Can We Now Stop Death?
2020 has granted us all superpowers
The third month of 2020 came with a friendly governmental FYI: “your actions, good citizen, can either stop death, or cause death. ‘Stay home’ to save lives; ‘go out’ and kill people.” We froze in our places, shocked at our newfound power. New systems were implemented; kids were set in front of sanitized screens in place of classrooms; alarms were set for 4 a.m. to reserve grocery delivery timeslots to avoid contaminating the store aisles with our breath. “Whatever it takes. At all costs, we will not promote death.” Very few dissenters emerged; instantaneously-formed natural community-watch groups policed them. Anyone who did not take “the safety of thy neighbor” seriously enough (as revealed by any hint of dissatisfaction with the suspension of the Constitution) was identified, labeled, shamed, and ostracized. Easy-peasy, just like the British government envisoned it.
But did those few dissenters really not care about death? Or did they simply not believe in our newfound adherence to the maxim “perfect behavior can stop death”? This premise has never even been proposed — let alone accepted — before. In 2020, its universal invasion of minds has made infectious disease into an operational roadblock for every institution and business, public or private, in this country. Every organization must now prioritize “stopping death” — because that is now considered to be possible — via avoiding all infections of a respiratory virus over serving its function, no matter how important that function is (witness: education).
One has to wonder, how did this come about? Why weren’t we behaving this way before, when seasonal influenza is known to kill up to 650,000 people globally every single year? Why didn’t anyone ever care about saving all of those millions of people? If we really can stop infections, we murdered all of them!
Fortunately for our collective conscience, none of our pre-COVID public health guidelines so much as suggests that human behavior can eliminate infections as necessary to stop deaths. We have always understood that we have limited control over invisible biological agents, which is why we do not opt to incur the gigantic costs of “lockdowns” and similar: we realize the effort to save every life, while noble, is unfortunately futile. We cannot stop death, so we accept it, and balance it with many other human interests. We know that pandemics causing upwards of 2 million deaths can and do occur, yet our CDC does not EVER recommend isolating healthy people outside of the household of the sick, closing “nonessential” businesses, or closing schools for longer than 12 weeks.
So why did we adopt all of these extreme, harmful, and deadly measures in 2020 for COVID19, a pandemic that has not even caused statistically significant excess deaths in nations with short lockdowns and no lockdowns. Why did we depart so completely from our regulations? Did new science develop? I can’t find any. All pre-COVID epidemiological and public health literature unanimously acknowledges that it is impossible to stop infectious diseases with isolation and quarantine:
“There are no historical observations or scientific studies that support the confinement by quarantine of groups of possibly infected people for extended periods in order to slow the spread of influenza. A World Health Organization (WHO) Writing Group, after reviewing the literature and considering contemporary international experience, concluded that “forced isolation and quarantine are ineffective and impractical.”
“It is hard to imagine that measures like those within the category of social distancing would not have some positive impact by reducing transmission of a human respiratory infection spreading from human to human via droplets and indirect contact. However, the evidence base supporting each individual measure is often weak.”
“Quarantine. As experience shows, there is no basis for recommending quarantine either of groups or individuals. The problems in implementing such measures are formidable, and secondary effects of absenteeism and community disruption as well as possible adverse consequences, such as loss of public trust in government and stigmatization of quarantined people and groups, are likely to be considerable.”
Even the Washington Post, reporting in January on China’s stringent COVID19 quarantine, acknowledged that this complete departure from public health advice was “all for show”:
“The truth is those kinds of lockdowns are very rare and never effective,” said Lawrence O. Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University.
“They’re doing it because people who are in political leadership always think that if you do something dramatic and visible that you’ll gain popular support,” Gostin said. “They couldn’t have any sound public health advice.”
There you have it — governments do this to become more popular. They are faced with a public completely believing that governments can stop death, which puts them in the position of needing to make a big show of taking that power seriously. Otherwise they will be considered murderers.
