Open letter from Mary Hobbs, NZ author

An Open Letter to Charlie Mitchell (Stuff)

 

Media stoking fear

Indian Covid ‘resurgence’ shows again how media and some scientists have stoked fear without just cause.
Three stories in the NZ Herald illustrate how the natural and necessary evolution of discovery and understanding about the SARS-CoV2 virus is twisted by the immediacy and uncertainty of daily media coverage into unnecessary fear.
On 26 March NZ Herald carried a story warning of a “double mutant” variant of SARS-CoV2 in India.
 
On 28 April NZ Herald carried story claiming Indian “covid crisis poses threat to the whole world”.
 
On 20 May NZ Herald carried story headlined: Indian variant may not be as dangerous as we thought, admit scientists 
Over those three months a lot of fear was generated by poorly-founded scientific commentary and media worst-case angles. This fear contributed directly to NZ’s border policy (travel from India suspended), and to public attitudes to other Govt policy such as long term border and MIQ management, international travel, masks and vaccines.
This is an illustration of the longer story of the world’s response to SARS-CoV2: a push-pull tangle of emotion, speculation, incomplete and irrelevant data, narratives pretending certainty, group-think, safetyism and political ideology.

How media distorts science: Covid on surfaces

Covid hysteria has highlighted the strange human tendency to want to believe the worst. No matter how bad something is, we are fascinated by the possibility it could be even worse.

Journalists are subject to the same psychological trait, but are also driven by their job to find material that escalates the fear.

An example is news coverage on whether SARS-CoV2 transmits from surfaces.

Media looked for people to confirm the possibility, then leaped onto research that confirmed it was possible.

Look at this shocking report on Reuters that focused on a CSIRO finding that Covid particles could live for up to 28 days. The report kicks off by saying the finding underlines the need for protective measures like hand-washing. The story includes video of HAZMAT suited research personnel running tests. The pairing of these signals effectively makes a conclusion from the research that live virus on surfaces is a real way of picking up a dangerous virus.

Information in the article which should provide context that lessens fear, such as mentioning it was a controlled environment, is present, but without any similar sort of conclusion for the average reader.

This is absolutely critical to the misleading nature of the story: the presentation of fear-inducing information (the fascinating news angle) is provided with scary comment and editorialising, but information that could lessen the fear is sparse and not explained.

Unfortunately, researchers live in the same world, influenced by the fear of authorities, funders and media. So there were motives to study surface transmission, and to highlight findings that suggested it was possible.

The CSIRO made almost no attempt to put the findings in context or lessen the hyperbole.

The result of these news reports to the public (and therefore to politicians and other authorities) that inflated and distorted the findings.

To be fair, some media did report properly. For example, it turns out that the CSIRO study was done in the dark! Light is a known anti-septic. The BBC noted this, but only after some experts were brave enough to point out these sort of context-relevant facts.

No media bothered reporting real world studies that found very short life spans for virus on surfaces.

Bizarrely, a Lancet piece as early as July highlighted the exaggeration of the risk. Emanuel Goldman concluded:

the chance of transmission through inanimate surfaces is very small, and only in instances where an infected person coughs or sneezes on the surface, and someone else touches that surface soon after the cough or sneeze (within 1–2 h). I do not disagree with erring on the side of caution, but this can go to extremes not justified by the data. Although periodically disinfecting surfaces and use of gloves are reasonable precautions especially in hospitals, I believe that fomites that have not been in contact with an infected carrier for many hours do not pose a measurable risk of transmission in non-hospital settings. A more balanced perspective is needed to curb excesses that become counterproductive.

By the November and December of 2020, the truth began to be properly reported. https://www.nytimes.com/…/world/asia/covid-cleaning.html.

It’s unclear what was going on that led to a media willingness to report this. Perhaps it might have been that there were sufficient other vectors for transmission that could be worried about. Certainly the mask issue was rampant at that time, with media backing up the official masking policies.

This coincided with another conclusive study in the Lancet. https://www.thelancet.com/…/PIIS2213-2600(20…/fulltext

Yet even in March 2021 the surface myth was persisting. Companies and organisations boasted of “deep cleaning” their premises in Auckland, NZ when the city locked down after covid cases were found and their movements tracked.

