I offer heartfelt applause for, and support to, my long-time friend, occasional co-author, and George Mason University colleague over in the law school, Todd Zywicki, for resisting the Covidocrats in GMU’s higher administration. Here’s part of a statement released by the New Civil Liberties Alliance:
George Mason University (GMU) in Fairfax, Virginia, is doubling down on its flawed reopening policy for the Fall 2021 semester, which tramples on the civil liberties of students, faculty, and employees alike. The New Civil Liberties Alliance, a nonpartisan, nonprofit civil rights group, sent GMU a letter on Wednesday on behalf of NCLA’s client, Scalia Law School Professor Todd Zywicki, along with affidavits from Drs. Jay Bhattacharya, Martin Kulldorff, and Hooman Noorchashm, explaining that the school’s policy is irrational from a scientific perspective and violates fundamental tenets of medical ethics.
In the U.K., he has also noted “a tendency to admire authoritarian China among scientists that surprised some people.” It didn’t surprise Mr. Ridley. “I’ve noticed for years,” he says, “that scientists take a somewhat top-down view of the political world, which is odd if you think about how beautifully bottom-up the evolutionary view of the natural world is.”
He asks: “If you think biological complexity can come about through unplanned emergence and not need an intelligent designer, then why would you think human society needs an ‘intelligent government’?” Science as an institution has “a naive belief that if only scientists were in charge, they would run the world well.” Perhaps that’s what politicians mean when they declare that they “believe in science.” As we’ve seen during the pandemic, science can be a source of power.
But there’s a “tension between scientists wanting to present a unified and authoritative voice,” on the one hand, and science-as-philosophy, which is obligated to “remain open-minded and be prepared to change its mind.” Mr. Ridley fears “that the pandemic has, for the first time, seriously politicized epidemiology.” It’s partly “the fault of outside commentators” who hustle scientists in political directions. “I think it’s also the fault of epidemiologists themselves, deliberately publishing things that fit with their political prejudices or ignoring things that don’t.”
Epidemiologists are divided between those who want more lockdowns and those who think that approach wasn’t effective and might have been counterproductive. Mr. Ridley sides with the latter camp, and he’s dismissive of the alarmist modeling that led to lockdowns in the first place. “The modeling of where the pandemic might go,” he says, “presents itself as an entirely apolitical project. But there have been too many cases of epidemiologists presenting models based on rather extreme assumption.”
In Mr. Ridley’s view, the scientific establishment has always had a tendency “to turn into a church, enforcing obedience to the latest dogma and expelling heretics and blasphemers.” This tendency was previously kept in check by the fragmented nature of the scientific enterprise: Prof. A at one university built his career by saying that Prof. B’s ideas somewhere else were wrong. In the age of social media, however, “the space for heterodoxy is evaporating.” So those who believe in science as philosophy are increasingly estranged from science as an institution. It’s sure to be a costly divorce.
One lesson from this pandemic is that heads of research funding agencies, such as Anthony Fauci and @JeremyFarrar, should not set public health policy. It stifles critically important scientific discourse, as scientists do not want to contradict the funders they depend on.
In my estimation Florida governor Ron DeSantis doesn’t get everything correct, but he is excellent and stalwart on the most pressing issue of today: Covid restrictions. As reported by Reason‘s Christian Britschgi, DeSantis refuses to inflict this tyranny on Floridians. Two slices:
While other jurisdictions toy with reinstituting public health restrictions in response to rising COVID-19 cases, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) says that his state won’t go in for another round of lockdowns and mask mandates.
“If anyone is calling for lockdowns, you’re not getting that done in Florida. I’m going to protect people’s livelihoods. I’m going to protect kids’ right to go to school. I’m going to protect people’s right to run their small businesses,” DeSantis said at a press conference in Fort Pierce, Florida, yesterday. “We have three vaccines that have been widely available for months and months now. People need to make decisions what’s right for them.”
Florida has essentially been free of Covid restrictions since May. That month, DeSantis issued an executive order suspending all local states of emergency. He also signed a bill that requires local emergency orders to be “narrowly tailored” to serve a “compelling public health or safety purpose.” That bill also capped the number of days a local emergency order could be extended for, and it made it easier for the state legislature to overturn the governor’s state-level emergency policies.
DeSantis has also pardoned people convicted of violating Covid restrictions and canceled any fines they’d have to pay.
Mask mandates, on the other hand, largely function as a form of signaling. Vaccinated people who wear masks are communicating that they take the pandemic seriously, and policy makers who insist on mask requirements are associating themselves with a specific political tribe. If you’ve had your COVID shots, the mask is basically Team Blue’s version of the Make America Great Again hat.
With 70 percent of Britain’s adult population fully vaccinated (and vaccination rates among seniors over 90 percent) daily COVID-19 deaths have slowed to a trickle. Even with a spike in cases thanks to the Delta variant, deaths have hardly budged. Having reopened the indoor economy back in May, we’re seen only a small rise in hospitalizations, even if cases have soared.
In short, the vaccines worked.
If you’d have shown these numbers to Prime Minister Boris Johnson six months ago, he would have jumped for joy. But that hasn’t been the case. Instead, he and Britain’s other political elites find themselves locked in a cycle of hyper-caution. The last COVID-19 rules were finally scrapped on July 19, only to be replaced by guidelines telling us to keep upholding them. Here are your freedoms back, but please don’t exercise them.
Sweden, of course, was maligned in 2020 for foregoing a strict lockdown. The Guardian called its approach “a catastrophe” in the making, while CBS News said Sweden had become “an example of how not to handle COVID-19.”
Despite these criticisms, Sweden’s laissez-faire approach to the pandemic continues today. In contrast to its European neighbors, Sweden is welcoming tourists. Businesses and schools are open with almost no restrictions. And as far as masks are concerned, not only is there no mandate in place, Swedish health officials are not even recommending them.
What are the results of Sweden’s much-derided laissez-faire policy? Data show the 7-day rolling average for COVID deaths yesterday [July 21st] was zero…. As in nada. And it’s been at zero for about a week now.
Cast your eyes over to Australia, where this “model” for controlling the pandemic is stuck in a lunatic cycle of self-harm. The state of South Australia has just gone into another lockdown following just five positive Covid “cases” – even though it is unclear if any of the patients are actually ill, let alone at serious risk of dying.
People have been told to stay at home with schools, shops and everything else shut. All because of a handful of positive test results.
Due to a suspected outbreak of the Delta variant, half of Australia’s population, around 13 million people, are now in some form of lockdown despite pursuing a policy of splendid isolation involving closed borders and quarantine hotels. Having halved its cap on international arrivals to 3,000 per week, there are now 34,000 Australians stranded in a foreign country and unable to come home.