We, as members of the public, must question our sudden acceptance of the idea that “the power to stop death is held by humans.”
Longstanding practical experience demonstrates that no matter what humans do, nature can always find a way — especially viruses. Case in point: in 1969, a group of twelve men overwintered in Antarctica. During the seventeenth week of perfect quarantine in complete isolation, one of them suddenly developed an upper respiratory tract infection described as “a mild to moderately severe cold.” Over the next two weeks, seven more men contracted the infection. This strange case was was studied and the results published in a British medical journal:
“The occurrence of a common cold during isolation, when the chances of introduction of a new infection from the outside are virtually nil, implies that in some way the virus persisted, either in the environment or in the men.”
Astounding! We KNOW! We have RESEARCH! Demonstrating! That even the most unsullied quarantine in an extraordinarily hostile (-35C) environment cannot protect humans from coronaviruses. With outcomes like this, one would assume that every single human would accept his lack of perfect control over invisible biological agents, and refuse to order his brethren to wear flimsy pieces of paper over their faces to “protect others.” When even a 17-week Antarctic quarantine cannot do the job of stopping viruses, clearly isolating all children inside a six-foot bubble is counterproductive and silly.
There’s also the small fact that our public health guidelines unequivocally state that non-pharmaceutical interventions (“NPIs”) such as social distancing and masks do not work once a disease has infected over 1% of the population in a geographic area.
But still, we persist. “We can beat viruses,” we tell ourselves, because in 2020, the media helps us to believe we have superpowers. And “the experts” told us we could.
Neil Ferguson, “Imperial” Fraudster Extraordinaire
The first “we can stop death!” seed was planted by Imperial College London modeler Neil Ferguson, whose name shall live in infamy. Prior to tricking us with his unreviewed COVID paper in March 2020, he made several other very entertaining predictions:
- 2001: predicted 150,000 deaths from foot-and-mouth disease, resulting in the mass culling of eleven million sheep and cattle. Reality: fewer than 200 deaths.
- 2002: predicted 50,000 people would die from exposure to BSE (mad cow disease) in beef. Reality: 177 deaths.
- 2005: predicted 150 million deaths from bird flu. Reality: 282 people died worldwide over a period of six years.
- 2009: predicted swine flu would kill 65,000 Britons. Reality: 457 deaths in the U.K.
This colorful history was not exactly reported by the mainstream media when it blasted Ferguson’s COVID19 predictions to high heaven as gospel truth in March 2020. His paper, linked below, was not even peer-reviewed (although Nobel Laureate Michael Levitt tried to review it) when he sold his ideas to the White House and the U.K. Parliament.
Perhaps Ferguson never believed the world’s most powerful governments would take his predictions seriously. The world had not acted on his past predictions, so maybe he expected more of the same. This time, however, the media — breathlessly reporting on hospital overflow in Northern Italy; bolstered by fear-driven groupthink on social media —had created the perfect environment for his paper to flourish. Whether by some powerful design or unintentionally, all humanity grasped at Ferguson’s recommendations like a lifeline. COVID would kill 2.2 million Americans and 500,000 Britons, we were told, unless we adopted Ferguson’s new type of NPI called “suppression.” If we did that, we could cut the death toll in half.
WE COULD STOP DEATH! We got this message. (Thanks, media). Unfortunately, all of the nuances got lost. Here are some excerpts from Ferguson’s paper, which no one ever read:
“We therefore conclude that epidemic suppression is the only viable strategy at the current time. The social and economic effects of the measures which are needed to achieve this policy goal will be profound . . . we emphasize that is not at all certain that suppression will succeed long term; no public health intervention with such disruptive effects on society has been previously attempted for such a long duration of time. How populations and societies will respond remains unclear.”
