There is a priapic triumphalism emergent among the mask-wearing, virus-suppressing, lockdown-touting cognoscenti. As the weather cools down, the war on heresy is hotting up. The Lady with the Blow Lamp is now the Lady with Two Blow Lamps, one in each hand, trained not just on straw men, but also on Dr No and other doctor-outliers, covid-deniers and mask-decriers. One over-heated academic cum hack got so fired up that he dubbed the whole Sikora-Heneghan-Gupta letter writing cabal as a ‘group of fringe scientists, Conservative lobbyists, paid Republican trolls, and’ — for good measure — ‘a COVID-19 death toll falsifier’. Cripes. The less frantic  and more restrained whose cups nonetheless overfloweth sing out their alarms with a refined air of self-importance straining their bastions, like the fat lady whose corset is starting to crack open at the seams. But in their rush to certainty, they have forgotten that there is no fool so great a fool as an all-knowing fool, for only such a fool can possibly be sure that they know all there is to know about covid–19.

Despite the claims of the triumphalists, we still don’t know that lockdowns work, or masks work, or even social distancing works. They may work, but as Dr No has pointed out before, the perfectly reasonable assertion that Dr No may go to the moon, once the commercial spaceflights are underway, does not mean Dr No will go to the moon. Assertions such as the ‘data is clear‘ by the Wellcome Trust Chief Pongo Jeremy Farrar are nonsense. We know far far more than we did in March, but any suggestion that the data is clear and the evidence settled is both premature and fanciful. And yet, one of the things we do now know that we didn’t in March (though some might say we should have foreseen, though that is a perhaps a harsh judgement given the panic at the time) is the astonishingly profound, deep and long-lasting damage done by lockdown across so many realms of life, and that alone is sufficient to mean that the central, core big question of whether to pursue an ever more controlling policy — more masking, more restrictions, more lockdowns — or a more open relaxed general policy, with a heavy focus on protecting the vulnerable, remains as of now a very open question.

There are two aspects to this still very open question that Dr No believes are given insufficient consideration. The first is sustainability. A relaxed strategy is certainly more sustainable than an ever more controlling one, but that is a comparison: more to the point is whether a controlling strategy can ever be sustainable. Could it be that ever tighter controls have within them the seeds of their own failure? We have seen over the weekend how the rule of six sowed the seeds for the Trafalgar Square violence. It is of no matter whether the protesters were conspiracy theorists, or even aliens in disguise, casual law-breakers, or reasonable innocent bystanders, it is inevitable that if you rule by crackpot decree, there will be trouble ahead. The rule of six was doomed to fail even as the ink dried on the statute. The same applies to 10pm pub closures, and each and every similar control yet to come. So long as the rule making frenzy persists, the opportunities for civil unrest, and the authoratarian bullying and ugly policing that follows, will grow.

These are short term unsustainabilities. In the medium to long term, as the deeper damage to health, society and the economy begins to bite ever harder, as the cogs that make the wheels go round start to break up and fall away, we will find ourselves in a country resembling a car in a breaker’s yard. There may be a piston in the cylinder, but no con-rod to join it to the crankshaft. One of the road wheels may still spin freely, but it won’t be going anywhere any time soon. Even the horn may still honk, but its warning will be a lament of its own hopelessness, unheard outside the confines of the breaker’s yard compound.

The other aspect is quality, as opposed to quantity, of life. So far, the focus has been almost entirely on quantity, on saving lives (a quantity, lives saved, or rather deaths  postponed, as opposed to the quality of that life) and if we go down the controlling route, then the focus will remain heavily on lives saved, with perhaps a growing focus on long-covid. But there is a terrible peril here. Focusing on lives saved, and even avoiding the enduring harms of long-covid, are all about harm reduction, in sharp contrast to the more uplifting virtue of enhancing life’s quality. What does it nourish the soul to gain a year’s life, only to lose all sight of grandchildren, to never again thrill to the sound of an orchestra tuning, to never again sit round the warm heart of a friend’s dinner party table? Lives gained, yes, but souls lost; for what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain a year’s life, and yet lose his own soul?

