Michael Fumento is a lawyer, journalist, and author who has investigated epidemics and controversial scientific issues for the past thirty-five years. His books include The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS: How a Tragedy Has Been Distorted by the Media and Partisan Politics, described by former CDC chief epidemiologist Dr. Alexander D. Langmuir as “a major contribution, allaying public hysteria and focusing efforts for control and care to the high-risk groups most in need”; and Science Under Siege: Balancing Technology and the Environment, of which former National Academy of Sciences president Frederick Seitz said, “Fumento’s clear exposition of the way in which knowledge gained through good scientific research can be distorted and used to spread misconceptions and needless public fear should receive widespread attention.”1
On March 27, 2020, we discussed the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ve edited our conversation for clarity and added citations where I think they may be helpful.
Hersey: Why listen to a lawyer on the subject of viral outbreaks?
Fumento: Lawyers are trained much better than journalists to do research. If a journalist makes a mistake, nobody will even say anything, because they make so many mistakes that there’s no point. The New York Times runs a headline, “World to End Tomorrow,” and the next day, on page eighteen, it has a single-sentence correction: “World to End Yesterday.” That’s journalism.
On the other hand, lawyers deal with life and death and with billion-dollar lawsuits. We have thoughtful, well-trained opponents; journalists don’t. We have to assume that another guy or a team of people is against us who are as smart as we are. So we have to deeply research everything.
As for viral outbreaks, I did my first AIDS article back in 1986, which made international news. Many responded to the AIDS outbreak saying, “Everybody’s going to get it now.” I called BS and was right. And over the years, with one disease after another, I just got better and better at understanding outbreaks: AIDS, SARS, Ebola I, Ebola II, Creutzfeldt-Jakob (aka “mad cow”) disease, avian flu, Zika virus. Every single time, I called it right, and by some great coincidence, the public-health people always called it wrong.
Hersey: And you think that there’s a basic mechanism that operates more or less the same with all of these outbreaks?
Fumento: Yes, it’s quite simple. It’s called Farr’s Law, and it was first promulgated in 1840, which is, importantly, eight years before the first public health organization anywhere in the world.2 It says that all epidemics—meaning all epidemics—follow a more or less bell-shaped curve. They start out with a very steep incline. And then over time they slope and they slope, and then they eventually flatten and go down. That may seem obvious even to those who don’t know about the law. Yet we hear with each new epidemic, “If the virus continues to spread at the current rate . . . ,” and the answer is always the same: Viruses never continue to spread at the current rate—never, ever, ever.
It’s the way all diseases work. They get the low-hanging fruit first. And then, as time goes on, they exhaust the low-hanging fruit, and it’s harder and harder for them to claim victims. And the numbers go way down, sometimes to zero: SARS disappeared in July 2003, eight months after it appeared.3 . . .
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1. “Praise for The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS,” Fumento.com, http://fumento.com/books/myth.html, (accessed March 30, 2020); “Praise for Science Under Siege,” Fumento.com, http://fumento.com/books/science.html (accessed March 30, 2020).
2. Andre Ye, “What the Law That Forecasted AIDS, Ebola, & SARS Has to Say about the Coronavirus,” Medium, March 18, 2020, https://towardsdatascience.com/what-the-law-that-forecasted-aids-ebola-sars-has-to-say-about-the-coronavirus-2473894f03c5; “1848 and 1875 Public Health Acts,” SchoolHistory, https://schoolhistory.co.uk/notes/1848-1875-public-health-acts/ (accessed March 30, 2020).
3. Soumya Karlamangla, “SARS Killed Hundreds and Then Disappeared. Could This Coronavirus Die Out?,” Los Angeles Times, February 18, 2020, https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-02-18/sars-coronavirus-china-epidemic.
4. “No Signs of Coronavirus? Here’s Why You Could Still Be Carrying (and Spreading) It,” Cleveland Clinic, March 26, 2020, https://health.clevelandclinic.org/studies-show-carriers-with-mild-or-no-symptoms-are-key-part-of-covid-19-spread/.
5. John Power, “South Korea’s Coronavirus Response Is the Opposite of China and Italy—and It’s Working,” South China Morning Post, March 14, 2020, https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/health-environment/article/3075164/south-koreas-coronavirus-response-opposite-china-and.
6. “China Expert: U.S. Should Model Coronavirus Response after Korea, Taiwan,” Kiro Radio, March 18, 2020, https://mynorthwest.com/1774041/china-expert-us-coronavirus-response/.
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8. Mark Landler and Stephen Castle, “Behind the Virus Report That Jarred the U.S. and the U.K. to Action,” New York Times, March 17, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/17/world/europe/coronavirus-imperial-college-johnson.html.
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10. Rob Lyons, “The Expert Behind the COVID-19 Shutdown Was Wrong on CJD and Foot-And-Mouth, and Is Probably Wrong Again Now,” RT, April 1, 2020, https://www.rt.com/op-ed/484622-expert-behind-covid-19-shutdown/.
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25. Emma Roberts, “People in the West Are Ignoring Advice to Stay Home. That’s Because It’s Too Confusing, One Expert Says,” March 23, 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/23/europe/coronavirus-lockdown-flouted-italy-uk-intl-gbr/index.html.