The Science

Lockdown: Where Did ‘The Science’ Come From?

In a previous post, I looked at where ‘The Science’ of community masking came from. Here I’ll do the same thing for lockdowns.

As many lockdown sceptics (including myself) have noted, lockdowns represent a radical departure from conventional forms of pandemic management. There is no evidence that, before 2020, they were considered an effective way to deal with influenza pandemics.

In a 2006 paper, four leading scientists (including Donald Henderson, who led the effort to eradicate smallpox) examined measures for controlling pandemic influenza. Regarding “large-scale quarantine”, they wrote, “The negative consequences… are so extreme” that this measure “should be eliminated from serious consideration”.

Likewise, a WHO report published mere months before the COVID-19 pandemic classified “quarantine of exposed individuals” as “not recommended under any circumstances”. The report noted that “there is no obvious rationale for this measure”.

And we all know what the U.K.’s own ‘Pandemic Preparedness Strategy’ said, namely: “It will not be possible to halt the spread of a new pandemic influenza virus, and it would be a waste of public health resources and capacity to attempt to do so.”

As an additional exercise, I searched the pandemic preparedness plans of all the English-speaking Western countries (U.K., Ireland, U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand) for mentions of ‘lockdown’, ‘lock-down’ ‘lock down’ or ‘curfew’.

Only ‘curfew’ was mentioned, and only once – in Ireland’s plan. The relevant sentence was: “Mandatory quarantine and curfews are not considered necessary.” None of the lockdown strings were mentioned in any of the countries’ plans.

So where did ‘The Science’ of controlling Covid using lockdowns come from? As everyone knows, China implemented the first lockdown (of Hubei province) in January of 2020. Yet it wasn’t until March that lockdowns became part of ‘The Science’.

Community Masking: Where did ‘The Science’ Come From?

Before 2020, evidence for the efficacy of community masking – that is, asking ordinary members of the public to wear cloth or surgical masks when going about their business – was shaky at best.

This evidence was reviewed in detail by Jeffrey Anderson, a former director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics. He notes that:

of the 14 RCTs that have tested the effectiveness of masks in preventing the transmission of respiratory viruses, three suggest, but do not provide any statistically significant evidence in intention-to-treat analysis, that masks might be useful. The other eleven suggest that masks are either useless—whether compared with no masks or because they appear not to add to good hand hygiene alone—or actually counterproductive.

In another piece that’s well worth reading, Professor Steve Templeton provides a list of quotations from what he calls “the BP era” (Before Things Got Political). Each quotation, taken from one or other expert, testifies to the lack of evidence that community masking works against respiratory pathogens.

For example, in a systematic review published early last year, Jingyi Xiao and colleagues “did not find evidence that surgical-type face masks are effective in reducing laboratory-confirmed influenza transmission, either when worn by infected persons… or by persons in the general  community to reduce their susceptibility”.

This is presumably why, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, health authorities in both the U.K. and the U.S. advised against community masking.

For example, on 4th March 2020, Chris Whitty told Sky News that “wearing a mask if you don’t have an infection reduces the risk almost not at all”. And as late as 3rd April, Jonathan Van Tam said “there is no evidence that general wearing of face masks… affects the spread of the disease”.

Likewise, in a tweet sent on 27th February, the CDC said that it “does not currently recommend the use of facemasks”. And two days later, the U.S. Surgeon General urged people to “STOP BUYING MASKS” because they are “NOT effective” at preventing the general public from catching coronavirus.

In a video interview from May of 2019, Anthony Fauci actually laughed at the notion of wearing a face mask. The interviewer asks him, “The best way for me to prevent getting an infectious disease… is what? Wearing a mask?” To which Fauci replies, “No, no no… you avoid all the paranoid aspects.”

Yet by the summer of 2020, the health authorities in both countries had done an about-face, and were now recommending face masks to the public. These recommendations subsequently became mandates.

‘The Science,’ in other words, had changed. But what prompted this change? The charitable answer is that new evidence emerged suggesting that community masking does work against SARS-CoV-2. However, this new evidence looks just as shaky – if not shakier – than the pre-Covid evidence.

The Vaccine Roll-Out Was Based on Safetyism, Not Science

In a poll of experts taken by Nature earlier this year, only 6% said it was “unlikely” or “very unlikely” that SARS-CoV-2 will become endemic. By contrast, 89% said this was “likely” or “very likely”.

As Professor Francois Balloux has observed: “Eventually, Covid will become endemic everywhere in the world… claims about indefinite elimination are just empty slogans.”

This means the virus will continue to circulate for the foreseeable future, and most of us will catch it several times during our lives. In fact, it may become one that we first encounter in childhood, leading to immunity that lasts years or decades.

