In the not-so-distant dark days of Nazi occupation, my grandfather used to go into a remote room of his vast flat in Pisa and secretly listen with my mum, then in her 20s, to Colonel Harold Stevens. Stevens, who, like me, had an Italian mother, was known to his avid listeners as ‘colonello buonasera‘ or ‘colonel good evening’. He was the voice of the Allies, and each evening provided precious news to his illegal listeners. Penalties for being caught listening to ‘buonasera‘ were harsh, but if you wanted to know where the Allies had got to in their advance up the golden boot, buonasera was the most reliable source. The BBC built a colossal reputation from such practices. This persisted when I was at school when my schoolmates mimicked Stevens’s voice, which they had heard from their parents.
Fifty years on, I could not believe my senses when driving out of Sarajevo; the World Service announced that the Serbs were mortaring Bosnian positions on the eastern outskirts of the city. I could see the rounds landing in real-time. Wow!
Sadly, things have moved downhill rapidly.
The BBC piece called ‘Changing nature of Covid: Is it just a regular winter bug now?‘ was obviously written by someone eager to communicate the amazing news that a respiratory virus first identified three years ago may have become endemic.
I thought, fair enough, readers do not know that this happens relatively frequently. And fair enough, he glosses over the lynch mobs baying for the blood of those putting forward the amazing idea that this might have something to with population immunity or mutations or other poorly understood phenomena.
That was only three years ago – remember? And fair enough, he interviewed the inevitable ubiquitous modellers and a psychologist who stated that “Covid had a huge impact on our lives – unlike anything we have lived through, for most – and for some, uncertainty and worry persist even though the risks have changed”. Covid case unproven, restrictions and feardemic case proven. Uncertainty? That’s a new one on me. But what the devil, most of these folk cannot or will not still get to grips with what really happened. Okay, Tom, calm down it takes time to learn to use your cerebral hemispheres. All right, all right, calm down.
However, I draw the line at the citation density of the F word (flu), used 12 times out of 962 words (including ‘related topics’). Carl and I have written many times about the use of the F word and its intentional or unintentional use. The former is due to the purpose of misinforming and confusing the public, the latter is due to sloppiness or ignorance. Either way, it should not be used, as it confuses and scares people.
Also, note the histogram in the middle of the piece. It provides false information on deaths. We have shown 14 different definitions that have been used to ‘associate’ Covid with deaths. For influenza, ONS data show that associated annual deaths rarely go above 1,000. These are cases with reasonable evidence of attribution, the rest come from: wait for it, wait for it… models and International Classification of Diseases (ICD) code manipulation.
So, to put this into context, Colonel Stevens was a highly decorated and experienced bilingual senior officer who passed on vital information and saved lives. For example, he advised inhabitants of the river Arno region to move away early as it was likely to become part of the Gothic line, which duly happened.
The BBC currently confuses the public, passes on facile information and guesswork and uses incorrect expressions that debase science.
Listen to the BBC now, and it’s buonanotte, not buonasera.
Dr. Tom Jefferson is an epidemiologist based in Rome and lead author of the latest update to the Cochrane review of physical interventions to interrupt or reduce the spread of respiratory viruses. This article was first published on Trust The Evidence, which you can subscribe to here.