Debunking Lockdown Sceptics

The evolution of the Covid scare resembles the climate scare speeded up about forty times. From panic, to an appeal to the experts, to the worship of expertise, to the hounding of heretics, all in ten months.

Reading Toby Young’s excellent Lockdown Sceptics site, one sees the first puzzled reactions of decent people bewildered by the reaction to their scepticism: the ad hominem arguments; the straw men; the misrepresentation of their position as denialism, the psychological projection, etc., – in other words all the insults and false arguments that climate sceptics have been putting up with for decades.

Lockdown Sceptics does the job that BishopHill did formerly – pointing our interesting news items, spelling out their implications, and linking to the relevant sources. Like Andrew Montford, Toby Young is not an expert, but an open-minded libertarian who values expertise and provides us with the tools for forming our own judgement. 

Since last week there’s an anti-sceptic site aimed specifically at countering Lockdown Sceptics and the journalists and scientists it supports: Anti-Virus: the Covid-19 FAQ Like its climate equivalent SkepticalScience, it fires its first broadside at a straw man in its title. Just as SkepticalScience suggests that climate sceptics are not real sceptics, and that it alone represents true scepticism, so the title of the site seems to suggest that the sceptics whose views they are attacking are somehow not anti-virus. 

However, their programme as outlined in their opening article is eminently reasonable, and they promise to correct errors if they occur. For a start they agree to call us sceptics, and not anything nastier. And they go to the bother of explaining that:

This isn’t to say that they’re necessarily sceptical of the existence of the coronavirus – but they are often sceptical about its effects.

So far the site consists of a list of thirteen “Common Covid Sceptic Claims Debunked” with summaries of the arguments and counter-arguments, and the names of twelve Covid Sceptics, with quotes of supposed mistakes and wrong predictions.

“Debunked” is obviously a strong claim, since they admit in the very first article (on the claim that the Infection Fatality Ratio is very low) that the situation is developing, and that no final judgements are possible. For “debunked” read “challenged,” and the claim becomes justified. But a challenge is not an answer in the sense required by the FAQ in the title, but rather an invitation to debate. Andthere’s no sign that debate is part of their programme. 

The section on sceptics consists of quotes from sceptics (academics and journalists) which are either questionable or have turned out to be untrue. Of course, it would be possible to do exactly the same thing for scientists and journalists supporting the official position. Again, laying out the errors on both sides and adjudicating between them would be an interesting exercise. But that’s not what the site is about.

Five days after the launch of the site, the Guardian has an article about it,and this is where the fun begins. It’s by senior reporter Archie Bland. Of the twenty articles he’s written so far this year, three are critical of Toby Young, and one is critical of Lord Sumption, so we know what to expect. The title: “The information warriors fighting ‘robot zombie army’ of coronavirus sceptics” says it all. 

The first four paragraphs of the article are about the fact that lockdown sceptics use smiley emojis a lot. The rest of the article contains nothing in the way of a refutation of the views of lockdown sceptics, but much that will be familiar to readers here. 

When you tweet anything to dispute these claims, they come after you endlessly,” said Ritchie. “…They make the same discredited arguments over and over again. It’s like a robot zombie army.”

“Their story always shifts,” said Neil O’Brien, the MP who is one of the progenitors of the group…

“I think you can see that the government is indirectly influenced by [lockdown sceptics],” said Sam Bowman, director of competition policy at the International Center for Law and Economics and another of those behind the site… “These arguments begin on the fringes and get into newspapers and then get regurgitated by backbenchers, but the people behind them are not accountable.”

Zombie arguments repeated endlessly, or constantly changing arguments that aren’t anything like the arguments that have been made previously, with a huge and unjustifiable influence on policy – where have we heard this before? It can only be a matter of time (minutes, possibly) before Professor Lewandowsky regurgitates his Alice in Wonderland paper to prove that Covid sceptics are just a pack of cards endlessly contradicting themselves by constantly saying the same old things that are different from what other people have already said. What do sceptics think they’re up to? Trying to start a debate?

Bowman claims to have bested journalist Julia Hartley Brewer in a Twitter discussion, based on the fact that he got 126,000 Likes. (“It’s sort of sad that the most successful thing I’ll ever do in my life is owning a Telegraph columnist,” he said.) Now that’s what I call a knockdown argument.

There is no appeal to scientific evidence in the article. Instead it offers this curious criticism of sceptics:

…the claims of the sceptics, who are fond of opaque references to the infection fatality rate (IFR), serological surveys, and polymerase chain reaction tests, … critics say, persistently misrepresent scientific reality.

“Opaque references” to .. science. How dare they? 

Another of the site’s founders, Stuart Ritchie, lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London says of the purpose of the site:

“The ambition is not for Toby Young to tweet, ‘actually I was wrong.’ They’re in an ideological system where they’re not interested in a real debate. It’s for the person who hears someone say something bizarre, and thinks, I don’t know how to reply to that.”

As with Skeptical Science, the purpose of Anti-Virus is not to promote debate, because the other side is not interested in debate. Projection, or what? Ritchie is not a lecture at an institute of Psychiatry for nothing. The purpose seems rather to be to furnish pre-cooked arguments to the supporters of the official line.

The Guardian article ends with a torrent of non-sequiturs:

With claims of massive failings in the scientific consensus looking increasingly outlandish in the face of a grimly rising death count, there are signs that the sceptics are recalculating. Besides retweets, [Telegraph journalist] Pearson has remained largely quiet on social media since a row after she threatened to sue a critic at the beginning of January; Young admitted on Newsnight he had been wrong to write that “the virus has all but disappeared” in June, and was the subject of an IPSO ruling finding that a Telegraph column was “significantly misleading”. Heneghan and Gupta, whose names appeared in the Telegraph and Mail 137 times last year before Johnson announced a Christmas lockdown on 19 December, have been mentioned just four times since then.

According to the above paragraph, “a grimly rising death count” (the worst per capita in the world) makes the criticisms of sceptics “look increasingly outlandish.” And the fact that one sceptic has been quiet on social media; that another has apologised for being wrong; and that the Mail has published the names of a couple of scientists less often than before: all these are “signs that the sceptics are recalculating.” 

