A few people have contributed unwittingly to the idle thoughts scampering across my brain that eventually coalesced in the idea of writing this article. First of all Richard Drake, with his articlei, “Changing Minds”. Then, Brendan O’Neill, with his excellent recent pieceii at Spiked Online, “We Can’t Go On Like This”. And finally, John Ridgway, with his commentiii on his articleiv, “Rumour Had It”:

For example, the way the climate concerned pick and choose which of the green energy solutions are to be allowed to tackle global warming makes a lot more sense when seen through an anti-perfectibility lens, at least to the extent that perfectibility can be characterised as the hubris that Man can and should control Nature entirely for his betterment.

Richard set me thinking, first of all, about whether or not I am the sort of person who is capable of changing my mind about an important issue, or whether, on the contrary, once my mind is made up, nothing will shift it. Reflecting on that, it occurred to me that I have changed my mind over some pretty important issues that have been front and centre in the mainstream media over recent years – from docile acceptance that we need to be very afraid of climate change and that we must do everything in our power to stop it (beliefs I no longer hold); through a slight preference to the UK remaining within the European Union (subsequently replaced by a desire to leave and satisfaction that we have done so); to at first totally supporting the official response to Covid 19, but now having serious doubts about it at this (what I hope will be shown to be a late) stage.

It was Brendan O’Neill’s article that used the line “politics of fear”, and which gave this article its heading. This particularly resonated with me:

The elites have entirely lost the ability, and the will, to reason with us. The impact this has on the ideal and the practice of citizenship cannot be overstated. It is an offence against democracy to issue apocalyptic warnings to try to dragoon the masses into compliance with restrictions. It turns us from democratic citizens who ought to be engaged in factful discussion about how crises should be tackled and society should be organised, into aberrant children whose behaviour must be shaped and controlled by threats and occasional treats…

And John Ridgway’s reference to hubris contributed the final piece in the jigsaw of my thinking.

There are a number of common strands between climate alarmism, Brexit hysteria and covid rule-making. First, and I think most importantly, there is fear. The second theme is hubris. The third theme is authoritarianism. There is, perhaps, a fourth thread that also connects these apparently disparate subjects – the failure of “expert” models and projections. Of huge importance, there is collateral damage – which may be worse than the harms sought to be avoided by the measures themselves. Finally, there is the infantilisation of debates, such as exist.

None of what follows is – or is intended to be – profound or original. I merely seek to point out that the big issues of the day over the last few years in the UK have shown remarkably similar traits regarding the approach of politicians and experts towards them all, and that none of it seems to be terribly healthy for our democracy.

Fear

In each case the people who run things have sought to convince us that we should be terrified – of climate change, of the harsh realities facing the UK should it dare to leave the safety and comfort of the EU, and of covid, even (perhaps especially) the omicron variant thereof.

So far as concerns climate change, there is clearly no need to labour the point – we’ve all been well aware of it for decades now. To keep it topical, I’ll content myself with a quote from the articlev on the BBC website on 14th December 2021 about the speculation that a big chunk of the Thwaites glacier might break off (in the next five to ten years):

Scientists are warning of dramatic changes at one of the biggest glaciers in Antarctica, potentially within the next five to 10 years.

They say a floating section at the front of Thwaites Glacier that until now has been relatively stable could “shatter like a car windscreen”…

And this one appeared on the BBC website on the same day:

Arctic heat record is like Mediterranean, says UNvi

The highest temperature ever recorded in the Arctic, 38C (100F), has been officially confirmed, sounding “alarm bells” over Earth’s changing climate…

…Human activity is contributing to a rise in world temperatures, and climate change now threatens every aspect of human life.

Left unchecked, humans and nature will experience catastrophic warming, with worsening droughts, greater sea level rise and mass extinction of species.

There is so much more I could I have quoted, but that confirms the fear messaging.

As for Brexit, on 20th August 2016 the Guardian’s Larry Elliott summarised the fear campaign thusvii:

Project Fear predicted economic meltdown if Britain voted leave, so where are the devastated high streets, job losses and crashing markets?

Unemployment would rocket. Tumbleweed would billow through deserted high streets. Share prices would crash. The government would struggle to find buyers for UK bonds. Financial markets would be in meltdown. Britain would be plunged instantly into another deep recession.

Given that this is a report in the massively pro-remain, anti/Brexit Guardian (albeit I believe Larry Elliott is an exception to that rule among Guardian journalists), I think we can take it as a fair summary of the nature of the campaign.

And then we turn to covid. There can be no doubt that it has been a serious and dangerous virus. While debates can be held regarding whether (especially with the benefit of hindsight) the policy responses around the world have done more harm than good, the politics of fear are all too clear, especially in the UK, just now. The advent of the omicron variant brings a new element in to the debate, but on the basis of the evidence to date, it seems to me that this development on balance is good news – more transmissible, but apparently milder in terms of symptoms. Given that, and the 95%+ level of antibodies in the UK’s adult population, I anticipated a moderate level of response from SAGE and from the the UK government and from devolved governments within the UK. Instead, Nicola Sturgeon talks of a tsunami of cases and, not to be outdone, Boris Johnson has talked of a tidal wave. And Dr Jenny Harries, head of the UK Health Security Agency, talks of “staggering” omicron numbers being expected, describing the omicron variant as “probably the most significant threat since the start of the pandemic”.

Hubris

The Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines hubris primarily as “excessive pride or self-confidence”, which I think fits the bill. Its secondary meaning might, in the fullness of time, have some relevance too: “(in Greek tragedy) excessive pride or presumption towards the gods, leading to nemesis”.

First, there is the hubristic belief that humankind can control the climate. For that, surely, is what all 26 COPs to date are about, it’s why the UK government has a “net zero” agenda, and it’s what people like Polly Toynbee believe when, writing in the Guardianviii on 14th December 2021, she described the Global Warming Policy Foundation as “a group of deniers blocking climate-saving action”. Unless she isn’t to be taken at her word, what else can those words mean, other than that, if humankind applied itself, we can take action to save the climate? Whatever that means.

Then there was the belief that the UK’s politicians could control the EU juggernaut if we remained a member of it. OK, it’s not on the same scale as saving the climate, but given the refusal of the EU to engage with then Prime Minister Cameron regarding his requested minor EU reforms to bring back to the UK ahead of the referendum vote; and then the outcome of the Brexit referendum, and its aftermath, it’s a pretty good example of hubris meeting nemesis.

Finally, there is the belief that we can control covid. At one level, this isn’t so unreasonable. After all, for centuries now scientists have developed vaccines that have kept terrible diseases at bay, and although questions are being asked about the efficacy against the omicron variant (especially over time) of the vaccines most of us have been taking, there seems to be no doubt that vaccines trigger a helpful antibody response.

But at another level, the belief is hopeless. Countries like Australia and New Zealand, relying on their island status and distance from other population areas, actually tried, if some reports are to be believed, to adopt a zero covid strategy. The futility of such attempts is surely now becoming apparent. When news of the omicron variant first emerged from South Africa, the UK government quickly put a lot of southern African countries on the red travel list. But here we are, a few short weeks later, and omicron is here, and happily multiplying itself in the UK population at a rapid rate. Sure enough, the red list has quietly been amended to remove those countries from it, in belated recognition that it serves no useful purpose.

And to my surprise (though I must credit the article, for fear that I be accused of stealing the thoughts) as I search the internet for corroboration of my views, I find this articleix by Ross Clark in the Telegraph on 29th August 2021:

Net Zero and Zero Covid absolutists share the same hubristic delusions – When it comes to both coronavirus and climate change, the purist route is doomed to failure”

I don’t know whether to be disappointed at the lack of originality of my thoughts, or to be pleased that someone like Ross Clark has articulated my ideas so well for me:

Zero Covid is dead. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said as much last week, finally accepting that the delta variant has made it impossible for one country to eradicate a disease which has become endemic elsewhere.
For the moment, New Zealand persists with its miserable cycle of lockdowns, but, with cases rising anyway, Jacinda Ardern must surely soon bow to the inevitable.

We are destined, though, to go through the same cycle with Zero Covid’s cousin, Net Zero carbon emissions. Both have similar ideological underpinnings: a belief that by mandating something to happen, the means to achieve it will magically come into existence. Both involve a refusal to balance huge, open-ended costs against other considerations, and both are driven by a desire to control the population via puritanical strictures.

Which leads nicely in to the next point.

Authoritarianism/Lack of Democracy

Climate hysterics want to ban lots of things. They want us all to replace our useful diesel and petrol cars for electric cars that are more expensive and less practical and despite the lack of a charging infrastructure and an increasingly unreliable supply of electricity. They want us to replace our efficient gas central heating and gas cookers for all-electric homes, using more expensive and less effective heat pumps. Many of them want us to fly less (perhaps even rationing foreign holidays), lecture us about eating meat, and tell us we shouldn’t own pets. They tell us lots of opinion polls and surveys show public support for such measures, but we’re not allowed a vote on net zero or on any of the measures that will be imposed on us to achieve it.

The EU has become very authoritarian, at least in part as a response to covid 19. Things like budgetary constraints and free movement of people, which were declared sacrosanct in the past, have been dropped with alacrity now that covid has arrived. The public hasn’t been allowed a vote on any of this. Lockdowns, mandatory vaccinations, vaccine passports, creating a health Apartheid in the EU are all apparently fine. The EU, once soi-disant upholder of human rights has looked the other way. And EU Commission President, Ursula Von der Leyen, has said the EU must consider mandatory vaccinations across the bloc:

Asked whether she supported the Greek government in its imposition of a €100 (£85) monthly fine on those aged 60 and over who failed to get a Covid jab, Von der Leyen said the spread of the disease and lack of vaccine take-up in parts of the EU meant mandatory vaccination had to be on the table as a policy response.x

And it isn’t just the EU that has behaved in an authoritarian way. UK politicians fell over themselves in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum result to find reasons to declare it illegitimate and non-binding. They may or may not have been correct to do so, but its strange that nobody suggested before the vote that it’s result would be non-binding (something to do with a general expectation that the UK population would vote to continue the UK’s membership of the EU, perhaps). In the end, it took the referendum, local elections, an EU election, and a general election to achieve the democratically-expressed will of the British public. Not a shining example of democracy at work, and an early sign of the increasing authoritarianism affecting the British public sphere.

Now, the UK government (aided and abetted by the opposition parties) restricts our freedoms pretty much at will every time there is another “reason” to be frightened of covid. Lockdowns have occurred on a regular basis, Parliament’s role has been minimised, fines for transgressions, doubling and doubling again (and again and again) to shocking levels have been introduced. The Prime Minister has talked of the need for a national conversation about mandatory vaccination programmes, and seems to have backed down only in the face of a substantial backbench rebellion earlier this week. Opposition parties (save for the numerically inconsequential Liberal Democrats and the sole Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas – and credit to them) don’t object to the authoritarian nature of Government policies, but complain instead that they are not sufficiently authoritarian, and demand more, sooner.

The Failure of Expert Models

This isn’t the place for a detailed analysis of the failure of climate models over the years, but I think it’s fair to say that at least some of the more extreme versions have shown themselves to be wide of the mark. It doesn’t stop the “out there” versions such as RCP 8.5 regularly being cited as the benchmark we need to be concerned about, instead of the outlier that represents an implausible outcome.

Brexit will undoubtedly cause problems as well as present opportunities, but it’s unarguable that the dire warnings of “experts”, from HM Treasury Officials, through the Bank of England and the IMF proved to be exaggerated and arguably completely unfounded. As Larry Elliott said in the Guardian article cited above, about the dire prognostications of Project Fear:

It hasn’t worked out that way. The 1.4% jump in retail sales in July showed that consumers have not stopped spending, and seem to be more influenced by the weather than they are by fear of the consequences of what happened on 23 June. Retailers are licking their lips in anticipation of an Olympics feelgood factor.

The financial markets are serene. Share prices are close to a record high, and fears that companies would find it difficult and expensive to borrow have proved wide of the mark. Far from dumping UK government gilts, pension funds and insurance companies have been keen to hold on to them.

City economists had predicted an immediate rise in the claimant count measure of unemployment in July. That hasn’t happened either. This week’s figures show that instead of a 9,000 rise, there was an 8,600 drop.

But it is obvious that the sky has not fallen in as a result of the referendum, and those who said it would look a bit silly. By now, Britain was supposed to be reeling from the emergency budget George Osborne said would be necessary to fill a £30bn black hole in the public finances caused by a plunging economy. The emergency budget is history, as is Osborne.

In a way, Project Fear did work. It put the wind up businesses, making them warier about investing in new kit. And at least some of the people who voted remain did so because they were worried about the economic consequences of leaving. That was hardly surprising, given the regular and lurid warnings – from the Treasury, the Bank of England, the International Monetary Fund and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development – about the dire consequences that would inevitably flow from Brexit.

He was writing in August 2016. It was early days, and as he rightly cautioned, caveats were necessary. The damage stemming from Brexit might be a slow burn, and so on. And yet, despite the massive damage caused by the policy response to the covid pandemic, more than five years later the prognostications of the Project Fear seers and experts are still risible. House prices were going to collapse. Instead they continue to rise at a rapid rate. There may be a black hole in the public finances, but it has precious little to do with Brexit and everything to do with the Treasury largesse around the covid pandemic.

Turning to covid, and the expert prognostications around case numbers, hospitalisations and deaths have been consistently wrong, always erring on the high, and most pessimistic, side. None of those failed models have any impact on our politicians when the next round of the covid saga arises, however, with the latest frightening modelled projections always being wheeled out again to justify the latest policy measures in response to the latest threat.

Collateral Damage

Whenever climate sceptics warn that the race to net zero in the UK is causing considerable financial damage to the economy, rendering what is left of British industry uncompetitive in world markets, making energy supply unreliable and expensive, further impoverishing the poorest in society and so on, the response is usually that this is not true (despite the evidence) and that in any event, even if it is, it’s a small price to pay compared to the costs that will result from climate change.

Quite apart from the fact that the costs of policy choices are self-evident, this line of reasoning fails to recognise that the UK is not likely to suffer greatly from climate change.

