Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Lockdowns--The Brainchild Of A 14 Year Old's School Project?

Along with forever wars it seems forever lockdowns are another part of the Dubya legacy. And instead of interdisciplinary teams of scientists, economists, and legal scholars coming to the momentous decision--after years of peer reviewed studies--to throw our society and political order up for grabs in response to a relatively non-threatening respiratory virus, it seems that it was all instigated by a school project written by a 14 year old.

I'm not kidding. I know it sounds incredible, but remember--we're talking about government policy planning here. The question, as framed nearly a year ago by Jeffrey A. Tucker, in 

The 2006 Origins of the Lockdown Idea

runs like this:

How did a temporary plan to preserve hospital capacity turn into two-to-three months of near-universal house arrest that ended up causing worker furloughs at 256 hospitals, a stoppage of international travel, a 40% job loss among people earning less than $40K per year, devastation of every economic sector, mass confusion and demoralization, a complete ignoring of all fundamental rights and liberties, not to mention the mass confiscation of private property with forced closures of millions of businesses?  

Whatever the answer, it’s got to be a bizarre tale. What’s truly surprising is just how recent the theory behind lockdown and forced distancing actually is. So far as anyone can tell, the intellectual machinery that made this mess was invented 14 years ago, and not by epidemiologists but by computer-simulation modelers. It was adopted not by experienced doctors – they warned ferociously against it – but by politicians. 

Tucker found the story behind the lockdown strategy laid out in a NYT article from February, 2006--Greetings Kill: Primer for a Pandemic.

Fourteen years ago, two federal government doctors, Richard Hatchett and Carter Mecher, met with a colleague at a burger joint in suburban Washington for a final review of a proposal they knew would be treated like a piƱata: telling Americans to stay home from work and school the next time the country was hit by a deadly pandemic.

When they presented their plan not long after, it was met with skepticism and a degree of ridicule by senior officials, who like others in the United States had grown accustomed to relying on the pharmaceutical industry, with its ever-growing array of new treatments, to confront evolving health challenges.


It required the key proponents — Dr. Mecher, a Department of Veterans Affairs physician, and Dr. Hatchett, an oncologist turned White House adviser — to overcome intense initial opposition.


And it had some unexpected detours, including a deep dive into the history of the 1918 Spanish flu and an important discovery kicked off by a high school research project pursued by the daughter of a scientist at the Sandia National Laboratories.

The concept of social distancing is now intimately familiar to almost everyone. But as it first made its way through the federal bureaucracy in 2006 and 2007, it was viewed as impractical, unnecessary and politically infeasible.

It was also viewed as scientifically and medically ignorant--but I guess that would come under "unnecessary." But, you ask, what's that about a HS research project?

But what is this mention of the high-school daughter of 14? Her name is Laura M. Glass, and she recently declined to be interviewed when the Albuquerque Journal did a deep dive of this history. 

Laura, with some guidance from her dad, devised a computer simulation that showed how people – family members, co-workers, students in schools, people in social situations – interact. What she discovered was that school kids come in contact with about 140 people a day, more than any other group. Based on that finding, her program showed that in a hypothetical town of 10,000 people, 5,000 would be infected during a pandemic if no measures were taken, but only 500 would be infected if the schools were closed.

Laura’s name appears on the foundational paper arguing for lockdowns and forced human separation. That paper is Targeted Social Distancing Designs for Pandemic Influenza (2006). It set out a model for forced separation and applied it with good results backwards in time to 1957. They conclude with a chilling call for what amounts to a totalitarian lockdown, all stated very matter-of-factly. 


In other words, it was a high-school science experiment that eventually became law of the land, and through a circuitous route propelled not by science but politics. 

The primary author of this paper was Robert J. Glass, a complex-systems analyst with Sandia National Laboratories. He had no medical training, much less an expertise in immunology or epidemiology. 

That explains why Dr. D.A. Henderson, “who had been the leader of the international effort to eradicate smallpox,” completely rejected the whole scheme. 

Henderson and several other highly qualified scientists wrote a paper in vociferous opposition to this hare-brained scheme:  Disease Mitigation Measures in the Control of Pandemic Influenza. 

Their paper is a remarkably readable refutation of the entire lockdown model. 

There are no historical observations or scientific studies that support the confinement by quarantine of groups of possibly infected people for extended periods in order to slow the spread of influenza. … 

Home quarantine also raises ethical questions. Implementation of home quarantine could result in healthy, uninfected people being placed at risk of infection from sick household members. ...

