Questions, just questions

8 Apr

On March 26 this year, Professor Sucharit Bhakdi wrote an open letter to German Chancellor, Dr. Angela Merkel. Those who understand German can find the original here. This unofficial translation by Swiss Propaganda Research begins:

Dear Chancellor,

As Emeritus of the Johannes-Gutenberg-University in Mainz and longtime director of the Institute for Medical Microbiology, I feel obliged to critically question the far-reaching restrictions on public life that we are currently taking on ourselves in order to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

It is expressly not my intention to play down the dangers of the virus or to spread a political message. However, I feel it is my duty to make a scientific contribution to putting the current data and facts into perspective – and, in addition, to ask questions that are in danger of being lost in the heated debate.

The reason for my concern lies above all in the truly unforeseeable socio-economic consequences of the drastic containment measures which are currently being applied in large parts of Europe and which are also already being practiced on a large scale in Germany.

My wish is to discuss critically – and with the necessary foresight – the advantages and disadvantages of restricting public life and the resulting long-term effects.

To this end, I am confronted with five questions which have not been answered sufficiently so far, but which are indispensable for a balanced analysis …

The five questions put by the highly cited1 Professor Bhakdi to Angela Merkel, and why in lay terms they matter, can be read in full via the German and English links supplied above. For those pressed for time, here’s my summary:

  1. Statistics: Professor Bhakdi asks: why have projections, on which “drastic” measures are being applied across Europe, not followed established infectiology procedures in distinguishing symptom-free infected people from actually sick patients?
  2. Degree of danger: where CV-19 is decisive to a patients’ illnesss, as opposed to just being present – see also point 4 – how does the impact on ICU capacity compare to other coronavirus infections?
  3. Spread of infection: Has there been a random sample of the general population? If not, are mortality rates misleadingly high? And are those “drastic measures” a case of locking the stable door after the horse has bolted?
  4. Mortality: German and most European medical guidelines require death certificates to give a causal chain showing death as, indeed, caused by the virus. (In the UK the Coronavirus Act 2020, in line with other states, allows “a doctor who has not seen a [care home] patient” to “sign the certificate relying on their knowledge and belief of cause of death”.) Professor Bhakdi asks: has Germany simply followed this trend of a COVID-19 general suspicion? If so, how do we distinguish genuine corona-related deaths from accidental deaths where the virus was merely present?
  5. Comparability. “The appalling situation in Italy is repeatedly used as a reference [but the picture is unclear] not only because of points 3 and 4 above but also because of exceptional external factors”. One being air pollution, estimated by WHO in 2006 as causing 8,000 additional deaths per year in Italy’s top thirteen cities. Another being atypical demography, with high numbers of elderly and high numbers of households with very young children. Professor Bhakdi asks: what efforts are being made to make the population aware of such key differences?

If the five points appear to lack orthogonality in my summary, that’s in all likelihood because I don’t get every nuance of what the professor is saying. But the gist is clear enough, and those who want more should study his letter at source or in translation, via the links given above.

Meanwhile, here’s a question of my own. Why, when I do a search on sucharit bhakdi [blank] – where “blank” is a variable successively instantiated by Guardian .. Independent .. Times .. BBC .. Telegraph .. Morning Star – do I get no result? Only when I insert “Mail” do I get a return. And that only because of one man. As with aspects of the Syria narrative, columnist Peter Hitchens is asking pertinent questions no other mainstream media journalist seems prepared to ask.

So now I’m asking them. Belatedly, some would say – and that’s an aspect I will go into, but not here. I want to keep this post very simple; confined to those vital questions not being reported, far less addressed, in mainstream and Left media alike.

For the same reason I also won’t be offering any theory – whether based on panic, conspiracy or other impulse – on why we might be stampeding down a blind alley teeming with all manner of dangers. I simply want in this post, and others yet to be written before I even consider any attempt at explanation, to profile expert voices2 currently sidelined despite – I won’t at this stage say because of – asking key questions along the first of two related lines of inquiry:

How solid is the evidence that this virus poses a threat on the scale we’re being told?

