Whistleblower's account shows lockdown critic helped fund study claiming Covid-19 wasn't that fatal: Report
A Stanford study painted a different picture of the pandemic, suggesting it was not as deadly as thought. While experts panned the study for inaccuracy, others used it to call for reopening states. Now, a whistleblower's account reveals more details on the events that led up to the study. A noted critic of lockdowns and the founder of JetBlue Airways named David Neeleman, partly funded it, according to the complaint accessed by Buzzfeed News. The study, however, has made no mention of his contributions.
The anonymous whistleblower's complaint included dozens of emails, including exchanges with the airline executive during the study.
What is more, the emails show the study authors ignored warnings raised by two Stanford professors who tried to verify the accuracy of the antibody test used. Because of this, the two professors retracted their names from the study. The complaint suggests that Neeleman “potentially used financial incentives to secure cooperation from” one of these scientists.
About Stanford study
The study, which was not peer-reviewed, tried to answer a question: How many Santa Clara County residents have Covid-19? And how many infections went undetected?
The team tested the blood for antibodies, which indicates that the body fought off the coronavirus, to answer the question. They found that the number of coronavirus infections was 85 times higher than the official count. They suggested that Covid-19 could be less fatal when compared to the seasonal flu.
“Most of the population has minimal risk, in the range of dying while you’re driving from home to work and back,” John Ioannidis, the scientists involved in the study, said on Fox News, a few days after its release.
The study helped fuel the growing clamor against stay-at-home orders. Many experts criticized the study for its sloppy design and highlighted that antibody tests could be inaccurate.
The authors later reworked on the study, walking back on some of its controversial claims. "More studies are needed to improve the precision of prevalence estimates," the authors wrote in their revised preprint study.
Ioannidis said he was unaware of Neelman's contributions to the study. “David Neeleman has a particular perspective and some ideas and some thoughts,” he told BuzzFeed News. “I don’t know exactly who were the people who funded the study eventually. But whoever they were, none of them really told us it should be designed in a given way or done in a given way or find a particular type of result or report a particular type of result.”
Ioannidis was also unaware of the study's costs. The funding came from an anonymized pool of financial gifts given to Stanford’s Office of Development: “This form of funding is the most unconflicted type of funding process to do research. It secures the perfect intellectual and scientific independence of the study," he added.
“The whistleblower jumped to a false conclusion that is not provable because it never happened,” Neeleman said. “There is no there there. Period.”
Previously, Ioannidis wrote a piece on STAT, arguing against lockdowns in the absence of enough data. "At a time when everyone needs better information, from disease modelers and governments to people quarantined or just social distancing, we lack reliable evidence on how many people have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 or who continue to become infected. Better information is needed to guide decisions and actions of monumental significance and to monitor their impact," he wrote.
Other experts have since criticized his line of argument against Ioannidis's view though they agree that the official infections numbers are underrepresented.
As for whistleblower's complaint, Marc Lipsitch, an epidemiologist at Harvard University, told BuzzFeed News that the allegations raised in the whistleblower complaint further suggest that “the paper and some of its authors are affected by ideology, and that the whole effort was affected by sloppy science.”
Talking about Neeleman's involvement in the study, Lipsitch added: “This has nothing to do with science. This is wanting his airlines to thrive.”