A new research paper on the spread of COVID-19 from a South Dakota motorcycle rally last month has generated a lot of attention ― and a lot of skepticism.
In both cases, it’s easy to see why.
The paper, by four economists from three U.S. universities, claims that the 10-day event in Sturgis led to nearly 267,000 cases around the country. That figure is dramatically higher than the number of cases public health departments have linked directly to the festival ― 124 in South Dakota, according to state officials, and 290 across the country, according to a tally from The Associated Press.
South Dakota officials have rejected the paper’s findings, with Gov. Kristi Noem calling it “fiction.” Noem, a Republican, said the researchers “took a snapshot in time, and they did a lot of speculation, did some back-of-the-napkin math, made up some numbers and published them.”
Models are very valuable tools when we can’t have our ideal, but there are limitations. Keri Altoff, Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health
Noem’s attitude may not be surprising, given the relatively lax approach she’s taken to the pandemic ― eschewing mask mandates, for example, and allowing the Sturgis rally to go forward despite warnings that it would become a “superspreader” event.
She isn’t the only one questioning the paper, however. A number of public health specialists raised concerns about its assumptions and findings. They have noted that the paper has yet to undergo peer review, which refers to the process of using outside scholars to vet a paper before it’s published in an academic journal.
At the same time, plenty of outside experts are taking the paper seriously ― noting that the authors used a widely accepted methodology and were transparent about their assumptions. That’s...