It’s a masterly piece of Guardian reasoning. “Comment is free, but facts are sacred,” as the Graun boasts on its site. But no matter how sacred the facts, a Guardian writer can always mangle them into a piece of sophistry that allows his comments to wander free of any relation to reality.

It’s always possible that the Guardian has grossly distorted the nature of Anti-Virus by selective quoting. Maybe they’re not really about silencing people who have an unjustifiably large influence. Maybe they’re willing to challenge sceptics directly on their “opaque references to the infection fatality rate (IFR), serological surveys, and polymerase chain reaction tests..” Maybe they’ll debate. Maybe they’re not at all like RealClimate and SkepticalScience. Let’s see.


  1. The doctor in charge of things in Manitoba was just on CBC Radio discussing the Manitoba situation. According to her, even if we get all the vaccinations called for which on the current schedule (which means July 2021) we will not be able to open up or travel again because of the new variants. Even after we are all vaccinated for the original COVID we will still need to continue distancing, wearing a mask, washing our hands and implementing shutdowns and so forth to prevent the spread of the new variants that are popping up. In other words, the government doctors have already decided this is our new normal forever.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Geoff,
    The speed with which virus fear mongering has replaced rational discussion in comparison with the climate hype is like watching the sunset, and the non-linear increase in darkness as night falls.


  3. I’ve been thinking how different the two areas are. “Speeded up about forty times” for me means totally different. I was thinking of doing a post called “Lockdown Deniers are Different” prompted by this rather hilarious exchange yesterday:

    I think both men make points that need thinking about. The ‘denier’ thing is stupid more than diabolical by now. But then I thought I didn’t want to argue, as explained in my previous comment in the early hours of 26th Jan.

    I think it may be helpful in the comparison with climate mania, which I date from 1988, to consider Lindzen, Drake, Montford and Ridley. Ridley was converted to scepticism or at least lukewarmerism by Montford’s book in early 2010. That’s a long way from 88. (And Steve McIntyre had done something really special on the hockey stick that has no parallel that I can discern right now.) And now Matt is the one speaking the most sense, for me, on Covid. I don’t think the analogy holds together very well but I don’t want argue. Catch 21 one could call it. Maybe next year.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It was interesting to watch an Israeli doctor on Sky News discuss such as the ability of the vaccines to cope with new variants. I think it was the confidence of experience and familiarity with data that gave the impression of integrity eg just the right level and tone of detail to set the interviewer straight. It was clear six hours later that a BBC producer had watched and decided that there was a story and thus this morning we had a mountain of graphics to say much the same except with over-emphasis that inconsistent picture sources sometime give.


  5. Thanks for this Geoff. Exactly the same dynamics are at work in the Covid lockdown debate as have been at work in the climate debate for 40 years, especially the last few years, as the demonisation of climate change sceptics has been ratcheted up. There are those who disagree with this, notably Richard and Andy.

    I was disappointed with Toby Young for his glowing advocacy of Snowdon’s article, which clearly sought to dismiss lockdown sceptics as cranks and by extension lockdown scepticism in general as the province of cranks. To his credit though he has redeemed himself by citing an excellent article at Lockdown Sceptics which rebuts the claims of Snowdon.

    There is no genuine ‘middle ground’ in the climate change debate. It is largely polarised. Those who question the validity of the core claims of climate scientists that the world is headed for certain catastrophe if GHG emissions are not drastically reduced and who also question the necessity and the efficacy of climate change mitigation measures form the vast majority of ‘sceptics’. Of course, there are some like Pielke Jr. and Lomborg who attempt to occupy some sort of centrist position but they are viewed by the alarmists simply as ‘pseudo-sceptics’ too, and similarly demonised for their allegedly ‘unscientific’ beliefs. Sceptics, being generally more tolerant and balanced people, welcome the contribution of Pielke Jr. to the debate, even though he insists that climate change is a real ‘problem’.

    The debate on Covid lockdowns is even more sharply polarised and those who have attempted to occupy a centrist position have recently had their fingers very badly burned – I talk of Haimes and Snowdon, and to a lesser extent Balloux and even Young himself. You either believe that lockdowns are an evidence-based and proportionate response to a disease which does not affect the vast majority of people seriously – or you do not. There is no middle ground. Hence you are either pro-lockdown or anti-lockdown. You can’t sit on the fence. You have to take sides. Attempting to be centrist is a morally and scientifically untenable position:

    On one side are those who believe that lockdowns save lives and that the moral imperative is to curtail liberty in the most draconian way in order to achieve that objective. On the other is the belief that lockdown itself is a grotesque invasion of individual liberty which does far greater harm than good and does not meet any public health test of efficacy.

    Snowdon, despite his sceptical foundations, is it seems clearly in the former camp. He states explicitly that lockdown “will prevent tens of thousands of people dying this winter”. Leaving aside the veracity of this claim, Snowdon in that one sentence accepts the central argument of the lockdown advocates.

    Unlike some of our adversaries, we on the anti-lockdown side (and I use that phrase deliberately rather than ‘lockdown sceptic’) must be ruthlessly honest about our intentions. We do not believe that an alternative strategy to lockdown would have cost more lives but intellectual and moral honesty should force us to admit that even if that sad eventuality transpired, it would have been preferable to the current malaise. As we survey a devastated economy, a dislocated society, an unfair allocation of cost to the most disadvantaged and economically fragile, the erosion of human rights and the brutal imposition of state controls with scant democratic accountability – we ask ourselves: “Is this what our country has become? Is this who we are?”

    This is as true in the climate change debate, as it moves from scepticism of the scientific basis (advocates wrongly believe they have won that argument and have now moved on) to questioning of the moral and technical validity of the attempts to ‘control’ climate change, as it is in the Covid lockdown debate.

    I also believe strongly now that Covid lockdowns are being used by governments to advance the ’cause’ of net zero, so there is a growing overlap between climate mitigation and Covid mitigation. All the more reason to become anti-lockdown.