Covid, in other words, is here to stay. And unless more powerful vaccines are developed in the future, permanently suppressing transmission via vaccination is unlikely to work, let alone pass a cost-benefit test.

As the Great Barrington Declaration authors have argued, vaccines are best seen as a means of achieving focused protection against Covid. By vaccinating the elderly and clinically vulnerable, we have turned what – for many of those people – could have been a life-threatening illness, into something much less harmful.

However, since the start of the vaccine rollout, numerous people – including some world leaders – have taken a rather different view of the vaccines. For these individuals, the vaccines are a way of ‘crushing the curve’, and thereby ensuring that nobody ever has to get Covid.

But this view is based more on safetyism than on science. And ironically, it’s causing real harm. How so?

First, safetyism has led to the belief that everyone needs to get vaccinated, regardless of age. This is why the Government is proceeding with vaccination of 12-15 year olds, against the better judgement of its own expert panel. Yet as I and others have argued, a far better course of action would be donating those vaccines to poor countries.

Second, safetyism has led to the belief that everyone needs to get vaccinated, even if they’ve already been infected. Yet evidence suggests that people with natural immunity have better protection against infection than recipients of the Pfizer vaccine.

As Professor Marty Makary notes in a recent article for the Washington Post: “If we had asked Americans who were already protected by natural immunity to step aside in the vaccine line, tens of thousands of lives could have been saved.”

Third, safetyism has led to the belief that we need to roll out booster shots because vaccine-induced immunity wanes rapidly. So far, however, this is only true of immunity against infection; immunity against severe disease appears to hold up well.

In a recent Lancet article, Philip Krause and colleagues argue there is not yet any need for boosters, which could cause adverse reactions if administered too soon or too frequently. They point out that vaccines “will save the most lives if made available to people who are at appreciable risk of serious disease and have not yet received any vaccine”.

Fourth, safetyism has led to the belief that people should be strong-armed into getting vaccinated by means of passports and mandates, rather than persuaded. Although coercive measures may increase vaccine uptake, they risk undermining trust in government and the healthcare system.

What’s more, vaccine passports could have unintended consequences. If vulnerable people are led to believe – wrongly – that the vaccines have strong efficacy against infection, they might take more risks than they otherwise would.

A vaccine roll-out based on science – not safetyism – would have recognised that not everyone needs to be vaccinated. It would have assigned leftover vaccines to people that actually need them. And it would have eschewed coercive measures, in favour of transparency about the risks and benefits.

In the War Between Authoritarian Public Health and Science, Science Lost

There’s a terrific piece in the Tablet by John P.A. Ioannidis, Professor of Medicine at Stanford and among a small group of scientists who’ve been willing to publish research that runs counter to the official Covid narrative, about what has gone wrong in the scientific and public health communities in the past 18 months. In essence, the scientific values of scepticism, disinterestedness and transparency have been thrown aside as the pandemic has become politicised, creating an opening for a new breed of ‘experts’ to influence public health policy while at the same time advancing their commercial and political interests. Here is an extract:

The pandemic led seemingly overnight to a scary new form of scientific universalism. Everyone did COVID-19 science or commented on it. By August 2021, 330,000 scientific papers were published on COVID-19, involving roughly a million different authors. An analysis showed that scientists from every single one of the 174 disciplines that comprise what we know as science has published on COVID-19. By the end of 2020, only automobile engineering didn’t have scientists publishing on COVID-19. By early 2021, the automobile engineers had their say, too.

At first sight, this was an unprecedented mobilization of interdisciplinary talent. However, most of this work was of low quality, often wrong, and sometimes highly misleading. Many people without subject-matter technical expertise became experts overnight, emphatically saving the world. As these spurious experts multiplied, evidence-based approaches—like randomized trials and collection of more accurate, unbiased data—were frequently dismissed as inappropriate, too slow, and harmful. The disdain for reliable study designs was even celebrated.

Many amazing scientists have worked on COVID-19. I admire their work. Their contributions have taught us so much. My gratitude extends to the many extremely talented and well-trained young investigators who rejuvenate our aging scientific workforce. However, alongside thousands of solid scientists came freshly minted experts with questionable, irrelevant, or nonexistent credentials and questionable, irrelevant, or nonexistent data.

Social and mainstream media have helped to manufacture this new breed of experts. Anyone who was not an epidemiologist or health policy specialist could suddenly be cited as an epidemiologist or health policy specialist by reporters who often knew little about those fields but knew immediately which opinions were true. Conversely, some of the best epidemiologists and health policy specialists in America were smeared as clueless and dangerous by people who believed themselves fit to summarily arbitrate differences of scientific opinion without understanding the methodology or data at issue.

