Day: 2 December 2021

News Round-Up

The Wisdom of Forecasters (and their Critics)

We’re publishing a (sort of) review of a book today called Applied Wisdom: 700 Witticisms to Save Your Ass(ets) by Alexander Ineichen, a Swiss financial analyst. The review is by Edward Chancellor, a financial journalist and author of Devil Take the Hindmost: A History of Financial Speculation (2000). The book consists of a collection of aphorisms that Ineichen has collected over the years and even though they’re intended to apply to the business of investing, most of them are applicable to speculation about the virus and its impacts. As Chancellor explains: “Both economists and epidemiologists attempt to forecast an immensely complex system, namely human society, equipped with models and data inputs that are not up to the task.” Here is an extract:

Ineichen says that markets are governed by Gump’s Law, (derived from a line in the movie Forrest Gump), which states that life is a box of chocolates because you don’t know what you’re going to get. When you next encounter someone who confidently predicts the course of the pandemic, some of the following responses might be apposite:

“Forecasting is not a respectable human activity, and not worthwhile beyond the shortest of periods.” – Peter Drucker

“The herd instinct among forecasters makes sheep look like independent thinkers.” – Edgar Fielder

“Anyone who causes harm by forecasting should be treated as either a fool or a liar. Some forecasters cause more damage to society than criminals.” – Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Many of us smile at old-fashioned fortune-tellers. But when the soothsayers work with computer algorithms rather than tarot cards, we take their predictions seriously and are prepared to pay for them.” – Gerd Gigerenzer

Worth reading in full.

Kenyan Nurses and the Crisis of NHS Nurse Staffing

We’re publishing a guest post today by Dr. Ann Bradshaw, a retired Lecturer in Adult Health Care, about the scandal of the Government’s failed efforts to import nurses from Kenya in a vain attempt to solve Britain’s nursing crisis.

The U.K. nurse staffing crisis shows that the current system of recruitment, retention and training of nurses is not working.

In July 2021, the U.K. Government made a Memorandum of Understanding with the Kenyan Government to take 20,000 of its 30,000 unemployed nurses to Britain. I didn’t see this publicised in the press and thought it strange that Kenya has so many unemployed nurses.   

Then I saw in Nursing Times that the Kenyan Government would be taking a cut of these nurses’ salaries. Then I saw that this was denied by the U.K. Government.

Then I saw that Kenyan nurses were failing English language tests. Then, on November 11th, I saw that this U.K. recruitment of nurses from Kenya was being halted because Kenya is on its list of countries facing a shortage of health workers.

So why is there such a problem recruiting and retaining nurses in the U.K.? Why has the U.K. Government been forced to look to Kenya for nurses? I have argued elsewhere (see here and here) that the move to become academic by the nursing elite was not primarily intended to improve care for patients – its primary objective was to improve the status of the profession and divorce it from medicine.

This revolutionary change to make nursing academic has had, from the evidence that I have adduced, a disastrous impact on both recruitment and retention of nurses. Much of this so-called academic body of nursing literature is esoteric and of extremely dubious academic quality. Indeed, the highly ranked, prestigious, international nursing journal, the Journal of Advanced Nursing, admits this in an editorial by two U.K. nursing professors titled: “Is academic nursing being sabotaged by its own killer elite?”

In my view, nursing’s ‘killer elite’ is the Blob, and it is not merely killing the ‘academy’, it is killing the purpose of nursing: care for the patient. This has been clear to me long before this editorial. Very many of the published ‘research’ papers I read were shoddy methodologically and irrelevant to the needs of patients. Anonymous peer review rejections sent to me over the years, when I sought to publish articles critically analysing these pieces of research, revealed reviewers’ biased ‘gate-keeping’. Reviewers’ comments were devoid of knowledge and revealed a lack interest in any critical thinking. 

It seems to me that so-called ‘academic nursing’ is an emperor with no clothes and a means of protectionism. That is why there is a chasm of division between the needs of NHS patients and the wants of the nursing academy. Nursing professors and lecturers generally do not work on the wards. They are the university nursing Blob, divorced from the concrete realities of practice. That is why the NHS cannot use student nurses as part of the NHS workforce thus immediately solving the nurse staffing crisis. It is why the U.K. looks to Kenya to provide nurses for the NHS. Surely this is a scandal?