    I’m sorry if this annoys or provokes some people here, but it’s an issue that we must face up to. It will not go away as the harms caused by lockdowns become ever more horrifyingly self-evident in the following months and years (yes, years). Do we accept that lockdowns are a catastrophically failed experiment that are not going to be ended by the magic bullet of vaccines or not?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh those globalists,
    with their dog-gone
    Covid lock-down.Hey-
    ‘They’re havin, a lock-down,
    comin’ from the top-down,
    controllin’ the populace,
    a genuine knock-down,
    Instead of a hoe-down,
    out in the sun-shine,
    happens it’s a throw-down,
    in their

    Liked by 3 people

  7. The problem with lockdowns (like here is Canada and where I live in Quebec) is relying on contagion control as be-all and end-all. It’s like trying to sit on a chair with one leg missing. In the same way, vaccine by itself with not be the silver bullet either.

    There will be no opening of society and economy without provision of home care treatment protocols so people can take charge of their own health care. The other path is to make the entire citizenry wards of the state.


  8. Having taken a quick look at the FAQ website, I am prepared to acknowledge that it provides some valuable information and exposes weaknesses in some of the arguments that have been made. To that extent, it serves a useful purpose. I just wish it would do so without the theatricals and the posturing. No one needs this to be portrayed as a battle between the good and the evil, or between the safe and the dangerous. And there’s too much emphasis on the idea that sceptical views that have proven wrong therefore give scepticism a bad name. It is the sceptic’s job to be wrong. We run that risk simply by asking the question, “Are you sure about that?” More often than not, the challenge leads to nothing, but that does not mean that the challenge had no merit.

    To illustrate that last point, I refer to an argument made on the FAQ website regarding the specificity of testing. At one point they cite a Chinese paper that reported ‘nearly 1,000,000 tests, but found only 300 cases’. This, claims the site, would suggest that the specificity for the test must be a lot higher than the casedemic theorists need to support their own theories. That’s fair enough; I don’t personally subscribe to the casedemic theory either. However, one thing that I have learnt when trying to get to the bottom of specificity claims is that people can be awfully obscure when it comes to the use of the word ‘case’. So it occurs to me that the Chinese may be saying that, after confirmatory checks aimed at removing false positives, only 300 remained. In which case, the statistic would have nothing at all to tell you about specificity.

    That’s me being sceptical. Am I such a bad person to have raised such a reasonable possibility? Were the authors of the website so much better than me to have not done so? And if my concerns turn out to be unfounded, would that make me an idiot? After all, I’m only looking for a level of clarity that the authors of the website, mistakenly, didn’t appear to think necessary.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. I’ve just taken a very quick look at the Chinese paper cited by the FAQ, and it looks as though I may have been right. As part of the description of methods, it states:

    “If a mixed testing was positive for COVID-19, all individual samples were separately retested within 24 h.”

    I may have misunderstood their approach, but it looks to me like one that would eradicate most of the false positives.


  10. Jaime: ‘Exactly the same dynamics are at work in the Covid lockdown debate as have been at work in the climate debate for 40 years, especially the last few years, as the demonisation of climate change sceptics has been ratcheted up. There are those who disagree with this, notably Richard and Andy.’

    Yes I disagree they are *exactly* the same, while also saying often there are many similarities, and indeed that most of the latter come because both domains have heavy emotive drivers. But cultural fear and raw fear (herd panic) are not the same (cultural fear is not real and our brains subconsciously ‘know’ this, so compensate), and hence there are differences too. Not to mention other differences, like the fact that there are real covid deaths (however measured / exaggerated) but no deaths attributable to certain global climate catastrophe. And indeed there are entanglements between the domains; any existential strong culture worth its salt is not going to let the opportunity of covid pass by without a serious attempt to leverage it. Hence ‘Build back greener’, or ‘Build back better’ where ‘better’ just translates to greener, as this is less confrontational. But if we are to understand societies, and indeed the phenomena that sweep through them, however triggered, simply bucketing everything together that has similarities, will never help tell us how things really work and what is really going on. Indeed the speed is so different exactly because herd panic moves much faster than (typical) cultural waves, there are different people on different sides too, and also I suspect catastrophic climate culture will still be with us when covid issues have faded back into the noise. Notwithstanding which, many of the dynamics surrounding the conflicted science of covid, are not only very familiar from the climate version of same, but many other emotively conflicted areas too, especially in the US (for instance abortion and gun control). But not to bear the different drivers in mind too, will likely lead to error at some point.

    It is a characteristic of strong cultures that their principle narratives are wrong, actually need to be wrong to perform their ‘job’. Hence we can know from the dominant and measurable presence of culture that ‘certain global catastrophic climate-change’ is wrong, even if this doesn’t tell us what is right instead. But aside from knowing stuff like ‘build back greener’ (in its name) must therefore also be wrong, there is not an equivalent guide in the covid domain. While herd panic is irrational, it evolved for net protection, as evidenced by the fact that some animals practical social distancing / changed behaviour during their pandemics. The range of what technological / civilizational humans can do regarding changed behaviour, has a hugely wider choice, and likely will drive a big raft of things both good and bad. But for which there is *not* a solid (cultural) guide to which ones *must* necessarily be wrong without any reference to the (conflicted) science.


  11. I’d recommend the site . It was set up ages ago by people who had been banned by The Guardian from commenting “below the line”. As you all know, The Guardian has been leading the charge of the Climate Alarmists, and it’s no surprise that it’s also been one of the major fear and panic and gloom merchants in the “Covid-19” “pandemic” alarm.

    Off-Guardian has been consistently sceptical about the response to the supposed “pandemic”. It does not necessarily dispute the existence of the supposed “virus” (although many of its commenters do), but it’s certainly been very critical of the lockdowns, the PCR test, and much else.

    I’d also recommend a look at the website which was set up a long time ago by the late David Crowe. Sadly, David died during 2020 (not of “Covid”!). He is a great loss to the sceptic community. Conveniently for the Covidians, Kary Mulllis, the real inventor of the original PCR test passed away in 2019. He said on more than one occasion that it should not be used for diagnosing infections. That was not its purpose.