Which is where we come to the title of this post. The controlling strategy is heavily driven by the precautionary principle: that in the face of unknown dangers, we take the path of the precautionary principle. Never mind that the principle itself is neutral — it can be used just as easily to say we should be cautions about enforcing rules before we know the measure both works, and does not cause excessive harm, and dumb — it doesn’t care one jot which way it points; it has nonetheless been high-jacked and weaponised by the precautionary principle controllers. But it is the dumb way: a mechanistic application of a precautionary logic, without a prudent balancing of all the risks.

Prudence, on the other hand, is smart. Casual definitions all but equate prudence with precaution, but a closer look at prudence, its usage and its etymology, show that it is precaution plus, with the added element being in some shape or form wisdom, sagacity or reason. The added element is not knowledge, for we are still within the unknown realms of uncertainty, but what prudence adds over precaution is the application of intelligence, discerned through reason and intuition. Intuition here is not another word for the hidden prejudice that all too often hides behind precaution principle,  but rather a sixth sense based accumulated experience over time, that systematically biases in favour of a good result. It is intuition that helps the better surgeon to decide when to operate, just as it is intuition that helps the better sailor to know when to tack, and when to stand on. It is prudence, rather than precaution, that will guide us to both lives saved, or rather deaths postponed, and just as, if not more, importantly, avoid us from destroying souls along the way.

In Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four, Winston Smith’ object is not to stay alive, but to stay human. In the end, he fails, and Big Brother wins, and the jackboot descends — forever. We must be very wary that we don’t, by over-embracing the precautionary principle, and ignoring prudence, recklessly thrust ourselves into the same dreadful fate.

This article has 14 comments

  1. Thomas Pelham Reply

    I’m not quite sure why everyone is so triumphant about this ‘second wave’ on the lockdown side of things. Not least because it, thus far, doesn’t disprove or prove anything claimed by the more sensible of the ‘anti-lockdowners’, such as
    1) The waning of COVID over the spring could easily have been to do with seasonal behavior an physiological changes more than government edicts, this would lead to a natural resurgence in autumn.
    2) The natural HIT is likely lower than the 66% required by vaccination, possibly as low as 20-40% – most of the new ‘wave’ of cases are in areas which didn’t get anywhere near those numbers. Until those numbers are reached, the epidemic will grow.
    3) Masks are unlikely to have any serious effect in practical use.
    4) Even if lockdowns do work, all they do is delay cases, they don’t save a single life, unless maintained until there is a cure/vaccine. As that could easily never happen, or at best be 1-2 years away, Boris is being highly misleading claiming that this will only be another 6 months. How much more lockdown can we take? Another year? What are the other costs there? Do they literally not matter to the lockdown proponents?
    5) Even if lockdowns do work, there is a general rule in medicine that interventions must be consented to.

  2. dr-no Reply

    Thomas – All good points with which Dr No agrees. He hasn’t really covered the last one but it is a very important one, as the over-ruling of the need for consent is a long way down the slippery slope.

    Dr No knows perfectly sane people who fear the government will make vaccination mandatory, with no consent requirement. Unless the British medical profession has already done, or is about to do, what the German doctors did under the Nazis, make their first concern the welfare of the state rather than their patient (a very extreme example of putting ‘public health’ first), then this seems unlikely, at least as done in the name of the medical profession. Whether the government would consider tooling up an army of non-medical volunteer vaccine marshals with vaccination guns is an unknown.

    What we do know is the state already has considerable powers to order, under penalty of punishment, a whole raft of measures requirements and behaviours, ranging from the more recent rule of six restrictions and self-isolation requirements, to the early powers granted by the Coronavirus Act 2020 and the earlier Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984. The essential thing to be on watch for here is creep, getting to an extreme position by a series of small incremental steps.

    The question of consent to lockdown is an interesting one (assuming it is a valid one – maybe if a government orders, then consent isn’t required, but the normal checks and balances – proportionality etc – should apply). It will be recalled that early on, there was widespread though by no means universal approval for and compliance with the lockdown among many of the public (which has since waned somewhat, but it it still there), and so it could sort of be said there was implied consent, except for one big but: consent has to be informed consent, and it can be argued that the covid project fear so inflamed fear among they public they could no longer give informed/rational consent, and furthermore they were not warned of the possible, no certain, harmful effects of lockdown – so again, not informed consent.

