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Pandemicity, COVID-19 and the limits of public health ‘science’
  1. Eugene T Richardson1,2
  1. 1 Global Health and Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, United States
  2. 2 Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, MA, United States
  1. Correspondence to Dr Eugene T Richardson; eugene_richardson{at}

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  • Mathematical models of infectious disease transmission are merely fables dressed in formal language (that therefore create the illusion of being scientific).

  • For the most part, such models serve not as forecasts, but rather as a means for setting epistemic confines to the understanding of why some groups live sicker lives than others—confines that sustain predatory accumulation rather than challenge it.

  • Pandemicity—which we might conceive of as the linking of humanity through contagion—may bring about the dawning of a relational consciousness in the descendants of colonialists, especially in the Global North.

“No man is an island,

entire of itself;

each is a piece of the continent,

a part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea,

Europe is the less,

as well as if a promontory were,

as well as if a manor of thy friend’s

or of thine own were.

Each man’s death diminishes me,

for I am involved in mankind.

And therefore never send to know

for whom the bell tolls;

it tolls for thee.”

John Donne wrote these lines in 1624 as part of a series of meditations conducted during a period of what we would now term social distancing, while he suffered from a relapsing febrile illness. Whatever the pathogen, Donne’s musings on being part of a greater whole were not conceived during an epidemic or pandemic, since these words did not exist as nouns in the English language until 1674 and 1832, respectively.1

In 2020, the quasi-inexorable spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has brought the interconnectedness of humankind back to the forefront of many a consciousness. Yet it has not brought clarity to the blurred boundary between epidemics and pandemics. This was made manifest …

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