Will Flanders, the research director for the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, is questioning a study claiming Black Lives Matters protests are not contributing to the spread of the Coronavirus.

“It purports to show that the protests in America’s streets have had no impact on infection rates across more than 300 cities,” Flanders wrote in an op-ed for The Hill. “The ostensible mechanism for this lack of case growth is that the protests led other people to socially distance more. By itself, this puts an asterisk on the findings. If fear or aversion to the protests led people to stay home, this doesn’t actually mean that crowding together in demonstrations didn’t spread the virus, only that countervailing decisions mitigated the harm that might have been caused.”

Flanders points out a number of flaws in the study, starting with the “control group of cities.”

“First, the study attempts to compare a set of cities where protests took place to a control group of cities that experienced no protests. To the extent that cities a fair distance apart could be analyzed, this might be a valuable approach,” Flanders wrote. “But when one looks at the control cities, it is easy to find that some are mislabeled. For example, Irving, Texas, is mentioned as a control-group city in which protests didn’t occur — but a cursory Google search reveals protests involving hundreds of people did take place there during the time frame of the study’s analysis. If mistakes can be identified this easily, one questions the credibility of the study.”

But it’s also the location of the control cities that are an issue.

“But an even larger issue is that many of the cities included as controls are in the same metropolitan areas as cities that are part of the ‘treatment’ group where protests occurred,” Flanders writes. “As anyone who has visited a large American city knows, people easily and regularly cross municipal lines. Protestors were as likely to come to a demonstration from any number of surrounding locations — not just where the event took place.”

The issues with the study are not just limited to the protests. As Flanders points out, there are broader public health concerns with the publicizing of the flawed results of the study. 

“If people hear that large-scale protests are totally safe, why wouldn’t going out to dinner, or making a trip to the local pub be safe as well?” Flanders asks.

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