  3. dearieme Reply

    “the precautionary principle: … the principle itself is neutral”

    Oh no. The key point is that there is no precautionary principle, be it neutral, negative or positive. The very idea of one is internally inconsistent, or as the man in the pub might say, it’s bollocks. Even to adopt the “Precautionary Principle” is to violate it.

    I compare it to an other great nonsense of modern life “Human Rights”. There are no such things. Man is a social animal, so his rights stem from the society of which he is part. So do many of his duties. Call them civil rights, civil duties if you like, but abandon any notion that he has these right, or duties, merely on the grounds of being human. But if you are not prepared to abandon them – demonstrate them. You can’t. A thousand years of philosophy has failed, as long as you accept that assertion isn’t demonstration.

    It’s best to discard such silly superstitions.

  4. dearieme Reply

    “It’s best to discard such silly superstitions.” That, by the way, is not a claim to certainty, it’s merely a suggestion of what, in my estimation, would be a sensible way to proceed.

  5. dr-no Reply

    dearieme – Interesting point about “Human Rights”, in that the only exist in the context of other people, and so if the day should come on earth with the last one man standing, they would have no meaning, and so better to see them in the context of other people, and so (civil) society.

    Agree of course that the precautionary principle is a nonsense, and in practise is a weathercock blown this way and that. One of the more trying things doctors have to manage is the patient sent to see them ‘as a precaution’ by some well meaning busy-body when the patient has no more need of a doctor than Dr No has of an baseball coach. The trouble is the modern culture of safetyism and then the events of covid have given the precautionary principle a new life in the eyes of too many and so this attempt to point out its flaws. Previous posts have covered similar ground – a search for ‘precaution’ should get most of them.

  6. dearieme Reply

    “they only exist in the context of other people”: no, they don’t exist at all in any philosophical sense. They were a concoction of Canon Law in the Middle Ages – i.e. mere assertion – eventually taken up at the Reformation and again at the Enlightenment, before becoming a nice little earner in the 20th and 21st century. You could argue that they are a tool for forcing the values of Christendom on other cultures, but there’s nowt “human” about them. Great civilisations rose and fell with not the slightest regard for this clerical confection, but they all had established civil rights and civil duties.

  7. Tish Farrell Reply

    I happened on a YouTube video yesterday (Italian posting) in which Kary Mullis describes what his PCR test can and cannot do. He specifically says it cannot be used to determine if anyone is ill with a virus. He said the same mistake was made in attempts to determine AIDS cases. I wish he hadn’t died last year!

  8. dr-no Reply

    Tish – do you have a link and possibly a time in the video when he says that? I have been able to find a number of videos but none that has him say PCR should not be used for diagnosis. The source of the ‘quote’ so far as I can see is in fact an interpretation and extension of hearsay [emphasis added]:

    “Kary Mullis, who won the Nobel Prize in Science for inventing the PCR, is thoroughly convinced that HIV is not the cause of “AIDS”. With regard to the viral load tests, which attempt to use PCR for counting viruses, Mullis has stated: “Quantitative PCR is an oxymoron.” PCR is intended to identify substances qualitatively, but by its very nature is unsuited for estimating numbers. Although there is a common misimpression that the viral load tests actually count the number of viruses in the blood, these tests cannot detect free, infectious viruses at all; they can only detect proteins that are believed, in some cases wrongly, to be unique to HIV. The tests can detect genetic sequences of viruses, but not viruses themselves.”

    This comes from John Lauritsen writing about HIV/AIDS in 1996 and the url rather tells us where he’s coming from.

    All that said, I still remain very sceptical about the validity of the PCR test which is becoming increasingly entrenched as the de facto way of ‘diagnosing’ covid-19 disease.

  9. dr-no Reply

    Tish – Thanks. I do hope you didn’t read the request as a sort of stand and deliver request!

