Sunday, 29 November 2020

To protect the NHS

Average age of coronavirus related death is 82.4.

Life expectancy is 81.

The virus is having zero effect on mortality.


In order to deal with this the government have decided to spend hundreds of billions (which they do not have). These are hundreds of billions that cannot be spent on other things, including health care to save lives.


In order to deal with the virus the government have hollowed out democracy. They cancelled elections. They turned parliament into a pretend parliament. They passed the Coronavirus Act 2020, which at Part 2 Section 90 gave the government the power to rule by ministerial fiat.


In order to deal with the virus the government have taken away our rights and liberties. We are now expected to be grateful if the government allows us to meet a few friends and relatives for a few days over Christmas. The violation of our rights and liberties is driving suicides, mental health problems, domestic violence and child abuse and neglect.


In order to deal with the virus the government have virtually shutdown the health service so as to protect the NHS. Thus, cancers have gone untreated and undiagnosed. Heart disease has been neglected, etc, etc. People are being denied health care to save the NHS.


In order to further protect the NHS the government moved older people out of hospitals to free up space for COVID 19. These people were put in lockdown within care homes, denied access to relatives and health care, and they died: in tens of thousands.


In order to further protect the NHS the government have decimated the economy. They have shutdown whole sectors of the economy, repeatedly, ensuring millions of people will be rendered unemployed: millions who will not be able to contribute to the economy, the economy that is needed to pay for the NHS.


The professed motivation of the government – to protect the NHS in order to Save Lives – is either a lie or government ministers are suffering from madness. Certainly, the government’s policies judged by the professed motivation are irrational, irresponsible and incompetent. The government’s responses to the virus are, entirely predictably, doing far more harm than the virus ever could.

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Coronavirus propaganda is beyond satire

On Monday Boris Johnson told the House of Commons that the mass testing in Liverpool had caused a dramatic reduction in “infections”. This was obviously the government line, rather than just some off the cuff assertion, as can be seen by the fact that other government ministers are making the same assertion.


It now looks like the government thinks that its propaganda narrative is so firmly entrenched that it is no longer even necessary for its assertions to have even a scintilla of plausibility. The paraphernalia of the coronavirus have mutated into magical talismans. Tests magically remove the virus from infected individuals.


From this perspective, whatever happens proves the government’s coronavirus narrative. If the numbers (deaths, hospitalisations, cases, the R number, whatever) go down, it proves that the lockdowns, social distancing, face masks and the rest are working; if the numbers go up, it proves the need for more draconian measures/enforcement. Assertion and confirmation bias are “the science” of the coronavirus responses.


In this context, no dissent can be tolerated. All dissent is not just self evidently wrong; the dissenters are construed as not just ignorant and misinformed, but as immoral and dangerous. From the point of view of the lockdownistas, those who disagree are an existential threat. This leaves no room for evidenced and reasoned argument. One does not politely argue with the enemy to discover the truth; one defeats the enemy, by whatever means are necessary. This is why pointing out the lack of scientific evidence for social distancing or face mask wearing is so ineffective: it is not about science. The science is now nothing more than a rhetorical device. This is why pointing to the harm caused by lockdowns is so ineffective: it is not about saving lives. It is about defeating the virus.


The lockdownistas are believers, and, like believers of any belief system, they will use all the cognitive biases to which we are so prone to defend their belief that defeating the virus is more important than anything else and therefore any sacrifice is worth it. This was blatantly illustrated on Monday when Boris Johnson’s link to the House failed and Matt Hancock rose to his feet. He, with apparent sincerity, assured the House that he/the government had assessed all the risks and the only way to protect the people was by focusing on the virus.

Friday, 6 November 2020

Coronavirus responses: an examination of the government's motivation

The first lockdown in response to the coronavirus was announced on 23 March 2020. Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, told the country that the measures were necessary to save lives. This has remained the government's rationale for all the constantly changing measures ever since. However, there is much about the government's policies and the justifications used to support them that draws into question the claimed motivation. This is especially marked in respect to the constantly reiterated claim that the policies are the result of "the science". Indeed, the gap between the claims to be basing policy on scientific evidence and the quality of the presented justifications is so wide as to demand serious scepticism.

At the Daily Coronavirus Update on 10 April 2020, Matt Hancock, the Secretary of Health, stated that the government had not made any attempt to assess how many people would die as a result of the government's lockdown measures. This was an admission (given the claim to be concerned to save lives) that the government had adopted an irrational, irresponsible and incompetent approach to policy-making on the coronavirus issue. If the government's concern was to save lives, and it was acting as a rational policy-maker, it would have weighed the risks and costs against the potential benefits before adopting any policy measure. The fact that the government had made no attempt to assess how many people (let alone a quality life years assessment) would die as a result of its measures completely undermines its claim to have been motivated by a concern to save lives.

