Were the Lockdowns a Mistake? A Soho Forum Debate

Physician Marty Makary vs. epidemiologist Knut Wittkowski on whether "the lockdown saved hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lives."


"The lockdown has saved hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lives and spared American hospitals the horrors of rationing care."

That was the resolution of a public debate hosted via Zoom by the Soho Forum on Monday, June 1, 2020. It featured Marty Makary, a surgical oncologist at Johns Hopkins, and Knut Wittkowski, former head of the Department of Biostatistics, Epidemiology, and Research Design at The Rockefeller University.

The Soho Forum typically hosts Oxford-style debates, in which a live audience votes before and after the event, and the debater who swayed the most people wins the contest. Because this debate took place over Zoom, we did things a little differently. The online audience was asked to vote before the debate. If you voted before the debate, please go to after you listen to the podcast and cast your final vote. But if you didn't register your initial vote before the debate started on Monday evening, your final vote won't be counted.

Arguing for the affirmative was Marty Makary, a surgical oncologist at Johns Hopkins and the author of the 2019 book The Price We Pay: What Broke American Health Care—and How to Fix It.

Knut Wittkowski argued for the negative. Wittkowski is the CEO of ASDERA LLC, a company discovering novel treatments for complex diseases from data of genome-wide association studies. Wittkowski also served for 20 years as head of the Department of Biostatistics, Epidemiology, and Research Design at The Rockefeller University in New York City.

The Soho Forum, sponsored by the Reason Foundation, is a monthly debate series at the SubCulture Theater in Manhattan's East Village.

Update: Voting on this debate ended on Monday, June 8, 2020, at noon EST. Knut Wittkowski won by convincing 11.43 percent of the audience to change their minds. Marty Makary convinced 8.57 percent.

Audio production by John Osterhoudt.
Photo: Maria Khrenova/ZUMA Press/Newscom

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  1. Ah, the SOHO debates. I can’t wait to hear the opinions of New Yorkers.

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  2. Yes.
    Now shut the fuck up, Karen

    1. Yea seriously why the hell do we need to debate this

      1. Because the world is still full of scared idiots who somehow still think it’s a good idea.

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    3. The interesting thing is that the actual debate question is framed the opposite. It is “The lockdown has saved hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lives and spared American hospitals the horrors of rationing care”. So if you went to the site and voted Yes, you were supporting the lockdowns. woot.

  3. It appears they were and medical professionals have admitted as much.

  4. If “go outside and protest w/everybody!” is okay today, then “go outside and to your fucking jobs!” was okay March and April.

    1. If lockdowns were not a mistake, the protesters are bio-terrorists.

      1. I also like the humanity-encompassing “undiagnosed carriers” where everybody is an angel of death.

  5. Biggest mistake Evah!

    1. I think that might be literally true. If you look at it in terms of how many people were harmed and how badly. Maybe WWI was a bigger mistake.

  6. Given that there was no history of involuntary lock-downs working and that it violated the 1st amendment right to peacefully assemble, then yes, it was a mistake.

    The last thing people need is a government that will violate rights on the mere “hope” that violation will yield net benefits.

  7. Ha, a debate on we were wrong and destroyed large parts of the economy and put millions out of work . Sorry an’t gonna get it bitches.

  8. The lockdowns worked great every other time we’ve used them to stem infectious disease outbreaks. Oh, wait, we’ve never used a nationwide lockdown like this before, it was a spontaneous experiment conducted on unwitting and unwilling participants contrary to all ethical human study norms, the law and the Constitution. And with no preparation, no set protocol, no guidelines, no funding, no nothing. If non-government scientists tried some experimental shit like this they’d be hanging by their balls in a dungeon right now.

    But were they a mistake? If you assume the point of lockdowns was to save people from dying from the coronavirus regardless of how many other lives it might cost in terms of destroying civilization as we know it, it’s easy enough to declare the operation a success. But as I’ve said before, if Cuomo were serious in his belief that no matter what he had to do in New York it would all be worth it if it saved just one life from the coronavirus, he would have called for a massive nuclear strike on NYC and not one person would have died from the coronavirus. The fact that he didn’t call for a massive nuclear strike on NYC suggests that perhaps he had some sort of inkling that some price might be too high a price to pay.

  9. Yes. How the fuck is there still any doubt about this?

    1. Everyone is still obediently wearing face masks on the street over here.

      1. There are a few places where I see that. Maybe it’s the places I choose to go, but for the most part I don’t see a lot of mask wearers. And I have yet to be scolded by anyone (outside of work) for not having a mask.

  10. *A* mistake? As in one? Talking about it like it was *a* mistake is another mistake. The number of mistakes, just starting with those committed by government, the last few months is fucking legion.

  11. *** scratches head ***

    You know, “mistake” and “not mistake” could be a false dichotomy.

