O.K., so your expertise in the subject I guess comes in part from your work with AIDS, which you just referenced, is that right?
AIDS, and I’ve worked on evolutionary theory for forty years in its relationship to law.
You write, “There are two factors to consider. One is the age of the exposed population, and the other is the rate of change in the virulence of the virus as the rate of transmission slows, which should continue apace. By way of comparison, the virulent AIDS virus that killed wantonly in the 1980s crested and declined when it gave way to a milder form of virus years later once the condition was recognized and the bath houses were closed down.” [I read this passage to Kuritzkes, who responded, “It’s completely inaccurate. It had nothing to do with the change in the virus. We were able to do it by safe-sex practices and the like, and we saw the explosive growth of H.I.V. during the nineteen-nineties in sub-Saharan Africa and more recently in Eastern Europe. There is nothing about the virus that has become less virulent.”] What milder form of the virus are you talking about?
Look, all it is is it’s a distribution. What you do is you figure out what this toxicity strength is and if it’s X at one point, then it’s going to be some fraction of X down the road. And it’s quite clear that that is what happened with AIDS. And then, when it comes along and you start getting [the antiretroviral drug] AZT and other conditions, it’s easier to treat them because all of a sudden AIDS is evolved in much the same path as syphilis. If you go through the history of syphilis, it starts off, it’s essentially a deadly disease and kills most people. And then those who survive have the milder version of it. And so after a while what happens is it becomes a tamer disease. [Syphilis is a bacterial infection, not a viral infection. “One doesn’t have anything to do with the other,” Kuritzkes said. Ko told me, “That’s not something that is based in empirical evidence, so the fallacy in his argument is the over-all lack of scientific rigor in his analysis.”]
You’re saying that there’s a milder form of the H.I.V. virus than what was around in the eighties and nineties. That’s what you’re saying?
Well, I mean, there’s always been a continuous distribution from severe to less severe. What I’m saying is the probability distribution switches so that the medium becomes a little more mild. And, if it becomes more mild, it kills fewer people. And, after a while, it becomes something that becomes a chronic disease of some sort or another instead of something that’s virulent.
O.K., but you used the phrase a “milder form” of the virus, which I could find no scientific backup for, so I wanted to clarify that point.
Well, I’m just telling you, I’m giving you this as a theory.
Oh, it’s a theory.
No, look, I’m not an empiricist, but, again, let me just be clear to you, because you’re much too skeptical. The evolutionary component has not been taken into account in these models, and so before one is so dismissive, what you really need to do is to get somebody who’s an expert on this stuff to look at the evolutionary theory and explain why a principle of natural selection doesn’t apply here.
What I’m doing here is nothing exotic. I’m taking standard Darwinian economics—standard economic-evolutionary theory out of Darwin—and applying it to this particular case. And, if that’s wrong, somebody should tell me. But what happens is I just get these letters from people saying, “You’re not an expert. The H1 virus differs from this one in the following way.” What I don’t get from anybody is a systematic refutation which looks at the points parameter by parameter.
I guess my point is that shouldn’t you be careful about offering up these theories before they’re printed?
No. It turns out in this particular world if you become quiet about this stuff it never gets heard. And what we’ve had now is very loud talk on one side. I think most of it is incorrect. I’m always willing to debate somebody on the other side who wants to say this is the way the model works. In fact, I have several of my Hoover colleagues who have done exactly that.
Richard, with all due respect, your article is apparently circulating in conservative circles in Washington and the White House.
I didn’t write it as a conservative article. Donald Trump’s name is not mentioned in it.
I grasped that.
I’m not interested in politics.
I know, but we have a responsibility when we put our name on something, no?
I absolutely do. And I told you I’m willing to debate anybody and anywhere at any time on this particular topic, and we’ll see how it comes out. What was the last sentence in that article? Would you care to read it again?
I’ve got it right here, I believe. “Perhaps my analysis is all wrong, even deeply flawed. But the stakes are too high to continue on the current course without reexamining the data and the erroneous models that are predicting doom.” Are the stakes too high to publish articles with basic errors?
This is not a mistake. It’s an open challenge. I’ve spent my entire life as a lawyer taking on established wisdom. My view about it is what you’re asking me to do is, when I think everybody is wrong, to remain silent, and the stakes are too high. So my view is there’s all these experts on the other side. Somebody come up and explain why it is that they think the results are going to be different. Looking at the data thus far, both theories tend to predict a sharp rise at the beginning, mine less sharp than the one that’s coming out.
In the next week or so, we’ll see. I will be, shall we say, much more compromised if we start to see a continuing explosion of deaths going on for two or three weeks. But, if the numbers start to level off, the curves will start to go downward.
I was just asking about—
I’m saying what I think to be the truth. I mean, I just find it incredible—
I know, but these are scientific issues here.
You know nothing about the subject but are so confident that you’re going to say that I’m a crackpot.
That’s what you’re saying, isn’t it? That’s what you’re saying?
I’m not saying anything of the sort.
Admit to it. You’re saying I’m a crackpot.
I’m not saying anything of the—
Well, what am I then? I’m an amateur? You’re the great scholar on this?
No, no. I’m not a great scholar on this.
Tell me what you think about the quality of the work!
O.K. I’m going to tell you. I think the fact that I am not a great scholar on this and I’m able to find these flaws or these holes in what you wrote is a sign that maybe you should’ve thought harder before writing it.