More on the CV-19 Science

21 May

The thrust of my recent post, If only I wasn’t a commitment phobe, argued that the science and its underlying data are insufficiently developed or clear to support the levels of certainty professed on all sides of a somewhat tribalist dialogue of the deaf within left and libertarian camps.1

My narrow focus on “the science” rightly drew a politically contextualising response, below the line, by Dave Hansell. I deem it too significant to remain tucked away in the comments section and am promoting it here as a guest post. I have taken the liberty of light touch editing on two fronts. One is to break long paragraphs into shorter ones, the other to highlight passages I see as especially significant. Other than that, this is pure Dave Hansell.2

One of the many problematic issues here is this is not just a theoretical debate between different scientifically based models. Real time decisions have to be made which will have their own consequences. Such decisions – at least in theory and in some places in practice – will be based on previous known and recorded experience of similar events.

One of the early articles the author of this blog linked to relied heavily on recorded data and models of the ‘Spanish Flu’ a century ago for example, comparing the increased mortality rates in locations which failed to introduce social distancing measures etc or lifted them too early. Point being that whatever decisions are made are not just based on recent scientific or other experience and models but also previous experience of similar occurrences.

Either way lives depend on those decisions. Whichever way a decision goes is not going to please or satisfy everyone because people have differing priorities (often at different points in their lives) and circumstances. A number of issues arise.

First is the assumption that decisions, at least in the UK, are based on “The Science.”This assumption has certainly animated some odd bedfellows on the political right and the libertarian “left” who seem to take Government announcements at literal face value, given that the critiques attack the science, offering different science based models, and assume no politics whatsoever has played any part in decision making. I’m far from convinced the available evidence supports such assumptions. The apparent “about face” from the “culling the herd” policy of the UK Government under Johnson took a full week – from a partial half hearted set of restrictions introduced on 16th March to the current supposed draconian “lockdown” a week later on 23rd March – with totally inadequate systems and measures to enforce the supposed policy.

As previously noted, they had to be dragged kicking and screaming to that apparent about face. Ports of entry were and still are allowing unfettered travel into the UK and onwards with no containment and tracing protocols. Financial assistance for those most impacted was and remains slow, bureaucratic and half hearted. At the same time public transport was drastically cut (for obvious health and safety reasons) which contributed to packed commuter transport and workplaces as some groups, construction workers among others, continued earning money desperately needed in an employment market context in which most people live from wage packet to wage packet.

Add to this the inadequate practical support in terms of PPE and similar equipment; amount of testing (the number of daily cases in the official data is dependent upon the limited number of tests carried out and in no way reflects the actual number of cases*); the deliberate emptying of hospitals into care homes to hide the true figures; and the crude propaganda techniques utilised to divert attention from this apparent ‘failing/inefficiency’ on the part of Government – from weekly clap fests for NHS and care staff (from many voters who voted in policies designed to destroy the NHS only a few months ago) to acquisitioning wartime nostalgia. Even the Imperial College model, alleged to be the sole criteria upon which decision making was based, factored in only 50% of the populace adhering to any kind of strict lockdown.

And despite the obvious high profile cases of police over zealousness featured on SM (which has existed and featured for years prior to this) most cases of ‘breaching’ the supposed draconian lockdown go unnoticed. (If there was a reward system for reporting them I would be far from alone in being richer than Creosote by now).

Alert observers at the time of these decisions will have noted the (fast disappearing profile) reports of Johnson’s telephone call with Macron in which the French leader allegedly threatened to stop all traffic into and from the UK – which the Dutch (Rotterdam being the major deep port transit point for much of UK supply chains) would no doubt have followed – if the UK Government did not change policy direction from its let it rip through the populace approach. As a result it is a valid observation to make that in terms of practical effect the Government has only appeared to change direction from its politically inspired approach of “herd immunity” underpinned by a culling of the “economically inactive” based on a eugenics agenda. Certainly those most impacted have and will remain the growing precariat both in health and economic terms even in the coming period in which a so called “official” easing of restrictions generate a further wave of cases which previous recorded experiences tell us will occur.

The Government has been inefficient and ineffective in every regard and the result of that inefficiency and ineffectiveness, with many associated failings including the current premature easing of restrictions, has a practical outcome congruent with the initial political decision to pursue a culling policy. Publicly “blaming” ‘The Science’ whilst not putting in place adequate systems to effectively and practically support the apparent change in policy has everyone arguing about “The Science” rather than focusing on the actual outcomes.

Much like the three cups and pea game which is also all about distraction.

The second issue concerns assumption that the collapsing economy is exclusively down to the response to the viruses/pandemic. Again, in terms of the UK/US much is made of the Q1 figures, but in those two economies the economic impact of measures introduced will have had only a small impact on Q1 figures – unless we supposet that all losses were in the last few weeks of the Quarter?

