The Wisdom in Knowing What We Don’t Know

Regrettably, there is little knowledge — read that ‘verifiable facts’ — about treating COVID-19, about preventing its spread, about the facts of herd immunity, about its mutation potential, about any form of treatment, the efficacy of the vaccines and many other open questions. This has left experts, world-wide,  to respond in ignorance to the demands of the media for comment. I have seen some appallingly wrong (as it turned out) opinion pieces by experts.

In January, the respected scientific journal Nature asked more than 100 SARS-CoV-2 immunologists, infectious-disease researchers and virologists if it could be eradicated. Almost 90 per cent thought it would become endemic — circulating in pockets of the global population for many years.

I read through that Nature article carefully. As has been the norm at this stage of COVID-19 ignorance, it is highly speculative. How do the the words below and the frequency of their use in that Nature paper reflect knowledge?

‘could’ occurred x 9
‘might’ x 15
‘maybe’ x 1
‘possibly’ x 2
‘depend’ x 3
‘whether’ x 4
‘think’ x 9
‘thought’ x 1
‘guess’ x 1
‘risk’ x 2

Add them up and you have what amounts to a disconcerting tally of44 ‘um’s and ‘er’s. I cannot give it credence.

So where is the knowledge? We won’t have that for another year or more, which is why the ongoing Israeli experiment to vaccinate the entire population will be an enormous help. All Israelis are covered by four health funds, which contain all their medical information. This de-identified material is being sent back to vaccine manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna for analysis. That was why Israel got the vaccines so early. They are the rest of the world’s human guinea pigs. Some results are beginning to emerge, but that will take time to analyse.

The truth about much regarding the COVID-19 epidemic is that there is no knowledgeWe do know what the virus does, and how it kills people. But why isn’t the virus killing entire families, as did the Spanish Flu of a century ago.

We do not know how many the virus has killed. Yes, we see running tallies of deaths, but how many, especially the elderly, have died with it, not from it? There are not enough forensic pathologists in the world to have done post-mortem examinations to confirm COVID-19 as the prime cause of death. People are being buried in mass graves around the world. Few countries have reliable death statistics. The US alone has 50 states with differing coronial laws.

Doctors and virologists should be honest about areas where there is no knowledge. They should be saying, “I don’t know, and nor do any of my colleagues.”[1]

Instead, they feel bound to opine. 

Dr Peter Arnold is the author of A Unique Migration: South African Doctors Fleeing to Australia


  1. I don’t know Arnold, P. BMJ, 14 June, 2010.


2 thoughts on “The Wisdom in Knowing What We Don’t Know

  • Elizabeth Beare says:

    It does seem likely that Covid 19 will become endemic and that we are stuck with it. As we are with many other viruses and bacteria, some damaging and some not. Simple avoidance measures by older people rather than lock downs will be our best defense, increasing natural herd immunity among the younger stronger population will slowly occur, and update vaccinations of those most at risk will also lessen viral replication opportunities. Keeping our own immune systems in good order is our best response, so Vitamin D3 and sunlight, some zinc supplementation, Vitamin C, exercise by walking and plenty of quality sleep have all ben proven to assist in that. Influenza in 1918-20 was also selective in whom it attacked within families. It certainly spread more quickly in situations of enclosed close contact such as army barracks and poorly ventilated slums. As did TB in the old days.

    More research will indicate whether longer term effects are a serious issue. All viruses can affect the heart and general well being for a long time after they have been seemingly thrown off and not all viruses are as well studied as Cov-Sars-2. At this stage though, no-one in scientific investigations will be completely definitive about Covid’s capacity to wreck further harm.

    Death rates are the only genuine indicator we have of how things are going with Sars-Cov-2. And even those we can’t be sure of, because of over-attribution in some places and under counting in others.
    We must very soon get back to normal social and economic functioning. There have been other, and worse, epidemics than this, and some in the past still ‘unknown’ – the ‘sweating sickness’ that ran often through medieval Europe was one of those.

    Populations do eventually do as viruses do, they undergo genetic mutation and selection. We have evidence that this happened regarding the Black Death in England, a bacterial infection. Some people survived and passed survival genes on to their descendants; this has been genetically traced in surviving descendant populations of badly affected isolated ‘plague’ villages. Good treatments can also change this picture, as does vaccination, because more people survive and the virus cannot gain much of a foothold. Maintaining this state of ongoing immunity then becomes important.

    Governments making panic decisions are unlikely to help anyone or anything.

  • rosross says:

    It seems bizarre that the public should be asked to risk rushed, poorly tested, highly experimental vaccines and genetic treatments for a virus which is no threat to the vast majority. In fact it seems insane.

    Word is already leaking out of Israel that vaccine injury and death is so common people are starting to say no. But yes, Israel of an example of what not to do. It seems the Israelis, in their commercial approach to most things, did a deal with Pfizer to use citizens as labrats.

    On this count the Palestinians crushed under the Israeli military boot and denied vaccines may be fortunate.

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