Day: 17 August 2021

And Finally…

In this week’s episode of London Calling, James Delingpole and I ask how Dan Andrew’s became such a bug-eyed authoritarian zealot, whether Afghanistan is America’s worst foreign policy disaster since 1975 and why the Orwell Foundation didn’t stand up for author Kate Clanchy when she was targeted for cancellation last week, in spite of awarding her the Orwell Prize for political writing in 2020.

You can listen to the podcast here and subscribe to it in iTunes here.

Nothing is So Permanent as a Temporary (Scottish) Government Programme

One of the most alarming things about the response to the pandemic by democratic governments across the world is the enthusiasm with which they’ve granted themselves ’emergency’ powers, suspending civil rights – and elections – so that they might better deal with the ‘crisis’. Executives have faced little opposition from legislatures, attempts to restrain political leaders through the courts have been largely unsuccessful and the media has, for the most part, failed to hold them to account. Bad though this has been, however, we have always been able to take some comfort from the fact that these extraordinary powers were temporary and that, eventually, when things returned to normal, governments would have to relinquish them.

Turns out, that was naive. The Scottish Government has unveiled plans to make its ’emergency’ Covid powers permanent. The Telegraph has more.

John Swinney, the Deputy First Minister, unveiled a public consultation on removing the March 2022 expiry date for a host of extraordinary powers, including the ability to impose lockdowns, close schools and require people to wear face coverings.

Controversial rules allowing more prisoners to be released early could also be extended, along with the wider use of fines as an alternative to prosecution.

Mr Swinney insisted measures that were no longer needed would be removed, but argued those with “demonstrable benefit to the people of Scotland” should be retained for use against Covid or anything else deemed a public health threat.

He argued the consultation was “an opportunity to maintain changes that have been welcomed by people who now don’t want to lose transformations that have been innovative” during the pandemic.

Worth reading in full.

News Round-Up

Moderna Covid Vaccine Approved for Use in 12 to 17 Year-Olds by U.K. Regulator

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency says the Moderna Covid vaccine is safe for use in U.K. children aged 12 to 17 years. It is now up to the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) to advise the Government on whether the Moderna jab should be rolled out to children in this age group. Reuters has the story.

Moderna’s vaccine was recommended for use in adolescents by European regulators in July and is awaiting U.S. authorisation. It is already approved for people over the age of 18 in the U.K.

Britain’s JCVI gave the go ahead on August 4th for 16 and 17 year-olds to get their first dose of Pfizer’s Covid vaccine ahead of the reopening of schools for the new education year in September.

JCVI will make a decision on whether 12-17 year olds should be vaccinated with the shot made by Moderna as part of its deployment programme.

The MHRA said it did not identify any new side effects with the vaccine and that the safety data was comparable with that for young adults, with adverse events being mostly mild and moderate and including sore arms or fatigue. …

The vaccine developed by Pfizer… got MHRA’s nod for use in children aged 12 to 15 on June 4th.

Worth reading in full.

Nature Has Abandoned Scientific Rigour For Woke Virtue-Signalling

Daily Sceptic contributor Noah Carl has written a must-read piece for UnHerd about the decline and fall of Nature, once the world’s most prestigious scientific journal. Here are the first three paragraphs:

Nature is a revered name in academic publishing. The journal was founded in London in 1869, and has since become one of the two main titles (the other being Science) that every academic wants to publish in. Having just one “Nature paper” on your CV can be enough to land a tenure-track job at a top department.

It’s all the more concerning then, that in the last few years, Nature has handed over an increasing amount of editorial space to social justice activism. In February of 2019, Jordan Peterson remarked that a once-great publication was going “farther down the social constructionist rabbit hole”.

The latest example comes in the form of a piece titled “Anti-racist interventions to transform ecology, evolution and conservation biology departments”, published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution. No less than twenty-six authors are listed under the title, suggesting this was not some trivial undertaking. It includes charts, tables and even a glossary of key terms (with entries such as “racial microaggressions” and “white privilege”).

