OFCOM’s Bonkers Covid-19 Survey
This OFCOM survey about Covid-19 News and Misinformation (tweeted by Michael Yeadon and flagged by BishopHill, to whom many thanks) is the worst opinion survey I’ve seen since you-know-when.
A few quick comments:
Figure 1: Consumption of misinformation
Q8 Have you come across any information/ news about Coronavirus that you think has been false or misleading in the past week?
Comment: That’s not misinformation, it’s what the respondent thinks is misinformation. It might be true or false, from the government or from a loony site. It doesn’t measure consumption of misinformation, but level of belief in what they read. In week 1, 46% read stuff they didn’t believe, which fell to 27% in week 25
Figure 2: Selected types of coronavirus misinformation encountered in previous week
Q10 Have you come across any of these false or misleading recommendations about aspects of the coronavirus in the LAST WEEK?
Face masks/coverings offer no protection
No. of deaths is much lower in reality
Potential dangers of a Coronavirus vaccine
No. of cases is much lower in reality
Theories linking Coronavirus to 5G technology
Schoolchildren can be tested without parents’ permission
Comment: Telling respondents that the information is false is grotesque survey practice. And false in the case of the third and fourth propositions. Of course there are potential dangers in vaccines. Asymptomatic cases are not “cases.”
Figure 4: Whether untrue stories about the coronavirus should be shared/ posted on social media
Comment: Before they get told that the above statements are false, they’ve been asked (Q4b3) whether they agree of disagree that untrue stories or items about Coronavirus should not be posted or shared on social media. 82% agree that they should not. Note at this stage they don’t know what OFCOM considers untrue.
Figure 5: Levels of concern about misinformation about the coronavirus
Q10k To what extent are you concerned or not concerned about the following statements?
The amount of false or misleading information you may be getting about Coronavirus
The amount of false or misleading information that others in society may be getting about Coronavirus
Comment: Answers on a five point scale from “very concerned” to “not at all concerned” tell us nothing, as you’d expect for such a convoluted question, asked apparently as the eleventh in a battery after OFCOM had revealed what they consider “false or misleading.” No information about the preceding ten questions.
The question numbers reveal that there are huge holes in the report – questions whose answers are not discussed. Presumably the raw data is available here. I haven’t dared look.
The groups spreading infectious lies seem quite determined to innoculate people against things like critical thinking and skeptical inquiry.
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Astonishing Geoff. If Goebbels did a survey …
Just one question:
Isn’t this at the heart of a lot of the confusion at the moment? I’d not say it like you have. I’d say it depends on how the person is using the term and they must make this clear. There should also always be mention of false positives.
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Michael Yeadon’s tweets are at
Is there anyone here who does twitter and would like to join in? Yeadon’s point is that his own views would be tagged ‘misinformation.’ That’s the least of the problems. A quick read through the report on the survey raises the question: What are they trying to find out and why? It would be interesting to know what the public believed and why, but that’s not what they ask. What they ask is: “what (false) information have you heard and where?” That’s not a survey, it’s a police interrogation. It looks to me as if the point of the survey is to prepare for an information lockdown.
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Yes, I could have been clearer. A “case of covid” would naturally be taken to mean a medical case, i.e. a case of someone being ill, with symptoms. As expressed it is false, or incoherent, or so deliberately misleading as to constitute professional misconduct, or all three.
Have you come across any of these false or misleading recommendations about aspects of the coronavirus in the LAST WEEK? “No. of deaths is much lower in reality.”
For a start, it’s not a recommendation. Second, calling it false or misleading is so leading as to render the response useless. Third, what does it mean? Lower in reality than what?”
The whole survey (or rather, the bits of it we have, because we have the response to question 4b3 but not 4a or 4b1 or 2; we have the response to Q10k but not Qs 10a to j) reeks of prodding the public into demanding censorship.
And I’m blowed if I can find the data at OFCOM’s data site.
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Yep, the deception and manipulation here does tie in for me with Jaime’s point on your Barrington thread that the extreme end of the Covid scare could fall apart, with devastating consequence for the climate one. I also accept that this isn’t a done deal.
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“It doesn’t measure consumption of misinformation, but level of belief in what they read. In week 1, 46% read stuff they didn’t believe, which fell to 27% in week 25”
Absolutely! But the figures are nevertheless useful. As caveats and cautions have diminished compared to the start, and a growing orthodoxy gets the biggest share of communication, it’s not good that people believe more, not less or the same. When at the very least, one can see across a wide range of sources that uncertainty is still major, and there are firm positions of experts opposing orthodoxy. (An orthodoxy the survey itself helps to reinforce).
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Geoff: “And I’m blowed if I can find the data at OFCOM’s data site.2
It is here:
I read the other day that orgasms are good for you because they boost the immune system. But a word to the wise. It turns out that you have to wear a mask in Tesco’s but you are not allowed to self-medicate.
I’m getting mixed messages.
I assume that’s a typo for massages? In Tesco’s?
Thanks for the link. At that site you have to find “/interactive-data” and then fiddle around with what are simply 8 pages of bar charts breaking down the same information by class, ethnicity etc. Since there’s no proper scaling it’s impossible to derive useful information, like what % of people believe this or that.
It’s part of an omnibus survey and it seems there really were only the three or four questions analysed in the report – i.e. Qs 10a to j were probably on quite different subjects like what dog food you use etc.
It’s impossible to guess what OFCOM hoped to achieve from this kind of micro-nosey-parkering. Who could possibly care how many ABC1s got their news from Facebook in week 25 compared with week 14 or compared with C2DEs or with elderly people of black or Asian ethnicity? The sole purpose seems to be to warn us that Someone Said Something Wrong on the Internet.
I wonder if OFCOM are concerned about this misinformation from ITV News:
“More concerning though is the number of hospital admissions in England which rose by 40% in a week to 3,665 patients.
Blackpool Victoria Hospital invited ITV News’ Health Editor Emily Morgan inside their Covid intensive care ward – which is already at full capacity – to see the impact of another surge in cases.”
The number of allocated beds at Liverpool’s BVH for Covid intensive care is 8 – they are all occupied. There are 767 beds in the hospital.
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Geoff: “The sole purpose seems to be to warn us that Someone Said Something Wrong on the Internet”
I think that’s about it. I thought about trawling through it, but decided against after only a glance. Because as you say: “Who could possibly care how many ABC1s got their news from Facebook in week 25 compared with week 14 or compared with C2DEs or with elderly people of black or Asian ethnicity?” and it seemed obviously that sort of thing. What I’d want to know is how the responses re covid compared to people’s attitudes on Brexit (at the time of Brexit, and now), how they compared to people’s attitudes on climate-change, how they compared to people’s attitudes on vaccination, and how they compared to people’s attitudes on religion, and how they compared to political lean. And maybe other stuff like that. I don’t know whether that would reveal anything interesting, but it’s far more likely to than young / old / market group / gender or whatever. Did you see any of the former kind of distinctions in the data?
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There were no other data than those for the three or four questions dealt with, and just the normal demographic breakdowns, as far as I can see. But OFCOM does a huge number of tracking surveys, apparently. It’s a bit sinister I feel, as if they’re watching us, not because they are interested in anything we might have to say, but just to check any unexpected change in our behaviour. “Alert! Twitter use among Ethnic C2DEs in the Midlands is on the rise!” I bet they did a lot on Brexit, and, who knows, they might like to share it with you, since probably no-one else is interested.
I just caught a surrealist moment on Skynews. It was the headline story top of the hour (1400GMT) and it went like this:
Newsreader: “Twitter has announced that they are banning a number of fake accounts supposedly set up by black supporters of Donald Trump. They were identified as fake because they used press photos of black men and tended to use exactly the same language. Here’s our social media correspondent.”
Soc.Media Corr: “Yes Emma. What’s happened is that Twitter have announced that they are banning a number of fake accounts supposedly set up by black supporters of Donald Trump. But in fact they seem to be fake because they used press photos of black men and often used exactly the same language.”
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> “There should also always be mention of false positives.”
The error that Richard is alluding to here is known as Base Rate Neglect, in which new information, such as a test result, is evaluated without sufficient regard for the a priori probabilities. I’ve been casting about for a good article on the subject, as it appertains specifically to the Covid-19 RT-PCR Test. The best I have found is this one in the British Medical Journal:
Its virtue is that it tackles the problem of both false positive (test specificity) and false negatives (test sensitivity). However, do not be fooled by its conclusion when it says, “A positive covid-19 test result should be very compelling”. A careful reading of the full article reveals that they are talking here specifically about the clinical case in which the a priori probabilities are high.
Figure 1 of the article (above) makes it clear that the same cannot be said in the clinical case of low a priori probabilities but, unfortunately, this is not made clear in the accompanying text. In fact, the article seems overly concerned with the effects of false negatives in cases of high a priori probabilities rather than the effects of false positives in cases of low a priori probabilities. This may be because the test is only really applicable when the a priori probabilities are high, i.e. to test individuals with suspected Covid-19, and it is in those circumstances that false negatives become influential. When it is used to test willy-nilly, i.e. to monitor for the fabled asymptomatic cases in the unsuspecting masses, false positives start to dominate and the test becomes as useless as a chocolate teapot. In fact, it becomes positively dangerous in that it can manufacture a crisis of asymptomatic ‘cases’ out of nothing.
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GEOFF CHAMBERS says:
14 Oct 20 at 8:31 am
“The sole purpose seems to be to warn us that Someone Said Something Wrong on the Internet.”
Sorry, Geoff but you’re wrong there…
The purpose of this, and most other government initiatives, is to give
jobssorry, positions to otherwise unemployable members of the Haute Bourgeois*. The fact that they can seriously affect the lives of real people is no more than coincidental.
* the Petite Bourgeois, on the other hand, at least know how to run shops.
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I’ve always thought Bayesian statistics was something far too abstruse for me, until I did the sums for myself.
We know that the number of people with the virus at any one time is about 0.1% of the population, so if we test a thousand people we would expect to find about one person who tests positive.
Suppose the test is correct 99% of the time (positive or negative doesn’t matter for this example.) It will almost certainly find that one sick person. But in testing the other 999, it will probably make a mistake 1% of the time, i.e. of those 999 people who are all negative, it will wrongly identify about ten of them as positive. So the test (which is 99% reliable) has identified eleven people as sick when in fact there is probably only one.
You can redo the same sum wth various figures for reliability and incidence of the disease in the population, but as long as the proportion of sick people at any one time is low, you always get a surprising result.
If people knew that this was simple arithmetic instead of being told it’s Bayesian statistics, they could work it out for themselves.
The hard part is being sure of the conclusion you draw. My conclusion is that testing is a total waste of time. 90% pf the people you tell to stay at home are not sick. They’ll waste two weeks of their lives at home and simply delay the day they catch it (or not) and drag out the misery for all of us.
Am I right?
Your example works for the case where 1000 people are chosen at random, and you are correct to say that doing some simple calculations provides the answer. You don’t have to understand that you are using Bayes Theorem in order to use it.
However, you have to be careful. As soon as you are dealing with testing individuals who are suspected of having covid-19, the calculation changes dramatically because the 0.01 a priori probability becomes irrelevant. With good reason to suspect the individual has covid-19 prior to the test, the a priori probability may be as high as 0.8, in which case the same simple calculation produces very different results.
The article I cited concluded with:
“The WHO message “test, test, test” is important from a population perspective; low sensitivity can be accounted for when assessing burden of disease. However RT-PCR tests have limitations when used to guide decision making for individual patients. Positive tests can be useful to ‘rule-in’ covid-19, a negative swab test cannot be considered definitive for ‘ruling out’.”
I agree with the second part about positive tests ruling in for the individual patient, precisely because that person is a patient rather than a random member of the public. However, I cannot agree with the “test, test, test” bit because low sensitivity is not the issue when performing indiscriminate testing — it is the PC-PTR test’s inadequate specificity for that purpose. Your simple calculation is certainly relevant to that point.
Sorry, Geoff. I meant ‘0.01’. I’ve corrected it now.
I used to work in market research a century or so ago as a member of the petite bourgeoisie. There was manual labour involved, either adding up the results by hand, or schlepping a box of punch cards down to the IBM office on Oxford Street and waiting while they hummed through a vast number spitter the size of a van. Also, the questions were asked face to face, in a place called the High Street. So you didn’t bother asking questions you didn’t want to know the answers to.
OFCOM don’t seem very sure of themselves, what they’re for, or why they inhabit the planet at all. It seems a pretty common syndrome these days among certain sectors of society.