Brexit doesn’t fit easily into this section of the article, since in my view both options contained benefits and disadvantages, and the question for the British public was whether voting yes or no would cause more harm or more good. The fact that the pluses and minuses surrounding the issue were fairly evenly balanced no doubt explains the closeness of the vote.

When it comes to covid, I strongly believe that history will show the policy choices adopted by politicians to have caused more harm than good. The damage caused to the economy will take decades to make good. Businesses have been wrecked, livelihoods destroyed, NHS backlogs have gone from huge to unmanageable, people have died because they were unable to attend face-to-face appointments with GPs, cancers have been missed and gone untreated, mental health has suffered, obesity, drug use and alcoholism have worsened, children’s education has suffered, domestic violence and child abuse have reached highly disturbing levels, with children dying because police were more interested in prosecuting concerned members of the extended family for breach of covid regulations than they were about the child’s welfare. The list goes on and on. No doubt I have inadvertently missed quite a lot out.

Infantilisation/The Death of Logic

The big problem with the approach of those in charge of UK policy-making, and those who feed into that system in the form of pressure groups, academics, assorted experts, agitators and subsidy-seekers, is that whilst all warn of the dangers of climate change, there is no recognition that nothing the UK does can prevent climate change in the absence of the rest of the world adopting similar net zero policies. This is a huge failure of logic, and an illustration of the infantilisation of debate. Believing or wanting something to be true doesn’t make it so. Ignoring the elephant in the room doesn’t make it go away.

Just this week the Guardian reportedxi on the latest debacle at the United Nations. The headline solemnly tells us: Russia vetoes UN security council resolution linking climate crisis to international peace. One can argue that the failure of the resolution doesn’t much matter, and that it was more a virtue-signalling statement than one that would achieve anything of substance. What is significant, however, is not just that Russia wielded its Security Council veto, but that India also voted against it and that China (no doubt noting that the resolution was dead in the water, so it didn’t need to vote against it to stop it) abstained. The significance is that China and India are the two countries who watered down the outcome of COP 26, turning it from a failure into a farce. They and Russia are not interested in climate change, though they may murmur soothing words from time to time to ensure that the western developed nations continue down the track of economic suicide. The logic of this is irrefutable. Unfortunately, infantilisation prevails.

Again, Brexit doesn’t fit easily into this section of the analysis, so I will content myself with the observation that from what I saw of it, the contribution to the debate from politicians on both sides of the Brexit debacle was infantile at best.

Turning to covid, despite all the talk of “following the science”, there has, sadly, been too much willingness to follow worst-case models and to ignore real evidence. I understand that this is a highly emotive issue, I get it that no politician wants to be exposed to the criticism that he or she puts profits ahead of lives. However, nowhere, so far as I am aware, has there being a fact-based assessment of the efficacy of the various non-clinical interventions adopted to respond to covid; nowhere has there been a cost-benefit analysis (in the sense not just of financial costs and benefits, but of societal costs and benefits too). In the early days that may have been justified, in the midst of a new and lethal virus about which little was known and against which there was no known effective medical treatment and for which no vaccine had been developed. Almost two years on, we are, thankfully, in a different situation, and it’s time for a more measured and evidence-based approach.

Conclusion

It’s all very well telling us we have to follow “the science” (even though that seems to amount these days to little more than following models). How about adding in a little common sense at the same time? How about letting reality intrude on the great delusion that we in the UK can shape and/or defy the world?

Endnotes

i https://cliscep.com/2021/12/10/changing-minds/

ii https://www.spiked-online.com/2021/12/13/we-cant-go-on-like-this/

iii https://cliscep.com/2021/12/12/rumour-had-it/#comment-107771

iv https://cliscep.com/2021/12/12/rumour-had-it/

v https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-59644494

vi https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-59649066

vii https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/aug/20/brexit-eu-referendum-economy-project-fear

viii https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/dec/14/boris-johnson-tory-party-radicals-conservative

ix https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2021/08/29/net-zero-zero-covid-absolutists-share-hubristic-delusions/

x https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/dec/01/eu-must-consider-mandatory-covid-jabs-says-von-der-leyen

xi https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/dec/13/russia-vetoes-un-security-council-resolution-climate-crisis-international-peace

132 Comments

  1. Very good Mark. I largely agree. Brexit and Covid are different in a crucial way though: we have far more hindsight from which to benefit in the case of Brexit. In the present I’m with John Campbell in saying that the government has to take the worst case into account in responding to Omicron, though he’s been emphasizing the apparent positives coming out of South Africa too. (And the nurse and nurse training specialist has won my trust in lots of other details over the last year.) I’m with both Campbell and Dominic Cummings in saying that everyone should be taking extra Vitamin D to help their immune system.

    But Covid is such a massive subject. Going back to John Ridgway’s insightful comment on perfectibility I’m reminded of the phrase “perfect love casts out fear”. We do need something along these lines as a society.

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  2. When it comes to Covid of course as a government you should act to counter possible worst case modelling outcomes. To do otherwise is to possibly expose the population to those possibilities. The government has been criticised in the past for buying up “unnecessary amounts of vaccines” based upon some of those excessive fearful projections. Guess what…?

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  3. Alan, I wouldn’t wish to be misunderstood, from what was a rather over-long and possibly rambling article. I suppose, in summary, what I am trying to say is:

    1. Scientists, modellers, experts and politicians, always seem to assume the worst. Then they use that worst-case assumption to frighten us into doing their bidding.

    2. Debate, such as it is, is simplistic, childish and lacking in nuance or in any understanding that life is rarely black and white.

    3. Most scary models are wrong, and after the event have demonstrably been shown to be wrong (e.g. all the warnings of Armageddon when the Government belatedly opened society up on 19th July).

    4. Clinical interventions (and arguably you could include vaccines within that definition) make eminent sense – lots of up-side and very little down-side (though of course some people have died after been vaccinated and others have been made very ill, so there is definitely SOME down-side). I’ve had my jabs in full, and am grateful for them, calculating that the risk to me from covid was much greater than the risk from vaccinations.

    5. Non-clinical interventions are much more difficult to weigh up. In going for lockdowns, the Government abandoned the pre-existing plan for how to deal with pandemics. They did so having being panicked by SAGE and others. Only time will tell whether that was the best decision to make, but I think it’s starting to look as though it wasn’t. NB, as I was at pains to point out in the article, I understand why they panicked. I might well have done the same in their position.

    6. But, while I fully understand the desire to be seen to be saving lives (from covid infection) I don’t understand the failure to carry out any sort of cost/benefit or risk analysis, not just regarding to the damage to the economy but also the damage caused by those non-clinical interventions (most obviously lockdowns) to lives in other ways. I’m guessing, of course, but I suspect that time will show that more people died and/or had lives shortened by the non-clinical interventions than were saved by them. What bothers me is that nobody in positions of power or influence seem much bothered about carrying out that analysis. Covid deaths and illnesses are in our faces, so politicians will try to do something about them. The other damage, though equally real, is less immediately obvious, so they seem to take the view that it matters less. It doesn’t.

    7. There is definite cross-over between covid and climate change when it comes to the worst-case views of those in charge, and the failure to consider the inability of the touted measures actually to be able to deal with the problem, and the failure to contemplate the collateral damage caused by those measures.

    8. Most mainstream politicians are agreed about what to do (differing, if at all, only as to degree, not as to substance), about both covid and climate change, so the public isn’t really given much of a democratic choice in either of these areas. And that cross-party consensus is leading to an increasingly authoritarian aspect to public discourse.

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  4. A similar theme is this awareness: Social Upheaval as Theater of the Absurd: Technocracy Replaces Democracy

    Matthew Crawford described how strange for ordinary people is the everyday experience of this transformation (revolution?) in his UnHerd essay The new public health despotism.

    https://unherd.com/2021/10/the-new-covid-despotism/

    For example, this excerpts relates to your essay above:

    “In the Hobbesian formula, the Leviathan relies upon fear to suppress pride. It is pride that makes men difficult to govern. It may be illuminating to view our Covid moment through this lens and consider how small moments of humiliation may be put in the service of a long-standing political project, or find their meaning and normative force in it.

    Specifically, to play one’s part in Covid theatre, as in security theatre at the airport, is to suffer the unique humiliation of a rational being who submits to moments of social control that he knows to be founded upon untruths. That these are expressed in the language of science is especially grating.”

    And later on:

    “It is as beings capable of reason that the legislature is supposed to “represent” us. The judicial branch regards us in the same light.

    When a court issues a decision, the judge writes an opinion in which he explains his reasoning. He grounds the decision in law, precedent, common sense, and principles that he feels obliged to articulate and defend. This is what transforms the decision from mere fiat into something that is politically legitimate under the premises of republican government, capable of securing the assent of a free people. It constitutes the difference between simple power and authority.

    The Nineties saw the rise of new currents in the social sciences that emphasised the cognitive incompetence of human beings. The “rational actor” model of human behaviour (a simplistic premise that had underwritten the party of the market for the previous half century) was deposed by the more psychologically informed school of behavioural economics, which teaches that our actions are largely guided by pre-reflective cognitive biases and heuristics. These biases tend to be functional, both in the sense that they reflect general patterns of reality, and because they offer “fast and frugal” substitutes for deliberation, which is a slow and costly activity.

    While economics was getting psychologised in the 1990s, a parallel development was happening in political science. Before getting into this, consider the larger frame. The Soviet Union had just collapsed. This placed “liberal – democracy” in a new situation, or rather returned it to a situation that had obtained in the mid-19th century.

    Liberalism and democracy are two distinct things, not entirely at ease with one another. Their differences were submerged during the Cold War when they had a common enemy in Soviet communism, just as they had been submerged previously when they had a common enemy in monarchy.

    As Adrian Vermeule puts it, liberalism fears that its dependence on and fundamental difference from democracy will be exposed if a sustained course of non-liberal popular opinion comes to light. The solution is to offer an idealised concept of democracy, sharply distinguished from “mere majoritarianism.” By this device, the liberal may get to preserve his self-understanding as a democrat. This can become quite strained, as in the reflex to call the popularly elected governments of Poland and Hungary “antidemocratic”. When Pew did opinion polling in Afghanistan a decade ago and found that something like 95% of respondents expressed a preference that sharia law should be the law of the land, this was not allowed to interrupt the conviction that making Afghanistan “democratic” would require a feminist social transformation. That is, an explicitly anti-majoritarian revolution.”

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  5. Sorry, I left off Crawford’s summation:

    “The absurdities of COVID theatre could be taken as a tacit recognition of this state of affairs, much as security theater pointed to a new political accommodation after 9/11. In this accommodation, we have accepted the impossibility of grounding our practices in reality. We submit to ossified bureaucracies such as the TSA that have become self-protective interest groups. They can expand but never contract, and we must pretend reality is such as to justify their existence. Covid is likely to do for public health what 9/11 did for the security state. Going through an airport, we still take off our shoes – because twenty years ago, some clown tried to light his shoe on fire. We submit to being irradiated and groped, often as not. One tries to put out of mind facts such as this: in independent audits of airport security, about 80-90% of weapons pass through undetected. The microwave machine presents an imposing image of science that helps us bury such knowledge. We have a duty to carry out an ascetic introspection, searching out any remaining tendencies toward rational pride and regard for the truth, submitting them to analysis.

    Similarly, the irrationality of the Covid rules we comply with has perhaps become their main point. In complying, we enact the new terms of citizenship.”

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  6. Mark: “There are a number of common strands between climate alarmism, Brexit hysteria and covid rule-making. First, and I think most importantly, there is fear.”

    Indeed. But there are also big differences between them. For instance regarding covid, typically significant majorities in the UK have supported the restrictive approaches of government throughout, and indeed sometimes want to go further (as quite a few other countries have actually done). Whereas ask how many will give up their car or gas boiler to save the planet, without anything close to a like-for-like replacement on cost or effectiveness (not that any survey is ever going to actually be worded this way) and likely support will be miniscule. Many climate-change attitude surveys having high reality-constraint, suggest this would almost certainly be the case. Differences may be as informative as the commonalities.

    Notwithstanding the title you haven’t explicitly pointed to an ultimate the source of the fear in all cases. But you state you agree with Ross Clarke, who says:

    “We are destined, though, to go through the same cycle with Zero Covid’s cousin, Net Zero carbon emissions. Both have similar ideological underpinnings: a belief that by mandating something to happen, the means to achieve it will magically come into existence. Both involve a refusal to balance huge, open-ended costs against other considerations, and both are driven by a desire to control the population via puritanical strictures.”

    So do you think indeed that “both are driven by a desire to control the population via puritanical strictures”. In which case, and in line with the title, do you think the fear is (largely) a deliberate creation of the politicians? And in all cases, for the purpose of ‘control’? If not, what do you think is the ultimate origin of the fear, and do you think that origin is common to say the CC & Covid cases?

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  7. Countries like Australia and New Zealand, relying on their island status and distance from other population areas, actually tried, if some reports are to be believed, to adopt a zero covid strategy.

    Can’t speak for Australia, but NZ adopted one and intended it to last for several years.

    It didn’t work, or we would still be pursuing it. We had a (second) massive lockdown that achieved exactly nothing, since it escapted into the general population anyway. Amusingly, rates have fallen as the restrictions have been reduced, leaving the “experts” absolutely baffled, but still unable to recognise the extent of their hubris.

    There’s those in NZ who really have not realised that the Zero Covid strategy is gone. There’s a lot of talking about “if”, when they mean “when”.

    Today there was a headline in a major paper about “if Omicron makes it to NZ” — as if we had any way of preventing it in anything other than the very short term.

    People at my workplace still talk about “if we get Covid here”. We’re a large school with a broad geographical intake, so we have exactly zero chance of avoiding it. I’m not sure how they can’t see that.

