It is now almost a year since the British government decided we couldn’t be trusted to look after ourselves. Instead, we need an avalanche of draconian regulations to protect us from our selves, and such is the zeal with which the government has applied these regulations, that we now have hundreds, or thousands if you count the individual clauses, of these intrusive rules that interfere with our normal behaviour. The nation that only eighteen months ago sang Britons never never shall be slaves at the Last Night of the Proms rapidly and voluntarily enslaved itself to these draconian regulations. Even now, over 75% of people polled want social distancing measures, including masks and the two metre rule, to remain in place until at least Autumn 2021. In another poll, over 50% of those polled said they would miss some aspects of lockdown when it is over. Perhaps most bizarrely of all, almost half of those polled think they look as good as, or better, wearing a mask, than they look when not wearing one. In contrast, in Germany, a land once described as a nation of automatons led by a lunatic who looks like a clown, 60% of people polled think that their lockdown should be eased. Today, it is the Germans, and indeed many other European nations, who refuse to be slaves, while we have become the nation of automatons led by a lunatic who looks like a clown.

Most amazingly of all, none of the major non-pharmaceutical interventions — lockdowns, mandatory masks and mass testing — have any incontrovertible evidence that they work. Absence of evidence is of course not the same as evidence of absence, but equally importantly, neither is it the same as evidence of presence. The “obvs, innit” brigade deserve their honorary membership of the Flat Earth Society, and the post hoc proponents need to be reminded that post hoc works just as well to prove astrology works. Instead, we all need to remember that what slender circumstantial evidence there is, which can be summarised as the repeated finding that shape of the epidemic curve remains pretty constant regardless of the laxity or severity of the measures imposed — tends to point in the direction of no effect. This is not a disguised post hoc argument, because there is no within country B that follows A; instead, the observations are contemporaneous between country comparisons, where B happens even in the absence of A; more post hoc ergo noctor cock than post hoc ergo propter hoc

At the same time, unproven but plausible arguments can be made that the non-pharmaceutical interventions have harmful effects. Many of these arguments rely on post hoc reasoning, and so in all fairness we should dismiss them, though it does strain credulity to say lockdowns have not caused economic damage, or social and personal distress. There is even a possibility, again, unproven but plausible, and well argued here, that lockdowns may even give the virus a leg up, by inadvertently selecting more transmissible strains. Paradoxically, by creating an environment where the virus struggles to spread, only the fittest, that is to say most transmissible, strains can spread and so survive, and so in time lockdowns, masking and social distancing all defeat the very purpose of their introduction.       

Even the gloating over the success of vaccination is premature, given that saturation vaccination of those aged 80 and over, who only make up around five percent of the population, only reached levels of fifty percent and over in mid January. Allowing say three weeks of lag for immunity to appear, and then a further three infection to death weeks, the earliest we can expect to see any effect from vaccination is about now. The mid January peak in deaths, and subsequent steep decline, cannot be attributed to the vaccine. On the other side of the coin, although we already have millions of person-years of exposure to the coronavirus vaccines, the rude fact remains that we have only three months experience of routine clinical use of the vaccine, and so cannot yet know — unless a modern day Uri Geller has worked out how to bend time’s arrow — the medium to long term effectiveness or side-effects of the vaccines. They may work, they may not; they may have long term side effects, they may not; we simply don’t know. This is not, of course, an argument to stop the roll out of the vaccines, because their benefits may well turn out to outweigh their harms, but it is an argument for proper informed consent, including an expression that the vaccines are to all intents and purposes still experimental, and it is an argument to respect, without let or hindrance, the decisions of those who decide, as they are entitled to decide, that an experiment treatment is not of their choice.             

The bottom line is that a year into the pandemic, we know quite a lot about the natural history and epidemiology of the disease, but remarkably little about its control, detection and treatment. We don’t know whether the non-pharmaceutical interventions work or not. We have in the main two lines of testing, and both are flawed, with one being too sensitive, and the other not sensitive enough, and we have no idea whether mass testing produces a net benefit, or a net harm. We have found some treatments that improve survival in serious disease, but we are nowhere nearer a cure today than we were a year ago. We hope, but don’t know, that the vaccine will turn out to be both safe and effective; and so must be patient until we get the answer.