This early indication that the government was not acting as a rational policy-maker has been followed by many others. This can be seen particularly clearly in respect of the claim to be "following the science".  Government ministers and senior scientific advisors have repeatedly made claims that they cannot but know to be false. One illustration of this is the claim that the two metre social distancing rule is based on the scientific evidence. When Professor Yvonne Doyle of Public Health England was asked by the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology for the evidence on 22 May 2020, her reply was a succinct: "The precautionary principle," which, as hardly needs stating, is neither science nor evidence. It is nothing more than wishful thinking, at best.

There are many more illustrations of this claim to scientific evidence that evaporate under even the most cursory examination. For example, Boris Johnson told the House of Commons that the government had scientific evidence for the ten o'clock rule. When pressed for the evidence, he resorted to what can only be characterised as a Just So Story. He said that the longer people socialise and the more they drink alcohol, the less able they are to observe social distancing. This social distancing being the rule that was adopted as a precaution, rather than as a result of scientific evidence, piling pseudoscience upon pseudoscience.

Every time advisors and ministers have claimed that the policies have been based on scientific evidence, they have been telling us things that they cannot but know are false. There is no scientific evidence for the various rules. Indeed, some of the rules are absurd on their face. The face masks required when standing in a hospitality venue, but not required when seated in the same venue looks like nothing so much as comedy. Yet, we have been told repeatedly that the science demands we follow the rule.

The same strictures apply to the presentation of what the government has dubbed the data. The outcomes of computer models have been presented to the public as data. Indeed, Patrick Vallance, the government's most senior scientific advisor, at a press briefing shortly before the introduction of the lockdown version two, said: "The modelling, that's the data we are looking at." Yet it is simply not credible that Vallance does not know that the outcomes of computer models are not data; that data are facts, things that have happened; and that the outcomes of computer models are nothing more than the mathematically inevitable results of the starting assumptions. But of course he does know. When he was questioned this week by the Select Committee on Science and Technology immediately prior to the vote in parliament to authorise the second version of lockdown, he at first referred to the computer model outcomes as predictions, but under questioning amended this to projections, and then to scenarios, and then resorted to: what will happen if we don't adopt the lockdown measures (ie, back to predictions). The notion that someone of his education does not know that predictions, projections, and scenarios are all very different defies credulity. When someone resorts to such linguistic tricks, scepticism is the only rational position to take.

The government has even gone so far as to invent facts. In an attempt to justify to parliament the need for the second lockdown, Boris Johnson told the House that seventy percent of all transmission of the virus was asymptomatic. He made no attempt to offer any evidence to support the claim, but simply resorted to the rhetorical flourish: "as you all know." Yet the notion that anyone knows this to be the case is fantastical. The World Health Organisation acknowledged that asymptomatic transmission is "very rare" and indeed were unable to identify even one definitely confirmed case of asymptomatic transmission.

In fact, the government has introduced a set of public health measures in response to the coronavirus that were until this year expressly recommended against for respiratory viral infectious diseases. Lockdowns, face masks for the general public, track and trace: these were all considered to be ineffective and indeed counter-productive measures until this year. And it isn't that the scientific evidence has changed. This can be seen in the World Health Organisation's change of position on face masks. The World Health Organisation reversed its advice on 8 June 2020 on the basis of political lobbying, as even the BBC reported. Unfortunately, the BBC did not report who did the lobbying.

Whilst the government has relied on the rhetoric of science for its public health measures in response to the virus, it has relied on actual science in order to elicit compliance with those measures. A sub-committee of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies made up of behavioural scientists at an early stage advised the government on how to elicit compliance. A major plank of that advice was to promote fear. It also advised the government to propagandise in terms of altruism and to exploit the power of social disproval and shaming. These techniques have been employed extensively by both the state and its allies, especially in the corporate media, subjecting the population to a veritable campaign of terror. 

This list of discrepancies between the government's professed motivation - to be following the science to save lives - and its actual practice could be substantially extended, but I think the point has been made. I do not know what the government's motive(s) is, but it is clear that they routinely say things that they must know to be false; that they claim to have scientific evidence when they clearly do not; that they have engaged in a campaign to terrorise the population; that they have pretended that the outcomes of computer models are data; that they have invented facts; that they have done precisely what was expressly recommended against by all health authorities in the event of a respiratory viral infection; that they have introduced these measures without any attempt to assess the harm that they will cause, including the number of deaths, which makes a mockery of the claim to be motivated by a concern to save lives.