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I should have pointed out that your result is replicated if you fit the value of 1% in the BMJ interactive calculator, i.e false positives start to dominate. The lesson is that you should only use the test when you have good reason to suspect covid-19. The idea that there is a legion of asymptomatic cases out there, that can only be gauged by testing everyone, is bonkers. If you do that, then false positives will account for the vast majority of those not presenting symptoms. The scale of the asymptomatic epidemic will simply be an artefact of poor test specificity.
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It’s become a war now and it seems Trump is the only Western leader willing to fight it on our behalf – and his of course. They are gunning for him.
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Just after Julia Hartley-Brewer gave prominence to the issue of false positives and Hancock brushed off her questioning with the retort that the false positive rate was less than 1%, David Spiegelhalter wrote an article pointing out that the proportion of false positives (even when prevalence is low) would be nowhere the 80-90% claimed because the testing was not random and was targeted at symptomatic individuals. Meanwhile, we hear that RAF cadets are knocking on doors in Birmingham and handing out test kits (some of them used apparently!) whilst thousands of students are being tested at University, simply because they are at university and that Britain is doing more testing than France and Spain combined . . . . .
As I understand it there are two reasons for testing. One is to identify positive cases so they can be treated and/or quarantined. The other is to discover the extent of the epidemic, the people most affected etc. You can’t do both at once. It’s like knocking on doors to get people to vote for you and doing a poll to find out who they’re voting for at the same time.
In the latter case you’re picking people up at random, (that’s the object) so the false positives are going to be enormous and render your survey useless. In the first case you’re targeting most probable cases, so the false positives will be less numerous, but the consequences are more drastic, because you’re going to quarantine them.
Have I got something wrong? If not, testing the asymptomatic seems to me a disastrous policy.
You are both right.
Spiegelhalter is a clever guy but Hancock is a blithering idiot. To attempt to rebuff someone by simply quoting the test specificity is classic base rate neglect. Presumably he thought he was right in thinking that less than a 1% false positive meant that any positive result would be more than 99% reliable. Idiot! And this is the guy in charge?
The last time I looked in Lancet the specificity for RT-PCR testing was very uncertain and a range of 0.8 – 4.0% was quoted. So let us do Hancock’s cherry-picking and take 0.8% as the figure. This means that for every 100,000 random tests there will be 800 false positives. So even with covid-19 running at 400 per 100,000, the false positives will still outnumber the true positives 2:1.
In fact it is actually quite difficult to achieve perfectly random testing but, by the same token, it is also difficult to be fully targeted, particularly when one goes out of one’s way not to be. Let me remind you that Nottingham University says on its website that their “testing service has been established to counter the hidden spread of COVID-19 and keep staff, students and the local community safe.” They actually call it their ‘asymptomatic testing service’. Look out random, here we come!
Spiegelhalter is right, but he needs to knock some heads together in parliament. The idea that the more testing is performed, then the better, should be heavily caveated.
just a quick comment on test & trace – has anything on this scale ever been tried before anyplace?
only an old engineer,but if someone handed me that project/never mind the timescale, my gut instinct
would be to say “it can’t be done to the level you (or the press) expect”.
am I just an old fuddy duddy?
Who’s afraid of OFCOM? Word is that they enforced the government narrative among their members way back in March. I can’t see much evidence of that to be honest. The left wing press chose to go with the official government narrative, pushing them further when they thought they weren’t ‘doing enough’. The Daily Mail is not afraid of OFCOM. This thread is quite remarkable and may be a real turning point in the war against Covid hysteria and lockdowns. Better late than never.
Good point Jaime. Toothless OFCOM. The action is elsewhere.
According to the Office of National Statistics, the true level of infection is much larger than that confirmed by the government, and the figures are rising sharply:
“The figures estimate that one in 160 people in England had the virus in the week to 8 October – a rise on the previous week…New cases of the virus have gone up by 60% in a week, the ONS said, based on its survey of people in households with or without symptoms.”
Now, I am assuming there are some pretty smart cookies in the ONS who wouldn’t fall for base rate neglect. They will therefore know that their ‘with or without symptoms’ testing will incur some quite small a priori probabilities and, hence, a very high proportion of false positive results. So I am genuinely intrigued how they arrive at their figures. I can only assume that a steady week-by-week false positive rate has been assumed and then factored out of the figures so that a residual, true positive count can be inferred. For example, if they took Hancock’s cherry-picked 0.8% specificity for the RT-PCR test, then in a weekly sample of 100,000, they would expect to encounter an average of 800 false positives. Are we to assume, therefore, that in this case they would have encountered 1425 cases, and deducted 800 to arrive at 625 (i.e. 1 in 160)? And did they do the same the previous week (1190 – 800 = 390) in order to arrive at this week’s 60% increase? Without knowing what specificity was assumed by the ONS (and the uncertainty they attributed to that figure), I can’t begin to know how to judge their claims. After all, there is a lot of uncertainty in the specificity, and the absolute number of true positives and the percentage weekly-increase both change radically depending upon how much one deducts each week to account for false positives. If there is anyone out there who can help me out, I would be sincerely grateful. In the meantime, I am still thinking ‘teapot’ and ‘chocolate’.
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John, I read somewhere, blowed if I can remember where, that for their random sampling tests the ONS use a different test to the widespread standard testing, one which is ‘more accurate’.
Maybe it was what I have just read on the ONS’s site:
“Test specificity measures how often the test correctly identifies those who do not have the virus, so a test with high specificity will not have many false-positive results.
We know the specificity of our test must be very close to 100% as the low number of positive tests in our study means that specificity would be very high even if all positives were false. For example, in the most recent six-week period (31 July to 10 September), 159 of the 208,730 total samples tested positive. Even if all these positives were false, specificity would still be 99.92%.”
If that is true, then I am blown away. What has all this I’ve been reading about swab testing then? After all, that’s all the ONS test entails: “the survey uses routine swabbing and antibody testing…”
I’m more confused than ever!
60% increase in cases? What a joke. R increasing right across the country but not as much as it would be if restrictions were not in place? Outright fraud. ‘Infections’ have risen sharpy and briefly in many areas of the north which missed out a bit during the first peak in April. They are quickly fizzling out quite naturally, regardless of any restrictions imposed and will continue to decline, even with increases in testing. That’s when the government will move back to the emphasis on admissions and deaths from ‘Covid like’ symptoms in hospital patients and those who have tested positive. Liverpool ‘cases’ are declining. Manchester ‘cases’ have been declining for over two weeks. Similar in Newcastle. The whole thing is a farce. There is no justification even for Tier 1 but the government will end up putting most of the country into Tier 2 or 3 in the next couple of weeks and nobody will be permitted to have sex with anybody who doesn’t live in the same residence (but gyms might stay open). All makes perfect sense.
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From Matt Ridley’s blog
Why are they all Tories?
“Why are they all Tories?”
Probably because after sitting on the fence, Labour have to largely line up behind their leader who has plumped for a ‘circuit breaker’ as his ground to oppose Boris (and probably for no other reason than he thinks the public will like this – disappointingly, he’s probably right).
John: “the survey uses routine swabbing and antibody testing…”
I’m confused too; I thought anti-body testing was done with blood, not swabs. And indeed looking for anti-bodies (at various levels – another issue) is very different to looking for (and amplifying in order to better see) traces of the virus itself, which is what the PCR testing does (via swabs, usually nasal). Although I can’t recall where I originally read about the ONS testing, it wasn’t on their website. I just remember some statement about it being better quality, and I think probably at the expense of time / labour / cost. I guess they can’t have mass public testing (i.e. outside the ONS survey) that needs blood, unless it could be achieved automatically via one of those thumb-prickers attached to a 1-off test instant test kit. I can see why that may not be possible. But anyhow, if the ONS is saying theirs is based on ‘routine swabbing’, this doesn’t make sense. If this is so, and also it can manage 200,000 tests in 5 weeks but is far more accurate (i.e. at least fantastic at ruling things *out*), why aren’t we using this instead of PCR as the main event?
I was hoping for a more long term cultural response from you 😉 But why has Starmer followed “public opinion” as measured by daft polls rather than listen to Labour mayors and mad-as-hell fitness freaks in Northern Labour strongholds?
– Because the left has been “following the science” since Engels invented the concept of scientific socialism?
– Because Labour is scared of what people might say if they differed from the consensus?
– Because contradicting the opinion of such and such an expert who once shook hands with George Soros would be proof of Labour’s basic anti-Semitism?
– Or because Blair’s control freakery in the selection of Labour candidates has ensured that they’re all thick as bricks?
How much knowledge of human nature does it take to realise that, despite what the polls tell us, much more of this is going to result in a massive popular revolt (possibly led by our own Jaime?) Going home when the government tells you and not inviting friends in is not a socialist thing. (The clue’s in the word “social-ist.”)
And anyway, in the Lords they can’t be sacked or deselected. The Tory letter quotes Sweden for Gaia’s sake, beacon of social democratic reasonableness. The argument is in favour of the country as a whole, as opposed to the individual interest of a few dozen octogenarians who might gasp their last a few months earlier than otherwise. When did Labour decide that the economy doesn’t matter?
Antibody testing is different from the PCR test. The PCR test amplifies fragments of genetic material (RNA) which are allegedly unique to SARS-CoV-2. Even non-infectious quantities of RNA get detected because the test cycle limit is set ridiculously high. Blood samples are taken in the case of the antibody test and serum is isolated to identify antibodies specific to SARS-CoV-2 which is evidence of a recent infection. The thing is, not everybody (in fact a large percentage of people) exposed to or infected with SARS-CoV-2 develops antibodies (but they do mount a T-cell immune response) and even those that do develop antibodies but who have mild infections usually lose those antibodies fairly quickly. This makes Whitty’s claim that 93% of the population are still susceptible to Covid-19 based on the fact that sero-prevalence in the UK is just 7% all the more absurd and unscientific.
Jaime, “Antibody testing is different from the PCR test. The PCR test amplifies fragments of genetic material (RNA) which are allegedly unique to SARS-CoV-2. Even non-infectious quantities of RNA get detected because the test cycle limit is set ridiculously high. Blood samples are taken in the case of the antibody test …”
That’s exactly what I said 0:
If you want to know roughly how many people are infected “today”, compared to yesterday, and the day before, etc. it’s actually better that the antibodies typically fade away quite quickly. You are not trying to measure how many folks have been infected ever (albeit it would be sensible to measure this *as well*).
If the “ridiculously high” PCR threshold undermines the test, this could be much worse than filling in an estimate of ratio regarding who does / doesn’t develop antibodies (which for all I know, we may know). So why wouldn’t we use the ONS style test instead?
Geoff: “I was hoping for a more long term cultural response from you 😉 But why has Starmer followed “public opinion” as measured by daft polls rather than listen to Labour mayors and mad-as-hell fitness freaks in Northern Labour strongholds?”
I don’t think it’s anything big or deep, to do with Labour’s roots or anything more cultural generally, other than opportunism (see below). Shallow political calculation, is my guess. The contrary voices, albeit rising in volume somewhat, are still in a small minority. When one listens to such voices a lot, on social media for instance, it’s hard to try and scale and there is often bias that they *must* be a majority. And while I don’t believe the conclusions of the pollsters, I think the voices would be far more and far louder if the public had reached (or were closing in on) a majority who strongly feel that enough is enough. In my own community, and while most are not covid literate, so to speak, I’d say there was still more caution and even fear of the virus, rather than of the responses. And then there’s cultural stuff mixed in for sure; some just hate Boris so much (from before covid) that having at last a main political figure creating a significant stance against him, means they’ll go for it anyhow. Perhaps that’s what Starmer is trying to tap into. I think if he tried the opposite tack of distancing from Boris on the anti-lockdown side, he’d lose far more than he’d gain. The anti-lockdown side are still a small rebel fringe; or at least they have that perception even if more support is hiding below the surface. Starmer wants to be seen as a statesman who is bringing Labour back in from the fringe.
“If the “ridiculously high” PCR threshold undermines the test, this could be much worse than filling in an estimate of ratio regarding who does / doesn’t develop antibodies (which for all I know, we may know). So why wouldn’t we use the ONS style test instead?”
As far as I’m aware, ONS use PCR testing only. The official government line is that ANYBODY who has not developed antibodies is susceptible to infection from SARS-CoV-2. The whole testing thing is nuts. Johnson is still going on about his ‘moonshot’ – he thinks that any healthy, symptomless person (i.e. the entire population) is a potential carrier and spreader of a deadly disese which is going to kill old folk, therefore we must all be locked down, tested endlessly, vaccinated and controlled, like animals. He’s a lunatic.