Disinterestedness suffered gravely. In the past, conflicted entities mostly tried to hide their agendas. During the pandemic, these same conflicted entities were raised to the status of heroes. For example, Big Pharma companies clearly produced useful drugs, vaccines, and other interventions that saved lives, though it was also known that profit was and is their main motive. Big Tobacco was known to kill many millions of people every year and to continuously mislead when promoting its old and new, equally harmful, products. Yet during the pandemic, requesting better evidence on effectiveness and adverse events was often considered anathema. This dismissive, authoritarian approach “in defense of science” may sadly have enhanced vaccine hesitancy and the anti-vax movement, wasting a unique opportunity that was created by the fantastic rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines. Even the tobacco industry upgraded its reputation: Philip Morris donated ventilators to propel a profile of corporate responsibility and saving lives, a tiny fraction of which were put at risk of death from COVID-19 because of background diseases caused by tobacco products.

Other potentially conflicted entities became the new societal regulators, rather than the ones being regulated. Big Tech companies, which gained trillions of dollars in cumulative market value from the virtual transformation of human life during lockdown, developed powerful censorship machineries that skewed the information available to users on their platforms. Consultants who made millions of dollars from corporate and government consultation were given prestigious positions, power, and public praise, while unconflicted scientists who worked pro bono but dared to question dominant narratives were smeared as being conflicted. Organised scepticism was seen as a threat to public health. There was a clash between two schools of thought, authoritarian public health versus science – and science lost.

Worth reading in full.

And Finally…

In this week’s episode of London Calling, James and I discuss the horrifying prospect of having to show a vaccine passport to go to a West End play, the absurdity of actors wearing masks on stage – which James just experienced at an outdoor production! – and whether the theatre industry, which is already on its knees, can survive this new onslaught of Covid balls.

You can listen to the podcast here and subscribe to it on iTunes here.

If the Government isn’t Following the Science When it Comes to Vaccinating Children, Who is it Following?

We are publishing a guest post today by Dr. Peter Hayes, a Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of Sunderland, pointing out that when it comes to vaccinating healthy 12-15 year-olds the Government can no longer claim to be following the science.

“Follow The Science” has been the defining slogan of Covid policymaking for the past year and a half. However, we may now be at turning point. On September 3rd, that august and scientific body The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) advised not to start vaccinating otherwise healthy 12-15 year-olds. The Government, however, seems likely to set about vaccinating them anyway.

In his letter to chief medical officers, Health Secretary Sajid Javid says that the JCVI is against vaccination of 12-15 year olds because its margin of benefit against harm is “too small” and tacitly suggests that the officers come up with something to enable him to override this advice. However, Javid’s spin on the committee’s advice is misleading. It is not only the marginal benefits of the vaccine but also the unknown extent of its harms that has led the JCVI to recommend against it.

(1) The JCVI states that in advising whether or not to vaccinate it has focused on “the benefit to children and young people themselves, weighed against any potential harms from vaccination”, and that it has done this to the exclusion of other issues such as cost.

(2) It states that overall “the benefits from vaccination are marginally greater than the potential known harms” [emphasis added].

The Latest Paper From Neil Ferguson et al. Defending the Lockdown Policy is Out of Date, Inaccurate and Misleading

Neil Ferguson’s team at Imperial College London (ICL) has released a new paper, published in Nature, claiming that if Sweden had adopted U.K. or Danish lockdown policies its Covid mortality would have halved. Although we have reviewed many epidemiological papers on this site, and especially from this particular team, let us go unto the breach once more and see what we find. The primary author on this new paper is Swapnil Mishra.

The paper’s first sentence is this:

The U.K. and Sweden have among the worst per-capita Covid mortality in Europe.

No citation is provided for this claim. The paper was submitted to Nature on March 31st, 2021. If we review a map of cumulative deaths per million on the received date then this opening statement looks very odd indeed:

Sweden (with a cumulative total of 1,333 deaths/million) is by no means “among the worst in Europe” and indeed many European countries have higher totals. This is easier to see using a graph of cumulative results:

But that was in March, when the paper was submitted. We’re reviewing it in August because that’s when it was published. Over the duration of the journal’s review period this statement – already wrong at the start – became progressively more and more incorrect:

The Daily Sceptic

The name of this website is about to change from Lockdown Sceptics to the Daily Sceptic. I intended this change to coincide with the bonfire of the coronavirus restrictions – the long-awaited terminus – but ‘Freedom Day’ has turned out to be a damp squib. Not only have many of the restrictions remained in place, but it’s been made clear by Chris Whitty and others that any freedoms we’ve been granted today will be snatched away as soon as the NHS comes under pressure again.

