Charisma in a Time of Covid

This article from WattsUpWithThat: 

has been picked up by Lockdown Sceptics. Do read it if you haven’t already. 

It refers in passing to this article by our old friend Professor Raoult:

Y. Roussel, Y.; Raoult, D.; “Influence of conflicts of interest on public positions in the COVID-19 era, the case of Gilead Sciences, New Microbes and New Infections, 2020”.

The abstract begins:

Funding and gifts from the pharmaceutical industry have an influence on the decisions made by physicians and medical experts.

The authors identified 98 medical researchers who are members of the French Council of Teachers in Infectious and Tropical Diseases, obtained a list of their bungs and emoluments from pharmaceutical companies (in particular from Gilead) and performed a Google search to identify all interviews in the media mentioning hydroxychloroquine, which were then coded as very favourable, favourable etc.

These 98 researchers received between them an incredible 4.6 million euros in sweeteners from pharmaceutical companies, including € 678,000 from Gilead alone. Those who expressed very unfavourable comments about hydroxychloroquine in the media received an average of 24 thousand euros from Gilead, while those who were very favourable received on average a measly € 52. 

This is possibly the first peer reviewed paper in the history of science to estimate the proportion of a respected profession who are for sale, and willing to prostitute themselves, at the risk of other people’s lives, for dosh. It’s 16%, which is a relief I suppose. French transparency laws were designed to allow journalists to find out stuff like this and inform the public. But journalists can’t be bothered, apparently, so only scientists know about this – and you and me.

Scientists can be as corrupt as you like, or as saintly as you like. It matters not a jot as long as we have journalists who can’t be arsed to lift a finger and take the first step towards starting to do their job – which is to look things up.

French journalists have a reputation for servility, for which they overcompensate by trying to imitate what they assume to be the Anglo Saxon method of incisive forensic interrogation, but they just end up yapping like terriers. Such was the case this evening in an hour long interview with Professor Raoult by star journalist David Pujadas.

Raoult is a scholar and a gentleman, and affects a dignified attitude of attentive respect towards his questioner, except when he thinks he’s being taken for a fool, which in this case was about ten seconds into the interview.

Pujadas began by trying to challenge Raoult’s frequently stated position that as a scientist he doesn’t make predictions by quoting back to him things he’d said over the past few months. What emerged from this spat was the fact that the journalist with a literary background didn’t understand the meaning of the word “prediction,” and the scientist did. Raoult ribbed him at one point saying: “As a journalist, you’re interested in events day by day.” When Pujadas objected Raoult added: “but it’s in your job description.” (“journal” means “daily,” as in “journeyman.”) Pujadas didn’t seem to get it.

At several points, as Pujadas interrupted him, Raoult told him to shut up and stop prattling. Pujadas came up with a new French word, “dissensus” which I take to be the opposite of consensus. 

When Pujadas calmed down towards the end of the interview Raoult was able to make some interesting points. He insisted several times on the nervous tension in our society, clearly referring to Trump Derangement Syndrome. He claimed that France gave up on medical research during the seventies, and that everything interesting was being done in China. There was genuine emotion in his voice when he recounted how a Chinese colleague explained that they didn’t do double blind tests with placebos because they believe all patients should be treated. 

Raoult claimed that our ideology of technological progress blinds us to the fact that biological science doesn’t, and can’t, “advance” in the way we naively believe science to do, pointing out that no new vaccines had come on the market for twenty years. The million-year lifespan of a new molecule is ill-adapted to a system of twenty year patents. 

Raoult came over as the great scientific panjandrum who wasn’t going to take nonsense from a mere journalist like Pujadas, who is one of the most popular and well known personalities in France. It didn’t go down well with most viewers, judging by comments on Twitter.

Raoult is not a popular figure in France. He produces a weekly video that is watched by a half a million people, and lets himself be interviewed once a fortnight or so. Though the French media has adopted the same kind of self-censorship as the British with respect to alternative points of view, they can’t leave Raoult alone. His charisma and his position as head of the Marseille University Hospital, with its international reputation for research and its links with French speaking Africa, mean that he can’t be ignored. And his aristocratic manner, hippy-like appearance and big mouth mean that the media can’t resist taking him on.

