Toby Young

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

We’re publishing a guest post today by retired lawyer Cephas Alain (not his real name) about an unexpected benefit of the pandemic: the emergence of scientifically- and data-literate groups of non-experts who rigorously scrutinise and challenge the official scientific narrative. Groups like the one that has coalesced around Lockdown Sceptics.

Until now, we’ve had to rely on anecdotal evidence about this phenomenon, but now we have some research evidence: a 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“. Noah Carl wrote about this study last week, but Cephas Alain has written a more detailed summary. The reason we’ve referred to “anti-maskers” in the headline is because that’s the catch-all term used by the MIT researchers to describe those in the sceptical community. Not very flattering, but could be worse – it’s better than “covid deniers”, the favoured terms of Neil O’Brien, et al.

Here is an extract from Alain’s summary:

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:

* “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”.
* “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.”
* “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.

Worth reading in full.

Anti-Lockdown March in London

Anti-lockdown protests are taking place across the world today. Above are protestors streaming through Central London this afternoon. Needless to say, the BBC has yet to cover this, although one Lockdown Sceptics contributor estimates the turnout at 100,000. More later.

Stop Press: Still no coverage of the march by 4.30pm, other than this short snippet posted on the Guardian’s ‘Covid Live’ page. Just “several hundred” protesters outside Broadcasting House, London, according to one of the paper’s reporters.

Stop Press 2: Nothing on the BBC front, too though editors have found the time to publish stories on cattle grazing in gardens and “a lost whale” on the BBC News homepage, under the banner “Must see”. And, of course, on the pro-Palestine protest.

Stop Press 3: BBC News has stuck a report about an anti-Israel protest in London on the front page of its website. But still nothing about the anti-lockdown protest.

Rule, Britannia! Britannia Take the Knee

We’re publishing an original essay today about the decline of Britain into an authoritarian, one-party state by Dr. James Alexander, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Bilkent University in Turkey. I say “essay”, but it’s more of a splenetic howl of rage – and all the better for that. Here is Dr Alexander’s opening salvo:

Britons are slaves and if they are not yet fully enslaved then there is certainly every sign that they wish to be slaves, and this is what all the taking the knee and taking the jab is about. If we do not want to be slaves, then we need beliefs which will enable us to confound the politics of others. And we also need to maintain a politics of justified opposition – something which collapsed during the pandemic.

The BBC was right, by its own standards, to try to erase the words from the performance of Rule, Britannia at the Last Night of the Proms last year: because these words are no longer part of the official ideology of the United Kingdom. Let us consider its most famous lines, and some of the best lines from ‘God Save the Queen’:

Rule, Britannia! Britannia rule the waves!

Britons never, never, never will be slaves!

Confound their politics,

Frustrate their knavish tricks…

In recent times we might as well be signing these lines instead:

Ruled, Britannia! Britannia take the knee!

Britons never, never, never shall be free!

Adopt their politics,

Applaud their knavish tricks…

Worth reading in full. Bracing stuff.

Lockdown Easing Postponed – in Scotland!

Scotland’s Supreme Leader, Nic Sturge-On, has announced that the lockdown rules in place in some areas will remain in force after Monday. The Sun has more.

The Scots First Minister revealed Glasgow and Moray will remain subject to tougher Level 3 restrictions on Monday as the rest of mainland Scotland drops to Level 2.

It means people in Glasgow will be no longer allowed to mix in each other’s homes from Monday as planned.

And those in the affected areas shouldn’t travel in or out of them either.

The slamming on the handbrake is over fresh fear the India variant is driving an [upsurge in cases] in Scotland’s second largest city.

Some 80.4 cases per 100,000 people were recorded in Glasgow in the seven days to May 11, with experts warning of a “loss of control”.

Speaking to the Scottish Parliament today, Ms Sturgeon told MSPs that “pressing pause” would ensure that coronavirus measures would not have to be reimposed at a later date.

She said: “I know how disappointing this will be, but pressing pause for a few days will hopefully avoid a situation in which we have to impose even more restrictive measures over the next few weeks.”

Initially, both areas will remain at Level 3 for a week, with a further decision made at the end of next week.

It heralds the return of local restrictions for Scotland after parts of the central belt were subject to tougher measures last year.

They will have less freedoms than counterparts in other areas of Scotland, who will be able to mix indoors in groups of six from three households.

Overnight stays are also allowed under Level 2, but are banned in Level 3.

Worth reading in full.

