Search Results for: public inquiry

PM to Appoint Chair of Public Inquiry into Government’s Handling of Covid by Christmas

After meeting members of the Covid Bereaved Families for Justice on Tuesday – far too late, according to the group – the Prime Minister has signalled that he will appoint a Chair for the public inquiry into his Government’s response to Covid by Christmas. Whoever is appointed, it is likely that the inquiry will focus on questions that presume ministers were right to lock the country down in the first place (e.g. “Did we lock down too late?”, not “Did the costs of lockdown outweigh the benefits?”). Sky News has the story.

In May, [the Prime Minister] announced an independent public inquiry into the Government’s handling of the pandemic will begin in the spring of next year.

“Although we wish this meeting had taken place a long time ago, we’re pleased that the Prime Minister has chosen to finally engage with us and that he explicitly acknowledged the importance of ensuring that bereaved families are at the heart of learning lessons from the pandemic,” the group said in a statement after the meeting.

“However, we are still disappointed by the lack of urgency the Prime Minister displayed as we see no reason why preparations for the inquiry cannot begin now, particularly as nearly 1,000 people are still losing their lives each week.”

They said Mr. Johnson must deliver on his commitments, adding: “We hope that we can accept the Prime Minister’s commitments in good faith and, going forward, that there will be ongoing and meaningful dialogue with bereaved families.”

The group had asked for the meeting to be held outside with social distancing in place.

A Downing Street spokesperson said: “The Prime Minister gave a commitment that the Chair of the inquiry would be appointed by Christmas.

“He set out that for now it is right that public servants continue to focus their efforts on tackling the pandemic before moving on to the inquiry in the spring of next year.

“He welcomed the opportunity to hear from Bereaved Families for Justice on the areas they would like the inquiry to cover and the importance of choosing the right chair and panel members, and reiterated that he takes full responsibility for the Government’s handling of the pandemic.

Worth reading in full.

Boris Promises a Full Public Inquiry Into the Government’s Handling of Covid Before the End of This Parliamentary Session

Boris Johnson has been pushed into promising a full public inquiry into the Government’s handling of Covid and says that one will begin before the end of this parliamentary session. MailOnline has the story.

The Prime Minister firmed up his commitment to an early probe into the crisis as he was grilled by MPs about the Queen’s Speech plans.

Up to now, Mr Johnson has seemed unwilling to give a timetable, pointing out that ministers and officials are focused on the response to the disease.

But Sir Keir Starmer and other opposition parties have insisted that an inquiry should start immediately to learn lessons.

In the Commons, Liberal Democrat Leader Sir Ed Davey urged Mr Johnson to set up an inquiry “on behalf of bereaved families across the country”.

Mr Johnson replied: “I can certainly say that we will do that within this session.” …

“I have made that clear before… I do believe it’s essential we have a full, proper public inquiry into the Covid pandemic.”

Although there is no fixed length for a parliamentary session, they typically run for around a year…

A full public inquiry would be likely to take many years to complete.

To date, most of the calls for an inquiry made by those in the media and political classes have focussed on the idea that the Government was too slow to introduce the first lockdown. Whether or not the inquiry will look at the impact of lockdowns on Covid mortality, other diseases, mental health, education and the economy – as Recovery suggests – has yet to be seen. I won’t be holding my breath.

The MailOnline report is worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The Prime Minister has announced that an independent public inquiry into the Government’s handling of Covid will begin in the spring of next year.

Stop Press 2: Julia Hartley-Brewer has stressed that “the key issue in the public inquiry… must not be whether Boris Johnson locked down too late in spring 2020 but whether he should have locked down *at all*”.

Public Inquiry into Government’s Handling of Covid Should Be Launched “as Soon as Possible”, Says Lord Fowler

Pressure is building on the Prime Minister to launch a public inquiry into his Government’s handling of Covid, as the outgoing Lord Speaker said a probe should take place before “memories fade”. Lord Fowler’s concern, predictably enough, is that the first lockdown might not have been implemented soon enough. MailOnline has the story.

The outgoing Lord Speaker has piled the pressure on Boris Johnson to launch a formal public inquiry into the Government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis. 

Lord Fowler, who is stepping down today after five years in the role, said a probe should be held “as soon as possible” and before “memories fade”. 

Lord Fowler, who served as Tory health secretary between 1981 and 1987 in Margaret Thatcher’s Government, said the inquiry should be “automatic” and should focus on whether there was a “delay” to announcing the first lockdown last March.