According to a Lancet article, published this September:
“RT-PCR assays in the UK have analytical sensitivity and specificity of greater than 95%, but no single gold standard assay exists…The current rate of operational false-positive swab tests in the UK is unknown; preliminary estimates show it could be somewhere between 0·8% and 4·0%.”
And yet the ONS experience (specificity of 99.92% as a very minimum!) seems to contradict this. To have achieved this remarkable result, the ONS has not only made a breakthrough in biomedicine, it seems to have achieved levels of procedural integrity in the field that no one has hitherto achieved in the strictest of laboratory conditions. Even more remarkable, no one from the Lancet through to the British Medical Journal seems to know about this. Even Spiegelhalter warns that false positives are only a non-issue because of the high a priori probabilities involved. He didn’t say that it is a non-issue because the RT-PCR test used by those dealing with low a prior probabilities has phenomenally good specificity. So I am left completely confused. There is something remarkable in what is going on with the ONS but there is nothing on their website to suggest what it might be. And, as Andy says, why isn’t everyone using the ONS test if it is so damned good?
On the bright side, however, I have finally learnt to use the right acronym for the test 🙂
Two lab technicians have just resigned because of the increasingly bad conditions in which mass testing is being carried out, potentially leading to contamination and an even greater number of false positives. Meanwhile, we learn that the PCR test can and does cross-react with a common cold virus circulating in the population. So, all good then to proceeed without further ado to Operation Moonshot, but, as Chris Green, MP for Bolton West warns us, Tier 3 restrictions will still be a feature “in the coming years”.
Jaime: “As far as I’m aware, ONS use PCR testing only.”
But per John above, their website specifically says ““the survey uses routine swabbing and *antibody* testing…” (emphasis mine). Also, as far as I recall, some articles sceptical of PCR testing have used the ONS figures as a means of getting a handle on how bad the PCR false positive rate is, which surely means they’re assuming it has a different approach? Didn’t Yeadon do this? So like John, I’m confused about what ONS is actually doing, and why we aren’t doing more of it!
“as a means of getting a handle on how bad the PCR false positive rate is”
i.e. via using it as a ‘more reliable’ measure of what the true prevalence in the population is, such that they know where on the curves John provided above, we are compared to the likely usefulness of the PCR test (with their answer being – in a bad place!)
> “But per John above, their website specifically says ““the survey uses routine swabbing and *antibody* testing…” (emphasis mine).”
Yes it does, but one presumes that the antibody testing is related to their supplementary purpose of determining the numbers having previously been infected, and that it plays no role in validating the swab test results. The site I have been reading is this one:
According to the above, the three areas of concern to be addressed were:
• how many people across England and Wales test positive for COVID-19 infection at a given point in time, regardless of whether they report to experiencing symptoms
• the average number of new infections per week over the course of the study
• the number of people who test positive for antibodies, to indicate how many people are ever likely to have had the infection
When it comes to talking about sensitivity and specificity, it is clear that they are referring only to the swab testing. The 99.92% minimum that they quote is presumably, therefore, relating to swab test specificity, and yet this makes no sense when compared against the literature. I am therefore missing something important, and I wonder whether it is because the site is misleading me. Maybe, when they say “We know the specificity of our test…” what they are actually referring to is a test which includes using the antibody results to discount spurious positive swab test results. That may be an inordinately stupid thing for me to suggest, but how else am I to explain a result that is so prima facie true but at the same time so volta-face false? I mean, for God’s sake, they are letting 12 year old children self-administer their swab test and yet are getting fantastically good sensitivity and specificity results!
I fear I am being very stupid here and I wish someone would put me out of my misery and just explain to me how.
John, “Yes it does, but one presumes that the antibody testing is related to their supplementary purpose… …When it comes to talking about sensitivity and specificity, it is clear that they are referring only to the swab testing.”
But as you also comment, if above are true this also makes no sense 0:
“Maybe… …what they are actually referring to is a test which includes using the antibody results to discount spurious positive swab test results. That may be an inordinately stupid thing for me to suggest, but how else am I to explain a result that is so prima facie true but at the same time so volta-face false?”
It’s as good a guess as any!
Andy, I think in that case then the ONS are carrying out a seroprevalence survey which would be separate from their prevalence survey using PCR testing. There is no reason to suppose that ONS community PCR testing is any more reliable than any other PCR testing unless they are targeting individuals showing clinical Covid symptoms – which they’re not. They are not using antibody testing as a means to validate PCR.
But the ONS figures might now be more reliable, even in their intrinsic unreliableness, than the NHS test and trace data on account of the fact that the NHS have just changed their methodology and are now counting the same people who test positive in different weeks as fresh ‘cases’. Yes, you did hear that correct. It’s just blatant fraud now. Remember, the government is destroying lives and livelihoods on the supposed veracity and reliability of this data.
“From 15 October, the methodology for people tested and people testing positive has changed.
Previously, the number of people newly tested and newly testing positive was reported, where the figures were de-duplicated over the entirety of the pandemic so an individual would only appear once. This meant someone tested in March and again in September would only be counted in the March counts. This was progressively becoming less meaningful the longer the duration of the pandemic and meant that it was not appropriate to calculate a positivity rate from this data.
Figures will now be reported as people tested and people testing positive at least once in the reporting week. People tested or testing positive are only counted once over the 7-day reporting period (Thursday to Wednesday), with a positive test being prioritised over a negative test. A person can be counted within more than one 7-day reporting period. If someone was tested more than once in different reporting weeks, they would be included in the count for all reporting weeks they were tested in.
For example, if a person was tested on Thursday and Friday of the same week, they would only be counted once. However, if someone was tested on Tuesday and Friday of the same week, that individual would be counted in 2 reporting periods, as the 2 tests fall into different 7-day reporting periods. If a person is tested under both pillar 1 and pillar 2 in the same reporting week, then only the pillar they were first tested under is counted, unless they were tested in both pillars on the same day, in which case, they are counted under pillar 2.”
The ONS reported that “in the most recent six-week period (31 July to 10 September), 159 of the 208,730 total samples tested positive. Even if all these positives were false, specificity would still be 99.92%.”
You can’t argue with that logic. If specificity was only 99.2% (as per the most optimistic figure posted anywhere else) then 200,000 samples would generate around 1600 false positives. If only 160 were actually detected then the accepted specificity figure quoted by all of the literature that I have seen must be at least an order of magnitude wrong.
Either the ONS has accidentally dropped a zero off its positive headcount, or the rest of medical science doesn’t have a clue what it is talking about and hasn’t bothered looking at the ONS data, or I am going doo-lally. As it stands, the smart money should be on the last option.
Until this is resolved, I might as well pack it in. If you can think of a good reason why the ONS reported only 160 positives using a test that every expert believes can generate 1600 ex nihilo, I would be most anxious to hear your theory.
John, 159 positives out of 208k test sounds about right as the ONS were estimating a prevalence of 0.05% in July, which slowly crept up going into September. In order to arrive at their figure for specificity (number of negatives correctly identified), they appear to be assuming that all of the negative test results were true negatives and that none of them were false, which is maybe a bit odd, though I’m not sure if it’s justified or not, when prevalence is very low.
But 159 positives out of 208k doesn’t sound about right when you are using a swab test with a reputation for 99.2% specificity (at best) to measure a prevalence of 0.05%. The prevalence would account for 159 expected positives, but a further 1600 cases would be expected from false positives, making an expectation of 1759 cases in total. Instead of finding their 159 figure suspiciously low, their starting point is to use the 159 positives to indicate a lower limit for the specificity — and that limit is 99.92%. This is already 10 times better than what the literature and all other studies suggest is possible with RT-PCR. (They actually go on to speculate just how many of the 159 might be false positives, and hence how much higher than 99.92% their achieved specificity is but I really couldn’t care less. The real problem is that their most pessimistic value is already 10 times too high).
At the end of the day, their findings have to be consistent with both the plausible prevalence and what is already understood regarding RT-PCR specificity. They can’t just work back from their data to come up with a new figure for specificity that differs ten-fold from everyone else’s figure without (at any stage) thinking to question their own data.
PS. The idea that false negatives explains the apparent paradox is not so crazy. If they sampled 200,000 but had 150,000 false negatives (by which I really mean duds), then 159 positives, with only about 20 being genuine, starts to look consistent with both the likely prevalence and the known RT-PCR specificity. Too stupid to be true? Not necessarily. Just how stupid is it to give a 12 year-old child the job of self-administering a swab test?
John. I’m sorry but I cannot now concentrate long enough to acquire brand new information. So with all this new information about the validity of testing results I tend to focus in on the conclusions reached rather than how they were obtained. There is much discussion upon false negative results, but what about false positives? I presume these are possible, particularly for very sensitive tests that might detect non-infective remnants of RNA?
As a Covid survivor I am particularly concerned about the tiny few who are accepted as having been reinfected. Not that they are false positives, I believe reinfection is only accepted when detailed genetic studies indicate the two infections are from different strains of the virus. No my question is, why are large numbers of false positive reinfections not being seen (and then being dismissed) or are they and I’ve just missed seeing them?
Nothing to see here. No conspiracy. Move on.
“In previous epidemics, health authorities voiced concerns that false positive results from PCR based tests could harm both the individuals tested and the ability of government agencies to assess the outbreak, and they adopted measures to limit the occurrence of false positives. For example, the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention limited PCR-based testing to individuals with a high probability of infection (those with symptoms and/or significant exposure) and usually required confirmation of positive results by a second, independent test (Box 1). These warnings and requirements are absent from the same organizations’ guidance on SARS-CoV-2 testing.”
Click to access 2020.04.26.20080911v3.full.pdf
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I think the first step towards answering your question would be to understand that false positives are only an issue when dealing with low a priori probabilities, i.e. when randomly testing the general population. The only organisation in the UK that is doing this (to my knowledge) is the ONS. However, they have used a statistical argument to convince themselves that false positives are not an issue, despite the fact that this flies in the face of everything that is known about RT-PCR testing. Of course, re-infections are even rarer than infections and so the proportion of false positives for re-infection would skew the re-infection statistics even more. However, when one is dealing with an organisation that has already downplayed the likelihood of false positives and is not actually counting re-infections, it is little wonder that accurate statistics for the phenomenon of false positive re-infection are not being reported.
The situation for false positives for re-infection in the case of people who have been tested in a targeted fashion (i.e. tested as a result of developing symptoms or having been in contact with such people) is quite different. Here the a priori probabilities are high and so the impact of false positives can quite genuinely be assumed to be very low, and that is reason enough to explain why they are not being commonly reported.
At the end of the day, re-infection is a possibility and, as long as we stick to targeted testing, we will finally get a good handle on the scale of the risk once enough data is in or when the scale of risk rises sufficiently. In the meantime, any puzzlement on your part is much more likely to be as a result of the inherent difficulty of thinking about such issues rather than any cognitive impairment on your part. I strongly suspect that the ONS has goofed big time, so what hope do you or I have?
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I’m with John on this. We (i.e. here at this site, not necessarily anywhere else, maybe everyone else knows!) are missing some big piece of knowledge. And until we know it, we don’t. Or we are having collective brain freeze of the kind John has suspected in himself? Or the ONS has goofed big-time. Or whatever. Other people at least think they know, e.g. Mike Yeadon in his essay at Lockdown Sceptics last month has copious mention of ONS testing, including this gem:
“By referring only to ONS and not even mentioning the false positive rate of the test in Pillar 2 he was, as it were, stealing the garb of ONS’s more careful work which has a lower false positive rate, in order to smuggle through the hidden and very much higher, false positive rate in Pillar 2.”
Earlier in the piece, Yeadon is essentially using the supposition of this more accurate ONS test in order to (at least in part) ground his argument showing that the Pillar 2 PCR testing is so bad in regards to false positives. So either the ONS *have* got a more accurate test – how do they do it? Or Yeadon is wrong (potentially because he simply believed what they said!) and hence his argument has a hole in it, because there isn’t a more accurate baseline he can use to ground the view about Pillar 2 testing. Unless I’m being particularly stupid here and missing something, it surely can’t be both?
Jaime, “Andy, I think in that case then the ONS are carrying out a seroprevalence survey which would be separate from their prevalence survey using PCR testing.”
