Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Bill Gates as funder, author, editor, adviser? Data imperialism: manipulating the metrics


Dr. (Prof) Amitav Banerjee, Epidemiologist

Universal Health Organisation (UHO), Chairman

Postdoctoral in epidemiology, who was a field epidemiologist for over two decades in the Indian Armed Forces. He also led the mobile epidemic investigation team at the Armed Forces Medical College, Pune, India from 2000 to 2004. During this period he investigated a number of outbreaks in different parts of the country. He was awarded for his work on Tribal Malaria and Viral Hepatitis E. He presently is a Professor in a Medical College in Pune

Dr Amitav Banerjee is an internationally recognised Professor of Community Medicine from India. In 2023, he was included in the top 2% of Stanford University Rankings Scientists Database.

Dr. Amitav Banerjee has a distinguished research career spanning over four decades. His substantial body of work encompasses critical investigations into epidemics, including typhoid, hepatitis, respiratory infections, and pneumonia.

When Mahatma Gandhi on invitation from Buckingham Palace was invited to have tea with King George V, he was asked, “Mr Gandhi, do you think you are properly dressed to meet the King?” Gandhi retorted [a], “Do not worry about my clothes. The King has enough clothes on for both of us.”

[a] https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/remembering-mahatma-gandhi-on-his-150th-birth-anniversary/when-he-was-invited-to-meet-king-george-v/slideshow/71359429.cms

Those were the days of British imperialism. Besides conquests and colonisations, imperialism was also patronizing as summed up by the phrase, “White Man’s Burden” [b], implying that it is the duty of white people to manage the affairs of non-whites whom they believed to be less developed.

[b] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/white%20man%27s%20burden

Years later, our land may be free of colonization, but are our minds free? Did the years of colonization program us to be subservient to the white man’s perceived superior knowledge? It would appear so. Our universities of higher learning place a premium on faculty who get “foreign” fellowships, “foreign” research grants and publish in “foreign” journals.
Of course the “foreign” implies the developed West. And these leading “foreign” journals like “The Lancet” often exceed their brief and churn out patronizing viewpoints on political issues under the garb of guiding the poorer nations of Asia and Africa.

A case in point is a recent editorial [c] in “The Lancet”, titled, “India’s elections: why data transparency matter,” published on 13 April 2024. While the editorial praises the economic developments and says that India is poised to become the third largest economy in the world within 3 years, it comments on the poor state of health and health statistics and data transparency in the country.

[c] https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(24)00740-2

It sermonizes that accurate and up-to-date data are essential for health policy, planning, and management. No one is contesting this. It also reports that the Director of the International Institute of Population Sciences (IIPS) was sacked since the results of the latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5), one of the most robust sources of health statistics in the country, were unfavourable to the Government. Yes, K S James the Director of IIPS resigned. Nevertheless, the results of NFHS-5 were not suppressed and are in the public domain [d].

[d] https://main.mohfw.gov.in/sites/default/files/NFHS-5_Phase-II_0.pdf

The editorial harps on the issue of deaths of Covid-19 in India. In a previous paper [e], “The Lancet” had claimed that while India reported around 0.5 million Covid-19 deaths in India, the estimates from big data (based on mathematical models), is six to eight times higher. In an op-ed in the Counterview, this highly inflated estimate from mathematical models was rebutted [f] based on calculations from robust field level data.

[e] https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(23)00904-2/fulltext

[f] https://www.counterview.net/2023/05/lancet-editorial-lacks-scientific.html

Indians can look around in their neighbourhoods, workplaces, among close relatives, and take a count on how many people have succumbed to the COVID-19 virus in the pandemic years, and roughly estimate whether an unusually high number in their close circles have died compared to non-pandemic years. Do we believe real-world data or estimates of fancy models based on big data made by “experts” sitting at the other end of the world?

Similarly a paper in “The Lancet” [g] based on mathematical modelling which was partly funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, estimated that around 20 million deaths from Covid-19 were prevented by the vaccines, while real-world data [h] shows spike in cases and deaths from Covid-19 in many countries, after mass vaccination.

[g] https://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473-3099(22)00320-6/fulltext

[h] https://journals.lww.com/mjdy/Fulltext/2022/15030/Covid_19_Mass_Vaccination___How_Much_Impact_at.1.aspx

Do we still attribute any credibility to “The Lancet” which is making such outlandish “wild guesses” beneath the cloak of big data and mathematical models? How to explain a top tier journal like “The Lancet” giving out amateurish viewpoints and wide off the mark estimates with condescending admonishments about our national statistics? The following dynamics may unravel the factors responsible for the falling standards of academic publications in erstwhile reputed journals like “The Lancet”.

For years, the Gates Foundation has leaned on institutions which help recruit experts to drum up facts and figures that support Bill Gates worldview. These experts use sophisticated algorithms and best available data. The Gates Foundation has become one of the most important funders of medical research. It has donated more than $12 billion to universities and helped underwrite more than thirty thousand articles [i].