The peer is the latest high profile figure to call on the Prime Minister to launch the inquiry after Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said the same earlier this month. 

Mr Johnson has committed to holding a probe into the crisis but he is yet to set out a timetable for it to begin…

He had originally committed to a public inquiry last July, telling the House of Commons: “As I have told the House several times, I do not believe that now in the middle of combatting still as we are a pandemic, is the right moment to devote huge amounts of official time to an inquiry.”

Lord Fowler – quoted in the MailOnline report – told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that he supports those who believe the first lockdown should have been introduced earlier rather than those who are sceptical of the alleged benefits of lockdowns.

I think that what concerns me is that I would support those who are saying that there should be an inquiry into the early stages of whether there was a delay in the lockdown.

Because if there was we would want to know why and if it was in the face of medical advice then that is quite a hurdle because I think that politicians need to be guided by the best medical advice in positions of this kind. 

So I would back an inquiry into this area. Incidentally, inquiries of this kind should be automatic. 

But what I also think is that the inquiry should take place as soon as possible. 

Worth reading in full.

House of Commons Covid Report Gets Some Things Right, Most Things Wrong

On Monday evening two House of Commons select committees – the Science and Technology Committee and the Health and Social Care Committee – published a joint report on the Government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic that was predictably damning. It was published in time to make the following day’s front pages – “Britain must learn from ‘big mistakes’ on Covid, says report”, reported the Times on its front page – but not in time for newspaper reporters or broadcast journalists to properly assess its findings. Not that that stopped all the usual suspects from using it as a stick to beat the Government with. For instance, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth told the BBC that the “damning” findings showed that “monumental errors” had been made and called for the public inquiry – scheduled for next spring – to be brought forward.

The authors of the report say in the Executive Summary that the reason they’ve published it now, when there are still a large number of ‘known unknowns’ as well as ‘unknown unknowns’, is because we urgently need to learn from what the Government got right and what it got wrong so we are better prepared for the next pandemic, which might come along at any moment. But if it’s too soon to say what was a mistake and what wasn’t, that argument collapses. Indeed, a premature report that draws the wrong conclusions, e.g. that the Government didn’t lock down in March of last year early enough, which is one of the main findings of this report, is worse than useless since it may encourage future Governments to repeat the same mistakes.

I’ve now read the report – yes, all 145 pages – so you don’t have to.

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Sunetra Gupta: Lockdown Policy Based on Faith, Not Evidence

Professors Sunetra Gupta and Paul Dolan have written a piece for the Telegraph pointing out that lockdowns were rolled out across the world last March in spite of never having been tried before as a way of mitigating the impact of a pandemic and in spite of no cost-benefit analysis having been done.

As it currently stands, it looks like lockdowns had a small effect but, to some large extent, the path of the virus can be explained by “natural” factors such as the accumulation of herd immunity and seasonal differences in the transmissibility of the virus. Furthermore, while lockdowns may have protected some vulnerable people from exposure to the virus, they may also have placed them at increased risk of future exposure by preventing high levels of herd immunity from establishing broadly across the population.

The profound costs of lockdown have been borne disproportionately by younger people, those with limited social support, those with mental health problems, and those in low-income groups with job insecurity. Some older people have benefitted from lockdown, but perhaps by not as much as would have been hoped for, and without ever inquiring into whether they preferred to be isolated from close family for so long. The most obvious beneficiaries of lockdown, at least insofar as the economic impacts are concerned, are those who can work from home on full pay – such as members of the government and advisory committees like Sage.

There are serious ethical questions about these intergenerational transfers and policies that have served to widen economic inequalities. The public inquiry into Covid must be broad enough to consider the narrowness of the perspectives and experiences involved in making decisions that have had such an unprecedented effect on the economic and emotional wellbeing of the youngest and worst-off members of the population.

The critical question, of course, is whether it would have been possible to reduce the mortality and morbidity risks to the vulnerable population at lower cost than lockdowns? Other options were available, such as focused protection, whereby those most at risk from the virus would have been afforded protection whilst those at low risk would be largely allowed to go about life as normal. But this was dismissed as callous without any evidence to support this claim.

Decision making quickly became more faith based than evidence based. In response to case numbers in the UK falling, Professor Neil Ferguson recently said, “I’m quite happy to be wrong, if it’s wrong in the right direction.” This betrays a complete lack of insight into the welfare consequences of lockdowns. The mainstream advice has been to reduce transmission through lockdowns and if this is wrong, and if lockdowns cause more harm than good, then he is not only wrong, but wrong in the wrong direction so far as human welfare is concerned.