Travel restrictions, such as closing airports and screening travelers at borders, have historically been ineffective. The World Health Organization Writing Group concluded that “screening and quarantining entering travelers at international borders did not substantially delay virus introduction in past pandemics ... and the societal costs involved in interrupting all air or train travel would be extreme. …

During seasonal influenza epidemics, public events with an expected large attendance have sometimes been cancelled or postponed, the rationale being to decrease the number of contacts with those who might be contagious. There are, however, no certain indications that these actions have had any definitive effect on the severity or duration of an epidemic. ...

Schools are often closed for 1–2 weeks early in the development of seasonal community outbreaks of influenza primarily because of high absentee rates, ... However, to close schools for longer periods is not only impracticable but carries the possibility of a serious adverse outcome….

Thus, cancelling or postponing large meetings would not be likely to have any significant effect on the development of the epidemic. While local concerns may result in the closure of particular events for logical reasons, a policy directing communitywide closure of public events seems inadvisable. ...

Finally, the remarkable conclusion:

Experience has shown that communities faced with epidemics or other adverse events respond best and with the least anxiety when the normal social functioning of the community is least disrupted. Strong political and public health leadership to provide reassurance and to ensure that needed medical care services are provided are critical elements. If either is seen to be less than optimal, a manageable epidemic could move toward catastrophe.

Confronting a manageable epidemic and turning it into a catastrophe: that seems like a good description of everything that has happened in the COVID-19 crisis of 2020. 

Thus did some of the most highly trained and experienced experts on epidemics warn with biting rhetoric against everything that the advocates of lockdown proposed. It was not even a real-world idea in the first place and showed no actual knowledge of viruses and disease mitigation. Again, the idea was born of a high-school science experiment using agent-based modelling techniques having nothing at all to do with real life, real science, or real medicine. 

So the question becomes: how did the extreme view prevail?

The New York Times has the answer:

The [Bush] administration ultimately sided with the proponents of social distancing and shutdowns — though their victory was little noticed outside of public health circles. Their policy would become the basis for government planning and would be used extensively in simulations used to prepare for pandemics, and in a limited way in 2009 during an outbreak of the influenza called H1N1. Then the coronavirus came, and the plan was put to work across the country for the first time.


Ideas have consequences, as they say. Dream up an idea for a virus-controlling totalitarian society, one without an endgame and eschewing any experienced-based evidence that it would achieve the goal, and you might see it implemented someday. Lockdown might be the new orthodoxy but that doesn’t make it medically sound or morally correct. At least now we know that many great doctors and scholars in 2006 did their best to stop this nightmare from unfolding. Their mighty paper should serve as a blueprint for dealing with the next pandemic. 

Now we know.


  1. One thing I've been both impressed and dismayed at in this past few years is people's tolerance of all of this.

    Think about both sides of the spectrum here right and left have run the gama of rodeos. From Russia to China, Ukraine, Covid, elections, BLM / ANTIFA, Jan 6th, the courts, LEO mess after mess (pro or con), 2 special counsels, IG debacles, shootings out the wazoo, recalls, Trump, Biden, etc, etc.

    One is left wondering in amazement, how far can it honestly go?

    Chaos hyperdrive engaged! Destination? The deepest chasm possible!!!

  2. It was the sunk cost fallacy that led to the indefinite nature of it all. I am quite sure many of the leaders really believed the lockdowns were worth it, but when 2 weeks didn't do it, they decided on a month, but when that didn't work, they couldn't admit they were wrong and open back up. Thus, here we are 13 months later with large parts of the world still locked down even as the virus proves beyond all doubt that lockdowns (and masks) don't work.

    1. I've believed that Trump didn't have much choice in the beginning and may have received bad advice from his inner circle. However, I think the anti-Trump forces moved quickly to lock Trump into that position once they saw the possible political uses.

  3. Sadly, like the Russian Hoax, this was out there a long time ago along with the solo UK modeler and the US university modelers.

    You didn’t know what to make it all when it came out because a FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt, popularized by Eric S. Raymond) peddled by the media.

    Right now, I know people who still fear leaving their house and rarely do.

  4. Wasn't the plastic straw ban similarly based on an elementary school student's science fair project? Perhaps I'm misremembering?

  5. Indeed, it was a school project. He vastly over estimated the numbers of plastic straws but no one questioned it.