The title, and image, for this post comes from But What If the People Are Stupid, episode 4 of Adam Curtis’s Can’t Get You Out of My Head, which Dr No continues to drink in like champagne, on the basis that both make one feel one knows more about things than one really does. At about 14m30s in, Curtis narrates how Wei Jingsheng, a charismatic anti-Deng Xiaoping rebel in China, started putting up posters declaring “We want no more gods or emperors or saviours of any kind. We want to be our own masters. Everything that is happening now is just a new-fangled lie. Deng is just a new fascist dictator.” This may not be an exact translation, but it sure set Dr No thinking: perhaps he, and others who think like him, have more in common with a 1978 Chinese human rights activist, than we do with our current government of today.  


  1. Devonshire Dozer Reply

    Another excellent piece that resonates exceedingly well here. I have been trying to get my head around the distinction between ‘corruption’ and ‘right-mindedness’ in several contexts. For example, it’s pretty clear that we are being herded towards vaccine passports in order to travel – in other words, compulsory injections for practical purposes. I do not want to be injected with anything covid related at present, but I do want to travel – at some point.

    There must be a proportion of medical practitioners who feel the same. In their case, if two like minded medics were known to one another, each could claim to have administered a jab to the other & also do whatever is necessary to get the database or passport record entry updated accordingly, leaving both free to go. I would applaud that. Indeed, I’d happily pay for the same (non)treatment. Is that corruption or a blow for independent judgement & freedom?

    The problem for an outsider is; “how to connect with that right-minded medical person”? Maybe via some other network, like the local mosque or a masonic lodge. Certainly not my local GP – they seem to have bought into this racket with some enthusiasm. Masks, distancing & an absolute refusal to support those actions with any form of real scientific justification. They just trot out the usual mantras – following orders to the letter. They’d probably dob me in to the local Stasi just for raising it.

    I’ve said before – I am increasingly reminded of my own experiences & observations when travelling behind the iron curtain forty years ago. And of conversations with my late father-in-law about his experiences as a regular visitor to Germany in the 1930s. Maybe that’s the answer – I should be looking to Eastern Europe where some people will still have first hand memories of those days & act appropriately. But I can’t go there . . .

  2. Nigella P Reply

    Excellent observations. The trouble is there seems so little room for this kind of discussion at the moment. The frothers at either end of the debate make all the noise and you end up with the rabid lockdowners/zero Coviders and the rabid Covid deniers drowning out all the considered thoughts or questions.

    You have to wonder where did critical thinking go? The media emotionalise absolutely everything, so people and thus their views become either heroes/heroic or villains/demonic and so you arrive at ‘belief’ and challenging that the becomes nearly impossible!

    I’m not a scientist but I read modern European history and politics and my area of special interest was the rise of the European totalitarian regimes. There are undoubtedly interesting parallels with what is happening today in so called ‘free’ democracies. I hope that this interlude will be just that, a horrible interlude, and will fuel the final year thesis of many a student for years to come.

  3. Tom Welsh Reply

    “… Germany, a land once described as a nation of automatons led by a lunatic who looks like a clown…”

    I appreciate that this is a unattributed quotation of what someone else once said. But it’s pure, and very nasty, propaganda.

    The Germans and Japanese against whom our countries fought in WW2 were mostly guilty of naivete. As the old saying goes, “You ****ed up; you trusted us”. They believed that they, like the British, French and Americans, had become members of the exclusive club of “advanced”, highly civilised nations that were entitled to rampage across the world taking whatever they liked and killing anyone who objected.

    Theodore Roosevelt actually stated this publicly in the dying years of the 19th century when he said that he considered the Japanese to be “honorary Aryans”. Unfortunately for the Japanese, they allowed themselves to be flattered by such praise into believing that Americans deemed them equals. Then, when they followed through by trying to create their own (local) empire, they got squashed flat.

