Monthly Archives: May 2021

RIP Free Speech Online

OK, I exaggerate a little. Or do I? You be the judge.

This morning I had my second Covid jab. No significant side-effects, but I’ve been taking it easy this afternoon. I had some cramp after my first jab, and am remaining within limping distance of home just in case.

So this afternoon I spent some time on a park bench, reading Private Eye. Where I find a brief note that follows up to things I’ve written in this blog and elsewhere on subjects related to covid, the vaccines, and discussion that deviates from the official line.

Last November I wrote:

At the same time, we hear that governments are going to come down hard on antivax (is that how you spell it? – I don’t want to google). With drastic potential penalties on platforms, it’s inevitably going to be enforced as one of those taboos that may be used to shut down not just nutjob conspiracy theories but also legitimate discussion. That (always) bothers me.

The piece in Private Eye tells of a couple of cases in point, where genuine experts have been censored by fearful platforms. One of those is Professor Carl Heneghan. Googling Professor Heneghan’s credentials, I find he is Director of Oxford University’s Centre for Evidence-based medicine, and and former Editor-in-Chief of BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine.

So why has Facebook labelled an article by Heneghan as “false”? I have no doubt it did so reluctantly, under the pressure from governments I had noted. Heneghan’s crime was an article published in the Spectator, whose concluding paragraph fails to parrot the official line on requiring us to wear germ-incubators on our faces. His conclusion:

And now that we have properly rigorous scientific research we can rely on, the evidence shows that wearing masks in the community does not significantly reduce the rates of infection.

That’s based on the only large-scale randomised trial on covid and masks – the Gold Standard of statistical evidence – to have been conducted anywhere (it was in Denmark). Heneghan also comments that it agrees with studies on “influenza-like illnesses”, and that

The low number of studies into the effect different interventions have on the spread of Covid-19 – a subject of global importance – suggests there is a total lack of interest from governments in pursuing evidence-based medicine. And this starkly contrasts with the huge sums they have spent on ‘boutique relations’ consultants advising the government.

Right. No wonder Facebook was afraid to allow it to go unchallenged! Not old-fashioned censorship, but active suppression from a mass readership. Convincing the masses that it’s a nutjob conspiracy theory is perhaps altogether more effective than outright censorship!

This blog of course doesn’t matter. I speak with no authority, and go under the censor’s radar. When I blogged in July with reasons why the mask law would lead to a rise in covid (as it did – indeed more than I’d foreseen) it was based purely on commonsense, not on scientific evidence. There is still – so far as I know – no rigorous evidence one way or the other on my arguments, and (as Heneghan observes) no appetite for the experiment among those who could commission (or indeed permit) it.

Note: Heneghan’s gold-standard evidence concerns mask-wearers. The study was conducted in spring 2020, and mask-advocates did react – by shifting the goalposts to “protecting others”. No comparable study offers evidence one way or t’other on those goalposts, but my prediction proved true.

Dismal Choices

Thursday is Election time again. Different elections in different parts of the country. Here it’s local councillors and a Police and Crime commissioner.

I’m completely lacking information. I’ve had just two election leaflets: one from the Tories, one from and Independent candidate who fails to impress.

  • For local councillor I’d take the Tory candidate as a person (based on her very effective response the one time I had occasion to contact her – referenced here), but can’t endorse her party, so I have no candidate I’m happy with and I can’t even find information online.
  • For Police&Crime commissioner, this is not at all like the last time I blogged about it, when we had an interesting array of candidates. There are just four candidates, all of them affiliated to political parties: Tories, Lab, Libdem, Greens. Information including statements from all candidates is available online: there’s little if anything there to choose between Tories/Lab/Libdems, while the Green candidate is such a loony-lefty as to look like a self-parody.

Ho, hum …

Cat of Nine Deaths

A regular cat may have nine lives, but Stuttley’s dead cat appears to have nine deaths. Or maybe far more – I haven’t been counting.

Right now we have one timed for next week’s election: namely the scandal (or storm in a teacup, or actually both) of the Downing Street flat (erm, Flatgate?) The leader of the opposition has totally taken the bait, and as a result looks pusillanimous and irrelevant. Which, to be fair, is probably his natural state: I expect he could turn people off caring even about the Cummings row. Anyone influenced by national politics may find the tories a ghastly prospect, but Labour is worse: it’s simply too depressing to vote for. So that’ll be an election triumph, which he’ll of course claim as a ringing endorsement.

Blair may have been the supreme master of fake sincerity. Stuttley has just demonstrated an entirely different mastery: to demolish his opponent exactly when it matters. Even down to a Thespian tour de force of appearing flustered and on the back foot on the subject and of keeping it unnecessarily alive, giving Starmer ever more rope to hang his party’s election prospects.

The classic dead cat, when there are so many other things an opposition leader should focus on. Possibly the Cummings claims, though it’s plausible they too could be – like Gollum’s stabbing Stuttley in the back to rescue him in 2016 – an elaborately-orchestrated setup. Certainly actual instances of free handouts to cronies, of the cruel and ineffective lottery of covid handouts, and actual instances of brexit-bonus ranging from NI troubles through fishing disaster to routine closures like (this week’s announcement) Nestlé‘s UK factories.

The whole Flatgate issue is being de-fanged by an independent inquiry. The announcement of the appointment of Lord Geidt – who appears from press reports to have strong credentials – to fill the Parliamentary Standards vacancy and head an investigation was ideally timed to let Stuttley off the hook. I expect someone on Stuttley’s team knows – if only on Richelieu’s principle – where Geidt’s bodies are buried, lest they should need to exert pressure. Even if something from that or any other inquiry has potential for real damage, it comes long after the election, events have moved on and the media and public are sick of the subject.