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Op-ed

No matter what the data eventually shows, shutdown advocates will never admit they were wrong. Here's why.

They'll pretend they were right all along

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic has not fully run its course, so it is too early yet to say with any sort of finality whether the shutdowns imposed by most global governments were necessary or even a good idea. Additionally, it will be difficult to eventually draw firm conclusions because there is a dearth of localities that did not even attempt a shutdown to act as meaningful control groups for the sake of comparison.

For now, we have to draw the best conclusions we can from pieces and suggestions. That applies even when trying to answer whether it will ultimately end up being harmful for states/countries to have ended their shutdowns "early," much less whether they should have had a shutdown at all. It certainly seems at this point that there have been no negative effects from reopening states early, and that some of the states/countries with the worst ongoing problems remain shut down. But time will ultimately tell once this disease has finally run its course and we have a chance to look back with the cold eye of hindsight.

Whatever that data eventually shows, even if it shows that the shutdowns should never have happened, you can count on the people who advocated for it never admitting they were wrong. Even if the data conclusively, definitively ends up showing that the shutdowns were a monumental mistake that actually made the disease worse, you will never hear the public health officials who convinced governments to shut down our businesses, churches, and lives admit it even a little bit.

The first reason is that people in general are not in the habit of admitting they were wrong. It's one of the most difficult things to do, especially for people who value their reputations, and so the simplest thing humans in general often do is just pretend they were right and cherry pick data inappropriately to defend even obviously indefensible positions rather than admit error.

But even if the public health shutdown advocates would otherwise be inclined to admit they were wrong, they still won't. The reason is pretty simple. Public health experts are aware of the moral of the story of "The Boy who Cried Wolf" just as much as the ordinary person. And they're aware that if it is ever conclusively determined that the shutdowns were a giant mistake, the next time they call for a shutdown, the public will not comply, even if it's really and truly necessary next time.

And hey, the next time it might not be a respiratory disease that seems to be not a threat to life to the vast majority of the population. Next time it might be, I don't know, a strain of ebola that is capable of surviving in long periods of time in the United States.

So in order to avoid the "Boy who Cried Wolf" effect, they will just pretend that there was a wolf all along, even if there never was one. And they will do everything they can to convince the public that there really was a wolf, even if they couldn't see it, so that next time they cry "wolf" they will get the same response.

One last thing…
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