Having been recently encouraged to "stick to the science", I'd like to write a bit about COVID-19 disinformation, where it comes from, and how it is undermining our public health response.
Disinformation is a form of misinformation. The latter is incorrect information; the former is incorrect information that is propagated with intent to deceive and manipulate. The word is an anglicization of the Russian "dezinformatsiya", which I believe was coined by the KGB
Clear, accurate information is critical to our pandemic response; let's go now to my favorite paper on rank ordering of effectiveness of non-pharmaceutical disease control interventions. nature.com/articles/s4156…
What we see is that education and accurate communication with the public are right up there in terms of effectiveness of interventions, with similar effects to gathering restrictions.

Disinformation undermines education and accurate communication, and sets us back.
Because, again referencing the Klimek paper above, control of SARS-2 should be a no-brainer. We have abundant evidence on what works. We know how to control these epidemics and many countries (and within Canada, regions) have done so.
We know that there's been a false dichotomy between health and the economy, and that countries that control their epidemics are more prosperous and have less loss of employment.
So: control is achievable and win-win. Why would you fund and push disinformation that harms health and the economy.

Or to gratuitously quote Vampire Weekend: "Why would you lie about something dumb like that?" (Sorry, favorite song and wanted to link)

hmm. So mysterious.
Here's a list of possible motivations for pushing false narratives and undermining disease control responses (partial list):

1. You're focussed on short term profits for a sector that will experience short term losses from control interventions...let's say hospitality.
This gets trotted out, but I don't think it's much of a thing. I do think folks in these sectors get pushed to the front by those pushing disinformation, as their plight is very sympathetic. But the level of funding and sophistication of disinformation makes it unlikely that...
...this is being underwritten or promulgated by the guy wh owns your neighborhood pub.

2. Maybe there are financial interests here, and money to be made in the context of poor pandemic control. If you're betting against markets, maybe poor pandemic control is helpful.
Maybe you like to buy precious metals and a lousy pandemic response pushes up the value of what you own. Maybe a disease that kills lots of older people decreases pension obligations. It's not hard to imagine perverse incentives here.

3. Maybe poor pandemic responses by incompetent governments provide a welcome distraction from corrupt agendas, nefarious activities or...just the fact that they're corrupt?
4. Given the sophistication of disinformation, I think it's also possible that there is some strategic game playing going on here at the level of nation-states. A force that disrupts the health systems and economies of your enemies? And which can be played to stoke division?
That's gold. Imagine you're a country that, ahem, has some issues with NATO? Or the Five Eyes intelligence alliance (Canada, US, UK, NZ, Australia). What a great opportunity to mess with your enemies. And we've seen this in the health space before:

Anyway, it doesn't have to be just one of these. But be aware, there are reasons to actively encourage a poor pandemic response in Canada and the US.
If you're going to do this, do you get characters that look and talk like Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale to push the narrative? That seems dumb. Although

You'd probably want to do this via media companies and trusted voices, like academics at prominent universities. Maybe some of them know what they're doing, probably most don't.

Diversity of thought and legitimate disagreement about ideas are part of what make Western democracies so vibrant. So why not do the judo thing and make that asset a liability?
Some good accounts if you want to learn more about this crazy, through-the-looking-glass world include @CT_Bergstrom @20committee @ericgarland @AshaRangappa_ , and for general quackery and pseudoscience recommend the excellent @CaulfieldTim and @McGillOSS
But here's the motivation for this thread...well funded disinformation is actually a component of Ontario's weak pandemic response. One recent example:
A Medical Officer of Health for a medium-sized Canadian city makes a presentation which includes the bizarre assertion that school opening DECREASES COVID-19 transmission in the community.

Fortunately that's debunked. But given that that's at odds with our understanding of the dynamics of this pandemic, and of communicable diseases in general, where did this MOH get this idea?
It turns out that his slide comes from a facebook page run by a group called "PANDA", Pandemic Data and Analytics.