“He Had Won the Victory Over Himself. He Loved the Lockdown.”

We’re publishing an original piece tonight by Dr Sinéad Murphy, an Associate Researcher in Philosophy at Newcastle University, about why it is the public have put up so little resistance to lockdowns. She was prompted to wonder about this by recent pieces on why the Conservatives did so well in last week’s election, from Freddie Sayers’s piece in UnHerd attributing it to Stockholm Syndrome to Noah Carl’s piece in Lockdown Sceptics discussing status quo bias. Dr Murphy thinks it is something more sinister – and deeper – than that.

In an essay from 25 years ago on contemporary conditions of work, the Italian philosopher Paulo Virno identified the phenomenon of uprooting as increasingly operative in societies like his own. Not a once-off uprooting, such as moving from one job or career to another, but an unending process of uprooting, the effect of precarious employment and its continual auditing, in which workers must always be ready to move onwards or upwards and to cultivate the commensurate skills of adaptability and virtuosic sociability.

Most pertinent in Virno’s analysis is the alliance it indicated between this endless uprooting and a certain brand of gullibility. The erosion of stability gives rise to a hyperbolic and free-floating feeling of belonging, even though occasions for it are slight or implausible.

“The impossibility of securing ourselves within any durable context,” Virno wrote, “disproportionately increases our adherence to the most fragile instances of the here and now… to every present order, to all rules, to all games.”

Does the phenomenon of uprooting that Virno described apply to our situation now? Does it explain the curious adherence of so many in our society to the present Covid order and to those who dictate it, no matter how fragile it, and they, have become?

Worth reading in full.

Not So SAGE After All: A Review of the Latest Models

Glen Bishop, the second year maths student at Nottingham who was the first to spot that none of the modelling teams feeding into SAGE had taken seasonality into account last February, has taken a look at the new, improved models from Imperial, Warwick and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine that led to headlines earlier this week saying SAGE was no longer predicting an apocalyptic ‘third wave’. (Yipee!) The good news is, the teams have corrected their seasonality mistake when modelling the likely impact of the lifting of restrictions and now graciously allow that summer sunshine will ameliorate the spread of the virus – one of the reasons their latest projections are less gloomy. But there’s also plenty of bad news, as you’d expect.

Here is an extract:

A rational group of scientists would advise that risks are now within the normal accepted range and thus the end of restrictions is nigh and normal life will return. Unsurprisingly, that is not what these three modelling teams have done. Their models have failed to deliver the pessimism and danger craved by scientists clinging on to power, but a new obsession is taking over – the danger of variants. Imperial elaborates: “preventing the importation of variants of concerns (VOC) with moderate to high immune escape properties will be critical as these could lead to future waves orders of magnitude larger than the ones experienced so far.”

Previous Imperial models have made only passing reference to new variants and never tried to model them, yet Imperial’s latest paper, which shows (even with their modelling) the risk from covid to now be incredibly low, is half filled with predictions of theoretical super variants. The most pessimistic of the predictions entails an imaginary ‘high escape’ variant, which, if we stick to the current roadmap, would lead to a peak of over 4,500 deaths per day and a total of 225,000 deaths this summer. To put this into perspective, it would mean a death rate this summer of 3,300 per million, that is double the death rate in Florida since the pandemic began of 1,669 per million despite Florida being near fully open for the last eight months. It’s a higher total than anywhere in the world since the pandemic began. This is void of reality, but even if it weren’t, what is the proposal? Lockdown for another year until a vaccine for this new variant can be distributed, by which time even more variants will have appeared? One might as well include in the modelling a super infectious variant of Ebola or a new improved laboratory leak from our friends in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Worth reading in full.

Advice to Manchester United Fans Travelling to Poland: Don’t Bother

Manchester United F.C. has emailed fans who’ve applied for tickets for the UEFA Europa League Final in Gdansk on May 26th this evening with a long list of dos and don’ts.

Thank you for registering your interest in tickets for the UEFA Europa League Final. We continue to work extensively with UEFA, the Police, Transport Authorities and the Department of Health to understand everything which will be required of our fans travelling to Gdansk. Please take note of some important information below – if you would like to withdraw your application, please click the link below before midday on Wed May 12th.