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  8. Ron: It’s amazing to see Matthew Crawford has written that. His “Why We Drive” had a deep impact on me last year, particularly as I chose to go on what seemed a rather risky long drive to Pembrokeshire in Wales for a software project and afterwards drove further west towards the beautiful coastline to visit one chapel that I (and many others) see as significant in Christian history, dating back to an event in 1904. (I was thinking back to this because of what Bill Bedford wrote on my Changing Minds thread. I’ll write more on it there – eventually!) I’d been thinking of Crawford for this reason. I’ll read his piece with interest.

    Mark: This month I’ve been trying to assess “internist and cardiologist” Dr Peter McCullough – both his hands-on work treating Covid patients and his testimony to the US Senate and elsewhere, dealing with all the most controversial aspects of the situation. Starting (for me) with Bret Weinstein’s interview of McCullough on 7th December, then the very long Joe Rogan Spotify interview on Monday. I only really got into the Rogan last night and that led me to this with Tucker Carlson in May:

    I think there’s been an enormous amount of fear. For the first time in America doctors and nurses and others were confronted with a disease that they themselves could contract and die from.

    But the fear, as it tends to, has played out in very strange ways. Check out the Joe Rogan from around 2:07:00 and McCullough’s comment “It’s a giant game of chicken!” talking about how the authorities have sought to exploit fear around 2:16:45. Conclusion: Mark has hit a button of importance!

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  9. Andy West, thanks for pushing me into further analysis, rather than the superficial one contained in my article.

    Dealing first with what I think is the easier of your two main points to explain, namely the support of a significant proportion of the public for covid restrictions (support which is evident, and which I don’t deny), I’m afraid I think I put this down to sheer selfishness, and nothing else. The people who support such measures tend to be those who are retired, or with comfortable middle class work-from-home-able jobs, so far as I can see, who have nothing to lose personally (in the short term at least – they would lose in the long term from the collapse of the economy, but people tend not to look that far ahead). It reminds me of one summary I read of the first, comprehensive, lockdown, that it amounted to middle class people hiding while working class people brought them what they needed. If restrictive measures made a drastic impact on their lives and finances (as things like gas boilers and electric cars would, vis-a-vis climate change restrictions demanded by those frightened of climate change) then I think we’d see a very different level of response.

    I have never been a conspiracy theorist (going for the cock-up explanation 99 times out of 100) but in the covid case, I’m increasingly baffled. For days now I’ve been listening to/watching official pronouncements about omicron which don’t match the official statistics. The “death with covid” mysteriously and dramatically announced, but never elaborated upon is very strange, and I strongly suspect it was “with” not “of” and that omicron was incidental to the death, but it was a handy thing to announce just as new restrictions were being imposed. We are told that omicron numbers are doubling every 2-3 days, yet the covid statistics released day show nothing like that level of rise (even allowing for the fact that omicron is only now the dominant strain in the UK). The infection numbers reported yesterday (wrongly described in many quarters as “cases” – cases sound more frightening, don’t they?) show a week-on-week increase of about 55%. And hospital numbers with covid (again, not necessarily people being treated FOR covid) showed an increase of 163 in a week to 7,611.

    Yet today’s headline on the BBC website is: “Covid: More measures needed to limit hospitalisations – Sage scientists”.

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-59707252

    The reported numbers don’t match the official statistics:

    “According to those leaked minutes, the Sage advisers say that without intervention measures beyond the Plan B rules currently in place, modelling indicates that hospital admissions could peak at “at least” 3,000 a day in England.

    The number of people requiring treatment in hospital has been rising, with admissions being between 800 and 900 every day in the past week.”

    If admissions have been rising at that rate, then unless people aren’t very ill and are rapidly allowed to leave, then the weekly number in hospital with covid should have increased by 5,000 or more, but it hasn’t – it increased by 163. Something doesn’t add up. And so I am starting to wonder. I don’t have a definitive answer, but for the first time, I’m starting to wonder if the utilisation of fear is a handy thing for scientists and politicians who want to control our behaviours.

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  10. An afterthought. The news about Omicron that is coming out of South Africa seems to be encouraging, yet experts keep cautioning that there is much uncertainty. Fair enough, so far as it goes, but why does that uncertainty mean we have to assume the worst? I’m pretty confident that if the news from South Africa was bad, SAGE scientists wouldn’t be emphasising the uncertainty, they’d be emphasising the bad nature of the news.

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  11. A commonly used plan is to fear, and so plan for, the worst, and to celebrate and/or rejoice when reality turns out more benign than anticipated. It is not just our government that has been alarmed by Omicron and has reacted to it as if it constitutes a major health threat.

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  12. The latest ONS bulletin for Covid came out yesterday, but only covers up to December 11. Alas things move fast in the time of Covid.

    The increase in omicron looks compatible with high rates of rise, when starting from a low frequency. Next week’s (if ONS releases one on Chrimbo Eve) will be interesting. A week ago we were having 50,000 cases a day, but not all people with Covid were tested. The ONS data implies that 1,000,000 were infected at any moment. A low proportion of that was omicron. If the strains are sufficiently similar that they are competing for the same hosts, one could exclude the other, so the net change would be less than implied by the claimed doubling rate.

    I dunno – I am though fairly sure that data of this sort is messy and out of date straight away.

    https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/conditionsanddiseases/bulletins/coronaviruscovid19infectionsurveypilot/latest

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  13. Other ONS news, for those wondering how omicron is able to spread so fast:

    Around three quarters (75%) of individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 fully adhered to isolation requirements throughout the full self-isolation period; this has remained stable since June but is a decrease from 86% in May 2021.

    Around 4 in 10 (39%) adults expected it to take more than a year for life to return to normal (1 to 12 December 2021, Great Britain). Around two-thirds (62%) of adults plan to visit family or friends in their homes over Christmas, though the majority would stay at home if feeling unwell (80%).

    The last stat is particularly gobsmacking.

    https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/conditionsanddiseases/articles/coronaviruscovid19latestinsights/lifestyle

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  14. On modelling, Neil Ferguson was at the Commons committee (can’t remember its name: Science & Tech?) last week or the week before for a session on the replication crisis (mot du jour). When challenged (I think by Peter Stringer) about his inflated BSE predictions, he made some remark to the effect that he presented a range of possibilities, but that people inevitably focussed on the outlier.

    All well and good. But the question that remains is, if your model covers the range between 50 deaths and 500,000, what utility does it have?

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  15. Jit (10:31am): It was probably Graham Stringer. Good man, as I said the other day.

    But the question that remains is, if your model covers the range between 50 deaths and 500,000, what utility does it have?

    Well, one utility of the 500,000 is you, as the expert, are unlikely to be attacked later for understating the problem.

    What experts fear is what a deep dive (deep for me!) into the reflections of Peter McCullough has got me thinking about. The fears of medical experts, including front-line doctors, but also the famed centres of excellence in medical academia, he now thinks have been to blame for 85% of all US Covid deaths.

    This isn’t just about governments but it’s pervasive groupthink worldwide. And, more than anyone I’ve listened to on Covid, I’ve come to trust Dr McCullough. (I won’t give all the reasons here. This is Dr Hodgson’s thread!)

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  16. Mark, another little push 😉

    “The people who support such measures tend to be those who are retired, or with comfortable middle class work-from-home-able jobs, so far as I can see, who have nothing to lose personally…”

    The demographics may well be weighted to such people (depending on the particular measures polled about), I haven’t delved to see. But the overall support being so high would surely have to include very many people outside of these categories. And including support for measures that, as you note, have long-term future financial burdens.

    There aren’t many surveys questioning about how much money folks would personally give to help stop climate change (and most are also in the US). But these hint that the level of support collapses even for small amounts of money (and even among those who when money isn’t mentioned, are supporters). Even down to tens of dollars a month territory. Outside the US there’s less data and it tends to focus on tax or utility money, not personal money, but for instance a recent Sky UK poll said that while there was an ‘overwhelming majority accepting man-made climate change’, nevertheless ‘most respondents did not support increasing the cost of gas and electricity’. I.e. here and now, never mind for any long-term burden. And while 40% agreed to tax hikes to help pay for reduced emissions, 44% opposed, and I don’t think an amount was given for the hike. Very likely, that 40% support would collapse if the hike was anything comparable to what is now in the pipeline due to covid measures. The prior question itself implies that if the tax hike resulted in a personal burden that was equivalent to any kind of significant rise in energy costs, it would also become unacceptable – IOW only a trivial tax hike is acceptable even to most of the 40%.

    So, even taking into account that in both domains more folks will bail out as reality bites, the support for heavy measures having personal impacts is much firmer for covid than for CC. This speaks to differing motivations.

    “I have never been a conspiracy theorist (going for the cock-up explanation 99 times out of 100) but in the covid case, I’m increasingly baffled. For days now I’ve been listening to/watching official pronouncements about omicron which don’t match the official statistics.”

    That publics and public authorities do not appear to act objectively in certain domains, and that in the clash of different ideals and/or the rush to be seen to be doing the right thing, actual data is frequently crushed underfoot, is commonplace. The question is why? And is the ‘why’ the same for different cases?

    “And so I am starting to wonder. I don’t have a definitive answer, but for the first time, I’m starting to wonder if the utilisation of fear is a handy thing for scientists and politicians who want to control our behaviours”.

    So, to continue for a while down the path your wonderings creates… this would be politicians and scientists involved in a deliberate and conscious and essentially nefarious activity in order to ‘control us’? Actually creating the fear to this end? Which would necessarily mean politicians and scientists across the globe (both CC and covid being global phenomena, as are the responses to same), so also from every type of ethnicity, political system, economic system and level, religious Faith and level of belief, world-views etc, etc. Yet nevertheless all commonly and consciously motivated, in order to control us, their respective publics. Then also, it must be consciously co-ordinated across the globe too (and indeed how could it be global if the scientists and politicians in certain countries refused to play the game?) How do they manage such huge co-ordination without this being found out? What do they gain from the ‘control’? Especially if the world is generally far worse off via inappropriate spend / actions on a grand scale. How were they all recruited to this project in the first place? And is it *the same* project, i.e. are those nefariously utilising fear to control us via climate-change, consciously co-ordinating with those doing the same via covid? Or do we have several competing conscious and nefarious projects generating fear for the sake of ‘control’? And separately or together, how do they keep events to their agenda(s), instead of these spiralling out of their control?

    Do you agree that these are valid questions to your speculated explanation. If not, what kind of project to achieve ‘control’ were you thinking of?

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  17. JIT. Even if you consider 50,000 deaths to be an outlier (= an unlikely extreme?) you cannot just dismiss it. You must at least consider the implications of that faint eventuality coming to pass (because on occasion it will come to pass). For Ferguson to have ignored such an extreme outcome on the grounds that it was most unlikely, would have been a dereliction of his duty to present all the “facts” as he understood them.

    Someone evaluating Ferguson’s analysis and eliminating the extremes as being unlikely makes a political decision.

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  18. “For Ferguson to have ignored such an extreme outcome on the grounds that it was most unlikely…”

    It’s not about ignoring it, it’s about qualifying it. From what I recall, for essentially all Ferguson’s predictions, actuality has been enormously outside his qualification range. In some cases, this may be because of the actions taken. But there are several other models that got much closer to reality (there’s a good university of Bristol one, but I can’t recall its name). In advising government, if he doesn’t put just as much stress on all the other models and their overall (wide!) range + differing features as he does on his own, plus not only qualifies wrt physical uncertainties, but the epistemic uncertainty inherent in models that is likely far bigger, he is essentially misinforming government. We’d have to be present at briefings to know whether this is the case or not, but reportage suggests not (this could be a problem of the reportage, however).

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  19. Richard, am I to take it that I have been awarded an honorary Cliscep doctorate, while John Ridgway is still waiting for his?

    Alan, I’m in Jit’s camp regarding the covid forecasts. A forecast which offers up a wide range of possible outcomes (from very serious to quite mild to anywhere in between) doesn’t strike me as particularly useful as a forecast. In fact, I could have made such a forecast. The fact that, being made by experts it carries more authority than if made by me, doesn’t mean that the expert version is of any more help to politicians when making difficult decisions as to how to respond. To my mind, they might as well not have bothered, save that the extreme end of the forecast gives politicians an excuse for more and greater interventions.

    Andy, I am happy to accept that you raise valid questions, and I am equally happy to respond. According to ONS, 18% of the entire population (not merely 18% of the adult population) is aged over 65, so allowing for the fact that some people work beyond that age, but a fair number (myself included) retire before then, I would guess that it’s fair to say that 20% or thereabouts of the population is retired. Of those working, I wouldn’t be surprised if the middle class proportion takes that percentage up to 50 or 60%. That strikes me as being broadly compatible with the proportion of the population expressing support for non-clinical interventions to “deal with” covid. Intriguingly, and possibly related to the point I was making, I don’t see many bus drivers or shop assistants wearing masks, at least not where I live (I can’t speak for elsewhere in the country).

    My wondering whether the utilisation of fear is a handy thing for politicians doesn’t amount to my wondering whether there is a conspiracy to do so. I doubt a conspiracy very much indeed, though I do suspect that (whether consciously or – more likely – unconsciously) politicians are rather enjoying their new-found ability to tell people what to do without getting much kick-back in response to that. Today’s Guardian tells me that “Ministers [are] reportedly considering Omicron ‘circuit breaker’ in England”:

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/dec/18/ministers-reportedly-considering-omicron-circuit-breaker-in-england

    We’re increasingly hearing talk of lockdowns by stealth, and one des appear to be just round the corner.

    Here’s a thought experiment. Imagine that the last two years haven’t happened. Imagine that covid-19 had never burst upon the world, and that we have not experienced all the recent non-clinical interventions – no mask-wearing, no social distancing, no covid passports, no lockdowns. Imagine then that the omicron variant of covid-19 has just arrived, and that South African scientists and medics (those with the most experience of it to date) are advising that it spreads rapidly but seems to be relatively mild and flu-like in its effects. Do you think for one moment that there would be talk of closing schools next term, of compulsory mask-wearing, of vaccine passports? Do you think for one moment that the PM and Scottish FM would be referring to omicron in terms of a tidal wave or a tsunami? Do you think for one moment that Boris would have dared talk of the need for a conversation about mandatory vaccinations or that, on behalf of the EU, Ursula von der Leyen would raise such a subject and would allow EU states to end free movement of people? I don’t. I think the only reason we are where we are with regard to such issues is because 21 months or more of fear has produced this outcome.