PANDA looks all sciencey, but it's got some interesting linkages. Indeed, it shares personnel with some characters last seen at Cambridge Analytica, when it helped stoke division and weaken Europe during the Brexit campaign.

It's all there...microtargeting, manipulation, pushing false narratives. But now festooned with erstwhile credible academics, some of whom work on infectious diseases, others of whom are new arrivals.
At any rate, I'll leave it at that.

Key points: disinformation != difference of opinion, it's active use of misinformation to disrupt, sew confusion and undermine our public health response.

It's alive and well in Canada, and very sophisticated, and well funded.
And it does seem to have sucked in at least some Canadian public health officials, who are now amplifying disinformation, to the detriment of public health.
Sorry, broken thread alert; here's the missing tweet.

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More from @DFisman

8 Feb
Some very simple models of covid case trajectories in Toronto based on decomposition of old variants and novel variants (b117 right now).
The dashed lines are forward projections. Solid lines are best guesstimates of fraction old (ov) and new (nv) variants based on lab data.
R for b117 seems around 40% higher than old variants, and that ratio was stable through January. So you can run this model forward assuming that ratio remains constant, and assigning an R to old variants (with nv 40% higher).
Read 9 tweets
5 Feb
So the identity of the @originandclever twitter account (now deleted) has been positively identified. It belongs to a junior physician in central Ontario. I am not going to doxx them on twitter.
But I would like to take a bit of a walk down memory lane in terms of some recent nastiness from this recently graduated physician, writing under the cover of presumed anonymity.
I don't know if this needs to be looked at by @CPSO, @UofTFamilyMed, @McMasterU, @UHN or other organizations this person has been affiliated with in recent years...would love to hear what others think. If journalists want more info, my DMs are open.
Read 25 tweets
5 Feb
I keep getting asked about the possibility that sars-cov2 will be with us for a long time (many of the questions are driven, I think, by Chris Murray’s statement that we won’t simply “put this behind us”). I do think it is likely to become a seasonal, endemic virus
At least for a long time to come. That’s because (a) the virus has show an ability to move from humans to animals and back again (mink) and (b) eradication is hard, even with good vaccines and disease w/o animal reservoirs (polio, measles).
And yet I’m optimistic about a non-reckless return to normalcy over the medium turn. Why?

Read 24 tweets
3 Feb
This is right on.
There is substantial excess mortality right down to age 15.
Absolute death numbers are smaller because baseline deaths are lower
Here’s the most recent estimate I’m aware of.


We need to know what fraction of excess mortality in young adults is opioids.
In older adults in the US covid mortality and excess mortality are essentially 1:1

This is a fantastic paper from @AnnalsofIM that reminds us to standardize populations so we make fair comparisons.

Read 4 tweets
2 Feb
@DonaldWelsh16 Oh hello.

I knew Dr Rorabeck. He was a wonderful guy. @SchulichMedDent does have much to be proud of. Like any institution, it has its warts.
@DonaldWelsh16 @SchulichMedDent But to respond to your comment: I think you’re referencing the concept of balanced pathogenicity, which probably will will, over the longer term, favour less virulent strains.
@DonaldWelsh16 @SchulichMedDent The difficulty we have with VOC is that they appear to bind better to ace2 (as a vascular biologist I bet you’ve heard of that!) and that may underlie their increased infectivity and increased
Read 9 tweets
2 Feb
The blizzard of distraction coming out of @fordnation and his assorted flying monkeys is by design. It’s a comms strategy. They need to distract you from:

1. Botched vaccine rollout
2. Massive death toll in long term care
3. Muddled and confused back to school plan
4. Political interference with hospitals and health advocates
5. The Mysterious Case of the Missing Rapid Tests
6. Unspent billions in federal pandemic funds
7. Huge excess risk of covid in those with low income and people of colour in Ontario
8. Failure to institute basic measures like paid sick leave
9. Utter lack of transparency on public health decision making
10. Full ICUs, need for field hospitals and transferring patients 100s of km for care
Read 5 tweets

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