    Of course, if we were to suggest that the convenient deaths of Mullis and Crowe were suspicious in the circumstances, we’d be branded as Conspiracy Theorists. Frankly, I’m a Conspiracy Realist, just as I’m a “Covid Realist”, and just as I’m a “Climate Realist”.

    (p.s. re: – Since David’s death, there is a first page announcing his death, and you can click on a link to read his obituary. You can also click on a link to go to the original home page. You should find there lists of interesting articles, and whole lot of podcast recordings of David speaking to many important and interesting people ).


  12. The different time scales operating are well illustrated in George Monbiot’s latest article
    in which he calls for government censorship of “outright falsehoods” about coronavirus such as “it’s not the virus that makes people ill but 5G”, or “vaccines are used to inject us with microchips” etc.

    There’s a few paragraphs of babble justifying his new proto-fascist position:

    We have a right to speak freely. We also have a right to life… We treat free speech as sacred, but life as negotiable. When governments fail to ban outright lies that endanger people’s lives, I believe they make the wrong choice… Those who demand absolute freedom of speech often talk about “the marketplace of ideas”. But in a marketplace, you are forbidden to make false claims about your product. You cannot pass one thing off as another.

    [Has George ever been in a market place, one wonders? …

    “Excuse me sir, you’re not allowed to say that, you know. Your tomatoes are far from luvverly – in fact they’re covered in a rime of toxic Monsanto filth and if you repeat your ill-founded claims I will have you expelled from the marketplace.”]

    As a true libertarian, George thinks his censorship law should only run for six months, so that it wouldn’t be misused by “a government with authoritarian tendencies like ours” and should be supervised by an expert Committee like SAGE.

    Having got that off his chest, George suddenly says:

    While this measure would apply only to the most extreme cases, we should be far more alert to the dangers of misinformation in general. Even though it states that the pundits it names are not deliberately spreading false information, the new Anti-Virus site might help to tip the balance against people such as Allison Pearson, Peter Hitchens and Sunetra Gupta, who have made such public headway with their misleading claims about the pandemic.

    And then:

    Interestingly, all but one of the journalists mentioned on the Anti-Virus site also have a long track record of downplaying and, in some cases, denying, climate breakdown. Peter Hitchens, for example, has dismissed not only human-made global heating, but the greenhouse effect itself. Today, climate denial has mostly dissipated in this country, perhaps because the BBC has at last stopped treating climate change as a matter of controversy, and Channel 4 no longer makes films claiming that climate science is a scam. The broadcasters kept this disinformation alive, just as the BBC, still providing a platform for misleading claims this month, sustains falsehoods about the pandemic.

    The reference to Channel 4, which no longer interviews the likes of Richard Lindzen, thank goodness, links to a 12 year old article by Monbiot. The celebration of the BBC’s final kowtowing to the Guardian’s view on free speech links to a two year old article by George’s colleague Damian Carrington. It took years of campaigning to get climate deniers banned from the media. Now George is calling for a quick and dirty law to do the same for Covid deniers – just for six months you understand, in case some horrid authoritarian person misuses it.

    More authoritarian than George Monbiot, his employers and his readers? Who might that be? Is there a word for them? A word beginning with “F”?

    Got it. Facebook-users. There’s nothing in the article about the most far reaching censorship ever seen in peace time. George wouldn’t want to lose his twitter account, would he?

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Geoff, I’d just read Monbiot’s article in the Grauniad and hastened to cliscep to draw it to you attention, but you beat me to it. Oh well, full marks to you!


  14. It’s a good job nobody reads the Grauniad except the hard left and occasional sceptical thinkers like Geoff who are curious to see what depths they are currently plumbing. The outright moon-battiness of fanatics like Monbiot is its own effective censor of what might otherwise be a dangerously influential rag. On the other hand, the hard left consists of most of the other mainstream media and influencers in government, local government, NGOs and academia across the country, so this is worrying.


  15. JAIME
    But a lot of people read the Graun, more than the New York Times, according to the Graun, and they should know. Including the editors of the other media, who copy it, as you indicate. But there’s nothing hard left about it. The Guardian has always hated anything hard, like radical opposition to illegal wars, torture etc. Thanks to their investigative reporters Leigh and Harding they are now the unofficial mouthpiece of the British secret service and the British Army’s 77th Brigade. Monbiot knows this, and it’s tying his conscience in knots, poor thing. He just has to lash out at something, so why not the deluded anonymous folk who believe they’re being attacked by 5G rays? And to fill in the rest of the article, let’s include Hitchens, Allison Pearson and Professor Gupta. Not that he’s saying out loud that journalists and Oxford professors he disagrees with should be banned from the media by law – not quite.

    After plugging the Anti-Virus site he goes on to attack one of its founders who works for the Adam Smith Institute, which once said that global warming wasn’t happening (it wasn’t at the time) and that malnutrition is diminishing, (it is, over the long term.) With appropriate links to decade old articles proving that it takes money from the Koch brothers, who once dated Ayn Rand’s mother, or something.

    The Graun was once a limp little soft left organ, a quirky haven of middle class feelgoodery with a bee in its bobble hat about climate. It is now a barking mad far right crusher of dissent. What did Orwell nearly say about fascism being a vegan sandal smashing your face for ever?

    Liked by 1 person

  16. With all of this high minded and much needed censorship to save democracy, perhaps it is time to select the theme song for our new age.
    I have a suggestion for the anthem of our age:

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Here is an early speech by Beijing Biden that turned out to be prophetic


  18. Geoff,
    Finding out that George Monbiot is at heart a fascist is surprising exactly no one.
    The most infamous fascist in the world was a vegetarian very concerned about the state of nature and the environment, after all. Monbiot has big shoes to fill.


  19. Just for the record, is anyone out there still not convinced that the ‘Covid crisis’ scam was the accelerator for the ‘climate crisis’ scam? The fake Bidet administration is literally haemorrhaging climate change directives at the moment, having got Trump out of the way. It’s a blur. I can hardly keep up.We all thought he was going to keep the Covid scam going. Not a chance. He got ‘elected’ on that. Now it’s full steam ahead with saving the planet and the human race from Thermageddon.