Even when being ‘critical’, media conformed to the surface-danger narrative. A New Zealand Herald story quoted a microbiologist warning that deep cleans were unlikely to get rid of the virus from the surface. Never mind that lots of research had already shown that the virus particles were unlikely to alive, or lead to infection, in the first place.

So it’s clear that media have not reported Covid information accurately or in context, fueling the Covid hysteria in 2020. They have been enabled in this by academics and researchers who either already distorted in their research, or found it difficult to convey the detail, or were drawn and mesmerized by the publicity into focusing on messages that made things look worse.

To top it off, most of us were almost gleeful to see the news, and convey to others: we thought it was bad, but it’s even worse than that!

***

 

Debate of 2020: Thornley vs Baker on Covid19 response

Finally, the debate New Zealand should have had in March 2020. Simon Thornley and Michael Baker discuss using elimination and lockdowns against Covid19.

An uncompromising expression of the Covid-skeptic position

Even our jaws dropped at this compelling, powerful, uncompromising statement from a Canadian doctor to the Edmonton City Council Community and Public Services Committe.

Hodkinson is the CEO of Western Medical Assessments, and has been the company’s medical director for over 20 years. He received his general medical degrees from Cambridge University in the U.K., and then became a Royal College certified pathologist in Canada (FRCPC) following a residency in Vancouver.

He also taught at the University of Alberta and runs MutantDx, a molecular diagnostics company in North Carolina.

Dr Hodkinson – Canada

Sunetra Gupta on unprofessional conduct of pro-lockdown scientists

Sunetra Gupta, founding signatory of the Great Barrington Declaration, wrote for the Daily Mail. Here is an edited set of excerpts.

I was utterly unprepared for the onslaught of insults, personal criticism, intimidation and threats that met our proposal. The level of vitriol and hostility, not just from members of the public online but from journalists and academics, has horrified me.

… Covid-19 is not a political phenomenon. It is a public health issue — indeed, it is one so serious that the response to it has already led to a humanitarian crisis. So I have been aghast to see a political rift open up, with outright abuse meted out to those who, like me, question the orthodoxy.

That is why I have found it so frustrating how, in recent weeks, proponents of lockdown policies have seemed intent on shutting down debate rather than promoting reasoned discussion.

 

It is perplexing to me that so many refuse even to consider the potential benefits of allowing non-vulnerable citizens, such as the young, to go about their lives and risk infection, when in doing so they would build up herd immunity and thereby protect the lives of vulnerable citizens.

 

Yet rather than engage in serious, rational discussion with us, our critics have dismissed our ideas as ‘pixie dust’ and ‘wishful thinking’.

This refusal to cherish the value of the scientific method strikes at the heart of everything I, as a scientist, hold dear. To me, the reasoned exchange of ideas is the basis of civilised society.

 

So I was left stunned after being invited on to a mid-morning radio programme recently, only for a producer to warn me minutes before we went on air that I was not to mention the Great Barrington Declaration. The producer repeated the warning and indicated that this was an instruction from a senior broadcasting executive.

I demanded an explanation and, with seconds to go, was told that the public wouldn’t be familiar with the meaning of the phrase ‘Great Barrington Declaration’.

 

And this was not an isolated experience. A few days later, another national radio station approached my office to set up an interview, then withdrew the invitation. They felt, on reflection, that giving airtime to me would ‘not be in the national interest’.

 

But the Great Barrington Declaration represents a heartfelt attempt by a group of academics with decades of experience in this field to limit the harm of lockdown. I cannot conceive how anyone can construe this as ‘against the national interest’.

 

Moreover, matters certainly are not helped by outlets such as The Guardian, which has repeatedly published opinion pieces making factually incorrect and scientifically flawed statements, as well as borderline defamatory comments about me, while refusing to give our side of the debate an opportunity to present our view.

 

I am surprised, given the importance of the issues at stake — not least the principle of fair, balanced journalism — that The Guardian would not want to present all the evidence to its readers. After all, how else are we to encourage proper, frank debate about the science?