Worth reading in full.

Lockdown Caused Higher Number of Alcohol-Specific Deaths in Scotland in More Than a Decade in 2020

New figures from Scotland show that an increase in issues relating to alcohol caused by lockdowns hasn’t been unique to England, with the most alcohol-specific deaths recorded north of the border in more than a decade in 2020. The Guardian has the story.

There were 1,190 alcohol-specific deaths in Scotland in 2020, an increase of 17% from 2019 and the highest number registered since 2008 when 1,316 people died, according to figures published by the National Records of Scotland (NRS).

The tally of alcohol-specific, rather than alcohol-related, deaths excludes those only partially attributed to alcohol.

After annual increases between 2012 and 2018, the number of alcohol-specific deaths fell by 10% in 2019, which experts took as early evidence of the success of minimum unit-pricing for alcohol, which was introduced in May 2018 in order to tackle Scotland’s chronically unhealthy relationship with alcohol and is currently fixed at 50p a unit.

More than two-thirds of last year’s deaths were of men, and almost one in three were of people in their 50s and 60s. Inverclyde and Glasgow City had the highest rates over the past five years, and the NRS calculated that the death rate in the most deprived areas was 4.3 times the rate in the least deprived areas in 2020.

Responding to the figures, Alison Douglas, the Chief Executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said…

“Scotland has made good progress in addressing the problems we have with alcohol by introducing policies like minimum unit-pricing which is showing promising results. Yet the impact of the pandemic [that is, lockdown] threatens to undermine this progress. Many people, particularly heavier drinkers, have reported that they have increased their drinking during the last 18 months. The effects are felt most by those living in our poorest communities, who are eight times more likely to die due to alcohol.” …

The NRS data also revealed a decrease of 3% in probable suicides registered in Scotland in 2020, to 805, but showed that between June and September there were 28% more suicides than usual for those four months. Last year 71% of suicides were of men, with deprived areas of the country experiencing the highest rates.

Worth reading in full.

Researchers Find “A Considerably Negative Effect of School Closures on Student Achievement”

One area of the lockdown debate where I’ve seen almost no disagreement from lockdown proponents is the negative effects of school closures. After all, it’s hard to blame these on the pandemic itself: absent the deliberate decision to close schools, students would be legally obliged to attend school.

And given that remote learning is almost certainly inferior to in-person learning, especially for younger children, the only question is: “How large are the negative effects on student outcomes?”

As I noted in a previous post, the Education Endowment Foundation collated studies on the impact of school closures on students’ learning, and observed “a consistent pattern”. Specifically, students have made “less academic progress” than in previous years, and the attainment gap between more and less advantaged students has grown.

A new academic review reaches similar conclusions. Svenja Hammerstein and colleagues searched the literature for studies looking at the impact of school closures on student achievement. They were able to identify 11 relevant studies. Of these, eight showed negative effects, and three – surprisingly – showed positive effects.

The effect for younger children was consistently negative. And children from disadvantaged backgrounds were more negatively affected than children from advantaged backgrounds. This makes sense, given that those from disadvantaged backgrounds rarely have access to private tutors, and may face more distractions at home.

Regarding the studies that showed positive effects, the authors note that these assessed student achievement via some kind of online learning software. Hence, they suggest, the positive effects may be attributable to increased use of software during the time for which schools were closed.

Nonetheless, the authors conclude that “there is clear evidence for a negative effect of COVID-19-related school closures on student achievement”.

Of course, schools haven’t just been closed in advanced countries like the U.K., but also in lower and middle-income countries like Brazil. According to the Oxford Blavatnik School’s Government Response Tracker, the average number of days of mandatory school closures (in at least part of the country) is 315. And 63 countries have had more than 400 days of school closures.

Because children with lower school achievement tend to earn less in adulthood, one can put a rough dollar figure on the learning losses (by calculating the net present value of children’s lost future earnings). In a recent paper, researchers from the World Bank attempted to do this.