What are the costs – in economic, mortality, psychological health and civil liberties terms to name a few of the more obvious – of “the drastic containment measures”, as Professor Bhakdi fairly calls them, we’re being told are a right and necessary response?

* * *

  1. Professor Bhakdi’s research profile, given on this Semantic Scholar page, has number of publications at 358, of citations at 7,590 and highly influential citations at 402. He has a h-index of 45 where 20 is good, 40 outstanding, and 60 truly exceptional.
  2. Professor Bhakdi is by no means the only expert asking key questions but getting no answers. See OffGuardian – here and here – on twenty-one others, all leading figures in microbiology, epidemiology or clinical practice. See also the Swiss Propaganda Research website on CV-19.

22 Replies to “Questions, just questions

    • Thanks Mark. I’ve written other posts on one or other of the two primary questions I finish here with but this is the first devoted exclusively to them (Q1 especially). It won’t be the last.

      Take a bow yourself. A few people have urged me to write such a post. That’s to their credit but you can take the lion’s share because of the calm and simple, non judgmental and non-theory-invested way you insisted that the only valid starting place is where is the evidence?

  1. Don’t know about P Hitchens but the Mail is certainly scaring people with the ‘narrative’ it broke ex-Seattle estimating UK deaths from Cvid19 at 60,000 by Aug. That being 44% of total projected deaths in Europe and way more than any of the current ‘hot’ spots. Feel free to reassure me about that. Almost as scary as Dyson getting the ventilator contract.

    • Feel free to reassure me about that.

      No can do Mick. It’s not the game I’m in at the best of times, and certainly not in this post, devoted as it is to raising questions. One being: what is the basis, in light of Dr Bhakdi’s concerns, for the 60,000 and 44% figures?

      Meantime I’m doing the best I can – despite the efforts of three of every four cyclists whizzing by on canal towpath and riverbank as I walk the woofers – to keep my two metre distance. Whatever the quality of science informing that recommendation, it seems only common courtesy not to breach it.

  2. All these questions are important-all sensible questions are. They have to be considered in the context of the motivation behind them.

    Here this is clearly stated: “The reason for my concern lies above all in the truly unforeseeable socio-economic consequences of the drastic containment measures which are currently being applied in large parts of Europe and which are also already being practiced on a large scale in Germany.”

    These socio-economic consequences seem to me to fall into two categories. Firstly there are the very real impacts that the regulations are having on civil liberties including the right to demonstrate or even hold meetings; and on the apparent licensing of police to interpret vague government regulations in arbitrary and authoritarian ways.

    More important, though, are the second set of concerns which are connected to the preservation of the ‘economy’ or, as it is also known, capitalism. These concerns are of far more importance to the ruling class than others and, though masked, are of primary concern to them.
    For example the crisis has given rise to the revival of ‘war socialist’ measures: the rationing of food and fuel, for example, by passing the market system and calling for central planning to ensure the equitable distribution of necessities.
    It has also given rise to calls for the collapsing of private, for profit, health care systems into a general emergency medical and nursing service. These are roads, charted by :Lord Beveridge (inter alia) that we have travelled before- the foundation stones of the welfare state that neo-liberals have been chipping away at for two generations, and which is in danger of collapse.

    Those who question the crisis, its depth and its permanence are performing a useful service. But many of them, without perhaps understanding the implications, are siding with the most dangerous and reactionary forces in society- to whom the consequences of trivialising the emergency are unimportant compared with the necessity to preserve the status quo, to ensure that labour is forced back to work, to restore the transportation, banking and service industries to the point that they were at three months ago. To prevent any of the emergency reforms from becoming permanent.
    Above all to ensure that we do not emerge from this crisis with a new determination to ensure that in future all proper precautions have been taken to prevent the spreading of epidemics. And to put the needs of humanity before those of the exploiting classes.
    And, of course, to nip in the bud those tendencies to subject the entire role of humanity, as a species, within the universe to deep and critical analysis.