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  20. I’m not sure I have anything erudite to add but my wife and I were reminiscing yesterday about the 1970s. It was a pretty grim decade in many ways with high levels of unemployment, strikes, three day weeks, civil unrest, real poverty in some inner cities, the threat of nuclear war and, of course, we were heading towards an imminent ice age! We were in our teens then, so maybe we had youthful optimism on our side, but we don’t remember this incessant climate of fear and doom-mongering of recent years.
    And whilst there’s still much we can do to improve the environment, things are an awful lot better than they were then, rivers are much cleaner, there are far less toxic emissions from cars and factories.
    Thanks for such a great blog and interesting articles and discussions.

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  21. Alan Kendall says:

    “JIT. Even if you consider 50,000 deaths to be an outlier (= an unlikely extreme?) you cannot just dismiss it. ”

    The number of deaths is just Book Learning

    There have been peaks of winter flu’ deaths in hospitals since there have been hospitals, flu’ was not called ‘the old soldier’s friend’ for nothing.

    If Ferguson had expressed his numbers as saying ‘twice the number who died in the last ‘bad’ flu’ year, then he would have put it into a context that most people, including especially, politicians could understand. Such context has been sorely missing in the last couple of years.

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  22. Your figure for the retired looks okay (although many actually live in constrained circumstances). That 30 or 40% more of the population (to make your 50 or 60) are middle class enough, depends on how we define middle-class. But anyhow, nowhere near these overall numbers of people would support a similar level of long-term burdens to prevent climate-change, whatever their class or retirement status. For instance don’t support any burden at all even in the here-and-now regarding energy costs, never mind effectively for ever more. So they are reacting differently to domain-related fears; there’s a reason for that. (Note, the burdens for covid are frequently in the news; folks aren’t ignorant of them).

    “My wondering whether the utilisation of fear is a handy thing for politicians doesn’t amount to my wondering whether there is a conspiracy to do so. I doubt a conspiracy very much indeed, though I do suspect that.”

    Yet to wonder is to raise the questions. And you appeared also to agree with Ross Clarke, who did a lot more than wonder. Though he may well have not have pursued the implications of his wondering.

    “Here’s a thought experiment.”

    Correlation is not causation!!

    You implied, or at least speculated, as reinforced by Clarke, that the fears are deliberately generated by the politicians, ‘in order to control our behaviour’. Hence the short set of questions related to same. While not answering specifically you now say you “…doubt a conspiracy very much indeed, though I do suspect that.” So in order to exercise your suspicion, in that it might be true and we desire to know how likely or via what means it could happen, would you agree that the questions asked (and similar ones, no doubt) are ones that would need answering?

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  23. “Correlation is not causation!!”

    Yes there is fear. You cannot use this correlation to say the fear came deliberately from politicians with the original intent to control their respective national populations across the globe. For that, you need evidence of the deliberateness and co-ordination. Hence the questions. Where else in such circumstances, do you think the fear might come from?

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  24. Mark:
    “There are a number of common strands between climate alarmism, Brexit hysteria and covid rule-making. First, and I think most importantly, there is fear.”

    Yes, but maybe not in the way you think.

    What these three movements have in common is a strong, succinct, easily remembered narrative that contains both problem and solution. All three playoff, or prey on, and exacerbate already existing and largely unvoiced fears in the general population.

    For the reaction to covid, there has been over the last 40-50 years an increased emphasis on public health by governments which gives the impression that illness comes from what is eaten. Such interventions have been paralleled by the phenomena of the ‘worried unwell’ and a rise in interest in alternative medicine. It’s worth remembering, here, that people started to isolate themselves a good week or two before the first covid lockdown was announced.

    For Brexit, the reaction was mostly economic with the Osbourne austerity taking most of the blame, but underlying that was the fact that most working people had not seen an increase in their incomes for 20-30 years.

    As for Climate Change, it seems to me that there is much mistrust in modern technology. Most of it is opaque and largely invisible, by that I mean that it tends to come in packages with the ‘magic’ inside but even when the ‘magic’ is explained, most people are none the wiser. While the technology available to individuals may be seen as useful, much is seen as problematical at a societal level eg plastics, chemicals etc.

    For those wishing to oppose these movements, unless they address the underlying fears and discontents which have been exploited, their narrative will sound something like “the status quo is OK” and so not get traction on the problem.

    Having said all that, I do believe that there is a class dimension at work here and any attempt to run a referendum on the handling of either covid or climate change will result, as with Brexit, in a defeat for the government.

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  25. Bill, first of all, yes I think you are on to something, especially with your final paragraph.

    Andy, I don’t “say the fear came deliberately from politicians with the original intent to control their respective national populations across the globe” nor do I think I even implied it, either in the piece itself or in my comments below the line. I do suspect that having observed it, they find it useful and are happy to feed it. That’s slightly different. And, of course, although there has been much similarity in the political response across the world (I see from the BBC website this evening that the Netherlands are heading into another strict lockdown) there are quite a few places (albeit probably distinctly in the minority) where politicians have behaved differently.

    Where does the fear come from? Or at least where did it originate? I genuinely don’t know, though I think the mainstream media play a major part in stoking it up, from climate change through Brexit to covid.

    I’m not sure how far Ross Clarke takes his conclusions – it was a very short article (certainly compared to my ramblings).

    I do remain wedded to the idea that politicians find fear in the populace (wherever and however it originates) useful. They COULD have played omicron down if they wanted, by concentrating on the good news coming out of South Africa (yes, it’s a super spreader, but it seems to be much serious than the original version and all previous mutations). Instead they have run with project fear (I see Sadiq Khan has joined in this evening).

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  26. I should have added – thank you for all the comments. I am gratified to see that I have triggered an interesting discussion on an interesting topic.

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  27. I have no evidence of this, but there is a possibility that the fear in question here is a natural consequence of safety. In the West, we have become more and more protected from harm. I mentioned in Denierland the observation that we are not sheltering under the kitchen table while bombs drop nearby. It may be that rational fear of concrete dangers has been replaced by anxiety about nebulous maybes like climate change.

    Would we give up our fears and anxieties if placed to live in a utopia? Would we ever truly relax for any length of time? Or would a creeping fear begin to grow in us even then?

    Perhaps I should not conflate fear with anxiety – because that is perhaps the tradeoff here. Fear may be more useful than anxiety, in that it responds to a real danger, and is then followed by relief. Anxiety is more insidious, and may be semi-permanent.

    I have not made a study of psychology, so if anyone knows better, feel free to tell me so.

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  28. Richard, am I to take it that I have been awarded an honorary Cliscep doctorate, while John Ridgway is still waiting for his?

    If you knew how arbitrary our awards process was, you’d be, well, afraid.

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  29. Mark,

    ‘Andy, I don’t “say the fear came deliberately from politicians with the original intent to control their respective national populations across the globe” nor do I think I even implied it, either in the piece itself or in my comments below the line.’

    Indeed you don’t say this, which is why my original comments on same were phrased as questions. You may however imply it, which is what I was trying to determine.

    As noted in my first comment I took my initial lead from this: “Ross Clark has articulated my ideas so well for me”, which quoted articulation includes this in regard to Net Zero and Covid: “and both are driven by a desire to control the population via puritanical strictures”. And in conjunction with the title of the article, the above implication is certainly possible. Hence my questions to clarify whether indeed you were considering deliberate creation of fear to this end as a possibility, and if so whether you’d therefore considered any implications thereof, one of which would be a global aspect because the phenomena are global.

    And later below the line, you appear to confirm to some degree by saying this “but for the first time, I’m starting to wonder if the utilisation of fear is a handy thing for scientists and politicians who want to control our behaviours”.

    I am still little wiser as to whether you therefore consider the deliberate creation of fear by politicians and scientists (who want to control us) as a possibility for main causation, or not. From this comment it would seem so, yet if you baulk at the questions which are merely simple logical follow-ups of that line, maybe it’s just a sign of exasperation rather than something you’d ever allow as a real possibility. That those with overall authority (politicians) or domain-related authority (scientists) might ride a tiger is pretty much expected, but this is radically different to implying that they first bred and fed the tiger *for the deliberate purpose of controlling their publics through fear*. The question is worth pursuing, because if there are memes, even vague (in fact, vague is much better for memes), that lend a credence to this angle that in truth you didn’t really intend, it may be better to be more guarded about presentation, because such memes can rapidly escape any control. For instance as you note, Clarke has put something out there yet we don’t know how much he really meant it; however it’s eminently quotable by those who certainly do mean it.

    “Where does the fear come from? Or at least where did it originate? I genuinely don’t know, though I think the mainstream media play a major part in stoking it up…”

    Well for sure the media are an amplifier. But in none of these cases are they the creators.

    “I genuinely don’t know…”

    Well I guess that rules out politicians as the main cause. Rightly, imo.

    In concentrating on the commonalities between CC and Covid and whatever else, one shouldn’t forget differences too, and some fundamental. Fear is not rational, so we wouldn’t expect rational behaviour from anyone infected by it. Or by extension, anyone whose job depends on the votes or sponsorship of anyone infected by it. And there’s more than one sort of fear that can drive whole populations irrationally, leaving pretty different finger-prints. But OTOH the candidate list is also very small.

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  30. Which finishes…

    “But the national broadcaster should surely feature both sides of the debate and not just relentlessly make the case for further restrictions while ignoring the toll they have on our society.

    The BBC insists that it has ‘covered the pandemic with great care and in detail’ but there are signs that the corporation is once again failing in this critical function. The BBC News website now almost constantly features the ‘Live’ number of coronavirus cases. ‘Two vaccine doses don’t stop you catching Omicron’ read a headline last week, as if this was somehow remarkable – totally ignoring the fact that double-jabbed BBC staff had been succumbing to the coronavirus for months, long before Omicron reared its head.

    I have come to the depressing conclusion that this pattern will keep on repeating every year and every time we face a new Covid variant.

    There is a strong case to be made now that the vaccines have done their job and should (as long as the Omicron variant does not significantly evade them) protect the vast majority of people from serious illness, meaning we should no longer be forced to endure any new restrictions.

    Most people in the country have obediently had the jabs when offered, including me. Personally speaking, I would rather face Covid than face compulsory restrictions every year – or live in a two-tier society where those who get jabbed enjoy freedoms denied to the unvaccinated. We’re not there yet but we seem to be getting closer by the day.

    As the public service broadcaster in a democratic country the BBC should understand and feature this debate – and not act as a government campaigner. Instead, with its reporting of the pandemic, it has made a truly awful ‘new normal’ much more likely.”

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  31. Bill – wow, just wow. Thank you for putting that link here. I would encourage everyone to read it.

    Andy: “That those with overall authority (politicians) or domain-related authority (scientists) might ride a tiger is pretty much expected, but this is radically different to implying that they first bred and fed the tiger *for the deliberate purpose of controlling their publics through fear*.”

    Agreed, and I do thank you for pushing and probing. It’s important that ideas are scrutinised to see exactly what is meant by them and whether they come up to snuff. To be clear, I don’t think that politicians and scientists invented the fear around covid, but I am increasingly starting to think that they find it useful. The Spectator article linked to by Bill Bedford is fascinating and worrying in almost equal measure.

    Today’s Guardian, I note, is running with this headline this evening:

    “Covid live: UK reports 82,886 new cases in huge weekly jump”. It goes on “The UK detected 82,886 new Covid cases on Sunday, a 72% jump on the 48,071 new infections recorded last Sunday.”. But you have to keep reading to find that “Sunday’s figures are slightly lower than recent record-breaking daily case rates – it was above 90,000 on Thursday. Reported figures tend to be lower at weekends.”

    That final qualification is fair enough, but none of this remotely looks like the level of cases that scary comments from modellers and scientists led us to believe would be the case by now, nor are the officially reported numbers anything like a doubling every 2 or 3 days. Indeed, officially-reported infection rates have now dropped for 2 days running. Even allowing for the fact that omicron is not yet 100% (or anything near it) of reported infections and it is only the omicron variant numbers that are supposed to be rising at that rapid rate, the numbers still aren’t where the scare-mongering told us they would be. Why do they so badly want to scare us? Why (apparently – according to the Spectator article) do SAGE not include in their modelling the rather crucial piece of information that omicron is not, so far as we know, anything like as dangerous as delta? I can’t say I was convinced by the tweeted explanation. Is he saying that politicians have asked them only to model worst-case scenarios? It’s all rather baffling.

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  32. I confess I’ve only just read the Fraser Nelson piece giving details of his Twitter interaction with Graham Medley. I totally agree with Mark’s wow! Thanks Bill.

    Nelson says in passing:

    Apologies for the language at the end

    No worries, mate, about that. And at the end:

    For now, although I often curse the platform, I should thank Twitter for giving me the chance to ask some questions of someone so well-placed in such an important issue.

    I echo Mark’s encouragement to read this. This is a smoking gun moment for modelling of all sorts.

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  33. @Bill – thanks for that link.

    liked this comment/twitter quote –

    “Graham Medley – We generally model what we are asked to model. There is a dialogue in which policy teams discuss with the modellers what they need to inform their policy.

    Fraser Nelson – Might this remit mean leaving out just-as-plausible, quite-important scenarios that would not require lockdown?

    Graham Medley – Decision-makers are generally on only interested in situations where decisions have to be made.”

    wonder you the “policy teams” are ?

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  34. This would seem to be a good time to remind everyone of what a real expert on risk management has said, namely, Professor Felix Redmill, CEng., FIET, FBCS:

    “It must also be decided, at the scope-definition stage of the [risk] analysis, whether estimations should be based on the worst possible consequence, the worst credible, or the most likely, and the risk values are influenced by the choice. Further, each scenario is not clearly defined and waiting to be ‘measured’, but is a potential outcome whose parameters must be subjectively defined – perhaps in line with the goals or mind-set of a particular industry sector.”