Charisma is the operative word here. It’s a concept that was introduced into scientific discourse by the German sociologist Weber a century ago. Journalists feel his charisma and continually interrogate Raoult about his political ambitions. Journalists have spent so long licking politicians’ bottoms, to the mutual benefit of both parties, that they can’t get their heads round someone with charisma not needing to have his bottom licked. 

You can’t have a social movement without leaders with charisma. It’s not rational, but that’s how it is. When the tide turns and people look around for ways to escape from the current madness, they’re going to be looking for a leader. At that point events in France may diverge from those in the UK – we’ll see. If there was a social scientist somewhere in our society they’d be fascinated by this possibility. But there isn’t so they aren’t. 

Maybe in China.

There is one person in the English speaking world with charisma who has expressed scepticism about climate hysteria and other similar examples of the madness of crowds, and that’s Jordan Peterson. I’ll be coming back to him soon.


  1. -“that’s Jordan Peterson, with charisma who has expressed scepticism about climate hysteria ,,”
    But he has suffered the stress and is only just on the way back.

    Can I offer Neil Oliver in Scotland. He was on TV a lot in history type programs like Coast. He has a nice optimistic weekly column in the Sunday Times, appear weekly on a radio chatshow and has a few books published, latest: Wisdom of the ANcients


  2. Fellow Frenchman, Professor Francois Balloux, seems to think that Raoult has gone loco by claiming that SARS-CoV-2 is recombinant with other coronaviruses and even rhinoviruses. Unfortunately, I don’t understand spoken French, so don’t know exactly what he said. It’s all a bit odd though. I have no idea if Balloux’s comments are valid criticism or not but it does seems that genetic recombination of coronaviruses is not beyond the pale and does actually happen in what we like to describe as the real world.


  3. JAIME
    Balloux is a geneticist at UCL. No-one seems to respond to him on the Twitter thread, where people are either blaming Raoult or blaming the government. The context for Raoult’s remarks is that, after having found six different ways of telling the interviewer (probably France’s most loved TV journalist) that he’s stupid, he stops trying to have a proper discussion and explains what he’s read and what he’s discovered himself, sticking strictly to published findings, and stating he’s never seen anything like it, and nothing like it has anything been published. In a normal discussion between scientists, either behind the scenes or in a sensible media discussion, some light would be shed on the difference between him and Balloux. Scientists can be wrong, and be corrected in five minutes or five decades. Anyone who’s read the tiniest bit about how science works would understand what’s going on and form their views accordingly. Journalists read nothing except stuff written by other journalists. In this case (and many others) French journalists rely entirely on the half dozen of their colleagues whose English is good enough to give them access to the international press. And then they address us their audience as if we were as stupid as they are.

    There’s no doubt a huge overlap between the 10% of the population who follow the news closely and the 10% who are capable of following a scientific discussion. Yet the journalists continue to address us as if we were morons. Read any history book up to recent times and you see great events being shaped by diverse, intelligent minds – possibly ill-informed, biassed, or even mad – but intelligent and bent on achieving results. Look at the pathetic lot in power now and you see bewildered cowering zombies with one eye on the opinion polls and one on the idiot barking inane questions at him in prime time.

    (Apologies to the lady on Sky news I saw the other day telling a minister he was talking nonsense.)


  4. Professor Raoult has been summoned to appear before the disciplinary committee of the “Ordre des Médicins” (= General Medical Council) accused of lack of professionalism, failure to observe the rule of “confraternité” and charlatanism, among other things. The complaint has been made by SPILF, the “Society of Infectious Pathology of the French Language.”

    Professor Raoult’s “crime” is prescribing hydroxychloroquine, a harmless medicine used by billions of people for decades, in the attempt to prevent thousands of serious illnesses and possible deaths, against the wishes of the government, the World Health Organisation, the medical establishment, and the manufacturers. He has already been prevented from prescribing it by the manufacturers, who refuse to supply it, on order, they say, of the government. Whether he has the right even to recommend using it (citing the numerous scientific papers recommending it) will be decided by a civil magistrate probably towards the end of next year.