They estimate that a global school shutdown of five months “could generate learning losses that have a present value of $10 trillion”. Given the size of this figure, it’s almost impossible to believe that school closures would pass a cost-benefit test.

The Mob Comes For a Vaccine Refusenik

We’re publishing an original piece today by Freddie Attenborough, a former academic who has contributed some of the best pieces to this website and now has his own substack account you can subscribe to here. Freddie’s last piece for us – “The BBC v Donald Trump” – went viral. In this one, he imagines a telephone conversation between two middle-class women, one of whom has just witnessed the murder of her son by a vigilante mob of pro-vaxxers.

“Brandishing what, sorry? Pitchforks? How adorably quaint! Well, yes, or “terrifying”, I suppose… but then I’ve never been lackadaisical about other people’s health, have I, so I wouldn’t know about that… yes… mm-hmm … mm-hmm… but if you’d already barricaded the doors, then how did they… oh, heavens! And to think you’d only just had those single glazed wooden ones replaced with uPVC… oh dear… will the insurance pay out, do you think? No… no, hardly important… of course; not at the moment, no, you’re right… but even so, you might want to give them a ring tomorrow just to make sur… no, absolutely… no, not another word about it… I promise… please, do carry on… 

“I see… mm-hmm? … oh? … and they’re claiming that that’s what inspired them, are they? … yes, as a matter of fact I think I did see it on TV the other night… Comic Relief, wasn’t it? … yes, that’s right … a celebrity-packed, comedy sketch cum musical… “Vacci-nation” or something… very droll, oh very droll indeed… m’yes, there was a little ditty, wasn’t there, now how did it go again, let me see… ah yes, that was it, “Get jabbed or get stabbed, la la la laa / Get jabbed or get stabbed tum tee tum tum” … hahaha! … oh… oh dear… oh, I’m so sorry Sandra… I didn’t mean to upset you… please, do carry on… mm-hmm … mm-hmm? … and that’s where the police believe he was taken, is it? … mm-hmm… oh, but of course I know it! … what a lovely area… yes, I know that little layby… of course… very picturesque … there’s a lovely walk down there down by the brook, isn’t there; yes, we often mask up and take the dogs for their exercise that way when it’s… no … no, absolutely… never mind what we do with our dogs, you’re quite right… shouldn’t have mentioned it… still, I’m glad you’ve reminded me, I really must remember to take the boys up there again soon… my youngest especially, you know – probably about the same age as yours is, well, haha, was – gosh, how he loves our family walks…

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Satire has become reality sooner than any of us could have anticipated. NBC Los Angeles tweeted the following poorly-worded message from the city’s football team tonight: “Come With Vax Proof or Get Shot On-Site: Raiders Set Covid Rules For Fans.”

New Zealand Entering Lockdown Following Just One Positive Covid Test

When a single positive Covid test result was reported in Canberra, Australia, earlier this month, the city locked down for a week. New Zealand has gone one step further, with the reporting of one positive test resulting in the whole country being plunged into lockdown. BBC News has the story.

The case was detected in Auckland, which will be in lockdown for a week, while the rest of the country will be in lockdown for three days.

Authorities say they are working on the assumption that the new case was the Delta variant.

Just around 20% of its population has been fully vaccinated.

Coromandel, a coastal town where the infected person had visited, will be in lockdown for seven days too.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the toughest “Level Four” rules were required – closing schools, offices and all businesses with only essential services remaining operational.

“I want to assure New Zealand that we have planned for this eventuality. Going hard and early has worked for us before,” she said.

The patient is a 58 year-old man, who is believed to have been infectious since last Thursday. 

There are at least 23 potential sites of transmission. 

There was reportedly a rush at supermarkets in Auckland, as locals anticipated a snap lockdown.

Officials said there was a need for strong response because of the fear of the Delta variant, and because there was no clear link between the new case and the border or quarantine facilities.

Worth reading in full.

News Round-Up