 

On social media, meanwhile, much of the discourse has lacked any decorum whatsoever.

 

I have all but stopped using Twitter, but I am aware that a number of academics have taken to using it to make personal attacks on my character, while my work is dismissed as ‘pseudo- science’. Depressingly, our critics have also taken to ridiculing the Great Barrington Declaration as ‘fringe’ and ‘dangerous’.

 

But ‘fringe’ is a ridiculous word, implying that only mainstream science matters. If that were the case, science would stagnate. And dismissing us as ‘dangerous’ is equally unhelpful, not least because it is an inflammatory, emotional term charged with implications of irresponsibility. When it is hurled around by people with influence, it becomes toxic.

 

But this pandemic is an international crisis. To shut down the discussion with abuse and smears — that is truly dangerous.

Yet of all the criticisms flung at us, the one I find most upsetting is the accusation that we are indulging in ‘policy-based evidence-making’ — in other words, drumming up facts to fit our ideological agenda.

 

I have been accused of not having the right expertise, of being a ‘theoretical’ epidemiologist with her head in the clouds. In fact, within my research group, we have a thriving laboratory that was one of the first to develop an antibody test for the coronavirus.

Clearly, none of us anticipated such a vitriolic response.

 

The abuse that has followed has been nothing short of shameful.

But rest assured. Whatever they throw at us, it won’t do anything to sway me — or my colleagues — from the principles that sit behind what we wrote.

Professor Sunetra Gupta is an infectious disease epidemiologist and a professor of theoretical epidemiology at the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford.

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-8899277/Professor-Sunetra-Gupta-reveals-crisis-ruthlessly-weaponised.html

A devastating critique of the ten worst data failures of Covid19

Data has been the most disappointing factor about humanity’s response to Covid19.

It has been faulty, incomplete, inconsistent, skewed by design, and often, invented (ie. models).

It seems like most of the disputes over how dangerous Covid19 is, and what to do about it, hinge on data that is unreliable. Our ability to interrogate data far outstrips the quality of the data.

It’s not been a flattering picture for the future, of the capabilities of our modern age.
https://www.spectator.co.uk/…/The-ten-worst-Covid-data-fail…

Throughout the pandemic, the government and its scientific advisers have made constant predictions, projections and illustrations regarding the behaviour of Covid-19. Their figures are never revisited as the Covid narrative unfolds, which means we are not given an idea of the error margin….

Six months before the truth caught up with Covid19 doom-mongers

A dismaying aspect of the Western response to Covid19 is that it has been six months before some Governments and public institutions started listening a wider range of advice, and understood they must critically assess advice to decide what is in the fullest public interest.

Even then, the ‘listening’ has been piecemeal and slow. And not at all in New Zealand.

The preference for heeding the warnings of doom-mongers with the worst numbers is somewhat understandable, but it is inexcusable that leaders failed to listen to other advice, and to judge from the data for themselves.

https://www.businessinsider.com.au/boris-johnson-briefed-sw…

Global leaders infected each other with panic

No matter how dangerous you think Covid19 might be, this academic analysis dissects the dangerous speed and nature of the authoritarian responses by otherwise democratic governments.

Its says the political ‘global copycat response’ signals an ‘pandemic of authoritarianization’ with “the potential to unleash humanitarian crises no less devastating than COVID-19 in the long run”.

https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa064/5912724#207838617

Schism regretted but made inevitable by first panicked over-reaction

A rule of thumb in public health, forgotten in the panicked responded to Covid19, was; If you don’t know the likely result of your intervention, don’t do it.

We heavily regret the schism in science and society over Covid19, but it was made inevitable by the first response of politicians and panickers. A determined self-selected group of people in each country promoted erroneous projections and large scale blunt interventions. And they stuck to that plan – refusing to consider alternative interpretations of data and alternative responses.

It was they that decided discussion, moderation and dissent would not be tolerated.

https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/world/2020/10/opinion-is-the-covid-19-cure-worse-than-the-disease-the-most-polarising-question-of-2020.html