    Risk Analysis – What a Real Expert has Said About it

    What isn’t clear is whether there was ever a scope-definition stage to the government’s Covid risk analysis and, if so, whether the stage was defined by SAGE or the government. For all I know, there is no risk analysis process being followed at all. The problem may be that uncertainty is in charge. It is in those circumstances that decision-makers are driven to the worst possible scenarios without regard for probabilities. You can’t say you are making risk-based decisions if you don’t know the probabilities. Whatever the case, the best decisions are the best informed ones.

    Liked by 4 people

  35. Mark. hitherto I have kept out of this discussion for two reasons. First I am finding it increasingly difficult to concentrate for the lengths of time necessary to compose a reasoned response to any complex topic (possibly a post-Covid effect) and, second, I have such strong and personal views about Covid that, before I know it I’m in an argument in which I’m provoked into saying or writing more than I should.

    Firstly I enjoyed reading your article. I found it well written, clever and eventually provocative. It certainly was thought provoking. Initially your arguments carried me with you, but the more I thought about your topic the more I came to question and eventually to disagree.

    I will agree that there are many similarities between attitudes to climate change, Brexit and Covid. However, do we learn anything profound from these resemblances? I have concluded that the resemblances are rather superficial and apart from the facts that each engenders fear and this can be enhanced or manipulated I believe the differences between them are more important. I think that the most important difference is in the proportion of the population that experience fear. For climate change poll after poll examining the issue reveal that the majority of the populous, regardless of how much alarmists huff and puff, show little indication of being afeared. Most of those would currently reside in the fear of the effects of climate change camp, but might well switch into a fear of the effects of countering climate change camp in the near future. In contrast, observations upon my local variant of mankind suggest that the majority are very much willing to suffer much loss of their freedoms in attempts to keep Delta, Omicron and whatever comes next at bay. And they do that out of genuine and understandable fear. More and more of us have direct experience of Covid or we know individuals who have had the disease. There are daft buggers out there willing to dare Covid to infect them but Darwin (or post-Darwin) will cull many of those. As to Brexit there must have been almost as many concerned about leaving Europe as there were worried about staying in. How many were worried enough to describe their concern as fear I know not, but I judge it to have been rather small. For most it has made little difference.

    Whether we can pull out significances from a comparison between such disparate examples of fear I somehow doubt, but it has taken much thought to reach such a conclusion. Thank you for causing me to make the effort.

    Liked by 1 person

  36. Alan, thank you for your thoughtful and thought-provoking response.

    Firstly, as regards covid, I need to make it clear that I am not, and never have been, in the camp that denies that covid has been serious and dangerous. I know people who have died of (not with) covid, and I know people who have been made seriously ill by it (you fall in to that category). I have personally taken it seriously, and I have the good fortune to be retired, so I don’t need to go to work, and I don’t need to travel by public transport. Nor do I need to mix socially unless I want to. I have taken what I consider to be sensible precautions to avoid catching it and (touch wood) to date neither I nor my wife nor any close relatives have done so.

    But, where I part company with the official response is that I don’t accept that many of the non-clinical interventions have been either as effective as claimed (or perhaps, they have not been effective at all), and I worry about the collateral damage they have caused (both financial and otherwise). Whilst accepting that early versions of the virus were dangerous, indeed potentially lethal, the only evidence I have seen to date about the omicron variant (and I have searched extensively) suggests that it isn’t anything like as dangerous as earlier versions of the virus. This is good news, at least I think it is. Yet (as we saw from Fraser Nelson’s article in the Spectator) the official line is to assume that it is equally dangerous, and to seek to make policy decisions based on that assumption. Why? The newspaper headlines, based on what many, many expert scientists and modellers said at the time, screamed that Boris was being incredibly reckless to (belatedly) open up society on 19th July. Yet, now that we have the benefit of hindsight, we know that he was right about that (if about little else!) and that the experts were wrong. How, and why, did they get it so badly wrong?

    Brexit is a divisive subject, of course, and I hesitated to use it in my article. But I decided to do so in the end because we are now sufficiently far on to be able to state categorically that Project Fear around Brexit was massively overdone, and the experts who predicted Brexit Armageddon were hopelessly wrong. That’s not to say that Brexit hasn’t brought problems in its wake, just that the scale of the problems is nothing like as great as so confidently predicted by those who were determined we should vote to remain.

    Regarding climate change, in this venue I think I am on safer ground, so I won’t say anything more about it.

    The question is why is the fear factor overdone? I don’t impute malign intentions to those who seek to scare us. Maybe they are genuinely fearful on their (and our) behalf. But the fact remains that whenever there are a range of possible outcomes to pretty much any scenario, they regularly (it seems, instinctively) incline to the worst possible scenario. Again, why? And why do their pronouncements continue to be imbued with such authority when time and time again they have got it hopelessly wrong?

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  37. “…whenever there are a range of possible outcomes to pretty much any scenario, they regularly (it seems, instinctively) incline to the worst possible scenario…”

    Bingo. Instinct. A variety of animals of very different types (fish, insects, mammals) are known to practice social distancing, and not just in pandemic situations but when they detect (e.g. via chemical smell of whatever) more ‘standard’ illness. And sometimes at the expense of their normal behaviours that (in absence of disease) would lead to higher survival outcomes. Such instincts appear to be common and so likely run very deep. There’s no reason to think we have somehow outgrown them, and abundant evidence that we have not. Animals have a range of behaviours, but some even cast out (or kill I think in the case of bees) infected individuals. We no longer have useful chemical analysis from our scent, as many animals do, to tell us who is who (my group or a different one), or who is probably unwell (even without obvious visual symptoms [yet]), and we use complex social signals instead. However fear is irrational and the signalling can go horribly wrong – instinctive algorithms are very simplistic after all – so if for instance such instincts latch onto ‘unvaccinated = ill’, then prepare for unsocial behaviour towards the unvaxed. Having rational debate and policy about how to do much better than these algorithms and make far better use of the knowledge our big brains and technology have granted us, tends often to be stymied by the fact that the fear is so pervasive it soaks into all the orgs and authorities who are most prominent in deciding and implementing what is to be done – orgs that are actually under heavy pressure from their ultimate sponsors, publics, to behave as the public fear demands.

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  38. Andy, interesting, thank you.

    I was out in town yesterday evening, and fear was nowhere to be seen among the members of the public who were out and about (in pubs and at the cinema). Everyone was remarkably relaxed while (broadly, though not fully) complying with mask-wearing rules (and not so much with social distancing requirements). And the place was busy. I’m still not convinced it’s the public whose fear is dragging along experts and politicians in their wake, rather than the other way around.

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  39. “We cannot let them lock us down again
    If we can’t live freely when the population is vaccinated and boostered, then when can we?”

    https://www.spiked-online.com/2021/12/20/we-cannot-let-them-lock-us-down-again/

    This paragraph particularly resonated with me:

    “In the absence of hard data, the experts have turned to models to make their case for lockdown. It has long been clear that these models are less than worthless. No one can seriously believe SAGE’s warning from earlier this week that without new restrictions we are heading towards 6,000 Covid deaths per day. This would be nearly six-times higher than the UK’s January peak, before the vaccination and booster rollouts. In fact, it would be even higher than India’s peak of over 4,000 daily deaths during its awful Delta wave back in May. (In case it isn’t already abundantly obvious why the UK is not going to reach India’s record death rates: India has a population 13 times that of the UK, has considerably fewer hospital beds per head, and had only given out a first dose of the vaccine to around a quarter of its population at the time it racked up its grim daily deaths record.)”

    And this one:

    “Then there is the small matter of the vaccine rollout. Given the tenor of panic from scientists and the media, you could be forgiven for thinking it had never happened. Britain has so far given out 126million vaccine doses. Nearly 50 per cent of the population over 12 has received a booster shot, too. To go back into lockdown now would represent not only a colossal loss of nerve, but also a neo-Luddite repudiation of scientific endeavour. The vaccines work. They and other drugs are what will make Covid manageable, not never-ending restrictions.”

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  40. Mark, if you are not careful you will drive yourself into the arms of those advancing the view that Covid should be allowed to let rip in order to preserve what remains of our tattered liberty. You seem ready to seize upon any favourable view and run with it. So you argue that the Omicron variant is less severe than previous variants (but accept that it can be transmitted more readily and can affect unboostered but vaccinated persons). Every time I hear or read this, it comes with a warning that these conclusions are still uncertain, that the apparent mildness could be due to a different age structure in South Africa or to a greater resistance of South Africans to Omicron as a consequence of their prior infections offering them immunity. Even if this proves to be incorrect and Omicron is less damaging, this is a statement of the average severity of the infection, some people will nevertheless suffer severely or even die. Because Omicron is significantly more infectious than previous variants even the smaller percentage of those severely affected may involve a greater number of individuals, each of which will involve a greater strain on the NHS.

    I would judge that the absence of fear you observed in your local town could well result from three effects – those afeared were staying home, Covid weariness and bloody mindedness coupled with a determination not to spoil the run-up to Christmas. The last two mentioned are probably reasons causing our Boris to prevaricate.

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  41. Alan:

    I would judge that the absence of fear you observed in your local town could well result from three effects – those afeared were staying home, Covid weariness and bloody mindedness coupled with a determination not to spoil the run-up to Christmas. The last two mentioned are probably reasons causing our Boris to prevaricate.

    And the legacy media?

    I didn’t read the article. I was in the local supermarket and can confirm Mark’s observations as applying to North Somerset 😉

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  42. More importantly, in my view Boris and the cabinet pulled back from further restrictions yesterday because of the Spectator piece by Fraser Nelson and the arguments surrounding it. Or, as Christopher Hope, Chief Political Correspondent at the Telegraph just put it on Radio 5 Live, the government is not prepared to follow forecasts this Christmas, it’s waiting for real data. That is a risk but that’s what’s happening, led I think by Rishi Sunak. (There again, I wasn’t in the Cabinet discussions!)

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  43. “I was out in town yesterday evening, and fear was nowhere to be seen among the members of the public… …I’m still not convinced it’s the public whose fear is dragging along experts and politicians in their wake, rather than the other way around.”

    The latest polls, for the first time, show majorities *against* further measures, and an overwhelming majority against a lockdown before Christmas. So it may be wearing off, at last, or at least subsiding somewhat (and due to social lag, you’d expect it to wear off *last* for leadership echelons). But throughout most of the pandemic, and especially the early stages, this was the other way around. If you think that the experts and politicians are the lead factor, you also have to explain why they apparently have the same plan in practically every country, including radically different world-views, political systems (and governments of particular political stripe within those), ethnicities, religious faiths, economic systems (and levels within those), etc etc. And including various nations who are ideologically opposed to each other in different axes (and possibly some even at war). A driver of instinctive herd fear of disease, has no conception of all these, is upstream of all such in motivational terms. If however the primary motivation is coming from the respective national politicians (and scientists), there has to be some explanation of why all such folks who are normally engaged in a huge variety of geo-political and local stances that frequently conflict across all the above boundaries, have suddenly chosen to create fear in the same direction and executed from essentially the same hymn-sheet, forgetting all those boundaries which normally occupy most of their time and effort.

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  44. For the most emphatic statement that fear just isn’t the rational response to the Omicron variant try this from FOX News on Saturday:

    Inventor of mRNA vaccine platform: Omicron is a Christmas present to us

    That’s Dr Robert Malone, the guy in the podcast with Bret Weinstein that our dear friend Jaime Jessop pointed to in June, leading to me watching that video in full (at a new site it had been moved to after YouTube had deleted it!), then various others. I then offeried a public apology to Jaime. Because I’d changed my mind on vaccine hazards. Anyway, whatever happened in June, Dr Malone suggests that those who believe in God might be well to thank Him for this amazing gift for Christmas.

    Let’s see what the data really says 😉

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  45. We shall see. I would just love for my fears to be proven wrong, but the pessimist in me worries that people’s dismissal of the threat of omicron could well be misplaced.

    Liked by 1 person

  46. When I wrote “The Politics of Fear”, I didn’t intend it to be all about covid, not least because I recognised that it is an emotive and controversial subject (or, at least, the Government’s policy response to it certainly is). I simply sought to point out some parallels between the official doctrine of “Be afraid, be very afraid” with regard to each and every challenge that faces us. However, as Brexit, although not dead and buried, is old history now, and as we’re mostly singing off the same hymn sheet with regard to climate change alarmism, I suppose it’s fair enough that discussion has concentrated on the issue that is most relevant here and now – covid.

    Alan – “Mark, if you are not careful you will drive yourself into the arms of those advancing the view that Covid should be allowed to let rip in order to preserve what remains of our tattered liberty.”

    Definitely not. I simply seek to take an holistic view which realises that, tragic though covid illnesses and deaths are, they are not the only thing that matter and should not be the sole determinant of Government policy in response to new covid variants. Every non-clinical intervention causes collateral damage. There are plenty of models exaggerating the risks from covid. I don’t see many models considering the damage caused by non-clinical interventions.

    I don’t agree with headlines like this in today’s Guardian:

    “Omicron is spreading at an alarming rate, and there’s no solid evidence it’s ‘milder’”

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/dec/21/omicron-spreading-milder-virus

    “No SOLID evidence” eh? Actually, there’s plenty of decent evidence that it is milder, and Dr Angelique Coetzee has made it clear when she’s been given the chance that it is definitely milder and that she thinks the UK (and, admittedly, presumably much of the rest of the world), is over-reacting. I don’t buy the argument about the different age profile, since there are plenty of factors to counter that – in the UK, they reckon around 96% of adults have antibodies, either through vaccination or prior infection. And South Africa has plenty of issues with vulnerable people, thanks to its issues with AIDS over the last few decades. I’m pretty confident that if the information coming out of South Africa suggested that omicron was virulent, UK experts wouldn’t be holding back and saying we needed more information and clearer evidence – they’d be screaming for lockdown.