Before you travel
• You need to make sure that you have booked all required PCR tests, for before and after your trip – further information is provided below, but you will be required to book and pay for them all before you travel
• You will need valid insurance, and we would recommend that this includes the cost for any expenses should you return a positive test at any point in time on your trip (UEFA / trips will not be refundable by the provider)
• We also suggest that you plan your travel insurance in advance, as we have been advised that it can be difficult to obtain this when travelling to an Amber category country
• Departure out of the UK will be dependent on you returning a negative PCR test, which you must book and pay for prior to travel. The cost is usually around £100. This should be undertaken within 48 hours of departure so that the same negative test result can be used upon return

Arriving in Poland
• If you arrive at Gdansk Airport on May 26th you will not be required to undertake a further test, but may be required to evidence your existing negative test (we are waiting for confirmation from other airports)
• Arrival in Poland on any other day will require a further test at the airport, and anybody who returns a positive test will not be permitted to enter Poland – the process for those affected, and where they will be required to wait, is not yet confirmed

In Poland (based on current guidance)
• There are no facilities such as fan zones, bars or restaurants open as the country is still in lockdown, so please bear this in mind when planning travel
• Public transport is operating with 50% capacity seating to maintain appropriate distance between passengers. You can still use taxis
• Face masks must be worn at all times
• If there are medical reasons why you cannot wear a face mask, you must carry a doctor’s note with you explaining this. Bandanas, scarves, balaclavas and visors are not permitted alternatives to face masks
• Police and sanitary inspectors are entitled to issue you with an on-the-spot fine (approximately PLN500/£100) if you are found not to be wearing a face mask when you should. Further prosecution could result in a fine of up to PLN 30,000 (£6,000) for failing to follow sanitary rules
• Stadium entry will all be via digital tickets, which are issued to fans by UEFA directly. Whilst we will issue as much notice as possible after our ballot, by Friday, there will be no option for us to support you with this, as we will not have access to their ticketing system. You must therefore ensure that you preserve your mobile phone battery during the day so that you can use your device to enter the stadium with your digital ticket. If you do not have a mobile phone that is compatible with digital tickets, you should cancel your application

Arrival back to the UK
Arrival back from an Amber category country requires you to prove at passport control that you have:
• returned a negative PCR test before travelling
• completed your passenger locator form (you can do this at https://www.gov.uk/uk-border-control) and
• pre-booked your PCR tests for day two and eight of quarantine.
• These will each usually cost around £100, but can be as cheap as £116 for two tests
• Unfortunately, we are unable to recommend providers

Failure to be able to provide evidence of all of the above could incur a fine of up to £10,000 or up to 10 years in prison.

Quarantine Information
• You will be required to quarantine in your home for 10 days following arrival back in the UK (noting the day after arrival back counts as day one)
• Quarantine compliance checks will take place and the Police will have access to information provided in your passenger locator form
• Any supporters found not to be observing the quarantine face fixed penalty notices of £500. Please ensure you fully understand quarantine requirements, which can be viewed here
• There is as an option to do “Test to release” for early release from quarantine, which is an additional day five test with a private provider. This can be done in a clinic (this provides much quicker results) or via post. A list of providers can be found on www.gov.uk

We understand that confirmation of Poland being placed in the Amber category may have impacted your initial decision to register for tickets and as referenced earlier, if you would like to remove your registration of interest, please click here before midday on Wed May 12th.

If you do still plan to attend the final, please note that the ballot will take place on Friday May 14th, at which point we will confirm details of available travel via Sportsbreaks.com, and the process for securing tickets through UEFA. At this time, we do not have any further information on what price tickets will be available, and to who, but we are hopeful that all supporters with at least one European away credit will be successful.

Regards
Ticketing & Membership Services

As the Man Utd fan who passed this on to us said, “All this to see a football match!”

In Defence of the Handshake

We’re publishing an original piece today by Dr David McGrogan, Associate Professor of Law at Northumbria Law School, in defence of the handshake. As far as Prof. McGrogan is concerned, we cannot hope to return to normal life unless we start shaking each other’s hands again. Here is an extract:

The handshake is alive and well and living in Paris – not to mention London, New York, and Stockton-on-Tees. Prohibition never eliminates a practice, as any fool can tell you; it just drives it into the weeds. And handshaking is no different. People are still doing it. And now it has a subversive edge. When somebody offers you their hand these days, it is no longer just the meaningless ritual of yesteryear – it sends some important messages, which are all the more profound for the fact that they are not consciously sent or received. Human communication is not just verbal, but physical, and one only has to think for a second to realise that our physical ways of communicating – kissing, hugging, shaking hands – are often the most significant. What words are there that can surpass a simple hug from a loved one at a time of crisis? Or a first kiss? Or a handshake on the playground after a fight?