Worth reading in full.

Caroline Lucas MP Says “Cases Are Soaring”. Hasn’t She Seen the Data?

A reader has forwarded an email sent by Green Party MP Caroline Lucas via the platform of March for Change in which she reiterates the need for an immediate public inquiry into the Government’s handling of Covid. As with most people calling for a Covid inquiry, she accused Boris Johnson of lifting the coronavirus restrictions “too soon”. That restrictions suppress infections is simply taken for granted.

The odd thing about this email is that it appears to have been written a week ago since it makes no reference to the fact that the number of daily cases yesterday was 40% lower than it was on July 18th, the day before ‘Freedom Day’. By going ahead with ‘Freedom Day’, Caroline Lucas claims, the Prime Minister has “chosen to bury his head in the sand and simply hope for the best”. As a result of this criminal recklessness, “the third wave of Covid [is] sweep[ing] across the country”, she says, and”cases are soaring”.

In fact, official figures show that cases are falling or levelling off in every region of England, including Caroline Lucas’s Brighton constituency. As Will Jones has pointed out, “the myth of the exit wave persists” – and the fact that this myth is so impervious to facts makes it look like a pro-Lockdown conspiracy theory.

The same goes for Lucas’s claim that hospitals are filling up (see orange line in graph below).

Professor Adam Finn of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation says the fall in reported Covid cases “means less viral transmission and eventually fewer hospitalisations and deaths than we feared and expected a week ago”. The biggest problem faced by the NHS is the huge backlog of patients who haven’t received treatment because of successive lockdowns. Not to mention those whose illnesses haven’t even been diagnosed. Isn’t Caroline Lucas concerned that sending out emails like this, including false claims about the case rate, will discourage even more sick people to seek much-needed hospital treatment?

Next time Lucas accuses a lockdown sceptic of trafficking in ‘misinformation’, they should point to this dangerously misleading email.

Stop Press: U.K.’s Covid cases have dropped for the sixth day in a row, according to MailOnline.

Stop Press 2: The Director of March For Change has tweeted an apology to Caroline Lucas for sending out an out-of-date, earlier draft of an email in her name. This is almost certainly a result of our eagle-eyed reader bringing this matter to our attention, the above article and those other Daily Sceptic readers who emailed Caroline Lucas’s office to point out the mistake.

£2.1 Billion Wasted on Useless PPE – Five Times Higher Than Official Estimate

Over the past year, the Government has wasted more than £2 billion on personal protective equipment (PPE) that could not be used in the NHS. The figure is five times higher than initial official estimates and still under-estimates the true cost. The Sunday Telegraph has the story.

Some 2.1 billion items of PPE have so far been deemed unfit to keep doctors and nurses safe in clinical settings – with 10,000 shipping containers-full still to be unpacked as of May this year, said the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

The amount of unusable kit is five times higher than the number estimated by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) in January, said the select committee, which monitors public expenditure.

The wasted sum forms part of the estimated £372 billion spent by the U.K. on pandemic-containing measures which will expose taxpayers to “significant financial risks for decades to come”, the cross-party committee warned in two reports published on Sunday.

MPs say they “remain concerned that despite spending over £10 billion on supplies, the PPE stockpile is not fit for purpose” with potential levels of waste “unacceptably high”.

As of May this year, out of 32 billion items of PPE ordered by the DHSC, 11 billion had been distributed, while 12.6 billion pieces are on standby at a cost of around £6.7 million a week in storage, the PAC said.

Some 8.4 billion pieces on order from around the globe have still not arrived in the U.K.

For excess PPE that is suitable for medical use, MPs said they are concerned the Government is “yet to create any robust plans for repurposing and distributing this essential stock in a way which ensures value for money and protects staff and patients”.

A public inquiry scheduled to start next spring into the Government’s handling of the pandemic will not come swiftly enough to ensure lessons are learned, the PAC added.

Ministers also risk undermining public trust by failing to swiftly publish the full details of contracts awarded, the report said.

The PAC noted that details of three-quarters of the 1,644 contracts over £25,000 awarded up to the end of July last year were not made public within the 90-day target.

Worth reading in full.

