Tuesday, September 08, 2020
Covid: science vs politics, propaganda, and obedience
Fewer than 900 deaths out of 5800+ Swedish deaths with Covid had Covid as the direct cause of death.
In one interview after another, the Czech epidemiologists, infectiologists, and other doctors (mainly top doctors) repeat that they're not worried about the rising number of cases (note that nothing is rising e.g. in Sweden that has nicely reached herd immunity), the disease isn't a big deal, it must be understood as a disease that is analogous to flu etc. Despite this pretty much consensus (which is being increasingly incorporated into Czechia's loose policies, as I happily predicted in early April), many journalists still keep on pushing the "narrative" that Covid is something serious.
I am talking about the physician Martin Balík who has treated lots of serious Covid cases, epidemiologist Jiří Beran, infectiologist Jiří Beneš, female bosses of the infection departments of big hospitals, and dozens of others. Today, a government scientific committee should meet and recommend a further loosening of the Covid rules (note that for a week, the personal quarantine in Czechia lasts for 10 days only instead of the previous 14 days). Only the serious cases should be traced; there should be no quarantine for the people who meet a Covid-positive person if they are asymptomatic; having had an FFP2 respirator in the presence of a Covid-positive person may become a reason for exemption from the quarantine, too.
Many of these physicians are amazingly crisp thinkers and even speakers. I mentioned Beran and Beneš for a good reason. In the interview that I linked to in the previous paragraph, Beneš said lots of wise things. For example, he insisted (as I have stressed from March) that the dose is very important and that Lombardy and other troubled places have had big doses everywhere and that's what was a problem. But if we have lots of asymptomatic or mild cases, it is really an advantage, not a disadvantage. It helps us to be better prepared for the winter flu season which only arrives in 3 months or so. (We would certainly have herd immunity by December if we just allowed the disease to spread without any restrictions now.)
OK, the journalist is rather cautious and calm but he was still trying to revive the hysteria in some way. Beneš said it was the media that promote the panic. The journalist asked: Really, is it the journalists? You bet. Just look at your very interview and dozens of others. It's always a competent physician saying that Covid isn't really a reason to worry much; and a journalist who tries to say something very, very different and who pretends to be backed by somebody except that he isn't backed by anybody who is actually competent.
Beneš discussed one general theme that seems completely misunderstood by the laymen in the contemporary era of the indoctrination by the media: the difference between the complex scientific issues and the simple political rules. OK, so Beneš, like any competent physician, of course says that the very "case" (a positive test) isn't a reason for a concern yet. Only the hospitalized or serious cases are a problem. And the mild or even asymptomatic carriers of the virus don't even have much capacity to infect others (or bring them a serious disease).
But the journalists feels uncomfortable: The PCR isn't showing the "degree" of the disease, is it? We only know Yes/No so that's what we have to deal with... Well, that's competely wrong, Mr journalist. First of all, the PCR tests exponentially increase the amount of the pre-existing virus in the sample but after a fixed time, they are still in principle capable of distinguishing different concentrations of the virus. With some error margin, such a quantity may be measured and arguably should be measured (and many countries may have different thresholds for what they consider "PCR positive", a reason why the countries' "cases" data shouldn't be mindlessly compared).
But even when it's not being measured and PCR tests are Yes/No, it's just obviously the case that the PCR test isn't the only information that a physician may use to determine what's going on and what's the optimal way to treat the patient. One may look at the presence of symptoms such as coughing, fever... and all those things obviously matter for the threat that the person is facing and his ability to infect others. Also, these data influence the optimal policies. Are masks good somewhere? So Beran says that masks are appropriate somewhere, they lower the dose etc. But where? Clearly, there is no optimal binary way to determine which bar should have masks because some bars have lots of air, some others are badly ventilated etc.
Veselovský, the journalist, mentions that in the real world, the policies do follow what Dr Beneš called the simplistic engineering approach: "a positive test equals a quarantine equals everything". Right. But as Beneš importantly clarified, these policies aren't really results of perfectionist medicine. They are political decisions and they're defined in this way (or another simple way) exactly because the rules are simple. So people get divided to Yes/No groups and everything is strictly determined and everyone is quarantined etc. according to these simple bits of information.
But what this journalist and almost all laymen seem to misunderstand – even though this disagreement really amounts to the absence of common sense – is that the simple rules aren't "science", they are "politics". Science of a complex enough disease like Covid and its variable effect on assorted people with different preconditions and different types of exposure to the virus is clearly complicated enough and involves lots of quantities that are continuous and not just Yes/No bits. Of course it matters for the infection risks whether a bar is densely filled with customers etc. Any "administrative" separation of businesses to "safe" and "unsafe", those that have to have masks and those that are exempt, and hundreds of similar questions is bound to be suboptimal.
Some of us, like Richard Lindzen, have often said that the members of the Academic community are much more likely to lose common sense than the regular folks when it comes to the climate change hysteria. It is possible in that particular topic but I believe that in the case of Covid-19, it is not really the case at all. Paradoxically enough, it is the common people who are likely to lack the common sense. Many of them have totally bought the (ludicrous) idea that the Covid positive/negative test is equivalent to death/life and everything must be derived from this grave dichotomy. So many people caught into this hysteria want the politicians to impose strict restrictions and they call these restrictions "science".
