‘Follow the science” has been the battle cry of lockdown supporters since the Covid-19 pandemic began. Yet before March 2020, the mainstream scientific community, including the World Health Organization, strongly opposed lockdowns and similar measures against infectious disease.
That judgment came from historical analysis of pandemics and an awareness that societywide restrictions have severe socioeconomic costs and almost entirely speculative benefits. Our pandemic response, premised on lockdowns and closely related “non-pharmaceutical interventions,” or NPIs, represented an unprecedented and unjustified shift in scientific opinion from where it stood a few months before the discovery of Covid-19.
What caused the scientific community to abandon its aversion to lockdowns? The empirical evidence didn’t change. Rather, the lockdown strategy originated from the same sources the WHO had heavily deprecated in its 2019 report: speculative and untested epidemiological models.
The most influential model came from Imperial College London. In April 2020, the journal Nature credited the Imperial team led by Neil Ferguson for developing one of the main computer simulations “driving the world’s response to Covid-19.” The New York Times described it as the report that “jarred the U.S. and the U.K. to action.”
After predicting catastrophic casualty rates for an “unmitigated” pandemic, Mr. Ferguson’s model promised to bring Covid-19 under control through increasingly severe NPI policies, leading to event cancellations, school and business closures, and ultimately lockdowns. Mr. Ferguson produced his model by recycling a decades-old influenza model that was noticeably deficient in its scientific assumptions. For one thing, it lacked a means of even estimating viral spread in nursing homes.
The record of Mr. Ferguson’s previous models should have been a warning. In 2001 he predicted that mad cow disease would kill up to 136,000 people in the U.K., and he chastised conservative estimates of up to 10,000. As of 2018 the actual death toll was 178. His other missteps include predicted catastrophes for mad sheep disease, avian flu and swine flu that never panned out.
So why did public-health authorities abandon their opposition to lockdowns? Why did they rush to embrace the untested claims of flawed epidemiological modeling? One answer appears in the Johns Hopkins study from 2019: “Some NPIs, such as travel restrictions and quarantine, might be pursued for social or political purposes by political leaders, rather than pursued because of public health evidence.”
Here’s more from Phil Magness (writing here for AIER with James Harrigan) on the scheming of Francis Collins, Anthony Fauci, and other officious government bureaucrats to discredit the great Great Barrington Declaration and its three eminent co-authors. A slice:
Some of the emails between Collins and Fauci sent in response to AIER’s FOIA request have been redacted, but surrounding context makes it pretty clear that they were looking for a way to impugn the GBD further if it came up at the White House Covid Task Force meeting on October 16. That morning, Fauci emailed Deborah Birx, the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator. He pressed the need for her to oppose the GBD, and set the stage for an attack on Scott Atlas, who was the most friendly champion of the GBD on the Task Force.
Fauci, it turns out, had to miss the October 16 task force meeting, though he likely breathed a sigh of relief when Collins emailed him two days later. “Atlas did not take part in the [task force] meeting on Friday,” Collins wrote, “and the Great Barrington Declaration did not come up.” Another partially-redacted email hints that Fauci celebrated this outcome. Atlas’s opposition to the lockdown faction on the task force “is driving Deb [Birx] crazy,” he continued.
Fauci and Collins were not done, though, in their campaign to “take down” the GBD scientists.
Jeffrey Tucker – who was instrumental in bringing together Jay Bhattacharya, Sunetra Gupta, and Martin Kulldorff to write the great Great Barrington Declaration – weighs in on what we are learning about Fauci’s and Collins’s inexcusable attempt to discredit that document and its authors. A slice:
Please remember that Anthony Fauci and Francis Collins are not just two scientists among hundreds of thousands. As the NIH site says: “The NIH invests about $41.7 billion annually in medical research for the American people.” With that kind of spending power, you can wield a great deal of influence, even to the point of crushing dissent, however rooted in serious science it might be. It might be enough power and influence to achieve the seemingly impossible, such as conducting a despotic experiment without precedent, under the cover of virus control, in overturning law, tradition, rights, and liberties hard won from hundreds of years of human experience.
I have been a BBC journalist for many years, and in that time I have been committed to impartiality and the corporation’s Reithian values to inform and educate. My despair about the BBC’s one-sided coverage of the pandemic though has been steadily growing for some time. And in early December, as I listened to a BBC radio broadcast, I felt the corporation reach a new low.
During a morning phone-in show on 5Live the topic of discussion was Covid jabs and whether they should be mandated, or if punitive action should be taken against those who refuse them, such as imposing lockdowns on the unvaccinated. Setting aside the fact that these authoritarian measures are now considered a matter for breezy debate, I at least expected a balanced discussion.