Unless they explicitly say things, we don’t know what ‘would be’. If that *is* explicit in their material, then fine. But per John above it was only one possibility of how they might get to more accurate figures. Given the claim of much more accuracy, this exclusion limits still further possibilities for how it might be done 0:
“There is no reason to suppose that ONS community PCR testing is any more reliable than any other PCR testing…”
Well I would agree, except that they’re claiming *some* bulk test that is much more accurate. So what is it? (or what combination of figures / assumptions is it?) Per the essay above, even the folks who oppose government orthodoxy regarding PCR testing and other issues, seem to accept that the ONS are doing something that is ‘very much’ better.
“…unless they are targeting individuals showing clinical Covid symptoms – which they’re not.”
Agreed. They are specifically doing random sampling.
“They are not using antibody testing as a means to validate PCR.”
Is that a fact or a supposition? I haven’t trawled their website like John has.
Andy, I suspect that the ONS testing is more accurate simply because they do a lot less testing than Pillar 2 and they go to greater lengths to make sure that their testing is representative of community prevalence rather than representative of community spread. Mass testing in Pillar 2 randomly targets symptomless people mainly who present at testing stations or are encouraged to get tested by useful idiots going round knocking on doors. 250k per day is the current Pillar 2 testing rate. Contrast that with 200k over more than a month as carried out by the ONS. Their testing is probably done in more strictly controlled lab conditions as well, again leading to less false positives.
Jaime, well maybe, but this raises more questions than it answers. ONS testing is supposed to be random, so unless by error / bias, it doesn’t aim for any particular community or result. And if by comparison the Pillar 2, which nominally *is* supposed to at least lean somewhat towards the likely infected (generally via means of association or even [gosh, occasionally, symptoms]), then for it to ‘very much’ worse in the wrong direction than a random sampling, means it is specifically targeting in a mass manner those who *haven’t* been infected in a far worse than random way. Even incompetence and inappropriate guidance shouldn’t get you to that place. And what basis do we have for saying that spending more time on a test, makes for a better result? What is happening in that ‘more time’? You commented above that you didn’t think ONS PCR testing would be any better than Pillar 2 PCR testing; but this is saying the opposite. If we know what is happening during that ‘more time’, why isn’t all the resource going into automating it?
As far as I know, the SARS-CoV-2 virus has not yet been purified, so there is no ‘Gold-Standard’ for this virus which can be used for external quality assessments (EQA). Current PCR tests are calibrated against other PCR tests rather than against the purified viruses.
This inability, or reluctance to do EQA tests has, in the past, lead to bizarre and worrying pseudo-epidemics: https://blog.plan99.net/pseudo-epidemics-7603b2da839
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If the ONS testing is not PCR testing at all, but some other means of identification, like growing the virus itself per Bill’s article above, this would make much more sense.
Andy, I said:
“There is no reason to suppose that ONS community PCR testing is any more reliable than any other PCR testing.”
I discovered a possible reason! That being that the ONS are doing an order of magnitude less tests, probably using less labs, working under less pressure and maybe more controlled and careful conditions. Contamination is a source of false positives. Not all testing kits are equal. Some are less reliable than others. Pillar 2 testing is done by lots of different labs.
Jaime, so you’re saying massive procedural error (separate to the theoretical limits to the tests, which *if* they’re using the same sort of test, should apply to both). But no-one apart from your good self just now, is speculating this as a main issue (which surely for lockdown sceptic leading lights especially would be a hot target). They’re only going on about theoretical limits or at least configuration issues (e.g. the number of amplification cycles chosen). It would make a lot more sense that the ONS testing is of a different kind (which doesn’t mean I have any idea at all whether this is so).
As far as I can see, there is nothing on the ONS website to suggest that the testing comprised anything other than bog-standard self-administered nasal swabs taken at home under the supervision of a ‘healthcare worker’. Furthermore, they claim no a priori understanding of the specificity of their testing based upon previous results using the same technologies and procedures. Instead, the specificity is reverse-calculated from the results of their own study.
The sampling, I should point out, was not entirely random. Take, for example, the following statement: “In line with our plans to increase our overall sample size, we prioritised areas under government local restriction because of an outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19).”
Procedures, technologies and sampling strategies will bare upon expected false positives, but I don’t think they could possibly address the central issue here: How come the ONS was able to use bog-standard RT-PCR and yet enjoy a specificity that is an order of magnitude better than anyone else has ever managed in the strictest of controlled conditions? With this question in mind, I think that comparisons to Pillar 2 testing are a bit of a red herring. Yes, I’d trust ONS over Pillar 2 any day of the week, but I still can’t believe the ONS figure of 99.92% specificity, nor I suggest should anyone.
The more I have thought about the ONS enigma, the more convinced I have become that we are not witnessing RT-PCR testing with fabulous specificity but one with fabulously poor sensitivity. There is nothing on the ONS website to give credence to the former, but there is enough to suggest the latter. On the ONS website they have this to say about sensitivity:
“Our study involves participants self-swabbing under the supervision of a study healthcare worker. It is possible that some participants may take the swab incorrectly, which could lead to more false-negative results. However, research suggests that self-swabbing under supervision is likely to be as accurate as swabs collected directly by healthcare workers.”
I started reading the article they cited as justification for their claim but I stopped reading when I came to: “We recruited 45 participants”. Surely, citing a single study that involved only 45 people is not good enough to conclude that ‘supervised’ self-swabbing is a reliable procedure when undertaking a study of vital national importance.
It may still seem fanciful to some people that the ONS survey could be so flawed that the vast majority of swabs were a waste of time, but, as Sherlock Holmes said, “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” At the very least, the ONS ‘violated their epistemic duties’ when they chose to believe their data even though it overthrew all wisdom that had preceded it. So my theory is not that they accidentally missed a zero off their figure of 159 positive cases, but they were naïve in not taking off a zero from their presumed figure of 200,000 swabs. It’s amazing what mistaken conclusions are possible when one grossly over-estimates the reliability of one’s assumed sample size. Anything that can be explained by recourse to magical technology in the lab can also be explained by positing prosaic bumbling in the field.
Of course, at the end of all of this, I still don’t know what is going on. I only know that things are not adding up.
“How come the ONS were able to use bog-standard RT-PCR and yet enjoy a specificity that is an order of magnitude better than anyone else has ever managed in the strictest of controlled conditions? With this question in mind, I think that comparisons to Pillar 2 testing are a bit of a red herring. Yes, I’d trust ONS over Pillar 2 any day of the week, but I still can’t believe the ONS figure of 99.92% specificity, nor I suggest should anyone.”
Well exactly. And I can’t believe per Jaime that even gross systemic error (of pillar 2) would explain the difference, without being a scandal of biblical proportion that folks would surely be all over already.
“bog-standard self-administered nasal swabs”
However, PCR testing OR growing the culture, could both be achieved off said nasal swabs. With the latter likely far more accurate. So is the website explicit that PCR is the methodology applying to said swabs that are collected? Or does it only imply this, or not say?
For a virus, growing the culture requires getting appropriate cells infected (because viruses don’t have their own replication machinery), then providing ideal conditions for the virus to grow to detectable levels. This doesn’t have the problems on unviable RNA causing false positives that can occur with PCR.
Sorry, Andy. I should have said:
“The nose and throat swabs are sent to the National Biosample Centre at Milton Keynes. Here, they are tested for SARS-CoV-2 using reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). This is an accredited test that is part of the national testing programme. Swabs are discarded after testing.”
Newman cartoon in Sunday Times today:
At a Covid testing station
Those that can do,
those that can’t, Dido.
John, thanks. Then, I’m mystified. It doesn’t make sense. Why should one PCR programme be radically different to another? Especially if they’re sharing the same lab (implied by the quote). Especially too when the targeted (however poorly) Pillar 2 programme, should give if anything a smaller false positive figure than the randomly sampled program.
Why didn’t the following conversation take place at the ONS?
Analyst: “The latest results are in boss.”
Boss: “Oh yes? How big was the sample?”
A: “200,000, but there are bound to be some duds due to quality issues.”
B: “Yes, but how many? Wait. We can work it out. How many positive tests were there?”
B: “Okay. Well, with the prevalence currently at 0.05%, that means that there must be about 25 genuine cases, knowing what we know about RT-PCR and its specificity. To get 25 true positives with a 0.05% prevalence should only take 50,000 tests. What happened to the other 150,000?”
B: “Tell the quality manager to get his arse into my office immediately!”
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I’ve had to change my last comment in the interests of accuracy. The message is unaltered: never believe your own QA hype.
@ BILLBEDFORD says: 18 Oct 20 at 2:45 pm – thanks for the link
interesting reading – small quote – “Worse still, anyone who raises questions about the true severity of COVID tends to get an answer of, “I guess you don’t care about the hundreds of thousands of deaths it caused”. But if the tests are wrong then so are death counts, and thus this sort of answer is missing the point.”
wonder what that reminds me about?
ps h/t to Jaime – https://climatecontrarian.wordpress.com/2020/10/16/the-strange-case-of-the-disappearance-of-flu/
“Apparently, according to WHO figures, influenza cases from Week 15 (April) of 2020 have declined by 98% compared to 2019, whilst Covid-19 cases have correspondingly soared. This is very strange, you have to admit.”
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“Jaime, so you’re saying massive procedural error (separate to the theoretical limits to the tests, which *if* they’re using the same sort of test, should apply to both). But no-one apart from your good self just now, is speculating this as a main issue (which surely for lockdown sceptic leading lights especially would be a hot target). They’re only going on about theoretical limits or at least configuration issues (e.g. the number of amplification cycles chosen).”
On no, not the Cathy Newman routine please! I don’t think I mentioned ‘massive’ procedural error; just that it could be a problem. Also, I’m not the only person in the world to be mentioning this; I merely mentioned it because it had slipped my mind that people a lot more knowledgeable than myself had also mentioned it.
Jaime, “I don’t think I mentioned ‘massive’ procedural error; just that it could be a problem”
Fair enough, but the ‘massive’ didn’t come from you and I didn’t intend to imply that. It came from the size of the problem we’re trying to explain, which per John’s input is order of magnitude stuff. All the stuff above are great angles / questions to be asking and I’ve seen similar myself. But for this long and for the gap between Pillar 2 and ONS figures, would need something systemic long-term bigly bad. Not just some particular kit batches or labs screwing up. Especially if facilities are shared anyhow. Or… we’re missing something.
Folks are using the ONS as the baseline, including those who are doing so in order to say that Pillar two testing is highly weighted towards false positives. But if the ONS is rubbish too, there is no baseline, and this line of argument along with much else is flawed (it might still be correct but the means of formally showing so disappears), and leaving us in a much less knowledgeable state about anything 0:
Reading the detail on the ONS website, one gets the idea that one is dealing with some pretty switched-on statisticians. For example:
“The analysis of the data is a collaboration between the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and researchers from the University of Oxford and University of Manchester, Public Health England and Wellcome Trust.”
“This technique is known as dynamic Bayesian multi-level regression post-stratification (MRP)…”
“A Bayesian multi-level generalised additive model with a complementary log-log link was used.”
“The generalised additive Poisson model for incidence considers every day that each participant is in the study…”
Well they may be shit-hot statisticians but that does not make them good scientists. I don’t think any amount of Bayesian regression performed by Oxford University boffins will redeem the fact that twelve-year-old children were allowed to self-test just because someone once did a study on 45 people. And would a good scientist ignore the fact that their results contradict everything that had previously been established regarding the characteristics of their test methodology?
Remember, this was the same organization that had to admit they had completely goofed on the immigration statistics:
We are not dealing with an organization with an impeccable record.
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John, “And would a good scientist ignore the fact that their results contradict everything that had previously been established regarding the characteristics of their test methodology?”
This seems to be the critical point. Yet if those critical of government orthodoxy are nevertheless leaning on the ONS figures too, then knowledge-wise, we may all be far worse off than we thought. And without knowledge, we don’t really have anything 0:
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>”And without knowledge, we don’t really have anything 0:”
That’s not true. We still have our motivation 🙂
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“We still have our motivation”
and our misconceptions or our befuddlement 😡
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Amen to that!
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Socrates was the wisest man because he knew that he knew nothing. You’re in good company.
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Matt Ridley: Students who catch COVID may be saving lives
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The government is not listening. Downing Street is refusing outright to countenance a policy of targeted shielding of the elderly and vulnerable in Manchester, proposed by Burnham and supported by Graham Brady, among other Tory MPs, claiming bizarrely that it would be unfair to lock up old people whilst we let the virus run riot in the community. But they’re OK with locking up students in halls of residence and watching them kill themselves apparently. It’s ominous that Drakeford has locked down Wales and Ireland has disappeared off the map of civilisation for six weeks in a level 5 lockdown because of ‘cases’ and a tiny handful of deaths. England may well be next. More misery, more deaths, more loss of freedoms, more economic carnage. The lockdown zealots appear to have an unholy influence. Why? How? Western governments are seemingly desperate to emulate the Communist Chinese dictatorship who set the original model for control of Covid-19 by welding people up inside their homes. Oddly though, whilst we here in the West have suffered double-digit declines in GDP due to lockdowns, China’s GDP has increased 4.9% in the most recent period. Must be all that PPE we bought from them. Tedros at the WHO is happy, even if Nabarro is aghast.
