I last talked about John Ioannidis waaay back in December of 2020. Allow me to give you the tl;dw here: Ioannidis was once widely respected for exposing the vast replication crisis in scientific publishing, calling for a much-needed overhaul of the entire way research is accepted as “truth.” And then COVID-19 happened and he went completely off the deep end, becoming the pet denier for conservatives everywhere who desperately wanted to believe the virus wasn’t a big deal. In March of 2020 he argued that it would probably kill about 10,000 Americans, a number we passed about a month later. Two years later, we’re at 927,000 deaths. So yeah, he was only off by…two orders of magnitude. Cool, cool.
You’d think that at that point, a man with an ounce of self-awareness would slink off into the darkness to wait until everyone has forgotten the absurd wrongness. Maybe he’d dye his hair, start going by his middle name, take up goat farming instead of science, something. But not John Ioannidis! Nope. He’s back, with a brand NEW study, and this one involves Kim Kardashian. Do you think I’m joking? Do you think I would ever joke about something as important as Kim Kardashian and the wrongest man in all of science??
Okay, so to understand this absolute circus, first we need to talk about two overly haughty “declarations.” If you’ve never been to an academic conference, you should know that the people who put them on and attend them absolutely fucking LOVE to take some time between sessions (at the bar) to write little screeds and make attendees sign them and take pictures with them as if the next step is nailing them to a church door and then stepping back to see civilization change before their eyes.
So, all the way back in the heady days of October of 2020, a bunch of libertarians got together in Great Barrington, Massachusetts and signed a completely braindead document announcing that henceforth, all low-risk people (and high-risk people who would absolutely LOVE to die of COVID, thank you very much) should return to normal life, going to work and school in-person, drinking from each others’ glasses at bars, spitting in each others’ mouths, enjoying wild, orgies where, Eyes Wide Shut be damned, masks would be optional – you know, normal pre-pandemic stuff.
In case you understandably don’t remember what was going on in early October of 2020, only about a million people had died by that point and we didn’t have vaccines yet. Now we’re approaching 6 million dead people and for some reason the libertarians haven’t bothered to take down their stupid declaration.
Two weeks after the Great Barrington Declaration was farted into existence, a few dozen scientists drafted a reply in the form of the John Snow Memorandum, published in the Lancet. The John Snow Memorandum suggested, contrary to the Great Barrington Declaration, actually maybe we should lock down until we control the spread of the deadly pandemic, or at least until we get some vaccines in a few months, instead of just letting everyone fucking die. This was obviously quite controversial amongst centrists who were very worried about how divisive this all was. Oh dear, can’t we all just get along?
Now, you’d think that more than a year later anyone with eyeballs and two neurons to rub together would see that one of these declarations was extraordinarily stupid and one was rather reasonable, but you’d be wrong, because we live in the worst timeline. Enter John Ioannidis, who has, in February of 2022, decided to quite bravely NOT look at the success of countries that had real lockdowns and the failure of countries that did basically nothing, and to instead evaluate each of these dusty artifacts of a bygone era to determine which document had the most famous people sign it. Yes. Yes, really.
In “Citation impact and social media visibility of Great Barrington and John Snow signatories for COVID-19 strategy,” published this month in the British Medical Journal’s open access trashcan, Ioannidis uses a few measures to determine whether or not one could argue that the Great Barrington Declaration gets less respect than the John Snow Memorandum because the scientists who signed the Great Barrington Declaration aren’t as popular as the scientists who signed the John Snow Memorandum. For instance, one could look at how many studies the signers each published as lead authors. Or, one could look at their Kardashian Index.
The Kardashian Index is a shitty and somewhat sexist concept first proposed by Neil Hall, a genome scientist in the UK who wrote that he was very concerned “that there are individuals [like Kim Kardashian] who are famous for being famous (or, to put it in science jargon, renowned for being renowned)” and that they were being invited to all the cool conferences instead of people who actually published good research. Like…like him, I guess. Basically, this is a published article whining about the same shit that “serious” researchers were complaining about in Carl Sagan’s heyday. How dare he be famous for explaining complicated scientific ideas to the general public?
To give this stupid complaint an air of respectability, Hall proposed the Kardashian Index, which relates a person’s social media following to the number of citations they have in the scientific literature. By calculating someone’s K-Index, you can tell whether you should respect them or, I don’t know, look down on them for being more popular than you.
Ioannidis took it upon himself to calculate the K-Index for 47 “key” signers of the Great Barrington Declaration and 34 “key” signers of the John Snow Memo. You will be shocked – SHOCKED – to learn that the John Snow Memorandum signers are a bunch of filthy KARDASHIANS, making sex tapes and selling make-up and getting Brazillian butt lifts while the signers of the Great Barrington Declaration are locked away in their laboratories, pouring various colored liquids into erlenmyer flasks, eschewing the advances of the vapid Staceys trying to lure them to parties, achieving great advancements in science that will elevate the entire human race.
And that, dear reader, is why we should go back in time to October of 2020 and let people go to bars.
I’m so glad we settled this. I honestly can’t wait to see what Ioannidis comes up with next: possibly comparing the relative popularity of William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow, finding that Darrow was well-liked and Bryan was downright hated, which means the pro-evolution argument got undue attention?
I have to agree with this tweet from Natalie Dean (which is how I first learned about this entire thing): “The part of me that loves science is grossed out. But the part of me that loves Real Housewives drama is entertained. The commitment to pettiness is exquisite.” Truly, I hope Ioannidis never leaves the public eye to dye his hair and raise goats.