  20. Geoff, there’s one good thing that came out of China; it’s called the diagram of the supreme ultimate, Zhou Duni’s Taijitu. It teaches us that the hard left is really just the extreme far right. Shame China also gave us lockdowns, but there you are.


  21. JAIME

    ..the hard left is really just the extreme far right.

    I have the same problem with that as with HUNTERSON7’s suggestion that Monbiot is at heart a fascist. If it were that simple, there’d be nothing to discuss.

    Perhaps I shouldn’t have raised the Monbiot hare, but should have followed up RICHARD’s comment (26 Jan 21 at 2.21am) about the difference of time scale of reactions. The scepticism we identify with took a long time to take off from 1988. But the internet hardly existed then, and the relation between official science and the doubters was quite different. There was no scientific malfeasance to point to, but simply a “keep calm and carry on” attitude from reasonable scientists. Only after McIntyre’s clash with the Team and Climategate did it get nasty, with a concerted effort by Bob Ward, Monbiot and others to silence dissent, very largely based on the Oreskes Big Oil slurs. And there was just one variable that mattered, namely temperature.

    The relevant data on Covid will take a while to identify and collect. What is it, anyway? Do you include suicides? OK, but how about the mentally fragile people who are feeling much better now that the real world corresponds to their disturbed inner states? We haven’t even considered the possibility that climate worriers who feel they’re living a catastrophe might find that Covid satisfies their inner need, and maybe the climate crisis will melt like the snow our children won’t know what is.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Geoff:

    “…and maybe the climate crisis will melt like the snow our children won’t know what is.”

    Well I’m not generally a pessimistic sort of person. But I have to say that on any timescale of years rather than decades or more, it seems to me that there’s hyper optimism crammed into that ‘maybe’ 0:


    It’s already a bit of a Potemkin village, isn’t it? As I just pointed out under John’s article above, the Oxford/UN survey trumpeted as demonstrating high public concern about the Climate Emergency in fact shows that 59% of their ludicrous sample either doesn’t believe there’s a problem or thinks we shouldn’t do much about it.

    Of course, the political superstructure won’t disappear overnight. But how long can it survive a health crisis which concentrates people’s minds on real dangers, followed by an economic crisis with unpredictable outcomes? Can you imagine the public’s reaction to the next attempt by Extinction Rebellion to block Oxford Street or a Heathrow runway?


  24. Geoff: “…in fact shows that 59% of their ludicrous sample either doesn’t believe there’s a problem or thinks we shouldn’t do much about it”

    And indeed that’s already from a sample which must be heavily biased by choosing the advert to ‘send a message to world leaders’ in the first place. But as we’ve discussed before, it’s *always* been the case that what one might call ‘core believers’, the ones who really would back heavy measures in reality, are a very small minority indeed. But cultures work on a kind of cascade of leverage, and can get away with this, or at least for surprisingly long timescales, or maybe until disaster strikes from cultural action.

    “Can you imagine the public’s reaction to the next attempt by Extinction Rebellion to block Oxford Street or a Heathrow runway?”

    Entertaining, at minimum, most likely. The problem being the culture doesn’t really need XR anymore. It barely needed them before, albeit blind process will still generate such groups. The culture is already on the inside, has been for years.

    I think it can and will survive covid just fine and dandy, may even make net gains by ‘build back greener’ and other leverage tactics. An economic crisis would likely cause delay rather than defeat, unless it’s a real zinger and long-term too (no economic slumps have challenged it so far).

    I think when some of the NetZero commitments get closer will be the real test. People losing their petrol cars or gas central heating or whatever; actual realisation it’s happening and what this means for them, given the terrible ‘replacement’ options.


  25. @ Andy

    I think when some of the NetZero commitments get closer will be the real test. People losing their petrol cars or gas central heating or whatever; actual realisation it’s happening and what this means for them, given the terrible ‘replacement’ options.

    2025: All new build homes zero carbon
    2025: All new tenancies grade C insulation (proposed)
    2028: All sold homes grade C
    2030: EV cars only
    2033: No new gas boilers
    2033: No mortgages on homes below grade C

    If this comes to pass, our house will soon be worth a lot less. It’s old, solid brick. Any measures to improve insulation will cost a lot and make it look like the last chicken in the shop (although of course our neighbours will suffer a similar fate). There are numerous downsides to bolt-on insulation. We don’t have a driveway so if we wanted a new car from 9 years in the future we would rely on public chargers that would cost a lot and wreck the battery – or we’d have to move.

    At the Mail article discussing the housing time bomb, someone from a surveyor firm said: “…cost will be the problem because, in the main people care more about money than climate change so it will need to be enforced.”

    @ Geoff I think XR will continue, & if they get everything they want, they will just move the goalposts. Now would be a good time for them to block a runway, since no-one is going on holiday. They could block Oxford St too since it’s like a scene from a zombie apocalypse.

    At the moment our lords and masters are having it easy, with the nincompoops of XR leading the charge for them and countless parasites riding their coat-tails. MPs are showing a united front. But they tried that for a long time over the EU. Sooner or later (he said with desperate optimism) a crack will show and a counter movement will pour through it.

    Liked by 2 people

  26. Alas no. My understanding of the procedure is of reams of data entered into software which spews out a score. It does not have a real world translation as you might hope. The software then suggests improvements. Most of these are insulation, beginning with the stuff everyone already has (loft), moving onto under floor, flat roof, screwed onto the outside…

    Then when such things have been gone through they move onto solar panels, heat pumps and even (for remote dwellings) personal wind turbines.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. FYI, and a bit off topic:
    An American was just arrested by the FBI as a domestic terrorist for posting memes making fun of the election. No calls to violence in the streets. No calls for revolution. Just a meme making fun of the election.
    Apparently I and others who called the last four year’s agony a “coup” may have been optimistic.


  28. @ Hunterson I don’t know the facts of the case, but surely if true this is good news? (Not for the victim of law enforcement though.) It’s a case of “give them enough rope and they’ll hang themselves.” Or at least, they’ll do stupid things like criminalising satire that ensure a sizeable rebound in the other direction.

