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Why It’s Risky For Fauci Or Anyone Else To Predict The Future Of The Covid Crisis
From:
Edward Segal, Crisis Management Expert Edward Segal, Crisis Management Expert
Washington, DC
Wednesday, January 12, 2022

 

Commentary From Crisis Management Expert Edward Segal, Author Of The Award-Winning Book Crisis Ahead: 101 Ways to Prepare for and Bounce Back from Disasters, Scandals, and Other Emergencies (Nicholas Brealey)

The good thing about making optimistic predications about a crisis is that they can give people hope. They bad news is that those hopes will be dashed when the rosy forecasts do not come true.

While it is important to be hopeful about the end of a crisis, too many dashed hopes can turn people into cynics—and damage the credibility, image and reputation of those who make failed predictions.

But that is the risk when making any predictions about the future of the coronavirus or any crisis. There are no guarantees. There are no sure things. Indeed, the first two years of the pandemic has been a rollercoaster ride of twists and turns that have rendered the making of predictions an exercise in futility.

Two Predictions

'By The End Of January'

The hopes of many people were likely raised earlier this month with this headline in the New York Post: "Fauci predicts U.S. Omicron surge will peak in late January." When asked on CNBC's "Closing Bell" when the latest coronavirus surge will start to wane, He said, "I would imagine, given the size of our country and the diversity of vaccination versus not vaccination, that it likely will be more than a couple of weeks, probably by the end of January, I would think."

Or this story on the Independent's website: "Experts predict date for Omicron peak in U.S." which reported that "a recent study from researchers at the University of Texas at Austin suggested that the peak would be around 18 January."

President Donald Trump

In early 2020, then-President Donald Trump predicted  that deaths due to Covid would be in the 100,000-240,000 range. As of yesterday, more than 820,000 people had died in he U.S.

President Joe Biden

President Joe Biden, in a prime-time speech last March, asked states to make all adults eligible for vaccines by May 1 and said that by July Fourth, there's a "good chance" Americans will be able to gather to celebrate Independence Day. Biden said, "After a long, hard year, that will make this Independence Day truly special where we not only mark our independence as a nation but we begin to mark our independence from this virus."

According to Politico, " While Fauci said he did not see any 'stumbling blocks' in that, he cautioned that an increase in Covid-19 infections could push back when Americans can return to some of their normal routines."

A Poor Track Record

Dr. Spencer Kroll of the Kroll Medical Group said, "The intention of Dr, Fauci and other government spokespeople is well intended, but may cause more damage as the pandemic rolls on.  These experts are trying to calm and reassure the public in a time of vast uncertainty.  

Mixed Messages

"So far, these scientists have had a very poor track record for predicting the path of the Covid-19 pandemic:  From mixed messages about masking to a reassurance (with predicted timelines) that herd immunity would be achieved, we have latched onto expert information with hope and an anticipation that the end of the pandemic is just around the corner" he said.

Not Accounting For Human Factor

"Where the experts fail in their predictive models is to calculate for human uncertainty.  Most obvious is a lack of collective responsibility as well as personal veracity that has occurred to date.  Self testing and self-imposed isolation are just the latest in a long line of misreads of human nature.  

"Similar to people's frustration with seeing their fellow citizens refuse vaccination, we are sure to see people refuse to self test and refuse to isolate.  This will only make this latest strain rage even faster," Kroll commented.

If Fauci's Prediction Is Wrong

Nicholas Creel is an assistant professor business law at Georgia College and State University. He observed that if the peak of Omicron variant comes before or after Fauci's stated timeline, "many people will take that as him being wrong and bad at his job when he is in reality a preeminent expert in his field.

"Dr. Fauci should have instead made clear the degree of certainty he had in his prediction and given a specific range of when he expected the current wave to peak. This general advice holds for all subject matter experts. You need to express that your predictions are not made with perfect certainty and you should attempt to quantify the certainty you do have in them given the information at the time," he advised.

Dangers And Risks

Isla Sibanda, a cybersecurity specialist, noted that, "There have been drastic changes in how businesses operated due to Covid. In times of crisis, we tend to predict what the future will look like. In my opinion, the dangers and risks of predicting the future of the pandemic or any other crisis and their implications, include the following:

It Can Leads To Unnecessary Apprehension

"When faced with an uncertain situation it is an inherent human nature to try and control the situation. To do this, we want all the information that we can gather on the subject and this leads to uninformed predictions. This happened when the pandemic struck as well, there were a lot of assumptions going about that had no sound basis. This can lead to a sense of panic amongst people and deteriorate the morale of individuals. 

It May Cause Resources To Go To Waste

"Businesses start planning risk mitigation strategies if they predict things to go south in the future. To cope with the expected circumstances, they invest resources to manage the situation. If the predicted outcomes are unreliable, this can lead to organizations utilizing a lot of their resources for unnecessary tasks," she concluded.

'The Best Way To Predict the Future....'

Vlad Davidiuk, a strategic communications consultant, said that the phrase, 'The best way to predict the future is to create it,' "seems to have been taken to heart by many in the Biden administration, governors of states and local municipalities.

"While the circumstances and factors behind Covid-19 were not fully known or understood, many of these leaders took it upon themselves to determine what the best course of action would be, and made predictions and forecasts based not on the facts, but on speculation," he said.

"With time we began to see that many of the 'indisputable' claims made proved not only to be false, but completely fabricated to serve one particular objective or another," he said. This led to a steep loss of trust and buy-in from the general public which contributed to the ebb and flow of the virus metrics," according to Davidiuk.

"It is unwise for Fauci to predict that the omicron variant will peak in the U.S. at the end of January, because this does not paint the full picture. The virus—like all viruses —will continue to mutate. Americans would be better served by looking at Covid-19 and its various strains as another type of illness similar to the flu. It might well never be contained or eliminated," he cautioned.

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Edward Segal is a crisis management expert, consultant and author of the award-winning Crisis Ahead: 101 Ways to Prepare for and Bounce Back from Disasters, Scandals, and Other Emergencies (Nicholas Brealey). He is a Leadership Strategy Senior Contributor for Forbes.com where he covers crisis-related news, topics and issues. Read his recent articles at https://www.forbes.com/sites/edwardsegal/?sh=3c1da3e568c5.

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