    The Germans were treated still worse. As early as the 1880s, American and British leaders became apprehensive of Germany’s rapid advances in science, industry and, of course, military power. So they deliberately set up WW1 as a way of crushing the aspirant power. So thoroughly did they succeed that many Germans were dead set on revenge; hence the Nazi phenomenon.

    Hitler was by no means a lunatic; rather, he was an extraordinarily shrewd and learned autodidact who accomplished marvels. It’s just a pity that he became fixated on restoring the glories of Frederick the Great and getting revenge for the humilation of Versailles. Invading Poland was like stepping on the surface of an elephant trap: it led inexorably to another, still more crushing defeat.

    As for looking like a clown, I submit this photograph for comparison.

    That was George Orwell wearing the then-fashionable “toothbrush” moustache in the 1920s. Hitler, more conservative, kept that style all his life. Today it looks archaic and perhaps even absurd. But that may simply be a measure of how provincial one is.

  4. Tom Welsh Reply

    This short video may be of interest.

    The WHO, having stampeded the world’s governments like the Gadarene pigs, has now done a 180-degree turn by warning that PCR tests should not be done with cycle counts of over 30 or 35, as that leads to far too many false positives.

    It has also called for much greater care and caution in attributing deaths to Covid-19.

    These announcements were made, with stunning cynicism, on January 20th – the very day on which Joe Biden was inaugurated as US President.

    It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the gross exaggeration of Covid-19’s seriousness was intended to make President Trump look as bad as possible; and that the instant he was replaced, the truth became acceptable once again.

    Joe Biden, incidentally, claimed in one of his first statements as President that the USA had no vaccines against Covid-19 before his inauguration. Which was odd, since he himself had his second vaccination before being inaugurated.

    As Lily Tomlin said long ago, “No matter how cynical you get, it’s impossible to keep up”.

  5. steve Reply

    I’m as muddled as the next person except the next person isn’t muddled at all. No, the next person is quite clear, lockdown, masks and await the magic vaccine.

    My suspicion is that most people aren’t muddled because they trust the surface layer of information and their brain says, right then, that’s sorted.

    My core process “Understanding Discovery” which was a process itself led by a consultant some years ago probably makes it abundantly clear where my core values lie.

    Challenging the status quo comes as easily to me as putting on my t-shirt in the morning.

    To understand anything means one has to dig down, much like an engineer will look at the root cause in identifying where the seat of a problem really is. This means thinking of systems and the way they dynamically interplay.

    The masses who are not muddled will I suspect not understand the questions to ask which have not yet been asked, nor will they understand the nature of underlying structures which drive behaviour.

    The behaviourists employed by SAGE will of course know all these things, they know what buttons to press to get the response they want, and they have done that exceedingly well.

    If you have a moment have a look at appendix B of this
    downloadable pdf.

    The other point is that there are no countervailing views as they have been censored. Some censorship has been direct with videos about vitamin D for example taken down on YouTube at the beginning of this pandemic. Other censorship includes, main stream media not publishing or broadcasting anything which challenges the WHO or government narrative.

    More recently another Doctor who I like to read and learn from has had his book censored by Amazon! Sebastian Rushworth M.D. has mentioned it here;

    This current Government has awarded itself emergency status with all sorts of powers and no scrutiny from parliament.

    What chance does the majority have to dig below the surface? I think not a lot.

    Adam Curtis has created some interesting thinking, and I’m watching, Can’t Get You Out of My Head. One has to bear in mind that documentaries are not fact even though they may use facts to support whatever story the documentary maker wishes to say.

    I do though think and believe that when the power of the many is transferred to the power of the few via a quasi democracy that people (politicians) morph. They become the power of the various institutions and ideologies, in other words, the institution leads and the politicians become the front.

    One could imagine that a politician is only as good as the next person. When a member of the hoi polloi makes a cock up nothing much happens. But when that next person is a politician and he/she/they make a cock-up it affects us all.

  6. dearieme Reply

    “the epidemic curve remains pretty constant regardless of the laxity or severity of the measures imposed”: a wag – it might even have been you, doc – posted a plot of the epidemic, showing the effectiveness of the third English lockdown. Deaths, or perhaps hospitalisations, or maybe “cases” fell sharply. Then he confessed that the curve was for Sweden not England.