Anti-Maskers “Practice a Form of Data Literacy in Spades”, Says MIT Study

by Cephas Alain

Mark Dolan cuts up a mask on air on talkRADIO

An unexpected side effect of the pandemic was the rapid and sustained development of a new set of grassroots checks and balances counterbalancing official scientific health narratives. This was not always obvious, and its nature and effectiveness only became clear gradually. Given the continued development of social media, home working and more sophisticated online working group platforms, and other tools, it may almost look inevitable. But as those involved might say, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” This may prove be one of the enduring legacies of the pandemic as its potential is much wider than a single area of concern.

Apart from anecdotal evidence of this development there is now some research evidence. The research is to be found in a preprint paper by Lee, Yang et al. of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) entitled “Viral Visualisations: How Coronavirus Skeptics Use Orthodox Data Practices to Promote Unorthodox Science Online“. Much of the content of the study addresses matters surrounding the visual representation of data but it also contains valuable contextual analysis which provides clues to the future of scientific discourse.

The Lee, Yang et al. paper “investigates how pandemic visualisations [of data] circulated on social media, and shows that people who mistrust the scientific establishment often deploy the same rhetorics of data-driven decision making used by experts, but to advocate for radical policy changes”. It refers to the opponents of lockdowns, social-distancing and face masks as “anti-maskers”, which is rather unflattering shorthand, but as part of its overall analysis it clearly shows that a mix of traditionally educated scientists and researchers, along with data specialists and interested members of the general public, have begun to work together systematically. They are using open and closed group social media to enter scientific debates often with a high level of sophistication and increasing credibility.

The study provides good evidence to believe that, at least in some cases, a new collegiate form of narrative is emerging. That is one which is neither non-scientific nor pseudo-scientific but simply an alternative scientific narrative. Alternative, that is, to the one provided by official government-scientific and mainstream media sources. That is partly because it is based on the same data. In the words of Lee, Yang et al. “there is a fundamental epistemological [knowledge related] conflict between maskers [mainstream official viewpoints on science and policy] and anti-maskers [those who question mainstream official viewpoints on science and policy], who use the same data but come to such different conclusions”. (My words in square brackets.)

There is room for alternative viewpoints because “data [or indeed ‘the science’] is not a neutral substrate that can be used for good or for ill. Indeed, anti-maskers often reveal themselves to be more sophisticated in their understanding of how scientific knowledge is socially constructed than their ideological adversaries, who espouse naive realism about the ‘objective’ truth of public health data. Quantitative data is culturally and historically situated; the manner in which it is collected, analysed, and interpreted reflects a deeper narrative that is bolstered by the collective effervescence found within social media communities”. Put differently: “there is no such thing as dispassionate or objective data analysis. Instead, there are stories: stories shaped by cultural logics, animated by personal experience, and entrenched by collective action”. The same, we might add, applies to all matters of presentation and communication.

Furthermore, Lee, Yang et al. observe: “Most fundamentally, the groups we studied believe that science is a process, and not an institution.” That is precisely the point and nature of the scientific method. They add:

While academic science is traditionally a system for producing knowledge within a laboratory, validating it through peer review, and sharing results within subsidiary communities, anti-maskers reject this hierarchical social model. They espouse a vision of science that is radically egalitarian and individualist. This study forces us to see that coronavirus sceptics champion science as a personal practice that prizes rationality and autonomy; for them, it is not a body of knowledge certified by an institution of experts.

Having said this, we might submit that the study has also discovered characteristics which suggest that, whilst the more developed groups are egalitarian, they also mimic “institutional type” checks and balances on their members’ output. One might go so far as to say that they actually are a new form of “collective peer review”. That is so far as they are providing critiques which are supported by the data. That is both internally, within the way this type of group operates, and as an “external examiner” of the work of others outside the group. This should naturally be differentiated from less considered groups which pluck ideas out of nowhere and generate mere propaganda. Some trained scientists and traditional institutions are more open to debate and other engagement than others. It is plausible to suggest that those who choose to engage, in an informal or more structured way, with the more developed groups might find it a positive process rather than a distraction to be avoided.

In the most scientifically/data literate groups, the following characteristics were observed by Lee, Yang et al. which, while linked to visualisations, have much wider application:

There is a commitment to quality:

  1. “we find that anti-mask groups on Twitter often create polished counter-visualisations that would not be out of place in scientific papers, health department reports, and publications like the Financial Times”.
  2. “Qualitative analysis of anti-mask groups gives us an interactional view of how these groups leverage the language of scientific rigour – being critical about data sources, explicitly stating analytical limitations of specific models, and more – in order to support ending public health restrictions despite the consensus of the scientific establishment.”
  3. “anti-mask groups practice a form of data literacy in spades. Within this constituency, unorthodox viewpoints do not result from a deficiency of data literacy; sophisticated practices of data literacy are a means of consolidating and promulgating views that fly in the face of scientific orthodoxy”.