    The stifling of rational discussion seems to be spreading like a virus. When I started commenting on climate alarmism thirteen years ago I thought it was very much concentrated in that particular abstruse field. My impression is that it is now absolutely everywhere. Is it just me, a function of my age, or is there really something extraordinarily odd going on?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. We definitely should lock them in – and weld the windows and doors shut. Whilst a professional medic trying to save the lives of his patients by offering them a safe, cheap, widely available drug out of patent, which studies have shown is effective, is persecuted relentlessly by the authorities, the political and medical establishment, almost without exception, is united in pushing the world to get jabbed with a highly experimental, ridiculously rushed vaccine. There’s talk of mandating it, or heavily coercing its mass uptake. Obviously, simple therapeutic remedies for Covid-19 would interfere with such an enterprise. In the event that this vaccine is authorised and in the event that it will be coerced or made mandatory, this will constitute a direct violation of the Nuremberg Code. But hey, we are where we are, and the “capitalist miracle that is Big Pharma” is here to save us all from an ‘unprecedented deadly pandemic’ ripping across the globe killing less people under 70 than seasonal ‘flu.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Geoff: “Yes, but who’s marching through the institutions? And should we lock them in?”

    Ultimately, it is not ‘who’, but ‘what’. And you already hit upon the best solution. As per below you said: “The stifling of rational discussion seems to be spreading like a virus.”

    So we don’t need a key. Ironically, we need a vaccine. Albeit in this domain, it is called a vaccime.


  7. ANDY
    A Vaccime may work against a meme, but what we’re seeing is not one virus but a generalised madness with a “host” of unrelated symptoms. Just a few from today:

    Johnson’s floozy vetoes the promotion of Lee Cain because he’s not a woman. (Easy solution there. Let Lee Cain turn up to work in a dress. They couldn’t touch him. {they can’t anyway because of the virus.})

    Obama says people voted for Trump in 2016 because they “got spooked by a black man in the White House.” Or maybe they voted for him in 2008 because he was half black, and got spooked in 2016 when they realised that he was half white? Or maybe Trump won with the votes of dead veterans of Obama’s five wars? Now with Obama revealing himself as a racist, people are so confused maybe they won’t notice when Biden turns out to be a half black Asian woman in a trouser suit?

    Today’s Guardian:

    Leading scientists, academics and campaigners have called on governments and businesses to go beyond “net zero” in their efforts to tackle the escalating climate and ecological crisis. The former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and the leading climate scientist Michael Mann are among a group of prominent environmentalists calling for the “restoration of the climate” by removing “huge amounts of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere”… “The climate crisis is here now,” the letter states. “No matter how quickly we reach zero emissions, the terrible impacts of the climate crisis will not just go away …

    Is it all the same madness? It certainly seems to be affecting the same people.


  8. Geoff, on a slightly saner and more humorous note, the ‘climate moderates’ (aka Richard Betts) are getting all het up by a research paper recently published and much publicised in the MSM which suggests that planet earth has already ‘passed the point of no return’ and even if we stopped all emissions tomorrow, the ice sheets would continue to melt and the planet continue to warm for hundreds of years. Understandably, most ‘climate scientists’ and activists are not happy with this because it means they’re out of a job and we can now just forget about net zero, cancel COP26 and live out the rest of our days in fossil-fuelled comfort waiting for Thermageddon! Sounds good to me. We’re all going to hell anyway. Richard insists the simple ESCIMO model which they’re using is fatally flawed and that climate ‘scientists’ (e.g. Brian Hoskins, Michael Mann and Mark Maslin) have criticised it. ESCIMO’s been around a while. When I asked him if scientists had criticised it for being flawed before this study was published, I got no reply.


  9. Geoff, “Is it all the same madness? It certainly seems to be affecting the same people.”

    Technically it’s not madness, in that all afflicted are perfectly sane. Memes always work better in gangs. An isolated meme may work for a while as a fad, but a large co-evolving set is needed to lay down a lasting (and so indeed also evolving) system such as a main religion or indeed catastrophic climate change culture (CCCC). And such systems also draw upon alliances (of systems) from other domains. For instance in the US CCCC has long allied with Dem / Lib culture, hence also making an enemy of Rep / Con culture. Rather more successfully in the UK, CCCC has allied with (at least the elite of) all political parties. [But this does not mean all opposition is won over, innate skepticism, i.e. not rational skepticism, from folks who sense that CCCC is a secular religion, abounds in at least half the populace, depending on how measured]. Nor can one count on ‘the same people’ being afflicted. Someone feverish on climate change may be perfectly objective about, say, the trans issue, or vice versa. In that some commonalities are observed, what one is really seeing is a multiple-dimensional map of where the (constantly shifting) alliances (and oppositions) lie, and their relative strengths. As it is in the very nature of cultural narratives to be contradictory (this is actually a requirement), then one may not even rely upon the assumption that there can’t be an alliance between two cultural trends that declare apparently conflicting aims; seeing as the stated aims are irrelevant anyhow, only group cohesion is the real aim, then *apparently* conflicting aims can sometimes often work happily together, though indeed may also flip into fervid opposition.

