Day: 14 May 2022

How Disagreement Became ‘Misinformation’

Barton Swaim, an editorial page writer for the Wall St Journal, has written a brilliant piece about how censorship has become fashionable among America’s educated elites – and not just America’s – under the guise of ‘protecting’ democracy from ‘misinformation’. What’s particularly good about Swaim’s piece is that he links the mistaken belief that ‘data’ and ‘facts’ can drive complicated policy decisions with the avoidance of difficult decisions during the pandemic, with politicians outsourcing difficult decisions to ‘experts’. Here is an extract:

A quarter-century ago the word ‘censorship’ was almost a profanity in American politics. By the mid-2010s it was permitted, even praised, so long as it targeted heterodox thought. Speakers on college campuses were shouted down without a word of protest from people who in the 1980s had defended the public funding of sacrilegious photographs. Commentators in mainstream journals of opinion advocated the reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine, which required broadcasters to present both sides of controversial issues and had the effect of chilling debate on every contentious question. A large number of respected academics and intellectuals suddenly believed the U.S. government had a duty to stop people from saying things those same academics and intellectuals held to be factually inaccurate.

Sceptics mostly attribute this new support for censorship to bad faith. I prefer a more charitable explanation. The new censors sincerely mistake their own interpretations of the facts for the facts themselves. Their opinions, filtered unconsciously through biases and experience, are, to them, simply information. Their views aren’t ‘views’ at all but raw data. Competing interpretations of the facts can be only one thing: misinformation. Or, if it’s deliberate, disinformation.

It is in many ways a strange outcome. From the 1970s to the early 2000s, academic philosophies associated with ‘postmodernism’ coursed through American higher education. They held that there was no objectively knowable truth, only subjective interpretation. As if to demonstrate postmodernism’s total impracticality, yesterday’s straight-A college students have now retreated into a risibly facile non-philosophy in which there is no interpretation, only objective ‘fact’.

Such was the mental disposition of America’s enlightened politicos and media sophisticates when the pandemic hit in early 2020. The challenge of public policy, as they saw it, was not to find practical, broadly acceptable solutions. The challenge, rather, was to find and implement the scientifically ‘correct’ solution, the one endorsed by experts. Sound policy, for them, was a matter of gathering enough data and ‘following’ it.

But of course you can’t follow data. Data just sits there and waits to be interpreted.

When COVID-19 came ashore, the country’s political class, in thrall to the authority of public-health experts and the journalists who listen to them, was singularly ill-equipped to lead in a sensible way. What the pandemic required was not the gathering and mastery of information and the quick implementation of ‘data driven’ policy. The data was wildly elusive, changing shape from day to day and yielding no obvious interpretation. No one understood the spread of this astoundingly resilient virus, least of all the experts confidently purporting to understand it. There was, in fact, no clinically correct response.

The situation called for the acknowledgment of risk, the weighing of costs against benefits, the clear declaration of reasonable compromises between competing interests. What happened was an exercise in societal self-ruin – in the U.S. and elsewhere in the developed world. Politicians, especially those most inclined to see themselves as objective, pro-science data-followers, ducked accountability and deferred to experts who pretended to have empirically proven answers to every question put to them. They gave us a series of policies – business shutdowns, school closures, mask mandates – that achieved at best minor slowdowns in the disease’s spread at the cost of tremendous economic destruction and social embitterment.

Worth reading in full.

Covid in Australia – a Doctor’s Perspective

There follows a guest post by a doctor in Australia, who prefers to remain anonymous, about his experience of the pandemic Down Under.

I entered General Practice 34 years ago in rural New South Wales. Needless to say, the changes since then have been immense.

In 1988, most GP’s admitted and cared for patients in hospitals, did regular house calls, delivered babies, performed surgery and practiced anaesthetics. Now, other than in remote rural locations, very few provide any of these services. As many patients inform me, most GPs seem to want to only look at their computers, order tests, prescribe drugs, give immunisations and refer to the specialists.