They have virtually nothing to do with science and the very statement that the dynamics of a similar disease is "binary" absolutely contradicts science. The lesson of science is clearly exactly opposite. There are lots of degrees of risk, levels of severity of the disease within an individual (or levels of the presence of the virus or its traces because the word "disease" is often a too strong word), variable ability of the infected people to threaten or harm others, and so on. An optimum set of policies that would take the costs and benefits of restrictions into account would clearly be very complex and very individualistic.
It's really the memes (and we may say "likeable memes", at least from the leftists' perspective) like "all of us are in Covid together" that contain the antiscientific thinking in its purest form. We are not in it together at all. Every group of people defined in some way – but even every member of a "seemingly uniform" group – faces completely different risks, poses different levels of danger for others, and so on. The immunity reaction to a virus (and one's personal strategies of hygiene etc.) belongs among the most intimate and individualist aspects of humans. "Every patient struggles in this fight alone" is really much closer to the truth. After all, the fight against a disease is an example of a conflict that the natural selection etc. is all about, don't forget about the survival of the fittest, and be sure that in this Darwinian competitive context, "we are all together" is as wrong as you can get. The survivors statistically differ from the eliminated ones: that's really the most important part of the mechanisms of evolution, isn't it? How can someone deny this point and pretend that he is staunchly pro-science?
Now, of course, the complexity of the "levels of infection and risks" is huge and one complication is that science (and especially science as of September 2020) doesn't really "precisely know" how to quantify the risks given the known behavioral patterns, diseases, and other things. And even if science "precisely knew" what the risks are for a given person (and if every physician had access to this "complete science", which is yet another unrealistic level), the laws couldn't be "excessively complex or revolving around totally subjective judgements" because laws where subjective judgements play too much role may be abused and applied unfairly, in a corrupt way that restricts some individuals much more than others. Also, it is an important observation that even the "perfect complete science" cannot tell you (or us) how you (or we) "should" behave. You (and we; or separate nations) still have the (individual or collective) freedom and there may be different strategies and approaches to life, even if "all the relevant questions were understood"!
The possibility that "overly complex and subjective rules may be abused or applied unfairly" is indeed a general argument against very complex rules who should be quarantined, and against rules where a physician etc. has too much power to decide which business has to have face masks (or even be closed). But this argument is ultimately a political argument against complex rules and rules requiring an individual judgement rooted in the physician's extensive expertise and intuition. It is not an argument that is rooted in the medical science – virology, epidemiology, immunology. If virology, epidemiology, and immunology were used to design the optimal policies balancing costs and benefits, of course they would end up with extremely complex rules that take lots of the information beyond PCR tests and administrative "types of jobs and businesses" into account! The fact that it could be impractical if not unfair to enforce such complex rules does not mean that these complex rules aren't better than the simplistic rules that are ultimately adopted by politicians. Of course the complex rules would be better if they could be fairly enforced! Science of Covid or similar complex phenomena is complex and you can't disprove this fact by observing that some political rules are hard to be enforced. Politics and science are very different and largely separated issues.
It seems clear to me that almost all the people who are worried about Covid even now, in September 2020, just don't get any of these points. They just don't have common sense. The real problem is that they are just totally fudging unable to distinguish science from politics. It's probably the result of the political indoctrination in the recent decade or two. They have been fed lots of self-evident political propaganda based on extreme ideologies and this propaganda was presented as "science" (the ludicrous climate change hysteria was obviously the most prominent example of these demagogies that claimed to be rooted in science but they were not). And lots of the regular people were increasingly buying into the totally ludicrous notion that buying some simple verdicts (high CO2 emissions = bad, low CO2 emissions = good, for example) is "what science tells us" and "the more mindlessly one behaves according to these simple rules, the more pro-science he is".
I am sorry but the truth is the (almost) exact opposite. Everyone who buys "simple verdicts" such as "higher CO2 emissions is always bad" or "a positive PCR test is always a terrifying thing" is a person who is not thinking scientifically at all. He's just a brainwashed dumb sheep that has been trained to obediently embrace some super-oversimplified rules that are often not rooted in proper science at all, and if they're partly rooted in science, it is just an extremely small part of the root that has been both distorted and totally blown out of proportion and that invites everybody to (totally unscientifically) ignore everything else.
The far left media have been capable of bringing millions of people to the state where they believed that a positive PCR test is equivalent to the Armageddon and literally everything, including the liquidation of 20% of the economy (and perhaps even a greater fraction), should be made in order to avoid this Armageddon. Please, all the folks who still believe that a PCR test is problem, try to understand that according to the actual scientists (and especially the physicians in this case), you are scientifically illiterate people who don't even have common sense. Your mindless obedience to some rules of the hysteria doesn't make you pro-science. It makes you anti-science. It proves that you are a hopeless emotional, irrational idiot.
And that's the memo.