Angela Merkel Demands Mandatory Vaccination Law as Germany is Set to Impose Restrictions on the Unvaccinated

The German Government has announced that its unvaccinated population will be prohibited from entering ‘non-essential’ shops, with Angela Merkel declaring that these restrictions are necessary to stop the nation’s hospitals from being overrun with Covid patients. The Chancellor has labelled the new restrictions as an “act of solidarity”, and has called upon lawmakers to introduce legislation making the vaccine compulsory. The Telegraph has the story.

Angela Merkel has backed compulsory vaccinations as leaders agreed to bring in a de facto lockdown for the unvaccinated.

The German Chancellor said that people who aren’t vaccinated will be excluded from nonessential shops, as well as cultural and recreational venues.

Speaking after a meeting with federal and state leaders, she said the measures were necessary in light of concerns that hospitals in Germany could become overloaded with people suffering Covid infections.

“The situation in our country is serious,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin, calling the measure an “act of national solidarity”.

Merkel herself backed the most contentious proposal of imposing a general vaccine mandate. She said Parliament would debate the proposal with input from the country’s national ethics committee.

If passed, it could take effect as early as February, Merkel said, adding that she would have voted in favour of the measure if she were still a member of parliament.

She said officials had also agreed to require masks in schools, impose new limits on private meetings and aim for 30 million vaccinations by the end of the year, an effort that will be boosted by allowing dentists and pharmacists to administer the shots.

Just over 68% of the population in Germany is fully vaccinated, far below the minimum of 75% the Government is aiming for.

There have been large protests against pandemic measures in the past in Germany and the vaccine mandate is likely to be opposed by a minority, though opinion polls show most Germans are in favour.

Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, who is expected to be elected chancellor by a centre-left coalition next week, has also backed a general vaccine mandate, but favours letting lawmakers vote on the issue according to their personal conscience rather than party lines.

Under the new measures announced today, the unvaccinated will be barred from restaurants, pubs, cinemas, gyms, cultural events and non-essential shops. 

The restrictions, which will not apply to the fully jabbed, are already in force in several German regions.

The unvaccinated will also be barred from Christmas markets in those regions where they are still open. Many regions have already ordered the traditional markets to close. 

Worth reading in full.

NHS Faces Its “Biggest Cancer Catastrophe Ever” Due to Pandemic Backlog

Over the course of the pandemic, roughly 750,000 urgent GP referrals for suspected cancer were not followed up, putting patients at risk and loading more pressure onto the NHS backlog. The National Audit Office (NAO) has reported that 12 million people will be on the waiting list for treatment by 2025, with 60,000 cancer patients undergoing treatment at a later date than would be expected between March 2020 and September 2021. The Express has the story.

Up to 740,000 urgent GP referrals for suspected cancer were “missed” during the pandemic, according to a new shocking report by the NAO. The report also highlighted that the NHS waiting list for care that is planned in advance will continue to grow until at least 2025.

It said that the waiting list will hit 12 million by March 2025 half of those who have missed referrals return to the NHS and its activity grows in line with pre-Covid levels.

Even if the NHS can increase its activity by 10%, the NAO estimates that the waiting list in March 2025 will still be a whopping seven million.

The shifting of resources to Covid over the past two years has seen cancer patients wait much longer to receive treatment.

One waiting time standard states that 85% of cancer patients should not wait any longer than 62 days to start treatment after an urgent GP referral.

But between March 2020 and September 2021, 26% had to wait more than 62 days for treatment to start.

The NAO estimates that in this time, up to 60,000 (and only as low as 35,000) fewer people started cancer treatment than would have been expected.

Its report pushed Professor Pat Rice, Co-Founder of the Catch Up With Cancer campaign, to write that “we are in the middle of the biggest cancer catastrophe ever to his the NHS”.

She added: “We need to the Government to urgently outline how additional funding will be spent on cancer treatments, backlog busting technologies, like radiotherapy, and the cancer workforce.

“Cancer patients don’t have the luxury of time, if we don’t act more people will die at home who don’t need to.”

This comes amid the emergence of the Omicron Covid variant, which is stealing the attention of health chiefs and Government ministers.