Certainly, dire figures for Q2 and beyond will be largely the result of economic measures taken around the world to mitigate mortality rate and impact on health systems of this virus. But it has to be pointed out that the impact of further spikes will also increasingly feature even if those spikes are ignored in terms of further lockdown measures because the resulting mortality rate will adversely effect the economy in various ways, from key workers voting with their feet through to consumer confidence and disruption of supply chains in a JiT global system – and that’s before we factor in a no deal Brexit.T

The point being that Q1 figures suggest an economy already in trouble as a result of years of attempting to maintain over inflated bubbles based on fiat money thrown at those who can never have too much. For these and a number of related reasons the end of the economic pier show was only a matter of time and the response to the virus merely hastened along the inevitable.

* I doubt I’m alone in personally knowing of cases of individuals who have suffered from the symptoms of this virus and who have self isolated who will not appear in the official figures simply because hey have not been tested.

As a result it seems futile to focus entirely on “The Science” when data is so corrupted.

For example, the data from China suggested a 4.7% rate of cases requiring critical care. The officially released UK figure for this, every single day for nearly seven weeks, has been stuck at 1559 despite the increase in tested cases reported at the same time. The only plausible explanation for that is that the Government are, through the NHS management, deliberately not putting critical cases into critical care. Some evidence exists of this being the case given the number of reported cases released into care homes with inadequate PPE kit and other necessary systems, to prevent further infection and mortality outside of hospitals and official figures.

Of course, it may be that the Government in the UK cannot be bothered to collate these figures. Certainly the closed cases metric, which has two outcomes – recovery/ release or death – is worrying simply because from when I commenced collating a sample of this metric on March 29 up until 13 April the UK survival rate was the worst on the planet – reducing from 10% recovery/90% mortality to 1%/99% in less than a fortnight.

Since 13th April the UK Government have not released any figure relating to the number of cases who have recovered in hospital. The only other Country in the World who has followed suite (several days later) is Holland (who have only around 5.5k deaths compared to the 36k + of the UK. Again, either the UK Government can’t be arsed to collate that figure or it’s so dire that they don’t want to draw attention to it so don’t bother.**

** For comparison the USA is currently at 79% recovery/21%mortality of closed cases. France 69%/31%; Canada 87%/13%; Australia 98%/2%; Iran 93%/7%; Germany 95%/5%; China 94%/6%; Greece 89%/11%; Turkey 96%/4%; Iraq 95%/5%; and Ireland 93%/7%.

Can’t recall off top my head the actual figures for the remainder of the 20 Country sample but the remaing seven (India, Indonesia, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Brazil and Poland) are all way above 50%/50%.


  1. One example of this insufficency is a dearth of peer reviewed papers. Peer review is useful but has its downsides and, especially but not exclusively at times of paradigm shift, can be reactionary and even corrupt. We are not experiencing a paradigm shift in the science (though we may be in the early stages of one in politics) like that from Newtonian to particle physics but, as with any pandemic, including 1918, the learning curve is steep and fast as new data comes in by the hour. As a small but significant example, many of the papers I read (mostly skim-read) on false negatives and false positives in CV19 testing were “awaiting” peer review. That’s hardly surprising. At best – and as a former academic I saw how venal and ego driven this business gets – this is a flawed process. Here we’re nowhere near ‘at best’. Peer reviewers, good and bad, will be in no rush to commit to ‘blessing’ (an analogy drawn in this appraisal of peer review) papers whose conclusions draw on imperfect and incomplete data which may be eclipsed to make fools of them the next day.
  2. I’m also grateful to Dave for a link to this Inet Oxford paper on comparative death rates in England. Statisticians will look with keener eye on Z-scores, set out in these Euromomo maps and graphs. But the Inet paper looks to P-scores since “Z-score is less accessible … [it] measures excess deaths (i.e. actual minus ‘normal’ deaths) as a ratio to a standard deviation of deaths [while] P-score measures excess deaths as a ratio to ‘normal’ deaths. As death count and standard deviation of deaths are not published  at country level it is harder to interpret social and economic implications of Z-scores. P-scores accompanied by graphics .. are more salient and interpretable.”

2 Replies to “More on the CV-19 Science

  1. It seems clear that after the First Wave has killed off a million old people the ‘economy’ will open up again and the real carnage will begin by mowing down the poor, the precarious workers, the malnourished, the over stressed.
    None of this is planned of course-capitalists don’t plan but they do react, quickly and ruthlessly as opportunities present themselves. And some people mistake that for planning.

    • capitalists don’t plan but they do react, quickly and ruthlessly as opportunities present themselves

      They do, don’t they? One of a few parallels with the 2008 crash.

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