This was wishful thinking on my part, as ‘Michael from Birmingham’ – a caller – was about to find out. Michael told the host he hadn’t been vaccinated because he didn’t trust ‘the data’ and cited historic incidents of documented corporate malfeasance by pharmaceutical giants to explain why he was concerned. Now you may disagree with Michael, or think him completely deluded, but he was still a person who had genuine fears about the vaccine and its safety. Yet instead of holding a reasoned debate with his concerned caller, the host immediately lost his temper, talked over Michael, implied he was a flat-earther and then muted him entirely.
It was an interaction that goes to the very heart of the dismal failure of BBC News. I have been working at BBC News throughout the Covid era and have witnessed how the insatiable demands of the 24-hour news cycle have exacerbated a serious and protracted crisis. I have also seen how any attempt at balance has been abandoned in favour of supporting and promoting Covid restrictions.
The BBC insists that it has ‘covered the pandemic with great care and in detail, which is what people expect of the BBC and it is why we have seen record audiences coming to us throughout, both in the UK and around the world.’ But there are signs that the corporation is once again failing in this critical function. The BBC News website now almost constantly features the ‘Live’ number of coronavirus cases. ‘Two vaccine doses don’t stop you catching Omicron’ read a headline last week, as if this was somehow remarkable – totally ignoring the fact that double-jabbed BBC staff had been succumbing to the coronavirus for months, long before Omicron reared its head.
I have come to the depressing conclusion that this pattern will keep on repeating every year and every time we face a new Covid variant.
Not again. Not after all the vaccines, all the precautions, all the privations. Not after all the models that turned out to be so absurdly alarmist. Our freedoms are elemental. They are what make us who we are as a nation. We can’t surrender them on the off-chance that some putative ill might materialise.
The original lockdown was justified on grounds that it was the only way to prevent a meltdown in our healthcare system. In the event, our Nightingale hospitals stood empty, and real-world data (as opposed to modelling) showed that the peak in new infections had passed before the restrictions were imposed.
Still, it is worth pointing out that, at every stage, the models used by public health agencies exaggerated the numbers of infections and of deaths. Indeed, it may well be that, once again, the lockdown will come into effect only after the peak in new infections has passed. Why do our leaders keep falling for it?
Because, I’m afraid, all the incentives are stacked one way. No politician ever gets into trouble for erring on the side of caution. Nor does any public health adviser. No one has ever been hounded from office for spending too much on test and trace, or for imposing restrictions that had little effect, or for making predictions that were excessively alarmist. Make the slightest slip the other way, though, and you’re finished.
Had the lockdowns been a clinical trial, they would have been called off on grounds of the damage they were doing to public health. We all now know the effects. The disorientated teenagers, the rise in undiagnosed cancers, the bankruptcies, the mental health problems, the tax rises, the sheer human misery. Are we seriously proposing to go through it all again, at a time when the coronavirus has become endemic, and when, according to the ONS, 95 per cent of us have antibodies? Why inflict such ruin on ourselves and our posterity?
So what about the pandemic? That surely is an indisputable reality. It strikes in terrible numbers and in the process, endangers the public healthcare facilities which have been a great feature of progressive countries. But the alacrity with which democratic governments have seized powers that even modern totalitarian societies never imposed – intervening in personal relations in the most intimate and damaging ways – implies something more than practical urgency. And further, the emergency was considered so alarming that it justified closing down critical debate. Any criticism of the mandated solutions, even when it came from alternative experts, had to be suppressed. All in the name of “following the science”. Except that modern science itself could only emerge and progress in conditions of free thought and disputation. The whole process of scientific enquiry relies on the possibility of argument. A cult of scientific authority which permits no contradiction is a sham.
Models are wonderful conceptual tools, but should never be used to make predictions in the face of high uncertainty https://nature.com/articles/35088152…
We need strategies – like Focused Protection – that are robust to uncertainty, rather than unreliable predictions.
Over the weekend, the latest Sage document arrived with some blood-curdling figures on what could await us [in Britain] if we fail to lock down. The omicron wave could be the deadliest yet, we’re told, killing up to 6,000 of us in a single day. This would be at least five times more than the peak of previous wave – and this from an omicron variant that South Africans say is far milder! We are a highly vaccinated country whose people are teeming with antibodies. Yet somehow, after all of these jabs we are, once again, sitting ducks.
But dig deeper, and the Sage story changes. The 6,000 is the top of a rather long range of “scenarios”, not predictions. The bottom is 600 deaths a day, which certainly would not pose an existential threat to the National Health Service. Why won’t they tell us how likely (or otherwise) these scenarios are?