Despite this, some top Government advisers have insisted that fears about the variant have been overplayed.

Worth reading in full.

Pilots ‘Out of Practice’ After lockdowns are Risking Passengers’ Lives

Commercial airline pilots have done so little flying during the past 21 months that we may be about to witness a fatal plane crash. That is the message of air accident investigators after a “serious incident” in which a Boeing 737 hurtled towards the ground at Aberdeen Airport on the 20th anniversary of 9/11. The Telegraph has more.

The Air Accidents Investigations Branch (AAIB) issued an alert following the incident on the afternoon of the 20th anniversary of 9/11, in which a Tui flight from Spain with 67 passengers and six crew on board unexpectedly gained speed and descended rapidly after pilots were told to abort a landing.

Although they managed to stabilise the aircraft and later landed it normally, the AAIB said there was “clearly a possibility” that a lack of flying time had contributed to a situation that could have resulted in one of Britain’s worst air disasters.

Pilots did not initially notice the “significant deviation from the expected flight path” and a dangerous increase in speed was “not corrected in a timely manner”, an AAIB bulletin issued on Thursday morning said.

While pilots are required to conduct regular take offs and landings to ensure they can fly safely, many airlines have been forced to meet the requirement using simulators as COVID-19 travel restrictions have meant many flights have been grounded.

While the reasons for the incident are still being investigated, the AAIB raised the prospect that pilot error, due to a lack of recent flying experience, could have been to blame.

The co-pilot in the Aberdeen incident was on only his fourth flight in 11 months, while the 56 year-old commander had just 67 hours of flying time over the previous 90 days.

While both pilots had conducted several sessions on a simulator over the previous 18 months, the AAIB said these could fail to replicate the “real world environment” and unexpected situations, such as being told to abandon a landing.

“The real-world environment creates different demands on crews, and it is possible that this event illustrates that lack of recent exposure to the real-world environment can erode crews’ capacity to deal effectively with those challenges,” the AAIB said.

“Regulators have been concerned that pilots returning to the flight deck following extended periods without flying could be at risk of performing below their normal standard during their first few flights.

“Although this investigation has not established a link between this event and a lack of line flying, this Special Bulletin is published for awareness and because a link is clearly one possibility.”

Worth reading in full.

New Study into Why Astra-Zeneca Vaccine Can Cause Blood Clots

Scientists believe they have solved the mystery behind the extremely rare blood clots caused by the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. MailOnline has more

A team of international experts, involving researchers from AstraZeneca, say that in a very small number of cases – about one in 100,000 in the U.K. – the vaccine can set off a chain reaction which leads to the body confusing its own blood platelets for fragments of virus.

The British-made vaccine is thought to have saved about a million lives from Covid and was the backbone of the U.K.’s initial rollout earlier in the year, helping it to become the most vaccinated country in the West.

But concerns about clots saw its restriction in under-40s in the U.K. in spring and led Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines being favoured for young adults and as boosters. It was outright banned in many European countries and the US decided not to purchase a single dose.

The U.K. Government gave an emergency grant to a team of scientists led by Cardiff University to investigate the clotting phenomenon.

They found that the shell of the vector vaccine — the weakened cold virus used to teach cells how to neutralise Covid – sometimes acts like a magnet and attracts platelets, a protein found in the blood.

For reasons the scientists are still probing, the body then mistakes these platelets as a threat and produces antibodies to fight them. The combination of the platelets and the antibodies clumping together leads to the formation of dangerous blood clots.

But they stress this is extremely rare, with only 426 cases in the U.K. recorded the cases so far out of about 50million doses of the vaccine, equivalent to less than one in 100,000. The side effect has been linked to 73 deaths in the U.K.

Researchers are now doing further work to learn more about the process that causes these clots and if the vaccine can be tweaked to reduce this risk.

Worth reading in full.

You can read the paper in Science Advances here.

The Scapegoating of the Unvaccinated

We’re publishing an original essay today by Kathrine Jebsen Moore, a freelance writer based in Edinburgh who exposed the woke capture of the online knitting community in a now famous piece for Quillette in 2019. In this piece, she writes about the eagerness with which apparently liberal people have blamed the unvaccinated for the waves of Covid infection currently engulfing parts of Europe, even though the evidence for that is questionable at best. In this extract, she draws on the work of Mathias Desmet, a clinical psychologist at the University of Gent in Belgium, to try and understand this sinister development.