    I appreciate that hospitalisations and deaths lag infection, but it’s been with us now for long enough that I think the first clear evidence should be coming through, and to date there is certainly no evidence of increasing death rates or of significantly increasing hospitalisations. And, curiously, having shot up to c. 90,000 official new infections a day, the rate has hovered there for several days now. Hardly what one would expect when we’re told that omicron infections double every two days or so. Meanwhile, the booster jab programme is extraordinary, with around 1.3% of the entire population receiving boosters every day.

    However, just as you very much want to be wrong (and I very much want to be right – not for selfish reasons, but because it would be good news) -I accept that I might yet be proved to be wrong. If in due course it becomes clear that I am far too optimistic and that the caution of the experts has been justified, then I will very publicly eat humble pie here if necessary.

    Andy – if experts en masse act instinctively, it doesn’t say much for their approach to “the science”, does it? And whatever the reason for the fear factor permeating modern political and expert discourse, I stand by my belief that it does so, and that it is very unhelpful.

    Liked by 1 person

  47. I should have expressed my thanks earlier to Ian Woolley who, in the pub on Sunday night, pointed me back to Robert Malone and his scientific, if tentative, explanation of why Omicron is far milder than Delta. Ian also kindly agreed to give me a lift back from my long-delayed cataract operation in Bristol, now at the last minute scheduled for 4th January, Omicron-centred policy and its collateral effects allowing. A date my immediate family was struggling to be in right area of the country for. 🙂

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  48. Alan Kendall says:

    “Mark, if you are not careful you will drive yourself into the arms of those advancing the view that Covid should be allowed to let rip in order to preserve what remains of our tattered liberty.”

    At some point, the government is going to have to admit exactly that. If reports that ~95% of the country have antibodies to covid are close to true and presumably, those same people have immunity, then that point should become sooner rather than later.

    Liked by 1 person

  49. from the post – “modelled” – have the public (or me) any idea what that means ?

    “It is an offence against democracy to issue apocalyptic warnings to try to dragoon the masses into compliance with restrictions. It turns us from democratic citizens who ought to be engaged in factful discussion about how crises should be tackled and society should be organised, into aberrant children whose behaviour must be shaped and controlled by threats and occasional treats…”

    yip – that’s what seems to be happening

    Liked by 1 person

  50. ps – I would add to that comment the question “covid/climate – do the electorate have any say”

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  51. ‘Andy – if experts en masse act instinctively, it doesn’t say much for their approach to “the science”, does it?’

    Of course it doesn’t!! But if you think that the world works on rationality alone, or even as the majority player, or indeed that scientists are magically immune, this doesn’t accord with the whole of history. So why should it accord with the present?

    ‘And whatever the reason for the fear factor permeating modern political and expert discourse, I stand by my belief that it does so, and that it is very unhelpful.’

    Of course it’s unhelpful!! Massively so. But you can’t just ban this instinct. It is deep and it is potent and it infects entire populations. If the herd instinct for social distancing was acknowledged much more widely, then likely it could also be constrained more successfully, but we haven’t got to step 1 yet.

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  52. Dfhunter. Do the electorate have sufficient knowledge or understanding to make important decisions? And if they do, what do we need politicians for?

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  53. Alan, so long as the debate is dumbed down and media and politicians infantilise the electorate, then perhaps the public will lack the necessary knowledge, but it won’t be the public’s fault.

    On too many issues where there are a range of opinions among the public, there is something approaching consensus among politicians, experts and mainstream media, which denies the public a choice.

    We need politicians to represent a variety of viewpoints, not to impose a consensus. Their failure to represent a spectrum of opinions is a serious democratic deficit, IMO.

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  54. “Do the electorate have sufficient knowledge or understanding to make important decisions? And if they do, what do we need politicians for?”

    Politicians are not there to fill-in for knowledge deficit. Typically, they know no more than the public anyhow. They are there because how to ‘best run society’ is a wicked problem for which science has no answer, and is not likely to have one in the foreseeable future. Politicians supply a range of answers (via different parties and positions therein), allowing the best system so far, democracy, in which approaches constantly rotate through their various positions. So the system roughly tracks reality, throwing out failures via electoral defeat (whence the failed then try to up their game for next time). If any one party or person stays in power too long, becomes unchallengeable, the gap between reality and imposed policies will grow with time, likely leading to a much more robust or even violent reset, or a collapse such as occurred with the Soviet Union.

    In principle, the least use of politicians should occur with science orientated challenges, because for that we have… science. But in practice, science is too easily hi-jacked by the mass irrationality of cultural beliefs, or in the covid case herd fear. And scientists are by no means immune to such hi-jacks themselves.

    ‘We need politicians to represent a variety of viewpoints, not to impose a consensus. Their failure to represent a spectrum of opinions is a serious democratic deficit, IMO’

    Agree. Though something approaching the right process (more than 1 viewpoint being considered) appeared to occur in cabinet the other day, throughout most countries and most of the time, forceful, even aggressive consensus has ruled re covid. In general approved of by fearful public majorities and screamed for by the media. This doesn’t mean everything is wrong, and the huge effort put in to get early vaccines for instance was one of the winners. However, it’s a sign that rational science is not in charge, but a social consensus owing to emotive convictions. And clearly, irrational things have happened. In early stages, when there was a genuine large knowledge deficit, perhaps this approach is fine as society’s default emergency action. But that stage has long since passed; it is not a knowledge deficit problem, it is a problem of relaxing the grip of fear in order that something approaching rationality returns. But it’s likely that the politicians will relax last, only when it’s become very clear that the public themselves have lost their panic, and hence they feel safe from any furious backlash. It seems from recent polls that the UK public may be turning the corner, but there’s a lot of inertia soaked into all our institutions, and it won’t dissipate overnight.

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  55. Alan – no easy answer from me to your question “what do we need politicians for?”

    from a tribal POV we want somebody from our tribe at the top table for obvious reasons.
    from a national POV we want a leader who balances all the tribal leaders wants with what is practical.

    when we enter a crisis like Covid things change & the top leader has to make judgements which affect everyone in England.

    my only point/problem with this was the “science” behind the judgements seems driven by stats & modelled data.

    stats are ok, but modelled ? me the public,would like more info on how well they perform.

    ps – know you had Covid & hope all is well

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  56. dfh – “stats are ok, but modelled ? me the public,would like more info on how well they perform.”

    I’m sure there are many who think along the same lines. My experience of comments from local newspaper articles, however, indicates there are many more who are easily lead and will happily accept all they are told without question. Such people, it seems to me, are simply not interested in learning and thinking for themselves.

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  57. The BBC News home page just before 8am and a couple of reflections.

    When have we seen the anthropogenic global warming story and related policies presented with that level of balance?

    (NOT perfectly balanced in the Covid case. But much nearer the mark. And I deeply disagree with Gordon Brown. The attitude to the vaccine situation is highly unbalanced. IMHO.)

    But the other Christmas reflection is about the report from Hong Kong. This is the other ‘Politics of Fear’ story on the front page. And real fear it is for those living there.

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  58. Yep, first class Mark. Now I know one reason that the BBC is being more balanced on Omicron this morning than in some other areas. And JP Morgan was strongly against Brexit (and financed Remain) and has never (that I remember) questioned the C in CAGW.

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  59. I did not really intend to widen the discussion to include the question of what are politicians for, but having asked it there were several suggestions, none of which I agree with. Firstly practicing scientists are the last people I would want to address political decisions about technical questions involving science. In my view politics should be done by those who have a track record of making mostly correct decisions about complex questions where issues are divisive and need to be weighed carefully. That requires skill, judgement and experience (and a thick skin). Their role is to weigh arguments and exercise their best judgement and then stand by their decisions.
    Most of our younger politicians IMHO lack the necessary experience or have a poor track record. It is also why I am a strong supporter of the current British House of Lords and, in the U.K have always voted for the person rather than for a party.

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  60. “In my view politics should be done by those who have a track record of making mostly correct decisions about complex questions where issues are divisive and need to be weighed carefully.”

    This has a tendency to lead to technocratic regimes, even if they remain within a democratic system (sometimes with special powers). Italy has experienced essentially technocratic rule on and off in recent times. This can have its own problems; essentially where society is concerned everything is complex and a problem with evaluating ‘mostly correct decisions’ is that everyone has a different interpretation about what’s correct anyhow (there would not be politics if this wasn’t the case). Technocratic regimes tend to interpret ‘mostly correct decisions’ as ‘risk averse decisions’, which has upsides and downsides. In an emergency, maybe okay, even good. But long-term, much too invested in elite interests and so also much more subject to cultural takeover, typically. Many believers in certain climate catastrophe call for a suspension of democracy and what amounts to a climate technocracy instead, so that ‘mostly correct decisions’ can be made about saving the planet without the inconvenience of an electorate who might disagree with the ‘technical based’ policies, such as Net Zero inspires. Imo, the best politicians in terms of truly serving the people, are on average the ones who yesterday were ordinary people on the streets themselves.

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  61. Richard, being a some time cynic as well as a sceptic, I suspect the position JP Morgan adopts on any given topic is to support the position that it thinks will enable it to make money, and to oppose whatever position will cost it money or enable it to make less money. So I take its views on anything with a pinch of salt. However, in this case its intervention is welcome and it has shown up the “experts” in my opinion.

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  62. @Mark Hodgson – thanks for the Spectator link – interesting read.

    on that webpage was this linked article –
    https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/why-we-need-economists-in-sage

    another interesting read IMO.
    This partial quote chimed with my earlier comment –

    “The analysis of the various variants is generally viewed as excellent. The state of UK modelling on the pandemic is seen as world class, with multiple scenarios, positive as well as pessimistic. In the wake of recent criticism, though, transparency could certainly be improved by seeing the weightings given to the different models.”

    from the 1st Spectator link to “the 90 per cent figure appears to reference the University of Warwick’s modelling, which provides scenarios for 10, 20, 50, and 100 per cent severity, compared with Delta” – https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1042228/SAGE99_S1441_Warwick_Omicron_for_release_v2.0.pdf

    I can’t make head nor tail of the pdf so take it was not done for public consumtion !!!

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  63. Mark (back a while):

    Richard, being a some time cynic as well as a sceptic, I suspect the position JP Morgan adopts on any given topic is to support the position that it thinks will enable it to make money… However, in this case its intervention is welcome and it has shown up the “experts” in my opinion.

    We can’t know the motives of this modelling group. Obviously the business as a whole does care about its reputation. (What was kept hidden about its actions in the early part of the twentieth century shows the same concern.)

    But here’s the amusing thing: BBC bias tracks JP Morgan on climate, Brexit and now Omicron. So now there’s definitely less bias on the latter than there was when this post was produced. That’s pretty awesome timing Mark!

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  64. I see that the BBC has wheeled out Jennie Harries to keep the Omicron alarm bells ringing as long as possible:

    “Official findings that Omicron may be less likely to result in serious illness than Delta offer a ‘glimmer of Christmas hope’, the head of the UK Health Security Agency has said. But Jenny Harries told the BBC it was too early to retract her statement that the variant was the most serious threat the UK had faced during the pandemic.”

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-59776415

    Unfortunately, the problem I have with Dr Harries is that, of all the experts who have spoken publicly on this crisis, it is she who has the longest track record of inaccuracy and misjudgement, not the least when back in April 2020 she astonished us all by declaring the UK to be ‘an exemplar of preparedness’ and called for ‘a more adult’ discussion regarding PPE inadequacies on the front line:

    https://news.sky.com/story/coronavirus-jenny-harries-criticised-for-patronising-remark-about-exemplar-preparedness-11975652

    After that appalling performance you would have thought that she had already earned the right to be hounded out of public office, but she is still out there, holding forth with statements like:

    “We’re not seeing very significant rises in intensive care utilisation or in the use of ventilation beds. Now that may be because a lot of the people who’ve been infected [by Omicron] to date are actually younger people and we will see that coming through.”

    You would have thought that the Deputy Chief Medical Officer would be aware by now that it has been the long-time practice of hospitals to reserve ventilation beds for the treatment of Covid in the younger patient simply because experience has shown that the responsiveness of the older patient to ventilation is not good. So the statistics are far more significant than Dr Harries seems to understand.

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  65. John: typing this on my phone so anypling gose. But I’d just read the Jenny Harries piece including this:

    “Vaccines and boosters are still essential – they do a great job at protecting against severe disease that could put you in hospital”

    Given how tentative every other finding is … how come the confidence here?

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  66. Indeed, Richard.

    Also, I could just as easily have posted my comment on your ‘Changing Minds’ thread, because I think it provides a good example of someone being anchored to their previously confident proclamation. The question is this: Just how much information would Dr Harries need in order to change her mind regarding her warning of doom? The rule seems to be that if you can’t make a confident proclamation of the certainty of doom then it is still enough to make a confident proclamation of the uncertainty of not doom.

    The rest is silence.

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  67. Tongue in cheek comment from me, though with some seriousness behind it – the threat from the omicron variant to the NHS isn’t about overwhelming the NHS with sick people, but rather leaving it short-staffed because so many of its staff have tested positive while being asymptomatic. The result – in effect, spread covid to save the NHS!

    From the Daily Sceptic Website:

    “The Prime Minister is facing pressure to stave off an NHS staffing crisis by reducing the coronavirus self-isolation period to five days. The Times has more.

    Health service chiefs warned that staff absences caused by the requirement to isolate for seven days after a positive test risked causing a bigger problem than the number of Covid-19 patients being admitted to hospitals.

    Scientists, health professionals, hospitality chiefs and Conservative MPs have urged the government to copy the US, which has cut the self-isolation period to five days. Last week Johnson’s government reduced it from ten to seven days.”

    https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/cut-self-isolation-to-save-nhs-boris-johnson-is-urged-82vnxjk9z

    Like

  68. It’s a very real tradeoff right now Mark, just like the Scottish government’s decisions vis-a-vis road building. There are increasingly valuable lessons in the Covid space that should make all politicos begin to take a different view of energy and climate. As the energy price increase shock hits early next year, especially. Fear replaced by ugly reality followed by unashamed realism. From fearless leaders. Well, it’s an idea.