Ferguson acknowledged a major drawback to “suppression,” which was never mentioned in the media. He said this policy very likely could not be maintained long enough for a vaccine to be developed. When suppression is lifted, ALL INFECTIONS RETURN. Therefore, a few months of lockdown result in the following net effect: an epidemic identical in size but longer in duration, with the added bonus of severe social and economic costs, plus a lengthier quarantine for vulnerable groups. Sounds great!
“Once interventions are relaxed, infections begin to rise, resulting in a predicted peak epidemic later in the year. The more successful a strategy is at temporary suppression, the larger the later epidemic is predicted to be in the absence of vaccination, due to lesser build-up of herd immunity.”
It almost feels like the media and government misrepresented lockdown! Public sentiment is that lockdowns “save lives” (stop deaths). If we impose them earlier, we save even more lives. Yet the paper generating the entire idea of lockdown invalidates that idea entirely.
To the calm (rational) mind, it is clear that “suppression” is a set of “brakes” that should only be imposed to the minimum extent necessary to manage hospital capacity. Any “extra” suppression just saves infections for later — when you may or may not have a vaccine or improved treatment — at extraordinary cost. To scared (irrational) people, however, suppression provides at least some “hope” of avoiding a horrific early death. You cannot blame terrified people for their feelings, but you can and should blame the media and government for misrepresenting personal risk during a pandemic. No cost is too high to keep open the possibility of staying alive. People focused on that will not comprehend any second- or third-tier consequences of their self-preservation efforts.
Within a week, Ferguson revised his “doom and gloom” COVID19 prediction significantly downward, but by then, the damage had already been already done. Terrified families stockpiled quantities of toilet paper sufficient to gift-wrap cruise ships, indicating an intention to shelter at home until kingdom come. They begged their “savior” governors to restrict all movement of their neighbors, nodded their heads compliantly to the suspension of the Constitution, and devoted their spare energies to creating apps to snitch on former friends.
This is what scared people will predictably do. Interests that benefit from public fear know this.
Sweden To The Rescue!
One brave nation failed to cave into worldwide peer pressure to “spare no expense” in effort to “stop” COVID19: Sweden, our control group. It stayed open, sticking with the time-tested epidemic-management strategies labeled “mitigation” by Ferguson and decried as “insufficiently aggressive” for COVID in his paper. While media disingenuously claimed that Sweden was “conducting an experiment on the Swedish people,” Sweden was the only one not participating in a live experiment.
(Bad guys love to claim the good guys are doing what they are actually doing. You can usually find the good guys by looking at who is standing alone.)
Sweden held firm, and the media panicked. A control group is a very good thing if you care about valid science, but it is very much NOT a good thing when you are trying to HIDE science. The press smeared Sweden left, right, and center, seven days a week, four weeks a month, and continues to do so to this day. It knows — and is desperate for you not to notice — that Sweden’s results prove irrefutably that Ferguson’s lockdown variable was bogus. Ferguson’s model predicted 96,000 deaths for Sweden by June absent implementation of full “suppression.” Sweden opted out. Using its own approach, it experienced ~4,000 deaths by June instead, beating the model by a factor of 24. Under interrogation, Ferguson personally admitted that Sweden achieved no worse results with its mitigation strategy than those of the countries who followed his “suppression” recommendation.
There ends the “suppression” experiment. Mitigation works just as well, and is far less costly. The end.
Nation after nation is declaring as much: no further lockdowns for Spain, Norway, France, or Belgium. [Originally ran in October.] Analysts feel the same. This sound conclusion is bolstered by the fact that Sweden experienced only 1,100 more deaths during weeks 1–25 of 2020 than it did during the same weeks of 2018. Many areas with draconian lockdowns did much worse: New Jersey’s 2020 excess deaths are currently 14 times higher than Sweden’s, and Michigan’s are seven times higher. There is absolutely no correlation between length of lockdown, timing of lockdown, mobility of population, and COVID19 outcome. There can be no causation without correlation. Sweden made the best choice, courageously facing this new disease head-on, heroically avoiding all lockdown deaths.
Superstition in the Pigeon.