Twenty years ago, I underwent specialist training in Sports and Exercise Medicine, and now work purely in that area. I remain, however, registered as a General Practitioner. The Australian health system has plenty of similarities with the British system, though has a number of features which differentiate the two. In Australia, the vast majority of GPs work in the private system, working as contractors to health centres, being employed by private practices, running practices themselves, or in a dwindling number of cases working as solo GPs. Very few work as employees of the public sector or NGOs.

Each state has a Health Department, which can impose different regulations on GPs, such as Covid vaccination requirements, and runs the public hospitals in that state; the Federal Government also has a Health Department which oversees the registration of doctors, pharmaceutical benefits scheme and health budgets. Registration is governed by the Australian Health Professional Regulation Agency (AHPRA) via the Medical Boards. The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) controls drug and device availability. There are both Federal and State Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) dictating policy settings. The Australian Medical Association (AMA) is a lobby group representing less than 15% of doctors, but has political sway. Continuing education and training is provided by the Colleges – in the case of General Practice, this is both the Royal Australian College of General Practice (RACGP) and Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACCRM).

Early on after the advent of the Covid vaccination program, the TGA banned prescription of hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin for Covid infections, partly as they were seen as possible threats to vaccine uptake. Recently, the prescription of hydroxychloroquine for Covid infections again became legal, though only in Queensland.

“The Government Does Not Plan to Close Borders or Stop Mass Gatherings During Any Pandemic” – Why Did Britain Throw Away its Pandemic Plan?

Of the many myths that have taken hold during the pandemic, perhaps none is more central than that the Government was caught out by Covid with no idea about how it ought to respond. Thus the extreme and unprecedented response of lockdown appears to many to be justified by this notion that ministers had little choice but to ‘play it safe’, and the subsequent experiments in social restrictions as we awaited and delivered a rushed vaccine and beyond are imagined as a heroic voyage into the unknown of how a government ought to respond to an ‘unprecedented’ disease.

In fact, though, the Government had a plan for what it should do, the U.K. Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Strategy 2011, and COVID-19 was well within the bounds of what the plan anticipated. As Dr. Noah Carl has noted, this was the plan the Government was following until mid-March 2020, with SAGE re-affirming at a meeting on February 4th 2020 that officials “should continue to plan using current influenza pandemic assumptions”.

While the strategy was focused on influenza, it expressly anticipated the possibility of a new SARS virus:

A pandemic is most likely to be caused by a new subtype of the Influenza A virus but the plans could be adapted and deployed for scenarios such as an outbreak of another infectious disease, e.g. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in health care settings, with an altogether different pattern of infectivity.

Another Desperate Met Office Attempt to Stoke 1.5C Global Warming Fear

Britain’s Met Office says it is a 50-50 call that one of the next five years will see global temperatures leap by almost half a degree centigrade to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. The tidings were of course faithfully reported by mainstream media, keen, as always, to support the political messaging behind Net Zero. But curiously missing from the coverage was the fact that the absurd prediction relies on a base of heavily adjusted past temperature records, and the future occurrence of one of the most powerful natural El Niño weather fluctuations ever observed.

It is on El Niño that the bet mostly relies. A powerful fluctuation in 2016 ended a lengthy temperature pause and raised the reading temporarily by up to 0.2°C. El Niños are natural weather fluctuations that draw heat from the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean and distribute it around the atmosphere. There was also a powerful El Niño spike in 1998 and since that date, global warming has run out of steam.

Not at the Met Office of course. As we have reported, the Met Office removed an off-message pause from around 1998 by two major adjustments in 2013 and 2020 to its HadCRUT global temperature database. In total, the adjustments added about 30% more recent warming. This trend was exacerbated by cooling the temperatures recorded earlier in the 20th century. Similar adjustments were made by other important global temperature datasets. All surface datasets are complex blends of reported temperatures, proxies, estimates and modelled data.

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