The first unconscious message sent by the post-2020 handshake is simply stated: you and your fellow hand-shaker are simpatico. The mask-wearing, the social distancing, the fear-mongering – maybe you’ll go along with it if you must, but deep down inside, you hate it. And with that furtive handshake, both of you now know that you’re in the same club. The wheat has been separated from the chaff.

Worth reading in full.

Boris Announces Next Step in Reopening as Daily Covid Deaths in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland Fall to Zero

Boris hailed what he called a “very considerable step on the road back to normality” at a Downing Street press briefing this evening, outlining what he’s graciously going to “allow” us to do from May 17th. MailOnline has more.

Pints inside the pub are back from Monday, along with hugs for friends and family and staycations, Boris Johnson said tonight. …

But he urged people to be cautious, saying the country must remain “vigilant” about fuelling cases and the threat from variants.

When the next stage in the roadmap is reached groups of six or two households will be allowed to meet indoors for the first time in months.

Overnight visits will also be allowed, while outdoors the limit will rise to 30 in the most significant loosening yet.

Staycations can also get properly up and running, with hotels and B&Bs that do not have self-catering facilities permitted to open – as well as cinemas and theatres if audiences wear masks.

Crucially the government has decided the risk is now low enough that social distancing can be left more to “personal choice” – meaning that while people are urged to be ‘cautious’, hugs are allowed at private gatherings.

However, despite the very low infection rate and stunning vaccine rollout, social distancing rules will still be maintained at bars and restaurants.

Together with a requirement for table service indoors it means many venues will still struggle to make ends meet.

Advice to work from home where possible will also stay in place.

In other elements of the changes from next week, the much-criticised cap on the number of mourners at funerals will be lifted, while up to 30 people will be allowed at weddings and other life events.

Indoor sport and exercise classes can restart, along with sauna and steamrooms. And secondary pupils will no longer need to wear masks at schools in England.

In a huge relief for many isolated elderly people and their families, care home residents will be able to have up to five named visitors – and up to two at once provided they are tested and follow guidelines. Residents will also have greater freedom to leave homes without having to isolate afterwards.

Worth reading in full.

During the announcement, Boris thanked the public for their commitment and said infections were now at the “lowest level since last July”. That’s also true of Covid deaths in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, with zero being recorded in the last 24 hours in all three nations. MailOnline has more on that, too.

The UK has confirmed another 2,357 coronavirus cases and four deaths – all four in Wales – as the country’s Covid alert level was downgraded from four to three, suggesting the virus is ‘in general circulation’ and not rising.

Both figures mark increases on last Monday’s numbers, although that was a bank holiday and the counts are so low that even relatively small changes can appear to have a big effect. The longer-term trend remains flat.

July 30 was the last time that the reported death count was zero and the return marks a huge milestone after England’s toll peaked at 1,243 at the height of the second wave on January 19. The figure includes only death certificates processed yesterday; it does not mean that nobody died of Covid.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Telegraph Science Editor Sarah Knapton has interviewed a number of scientists, including Prof. Carl Heneghan, to ask them whether we really need to wait until June 21st before reopening in full. One of those in favour of reopening sooner is Dr. Jason Oke of the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford. He said: “We are rapidly approaching the figure required for population immunity, if we haven’t already reached that point. Even the modellers who have been the most pessimistic in the past have revised their concerns about another wave in the summer.”

New Postcard From Back To Normal Promotes Ivermectin

The anti-lockdown group Back to Normal, which campaigns by delivering postcards door to door by hand – and has delivered over half a million to date – has produced a new postcard (see above). Geoff Cox, one of the organisers of Back to Normal, explains what it’s about:

To take advantage of not having to talk about lockdowns (for the moment), Back to Normal are teaming up with the growing number of medical and scientific voices calling for Ivermectin to become the drug of choice in combating COVID-19. If we can bring this to the attention of doctors, MPs and the general public, there will be no excuse for governments around the world to ignore it any longer. This is a win/win for us as either governments will use Ivermectin and the Covid crisis is over, or they don’t and it will be confirmed that governments are working to a different agenda.

If you are not yet up to speed with Ivermectin, The Ivermectin Story is a shortish video which will show you why we are so excited about this development.

Please order your boxes of postcards for delivery door to door by emailing backtonormalrh@yahoo.com.