    Having been given free rein, the Democrats will be able to do what they want for a time. Then it will be up to the good folks of the US to decide if that is what they want, too.


  29. I owned a Victorian house. It was rated E. To get it rated to C would have cost thousands of pounds and involved some idiotic work to be carried out with no thought for the original design of the building.The work required to bring it up to C-rating would have meant destroying much of the character of the building and putting the very fabric of the building at risk. Victorian houses were not DESIGNED to be energy efficient but they were built to last, as is self-evident. Insulating interior and exterior solid walls, installing draft proofing and completely filling sub-floor spaces with foam insulation will cause damp and rot to accumulate. Victorian houses are designed to breathe. If you block chimneys off, block off the sub floor vents and fill all the space with insulation the floorboards and joists will rot! The energy efficiency fanatics are not just stupid ideologues, they are putting our national heritage at risk by seriously damaging historic buildings.

    Liked by 3 people

  30. Give the modern democrat party enough rope, and they will run out of lamp posts with which to hang dissenters.
    That Monbiot, and much of what passes for intelligentsia have become reactionary fascists actually should lead to something.


  31. Where oh where are we going to get sufficient informed builders and renovators to convert every single old building with character in the U.K. to a C-rating? And at the same time build all those new buildings we are said to need. Then how do we police the schemes, that alterations are appropriate, necessary and completed to a required standard?
    Hell we still have people living in potential death traps, requiring wardens to stay awake in case inappropriate cladding combusts inappropriately.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. Alan, where are we even to get sufficient homes, if the climate-concerned won’t allow any new ones to be built because of “climate breakdown”?

    “Campaigners against a plan to build 13,500 homes in South Oxfordshire have launched legal action to take the proposals to the High Court.

    A coalition of Liberal Democrat and Green councillors at South Oxfordshire District Council approved the area’s Local Plan in December.

    Raising concerns over the impact on the environment, the group Bioabundance has now begun legal action.

    The authority said it had received the challenge but refused to comment.

    Bioabundance director and South Oxfordshire councillor Sue Roberts, who represents the South Oxfordshire Residents Team party, said the plan “grossly over provides for housing”.

    She added the legal case was the “last chance to put our environment before housebuilder profit”.

    “Un-needed housing is no rationale for worsening climate breakdown and the collapse of the natural world,” she said….”.


  33. Andy and JIT are no doubt right that the resistance will begin when the bills come in, but Jaime gets nearer the heart of the problem, I think, because she gets into the detail and points out it’s not just about economics. We tend to accept too easily the premisses of the consensus and then argue about cost or feasibility. The principle objection is that a house is not a box for keeping the heat in, just as the NHS is not a monument to be preserved, and life is not a possession to be kept in pristine condition for ever, like some collectible to be paraded on the Antiques Roadshow. Even if we covered our brick mansions in polystyrene the Greens would insist that we put timers on the windows and doors to make sure we weren’t leaking precious renewable energy.

    Liked by 2 people

  34. Man in a barrel. They may not build houses that people do not need, but not uncommonly they build houses that people cannot afford at the time of completion. Near to us a gated community was built for the older community (no kids) and more than half of the houses didn’t sell for more than a year. The builders had to offer all sorts of inducements (including lowering the prices) to get them sold. Naturally, after several years some of these houses are being resold at even higher prices.


  35. Alan, in the pre C19 era, I was chatting one night in a London hotel bar round Xmas to the boss of a Mancunian building company. His company were building blocks of flats in the Docklands. His experience was that such blocks were, to an extent, self heating. Enough occupants and their individual heating arrangements keep the block warm. The spec for these flats was about self isolation. So it was not expected that every flat would be occupied all the time. They were built for overseas owners. Loads of insulation to stop the cold from circulating. The flats had already been sold before his company set foot on site


  36. Fwiw Alan, I was really answering my own question. These flats were being built for people who were unlikely ever to live in them, as a means of getting wealth out of China. So yes people do build housing that is not going to be used


  37. I looked at the web site and its not as bad as it could be, but it does do the usual cherry picking of a few things out of a large body of work and public utterances. It’s not as obviously dishonest as Skeptical Science but its by no means balanced either.

    Liked by 1 person

  38. Neil O’Brien, one of the people responsible for setting up the site and a prominent (arrogant and abusive) pro-lockdown Conservative MP was invited publicly by Carl Heneghan – one of the academics whose reputation Covid-19 FAQ attempts to trash – to debate various issues live on Julia Hartley Brewer’s Talk Radio Program. He declined. What a surprise.

    Liked by 2 people

  39. DPY6629
    If you’re talking about Lockdown Sceptics, I don’t see why it should be “balanced.” They are presenting the sceptical point of view, because the media, which should be balanced, is not. They acknowledge opposing points of view, and even publish what they consider the best arguments from the “other side.” This is the intellectual honesty you expect from a newspaper, a political party, a lawyer presenting a case, a political party, or a scientific paper – something which you used to get, by and large.

    It’s interesting to consider what it is that encourages the above to be honest. The case of the lawyer is the “ideal” one, in the Weberian sense. He knows that anything false or misleading he says will be picked up by the opposing side, and used to persuade the jury, which is neutral. He is therefore motivated to be truthful, while still presenting the best case. A politician, on the other hand (say, Trump) may not care about persuading the impartial observer, and prefer to fire up his supporters. This is more and more the case for the modern media, who want sales or hits from their supporters, and don’t care about the opinions of non-readers.

    The point of rational defence of a position is to persuade the maximum number of reasonable people, while accepting that there is always a fringe of people who can’t be reached by reason, whether on the far right or far left, or possessed by some eccentric ideology or other. What’s odd about the present situation is that opinion leaders in politics and the media are more and more dismissive of views which are obviously eminently rational and not at all extreme. Doubting that we’re facing a climate catastrophe, or that Trump instigated an attempted coup, or that Putin put poison in an opponent’s underpants, or that lockdowns work, gets you labelled a dangerous extremist. One should be free to express one’s doubts, I think, without being obliged always to make the opponent’s case.

