Walensky steps down at CDC: 4 ways she failed to be a scientist
Her track record as CDC director was unscientific
Rochelle Walensky announced today that she will step down as CDC director. The news comes on a Friday, which is strategically used to dampen it. Here. I will provide an assessment of how she did.
Forget about good and bad. Those are moral judgments. Let's talk about scientific and unscientific beliefs. Rochelle Walensky was not a scientific leader. She did not embraced science when it mattered.
Here are 4 bedrock principles of science she failed to live up to.
If you measure something, and report it, you should do it accurately. Counting the dead is not difficult. Do not miscount.
If you don't know the answer to a question, or there is residual uncertainty, you should design an experiment that can help you reduce that uncertainty. If you run an agency of 40k people, you should definitely run such a study.
One should not make statements when one does not have data.
Medical recommendations should personalize the risk and benefit for the person in front of you.
In terms of these metrics of being a scientist, Walensky is 0 for 4.
#1 Under her watch the CDC was a steady stream of inaccurate statistics. We complied a collection of just some errors in our preprint.
At an ACIP meeting, CDC reported the incorrect numbers of dead kids.
On Dec 30 they said XBB was 41% of infections, but a week later they said it was 18%
CDC could not count the number of kids who had died of COVID
CDC said delta was as contagious as chicken pox, a total lie, and not compatible with reality
Walensky was inaccurate about the number of kids who had died in a white house briefing
How are these errors acceptable? How can you not accurately count the number of dead kids? In any company, you would fired for such basic errors. And it is curious, she largely exaggerated risks to kids to justify school closure, and scare parents into vaccination.
Now, look at this statement, how could anyone think it is accurate? It is not.
To conclude: Under Walensky’s watch the CDC failed to report basic statistics correctly.
Now, let us turn to point 2:
Walensky commissioned zero RCTs of masking. Instead, she made wild claims about how good masking would be, and it applied to other illnesses (both falsehoods)
She told Congress, she lacked equipoise for RCTs. That is absolutely false, and betrays her poor understanding of equipoise. The CDC and AAP disagreed with WHO about masking kids. That is literally equipoise for 2-5, yet she ran zero studies. Moreover, Cochrane would suggest equipoise exists for all ages.
On other NPI topics, she ran zero trials. She never tested 3 ft vs 6 ft. She basically tested nothing she ever recommended. It would be like a scientist who runs a basic science lab, but lets the beakers collect dust, while fabricating manuscripts.
Point #3: I never understood why she said this. Yes, we needed to drop masks but not for this reason.
She must have known she did not have data to support the claim. She must have known the trials did not assess it. The better argument against masking was after vaccination, there was no further risk modification, so better to get back to life. Also, masks never had good data. But her claim was strong, bizarre, and ultimately wrong.
Point 4: Despite our repeated pleas, she created policy that forced 20 year old men— even those who had already had COVID to be boosted. That policy was harmful. She thought so poorly of the American people that she insisted on booster policies that were the same for 85 year old women and 25 year old men.
This violated the basic principle of medicine to personalize your care for the person in front of you, and that you cannot offer an intervention with net harm. (PS she never banned Moderna in young men— Only spaced out the doses a year too late).
In conclusion, in these 4 domains, Walensky failed. History will remember her as the worst CDC director of all times. I will end on a positive note, which is Marty’s assessment of her performance.