Day: 13 January 2022

Don’t Look Up Gets it Backwards: Doom-Mongers Making Apocalyptic Predictions Aren’t Treated With Nearly Enough Scepticism

My Spectator column this week is about Don’t Look Up. Here are the opening paragraphs:

I wasn’t looking forward to seeing Don’t Look Up, the new satirical film on Netflix. It’s about a couple of American scientists who discover a giant ‘planet-killing’ comet that’s going to collide with Earth in just over six months. They try to warn the world about this existential threat but no one takes them seriously, from the President of the United States on down. Some people half- listen, but then get distracted by gossip or greed or lust, and when they do engage they come up with excuses, like pointing out the science is only 99.78 per cent certain, not 100 per cent, so why don’t we just ‘sit tight and assess’? Or maybe we can solve the problem with technology?

In case you haven’t got it yet, Don’t Look Up is an allegory about climate change, with a little bit of Covid denialism thrown in. Writer and director Adam McKay, whose last film was a vicious attack on Dick Cheney, believes we’re burying our heads in the sand when what we should be doing is paying attention to ‘the science’ before it’s too late. In other words, he’s from the Greta Thunberg school of environmental catastrophism. The correct response to the apocalyptic predictions being spat out by computer models, whether designed by epidemiologists or climate scientists, is to panic — big time.

Now, there’s an obvious flaw in this analogy, as I point out.

Given how many times environmental activists have warned of imminent disaster — Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb, said that if we didn’t mend our ways we’d disappear in a cloud of blue smoke by 1988 — it would be more accurate if the two scientists in Don’t Look Up had been telling us a comet was about to destroy our planet roughly once a year for the past 50 years. You think I’m exaggerating? Peter Wadhams assured us that Arctic ice would disappear by 2015, Prince Charles said that we had eight years left to save the planet 13 years ago, and in 2009 Gordon Brown reduced that to just 50 days. It would hardly be surprising if people had grown a little wary of these doom-mongers.

Yet, incredibly, they haven’t. On the contrary, every time a climate scientist — or a 14-year-old girl — pops up to tell us the Earth is about to catch fire, the reaction of politicians, movie stars, media personalities, recording artists and just about the entire professional class is to start running around like headless chickens. Don’t Look Up has got this issue precisely backwards. The problem isn’t that these Cassandras aren’t believed. It’s that every huckster with an ‘End Is Nigh’ sandwich board around their neck is treated as a visionary prophet who can predict the future with 100 per cent accuracy. Where’s Adam McKay been for the past 22 months? Does he really believe the world didn’t panic enough about Covid-19? He’s like the last man in the theatre after someone’s shouted ‘fire’. Everyone else has stampeded for the exits, but he’s still sitting in his seat, thinking: “Why am I the only one taking that warning seriously? What’s wrong with these people?”

However, I go on to conclude that in spite of these obvious flaws, Don’t Look Up is actually quite funny. The moral is that it’s possible to enjoy the work of people on the other side of the political aisle without endorsing their crackpot ideology.

Worth reading in full.

U.K. Lockdown “Working” as Cases Plummet. “Thank God I Listened to Neil Ferguson,” Says Boris.

Cases of COVID-19 in England fell again today with 97,770 reported, the first time there have been fewer than 100,000 reported since December 27th and a drop of 36% in a week.

The number of Covid patients in ICU also continued to fall.

Senior Government figures said that it showed the lockdown imposed on the advice of senior advisers before Christmas was working to control the outbreak of the highly infectious Omicron variant, but warned the public mustn’t become complacent and think it is over. “Lifting restrictions too quickly will just result in a resurgence of the virus which will overwhelm the NHS,” Health Secretary Sajid Javid said.

With infections currently higher in Scotland than south of the border, Nicola Sturgeon said that her additional restrictions, requiring people to keep their masks on while eating, was clearly making an impact. “What we need to keep in mind is that the infection rate would certainly be much worse had we not brought in these additional measures. Modelling from Imperial College has shown that Scots are particularly infectious while eating, and without this measure there would currently be 800,000 people in ICU with Covid in Edinburgh alone.”

Michael Gove said: “Some people say that Covid waves just fall by themselves, and spread dangerous ideas online implying that restrictions are not needed to control coronavirus outbreaks. The fact that infections are falling after we brought in restrictions shows the importance of using these tried and tested measures. Government is working closely with technology and social media companies to ensure all dangerous content online is removed.”

The Prime Minister echoed these sentiments. “Thank God I Listened to Neil Ferguson,” he said. “His predictions are always spot on.”

