Article 14

The Recovery Of Control.

The Spectator of 13/6/20 contained a Leader entitled ‘Take Back Control’ which I now analyse for my readers as I previously analysed the accompanying article by Toby Young. I start by quoting the Leader. It begins by stating that ‘there is a grim inevitability to the trickle of round-robin letters from scientists who feel aggrieved at the government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis’; that ‘from the beginning the Prime Minister gave scientific advisers a very public platform at the heart of government’; and that he ‘realised that if it became necessary to impose the most severe restrictions on personal freedom any government has had to introduce in peacetime, it would help if the public could see policy was being shaped by experts who understood the threat’; but that ‘as time has gone on, it has become increasingly clear that there is no such thing as “the science” – a mythical set of incontrovertible truths’; that “scientists” are as divided as politicians and the general public on how to tackle Covid-19’; that ‘there is no better demonstration of this than the World Health Organisation’s about-turn this week over the issue of whether asymptomatic individuals – who some evidence suggests may make up 80 percent of cases- can spread the virus’; that ‘at first a WHO official said such transmission is very rare’; that ‘later the organisation rescinded this advice and said it wasn’t sure’; and that ‘meanwhile a Californian study claimed up to 45 per cent of Covid-19 cases may have been spread by asymptomatic people’. the Leader then asks, ‘how a government is supposed to make sense of this’ in concluding that ‘the extent of asymptomatic infection is crucial to the effectiveness of the test and trace system in which it has invested millions’; and that ‘science as yet can supply no definitive answers’.

Thus, according to the Leader ‘the essential problem is that as Covid-19 is a new virus’ which ‘we still know little about’; that ‘evidence is coming through in dribs and drabs much of it contradictory’; that ‘in the absence of real proof we have modelling’; that ‘the models are worlds apart in their conclusions’; and that ‘in imposing lockdown, the government followed the advice of a modelling team at Imperial College London, which estimated there would be 250,000 deaths if drastic measures were not taken’; that ‘had the government preferred the model of a rival team from Oxford which suggested the infection could have been widespread before lockdown was imposed, it could have come to a different conclusion and followed a path more similar to that of Sweden’; and that either could be said to have been informed by “the science”’.

This Leader goes on to state that ‘individual scientists have changed their minds: some drastically so’; that ‘over the past week Professor John Edmonds of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a member of the Sage committee, has complained that the government is relaxing lockdown too early’; that ‘many lives could have been saved had restrictions begun a week earlier’; that ‘the same Professor Edmonds gave an interview on 13 March – ten days before the restrictions were imposed – in which he said: “ the only way to stop this epidemic is indeed to achieve herd immunity”’; and that if the government was late in imposing a lockdown it was because they were following the advice of Professor Edmonds and his colleagues’. Having made these comments the Leader states that ‘it suits the government’s opponents to try to establish a narrative that a reckless Prime Minister has ignored “the science” that ‘it helps too that No 10 struggles to defend itself’; that ‘the claim is still false’; and that ‘on the contrary, Boris Johnson’s fault has been to display too much reverence for epistemology and to take too little advice from other quarters, such as from economists who could have warned him of the debilitating effects of lockdown on the economy; from educationalists who could have warned of the damage it can do to a child’s life chances if formal education is withdrawn for a long period; from psychologists and social workers who could have warned about the effects of isolating the seven million Britons who live on their own’. It then goes on to reveal that ‘the bodies of some elderly people have been discovered a week or two after their deaths as a result of their usual pillars of community support having been removed by lockdown’.

In conclusion, this Leader states that ‘Johnson needs to take back control from the scientists who have no definitive answers’; that ‘the skills required of scientific adviser and Prime Minister are wholly different’; that ‘while the former has to drill down on one narrow question at a time, the latter has to balance all manner of competing demands from medical, to economic, to moral’; that ‘one difficult issue has been how much access to allow people to relatives who may be sick or dying’; and that ‘a blanket exclusion of visitors from all hospitals might be the safest policy, but  hardly the most humane’. In contrast, I conclude that this Leader unconsciously shows ‘the science’ and politics itself to be merely debatable beliefs and opinions; and that this absence of knowledge will be corrected only when knowledge replaces belief and opinion in all specialist disciplines as this website intends.         21/6/20.                        

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