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More on the epidemiologists who other epidemiologists don’t trust

You know how they’ll describe someone as a musician’s musician? Or a chef’s chef? There’s also the opposite: those people who to outsiders represent a certain profession, but who are not respected by their fellow insiders.

An example is the team at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).

Paul Alper points us to this article by Tim Schwab, who reports:

Are Bill Gates’s Billions Distorting Public Health Data?

Thanks to the Microsoft founder’s support, the IHME can make its own rules about how to track global health. That’s a problem.

In the early days of the pandemic, the IHME projected a far less severe outbreak than other models, which drew the attention of Donald Trump, who was eager to downplay the danger. At a March 31 press briefing, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, Debbie Birx, with the president at her side, used IHME charts to show that the pandemic was rapidly winding down. . . .

The IHME brushed aside the widespread criticism that emerged—“Many people do not understand how modeling works,” its director, Chris Murray, explained in a Los Angeles Times op-ed—and continued to push headline-grabbing projections that drew alarm from its peers.

No kidding, many people do not understand how modeling works!

Schwab continues:

Fueled by more than $600 million in funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—a virtually unheard-of sum for an academic research institute—the IHME has outgrown and overwhelmed its peers . . . “It’s quite impossible to criticize or indeed comment on their methods, since they are completely opaque,” says Max Parkin, from the International Network for Cancer Treatment and Research. . . .

Despite such criticisms, the IHME’s dominion keeps expanding—thanks in large part to Richard Horton, the editor in chief of The Lancet, who has put the credibility of the famed medical journal behind it . . . The relationship between The Lancet and the institute was further underscored last year when Murray nominated Horton to receive the $100,000 Roux Prize from the IHME. . . .

Uh oh, Lancet . . . maybe not such a good sign . . .


Some experts are also reluctant to criticize the IHME for fear of upsetting the Gates Foundation, one of the most important funders in global health and academic research more generally. . . . Yet during the pandemic, the IHME’s early projections proved dramatically wrong—and damaging to public health, some say. But this reckoning has come only because the high stakes of Covid have brought a new level of scrutiny and competition from other researchers and because the institute has had to contend with the emergence of actual data on infections and deaths.

In much of the IHME’s other work in health metrics, these feedback mechanisms do not come to bear in the same way, even though its estimates may be just as influential and, in some cases, just as wrong. This includes its efforts to track hundreds of diseases in the most remote corners of the planet.

That’s an interesting point. You can go far if you have media power and your numbers can’t be checked.

In any case, actual University of Washington epidemiologists don’t like the IHME. See also here.

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