    ‘English lockdown saves Sweden’ would be a fine headline.

    As for the jab, I took it – it was a matter of weighing up risk and cost/benefit. For younger, healthier people it might be perfectly rational to give it a swerve.

  7. dr-no Reply

    Tom – “a nation of automatons led by a lunatic who looks like a clown” is a running gag Dr No has used at least six times, with very minor variations, including in a post image, in most cases with attribution so Dr No supposed most people know where it comes from (if they didn’t already know). It’s a slightly modified quote from Captain Mainwaring in The Deadly Attachment (U Boat captain etc) at about 12m50s in. The actual line has ‘who looks like Charlie Chaplin’ but Boris, whatever his faults, doesn’t look like Charlie Chaplin, but he does look like a clown, hence the alteration.

    The point of the first paragraph is not to have a crack at the Hun (Dr No’s still slightly under age father claimed he used the phrase to get into the RAF at the start of WWII), but to point out that the country that has traditionally considered itself the bulldog has recently become the poodle.

    The point about pseudo Aryan Imperial expansion being an important part of history that doesn’t often appear in popular accounts is well made. The Germans weren’t the only ones who thought in the interwar years that Hitler was wonderful. These were Churchill’s wilderness years, when he warned of the great and growing threat in the east, and Chamberlain came home waving ‘peace in our time’. There were others, including some in the medical profession, who found Aryan eugenic fantasies very much to their liking. But this is the nature of evil. The devil hardly ever wears horns.

    The Biden/WHO coincidence is, until proven otherwise, just a coincidence, albeit an intriguing one Dr No has heard before. But as Dr No’s colleague Goldfinger reminds us, coincidences have to happen three times before they can be even be considered as (possible) enemy action. Otherwise, we risk conflating association with causation, in another variation on post hoc ergo noctor cock.

    dearieme – Dr No too is sure someone – perhaps even Dr No, but probably not – has proved that the English lockdown saved Swedish lives. Such are the befits to be gained from cod science.

    Steve – the largely but not completely hidden behaviourists and nudgers are indeed deeply sinister. The late and much lamented Witch Doctor, one of Dr No’s fellow bloggers from back in the MMC (Mangling medical Careers) and HSCB (Health and Social Care Bill) days, was an ardent and successful rooter out of sinister nudgery. But we should not forget that nudgery has been around for decades, as Can’t Get You Out of My Head (Dr No agrees documentaries tell stories chosen by the maker) reminds us. Perhaps the first explicit use of distinctly psychological approaches came in 1950s America, with the use of psychoanalytic techniques to manipulate the masses.

    Nigella – “I’m not a scientist but I read modern European history and politics and my area of special interest was the rise of the European totalitarian regimes. There are undoubtedly interesting parallels with what is happening today in so called ‘free’ democracies.” These are very much the kind of insights Dr No welcomes, from other disciplines. There is no doubt we have become more authoritarian over the last 12 months. But will it continue (as it seems to be), until we cross an invisible Rubicon, or will common sense re-assert itself? That seems to Dr No to be a key question, and the answer is the former, then we need to find a way of not crossing that invisible Rubicon.

    DD – again, Dr No agrees it’s all about lessons from the past, and all the usual cliches apply, especially the one about those who don’t learn from the past.

    On the delicate matter of medical white lies: in the pre-Abortion Act days, it was not unknown for a surgeon to put appendicectomy in the theatre register when another operation was done. This saved the woman from a back street abortion, or worse, but it was also a lie, and Dr No has no doubt the modern GMC would explode on the spot if the came across such a case. But was it a justifiable lie (and so a white lie), in that it reduced harm? It is worth remembering that most traditional doctors and surgeons are consequentalists (its the result that matters, not how you got there), unlike lawyers, who tend to be deontologists (you must do what is right, even if the outcome is harmful).