Do you agree with Steve that there are no easy answers? You don’t often seem to say so.
Steve like Geoff pointed to Matt Ridley’s article today as it was republished on his blog. The key word in the title for me is “may”. Reminiscent of so many climate scare stories!
It’s not clear to me that we know how to do “targeted shielding of the elderly and vulnerable”. If it turns out we don’t, how many extra deaths of such people are we willing to accept?
I remain uncertain, more uncertain than you seem to be – something that I wrote a few days ago. But your answers here might convince me that we see things exactly the same way.
I’m not sure I’ve fully got my head round the false positives issue, but this might help to explain it:
I have only skimmed it so far, and intend to come back to it later when I have more time, so I can’t vouch for it at this stage.
We shouldn’t have got ourselves in the position where we have to answer that question. It happened because “we” (actually, someone else – not me) used the argument that more lives would be lost because of lockdown than were saved. Once you accept this crude utilitarian reasoning you’re open to having your argument dismissed by the blokes with the data. The doctors lost control to the modellers. Professor Raoult raised the hackles of the medical establishment in France, not because he championed one medication over another, but because his approach has always been “I’ll treat my patients and you treat yours.”
Figures for “cases” among the young are meaningless because most are asymptomatic and there are no deaths. Figures for “deaths from Covid” among the elderly are meaningless because they’re just as likely to have died for a dozen other reasons. Once you realise that all the figures being bandied about are as useless as average global temperature anomalies, there’s nothing to do but leave the job to the people whose job it is. Let the carers care, the doctors treat their patients, and the government wall people up in their tower blocks when necessary. (What the Chinese did was precisely what we did to people on cruise ships.) What the Chinese didn’t do is lay out complex criteria beforehand for when the walling up would come into effect, complete with maps and charts.
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Mark H, that’s a good explanation of the basic issue of high false positives with ‘rare’ incidence in society. But the main issue in the thread above is that even those who are critical of government orthodoxy (like Yeadon above) who are trying to work out where we sit with regard to the ‘incidence in society’, per your linked explanation and so they can estimate the false positive rate, are using what they’ve assumed to be more reliable ONS figures for this. But per John’s input from the ONS site, their test seems to be doing nothing more than the same PCR testing as everyone else, yet quoting extremely high accuracy. How can this be? And if it turns out to be nonsense, then anyone and everyone who is using the ONS output as their measure of ‘incidence in society’, have based this on rubbish.
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The only bit that I think I do understand is the false positive thing, since it is just an example of base rate neglect. The number of false positives that a given number of tests will generate is purely determined by the technologies and procedures used. If you keep them the same, the number of false positives will be the same, all other things being equal. However, the number of true positives for a given size of group will depend greatly upon the nature of the group being tested. A group of coughing, wheezing people who live with someone who has previously tested positive is likely to generate a lot of true positives. A group of people taken at random will generate very few true positives, if the disease concerned is not very prevalent within the community. Therefore, the relative importance of the fixed number of false positives rises significantly in the latter case (the number of false positives stays the same and the number of true positives drop). In fact, in the latter case the false positives can come to greatly outnumber the true positives, to the extent that a positive result becomes pretty meaningless. A failure to appreciate this may lead to two false conclusions: The disease is a lot more prevalent than previously believed; a large proportion of asymptomatic cases is a characteristic of the disease.
As I said, that much I think I understand and it is not controversial. What I don’t understand is that the ONS can claim to have run 200,0000 tests using technologies and procedures that are no different to anyone else’s, and yet generate only a total of 160 positives (true plus false) when false positives alone should generate 1600, even by the most optimistic prediction. Even more, I don’t understand why they chose to theorize that their false positive problem must therefore be ten times smaller than anyone else’s even though nothing is different in their approach – this presumably because they believe their data can’t be wrong. This is not how the world is supposed to work. When test results fly in the face of what is already known, the first recourse should be to question the test. Finally, I do not understand the lack of curiosity coming from the rest of the scientific community who, if they were looking in on what the ONS is claiming, would surely share my bafflement. Instead, everyone seems to have bought into the idea that the ONS uses a magic ingredient.
I had already written this before I realised you had beaten me to it.
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Two replies to that tweet of McIntyre’s:
The first assumes that the Wuhan/Hubie lockdown had a significant effect on the progress of the disease.
The second questions whether you can even believe the figures coming out of China at that time.
This article strongly suggests you cannot:
McIntyre appears to believe the line that China traded away human rights for human lives, something which the West was not willing to do (they did, just not so dramatically) and therefore the West suffered the consequences of their half-hearted approach to lockdowns in terms of the destruction of their economies. I think he is dead wrong. There is no, and never will be, any trade off between human lives and human rights. Human lives are implicitly connected to human rights. They cannot be separated and partitioned, the latter to be dispensed with on a ‘temporary’ basis to secure the former. We are going to learn that very, very hard lesson here in the West over the coming months and years. Trump and his advisers seem to be the only politicians capable of seeing this essential truth. God help us all if Trump is not re-elected.
The above is why I passionately believe that you can NEVER mandate that the old and the vulnerable shield. GBD suggested that the vulnerable members of society should be shielded, though I don’t think they suggested that they shoud be compulsorily isolated. Even when I was (wrongly) criticising the government’s herd immunity strategy at the very beginning of this, when I, like many others, had been conned by the WHO into thinking that this was an exceptionally deadly pandemic, I said then that you cannot simply lock up old people. Now that we know the vast majority of the population are either immune to this disease or suffer very minor symptoms, that Covid-19 is in fact less dangerous to those under 70 than is seasonal ‘flu, now that we know we have more effective ways of treating serious cases, it is encumbent upon our politicians to reopen society in order to restore basic human rights and prevent the huge damages from lockdowns. At the same time, governments should be offering all practical and financial support possible to those who wish to voluntarily self-isolate. They’re not, they won’t. They want to continue on the path of social and economic destruction which the dubious lockdown in China set for the West. Why?
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Geoff and Jaime: Thank you for the responses. I’m tied up with the US election now! On which:
I think that, as binaries go, the situation on 4th November could be either dark or very, very dark.
Courage calls to courage everywhere.
Well here is one TV expert who believes the China hype:
“And one of the statistics that really strikes me today is that in China, they had five cases and they are testing nine million people.”
So, according to Dr Jones, China must have developed a test with a specificity that is at least 99.9999995%. Or maybe he hasn’t swallowed that one and accepts that they have no such testing technology. In which case he must believe that, using realistic but optimistic RT-PCR specificities, they recorded 72,005 positives and deducted 72,000 to get the true positive count. Alternatively, taking the realistic but pessimistic RT-PCR specificity, it would have been 360,005 – 360,000 = 5. Whichever way you look at it, Dr Jones seems to be able to believe six impossible things before breakfast.
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Could it be that they’re simply using the word “case” in its normal pre-Covid-19 sense of “case of illness,” i.e. someone sick with symptoms (possibly also testing positive?) Never underestimate the conservative effect of translation, which hasn’t caught up with modern usage.
With an army of 2 million people and a lot of other people they consider essential I’m not surprised they test millions per day. It takes hard work to attain a growth rate of 4% when the rest of the world is locked in torpor.
Good point. If there were only 5 people currently in hospital, China could safely ignore the 72,000 positive results. Of course, in this country we would be screaming that only 5 in every 72,000 people who have the disease display symptoms and that is why the virus is so difficult to control 🙂
Re. DFHUNTER’s comment at 11.12pm on 18 Oct, the Telegraph have now published this article, which rather confirms what I suspected 4 days ago: Covid is currently claiming the lives of people who would otherwise die of ‘flu or ‘flu deaths are being registered as Covid deaths. Either way, excess deaths are more or less normal for this time of year – no sign of a second wave, but Johnson’s locking down the nation, region by region, to stop hospitals being overwhelmed by an ‘alarming increase’ in hospitalisations from Covid-19, supposedly fuelled by the alarming increase in ‘cases’.
“There is no sign of a second coronavirus wave, experts have said as new Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures showed that deaths are just 1.5 per cent above the five-year average and tracking on a normal trajectory for the time of year.
Although Covid deaths rose to 438 for the week ending October 9 – an increase of 36 per cent from the previous week, when the figure stood at 321 – overall deaths rose just 143 above the five-year average. There were also 19 fewer overall deaths than in the same week last year.
Researchers also found there would usually be around 1,600 weekly deaths from flu and pneumonia for the same week. Deaths from coronavirus, flu and pneumonia are currently running at 1,621, suggesting there is virtually no increase in expected respiratory deaths.
The ONS figures show that, since the week ending September 4, registered coronavirus deaths in England and Wales have been roughly doubling every fortnight.
However, the country is now entering the winter flu season, and an increase in respiratory deaths is expected. Public Health England (PHE) surveillance of respiratory diseases shows there is virtually no flu in the community at the moment.”
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It could be argued that we have become a victim of our own success, in as much as developments in medical science have resulted in a species longevity that invites the sort of crisis COVID-19 is only too eager to provide. It’s as if there has been a sudden re-adjustment in life-expectancy and we are just not geared up to handle the speed of transition. One way of dealing with this, of course, would be to treat our elderly with respect but this seems to go against the grain. For example, Durham care homes experienced the highest incidence of COVID-19 related death in the country and it has been pointed out that this might have something to do with the fact that Durham County Council insisted that care homes receive COVID positive patients in exchange for the funding they required to run them ‘safely’. The claim is made by the care homes themselves, though DCC is denying it. However, they are not denying this:
“Plans to ask care home owners to take residents with Covid-19 have been described as “alarming”.
Apparently, the DCC is advocating that the provision of COVID-19 patients in Durham care homes in the second wave will be okay as long as they are kept in separate rooms and they enter and leave via different doors. ‘Expendable’ is the word that has been used by critics of the scheme.
I thought to take my dog to the beach for exercise yesterday. I had hoped that a windy Tuesday afternoon in late October in a Tier 2 area would see very few people. Instead, all car parks were full and the beach was heaving with folk who, unless the rule of sixty applies, were not adhering to the social distancing guidelines. There was not a mask in sight. In fact, there was not the slightest hint that a pandemic was in full swing. The only thing that was unusual was just how ridiculously busy everywhere was. Going into Tier 3 will sure as hell kill the hospitality sector but, unless folk suddenly see a purpose in following guidelines, I can’t see it having any impact whatsoever on the outbreak.
So to summarise: We have ONS statisticians ignoring the science; policy-makers ignoring the statisticians; people ignoring the policies and scientists ignoring the people. Is this what is meant by ‘muddling through’?
PS. No, I didn’t join the throng.
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I was heartened to see an article at the Conversation casting doubt on the usefulness of tracing apps
until I came to this :
This is wrong, like GCSE fail wrong. The author is a Lecturer in Computer Science and Co-founder Women Leading in AI. What hope is there?
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Being kind, I might suggest that this is just a failure to properly express in words the intended mathematics: Obviously, the chances that any given contact would be a contact between two app users is 4%.
It is amazing how the same data can be used so differently. After the ONS released the latest death statistics yesterday, there were the two following headlines:
“Coronavirus: Sharp weekly rise in coronavirus deaths in England and Wales”, Sky News
“No sign of second wave as ONS data shows normal levels of death for time of year”, The Telegraph
However, the really good news is that the ONS has finally got its act together. It appears to have found a test for death that has a genuine 100% specificity.
Oh no! Spoke to soon. Zombies!!
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What do you mean, “just a failure..” ? There aren’t two universes, one of mathematical truths and one of verbal. She’s wrong, that’s all. And it has implications for her argument, which is about policy that may save or sacrifice lives.
I don’t know why, but I can forgive someone expressing something so clumsily that they end up saying something completely at odds with their intention. Knowing the maths, I think I know how to correct the sentence, and that puts me in a more forgiving mood. Or maybe it was the fine red I have just imbibed.
This lady seems to have done the maths.
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Richard, Darren Grimes is certainly impressed with her!
She’s the best of British: sensible, down to earth, pragmatic, heroic in her own small way. A working class stalwart from a northern town, immune to hysteria. She exemplifies the Britain I used to love but then you read the comments under the thread and you realise why people like her are a dying breed.