    • As I think you know I agree with your assessments in the main and have said as much, above and below the line on this site. Including your observation that “those who question the crisis, its depth and its permanence are performing a useful service”.

      You may also be right in your caveat – “but many of them, without perhaps understanding the implications, are siding with the most dangerous and reactionary forces in society”. Could you be more specific?

      It goes without saying, almost, that any conceivable position one could take on this can and undoubtedly will be appropriated for various agendas, including the thoroughly reactionary. But in my experience so far, those ‘siding with’ reaction aren’t the ones asking questions. Rather, they’re the ones who already ‘know’ the answers!

      I do leave room for the possibility I’m wrong here – again, if you can point me to sources I’ll look into them as soon as I can – but that would not alter the impeccable credentials of Dr Bhakdi and others, nor the validity of their questions.

    • Bevin
      I am perfectly aware that the “status quo” was rotten. But your post here, seems to suggest that this crisis could result in the establishment of something better. So far the draconian measures have resulted in a world that looks Orwellian. Granted that this is supposed to ne a temporary measure (although we told it will last for some time). I think it is certain to say that we will not be going back to the old normal. But what do you think this new normal will be? More precisely: Why do you think the new normal will be more favourable to the general population?

      • Don’t know if you’re aware of this George but, leaving aside the Orwellian aspects – which I’m heroically restraining myself from going into at this stage! – there are epidemiologists saying the draconian measures are making the problem far worse. I’ll be posting on this aspect later today.

        • I fully understand the view that says that the draconian measures are making the problem far worse. What I am trying to figure out is why some seem to think this pandemic will be an opportunity for the left. I am not sneering at the idea. I would love to believe it. But I don’t see how it works.

          • What I am trying to figure out is why some seem to think this pandemic will be an opportunity for the left.

            Well that’s been explicated many times, including on this site. See for example John Smith’s paper. There are counter-arguments, of course there are, but negative aspects of capitalism have become much more visible now.

  3. The answers to all of those questions can be found in the observation in question three in regard to bolting horses and stable doors.

    The problem being the absence of any containment protocols in the complacent “we are the greatest” Western World to prevent the spread of a new strain of virus early on.

    We are playing catch up and desperately attempting damage limitation as a result of the complacency and incompetence of not just those at the helm but also our systems and approach. Which lack capacity, versatility, and coherence. Being designed primeraly on the basis of the bottom line and artificially induced pseudo-competition.

    At a time when any kind of sensible less disruptive measures should have been put in place – travel restriction protocols at ports of entry; testing and contact tracing etc to contain a wider outbreak – it was business as usual. Unrestricted travel into and out of the Country; Cheltenham festival; football matches; take it on the chin; herd immunity; culling the herd and so on.

    The PTB were asleep at the wheel and are now desperately trying to limit the damage of their own hubris in a variety of ways.

    • Dave you may be right but – see my response to bevin’s second comment – I’m going back to basics. It isn’t that I’m turning my back on views expressed in earlier CV-19 posts. I still say this exposes, as never in my lifetime, the inadequacy of capitalism in the face of pandemic.*

      It’s just that I can no longer resist the argument that many questions along the two lines I finished on – evidence of threat level/costs of response – seem to be getting poor answers, none at all or – particularly in respect of that second – not even being asked.

      * Just had this Greenpeace missive hit my inbox:

      The UK government has handed out a publicly funded, £600 million loan to EasyJet. This comes just weeks after the founder of EasyJet received a £60 million pay-out from company profits while the airline asked its staff to take unpaid leave … [meanwhile] across the world airline lobbyists are pushing governments to roll back environmental taxes.