    PS have also edited overflowing links here are there, these can avoided using the link button in the preview bar: select the test you want to be visible for the link, press the link button, and copy the url into the box that appears (overwriting the http:// that appears, and press/click Enter, and you are done

    • Tom Welsh Reply

      As soon as I had posted my diatribe about the Germans and Japanese I realised it was offtopic and inappropriate. It’s just that I have seen the stereotypes so often that I now feel the urgent need to type a rejoinder. As Solzhenitsyn warned us, life would be so easy if only there were evil people doing evil things and all we had to do was to get rid of them. But, as he observed, the line between good and evil runs through every human heart.

      The proverb about not criticising those whose experience one has not lived is also apposite.

      • dr-no Reply

        Tom – your comment was neither off topic nor inappropriate, Dr No was stereotyping a nation, but the nation was us, not the Germans: why have we (meaning the people en masse, the majority etc, so there will be exceptions) become automatons? Why do the majority want lockdown, and some even want more lockdown?

        Dr No is not a theologian, and certainly not a Christian one, but he grew up in a nominally Church of England society. He has always been of the view that anyone has the potential for evil within them, and that it is the exercise of moral will that stops them from becoming evil. This may or may not be what original sin is all about, but the important point is that all of us, bar the true saints, and they can probably be counted of the fingers of one hand, are capable, given the ‘right’ conditions, of being evil. To that extent, we are all in the same boat (‘He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone…’), only maybe we are not, because some choose to resist.

        One of the best pragmatic everyday definitions of evil, Dr No believes, is to be found in Scott Peck’s People of The Lie. The book unravels somewhat in its later parts, but the notion that all evil is predicated on, and is often carried out by, telling lies (and/or denying truth) is useful. As it happens, one of the defining characteristics of the last twelve months has been the profusion of lies. What do we do? Remember the (here modernised) line attributed to Burke: all that is needed for evil to prosper is that the good do nothing.

  8. formertory Reply

    I bagged a paragraph of your excellent post and copied it to my 28 year old son, who’s a ferocious student of modern military history, geopolitics and the military’s tools of the trade.

    Back came the terse response in the usual young person’s machine-gun delivery:

    [15:33, 08/03/2021] : Remember half of Germany was part of the USSR
    [15:33, 08/03/2021] : And those people have memories
    [15:33, 08/03/2021] : It is easy for a free nation to be enslaved
    [15:34, 08/03/2021] : It is hard to re-enslave a slave once granted freedom

    So that’s me in my place (again). It’s very satisfying seeing my onetime anklebiter mature into an estimable and pleasant young man who can effortlessly swat me down when he’s on his subject.

  9. H W Tsudnim Reply

    Closing the pubs was a masterstroke. This is where discussion occurs and ideas are tested in Britain, and humbug and fibs from on high are soon exposed.

  10. Edward Mitchell Reply

    The other day I came across an account of the slow slide into totalitaria in Germany during the ’30s. Now it almost feels cliche to say that fascism happens not all at once but by a slow creep, yet it is certainly instructive to read about it from the horse’s mouth, as it were.

    A choice quote: ‘But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes…But of course this isn’t the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step D.

    ‘And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you.’

    I’ve only watched a little of Adam Curtis’ stuff but I’ve never been quite sure about it. Maybe he doesn’t go far enough for my taste (or politics)? However, I did enjoy this parody.

  11. dr-no Reply

    HW – Indeed, and it wasn’t just the pubs, it was all forms of social gatherings. (What? We banned all but all forms of social gathering except our immediate household? Here, in Britain?) Islington diner parties, Hampstead tea parties, Cornish WIs, adult education, team sports, authors groups, all banned.

    Edward – it seems likely that there are two ways of getting to totalitarianism. One arrives on the muzzle of a tank, and is thrust upon you. The other arises within, is insidiuous, and relies on creep, the mechanism for getting from step B to C to D with out even realising you are on a journey to hell. It is by far the more dangerous route, because external imposition naturally creates at least some internal resistance, but the creeping path meets minimal resistance, and crosses the invisible Rubicon without realising it has.

    An excellent Curtis parody. There are times when Dr No wonders whether Curtis is morphing into John Berger, the art critic who also wrote A Fortunate Man, a canonical work in British general practice about a GP who was so fortunate he shot himself. If Dr No were to do a full post devoted to Curtis, he might just call it Can’t Get You Out of My Hair.

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