  12. Are you fucking kidding?

  13. Were the lock downs a mistake?
    Of course not, silly.
    The lock downs put millions out of work, put the millions of the masses back in their place of poverty where they belong, destroyed countless of those awful petit bourgeois shops out of business, and forced millions to use up their life savings.
    As an added bonus, more governors and mayors will able to employ their draconian measures to ensure no one was able to go back to work, open shop or engage in the nefarious activities all the little people do to survive.
    Yes, the lock downs were wildly successful.
    If only more lock downs would occur, we would finally have the proletariat paradise we all covet so much.

  14. It all depends on how one measures if the lockdowns were a success.
    One way was if it slowed the spread. We’ll know in the next few weeks. If there isn’t a spike in the number of cases, due to the idiot protesters, gathering closely together, then it will be absolute evidence that the virus didn’t spread in the way we had been told. The lockdowns will have been for naught and the “experts” will have some ‘splaining to do.
    If, however, the destruction of the economy causes Trump to lose the November election, then those, who hyped up this panᵈᵉᵐic, will think the lockdowns were well worth it, regardless of the damage they have wrought.

  15. Dr. Wittkowski made me a fan by mentioning that no one should believe him because of his credentials, but only because of the data that he’s posted. Does anyone have a link? I’ve not been able to track one down.

  16. What I want to know is this—who will be criminally responsible for this FUBAR? Is there any chance of sending corona panic mongers to Guantanamo? We have some spare capacity there.

  17. They were not a mistake.

    They were, and are, an abomination.

    “They saved oh so many lives” is not only false, but it is also irrelevant. I don’t care how effective it is in meeting some governmental goal, good or bad. What I care about is that the purpose of government is to protect liberty, not take it away. The word “Safety” is not on the coins minted in the USA. The word that’s there is “Liberty.” That’s not one of the goals… it’s not the most important goal. It’s THE goal. Singular. Nothing else is a just or reasonable role for government.

    What is a saved life? If an individual is dying of cancer, with an expected lifespan of no more than a week or two, but chemo puts the cancer into remission, is that live then saved? When do we declare it saved? Right after the date that the individual should have died, but didn’t?

    What if that person only had six months added to his life by virtue of the treatment? Would the oncologist(s) be credited with saving a life? If they saved a person from dying of cancer, how come he ended up dying of cancer half a year later?

    That’s the thing you can’t see in these “died so far” statistics. We don’t know how many would have died otherwise. We don’t have even a good clue about it! It’s all guesses, based on the same assumptions and incomplete data that led to the predictions of 2.4 million deaths, then 60,000 deaths, both of which were wrong.

    Even if we knew exactly what the death toll would have been if we’d recognized the correct role of government, again, what would define saving a life? How much time has to elapse before a person is “saved” of something if it ends up killing him anyway?

    The lockdownists have pointed to Sweden as if their death totals so far were proof of the effectiveness of the tyrannical “everyone’s in prison” model. The whole premise of the Swedish model is that achieving herd immunity sooner would outweigh the higher interim death rate. It’s a valid line of thought, and they haven’t gotten there yet. They’re a lot closer than anywhere else in the world, but it’s still a work in progress. You can’t look at the spot numbers and make a conclusion based on that when the end goal is still in the future.

    In the historical analysis of this whole man-caused disaster (I don’t mean the releasing of the disease into the wild… I mean the response to the disease), Sweden’s going to be the one that got it right, even if the cost of putting innocent people in prison with no due process is ignored. They’re having their COVID deaths now, while the rest of us are having some now, some later. What we’re also having now is other deaths, those caused by the lockdown itself, which Sweden is doing its best to prevent.

    It’s known that unemployment has a correlation with suicide rates, and even though Sweden has acted in a more economically-friendly way, they’re still a relatively small country in a very big Europe, the rest of which is in prison. Their economic situation is being dragged down by the tyrannical leaders in the rest of Europe, and a certain percentage of their citizenry that dies is on the hands of leaders outside of their own country. That’s unfortunate, certainly, but the Swedish authorities can only take the blame or the credit for the things they can control.

    When this is all over, the Swedish authorities will have caused less death than the other Scandinavian countries. The higher death rate will begin to slow as herd immunity grows, and it will bottom out while the rest of the world is still counting. Add that to the deaths that the lockdowns would have caused directly, and I think you’ll see how deadly these lockdowns really were.

    A coroner’s office in the bay area of California is reporting that suicide deaths are outpacing COVID deaths, and that they’re getting a year’s worth of suicide attempts in four weeks.

    These lockdowns are killing people in a very real way, but the “saved” lives are just COVID deaths kicked down the road a bit. Those people that are so vulnerable to COVID that they would die if they got it are still going to have to live in a world where COVID is making its rounds, and we’re not all wearing biohazard suits all the time. Even the most draconian Michigan-style lockdowns won’t prevent all transmission of the disease. You can increase the mean time before infection, but over time, the odds of those infections happening will approach certainty. Unless, of course, we get herd immunity, which we’re actively trying to prevent at present.

    If we bend the infection rate down among all people, the death toll will be temporarily reduced by the same amount that the onset of the herd immunity will be. It doesn’t change anything but the date. In a country where everyone is quarantined, no one is quarantined.

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