Fact-checkers, please ensure your satire detectors are fully functioning before engaging with this post.

Daily Covid Cases Fall by Nearly 40% in a Week – Eighth Day in a Row Cases Have Fallen, Week-on-Week

Britain’s Omicron wave continued to collapse today as coronavirus cases fell for the eighth day in a row and hospital admissions remained flat. MailOnline has more.

Another 109,133 people tested positive for the virus across the country in the last 24 hours, Government dashboard data shows, down 39% on the number a week ago.

It is the eight day in a row that new infections have fallen week-on-week and the lowest daily total in more than a fortnight.

Deaths – which are a lagging indicator of the outbreak – have been slowly creeping up in recent days with 335 more victims registered today.

It is unclear if reporting issues over the holidays are still at play, but the seven-day average number of Covid fatalities sits at 261 now compared to 99 a fortnight ago.

Meanwhile, latest hospital data shows there were 2,184 admissions for the virus on January 9th, up 5% compared to the previous. Daily admissions have fallen on three of the past seven days.

NHS leaders have voiced optimism that Omicron’s pressure on hospitals had already peaked and that the eight new Nightingale surge hubs will not be needed.

It came as the country’s largest symptom-tracking study also found that Britain’s Omicron outbreak was falling last week in all age groups and regions except the North East.

King’s College London researchers estimated the number of people falling ill with the virus each day plunged by 12%, with 183,000 symptomatic infections now occurring every day.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Construction workers are putting the finishing touches to the first of the NHS’s Covid surge ‘Hubs’, just as hospitalisations are beginning to fall across the country. The latest NHS England data now shows that more than 50% of hospital patients classified as having Covid are being treated for something else.

Covid Vaccines: One Death per 8,000 People in Iceland, Serious Adverse Events 800-FOLD Higher Than With Earlier Vaccine Withdrawn on Safety Grounds

In 1976 the U.S. had a swine flu outbreak. Vaccine development was immediately started and Congress approved a liability exemption for the manufacturers at the request of President Gerald Ford. Then a mass vaccination campaign was kicked off. As Gerald Posner describes in his book Pharma – Greed, Lies and the Poisoning of America, it later turned out there never was any swine flu outbreak. Instead, one soldier in an army barracks in Texas caught a respiratory disease that killed him, but it was not a virus, but bacteria originating from contaminated water, a disease known as Legionella or Legionnaires’ disease. However, before the truth came out, over 40 million people had been vaccinated.

On October 12th 1976, the New York Times reported that the vaccination programme had been halted in nine states after three elderly patients had died following the flu shot. A direct link had not been established though.

On December 17th the programme was put on hold nationwide as 94 cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome were being investigated. Fifty-one of the patients had received the vaccine, the New York Times reported on December 17th 1976.

At that time, as no actual swine flu cases had yet been verified, the lack thereof contributed to the decision. However, as reported by the New York Times, this was not the main reason:

The decision to suspend the swine flu program was announced in Washington by Dr. Theodore Cooper, Assistant Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare. Dr. Cooper said that he was acting “in the interests of safety of the public, in the interest of credibility, and in the interest of the practice of good medicine”.

Now to Iceland. In the winter of 2019-2020, around 70,000 people were vaccinated against influenza. Nine cases of adverse events were reported, none of them serious, the Icelandic Medicines Agency confirmed to me via email on November 1st 2021.

On January 12th 2022, when just under 290,000 people had been vaccinated against COVID-19 (out of a population of 370,000), 5,968 cases of adverse events had been reported. This is a massive 160-fold increase per million against the 2019 figures.

268 cases were classified as serious. 171 patients needed hospitalisation, and out of those, 38 cases were classified as life-threatening. 35 deaths had been reported. This compares to 39 deaths reported with Covid to date.

Self-Isolation Cut By One Day

Self-isolation is to be cut to five days in England, as Ministers start to relax Covid rules at the glacial pace we’ve all become accustomed to these past two years. The Telegraph has the story.

Under the new rules, from Monday those isolating after testing positive for Covid, or showing symptoms of it, will be freed from the start of their sixth day, as long as they have a negative lateral flow result that day, and the day before. 

Health Secretary Sajid Javid announced the latest change in the House of Commons today, after weeks of business leaders calling for quarantine periods to be reduced, amid warnings they were crippling major sectors of the economy. 

He said data from the U.K. Health Security Agency shows that around two thirds of positive cases are no longer infectious by the end of day five

“We’ve made the decision to reduce the minimum self isolation to five full days in England, from Monday, people can test twice before they go, leaving isolation at the start of day six.”