I always imagined I’d retire Lockdown Sceptics one day – turn it into an archive that would serve as a record of a dark period in our history – but after almost 16 months of continuous activity, it has developed in ways I hadn’t anticipated. I don’t just mean it averages 1.5 million page views a month and has almost 15,000 email subscribers, as well as a staff of seven. It has also attracted a community of regular contributors and commentators, either above the line, below the line, or in the forums, as well as a team of tireless moderators. Together, we’ve created a kind of intellectual home for tens of thousands of people, and I get regular emails from people all over the world telling me that if it wasn’t for Lockdown Sceptics they would have gone mad.

So instead of shutting down the site, I’ve decided to turn it into the Daily Sceptic. All of the original content we published will still be there, organised under the headings you can see on the right-hand vertical, and the focus will be on the lockdowns and associated restrictions for the time being. But the subject matter will be a bit broader. I wanted to create something more permanent, something that wasn’t contingent on lockdowns continuing forever, but which was imbued with the same irreverent, antic spirit as the original site, and the same rigorous, analytical approach.

So the Daily Sceptic will include sceptical articles by disaffected journalists and academics – including citizen journalists and independent scholars – about a range of public policies that are supposedly based on science or data or evidence, where ‘the Science’ is being invoked as a source of unassailable authority, but which often appear to be rooted in a covert political agenda. The idea is to challenge the new powerful class of government scientists and public health officials – as well as their colleagues in universities, grant-giving trusts, large international charities, Silicon Valley and the pharmaceutical industry – that have emerged as a kind of secular priesthood during the pandemic. And to challenge them on their own terms, much like the group of citizen journalists who successfully rehabilitated the ‘lab leak’ hypothesis after it had been designated a ‘conspiracy theory’ in the pages of the Lancet. (Scientific and medical journals will also be in our sights.)

Unlocking Postponed Due to New Variant – in 2039!

We’re publishing a short story today by the historian and regular Lockdown Sceptics contributor Guy de la Bédoyère, set in Britain in 2039. Needless to say, the country still hasn’t unlocked due to the weekly appearance of ‘new variants’. Here’s an extract:

“That’s a shame”, said Jo as he sat munching on his breakfast staring at a screen. “The final unlocking’s been postponed for another fortnight”.

“Why this time?” said his wife Elizabeth.

“There’s been an outbreak of the new Antarctic variant, this time with the hybrid Finnish-Tierra del Fuego mutation, and apparently cases have soared by 100% from one to two. Both have been thrown into jail.”

“That’s what they said last week – and the week before, in fact the year before,” came Elizabeth’s retort.

“That’s not fair,” said Jo. “Everyone knows the king is doing his best for Britain and it’s not his fault if these variants keep appearing.”

“He became king 15 years ago”, said Elizabeth, “and he’s promised to unlock every week since. In fact, he was promising that every week before he became king. And he never said anything about prisons before – oh no, sorry, he called them lockdowns, didn’t he?”

Worth reading in full.

Writing in Top Science Journal, Experts Call for New Investigation Into Origins of COVID-19

There are two main theories for SARS-CoV-2’s origin. One maintains that the virus originated in bats, and then jumped to humans, most likely via an intermediate host species. The other states that the virus originated in a lab, but then accidentally escaped, perhaps due to inadequate safety protocols. 

It should be noted that there are two slightly different versions of the latter, “lab leak” theory. One says the virus that escaped was of wholly natural origin; the other says it had been genetically engineered beforehand. In the diagram below, A corresponds to the first version of the lab leak theory and C corresponds to the second; B corresponds to the natural origin theory:

The lab leak theory, you’ll recall, was initially dismissed as a “conspiracy” – even though the location of the first outbreak (in proximity to the Wuhan Institute of Virology) suggested it was by no means implausible. 

In September of 2020, Twitter suspended the Chinese virologist Li-Meng Yan after she claimed that SARS-CoV-2 was manufactured in a laboratory and accused the Chinese government of covering up evidence. (Dr. Yan subsequently fled to the United States over concerns for her safety.)

In February of 2020, 27 scientists wrote a letter to The Lancet, claiming studies “overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife”. The authors stated, “We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin.”

In May of 2020, Anthony Fauci told National Geographic that the scientific evidence is “very, very strongly leaning toward this could not have been artificially or deliberately manipulated”.

In June of 2020, Peter Daszak – organiser of the Lancet letter – wrote an op-ed for the Guardian. He again referred to proponents of the lab leak theory as “conspiracy theorists”, and claimed that his own work “firmly concludes that COVID-19 originated in bats”. (Daszak has actually funded gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and was the subject of 2015 news item in the journal Nature titled ‘Engineered bat virus stirs debate over risky research’.)