The clinical psychologist Mathias Desmet from Ghent University in Belgium has an interesting explanation. In a conversation with Markus Aubrey, he argues that society was ripe for what took hold in the spring of 2020: a phenomenon called ‘Mass Formation’, a precursor to full-blown totalitarianism, which explains why people who would otherwise not agree with draconian measures and the vilification of other people happily do so during a crisis of this kind.

According to Desmet, various conditions have to be present for the phenomenon – which can be compared to a kind of mass psychosis – to take hold.

For instance, there must be widespread social isolation and disconnectedness. This, he explains, is exemplified by the number of people who find their jobs meaningless. Around 50% of workers in so-called ‘bullshit jobs‘ don’t see any purpose in their roles, for example. When the grand narratives such as religion fall away, we are left looking for meaning elsewhere. For many, the ‘health and safetyism’ of the Covid state filled that gap.

The lack of meaning feeds into social isolation, which is widespread and has increased in the past few years. When people lack close friendships and social bonds, the result is a what Desmet calls free-floating anxiety, aggression and discontent. With a high level of general anxiety – anxiety that is not attached to a single object – the population is ready to attach its aggression and angst onto something. When the virus came along, the narrative that was constructed about it served as a perfect receptacle for negative emotions. By channelling these emotions into something concrete, people started to feel the connection and meaning they’ve been lacking. In joining the ‘fight against the virus’, a new kind of social bond and sense making emerged.

Desmet explains: people suddenly feel connected again, in a heroic struggle, and that’s the reason why people buy into the narrative and why they are willing to participate in a strategy even if it’s utterly absurd. The reason why they follow it has nothing to do with the fact it’s correct or scientific, but because it leads to a new social bond. People are social beings, and being socially isolated is painful, and through the process of ‘Mass Formation’ they switch from the very negative state of social isolation to the opposite state of maximal connectedness that exists in a crowd.

Desmet draws on the work of Gustave Le Bon, the father of crowd psychology. When an individual becomes part of a crowd, he undergoes a profound psychological transformation and ceases to operate as an individual. Le Bon argues: “He is no longer himself, but has become an automaton who has ceased to be guided by his will,” he writes in The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Read novelist Paul Kingsnorth’s account in UnHerd of why the demonising of the unvaccinated caused him to switch sides in the vaccine wars.

Scientist Under Investigation by the Royal Society of New Zealand for Defending Science

In my column in the Spectator this week I’ve highlighted an egregious assault on free speech in New Zealand that was brought to my attention by the NZ Free Speech Union, which has issued a statement about it. A distinguished biochemist, Professor Garth Cooper, is being subjected to a disciplinary investigation by the Royal Society of New Zealand that could result in his expulsion. Here’s an extract:

Why is this distinguished scientist at risk of being expelled from New Zealand’s most prestigious academic society? Several months ago he was one of seven signatories to a letter in the New Zealand Listener that took issue with a proposal by a government working group that schools should give the same weight to Maori mythology as they do to science in the classroom. That is, the Maori understanding of the world — that all living things originated with Rangi and Papa, the sky mother and sky god, for instance — should be presented as just as valid as the theories of Galileo, Newton and Darwin.

The authors of the letter, “In Defence of Science“, were careful to say that indigenous knowledge was “critical for the preservation and perpetuation of culture and local practices, and plays key roles in management and policy” and should be taught in New Zealand’s schools. But they drew the line at treating it as on a par with physics, chemistry and biology: “In the discovery of empirical, universal truths, it falls far short of what we can define as science itself.”

In a rational world, this letter would have been regarded as uncontroversial. Surely the argument about whether to teach schoolchildren scientific or religious explanations for the origins of the universe and the ascent of man was settled by the Scopes trial in 1925? Apart from the obvious difficulty of prioritising one religious viewpoint in an ethnically diverse society like New Zealand (what about Christianity, Islam and Hinduism?), there is the problem that Maori schoolchildren, already among the least privileged in the country, will be at an even greater disadvantage if their teachers patronise them by saying there’s no need to learn the rudiments of scientific knowledge. Knowing about Rangi and Papa won’t get you into medical school.