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Jaime: She’s best of British partly because she’s thinking of the young and the giant debt they’re going to be saddled with. She’s also showing leadership that we badly need. (It can come from anywhere.) To my relief I didn’t read the responses on Twitter’s self-selecting sewer.
The attitude of this doughty lady tied in for me with Scott Atlas reporting that his 93-year-old mother-in-law feels the same way. My mother would have been 93 right now – she passed away two and a half years ago and, as my sister has said, it’s a mercy she did, because her Alzheimer’s would have made it pretty impossible for her to understand what was going on. But for those still with their mental faculties in tact I’d make them top priority in developing the next round of policies. They should be allowed to take the risk and preserve their freedom. That no doubt drives a truck through most current measures. But I feel much more strongly about this end of the problem than I do about younger and fitter people wearing a mask or not and where. (Not wanting to start an argument here but expressing what I deeply feel: priority should be given to the alert older generation in policy making.)
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There’s so many brilliant people out there doing interviews at the moment – Scott Atlas, Ivor Cummins, Dr Mike Yeadon etc.
Dr Yeadon has done a Delingpod recently and he comes across as exceptionally down to earth and likeable. He also worked at Wellcome in Beckenham (now closed) which is where my uncle worked who I always looked up to as a youngster. These people are fearless warriors for science and the scientific method and it is heartening to have them on board.
Well worth listening to that podcast. Yeadon is solid as a rock in my opinion and he has a ‘nose’. He has a knack of seeing stuff very clearly long before others do. He might not be right, of course, but the chances are, he is right. If he says the pandemic is over, it is probably over.
Back on the subject of China and my comment in response to Richard and his quoting of Steve McIntyre. Sherelle Jacobs has a beautifully written article in the Telegraph today where she argues that the wholesale adoption of the Chinese model to address the pandemic is a very worrying development for western civilisation and empiricism.
“If the prospect of a winter lockdown is nourishing your inner nihilist, I recommend bingeing on the latest Chinese blockbusters. Watching the films that have led Chinese studios to eclipse Hollywood sales for the first time in history is like staring into the Western abyss. Take The Wandering Earth – a sci-fi trending on Netflix about a mission to move our planet to a new galaxy after a spike in Jupiter’s gravity. It is Star Wars scrubbed of its limitless human progress and frontier spirit. In the peculiarly cyclical story – about protecting and reviving humanity on Earth rather than exploring the universe – the European linear conception of time is obsolete. (Unsurprising? Mandarin has neither a past or future tense, nor China a creation myth.)
The point of recounting all this is to emphasise that China is not just a rival superpower, but a rival civilisation based on a fundamentally different cosmology, and set of assumptions and ideas. The threat from China is not solely about lab leaks and 5G. A fabulously self-confident civilisation-state with wildly diverging values is on the ascendant just when the West has lost all sense of what it stands for. That is terrifying.
The zeal with which we have swallowed Beijing’s guff about the superiority of its draconian approach to pandemics is not a good start to the 21st-century clash of civilisations. It is chilling that China has exported a deadly virus to the West. But it is even more scary that China has exported a Chinese model for dealing with it.”
I find the ascendancy of Chinese Communism and cultural values even more chilling than most. I’ve warned for many years about the failure of the Chinese government to institute even the most basic of protections for animals and the institutionalised extreme cruelty within their society as a result of this is like looking into the Inner Circle of Dante’s Inferno. I’ve warned that we were mortgaging our futures here in the West by mass-buying cheap Chinese made goods. Very few listened. Of course, there will be the inevitable accusations of Sinophobia and racism, but that really isn’t it. Most Chinese are perfectly respectable human beings, just like us, who just want to live their lives, freely, without pain and without causing pain to others. But that’s not the way they are forced to live and it’s not the culture they are indoctrinated into from birth. Unreformed, the ‘Chinese cultural, political and scientific model’ is a grave danger to us all. Reform is not on the cards. Expansion most definitely is.
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Jit. (Apologies to others, especially Geoff)
I know you live close (Norwich?). I am moving within Wymondham to a bungalow with fewer rooms than my present house and so the contents of three large bookcases have to be squeezed into just one. I have a collection of about 20 books on climate change – mostly sceptical, that will have to go. If you would like them (for yourself or to spread the message) they can be yours gratis, but you will have to pick them up. Just let me know at email@example.com within a few days.
It would be good to meet with you, if only to exchange a Covid wave.
Serpentza on YouTube has an interesting perspective on China having lived there for some time. A particularly chilling video (although most of them are in a similar vein) was this one on “The false safety of China” https://youtu.be/Rohq4hClRkk “The CCP has successfully fooled its own citizens (and some naive foreigners) into thinking China is the safest place in the world”. Eye opening videos well worth watching.
@ Alan, I’ve mailed.
I said yes, & wondered whether I might be able to mail individual books out to interested folk in exchange for postage.
Thanks DAVEJR. Of course, you can’t watch Youtube videos anymore without signing in or allowing all cookies, so Big Tech will know you’ve watched this video and report it to CCP command no doubt!
I watched the 83 year old from Barnsley on the news yesterday, and immediately thought “Thank goodness for someone telling it like it is.” Her words didn’t seem to chime with the BBC’s scaremongering, so I give them credit for including the clip of her.
She features prominently on Lockdown Sceptics’ website too – she may be all over the internet by now!
ALAN, JIT, JAIME
Thanks very much for thinking of me. I think I’ve read enough climate scepticism for a while. I’m taking Richard’s advice and coming out from behind the bikeshed. In fact, today I’m mostly reading about China, which is why I appreciated Jaime’s thoughtful and calmly expressed comment above, with which I am in profound disagreement (I think, but I may be wrong.) Not about her description of the way China is, which may be largely correct, allowing for some exaggeration, but about what can be done. If you can accept that the world has ceased being unipolar and that power is and must be shared between four or five or six entities, then you can start thinking about how to move towards a rational political approach to this brave new world. The Chinese may have a history of being cruel to animals, but, unlike us, they haven’t invaded the other five continents – yet.
A post on China and geopolitics would probably be a good idea. And there’s a good climate angle. See for example the irrepressible Robin Guenier’s comments at
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Geoff, I would have no problem with the development of a more balanced world view which incorporates the best of East and West. Chinese philosophical ideas have a lot going for them; Chinese communism, not so much. I’ve been a fan of Taoism and Confucianism since youth. Aggressive western expansionism has been a double-edged sword and it’s not at all clear that the current expansion of China has not been assisted and enabled by mainly western players with their own agenda.
“The Chinese may have a history of being cruel to animals . . . .”
We too have a shameful history of cruelty to animals. Almost every nation on earth does. Pictures of grinning ‘hunters’ standing next to animals suffering in cruel traps confirm that the US is far from innocent on this score, even now. What concerns me is that the Chinese Communist government refuse to enact ANY laws which would protect animals from the worst types of cruelty – today, in the 21st century. Cruelty is institutionalised and on an industrial scale. They are also busy exporting their cruel exploitation of wild species – which may or may not be the reason for the Covid-19 pandemic. Britain started legislating against animal cruelty way back in the 19th century. We’re not perfect, even now, but we make the effort. Live skinning of dogs in the street just doesn’t happen; nor do ‘wet’ markets.
In a world of astonishing statistics, what are we to make of the claim that, by early May, New Zealand had still only seen 25 asymptomatic cases of Covid-19?
Not so surprising, you might think at first glance, given how few cases in total that New Zealand has had.
But not so quick! This still represented only 2.2% of the total number of cases. This compares with 17% for the USA and 90% for Northumberland University.
But perhaps this is because New Zealand has never allowed the virus to ‘let rip’ and so has only ever needed to test individuals with symptoms.
Not true! They claim to have been testing 4,000 a day – that’s 0.1% of the population. Hardly targeted testing!
Which suggests an even deeper mystery. With typical RT-PCR specificity, they should expect to see around 20 to 150 false positives a day, the vast majority of which would look exactly like asymptomatic patients. And yet they claimed to have only seen 25 asymptomatic cases since the start of the pandemic. Does this mean they have discovered the same magic RT-PCR test that the ONS and China seem to be using?
I don’t think so. I think that the mystery is solved once one realises that New Zealand has been following up its test results assiduously by retesting every case, both positive and negative. So we can assume they are referring to genuine cases who never went on to display symptoms despite repeatedly testing positive. All the other asymptomatic positives were not repeatable and so could be dismissed. So I’d like to believe that, under the scrutiny of a nation with the testing resources and nounce to do the job properly, the phenomenon of the unusually asymptomatic, dastardly coronavirus disease just disappeared like the Cheshire Cat, leaving nothing but its smile. But then, there are lots of things I’d like to believe.
Still, it makes you wonder about some of the claims being made for the deadly, asymptomatic Covid-19 pandemic.
Great to see we’re probably not so far apart.
A hundred years ago, China was back in our 14th century, when heads were stuck on pikes at the town gate. They’re now politically roughly in our 19th century, with the majority of the population economically and culturally around 1950. Expect change fast. When the BBC summoned 28 of the world’s leading climate experts to help determine their reporting policy, they included the representative of Greenpeace China. Maybe there’ll be a Chinese offshoot of the RSPCA one day soon.
Of course, they came through hell to get where they are, with no help from us until they volunteered to become our industrial working class by educating their population up to the required level and working twice as hard as us. They now have an educated political and social élite which ensures that they will never sink back into the barbarism of the Mao years. If we just accept that they are now our social and economic equals and let them get on with modernising their country it’ll be better for everyone – including the animals.
Geoff: “They now have an educated political and social élite which ensures that they will never sink back into the barbarism of the Mao years. ”
This is no guarantee whatsoever. Germany in 1930s had an educated social and political elite. Didn’t stop barbarism on a grand scale. To think that educated elites necessarily prevent such, is to miss why these things happen.
“…but, unlike us, they haven’t invaded the other five continents – yet.”
This was merely a matter of timing, and ego. They have invaded many countries in the past, and indeed are holding at least one plus some disputed territories right now even by modern definitions, plus via ‘re-education’ camps for millions, torture and death, are busy converting ethnicities further from the centre to the Han way. Their grand fleet explored the coast of Africa and probably got around the horn before the Portuguese came around in the opposite direction, in a tiny ship by comparison. They were only called back because the emperor at the time deemed there couldn’t be anything as important as China out there that was worth seeing. This does not indicate any more benign (or indeed less benign) motives. Their ships were ships of war.
“If you can accept that the world has ceased being unipolar and that power is and must be shared between four or five or six entities, then you can start thinking about how to move towards a rational political approach to this brave new world.”
I think the issue that Jaime and the article expresses, is that such rationality must first acknowledge the reality of the events and power / motives on the move. That acknowledgement is still largely missing in action in the West. The entities can indeed treat with each other equally. But if one can steal a march due to ignorance or whatever else on the part of another, history says they will. Whether that’s China, the West, Russia, or whoever. And the fact that all nations have been bad actors in the past (by today’s standards), and many even by the standards at the time, does not mean that China isn’t a bad actor now by the standards of now. This is not a matter for some kind of ethnic stigma, or indeed relative lauding of the West. It is simply a matter that requires serious addressing within the proper working of the rational approach.
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Quite right. Thanks for the correction. It would take too long to make the point I failed to make, so let’s just say that an educated élite helps to avoid these things. It took fifteen years of humiliation and economic punishment to persuade a third of Germans to vote for barbarism. A country ruled by a party of 70 million of its best educated citizens should be able to resist longer.
Agreed. The West knows little about China, and they know lots about us. (Imagine my embarrassment when I confused the Treaty of Paris with the Treaty of Versailles in front of a hundred history students, and it was one of the five Chinese, and not the 95 French students, who corrected me.)
Our acknowledgements of the reality of Chinese power/motives is limited to how nasty they are to the Uighurs and the Tibetans, and tends to ignore what we’ve done to them over the past 200 years.
They’re all border regions, formerly under Chinese rule, silmilar to a thousand similar regional disputes in Western Europe, which weren’t settled until 1919 – sorry, still haven’t been settled. (I was forgetting Northern Ireland.)
We’re in a straight political argument here, with me revealing my pro-Chinese sentiments and you taking a more orthodox view. Behind this is a more interesting debate to be had about how reasonable people should react politically to the huge changes happening around us. There are no doubt ideological fanatics on both sides. On the pro-Chinese side you might find some relics of Maoist groups, I don’t know. On the other side are some lunatics who think that provoking a war with China would be a good way to delay their rise to world dominance for a few decades. The difference is that the latter seem to include people in the defence and intelligence establishments, capable of spreading their propaganda through the media.
