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About that Italian study

Summary:
My recent post on the Italian study of early Covid spread was criticized for highlighting the interpretation of the Daily Mail, a disreputable paper.Here’s Business Insider: The new coronavirus was circulating in Italy since September 2019, a study by the National Cancer Institute (INT) of the Italian city of Milan shows, signaling that COVID-19 might have spread beyond China earlier than previously thought. Actually, the study doesn’t show that Covid “spread beyond China”; it provides evidence that Covid existed outside of China well before the first known case in China. Word choice matters. Now the media (and China’s government) is waking up to the startling implications of this study, if true: If those findings are correct, scientists said it could change

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My recent post on the Italian study of early Covid spread was criticized for highlighting the interpretation of the Daily Mail, a disreputable paper.

Here’s Business Insider:

The new coronavirus was circulating in Italy since September 2019, a study by the National Cancer Institute (INT) of the Italian city of Milan shows, signaling that COVID-19 might have spread beyond China earlier than previously thought.

Actually, the study doesn’t show that Covid “spread beyond China”; it provides evidence that Covid existed outside of China well before the first known case in China. Word choice matters.

Now the media (and China’s government) is waking up to the startling implications of this study, if true:

If those findings are correct, scientists said it could change the history of the origin of pandemic, raising questions about when and where the virus first emerged.

The novel coronavirus was first identified in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December. Italy’s first COVID-19 patient was detected on Feb. 21 in a small town near Milan, in the northern region of Lombardy.

The Chinese government said on Tuesday it believed the study showed that tracing the origin of the virus was an ongoing process that may involve many countries.

I can see why the Chinese government would wish to suggest that no one knows where the virus came from. My own view is that it doesn’t much matter where it started, but many Westerners blame China for the pandemic, mostly because the first known cases occurred there.

The Italian researchers seem reluctant to conclude that the pandemic began in Italy, instead they point the finger at China:

But the Italian researchers said that’s not necessarily their conclusion.

“These findings simply document that the epidemic in China was not detected in time,” Giovanni Apolone, scientific director of National Cancer Institute (INT) and a co-author of the study, told a news conference in Milan.

“These finding simply document”? Really? This study does not provide any evidence for the virus being in China last September, it merely shows that it was in Italy at that time.

In my earlier post, I expressed doubt as to whether the Italian claims were true. I still believe that the virus originated in China. Many scientists now seem to be skeptical of the study:

The study has also sparked doubts among some Western scientists who called for further tests.

Much of the scepticism was focused on the so-called specificity of the antibody tests, that, if not perfect, might reveal the presence of antibodies to other diseases.

PS. And can we please count the votes? Georgia’s already counted their votes twice. What is the problem?



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Scott Sumner
Scott B. Sumner is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, the Director of the Program on Monetary Policy at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and an economist who teaches at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts. His economics blog, The Money Illusion, popularized the idea of nominal GDP targeting, which says that the Fed should target nominal GDP—i.e., real GDP growth plus the rate of inflation—to better "induce the correct level of business investment".

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