    Liked by 1 person

  69. I mentioned Dr Robert Malone and his rosy view of Omicron as stated on Fox News a week before Christmas.

    515K followers up in smoke. Tender toes.

    Like

  70. The rosy view of Omicron, as I called it two days ago, is looking as if it’s playing out just as Robert Malone predicted. What kind of bogus scientist is this, who makes predictions that come true? He must be banned forthwith!

    Dr. John Campbell presents the latest evidence that Omicron is not just producing a ‘tsanami’ of cases but is displacing Delta in the UK, just as it did in South Africa. Numbers of hospitalisations and deaths remain very encouraging. So far.

    Professor Paul Hunter was more cautious yesterday in The Guardian but still hopeful and, for me, pretty fair. And this merchant of doubt about Covid fear is from where? Yep, Alan Kendall’s revered alma mater, the University of East Anglia.

    Covid ain’t climate. Happily.

    Like

  71. How dare you unnecessarily besmirch me with UEA almamaterism. I’ll have you know my academic nourishment came from Queen Mary, University of London. Furthermore, presumably any comment or speculation dealing with Covid would have been issued from the Health and Medicine sector (and not the deservedly infamous School of Environmental Sciences) which wasn’t even in existence when I lodged there.

    Liked by 1 person

  72. Richard, despite my umbrage (see above), good luck with your eye operations on the 4th (if circumstances are favourable for them to take place).

    Liked by 2 people

  73. Alan: I didn’t know the Health and Medicine department was that new. Professor Hunter has impressed me both on the BBC and now the Guardian. UEA has, it seems, done well here, just as I’m sure they did when retaining you in the geological space! There ain’t one brush to tar all.

    Thank you for you best wishes for the 4th. It has really weighed on my mind, if I’m honest, that I might miss the boat and have another indefinite wait.

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  74. I’m pleased (and not just by way of self-satisfaction, but because it really is good news) that my views on the omicron variant seem to be borne out by real-time data. Add to the evidence of its low virulence the fact that booster jabs seem to be very effective against it and that new (and apparently highly efficacious) anti-covid medicines are now gaining approval, and I think the end is in sight. Yet still we get headlines like this:

    “UK must be poised to introduce swift Covid curbs, says NHS leader
    Hospitals prepare for patient ‘super-surge’ as effects of rapid Omicron spread remain uncertain”

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/dec/31/uk-must-be-poised-to-introduce-swift-covid-curbs-says-nhs-leader

    Really?

    I think we also need to re-visit the way covid statistics are being reported. While the first strain, followed by alpha, beta and delta variants were – broadly – equally contagious and – very broadly – equally dangerous, looking for trends in numbers (of deaths, hospitalisations, daily infections, patients in ICU, whatever) might have made sense, since we were roughly comparing apples with apples. OK, deaths within 28 days of a positive covid test might not have been a very good way of trying to get a handle on the number of covid deaths; and people in hospital “with” (as opposed to being treated for) covid may not have been a very good way to know how many people were actually ill with it, but through previous waves watching those numbers going up and down did, broadly speaking, give us a reasonable feeling for whether things were improving or getting worse.

    Now, however, we have the omicron variant – much faster spreading, but (so it seems) much less virulent. At this point, comparing numbers with those that went before is no longer comparing apples with apples. So many people are catching it but not being very ill, or possibly not ill at all, that “died within 28 days of a positive covid test” ceases to be even remotely a good measure of how many people are being killed by the omicron variant. A huge proportion of deaths within 28 days of a positive covid test might now conceivably be nothing to do with covid. Similarly, numbers in hospital “with covid” is a reducingly useful piece of information in terms of telling us how many people are being hospitalised because they have covid. Whereas before there was a suggestion that maybe 25% of people in hospital “with” covid were being treated for something else, and covid hadn’t made them ill, I’ve read suggestions that for covid that’s a very much higher proportion.

    Presumably the NHS does actually have the relevant numbers – people being treated specifically for covid, ICU numbers due to covid, length of hospital stay for covid, and I’d like to think we also have a better handle on deaths due to covid (rather than within 28 days of a positive test). I sincerely hope our politicians are being fed meaningful numbers, that actually tell them what’s going on with omicron, since bad data will inevitably lead to bad policy-making.

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  75. Mark, your comment above –
    “I’d like to think we also have a better handle on deaths due to covid (rather than within 28 days of a positive test)”
    echo’s my thoughts when this number is quoted (source some gov dept) by the MSM.

    when the first wave hit this seemed a reasonable stat, as Covid dealt the death blow to many old & already sick people.

    plus the NHS (Gov ?) number crunchers reporting figures had to start somewhere & that’s not an easy decision.

    Like

  76. Penultimate line of penultimate paragraph of my last comment – covid should have read omicron. Oops.

    Like

  77. Mark:

    I’m pleased (and not just by way of self-satisfaction, but because it really is good news) that my views on the omicron variant seem to be borne out by real-time data. Add to the evidence of its low virulence…

    I felt immediately that your timing was great, despite the post having some flaws, as a foxy writer trying to paint a hedgehogic big picture in real-time typically will. It really is good news, as you say. And it’s an example of Philip Tetlock’s finding that the fox is much better at prediction than the hedgehog.

    However:

    …the fact that booster jabs seem to be very effective against it

    How can we know that much about the efficacy of the booster jabs? ‘Fact’ for me is way too strong. Are we getting the full picture as far as adverse events post vaccination are concerned? Is the safety testing regime all that it should be? Resounding no as far I now see it. And then strongly influencing (or even mandating) children and young people to have the vaccines is highly morally problematic.

    …and that new (and apparently highly efficacious) anti-covid medicines are now gaining approval

    It’s more than scandalous that other early (and late) treatments were banned to make way for much more profitable ones.

    …and I think the end is in sight.

    Well, so do I. And I’m afraid (ha!) that I think there are some really hard lessons to learn.

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  78. Richard, perhaps I shouldn’t have used the word “fact”, though I did qualify it with the word “seems” (perhaps I was unconsciously nervous about stating it as a fact!).

    Unless people are lying to us, I think the booster jabs have been shown to be efficacious against the omicron variant. However, a big issue for me regarding vaccinations is whether or not they represent a greater risk to some people than the risk they face from covid (especially given the apparent relative mildness of the omicron variant). As I have said here many times, I am not an anti-vaxxer, and have had my 2 covid jabs plus booster plus flu jab in 2021. I calculated that, although fit and without underlying health conditions, my age (mid-late 50s) rendered me at greater risk from covid than from the vaccinations, and so I happily had the vaccinations. Had I been aged below 40, I might have taken a different view, and I am profoundly opposed to the vaccination of children IN THIS CASE, just as I am profoundly opposed to mandatory vaccination of anyone (save, perhaps, for those adults lacking medical capacity and for whom an informed medical judgement favours vaccination on risk grounds). This article is relevant and may be worth a read:

    https://dailysceptic.org/2021/12/31/major-oxford-study-into-vaccine-side-effects-finds-myocarditis-risk-in-younger-males-up-to-14-times-higher-after-vaccination-than-after-infection/

    I agree that there are some hard lessons to learn, and I hope that we (or, more specifically, experts who advise, and politicians who make decisions based on expert advice) learn them. But to end on a positive note, I remain ever-more convinced that 2022 is the year when covid becomes endemic and life gets back to normal (for those of us fortunate enough not to have had their lives stolen by covid or wrecked or stolen by the non-pharmaceutical inventions dubiously introduced to deal with covid). Happy New Year!

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  79. Mark: The myocarditis situation for young people has sounded terrible over the last while. But I haven’t visited that link.

    You also may not have a spare three hours for this:

    [the original tweet was deleted by Twitter so have added a replacement – rd, 2 Jan 22]

    That’s high praise. Rogan is without question the ‘long form’ podcast leader. I think I heard Jordan Peterson say “Joe Rogan now is the mainstream media.” He gets numbers watching the full three hours that the Guardian would die for (and is dying off because of, hopefully). Peterson discussed the importance of this deep change in how news and debate is being consumed in the middle of last year (as I’m learning to call it):

    That’s an excerpt of less than ten minutes, which is also allowed!

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  80. Something is changing when we can see a headline like this at the Guardian/Observer website:

    “Britain got it wrong on Covid: long lockdown did more harm than good, says scientist
    A new book outlines the mistakes and missteps that made UK pandemic worse”

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jan/02/britain-got-it-wrong-on-covid-long-lockdown-did-more-harm-than-good-says-scientist

    Of course, being the Guardian, it’s all about bashing Britain under the Tory government (which latter I despise as much as they do). Why couldn’t they just say that long lockdowns, adopted by the vast majority of countries around the world, including most of those in their beloved EU, did more harm than good? No, it has to be just about the UK getting things wrong.

    Liked by 1 person

  81. Yep, I also just noticed that tentative ‘changing minds’ from the Grauniad Mark. Mark Woolhouse distances himself from The Barrington Declaration but otherwise is a retrospective lockdown sceptic as far as I can see.

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  82. Richard, I noticed the distancing from the Barrington Declaration, and I also felt that it inaccurately misrepresented what the Barrington Declaration said, but it’s still a step in the right direction, IMO.

    Like

  83. Something has definitely changed with regard to the prevailing narrative of fear regarding omicron when there is a report like this on the front page of the BBC website this morning:

    “Omicron stats are huge, but look beyond them”

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-59862568

    The headline says it all, and the contents of the article match the headline, e.g.:

    “A hospital case this winter is not the same as one from earlier in the pandemic.

    For one thing, a growing proportion of hospital patients with Covid are being treated for something else. They just happen to have the virus.

    Latest data, from last week, suggested a third of those admitted to hospital in England were in this position. That’s up from a quarter in the autumn. This data is not published in the UK’s other nations but there is no reason to think it is any different.”

    And:

    “Another sign of how Covid has changed is that the patients who are being treated for it are not getting as sick.

    There have been early reports that patients are not spending as long in hospital and the numbers needing critical care has hardly changed. All this puts the NHS in a stronger position to cope.”

    And:

    “Even then the argument in favour of tougher action was unclear as infections and hospitalisations would rebound once restrictions were lifted. Largely all it would have achieved is delaying and spreading out illness.

    That may have helped the NHS, but would have had to be balanced against wider costs of restrictions to society, the economy and mental health from another lockdown.

    What does seem likely is the wave will come and go pretty quickly – even in other parts of the UK the restrictions in place are expected to only have a limited impact.

    And once it does, experts believe the extra immunity acquired will mean the population will be even better protected for the future.”

    Like

  84. Don’t know how he was reported in the Grauniad but Professor Andrew Pollard seems to be bona fide chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation. Here are three sample headlines from today – about the future, not just being ‘wise’ after the event like Prof Woolhouse.

    BBC Covid: Vaccines for all every four to six months not needed, says expert
    Evening Standard Worst of the pandemic is ‘absolutely behind us’, says vaccine scientist Prof Andrew Pollard
    Daily Mail 'We can't vaccinate the planet every six months': Leading Oxford vaccine expert warns giving regular boosters is 'not sustainable' and says fourth Covid jabs should not be rolled out until there is more evidence

    The fear, it is ebbing away, before our eyes. Now for the lessons to be learned about climate.

    Liked by 1 person

  85. There is good news, then there is bad. When the news is personal it is so much more relevant. We have just learnt that my wife’s oldest and best of friends died a month ago from Covid despite being fully vaccinated. I am now afraid, very afraid. Out there, there are lies.

    Liked by 1 person

  86. Alan, my sincere condolences too. When it’s close to home it’s very difficult indeed.

    Not that it helps you or your wife at all, but given the timing of the death, I suspect it as a delta variation infection. If what we’ve been told is true, being fully vaccinated should have protected against that. It’s no consolation to you, your wife, or your wife’s friends family, but I continue to believe – and fervently hope – that the omicron variant is good news. Let’s hope so, and these awful deaths and illnesses can be put behind us.

    Like

  87. Richard, Mark thank you for your condolences. However, the reason behind my post was to rant against what I now perceive to be rank lying by authorities regarding Covid. If our friend died from Delta then assurances that vaccinations would protect are untrue, if Omicron, then assurances that this variant is milder are lies.
    After my own recovery from Covid last year I was led to believe I was fully protected. Nevertheless I duly had my two vaccinations as soon as I became eligible and was reassured I now was as protected as I could be. Now I read that at this time Covid 19 was mutating like mad. Most mutations produced harmless or less viable strains but it was known that eventually more viable strains would arise. Were we forewarned? Like hell we were.

    The mantra now is test, test, test. But for weeks now lateral flow whatsits have been impossible to get, either by mail or from pharmacies. Who is responsible for their procurement ? No one stands up. If I could conjugate that wonderful verb Macron used (and which Geoff translated for us) I would use it here!

    Liked by 1 person

  88. Who knows what to believe any more?

    “Vaccine Effectiveness Plummets to as Low as Minus-151% as Omicron Cancels Out Boost From Third Doses”

    https://dailysceptic.org/2022/01/07/vaccine-effectiveness-plummets-to-as-low-as-minus-151-as-omicron-cancels-out-boost-from-third-doses/

    “Omicron bites hard in the UKHSA Vaccine Surveillance report this week, as unadjusted vaccine effectiveness against infection (calculated from the raw data) plummets across all age groups in the month ending January 2nd 2022. The revival in some age groups from the third doses has now been almost completely cancelled out, as all age groups above 18 years go negative again. Those in their 40s hit a new low of minus-151% (negative vaccine effectiveness means the vaccinated are more likely to be infected than the unvaccinated; a vaccine effectiveness of minus-100% means the vaccinated are twice as likely to be infected as the unvaccinated). There is a sharp drop for under-18s for the first time as well, with unadjusted vaccine effectiveness more than halving in a fortnight, collapsing from 79% to 38% (there was no report last week due to the Christmas holiday).

    To underline the pointlessness of vaccine passports and mandates for preventing spread, I have plotted in the chart below the proportions of infections in the unvaccinated and vaccinated for the month ending January 2nd (in this chart ‘vaccinated’ includes all who have received at least one dose; in the other charts in this post ‘vaccinated’ means at least 14 days after a second dose). It shows that 72% or nearly three quarters of infections in that four-week period were in the vaccinated (65% in the double or triple vaccinated) and only 22% in the unvaccinated. That is certainly not an epidemic of the unvaccinated; almost the opposite, in fact.”