I’m for appeasement. The difference from the thirties is that neither China nor Russia are threatening world peace. America is (in every third tweet) and our entire political class seems to agree (while condemning tweets 1 and 2.)
another point of view is the “educated” “elite”.. were the real bastards. and responsible.
we have seen similar in recent years how the educated elite treat the public with contempt.
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“It took fifteen years of humiliation and economic punishment to persuade a third of Germans to vote for barbarism.”
The conditions that make countries which despite possessing educated elites, descend to barbarism, have generic roots, are not limited to the above era or bounded to loss of status and / or economic woes only. Yet the latter of which nevertheless you acknowledge as one cause (and even China may yet suffer economic woes or loss of status, especially when it’s self-imposed threshold for the latter is so sensitive). Which also means that….
“A country ruled by a party of 70 million of its best educated citizens should be able to resist longer…”
…this may or may not be true depending on context we can’t really determine (but for instance if a majority of its educated elite are actually too culturally committed [to CCP], this will likely make things worse not better). But anyhow, ‘longer’ rather lacks comfort when somewhere the size of China goes off the rails. Even if true (we cannot know), ‘longer but worse when it happens’, is not exactly positive.
“They’re all border regions, formerly under Chinese rule…”
They were all independent nations once, with some remaining so. They invaded Korea several times over history, once staying for centuries I think, only to be, eventually thrown out again by the Koreans. They invaded Myanmar (Burma), at least 5 times, with little success I believe. A big campaign was in the eighteenth century. They invaded Japan twice in the middle ages, and before that too I think. They invaded and occupied outer Mongolia in the 1920s, and via incursions attempted to exert control further North. They were thrown out with White Russian help, I believe. They invaded Tibet just before the First World War, left due to change of leadership at home at same time as rebellion by Tibetans against their rule, then came back later to make a more permanent job of their invasion of an independent country (technically, the Tibetan empire). They’ve invaded Vietnam several times, and like Korea kept hold of it for a very long time once, only to be thrown out again by the ethnic Vietnamese, who are now independent again. In most cases, Chinese success is followed by an attempt to wipe out indigenous practice and make everyone conform to Chinese ways, which they are somewhat belatedly doing to the Uighurs, probably no longer needing the goodwill of the ethnic group that stretches into Russia. In modern times there have been two clashes with India (in disputed territory) in which China was the aggressor. They are violating territorial rights of the Philippines and Vietnam in their current expansion in the South China seas, and building islands to try and legitimise boundaries far outside their own maritime rights. I do not claim any of these things to be worse in any way than how Europeans have historically acted (albeit a different ‘flavour’), but neither are they in any way better either. There is no rule that says China is concerned only with ‘internal’ matters and stability; they are just like Europeans in that respect, and had they gained European technology before Europe, we’d all be speaking Chinese.
“I’m for appeasement.”
I’m not for appeasement, or for provoking war / trouble. I’m for that objectivity you mentioned. In the way that appeasement is usually meant (and especially after Chamberlin), it tends to imply ignoring reality, which is not rational.
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and if you think China is not threatening world peace.. I have a bridge to sell you.. They have been appeased for decades, with the hope that as they grow GDP they might magically become part of the democratic ‘civilised’ club
They are cranking up the ratchet, Hong Kong, next take over Taiwan, genocide a few more ethinic minorities, try to destabilise USA. debt trap the third world. escalate tension with India, etc.. China is a much bigger potential threat, than I think anything we have seen before, a high tech, control mad despotic nuclear power superstate, which I think it highly unlikely the population will be able to break free from
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P.S. “formerly under Chinese rule”
Nor is this any kind of justification. Britain used to rule a quarter of the globe. Everyone, including most of the British, would be horrified if we used that as an excuse to walk the British army and British rule back in. Whether or not the territories were geographically close (Ireland and half of France), or far away like India.
There has been definite western collusion in China’s rise to power and her attainment of economic dominance, which financial muscle the CCP have ruthlessly leveraged across the globe, in Britain, in the US, in Europe, in Africa and in Australia and NZ particularly, buying up failing companies and bribing politicians left, right and centre. The Paris Agreement was drawn up in such a way that it ensured China was not subject to the punitive restrictions to be imposed on the West, thereby enabling Chinese industries to compete unfairly against western industries. The current praise heaped upon China for its response to the pandemic by western politicians and the absolutely absurd taking at face value of their commitment to go carbon neutral would be laughable if it were not so deadly serious.
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Too much to deal with now, (it’s late here) but a couple of points:
Pointman’s 2012 article, despite the map of China at the top, is about eugenics in Nazi Germany and psychiatry in the later stages of the Soviet Union. Of course there were intellectuals and scientists who supported the régime. This doesn’t contradict the point that the Russian intellectual élite within the Party opposed Stalinism (as well as they could, given that they were already part of the Bolshevik system) and that almost the entire German intellectual élite opposed Hitler. Ineffectually, as it turned out, because they were also opposed to Communism and even to the Weimar Republic as well.
The best argument for your case (that an educated élite is no defence against tyranny) would be our present élite with its climate hysteria and woke obsessions. The woke or green tyranny hasn’t arrived yet, but my limited reading of reactions to current government policy on Covid suggests that an opposition is forming, and that the intellectual élite (well, Toby Young and a few others) are an active part of it.
The instances of Chinese aggression you mention may all be true for all I know, but they’re no more relevant than Plantagenet wars in France. For the 2000 plus years of its recorded history, China has been fighting its neighbours, mostly nomad tribes, but some, like Tibet and Korea, serious civilisations. Korea is an independent state, cut in two by Western imperialist edict. Tibet is part of China, as Scotland is part of the United Kingdom. If anyone in the West thinks a referendum in Tibet would result in a vote for independence under the rule of a Divine Being chosen at birth by a bunch of monks … keep on rooting for the Dalai Lama. I may be wrong.
That’s what appeasement means – spreading peace. It only got its negative connotations because Chamberlain was appeasing Hitler, who was about to invade and conquer Europe. China isn’t.
Geoff, you may have mixed me and Barry.
“The best argument for your case (that an educated élite is no defence against tyranny) would be our present élite with its climate hysteria and woke obsessions.”
There are cases that actually happened. The educated middle class essentially enabled tyranny in Italy, 9 years before Hitler came to power in Germany, because despite the fact that Mussolini’s gangs had eliminated at least hundreds (and possibly thousands – numbers are not well known I think) of opposition, the middle class were so frightened of socialism (there’d been a long series of strikes was one issue, and indeed violence from left as well as right), they allowed him in. So in this case they not only failed to act as a brake, they acted as an enabler! In short order, Mussolini neutered the democracy that had let him in, and turned his eyes to empire. It took him some years to build up the military, but he had aspirations for Ethiopia even while Hitler was still grabbing his seat, then preps through 1934, invasion 1935.
“Korea is an independent state, cut in two by Western imperialist edict. ”
And invaded / occupied by China several times before that. Nor was the edict Western alone, it was by dint of *both* sides (Communist china on North side, Western nations on South side).
“Tibet is part of China, as Scotland is part of the United Kingdom.”
Not in the slightest. Scotland and England have indeed warred for centuries. But they were only joined in Union when a *Scottish* king came to rule England too, and combined the nations, essentially voluntarily (albeit objected to by minorities). The Jacobite conflict after that, was a dispute about the *British* line of succession, not Scotland versus England as nations. In a time centuries later, indeed not far out of living memory when behaviours should theoretically be more benign, China simply annexed Tibet completely against its will.
“If anyone in the West thinks a referendum in Tibet would result in a vote for independence…”
Well it certainly would have only decades ago. But indeed constant cultural aggression and moving in Chinese populations and huge bias against anyone with Tibetan cultural aspirations / sympathies getting anywhere in society (except maybe prison), all takes its toll. This is ethnic cleansing. But indeed the last armed rebellion of Tibetan nationals was even in my lifetime,1959 to 1962.
All of China’s history is just as relevant as all of Europe’s history. You introduced European invasion stretching back at least 500 years, and indeed almost a 1000 if we are to take the Crusades and other early forays into the world. China’s ambitions outside its expanding borders have never been less; its technology, after taking a (terrible imho) decision to exit naval power just as Europe was gaining it, meant a limitation to land war and ruled out a wider reach. But that’s not about more benign motives. And per above, I do not claim any of China’s invasions to be worse in any way than how Europeans have historically acted (albeit a different ‘flavour’), but neither are they in any way better either. There is no rule that says China is concerned only with ‘internal’ matters and stability; they are just like Europeans in that respect, and had they gained European technology before Europe, we’d all be speaking Chinese.
“It only got its negative connotations because Chamberlain was appeasing Hitler…”
A realism vibe that still holds highly useful meaning, regarding geopolitical matters is usually deployed in this manner, and which isn’t literally about invading Europe!
With coronavirus news articles normally being high on statistics and low on science, this article makes a welcome change:
I say ‘welcome’, but it actually makes for very grim reading: “Why is coronavirus so deadly?”
If you want to see where the ‘educated elite’ are going with this fake ‘Covid crisis’, read this. It’s not a nice place. The educated elite are actively pushing tyranny as ‘rapid cultural adaptation’. Some might say they are misguided. I would call them evil. It’s not the cultural revolution they are now going on about, it’s cultural evolution – rapid and ‘perhaps temporary’.
No problems getting this paper published, but three major journals have refused to publish a Danish scientific study which casts serious doubt on the efficacy of masks. Funny that.
“These “evolutionary mismatches” are likely responsible for our frequent lack of alarm in response to the pandemic. On the other hand, we constructed those modern environments, so our capacity for rapid cultural evolution—via behaviors, values, and technologies—must be acknowledged along with our genetic human natures.
How can we use our knowledge of dual inheritance theory to make cultural evolution take place faster and at a larger scale than ever before—even so fast that it can keep pace with the genetic evolution of the virus?
Human cooperation in all its forms requires identifying the most relevant group, establishing norms that define the welfare of the group, and establishing mechanisms that reward good behavior and punish bad behavior. For the first time in history, we have the technological means to function as a global village of nations, but this requires scaling up the same mechanisms that make cooperation possible at all levels.
A key insight of evolutionary thinking is that—in contrast to the metaphor of the invisible hand—the pursuit of lower-level interests, such as short-term individual, corporate, partisan, or nationalistic interests, is far more likely to undermine than contribute to the global common good.
Evolutionary principles can be applied to understand cultural adaptations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Human groups under collective threat experience evolutionary pressures to tighten social norms and punish people who deviate from norms. Accordingly, we can predict that societies worldwide will tighten in response to the pandemic. From an evolutionary perspective, strict norms and punishments that deter free riders are essential to helping groups coordinate their social action to survive, and thus would be adaptive in times of threat.
While tightening is an evolutionary adaptation to threat, potential “evolutionary mismatches” may interfere with this evolved response, with tragic consequences, as we have seen in the spread of COVID-19 in certain nations.
The varying reactions of nations around the world to early stages of the pandemic reveal potential evolutionary mismatches, wherein some loose societies have had a delayed and often conflicted reaction to tightening norms. Countries that are tight (e.g., South Korea, Japan, China) have been highly effective at limiting COVID-19 cases and deaths (81). By contrast, loose cultures (e.g., Spain, Brazil, and the United States) have had an explosion of cases and deaths in early stages. EGT models also illustrate that loose cultures take far longer to cooperate when under threat than tight cultures (82). Because people in loose cultures have generally experienced fewer ecological threats, they may be more likely to underestimate the risk of COVID-19 than those in tight cultures. Likewise, because loose cultures prioritize freedom over rules, they may experience psychological reactance when tightening is required.”
Jaime, that is a confusing mash-up of paragraphs from different ‘insights’ (9 & 10) mixed up, at least one out of ordering, and missing out much (and hence) context in-between. Afaict from the intro, each insight is from a different scientist, but they seem to be anonymised. There is bound to be clashes too as for instance David Sloan Wilson and Steven Pinker frequently fight like cat and dog.
There is clear bias running through those sections, that our evolved behaviours have made this worse *in a particular (net) direction*. That direction being ‘not enough alarm’. However the principle is almost certainly correct (there are many other examples), but the direction is likely net the opposite, ‘too much alarm’. Fear does indeed instinctively cause group ‘tightening’ as they say, which will have both upsides *and downsides*, and while indeed they are very much stressing the former at the expense of the latter, ‘insight 10’ includes “Finding ways to maximize both openness and order—that is, to be “culturally ambidextrous”—is a key challenge for human societies now and in the future.” Where ‘openness’ is a feature of the less tightened cultures and ‘order’ the more tightened ones. So while their ‘mismatch’ may have the wrong net sign, scientist 10 from which much of your quote comes, does acknowledge that there needs to be balance (which is not wrong, the disagreement would be about where the balance point actually is).
