Saturday, 17 October 2020

Coronavirus pseudoscience

The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in a tsunami of pseudoscience. The government constantly claims to be following "the science", but the assertion is nothing more than a rhetorical device. This can be readily seen every time a minister is asked for the scientific evidence. Instead of citing the research, the minister invariably just asserts that it is "the science" or claims that it is the scientific advice or tells a Just So story or makes an appeal to emotion. Never is an actual, empirical scientific study cited.


Take the two metre social distancing rule. Ministers have since March asserted that this measure is scientifically proven to be a necessary and effective means to prevent the transmission of the virus. Yet, they have never cited the evidence to support the claim. The reason for this is that there is no such scientific evidence. This was admitted by Professor Yvonne Doyle of Public Health England, who when asked for the evidence by the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology, replied: "The precautionary principle." The hope that something might prevent a harm is not science.


The same lack of scientific evidence can be seen for every measure. The claim that wearing face coverings prevents the transmission of the virus is something that decades of actual scientific research has shown to be false. And this was recognised by health authorities across the world. The World Health Organisation, which had consistently advised against face masks for the general population, suddenly reversed its position at the beginning of June. This was not done on the basis of any new research or any evidence. It was a response to "political lobbying" as even the BBC reported - a fact that is so contrary to the BBC's fear-mongering narrative that it must to accurate. Unfortunately, the BBC failed to report who was doing the lobbying.


Even more obviously just made up is the supposedly scientific Rule of Six. Even the government's scientific advisors, who are pushing these absurd rules, struggle to make this rule sound even remotely plausible. Why six rather than some other number? In an interview on the BBC Breakfast programme, an epidemiologist commenting on this rule pointed out that ideally it ought to be the Rule of One. He apparently realised that even the BBC's half awake viewers might notice the impractical nature of this solution and so switched to asserting that everyone should observe the two metre social distancing rule. I could not help but notice that his hair was immaculately styled.


Other rules are even more blatantly absurd. Take the ten o'clock closing time rule for instance. This is so absurd, I cannot understand why it has not provided stand up comedians with endless hours of material: unless it is because all the comedy venues have been shut down. When Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, was asked for the scientific evidence that he had claimed it was based on, he told us that the longer people socialise and especially the more alcohol they consume, the less likely they are to observe social distancing. This is nothing more than a Just So story.


But the seated, no face mask required, standing, face mask required, rule is beyond even a Just So story; although, to be fair, ministers have had a go at it.


Of course, the really big one is the lockdown. But this too was just made it. There was no evidence for it, for the simple reason no one in history had ever been mad enough to think that subjecting a whole population of healthy people as well as ill people to quarantine. The word unprecedented has been much over-used in relation to the coronavirus, but the lockdowns were genuinely unprecedented. No one knew what the effects would be, and the British government wilfully closed its eyes to any possible negative effects. This was revealed by Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, at the 10 April Coronavirus Daily Update. He admitted that the government had not made any attempt to assess how many people would die as a result of the government's lockdown measures.


The science of the coronavirus responses is nothing but pseudoscience. Just yesterday, Sir Patrick Valance, the government's Senior Scientific Advisor, told the country that computer modelling outcomes are the data the government is looking at. The idea that anyone who is scientifically literate (or even just literate) does not know that the outcomes of computer models are simply the mathematically inevitable outcomes of the starting assumptions, and therefore are precisely not data, that is facts about the world, defies belief. Yet we are supposed to not notice this blatant category error. Apparently, Valance thinks assertions such as "Thursday is purple" is a scientific claim or at least he thinks the people are too stupid to notice when he tries to pass off such an absurdity.