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  89. Thanks for this Mark: worrying, interesting and reassuring all at the same time and from a genuine expert with expertise in the laboratory and in the field. In the East Anglia region we commonly see David Livermore on our local BBC News giving expert commentary upon all things Covid.

    Liked by 1 person

  90. Yep, good article by Livermore, thanks Mark. Not been feeling at my best the last two days, despite a booster. But I think this is what they call mild 🙂

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  91. Richard, I hope you’re feeling better soon. It sounds as though it could be worse. Fear not – the booster has looked after you:

    “No need for a fourth Covid jab yet, say UK advisers”

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-59915560

    “A fourth Covid jab is not yet needed, say UK experts, because booster doses continue to provide high protection against severe disease from the Omicron variant of Covid among older adults….

    [but]…”The timing and need for further booster doses will continue to be reviewed as the data evolves.”

    What’s the money on a 4th jab being urged on us by some time next month?

    I no longer know what to think. My life-long belief in vaccinations has been somewhat shaken (if only so far as concerns covid vaccines), though I guess if they tell me I need a 4th jab I’ll dutifully turn up for it (unless I see overwhelming trustworthy evidence to the contrary – but where would I find that?).

    Confused of Cumbria.

    Liked by 1 person

  92. One further thought (and please, please do correct me if I have misunderstood any of this):

    Vaccination, it now appears, doesn’t prevent either infection or passing the virus on. Instead, we are now told, it’s important to be vaccinated (all the way through to the booster jab) because it often prevents serious illness and death (which, if true, is avery good reason for vaccinating older and vulnerable people). Given that children (absent underlying health conditions) tend not to be particularly ill, and regularly asymptomatic, from covid, then why are we vaccinating them? The vaccination isn’t necessary to prevent them falling ill, and it won’t prevent them from passing it on. So, what’s the point?

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  93. Thank you Mark. I think you may have partially resolved my confusion regarding the Livermore article. I could not resolve the conflict between the data supporting the increased susceptibility to the Omicron strain for those who had been vaccinated and boostered, with advice toward the end of the article for the elderly and susceptible to be vaccinated. I reread the article searching for resolution, but without success.
    I’m still not out of the woods because if having the booster makes you more susceptible for infection or reinfection, why would you promote boosters for those who are already more susceptible?

    I was wrong about Professor Livermore appearing on our East Anglian TV screens, it was a different UEA Prof.

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  94. I’ve not been following the vaccine effectiveness debate very closely on here (I haven’t even read the Livermore article), so forgive me if what I have to say below is not germane or has already been said.

    I read a lot about ‘unadjusted figures’ and it appears to me that in some quarters conclusions are being based upon them. The lesson from causal analysis, however, is that one should never, ever draw conclusions from unadjusted figures. A classic example is the vaccination rates observed in those admitted to hospital. The raw data shows that the vaccinated easily outnumber the unvaccinated. This suggests that vaccination actually makes matters worse. However, this is a counterintuitive conclusion. The problem is that you are much more likely to end up in hospital because of covid if you are vulnerable (e.g. elderly) – and if you are vulnerable, you are much more likely to have been vaccinated. When the data is adjusted (this time for age/vulnerability) it turns out that you are about 15 times less likely to end up in hospital if you have been fully vaccinated (with booster) than if you haven’t.

    I’m not accusing anyone here of having misunderstood this, but the moral of the story is that in epidemiology one can’t be too careful when looking for confounders, and I just thought I might make that point in case it helps.

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  95. John. Thank you. I was actually approaching your analysis/conclusion but from a different approach. My reasoning is that if, as was broadcast yesterday, over 90% (even higher amongst the elderly) of the eligible U.K. population has now been vaccinated and vaccination is not 100% effective then at any given time those vaccinated but who succumb may outnumber those unvaccinated who contract Covid simply because of differences in the size of the pools from which those infected are drawn. This would result in the situation that, at first sight, suggests the vaccinated are more susceptible. Slowly getting to grips with the venerable saying about lies, damn lies and statistics.

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  96. Alan,

    I think your reasoning was perfectly sound. One of the most basic adjustments to be made is that for population size. However, whilst that adjustment may be an important piece of this jigsaw, it doesn’t solve the conundrum on its own. It would appear that adjustment for age is the middle that solves the riddle.

    Liked by 1 person

  97. John/Alan, I had worked out that claims that vaccinated people were more likely than the unvaccinated to be ill in hospital with covid were false, based on the lack of appreciation that ill unvaccinated people are a much higher proportion of the unvaccinated than the proportion of ill vaccinated people. I am concerned that antibodies induced by vaccines do seem to fade fairly quickly, however, and I don’t think we can go on with booster after booster indefinitely.

    I also remain at a loss as to why we are vaccinating school children. Surely those vaccine doses would be better used elsewhere (perhaps in developing countries)?

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  98. Mark I presume that School children are being vaccinated because, even though the chances of them suffering really Ill effects is very small, it is not zero. Also if vaccination reduces infection in the young, then it must reduce transmission from them to others (of any age). Whether the numbers involved justify the cost and faff involved is, however, entirely a different matter.

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  99. Mark,

    I agree with both of your points. Dr Chris Smith summed up the position very well on the BBC this morning. He said that we are now in a position where covid is having the same impact upon society that seasonal flu used to have, and so we should now be treating it in the same way, I.e. only vaccinate the vulnerable and accept that we will have to do so regularly because the vaccines are short lived and the virus will be frequently mutating.

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  100. Just to add to my previous remark regarding the comparison to seasonal flu, there is this unusually good article from the BBC:

    “Is the NHS crisis really worse than ones before?”

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-59909860

    I’m sure that it will suit the government to continue this narrative of a brave NHS soldiering on in the face of unprecedented pressures, but once covid takes over the role of flu, the public will twig to the fact that the recurrent NHS crises are really the result of underfunding, and that such underfunding is far from an unprecedented problem.

    P.S. When I said earlier that factoring for population size was also fundamental, I was speaking specifically about population size within society rather than within hospitals. I should have made that clearer. I also re-iterate that my comments had been made with no particular person in mind and not in reaction to any specific previous comment.

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  101. Mark Hodgeson

    “I also remain at a loss as to why we are vaccinating school children. Surely those vaccine doses would be better used elsewhere (perhaps in developing countries)?”

    It was to protect the teachers, with the unions threatening to strike if child vaccinations were not implemented.

    I’m not sure how true the narrative of this page actually is, but it is as believable as anything else I’ve read about the pandemic. It will still be at least 30 years before the government admits what really happened in the last two years.

    http://whistleblowerphilosopher.blogspot.com/2022/01/the-road-to-lockdown_02121758366.html

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  102. The goalposts are well and truly moving now:

    “End mass jabs and live with Covid, says ex-head of vaccine taskforce
    Dr Clive Dix says we should treat the virus like flu”

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jan/08/end-mass-jabs-and-live-with-covid-says-ex-head-of-vaccine-taskforce

    “Covid should be treated as an endemic virus similar to flu, and ministers should end mass-vaccination after the booster campaign, the former chairman of the UK’s vaccine taskforce has said.

    With health chiefs and senior Tories also lobbying for a post-pandemic plan for a straining NHS, Dr Clive Dix called for a major rethink of the UK’s Covid strategy, in effect reversing the approach of the past two years and returning to a “new normality”.

    “We need to analyse whether we use the current booster campaign to ensure the vulnerable are protected, if this is seen to be necessary,” he said. “Mass population-based vaccination in the UK should now end.”

    He said ministers should urgently back research into Covid immunity beyond antibodies to include B-cells and T-cells (white blood cells). This could help create vaccines for vulnerable people specific to Covid variants, he said, adding: “We now need to manage disease, not virus spread. So stopping progression to severe disease in vulnerable groups is the future objective.”…”.

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  103. Perhaps a better analogy than moving goalposts would have been to say that the ground is shifting.

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  104. On Omicron being mild I have some sympathy with this famous White House correspondent:

    Please forgive me if my comments in the next few days exhibit either:

    a) brain fog
    b) isolation lag

    (Like this one being on a thread begun on 17 Dec 2021.)

    Still, I’m trying to practice my stoicism. Things could certainly be worse.

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  105. Oh come on, things could so much worse or better. Consider the plight of those who seem to suffer from both persistent and ephemeral symptoms that they are convinced are Covid only to correctly realise belatedly that it’s old age, rushing towards them at a great rate of knots. But then I wonder, everyone around me seems to be coming down with Omicron, so eventually any signs of senility that I show could actually be a by now almost benign virus. Praise be.

    Liked by 1 person

  106. Haha Alan. I deliberately linked to a lecture on stoicism from a 42-year-old, albeit one that I admire for the stand he’s been taking in the last year against the catastrophizing that seems to have taken hold of that generation (and younger) of coders.

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  107. “Is the worst of Omicron really over?”

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-59958071

    “If he is right, that leaves the UK very much in best-case scenario territory. When Omicron took off there were warnings hospital admissions could end up more than three times as high as they are now. There may still be a long way to go, but it’s looking promising compared with what we were told could have happened.”

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  108. “‘Wildly incorrect’ Covid modelling bounced Boris Johnson into second lockdown, MPs told
    Model predicting 4,000 deaths per day was leaked to the press before it could be challenged, says Steve Baker”

    https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2022/01/18/wildly-incorrect-covid-modelling-caused-boris-johnson-bounce/

    “…“The situation is now perfectly plain that even our most basic liberties can be taken away by the stroke of a pen, if a minister has been shown sufficiently persuasive modelling that tells them there is trouble ahead.”

    Mr Baker, the MP for Wycombe, called for the establishment of an Office for Research Integrity within the Cabinet Office to challenge the data coming from modelling.

    The Westminster debate was called by Bob Seely, the MP for the Isle of Wight, who argued that the use of the modelling in the pandemic was approaching a national scandal.

    Mr Seely warned that the “doomsday public health scenarios” had been used to create a “despicable” and “unforgivable” climate of fear, based on “a sort of glorified guesswork.”

    “Never before has so much harm been done to so many, by so few based on so little questionable and potentially flawed data,” he said.

    “We had a nervous Government presented with doomsday scenarios which panicked it into a course of profound acting with shocking outcomes.

    “I believe the use of modelling is pretty much getting up there for a national scandal.”…”.

    Liked by 1 person

  109. “Why the culture of fear will outlive Covid
    Western society was paralysed by anxiety long before the virus.”

    https://www.spiked-online.com/2022/02/25/why-the-culture-of-fear-will-outlive-covid/

    The conclusion to the article:

    “There are some means of remedy. Read less, but read judiciously and deeply, instead of reading haphazardly and widely. Stop catastrophising and defaulting to fear – and stop deferring to those who spread it. And we should treat worst-case scenarios as last-case scenarios.”

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  110. Tech entrepreneur Marc Andreessen (who follows me on Twitter, rather amazingly) has coined the term “The Latest Thing” for that current subject about which we must all be gripped by fear and not ask any sceptical questions whatsoever. I first heard about this from Bret Weinstein:

    then found some tweets from Marc himself. I liked this variant of Churchill on how bad democracy is in response:

    Anyway, that’s background for thought for the day from a younger, less wealthy tech entrepreneur we call DHH. David’s been getting closer to being a climate sceptic through the work of Michael Shellenberger. But this goes back to Covid:

    I know it’s a couple of episodes ago on The Current Thing show, but remember when much of the media together with Neil Young and a motley crew of “270 health professionals” (that included dentists, consultants, students, psychologists, and a licensed marriage and family therapist) had a collective freak-out over Joe Rogan?

    That episode droned on for weeks with a million think piety pieces about tHe mIsINFoRmAtiON that the world’s favorite podcaster was inflicting upon the public by having a few folks with unsanctioned views on covid on his show. It even had a trending #CancelSpotify hash tag on Twitter for a minute. ‘Member that?

    If you do, but it seems like it was years ago already – and not just the few months that have actually passed – it’s probably because The Current Thing is at once both the most important topic in the world and a memory hole to be forgotten five minutes later. And Rogan is no longer The Current Thing. (That honor now befalls Elon Musk!)

    Anyway, the listening public has spoken about the grave dangers posed by the man with the microphone: It doesn’t give a shit. Or, rather, whatever shits it gives are about listening _more_ to what that guy has to say, and the guests he brings on his show. Spotify has just released the financial numbers from their first quarter, and they’ve continued their growth utterly unimpeded by the whole kerfuffle. More than 182 million total subscribers, up almost a fifth year over year. Oh, and Rogan’s own show apparently picked up a staggering 2 million additional subscribers all by itself on account of the Streisand flattery.

    It’s a bold bet, but I’m going to call the top on the cancel and censorship party on account of this agitation fiasco.

    Cancel culture may have peaked, he’s saying. Because Joe Rogan and Spotify didn’t give in to fear.

    (This wasn’t the only place I could have put this but I’d mentioned Rogan and DHH above.)

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  111. Interesting point by the historian Robert Tombs in Conservative Home yesterday:

    Throughout the United Kingdom’s existence, its rulers – and many foreign friends and enemies – have been convinced it was on a downward spiral.

    The ‘memorable era of England’s glory is past’, thought William Pitt in the 1780s, and the Emperor of Austria agreed: Britain had ‘fallen utterly and forever, all influence and force lost … a second class power.’

    We were ‘a weary Titan’, lamented Jospeh Chamberlain in 1902. Dean Acheson, the former US Secretary of State declared in 1962 that Britain had ‘lost an empire and not yet found a role.’

    This litany of pessimism (and there is much more in the same vein) is always at least in the background, and indeed it often dominates discussion.

    He goes on the show how such ‘declinism’ was very relevant both to the way (and terms by which) we joined the EEC and the way we Brexited. (Mark picked up on the latter in the main post above.) This counterblast I learned about from our old friend Matt Ridley:

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