  4. (Just tell me if these replies are too long- you wouldn’t be the first.)
    Was not the spontaneous and, almost certainly sincere, response of those reactionary elements, for example Trump and Johnson, not to mention the Italian authorities including the Northern League, to downplay the threat posed by the possible deaths of a few million elderly proles, a symptom of their reluctance to change course or question the decisions of the market or, his old mate, the Grim reaper?

    In this matter all of us, if we are being honest, have impeccable credentials. And none more than ordinary people, shaken out of the apathy born of insecurity and the dull grind of routine bread winning, facing the reality that Granny might be lost because there were no paper masks on the High Street and the corridors of the hospital were filled with unattended sick people, spreading the virus and the place had not been cleaned properly since they contracted out maintenance to a Kentucky corporation, headquartered in Panama. and the nurses are on zero hours contracts while the number and availability of doctors is carefully controlled to maximise their income/status. And Cuba does things much better.

    I find myself on this matter in a position very similar to that I took on the entire 9/11 business: I am with the sceptics so long as they question the ‘official narrative’ and the measures those in power claim are necessitated by the inferences of that narrative: the war on terror, for example, the invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq and Wesley Hall’s famous “seven countries ” (including Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Iran)
    But while I will accept that it is very likely that the 9/11 operation was no surprise to many in High Places, and its planning was no secret to the Intelligence Services, and that there is much that we do not know about the events of that day, I do not go along with the theory that it was a false flag operation carried out by the US government or that a collection of Arabs, reduced to living in caves by imperialist bombing, could not conceive of and carry out the hijackings and suicidal crashes of that day.
    My scepticism is not just of the ‘news’ but of the sceptics. And nothing prompts my sceptical instincts more than discovering that the ‘sceptics’ are bolstering the conclusions of the reactionaries.
    I don’t want to see ‘normalcy’ with everyone streaming back to their jobs and the Stock Exchanges rising again and 75% of humanity living in sordid poverty- I want to see change.

    • Let me preface with three general remarks, bevin. One, you’ve earned my respect for numerous erudite and calmly reasoned interventions, here and at OffGuardian. Two, I sense a high degree of overlap with you in those a priori assumptions and worldviews none of us can fully leave behind, like doffed hats, before approaching any matter of importance. Three, I was at pains to confine my inquiry above the line to questions I deem valid, without assuming any given answers. I want as far as possible to do the same below it.

      That said, let me respond laconically – not for once through idleness but in the spirit of not straying far from the questions – on some at least of the specifics of your comment.

      Wasn’t the first response of TPTB to downplay the threat? Yes: one of a few reasons for proceeding with great caution.

      Don’t we all have impeccable credentials? No, not in the very specific sense I mean here. I could not have raised the methodological questions Dr Bhakdi has. I can grasp their significance (more or less) now he has raised them, but that ain’t the same thing.

      9/11. Glad you raise it. Along with climate change (though I say to lesser degree) it poses similar issues. My gung-ho disbelief, voiced in a contemptuous post on the fifteenth anniversary, rejected ‘truthism’ (which like CV-19 scepticism comes in shades both wild and reasoned) in a way overly dependent on armchair logic, too little on engaging with specifics. Confronted by evidenced arguments in the Griffin and Woodworth book I reviewed two years later, I had to eat a big slice of humble pie. I don’t say I’m now a truther. Like you, while I acknowledge many unanswered questions – WTC-7 for one – I’m not ready to call it an inside job. (The softer version of its being allowed to happen is closer to my zone of acceptability.) Fact is, I’d need to do a lot of spadework I’m just not up for, and even then might never get to beyond-reasonable-doubthood either way.

      Also of interest is that what I call the sensible wings of scepticism on 9/11 and CV-19 include elements in one but not both camps. The picture gets even less predictable when climate change sceptics are factored in. I’m struck by a degree of religiosity among the more emotional wings of all three. How, I ask myself, can they be so bloody sure? They’re not experts in any relevant discipline. Did they read a book so persuasive it threw them into Damascene embracing of the truth, the light and the way? That said, and whatever those who diss all conspiracy theorists fondly believe, my experience has been that a person with a conspiracist take on 9/11, say, may be scathing of those who see CV-19 or climate change as hoaxes.