    That video did appear in my searches but I didn’t recognise it as Mullis! Although the subtitles are Italian, he’s speaking in English (American), the discussion is about PCR tests and HIV/AIDS, and the most unequivocal bit starts around 3:35 (where it appears in context, it’s also in the pre-credits intro). Transcript:

    “[PCR] is just a process that’s used to make a whole lot of something out of something. That’s all it is. It doesn’t tell you that you’re sick, it doesn’t tell you that the thing you’ve ended up with was really going to hurt you, or anything like that.”

    Same with some added emphasis and [notes]:

    “PCR is just a process that’s used to make a whole lot of something out of something. That’s all it is. [If that is all it is, then it is not a diagnostic test] It doesn’t tell you that you’re sick, it doesn’t tell you that the thing you’ve ended up with was really going to hurt you [ie it is analogous to an incidentaloma, and gets nowhere near meeting Koch type requirements for a causative agent], or anything like that.”

    That he is talking about PCR and HIV is a red herring, because what he is in fact talking about is PCR tests and viral disease, with HIV the coat peg on that occasion (and the sub caveat that it seems that at that time he didn’t believe HIV caused AIDS). The only other two linked caveats are:

    (1) all versions of that video that I have managed to find have been posted in the last month – a bit ominous. A dubbed video is not impossible these days… It would be good to find a pre-2020 version.

    (2) there is no source ie when/where the video was taken. Looks authentic, but then it would, wouldn’t it. Knowing when/where he said it might provide another way of verifying it.

    As things stand, seems pretty conclusive evidence that he did say don’t use PCR for diagnostic testing, or rather words to that effect.

  10. dearieme Reply

    Another example?

    Richard J. Ablin, PhD, DSc (Hon), who first discovered prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in 1970.

    At the time, Dr. Ablin and colleagues were trying to identify an antigen that was specific to prostate cancer. What Dr. Ablin identified instead was that PSA was present not only in malignant prostates but also in benign prostates. He did agree, however, that elevated levels of PSA might be useful in predicting a recurrence of prostate cancer in men who were thought to be in remission.

    It was much to Dr. Ablin’s dismay that more than 2 decades later, in the mid-1990s, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of PSA not only to test for recurrence of cancer, but also as a possible predictor of cancer. Since then, Dr. Ablin maintains, the United States spends billions each year administering a preventive prostate cancer screening test to men, using PSA, that produces false positives in the majority of cases. In his interview with Dr. Topol, Dr. Ablin explains why physicians and patients should proceed with caution when using PSA as a marker for preventive screening.

  11. Tish Farrell Reply

    Felt in no way coerced, Dr. No.
    Btw have you seen MP Tobias Ellwood in Parliament this week. He has a plan to bring in the army to provide us with an efficient mass vaccination facility, and those who do not agree to be vaccinated will have to continue to be social distanced and not allowed to travel.

    He envisages vaccine passports. The way he pronounces the word ‘vaccine’ is noteworthy. See the twitter feed on the left hand side of his parliamentary page; scroll down to National (Voluntary) Vaccine Programme:

  12. dr-no Reply

    dearieme – yes, PSA is a test that has been widely misunderstood, and has condemned many an innocent man to a one way ticket on the Great Trans Siberian Prostate Train Crash Express.

    Tish – glad to hear it! I have also managed to track down a pre-2020 posting on the Mullis video, posted in Mar 2017, and it also gives the location and date (those who were around at the time will recognise the dress code and hair styles): Santa Monica, CA 07/12/1997. The other participants are also listed (Sean Current, Paul Philpott, & Christine Maggiore) and clip is a much longer video. Link (the relevant bit is right at the end, about 51:40):

    Interestingly, this does not appear in goole/youtube searches – censored? I had to use to find it.

    Vaccine passports are yet another nightmare, both in their own right (ethics. exclusion etc) and because of their links to dodgy testing. It was something I had on the list of things to look into, so thanks for the tip off and link.

  13. Tish Farrell Reply

    Dr. No, excellent that you found the earlier video. I forwarded that link to the current thread on Dr. Kendrick where someone had posted the Italian clip.

    In relation to WHO pandemic preparedness/vaccine etc, have you seen the report of their Global Preparedness Monitoring Group report for September LAST year. Its visual presentation could be a ‘blueprint’ for the current situation. Page 30 noteworthy; also small print paras on p.10. Interesting line-up on the board:

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