    Liked by 1 person

  40. Geoff,
    In the US it is clear that those who worked so hard to put the current President in office are the ones who did not give a fig for the truth.


  41. @ Mark on the other thread: I’m replying here to try to preserve the order of the Universe…

    I read the Mail article. Of course the examples are compelling but I did wonder whether a few anecdotes make a hill of beans.

    Then I went back to the ONS website. The data here is compendious but it is often very difficult to find the actual data you are looking for. (I wanted excess winter mortality.) However this morning I found:

    In January 2021, there were 68,796 deaths registered in England, 15,685 deaths (29.5%) more than the five-year average (2015 to 2019) for January; in Wales, there were 4,431 deaths registered, 904 deaths (25.6%) more than the five-year average for January.

    The coronavirus (COVID-19) was the leading cause of death in January 2021 for the third consecutive month in both England (accounting for 37.4% of all deaths registered in January) and in Wales (35.2% of all deaths).


    1) The excess deaths in January were 15,685 for England.
    2) The leading cause of death was WuFlu with 37.4 %.
    3) 37.4% of 68,796 is 25,730.
    4) So of the 15,685 extra deaths, 25,730 were due to WuFlu.
    5) So 10,045 people died of WuFlu who “should” have died of some other cause. (i.e. roughly 40% of the deaths attributed to WuFlu would have died anyway of something else. I think.)

    Liked by 2 people

  42. JIT: “…roughly 40% of the deaths attributed to WuFlu would have died anyway of something else. I think.”

    Given there’s apparently no normal flu this year, then presumably they’d have died of this. Or at least that’s what the big winter killer in the years making up your average would be. BUT… even regarding a ‘similar’ respiratory disease, it doesn’t necessarily mean *the same* people would have died 0:


  43. I also wish to add my penny worth. Many people who are listed as Covid deaths did not die from the virus itself, but from other causes (like pneumonia) induced by the virus as the body’s defences are weakened, or by the side effects of the body’s attempts to combat the disease. Presumably in both cases the deaths would legitimately be listed as caused by Covid-19, for without the infection a person’s defences would not have failed nor would they have been over-stimulated.

    In the same manner people with co-morbidities, like say hypertension, die of heart attacks following infection with the virus. Many are now arguing that such cases not be listed as Covid 19 cases, because those people would most likely have died anyway without the intervention of the virus. But in such cases it can be argued that the viral infection hastened the onset of the heart attacks by putting stress on their bodies. For me, not to include such cases as Covid-19 related would be wrong. It is tantamount to arguing that someone shot through the heart shouldn’t be considered as a murder victim because the victim had hypertension and would have died from heart failure anyway.

    In the same manner arguments suggesting that many who are listed as having died from Covid-19 would have died in a ‘normal’ year from seasonal flu and thus the Covid-19 death count is overinflated are odd. They hide a blessing, that either Covid-19 or measures introduced to combat its spread have prevented a further tragedy of seasonal flu deaths on top of those induced by Covid 19. Count our blessings, don’t use them to diminish the tragedy that is Covid-19.

    Liked by 1 person

  44. JIT, thanks for bringing the discussion here, where I should have said my piece earlier (mea culpa), and thanks also to Alan for continuing it here.

    Undoubtedly it’s complicated, but I remain concerned that despite the masses of information we now have about coronavirus (which is a great tribute to all concerned, given that we’ve known about it for little more than a year) we still seem to have huge gaps in our knowledge, and to be making policy in a bit of an information vaccum.

    Alan makes some good points when he says that coronavirus might be the trigger for other death-causing conditions, so that to fail to label those deaths as covid-related would be wrong, even if the actual immediate cause of death was something else – in those cases covid would certainly have been a major factor, and possibly the death wouldn’t have occurred (or at least wouldn’t have occurred when it did) without covid having intervened.

    On the other hand, though, I worry that thousands of deaths are wrongly being attributed on death certificates to covid. The Daily Mail might have made a big story about a relatively few cases, but given the disparity between covid deaths (per the death certificate numbers) and covid deaths (based on people dying within 28 days of a positive test), there do seem to be a lot of deaths wrongly attributed to covid, at least on death certificates (around 13,000, based on those numbers). And JIT’s points are relevant here too.

    Similarly, the “within 28 days” test does seem to me to have serious limitations. You can still be run over by a bus and go down as a covid death. Does anyone know if other countries use this measure? From what I read early on it seemed to me that other countries use much stricter tests before labelling a death as a covid-death. Maybe that means they’re under-reporting, maybe it means we’re over-reporting, but unless all countries measure these things in the same way, it makes comparisons between countries difficult, indeed invidious. I suspect (but don’t know and can’t prove) that in terms of deaths per million, the UK would be in a better place in the international rankings if all countries measured covid deaths on the same basis.

    And although intuitively it seems to make sense that lockdowns will minimise spread of the virus, do we actually know that it does? Although this piece isn’t conclusive, it certainly offers food for thought:

    It’s totally unscientific on my part, but I can’t help feeling that locking people at home (or in their nursing home, or wherever) and allowing them to mix with others in a very small number of locations (mostly food shops and supermarkets) runs the risk of turning those locations into super-spreader locations (despite the precautions taken) then if one person brings the virus in to a crowded multi-generation house, the virus is guaranteed to go through the household.

    I’m not a covid “denier”, I don’t doubt how dangerous (indeed lethal) it can be, and I want to minimise its spread, and will be having my jab as soon as its made available to me. However, I would like more evidence that lockdown works to justify its continuance at this stage, given the substantial collateral damage that we know it causes. If we KNOW it works, then the collateral damage MIGHT be a price worth paying. But if we can’t be sure it works, or if it actually makes matters worse? Then it doesn’t make sense. Do we really have all the information we need in order to make an informed decision about this?


    Your comments highlight the speculative nature of the data on the virus, and folly of treating it as anything other than vague approximations. A 50% variation between death rates in different European countries is nothing, given the unknown contributory factors.