Insight 9 looks very much like DSW to me. He has done fantastic work on Group / Multilevel selection / evolution, but latterly seizes every opportunity (with many inappropriate) to promote the concept that we can take conscious control of this phenomenon to improve our development. He’s not daft enough to be taking a line like the Eugenics folks, i.e. he’s not saying pick outcomes; he’s generally saying give it the opportunity to work more and faster, and let *it* pick the outcomes. But there is huge danger in this, because exactly as the bias in this paper shows (or at least 9 & 10, I haven’t read the rest yet), it is not possible for swayable humans to separate the process from their desired goals, and end up steering where truly natural evolution would *not* have taken us, i.e. less optimal not more, and, long after DSW and another generation have passed so we forgot the cautions (he does occasionally express), then potentially to a very bad place indeed.
To the extent that one can / should mildly intervene to favour environments that encourage evolutionary processes (e.g. capitalism is one such, deliberate diversity of ideas is another, so *not* for instance a dominant left-wing or right-wing bubble), then so far so good (and I think you would like those two). But in going further, he is ending up at *desired outcomes*, not encouraging process. For instance to ‘reward good behavior and punish bad behavior’ (beyond the normal scope of current law), or ‘define the welfare of the group’, both assume that you know what is good and bad plus ‘for the best’ regarding group welfare. But all these things will be disputed by different elements of society (we’re not talking murder or burglary here, but how to react to a crisis). He’s essentially attempting to second guess what evolution *would* pick if it had a free hand, and no one can possibly know what that is! The case in point here is that he (if indeed it is DSW) is assuming certain behaviours are ‘worse’ or ‘better’ re covid. But at best we haven’t got the retrospective vision to make such a judgement call yet, and indeed its already visible that some ‘tighter’ behaviours are clearly going to produce major (albeit as yet not retrospectively measured) damage. You can never second guess evolution! Give it opportunity for sure, but he or no one should use speculative theory to tell us what it would pick and hence what we should do. This is not possible, *even* in theory!
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I don’t think it’s confusing at all. The message is clear, even though it is presented in the diverse opinions of several ‘experts’. The intent is to provide a framework for rapid cultural evolution in response to an ‘experimental’ threat. And it is experimental. The authors make that quite clear. ‘Insights’ 8 and 9 are an attempt to address the supposed societal deficiencies arising from the previous ‘insights’:
“Some of the insights above point to flaws in our human nature that contributed to the pandemic and may make navigating it more difficult. But humans are paradoxical creatures. On one hand, we are products of genetic evolution in ancestral environments that bear little resemblance to modern environments. These “evolutionary mismatches” are likely responsible for our frequent lack of alarm in response to the pandemic.”
The supposed ‘deficiency’ involves people not being sufficiently alarmed by a respiratory virus which kills less people under 70 than does seasonal ‘flu. According to the authors, that is an “evolutionary mismatch”.
“EGT models show that, as societal threats increase, agents who abided by cooperative norms and punished others for deviating thrived and had an advantage over agents that did not adhere to and enforce norms (78). Technically speaking, as threat increases, agents operate in a space of lower payoffs, which increases the selection pressure they face to engage in coordinated and cooperative interactions. Accordingly, groups require stronger norms and punishment of deviance to survive under high threat (78). Indeed, experimentally priming humans with collective threat leads to an increase in desired tightness—either from God or government (79, 80).”
We’re being ‘experimentally primed’ with a collective threat!
“These insights can be used to craft solutions to problems produced by the pandemic and to lay the groundwork for a scientific agenda to capture and understand what has become, in effect, a worldwide social experiment.”
“This paper is a call to action in science—both in the application of existing knowledge about viral and human nature and also as an opportunity to make discoveries that would not be possible except when a global social experiment is underway.”
I don’t know about other people, but I’m not too happy about being forced to take part in a global social experiment involving rapid cultural evolution. I want my country back and I want my liberty back.
The global social experiment in Wales takes the form of banning the sale of toasters, coffee machines and bread makers etc. in supermarkets. That’s a pretty strong ‘tightening’ to stop a cold bug don’t you think?
Jaime. I said your excerpts were confusing, not the paper.
And I think we’re largely agreeing. As I said: “The case in point here is that he (if indeed it is DSW) is assuming certain behaviours are ‘worse’ or ‘better’ re covid. But at best we haven’t got the retrospective vision to make such a judgement call yet, and indeed its already visible that some ‘tighter’ behaviours are clearly going to produce major (albeit as yet not retrospectively measured) damage. You can never second guess evolution! Give it opportunity for sure, but he or no one should use speculative theory to tell us what it would pick and hence what we should do. This is not possible, *even* in theory!”
IOW I don’t think the net direction here is valid, and represents incorrect extrapolations of underlying principles, plus would be wholly inappropriate to guide covid policy. I also think they’re nothing like ‘evil’, just very biased. Fortunately, I doubt the opinions of a miniscule gaggle of cultural evolutionists will be noticed at all. Not for instance like the opinions of climate scientists, or indeed on the covid front like the modellers. Maybe they’re a bit jealous and jumping in on the bandwagon. Probably best to save your ammo for that which is much more influential.
Jaime; “The global social experiment in Wales takes the form of banning the sale of toasters, coffee machines and bread makers etc. in supermarkets. That’s a pretty strong ‘tightening’ to stop a cold bug don’t you think?”
As JBH says, it’s insane. But they’re getting there largely under their own steam, due to the same biases.
Those ‘biases’ are remarkably consistent across the entire spectrum don’t you think Andy? They almost invariably involve micro-managing people’s lives even down to the insane measure of stopping them from buying anything deemed ‘non-essential’ by the state at supermarkets. State intervention at an extremely intrusive and absurd level, the imposition of state control for the sake of control only, not for any practical purpose and certainly no purpose involving benefit to those being imposed upon. That is pure Communism. That’s their envisaged ‘cultural evolution’. I’ve just cancelled my Caravan Club membership because they now insist that to park my self-contained motorhome on one of their sites for a few days I must either check in using the NHS test and trace app or else provide ‘further details’ on my arrival, even though they have my contact details already as a member. These people are intent on sucking all the joy of living from our lives such that we end up merely existing as pawns in a game being played by an all-powerful state. We’ve got ‘experts’ presuming to tell us how we should ‘safely’ endure Christmas; I say endure, not enjoy, because it would defeat their purpose if we were to enjoy the Festive Season – a religiously inspired abomination to the cultural Marxist ‘educated elite’.
Yes, a perfect “evolutionary” justification for Stalinism. Nothing to do with Marx though. The busybody killjoy gene seems to thrive in caravan clubs as easily as in countries undergoing massive social change.
The real scandal is that this “paper” is in fact just ten op-eds masquerading as science. This is misuse of authority as clearly as the actions of the Stasi or Jaime’s caravan club. Something’s happening to our society – but what? At least bolshevism had a goal, however misplaced. The common factor to caravan club, Stalinism, and evolutionary psychologists’ campfire singalong seems to be an urge to gather data in order to exercise control. But why now?
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Jaime: “Those ‘biases’ are remarkably consistent across the entire spectrum don’t you think Andy?”
Yes. Welcome to the madness of crowds 🙂 Societies frequently do things en-masse. The biases were there long before covid, of course.
Geoff: They are right about the agents. But they fail to notice that this is often one of the ‘mismatches’; i.e. this fear response is frequently inappropriate for the scenarios faced, which aren’t obvious and require objectivity and actually looking at the data. But human responses to disease have frequently occurred in this panicked manner.
The west has already been falling hostage to cultural attack on several fronts, catastrophic climate change culture not least, all eroding self belief, and undermining science along the way. The wave of covid is a trigger and an opportunity for all such cultures to benefit from the natural fear response.
Actually, I think I’ve got this totally wrong. ‘Communist’ China has been a distraction. What we are dealing with here is not Communism or Marxism, Maoism or Stalinism, it’s technocratic fascism.
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BTW, the Caravan Club got it wrong. They will NOT ask for further details on arrival and apparently they need your explicit consent to pass on your details to the NHS tracing system. Don’t even know their own rules.
Trying to make sense of the false positive issue for RT-PCR testing has proven a forlorn task for me. The more I have read, the less I have understood. It is certainly the case that the specificity of RT-PCR is such that a person chosen at random is still unlikely to have COVID-19 after having had a positive test (given current prevalence). However, it should also be recognised that any study that involves monitoring the test history of a group of individuals should be able to deal with this problem. Perhaps it is the retesting inherent in such a study that explains the confidence that the ONS and the New Zealand health ministry have in their conclusions. However, these organisations are not actually saying that they expect false positives with RT-PCR but have identified and removed them from their case statistics. What the ONS actually said is:
“We know the specificity of our test must be very close to 100%”.
What the NZ Health Ministry said is even more puzzling. First they say:
“When tests were done on samples without the virus, the tests correctly gave a negative result 96% of the time.”
Perhaps that should be ‘only 96%’. Anyway, having conceded a far from impressive specificity, they go on to say, just a couple of paragraphs down:
“We expect very few (if any) false positive test results…”
It’s this sort of thing that has me puzzled. Add to that the fact that New Zealand claims only to have encountered 2.2% asymptomatic cases, whereas the ONS study determined that 60-70% of patients were asymptomatic on the day of subsequently positive swabs.
It’s all madness to me, and I’m giving up. I’m obviously still missing something. Perhaps you could read these for me and tell me where I am going wrong:
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I have now become the adoptive parent of Alan’s Library of Climate. The books are listed below. If anyone would like any, I will happily send them in return for postage.
Climate Change 2001 WG1 Technical Summary
Global Warming: The Hard Science – Harvey
The Climate Fix – Pielke Jr
Changing Climate – Warr & Smith
Weather, Climate & Climate Change: Human Perspectives – O’Hare, Sweeney & Wilby
CO2 Rising – Volk
Meltdown – Michaels
It’s The Sun Not Your SUV – CO2 Won’t Destroy The Earth – Zyrkowski
The Chilling Stars – Svensmark & Calder
Cool It – Lomborg
Unstoppable Global Warming – Singer & Avery
An Inconvenient Truth – Gore
The Real Global Warming Disaster – Booker
Climate of Extremes – Michaels & Balling Jr
Beyond The Limits – Meadows, Meadows & Randers
Red Hot Lies – Horner
The Skeptical Environmentalist – Lomborg
An Appeal To Reason – A Cool Look At Global Warming – Lawson
Challenged By Carbon – The Oil Industry & Climate Change – Lovell
Climate Confusion – Spencer
The Satanic Gases – Michaels & Balling
Why We Disagree About Climate Change – Hulme
If anyone is interested, you can pm me on twitter @jit_thacker. (I never go there as a rule but will make a point of doing so for this.) If no twitter, we’ll figure sommat out.
Great list. Happy reading. If you feel like reviewing any of them here we’d be very pleased to have you.
I picked up Lomborg’s Sceptical Environmentalist at Oxfam recently and intend to read it one day. Lomborg was for a long time the acceptable sceptic, even having several articles published at the Guardian. I try to imagine the editorial conference that put an end to that practice:
[collective wailing moaning and gnashing of teeth from eleven assembled envionmental correspondents]
Commissioning Editor: I know, I know, but we at the Guardian have a two hundred year history of trying to see the other chap’s point of view.
George Monbiot: Well, thtop it. Or I will thcream and thrceam until I’m THICK!
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JAIME 24 Oct 2020 9.00am
Agreed. It was idiotic of me to get into a defence of China. It can only degenerate to a question of how many Uighurs is it reasonable to imprison? And then you have to start again with Afro Americans in the US; Irish Catholics in Northern Ireland and so on through history.
The Winteroak article you link to is impressive but long. It deserves a new thread to really get to grips with the Davos question, which covers climate, Covid and a host of other things. My ancient Mac has difficulty getting to the bottom of this thread so this will probably be my last comment but one here.
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Your puzzlement cant be left like that. Please write it up as an article and we’ll send it to Lockdown Sceptics. Can’t write more my keyboard has gone QWERTY on me again.
I’ll see what I can do.
Hey Geoff Chambers @ 8.11pm…Violet Elizabeth! 🙂
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So you’re a Bott!
Jest a fan of William and the Outlaws, G.C.