[i] https://www.https/mmv.org/sites/default/files/uploads/docs/publications/2018/MMV_AR2018_Chapter8_pdf

The role of the Gates Foundation over the years has established Medical imperialism and spawned various conflicts of interests. According to the academic database Web of Science, the foundation is the second largest private funder of research appearing in the journal “Vaccine” (after GlaxoSmithKline). Gates employees also publish their own research extensively in this journal. The head of Gates Foundation pneumonia programme, Keith Klugman, sits on the editorial board of the journal.

There are a number of similar relationships where the Gates Foundation acts as funder, author, journal editor, and advisers. It has wide influence through financial ties to top academic researchers and journal editors.

Eric Rubin, the editor of “New England Journal of Medicine” [NEJM], has co-authored nineteen papers that disclose funding from the Gates Foundation. During his tenure as editor, dozens of studies were published in the journal which was funded by the Gates Foundation.

At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, NEJM published a long commentary by Bill Gates in which Gates recommended how governments should respond! Given that Bill Gates has no medical training, it is highly inappropriate to grant him space in the topmost medical journal to pose as an expert on the most important public health crisis (did his meddling convert it into a crisis?). When powerful funders are behind research, they influence the results towards supporting the sponsor’s interests.

From medical imperialism to data imperialism was a logical step. This was by way of setting up the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) in 2007, at the University of Washington, Seattle, USA under the stewardship of Christopher Murray, who earlier worked for the WHO. The IHME was primarily funded by the Gates Foundation.

The rise of the IHME [j] has brought about a paradigm shift in the dynamics of health metrics and control of health priorities and policies. Its increasing influence on global health has sidelined international health agencies particularly the WHO, which was central to generating global health statistics.

[j] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1758-5899.12605
It has also undermined the credibility and confidence in generating national health statistics by countries. The emerging data politics might be eroding the ability of poorer countries to know and act upon their health problems and priorities on their own terms.

The IHME’s signature output is the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study, a gigantic endeavour based on epidemiological modelling. This has gradually usurped the WHO health metrics. The GBD conducts a health audit of the world by collecting morbidity and mortality data and running them through models to produce estimates of 291 diseases and injuries across 187 countries. These can be used for decision making and resource allocation.Unfortunately, the numbers found in the GBD are often not hard data, but estimates or educated guesses, based on whatever data is available particularly in poorer countries of Africa and Asia. 

The Gates Foundation, instead of allocating resources on building up public health infrastructure in these countries for enabling generation of actual data about death and disease, has created a high tech set up in form of the IHME with multiple layers of technology to churn out good looking estimates that flattens the Global South into best guesses. 

This has raised criticism [k] that the IHME’s work effectively translates into “data imperialism.”

[k] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1758-5899.12605
The annual GBD is published In the “The Lancet”. While it is supposed to be peer reviewed, practically it is difficult for to get competent reviews as few referees are familiar [l] with the intricacies of complex opaque models. Another major concern is the systematic absence of good data from poor countries which raises the issue of whether the estimates produced by the model are accurate and representative of the real ground situation [m].

[l] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1758-5899.12605

[m] https://doi.org/10.3152/030234208X377227

In spite of the serious limitations of the GBD data, “The Lancet” has given it place of pride. It is pertinent to note that the Editor in Chief of “The Lancet”, Richard Horton was conferred the prestigious $100,000 Roux Prize [n]. This prize is administered by IHME at the University of Washington, Seattle, USA. The IHME receives core funding from the Gates Foundation.
Against the background of opacity of the GBD data published in “The Lancet”, the conflict of interest of the Editor receiving hefty prize money from IHME which generates GBD data, the editorial condescending commenting on the shortcomings of Indian data amounts to the kettle calling the pot black. Any number of layers of technology and modelling cannot compete with simple but robust real data from the field. They are like superfluous layers of Royal Clothing. While the King might have been wearing enough clothes for the two of them, the extra clothes would not have conferred any benefit to Gandhi wearing minimum but appropriate clothing.

[n] https://www.healthdata.org/news-events/newsroom/news-releases/activist-editor-richard-horton-lancet-receives-100000-roux-prize
The National Portrait Gallery – Smithsonian Institute, USA, houses a portrait of Bill and Melinda Gates [o]. It is oil on canvas collage, showing Bill and Melinda in the foreground (the whites) and a picture of African and Asian children (the blacks) in the background.
We are in the age of the new imperialism, with de-facto “King Gates,” who is ostensibly carrying forward “the White Man’s Burden!” His influence and impact reaches far more across the globe, than dreamt by the British Empire about which it was said the Sun never set on it. The same can be said about the Gates Empire today!

[o] https://npg.si.edu/blog/now-on-view-portrait-bill-and-melinda-gates

Source: Counterview

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