    You mention multigenerational occupancy, something for which data exists. Several generations living in the same house is the tradition in China, Russia, Serbia, Vietnam and possibly Cuba. The opposite tendency – booting the young out of the nest at the earliest opportunity – is the tradition in England, parts of Holland and Denmark, and among certain Canadian tribes. The fact that multigenerational occupancy is negatively correlated with deaths from Covid may point to yet another problem with the modelling – that not only does it assume we’re all equally sociable, but that it takes no account of different ways of being sociable. It makes sense to think that the extended family structure leads to people forming tight social “knots,” associating most frequently with the same people, while the loose structure found in England leads us to wander around aimlessly like farts in a colander, or electrons in search of an anode. Social scientists should be thinking about these things, instead of designing horror porn ads for the government.

    Liked by 1 person

  46. @ Alan, I don’t want to understate the pandemic’s effects, but I don’t want to overstate them either. What I would like to see is an accurate representation of what has gone on. If we put too many deaths down to WuFlu, questions about the justifications for lockdown are more easily batted off. (I actually agree with the lockdown to some extent, barring its prohibitions against things that can have no possible affect on transmission of the virus, & its criminalisation of seeing family etc; my suspicion is that one reason cases are still so high is that people are not admitting where they got infected for fear of recriminations – they probably state they haven’t seen any friends or family, & that they must have caught it at the supermarket, i.e. they lie.)

    The same ONS page says this:

    In England, the January 2021 mortality rate (1,462.0 deaths per 100,000 people) was significantly higher than the mortality rate in every year back to January 2003 (but significantly lower than January 2002 and January 2001, the highest mortality rates in this analysis).

    Now, we know that this is WuFlu with lockdown, not WuFlu let rip, so this is on the face of it a somewhat unfair comparison. Nevertheless, it’s an awkward factoid.

    In England in January 2021, 8 of the 10 leading causes of death were significantly lower than the five-year average (2015 to 2019), with only signs, symptoms and ill-defined conditions having a similar mortality rate to the five-year average.

    Of course WuFlu was the number 1, but did not appear on previous top tens.

    It seems to me to be expedient to label as many deaths as due to WuFlu as possible. Why? There is a tension between such figures making our gov’t look bad internationally, and suppressing opposition at home to extended lockdowns. The latter may be winning here.


  47. JIT
    One can imagine dozens of binary situations creating tensions like the ones you mention. I conform by wearing a mask most of the time though I hate it, but the local baker doesn’t wear one, so I feel a pressure not to wear one when I go there in order not to seem disapproving. Multiply these dozens of situations by billions of daily interactions, and you have a situation where any attempt to establish cause and effect becomes futile.

    Take testing. If you test a thousand people, you find maybe one positive case. But you make 999 people feel a little safer, so they drop their guard a bit. Has anyone looked at the figures to see whether mass testing correlates with an increase in cases? It would make sense. Same with mask wearing. Lots of French people continue the cheek embrace while wearing masks, which is crazy, but understandable. People continue to chat to their neighbours face to face over the garden fence for hours, then when they catch the bug they blame the stranger who passed them in the street with his mask under his chin.

    It’s a commonplace to say that society is like a living organism, that if you disrupt it at one point, it will repair itself the way a wound heals. If social scientists really believed this fundamental truth of their profession, they’d all be lockdown sceptics.

    Liked by 1 person

  48. … I will have learnt the enormous power of governments to influence opinion by promoting fear in a technical area which many people could understand but in practice don’t. And those are dismaying lessons and I would want to learn from them about how we repair things in future. And my first proposal is that governments should not treat information as a tool for manipulating public behaviour, they should be calmer than the majority of their citizens, they should be completely objective. My second lesson would be that governments dealing with scientific issues should not allow themselves to be influenced by a single caucus of scientists. They should always test what they are being told in the way that, for instance, judges test expert opinion by producing a counter expert and working out which set of views stacks up best.

    Jonathan Sumption in his interview on Unherd. He is talking about lockdown, but the comments could equally well refer to climate. He talks a lot of sense. I disagree with him about vaccine passports – he’s sanguine about them, but they horrify me and at the moment at least I’m telling myself I will never get one (tho’ I will happily take the vaccine; it’s producing the paperwork to prove it I’m agin).

    Liked by 1 person

  49. @JIT – “I disagree with him about vaccine passports – he’s sanguine about them, but they horrify me”

    Can you explain why?


  50. @ Dougie my aversion is mostly instinctive. I have always felt the same way about producing documentation. ?About ten? years ago when they started checking your id along with your ticket at large venues I thought this was a gross intrusion (this guard has no right to know who I am) but it was a case of “if id and ticket don’t match, you can’t come in.” I should not have to produce anything except my ticket.

    Vaccines are not, nor should they ever be, mandatory. But if you require a vaccine passport to go to the theatre/cinema/restaurants/football ground/who knows where, it means that refuseniks are shut out of public life. I don’t think vaccine refusers should be outcasts, nor that such soft coercion should be employed to make them change their mind. By instinct I would rather be a part of the outcast group, even though I’ll merrily take the jab!

    Final point – if I’m vaccinated I will not be terrified that a fellow audience member has not been jabbed – so why shut them out?


  51. Sumption has lost it. How could a highly intelligent and extremely knowledgeable former Supreme Court judge argue for the introduction of vaccine passports based on the ‘fact’ that they are supposedly ‘inevitable’ because the majority ‘want them’? Did we have a national referendum on this issue? Why did he present the false binary option of either vaccine passports or being locked up forever? Also, how could he not know that the rollout of these highly experimental ‘vaccines’ constitutes a mass clinical trial, that they are all licensed for emergency use only, with specific recommendations that they are not recommended to be administered to large groups of people (pregnant women and children especially)? How could he not know that the coerced mass vaccination campaign necessarily excludes the principle of informed consent in the Nuremberg Code? How could he not be aware that the Council of Europe has ruled that discrimination against non-vaccinated individuals is a violation of human rights? He looked very uncomfortable being questioned on this issue by Freddie Sayers. Who is leaning on him?

    Liked by 1 person

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