We might say that they seek to, and often do, really know their stuff.

There is a commitment to openness:

  1. “Among other initiatives, these groups argue for open access to government data (claiming that CDC and local health departments are not releasing enough data for citizens to make informed decisions), and they use the language of data-driven decision-making to show that social distancing mandates are both ill-advised and unnecessary.”
  2. “Critically assessing data representations”. This recognises that “specific types of visualisations can obscure or highlight information”. A simple example given by the study is that in U.S. “state charts, counties with hugely different populations can be next to each other. The smaller counties are always going to look calm even if per capita they are doing the same or worse”.

There is an emphasis on original content – taking matters back to original source material/data – avoiding secondary material/data presentations:

  • “Many anti-maskers express mistrust for academic and journalistic accounts of the pandemic, proposing to rectify alleged bias by ‘following the data’ and creating their own data visualisations. Indeed, one Facebook group within this study has very strict moderation guidelines that prohibit the sharing of non-original content so that discussions can be ‘guided solely by the data’.”
  • “Some group administrators even impose news consumption bans on themselves so that ‘mainstream’ models do not ‘cloud their analysis’. In other words, anti-maskers value unmediated access to information and privilege personal research and direct reading over ‘expert’ interpretations.”

There is an emphasis on ‘Critically assessing data sources’ .

  • “Even as these users learn from each other to collect more data, they remain critical about the circumstances under which the data are collected and distributed. Many of the users believe that the most important metrics are missing from government-released data.”
  • Therefore, there is also emphasis within such groups on:
    • Which metrics matter e.g. deaths or cases?
    • What data has not been provided by the authorities?
    • What to do about official datasets constructed in “fundamentally subjective ways” e.g. some is “coded, cleaned, and aggregated… by government data analysts”.
    • What to do if there is lack of transparency within official data collection systems.

There is a recognition of context:

  • “Even when local governments do provide data, however, these users also contend that the data requires context in order for any interpretation to be meaningful. For example, metrics like hospitalisation and infection rates”.
  • This includes keeping the science/data analysis/presentation what we might call grounded. “Applying data to real-world situations. Ultimately, anti-mask users emphasise that they need to apply this data to real-world situations.” That included seeking answers so they could better inform themselves, their families and others.

There is an emphasis on training up others/education:

  • “In order to create these original visualisations, users provide numerous tutorials on how to access government health data.”
  • “The discussion-based nature of these Facebook groups also give these followers a space to learn and adapt from others, and to develop processes of critical engagement.”

Note: The Lee, Yang et al. study suggests this type of engagement is also sometimes used as a means to achieve “political radicalisation”. That may become an even more interesting observation looking to the future as different groups focus on particular issues including post-pandemic accountability.

There is an attempt to identify bias and politics in data:

  • “[Anti-maskers] are… mindful to note that these analyses only represent partial perspectives that are subject to individual context and interpretation.” One is quoted as saying: “That’s why scientists use controls… to protect ourselves from our own biases. And this is one of the reasons why I disclose my biases to you. That way you can evaluate my conclusions in context. Hopefully, by staying close to the data, we keep the effect of bias to a minimum.”
  • “these groups seek to identify bias by being critical about specific profit motives that come from releasing (or suppressing) specific kinds of information.”

One of the things which the pandemic has revived interest in is the broad subject area of research bias which includes issues around reporting (or not reporting) and the nexus with the media.

‘Appeals to scientific authority.’

  • Many anti-maskers refer to their qualifications, university or publications which might help support their ‘scientific legitimacy’.

This has all been achieved in the face of censorship. The study notes that: “As of this writing, Facebook has banned some of the groups we studied, who have since moved to more unregulated platforms.”

Overall, while still at a relatively early stage of development, this points to a new shape for the mounting of ever more credible challenges to the ‘new orthodoxy’ of lockdowns, social distancing, mask mandates in schools, business closures, and so on. It is a form of inquiry that is not predisposed to cover-ups and will not be restricted by the terms of the promised official public inquiry, or the one after that. It is science as dissent.

Cephas Alain is the pseudonym of a retired lawyer.

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