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One of the least expected aspects of 2020 has been the fact that epidemiological models have become both front-page news and a political football. Public health officials have consulted with epidemiological modelers for decades as they've attempted to handle diseases ranging from HIV to the seasonal flu. Before 2020, it had been rare for the role these models play to be recognized outside of this small circle of health policymakers.
Some of that tradition hasn't changed with the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. International bodies, individual countries, most states, and even some cities have worked with modelers to try to shape policy responses to the threat of COVID-19. But some other aspects of epidemiological modeling life clearly have changed. The models, some of which produce eye-catching estimates of fatalities, have driven headlines in addition to policy responses. And those policy responses have ended up being far more controversial than anyone might have expected heading into the pandemic.
With the severity of COVID-19, it's no surprise that there has been increased scrutiny of epidemiological models. Models have become yet another aspect of life embroiled in political controversy. And it's fair for the public to ask why different models—or even the same model run a few days apart—can produce dramatically different estimates of future fatalities.
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