mild symptoms, it is to be expected that grave symptoms and deaths occur only in those NCoV-infected people who have serious pre-morbidities or who are exposed to additional factors such as heavy air pollution. But this should be examined empirically, in order to exclude that there are interactions with other factors which lead to grave symptoms. So we should collect information about whether NCoV-infected people who have serious symptoms have pre-morbidities or were exposed to other factors.
The result: There are grave symptoms only in those NCoV-infected patients who are old and who have pre-morbidities, such as hypertension, heart failure, or diabetes. (See Report of the Instituto Superiore de Sanitá from 30 March 2020; bloomberg.com, 18 March 2020; Forensic physician Klaus Püschel; Klaus Püschel and Hendrik Streeck on 9 April 2020.) In addition, in Wuhan and in northern Italy there are other factors which might contribute to the symptoms, such as air pollution, influenza virus, hospital-acquired infections, or (in connection with the meningitis outbreak in northern Italy in January) antibiotica treatments or vaccinations. But even if all the hypotheses about additional factors were false, the hypothesis of the NCoV being not particularly dangerous would be confirmed by the observation of the pre-morbidities.
Sometimes the media reported that also young or healthy people died through NCoV. I have found no such cases that were well-confirmed. As the forensic physician Klaus Püschel pointed out, if there are cases where there seem to be no pre-morbidities, autopsies should be carried out. But the RKI, until 5 April 2020, instructed physicians to carry out no autopsies. After criticism by physicians, this instruction was lifted. One can observe a desire in the media to report COVID-19 deaths who were young or had no pre-morbidities. The New York Post on 19 March 2020 published an article with the title “20-year-old coronavirus victim …”. In paragraph nine it says that he “was initially diagnosed with pneumonia before testing positive for coronavirus”, and in paragraph ten it is added that “a day later, blood work showed he also had leukemia”. Similarly, a report about the death of Cy Tucker had the heading “Legendary singer who performed with the Beatles dies after suffering coronavirus” and begins with: “In less than a week we have gone from having a healthy and energetic man to one who is no longer here”. However, paragraph 17 reveals that Cy “had previous heart problems, diabetes and over 70”. In fact, he was 76. – The occasional reports of young healthy people who had no pre-morbidities dying of NCoV have no weight. The more thorough reports by physicians and by the Instituto Superiore de Sanitá clearly show that the NCoV-infected people who died all had grave pre-morbidities.
I conclude that the NCoV is not particularly dangerous. Healthy people with NCoV have no or mild symptoms, and those NCoV-infected people who died all had grave pre-morbidities.
In the tale “The Emperor's New Clothes”, the Emperor is persuaded by two swindlers to commission marvellous clothes which are “invisible to anyone who was unfit for his office, or who was unusually stupid”. When the pretend weavers presented the non-existing clothes to the civil servants, saying “Aren't these colours beautiful”, the civil servants answered “Yes!”. When the swindlers presented the clothes to the Emperor, asking “Aren't these clothes marvellous?”, the Emperor replied: “Oh, I am delighted!” Because he did not want to reveal that he did not see the clothes. He paraded down the street. “Magnificent! Charming! Excellent!” was called out on all sides. “But the Emperor has nothing at all on!” said a little child. And one person whispered to another what the child had said. “He hasn't got anything on!” the whole town cried out at last. But the Emperor thought, “This procession has got to go on.” So he walked more proudly than ever, as his noblemen held high the train that wasn't there at all.
The tale illustrates how strong the pressure on a person can be to think and say certain things and not to think and not to say certain other things. People want to be liked by other people. Often we know what people would think about us if we said a certain thing. If somebody senses, “If I say this now, then they will turn against me“, then this exerts a strong pressure on him not to utter the tought, even if it is true and reasonable. Fear of withdrawal of love, rejection, insults, and of career obstacles puts pressure on people to keep quiet or to adapt what they say to the majority opinion. Even if an opinion is just considered to be “controversial” or “extreme”, that deters people from uttering this opinion. If in addition the mainstream opinion is hammered into people by constant repetition in the media, truth has hardly a chance to be acknowledged. Arguments can scarcely overcome the pressure.
If science and other quests for truth are to succeed, the pressure on opinions must be minimal. There must be room in which different opinions can be expressed and heard. The search for truth requires controversy. Therefore in the Christian culture of the West, in science the “disputatio” was developed, in which the proponent of a thesis is confronted by the respondent who raises objections against the thesis. In court, the defendant is given a counsel for the defence whose task is to present the case in favour of the defendant. In the constitutions freedom of opinion was affirmed. That today in many countries politicans want to suppress or outlaw some opinions is a cultural regress which shows that the desire for censorship never vanishes. The reason these politicians give today is that these are “fake news“. That is the reason governments have always given for censorship.
In the tale, the child can speak the truth because he does not feel the pressure of opinion. Which reminds us of Jesus' words “Except ye become as little children …” This is the attitude that we need also in the debate about the coronavirus. In a previous article (in German) I explored how the term “conspiracy theory” is being used to discredit even renowned scientists who argue that the new coronavirus is not particularly dangerous.
But man has a free will with which he can endeavour to evade the influence of opinion pressure and propaganda. To this end, we have to ask about everything that we hear about the topic: “Which argument is there really in this statement? What evidence is being presented? Does it really support the opinion of the speaker?” I invite you to do this also with my argument above for the thesis that the new coronavirus is not particularly dangerous.