For some time, Dr No has been moving, or perhaps driven, to a determination — he uses the word with at least two of its meanings — that the only sensible considered response to covid–19 is to treat it as just another seasonal flu like illness. He knows full well that some will be of like mind, but that many — they know who they are — will react violently, in some cases with extreme violence, to any such suggestion. Dr No is a heretic! Burning at the stake is too lenient a punishment for heresy! Let him be hung, drawn and quartered, and his eviscerated staked body be displayed as a grim reminder to those who contemplate such heinous heresy! So it behoves Dr No to explain how he came to this determination.
So incensed was Dr No on coming across a nonsense paper in the BMJ yesterday that he uncharacteristically dashed off a tweet denouncing the paper as ‘more nonsense from the milk curdler‘. The trouble with twitter — and the reason Dr No generally avoids it for primary communications — is that a tweet is limited, to 280 characters to be precise, and one image, and so almost always bars reasoned argument. If reasoned argument is akin to steady breathing, then a tweet is akin to a multiphase turbulent gas cloud, as sneezes are now known among the cognoscenti. Such esoteric language leaves one wondering whether the humble naked fart is also a multiphase turbulent gas cloud among the cognoscenti — it seems entirely possible, along with the silent but deadly multiphase turbulent gas cloud — but for today’s purposes we shall adopt the Yorshire way, and call a sneeze a sneeze, for it is the study of sneezes that is the bedrock — or rather quicksand — that underlies the nonsense paper.
If listening to Martha Kearney on the Today programme is like watching the mould grow on your breakfast yoghurt, then hearing Hatt Mancock’s hosannas for mass covid testing on an industrial scale on the same programme last week was enough to cause Dr No’s yoghurt pot to explode, with deleterious consequences for the immediate environment. Maybe, but only maybe because there are significant unanswered conduct, consent and compulsion questions, the epidemiologist (lower case e) in Dr No can see the attraction, but the Individual (upper case I) in Dr No countered and then drowned the appeal by screaming privacy, Privacy, PRIVACY! Why? Because, while the surveillance programme might have a faint blue NHS logo tacked loosely somewhere on the threshold, the machinery inside is almost entirely privatised.
Once upon a time, in a country not so far away, a new terror seized the land. Invisible and undetected, a new respiratory virus had entered the country, and spread silently. It was wintertime, and at first no one noticed anything out of the ordinary, because in winter the people expected coughs and colds, and for the unlucky few, ‘flu and even untimely death. Then the rumours started, of a novel mutant oriental virus escaping (the conspiracy theorists went further, and said it was deliberately released, most likely by Bill Gates) into the wild, of health services in other counties collapsing, and, in time, of excess deaths at home. Behind the scenes, the ministers in the high majority low wit government started bed wetting on an industrial scale, but in public they maintained it was business as normal.
Twitter continues to suppress Dr No’s tweets. Yesterday’s tweet announcing a post about the perils of mathematical modelling had garnered a desultory 62 impressions by this morning, compared to several hundred impressions for typical similar tweets a couple of months ago. Dr No had already been minded to take a two week or so summer break from posting and tweeting — what could possibly happen over the silly season — and the recent twitter suppression has strengthened his resolve, so two weeks or so of no tweets or posts to allow things to settle, and then a discrete restart, with a watchful eye on twitter behaviour.
A lot hinges on mathematical modelling these days — lockdowns and climate change being two extreme examples — yet Dr No suspects, based on a recent chat with an arts degree educated contemporary friend of his, that those without a scientific background are not always entirely sure what modelling is (Dr No uses modelling in this post to mean mathematical modelling, not modelling Airfix battleships or balsawood planes), and so end up either being led by the science, like a bull led by the ring in his nose, however preposterous the so-called science, or alternatively end up decrying the whole bally lot as humbug, and no better than lies, damned lies and statistics. This post is an attempt to make modelling clearer — what it is, and is not — to those without a science background, and to provide a sound reason why we should all treat predictive modelling with extreme caution.
In the same old very flogged very dead horse language, we now have yet another game changer in the fight against covid–19. Quite how a fight against a pandemic came to be a game passed Dr No by, unless it has something to do with the MP for Newmarket, Hatt Mancock, being partial to a flutter on the horses, and the chief pongo for the time being at NHS Test and TitsUp, Dido Make-me-a-Cherry Harding, also having a bit of thing for the horses. In any event, according to a DHSC press release, millions of oven ready DIY swab-to-smartphone 90 minute covid–19 tests are to be made available over the next few months, allowing widespread community covid–19 testing on an unprecedented scale. As the modern idiom has it, what’s not to like?