    Nevertheless, first finding and then challenging cultures with their contradictions, is still a good way to go. For instance Critical Race Theory has a huge ‘Jewish problem’, in that the Jewish historical position as one of the most victimised groups, and having the modern experience of the Holocaust, is impossible to resolve in a binary system of ‘white privilege’ plus oppression of PoC. The Jewish historical experience is far too big even for a major memeplex to simply erase. So this means, especially in the US, that most Jews (who are white, and successful as a group), must simultaneously occupy both the top and bottom of the status hierarchy. The utter impossibility of this, typically causes a rejection of actual Jews along with the problem. Or IOW, a slip to older modes is caused, and so an alliance with cultures long having harboured anti-Semitism for other reasons. This is likely a major contributor to the anti-Semitic modes of young Momentum types. A host of similar contradictions exist, e.g. a defence of allies such as Moslems (so, brown, oppressed), to the blind degree of accepting their appalling treatment of women within some countries, and ending up blanking those women who don’t want to wear the veil or who object to much worse, even though women should be further up the victim ladder than men. [Plus, pro Moslem is often also anti-Zionism, which all too easily is anti-Semitic again]. And indeed cultures are blind, they evolve by emotive selection, not by any kind of planning. Somewhere in here we also have to acknowledge we’re part of the dance, in that the same features / vulnerabilities exist in us all, so what are we blind to? And, even if escaping the main cultural modes, which ones are we rejecting not through objectivity but innate skepticism, which is better than avid beliefs but in the end still instinctive, unreasoned, and hence hiding some blindness of its own. This will depend on our prior values, but is also a reason I tend to steer away from the more passionate expressions, which tend to amplify our biases.

    But as to being ‘extraordinarily odd’, this has always happened throughout history. The only odd thing really, is that the West has had an extraordinarily long time in which these effects have been minimised. A kind of rampant outbreak of objectivity lasting many decades, though indeed built on centuries of much slower / lesser progress in this direction, with two steps forward, one step back. I guess it’s a step back, and various waves are now resonating with each other. On the upside, this will stir instinctive backlash. But at the same time you’re right that it’s much harder to inoculate against several onslaughts at once, plus some of the backlash may not be great in itself. I think Trump may be an expression of same, but his particular downsides are very mild (for very many, a ‘medically acceptable’ cure, and even desirable, to continue our analogy) compared to what might be put forth. And it’s worth bearing in mind that most of the world, i.e. not the West, has scarcely been troubled by these issues at all. Mostly because they are still mired in earlier generations of cultural conflict, with for instance religions still featuring more bigly, and which they largely hoped to exit and get what the West has.

    I’ve no clue where it will lead. In early twentieth century Europe, especially Germany, cultural waves both coalesced and competed too. For years Fascists and Communists beat each other up on the streets through idealistic differences most of them probably couldn’t even express beyond hate of the other. And both anti-Semitism plus the wave of eugenical ideas sparked by science, allied to the former team (though indeed eugenical culture first explored, and succeeded, in local alliances with both left and right within different nations). None of this ended well, of course. But other waves, such as McCarthyism and reds-under-the-bed, passed without such terrible damage, and were eventually seen in context. How it plays in the US is the (worrying!) marker.


  10. Jaime, “When I asked him if scientists had criticised it for being flawed before this study was published, I got no reply.”

    Heh. Predictable, I guess. But their reaction amused me. What ye sow, so shall ye reap, yet in heaps! They have pulled the paper. The problem is that this beast has long since slipped their control, decades since, and pulling this paper may give them an illusion of control, but they’re fleas on a elephant now.


  11. You can’t call it ESCIMO any more. The model’s new monicker is I KNEW IT. (I’ll get my coat, etc.)

    Side note: I’ve been put in moderationland on an old thread for resurrecting it with a comment including a coupla links.


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