The new study, published in the Social Science Research Network, applies Benford’s Law — an analytical method for assessing patterns in numerical data — to compare China’s reported caseload with those of Italy and the United States.
The researchers, from Oxford University and the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, found that infection patterns in all three countries were “similar” despite repeated accusations by politicians and media organs that China had “massaged” its COVID-19 numbers
The empirical finding is important, the researchers explain, because “China was affected first. Policies to combat the global pandemic are informed by its response. Skepticism about the Chinese data may result – and may already have resulted – in poor policy choices.”
Because of the doubt that was heaped on China’s response to the outbreak of the new disease, many countries were slow to adopt the country’s prevention method, often to the detriment of their own populations.
“Lack of confidence in the Chinese data,” the researchers say, “may have led to a slower response in Europe to the emergent pandemic.”
The new study comes as leading medical voices in the West come out strongly against conspiracy theories about COVID-19’s origins. One such theory, touted by politicians and pundits alike, is that the novel coronavirus could have emerged from Wuhan’s Virology Institute, where renowned scientist Shi Zhengli studied samples of coronaviruses found in bats for years.
British-American zoologist and disease ecologist Peter Daszak has dismissed such suggestions. “Shi Zhengli is an excellent virologist, I have no reason to believe she is not telling the truth,” the virus expert told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria in a televised interview. “Everything I’ve heard in my 15 years of work with people in that lab, has been absolutely normal with what you expect from virology labs.”
“The real kicker to all of this is they didn’t have the virus in the lab anyway,” Daszak explained. “Nobody has the virus from bats that lead to COVID-19. We’ve not found it yet. We’ve found close relatives, but it’s not the same virus.”