      I repeat, all I want to do, in this post and others to come, is raise questions I deem valid. Without second guessing the answers, and without attempting higher order narratives of whatever stripe.

      • Bevin’s observation from his second paragraph was something discussed in this afternoons weekly family Skype gathering.

        In summary this covered the issue of complacency in terms of this being a scale of event in Britain probably not experienced since WW2 and totally outside the experience of the majority of the population alive today.

        The consensus was that, on the basis of general observational experiences, taking in many of the areas of concern identified by Bevin and yourself among others, the general responses we are seeing and experiencing is that too many people (maybe the majority in Britain?) no longer have the capability to deal with anything outside their comfort zone.

        Any criticism of (Tory) Government handling of this or any other situation, of corporate bail outs and so on seem to be met with almost widespread hostility and a retreat into the kind of simplistic attitudes you can pick up in the average copy of the Daily Mail.

        Critical thinking seems to be an increasingly rare commodity.

        • Critical thinking seems to be an increasingly rare commodity.

          You sure? It seems to me it’s always been rare!

  5. The Seattle modelling cites shortage of ventilators as a key factor in the projected high UK mortality rate from Covid 19. It seems obvious where this leads in terms of conventional political discourse regarding the NHS. Also obvious is that conspiracy theorists and politics geeks will believe what suits their ideological viewpoint.
    It may be worth noting that the deputy Prime Minister, Mr Raab, styles himself as a staunch defender of civil liberties
    and it would be at least ironic if he shortly feels it necessary to announce a ban dog walking. The howls of libertarians among them no doubt the reconstructed Trot Peter Hitchens not to mention disgruntled canines and their handlers may be conjectured in this event and would certainly pose a threat to civilised society. This may seem like levity but I feel as worried as anybody by what may be unfolding.

    • Also obvious is that conspiracy theorists and politics geeks will believe what suits their ideological viewpoint.

      Three observations:

      One, “conspiracy theorist” as a generic put-down has become discredited in my view. Like “fake news”, “whataboutery” and “mansplaining”, I’ve too often seen it used to dismiss an argument without the inconvenience of addressing its specifics. In fact I’ve been guilty of that sin myself. See my second response to bevin, on the 9/11 issue. As for “politics geeks” that just sounds a tad lazy, tbh.

      Two, point one aside, no group has a monopoly on ideological agendas. It’s impossible not to have them. For instance, the statement “conspiracy theorists and politics geeks will believe what suits their ideological viewpoint” is ideologically drenched. And then there’s Paul Simon’s famous line, “all lies and jests, still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest”.

      Three, dismissal of Hitchens as a “reconstructed Trot” is an ad hominem unworthy of you. Unless of course you want to show where (a) his coverage of this issue is erroneous and (b) the errors flow logically from reconstructed trothood.

      I feel as worried as anybody by what may be unfolding.

      I know. You’re a thoughtful, decent bloke. What’s not to worry about for anyone with a scintilla of sensitivity?

      • I would say that although “conspiracy theory” has come to be illegitimately used as a general smear term, nevertheless there’s a difference between conspiracy theory and *grand* conspiracy theory. The former refers to something that is quite common, the latter posits some over-arching group that has been around for centuries, perhaps millennia and which has such overwhelming power that these kind of theories tend to spill over easily into supernatural concepts.

        I would say that the conspiracies that do exist have an ad-hoc aspect – not TOO ad-hoc since that would negate the very idea of conspiracy. But there’s a constantly improvised aspect – necessarily so since they are applied in real time to real events which can have unpredictable outcomes.

        • A useful distinction you make there, George. Thanks. I’d add that not only do those grand CTs often spill over into the supernatural, they even more often spill over into antisemitism. The real kind.

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