- 20 Apr 21
There needs to be far more rigorous scrutiny of Nphet’s ultra-conservative approach to managing the pandemic...
Well, here we are, in our second pandemic year. We see the light at the end of the tunnel, but the public health junta fear it might just be the headlights of an oncoming train. The hatches must remain battened, they say. Keep on keeping on. As the old Irish saying goes, “Mair a chapaill agus gheobhair féar”: Live horse, and you will get grass.
Boxer was the horse on Animal Farm. He was faithful and strong, loyal and compliant, and worked himself to death for the greater cause.
We too must work ever harder, but in our case, it’s to avoid each other’s company. For this, like Boxer, we’re told we’ll be rewarded with an occasional treat, like an outdoor meal, or if we’re all really good, maybe even a socially distanced sports event. Condescending isn’t the half of it.
Many, including The Hog, have rightly complained that we are infantilised by Government and NPHET. Sadly, with few exceptions the Opposition are even more extreme.
We’re told that the public health recommendations are based on “the science”, as though this is a fixed and universally accepted canon. But it isn’t. Science is dynamic, inquisitive and consistently evolving. In science it’s okay to be wrong. What matters is how you respond.
Last year the celebrated Italian physicist Carlo Rovelli published There Are Places In The World Where Rules Are Less Important Than Kindness. It’s a collection of articles and short essays. One of them is headed ‘The Many Errors of Einstein’.
Albert Einstein was “one of the greatest scientists of all,” says Rovelli, yet “few scientists have made as many errors as (Albert) Einstein”; and “few have changed their minds as frequently as he did.”
He refers to “genuine scientific errors: mistaken ideas, wrong predictions, error-strewn equations, scientific assertions that he himself came to regret and that were proved false.”
Having explored some of these he asks whether such mistakes and changes of opinion take something from our admiration of Einstein. No, he says, “They teach us something… about the nature of intelligence.”
Intelligence, he argues, “is not about stubborn adherence to your opinions. It requires readiness to change, and even discard those opinions,” adding that “in order to understand the world, you need to have the courage to experiment with ideas, not to fear failure, to constantly revise your opinions to make them work better.”
Rovelli praises the “complementary and necessary aspects” of Einstein’s “profound intelligence.” These are “the audacity of thought, the courage to take risks, the lack of faith in received ideas – including, crucially, one’s own.” He concludes that “what’s important is not being right. It’s to try to understand.”
To make a mistake and change ideas repeatedly is fine. That’s how we discover. But it follows that placing “the science” and “the scientists” beyond question is profoundly stupid and clamps the dead hand of dogma on their thinking.
Everything should be challenged.
Ideas and policy proposals, especially those with the capacity to destroy social, economic and cultural life, should be vigorously contested and processes, conclusions and recommendations should be openly and forensically examined.
Science, and participatory and deliberative democracy, demand nothing less.
Regrettably, that’s not how it’s been since the pandemic was declared. We’ve endured NPHET’s ultra-conservative and risk-averse approach. This has not changed. In addition, often in concert with the media, they have undermined and outplayed the Government. Critical voices have been muffled.
But now the Government, at the behest of the National Immunisation Advisory Council (NIAC) has introduced a new age-related vaccine rollout programme.
The basis for the change is a review by NIAC of the national and international evidence which shows that probability of a bad outcome from a Covid-19 infection increases exponentially with age – a person aged between 60 and 64 years old is 70 times more likely to die as a result of Covid-19 than a person aged between 30 and 34.
In the light of my earlier comments about scientific process, scrapping the initial system in favour of one better supported by the emerging scientific consensus is a good development. So why has the new plan been met by protest and recrimination?
Partly it’s because the Government thought the vaccination programme would be a big win and assumed a central role. That was a mistake and they have taken flak that should have hit the HSE.
But the surly reaction to the new rollout also expresses pent-up frustration with the overall approach to the pandemic to date, which has been a sorry and inward-looking control mission driven by contagious caution.
And it’s all about control: managing the Government and media, herding the population like sheep and keeping a lid on infections to spare the hospitals. Wouldn’t it have been better to have been more open? To have encouraged debate and deliberation rather than compliance and quiescence? For the invocation of “the science” to have meant what it said on the tin rather than being mere spin?
Of course, another way to read NIAC’s explanation for the new rollout plan is that the evidence indicates that Covid-19 is not a serious illness for children and young people, a small handful of exceptions aside.
Lots of people have been saying this almost from the start. Some were silenced. Had this view been given a scientific hearing, might we have had a more nuanced approach to lockdown?
Okay, we can’t undo the past but we can remake the present. Our decision-makers must be more rational in reaching conclusions. After all, there’s no science without logic.
Take, for example, the quarantine rules. Why is the US on the list? All adults in the USA will be vaccinated in weeks, not months, so why would they have to quarantine HERE? Is it to protect them from us?
And another: we’re told that it will be okay for two (two!!!) vaccinated people to meet up. If that’s the case, how is it logical to impose quarantine on someone who has been vaccinated in another country if they can show satisfactory evidence of that vaccination and a clear test?
How’s about being pro-active (just for once) and working out how foreign vaccinations can be recognised and inward travellers thereby facilitated, instead of treating them like terrorists? Wouldn’t that be logical?
Likewise concertgoers and sports fans.
Health is not the new religion, the one true faith, and NPHET is not the new hierarchy. There should be no mimicry of the old theocracy, its dogma and deference, its expectations of compliance, its repressions and suppressions.
Instead, let’s have honesty and responsibility, reason and logic and, especially, humility and respect.
• The Hog