But the moment this letter was published all hell broke loose. The views of the authors, who were all professors at Auckland, were denounced by the Royal Society, the New Zealand Association of Scientists, and the Tertiary Education Union, as well as by their own vice-chancellor, Dawn Freshwater. In a hand-wringing, cry-bullying email to all staff at the university, she said the letter had “caused considerable hurt and dismay among our staff, students and alumni” and said it pointed to ‘major problems with some of our colleagues’.

Two of Professor Cooper’s academic colleagues, Dr Siouxsie Wiles and Dr Shaun Hendy, issued an ‘open letter’ condemning the heretics for causing “untold harm and hurt”. They invited anyone who agreed with them to add their names to the ‘open letter’, and more than 2,000 academics duly obliged. Before long, five members of the Royal Society had complained and a panel was set up to investigate.

Worth reading in full.

If you’re a scholar in the sciences or the humanities and want to defend Professor Cooper you should write to Roger Ridley, the Chief Executive of the Royal Society of New Zealand, at roger.ridley@royalsociety.org.nz. He could use your help.

Stop Press: You can read more about this scandal here.

GPs May Soon Stop Monitoring Vulnerable Patients In Favour of Focusing on the Booster Jab Roll-out

Sajid Javid, accompanied by NHS bosses, are in discussion with the British Medical Association (BMA) about potentially scrapping the Quality Outcomes Framework (QOF) – a move which the BMA fully supports. The QOF means that doctors have a financial incentive to assess the health of vulnerable patients, but the Government wishes to scrap this policy in favour of GPs spending more of their time assisting the booster jab roll-out – an operation which the Health Secretary has described as being the Government’s top priority. The Guardian has more.

Ministers may allow GPs in England to halt regular monitoring of millions of patients with underlying health problems as part of the urgent new blitz on delivering Covid booster jabs.

Sajid Javid and NHS bosses are locked in talks with GP representatives at the BMA about relaxing rules which mean family doctors undertake checks on people with diabetes, high blood pressure and other conditions that mean they are at higher risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

On Wednesday the U.K. Health Security Agency (UKHSA) identified 10 further cases of the Omicron variant, bringing the total detected in the U.K. to 32.

The BMA, the doctors’ union, has been lobbying Javid for months to suspend or scrap the Quality Outcomes Framework (QOF), which it says is “bureaucratic” and interferes with GPs’ right to judge how they care for patients.

Ministers and NHS England want to free up more GP time to help increase the delivery of boosters from 350,000 to 500,000 a day to counter the threat posed by Omicron, which is feared to be more transmissible with the potential to evade vaccines. Vaccine firms are trying to establish whether Omicron has the power to reduce the efficacy of jabs, and whether the jabs can be tweaked in response.

Boris Johnson has pledged that every adult in England will be offered a top-up shot by the end of January, piling pressure on NHS leaders to come up with a plan to ensure that happens.

Officials with knowledge of the talks told the Guardian that those involved spent much of Tuesday discussing the suspension of part or all of the requirements under QOF. “They’re talking about a partial suspension of QOF. But they may well just bin it,” one said.

However, sources stressed that ministers are nervous about approving a move that could lead to claims that vulnerable patients could see any deterioration in their condition go undetected by GPs.

Javid told the BBC on Wednesday that dramatically increasing the number of booster jabs in England was “our new national mission – in terms of the public health of this country, there is nothing more important than this booster programme”.

He disclosed that he was in talks with GP leaders about unspecified plans to reduce their workloads, including his edict that they must see any patient face-to-face on request.

Under QOF, family doctors get payments in return for undertaking checks, often every six months or every year, of the blood pressure or cholesterol levels in patients already identified as at increased risk of a heart attack or stroke. The checks also include assessments of diabetics and drug reviews for those who are on long-term medication to reduce their risk of dying.

“The targets for monitoring blood pressure and diabetes are important for health. But if they remove them, then certain newspapers will claim that they are neglecting patient care,” said one official of the dilemma facing Javid. GPs across Britain have delivered the vast bulk of the 116 million Covid vaccine doses which patients across the U.K. have received since December 8th last year.

Worth reading in full.