The new system is similar to that of the United States, where isolation lasts five full days – allowing exit at the start of day six.

Until now, the first point of exit has been day seven, which also depends on two days of negative tests.

The Government still hasn’t addressed, though, why it is still requiring isolation periods at all, given that there is clearly no medical emergency anymore and there are only excess deaths at present for reasons other than Covid.

France Lifts Ban on U.K. Tourists – But Only the Vaccinated, Despite Them Having the Vast Majority of Infections

France has said it will lift its ban on U.K. tourists tomorrow after pleas from the tourism industry – but only for the vaccinated. MailOnline has more.

The ski season is back on for snow-deprived Britons as France said it will lift its ban on U.K. holidaymakers tomorrow.

Tourism Minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne said they will be allowed into the country following an outcry from struggling resorts.

Travellers who are fully vaccinated will be allowed to enter if they have evidence of a negative coronavirus test taken within 24 hours of departure.

The requirement to isolate on arrival will be scrapped.

The move was welcomed by tourist-starved resorts which had been begging President Emmanuel Macron to change his mind.

Meanwhile travel experts warned it may have come too late after doing “untold damage” to businesses.

Mr Baptiste-Lemoyne tweeted on Thursday morning “we are relaxing entry conditions”.

The Minister said the new measures would be published in an official decree on Friday, but were “immediately effective”.

People who are not vaccinated will still need a compelling reason to enter France, and must still isolate for 10 days upon arrival, the BBC notes. But why, when current infections are overwhelmingly in vaccinated people?

Worth reading in full.

The Betrayal of Public Health During The Covid Pandemic

We’re publishing a new piece today by Dr. Alan Mordue, a retired Consultant in Public Health Medicine, who is alarmed and disappointed that longstanding and important principles of public health have been jettisoned in the pandemic. Alan worked as a Public Health Consultant in England and then in Scotland for 28 years, retiring in 2016. He has extensive experience of teaching and training in public health and was an Honorary Clinical Senior Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh for many years.

Here is the introduction, where Dr. Mordue highlights the difference between what the media often mean by a ‘public health expert’ and an actual trained and accredited Public Health Specialist.

During this Covid pandemic I have heard much in the media from ‘public health experts’ and ‘public health officials’, but rarely from colleagues in my own specialty – Public Health! This is very surprising since the specialty, which I practised for 28 years as a Consultant in England and Scotland before my retirement in 2016, usually leads the management of all outbreaks of infectious diseases in the U.K., and also has had the responsibility for leading the production of pandemic plans in the U.K.

But is there any difference between a Public Health (PH) official, expert and specialist? Certainly you wouldn’t think so listening to most broadcast media. Here are my definitions:

So these three groups are very different. Only one group has undertaken an in-depth specialist training and has theoretical and practical experience in outbreak control and management (as well as other areas of PH specialist practice). 

When a PH ‘expert’ expresses views in the media about the management of the Covid pandemic it is therefore essential to know a little about their background training and experience. Even if they have an exalted title like ‘professor’, their chair may be in anthropology or their main experience in nutrition or dentistry. This is not to dismiss the contributions of diverse disciplines – given the inevitable complexity of a national response to a pandemic we certainly need to draw upon a wide range of expertise. However, over the last 18 months I have kept asking myself whether PH Specialist knowledge, skills and experience have had sufficient influence during the Covid pandemic. I will attempt to answer my question by referring to some of the key principles of Public Health and considering whether they have been followed or not during the pandemic response.

Among other things, Dr. Mordue criticises the redefinition of ‘case’ in the pandemic, where for the first time a positive PCR test alone in the absence of clinical symptoms has been counted as a case of the disease, causing big problems with false positives and over-diagnosis.

Either symptoms or a positive test alone is insufficient, both must be present to be counted as a confirmed case. It follows that there is no such thing as an asymptomatic case.

This standard definition was not adopted at the start of the pandemic. Because of this we don’t know how many real cases of COVID-19 we have had or have currently – the numbers recorded include real cases of people with relevant symptoms and a positive PCR test for viral RNA, but also include people with no symptoms of COVID-19 and only a positive PCR test. This has been further complicated by mass population testing in the community and hospitals of those without COVID-19 symptoms, the use of high cycle thresholds in the PCR test, and inevitably large numbers of false positive tests.

The piece is worth reading in full.

