Over the past few weeks, my sense of the surreal has been increasing. At a time when rational interpretation of the Covid data indicates that we should be getting back to normal, we instead see an elaboration of arbitrary responses. These are invariably explained as being ‘guided by science’. In fact, they are doing something rather different: being guided by models, bad data and subjective opinion. Some of those claiming to be ‘following the science’ seem not to understand the meaning of the word.
At the outset, we were told the virus was so pernicious that it could, if not confronted, claim half a million lives in the UK alone. Its fatality rate was estimated by the World Health Organisation at 3.4 per cent. Then from various sources, we heard 0.9 per cent, followed by 0.6 per cent. It could yet settle closer to 0.1 per cent — similar to seasonal flu — once we get a better understanding of milder, undetected cases and how many deaths it actually caused (rather than deaths where the virus was present). How can this be, you might ask, given the huge death toll? Surely the figure of 44,000 Covid deaths offers proof that calamity has struck?
But let us look at the data. Compare this April with last and yes, you will find an enormous number of ‘excess deaths’. But go to the Office for National Statistics website and look up deaths in the winter/spring seasons for the past 27 years, and then adjust for population. This year comes only eighth in terms of deaths. So we ought to put it in perspective.
Viruses have been chasing men since before we climbed down from the trees. Our bodies fight them off and learn in the process. We get sick. It’s horrible, sometimes fatal. But viruses recede, our body’s defences learn and strengthen. The process has been happening for millions of years, which is why more than 40 per cent of our genome is made of incorporated viral genetic material. The spread of viruses like Covid-19 is not new. What’s new is our response. We can, through modelling alone, choose pretty much any version of the past we like
Now we have new tools that let us spot (and name) new viruses. We watch their progress in real time, plotting their journeys across the world, then sharing the scariest stories on social media. So the standard progress of a virus can, in this way, be made to look like a zombie movie. The whole Covid drama has really been a crisis of awareness of what viruses normally do, rather than a crisis caused by an abnormally lethal new bug.
Let’s go back to the idea of Covid taking half a million lives: a figure produced by modelling. But how does modelling relate to ‘the science’ we heard so much about? An important point — often overlooked — is that modelling is not science, for the simple reason that a prediction made by a scientist (using a model or not) is just opinion.
Read more: The fatal mistakes which ledto lockdown