There is no correlation between lockdown measures deployed and disease outcome because we are witnessing natural disease progression. Flu does not move in a purely predictable pattern, it is always more severe in one country or city than it is in the next. Attributing these outcomes to human agency — fewer infections means “we did good,” many infections means “we did bad” — is tantamount to attributing the sunrise to an effective sun dance. This is a reversion to superstition and mythology, a descent back into darkness. All other epidemics in history went away without “suppression” and universal mask usage. We never before believed politicians had the power to “save us from death,” possibly because they never had the hubris to claim power over obvious truisms like “my mother is not expendable, your mother is not expendable.” Once we believe our governors can save our mothers, we accept each and every authoritarian policy they say they “need” to deploy to do that.
Authoritarian policies never made anyone better off. If we really care about saving lives, we can do that by realizing we should not be giving politicians credit for natural outcomes. They know we like to attribute agency to natural phenomenons: this evolutionary mechanism once helped us survive a dangerous world, and it is still easily exploited. Diseases always eventually go away, so politicians who “take them seriously” are assured of a day when they will be able to declare: “We defeated this together! Go team!” Don’t fall for it. You will be Skinner’s superstitious pigeon.
“A pigeon is … put into an experimental cage for a few minutes each day. A food hopper attached to the cage may be swung into place so that the pigeon can eat from it. A solenoid and a timing relay hold the hopper in place for five seconds at each reinforcement. If a clock is now arranged to present the food hopper at regular intervals with no reference whatsoever to the bird’s behavior, operant conditioning usually takes place.” The bird tends to learn whatever response it is making when the hopper appears. The response may be extinguished and reconditioned. “The experiment might be said to demonstrate a sort of superstition. The bird behaves as if there were a causal relation between its behavior and the presentation of food, although such a relation is lacking.” (PsycINFO Database Record © 2016 APA, all rights reserved)
There is no causal relationship between the lockdown policy of any politician of any party and disease outcome. Strong lockdowns often led to worse results than no lockdowns. Looking at the “good outcomes” of New Zealand or Japan and saying they worked, while refusing to acknowledge that Michigan had a stricter lockdown and a much worse result, is like flapping your left wing while hopping on your right, little pigeon.
The Need to be Popular Leads to Biased Action
For comfort in time of pandemic, perhaps we should NOT look to the advice of politicians eager to be reelected. They give us obsessive cleansing, manic mask-wearing, closed schools, and closed parks —things that are not very reassuring. Perhaps we should look instead to the advice of people who are not trying to be more popular — they are incurring personal cost, so they may actually care about humanity’s wellbeing.
The revered preacher in Albert Camus’s 1948 novel “The Plague” had nothing to gain by exposing himself to huge gatherings during the Marseille bubonic plague. Yet he did. He reassured his quarantined congregants by instructing them to refuse to let a “natural dread of suffering rank highest in [your] conduct.”
He reminded his hearers how, toward the close of the epidemic, the Bishop, having done all that it behooved him, shut himself up in his palace, behind high walls, after laying in a stock of food and drink. With a sudden revulsion of feeling, such as often comes in times of extreme tribulation, the inhabitants of Marseille, who had idolized him hitherto, now turned against him, piled up corpses round his house in order to infect it, and even flung bodies over the walls to make sure of his death. Thus in a moment of weakness the Bishop had proposed to isolate himself from the outside world — and, lo and beyond, corpses rained down on his head! This had a lesson for us all; we must convince ourselves that there is no island of escape in time of plague. No, there was no middle course. We must accept the dilemma and choose either to hate God or to love God. And who would dare to choose to hate him? —Albert Camus, The Plague (Vintage Int’l, p. 227–28).
“There is no island of escape.” And it will be okay.
We are faced with a virus with a 997 out of 1000 survival rate. We have done harder things before. We can only be free of this plague by remembering something we have always known: neither we, nor our favorite politicians, have control over death.