Van-Tam Quits

Sir Jonathan Van-Tam is leaving his post as Deputy Chief Medical Officer, the Health Secretary has confirmed. The Government senior adviser, who has become a household name, will leave his post at the end of March to return the University of Nottingham to focus on academic work. MailOnline has more.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said he was “hugely grateful” for the “vital” role Sir Jonathan had played during the pandemic, and that it was an “honour” to work with him.

It comes in the wake of Boris Johnson issuing a grovelling apology to the nation for an event held in Downing Street during the first national lockdown.

The Prime Minister admitted it could have been seen as a party, but insisted he thought it was a “work event” – which was allowed by the rules at that time.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid tweeted: “It has been an honour to work with JVT and I am hugely grateful for his advice and the vital role he has played in our vaccination programme. I wish him all the best for the future at the University of Nottingham and their faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences.”

Sir Jonathan was awarded a knighthood in the New Year’s honours list for his services fighting the pandemic. 

Rats fleeing from a sinking ship springs to mind. With Boris possibly fatally weakened, Covid on its way out, the narrative turning against lockdowns and the inquiry on its way, it seem it’s time to leave. How many more will jump?

Worth reading in full.

Times Article on the First Lockdown Omits One Very Important Point

On January 1st, the Times published a longish essay titled ‘What if we had done nothing about Covid?’, which focuses on Britain’s first lockdown.

It’s far from the worst thing written during the pandemic, as the author does try to consider both sides of the argument (i.e., pro- and anti-lockdown). However, he ends up leaning heavily toward the pro-lockdown side.

For example, he writes things like, “If we had done literally nothing, the economic impact from loss of life alone would have been catastrophic,” and, “There would probably not be enough workers left to run the NHS, let alone deal with the backlog of cancelled operations or the tidal wave of long Covid.”

The author does admit that “even if the government did nothing, we would have adjusted our behaviour” – though apparently not by enough to avert a huge death toll.

However, he omits one very important point: infections were almost certainly falling when Britain’s first lockdown began. While lockdown may have helped them to fall slightly faster than otherwise, it didn’t cause the initial fall. How do we know this?

First, infections began falling around the same time in Sweden, which didn’t lock down (see below). Neil Ferguson’s team predicted there would be 90,000 deaths in Sweden, but in the end there were less than 6,000. This shows that their model (which the author of the Times pieces takes very seriously) was simply wrong.

Google Cancels Ex-NASA Scientist Dr. Roy Spencer Because His Satellite Temperature Data Reports Aren’t Hot Enough

One of the leading collators of satellite temperature data, Dr. Roy Spencer, has been kicked off Google Adsense for publishing “unreliable and harmful claims”. The move ‘demonetises’ Dr. Spencer’s widely consulted monthly update page by removing all Google-supplied advertising. The former NASA climate scientist collects raw data every month from NASA satellites and provides an accurate monthly guide to warming and cooling temperature trends.

Dr. Spencer, who states that he believes most global warming “is probably due to greenhouse gas emissions” has collated data from NASA satellites for 43 years. Along with his colleague, the atmospheric scientist Professor John Christy, he has received awards for his work from NASA and the American Meteorological Society. Commenting on Google’s “unreliable and harmful claims” suggestion, Dr. Spencer notes: “This is obviously because some activists employed by Google don’t like the answer our 43-year long satellite database gives.” Google is on record as stating that it will ban all sites that are sceptical of “well established scientific consensus”.

The issue with satellite data is that it shows less global warming than the frequently quoted surface measurements. This has long been a thorn in the side of green activists promoting the Net Zero agenda with hysterical fears that the planet is heading for catastrophic heating caused by the burning of fossil fuels. But surface measurements suffer from many disadvantages, not least the effect of massive urban heat distortions caused by the growth of cities across the globe over the last 70 years. Nevertheless, the higher surface measurements are used to provide covering fire for the guesses made by climate models that forecast future warming up to 6°C. Over the last 40 years, none of these models has even provided an accurate guess.

The lack of global warming since the mid-1990s is shown by a graph produced by satellite data specialist Remote Sensing Systems. Apart from a large spike in 2016 caused by an exceptional warm El Nino natural weather oscillation, there has been no significant warming for nearly two decades. Current annual temperatures were seen in the 1980s and 90s. These two decades saw a rise in temperatures after the falls from 1940-80 and provided much of the ammunition still being used by Net Zero zealots to promote the idea of global heating and climate breakdown. Meanwhile the graph overlays the results of climate model guesses and shows clearly how they doubled-down and became more extreme as the actual temperature flatlined.