On January 16th, this piece, "Rise of the Coronavirus Cranks", appeared on Quillette, written by Christopher Snowdon of the Institute of Economic Affairs. In the piece, Snowdon purports to take apart some of the arguments made by critics of government lockdowns around the world. Going after Ivor Cummins and Michael Yeadon in particular, he states that "the claims made by Cummins, Yeadon, and other supposed authorities are demonstrably nonsensical..."
What follows is a long spewing forth of colorful strawmen ("(y)ou can draw a straight line from those who talked about a “casedemic” a few months ago to the crowds of protestors outside hospitals today screaming that “COVID is a hoax”), ridicule ("(Cummins) was an annoyance to scientists and dietitians who found his claims risible, but he was not a menace to public health"), and an attempt to dismantle the arguments of those who oppose the lockdowns.
Two days later, Cummins has published his reply, in which he carefully, calmly, and with the barest possible number of expletives, explains why Snowdon is wrong. (Michael Yeadon has also responded to the attacks on his claims, here.) Here is a brief sampling, but I recommend reading the entire piece–in part because it also contains a very good summary of much of Cummins' arguments against the lockdowns from early on. And unlike Snowdon, Cummins provides ample published analysis to back up his claims. Some examples (Cummins' comments on Snowdon's text are in brackets, in red):
He claimed that increases in testing had created large numbers of false positives, leading to a “casedemic” in which the number of infections appeared to rise but there was “no mortality” because “the epidemic’s gone.” [Correct – the Casedemic was a creature of the summer, and we always warned of winter resurgence – but the panic-mongering “1918 Spanish Second-Waver” authorities chose to do NOTHING to prepare for it]. It attracted a million views on YouTube within days. [Because the science and logic suddenly made sense – even as we were being mandatory masked - in the middle of the Goddamn summer].
...Herd immunity, he theorised, had been largely achieved and he insisted that there would be no second wave. [we always warned of winter resurgence, hard to predict degree of immunity achieved in the new virus epidemic phase – but the authorities did NOTHING to prepare for it, where we promoted all of the useful mitigating solutions e.g. vit D, metabolic health, Ivermectin (finally approved now), etc. etc. – all ignored, along with even bothering to expand the hospital system…].
...Cummins dismissed those who warned of a second wave in France and Spain, where case numbers were already growing, and described the rising caseload in the US as a “double hump” caused by the southern states experiencing their first wave. [which it was]. He assured viewers that the American spike was already on the wane. Within two months, France and Spain were recording more than 400 COVID deaths a day [see the actual data below for excess mortality France and Spain – endemic virus resurgence, no “1918 Flu second wave” – and in any case, zero preparation by authorities, who were terrorizing the population all summer…with the promise of a catastrophic “second wave”]:
and the US was climbing its biggest “hump” yet, with every state except Hawaii experiencing uncontrolled community transmission. [To our endless correctness, note Florida is almost the best performer as USA seasonally resurges – even though Florida dropped lockdowns and masks way back in September! Thus proving for the Nth time the uselessness of NPI. Note Lockdown & Mask-INSANE California is worse off than Florida in past months - even though it would have similar regional triggering scenario, and even an older population in Florida:]
"...Pretty far-fetched, isn’t it? And that’s before we get to the theories about Bill Gates and the Chinese Communist Party that are on the lunatic fringes even in the smiley universe. [Poor Chris – can’t even tolerate basic factual realities – on the historical record – no-one denying them – clear as day. Yes the WHO told the world DIRECTLY to copy China CCP policy of lockdown – that is the fact of the matter – that is simply what they did: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=978zLJJLo-I&ab_channel=IvorCummins ]"
I'll let you read the rest on your own, here. But I wanted to say something else about the Quillette piece.
Early on in the piece, Snowdon says "I am not some wobbly-lipped pantry boy who’s scared of a bit of flu. I am a libertarian at a free market think tank who has spent most of his working life critiquing the excesses of the nanny state."
Maybe Snowdon genuinely is libertarian, and maybe he really does support free markets. But if he is, and if he does, then he doesn't understand either very well. He completely fails to understand the nature of the state, or of state intervention in our lives. If he did, he would understand that a Big, Serious Problem is hardly justification for state intervention. That in fact the inverse is true: The graver the danger, the greater the threat, the more critical it is that we keep governments out of any solutions.
And maybe I'm being overly cynical, but I've just heard the refrain one too many times: "I'm a libertarian, but I support this one particular heavy-handed government intervention because..." It's almost as if there is a deliberate effort to lend credibility to stark authoritarianism by creating the impression that "even libertarians support it!"
Note that what I said above is an intuitive statement. It's something I suspect may be true (there may be a deliberate effort to create the impression that "libertarians" support tyranny), based on a multitude of years of studying economics and the ideas of liberty, of observing both states and economies in action, and of listening to an awful lot of bullshit of many different flavors. It is not something I can back up with any real evidence, it's just something I suspect may be true.
To me, Snowdon's piece reeks of bullshit. And not only the "I'm a libertarian but I think we all have to agree that it's perfectly reasonable for the state to take complete and total control over our lives in this one instance..." kind. There is also the kind of bullshit that replaces real evidence with intuitive meanderings. And Snowdon's piece is full of this–as Cummins rightly points out. It is likewise full of the kind of writing that is meant to create a certain impression simply by asserting it in a way that is intuitively appealing to an audience.
I'll give a few examples from this piece:
"And so I reluctantly support this lockdown for the same reason I initially supported the first one, as a last resort. It seems to me to be the only way to ensure that everybody is able to access healthcare, whether they have COVID or not. As soon as it has achieved its goal, I will press for it to be lifted." (This excerpt also suffers from the debilitating error of begging the question. Nowhere has Snowdon (or anyone else) established that the lockdowns have, or indeed can, achieve the goal he puts forth here.)
"I suppose my position is boringly centrist." (Maybe in North Korea. Not in the birthplace of the Magna Carta.)
"As the HMS Casedemic slowly sinks into the ocean, the arguments used to keep it seaworthy stop making sense even on their own terms."
"Those who cling to unreasonable doubts cannot be persuaded by facts or logic."
"Pretty far-fetched, isn’t it? And that’s before we get to the theories about Bill Gates and the Chinese Communist Party that are on the lunatic fringes even in the smiley universe."
"The comforting lie that trade-offs could be avoided has proved irresistible to those who have surrendered to confirmation bias and constructed a parallel and preferable version of reality."
"There is no shortage of stupidity on Twitter, but this is something different, something almost transcendent. The inability to absorb or even acknowledge the most basic facts is beyond anything I’ve seen before."
"The smileys are not bad people. They are not necessarily unintelligent people. They are unhappy people wearing a mask of happiness, confused and beaten and searching for an easy answer."
Over and over again, Snowdon asserts the–perhaps well-meaning–ignorance of his adversaries. They are not bad people, he insists–bolstering his own image as a benevolent, less-emotionally invested observer. They are just overcome with the helplessness of the situation, have cast off any ability to think straight, and are thereby drawn in to irrational ways of looking at the situation, in the way that others might be comforted by religion.
It is the kind of assertion that anyone who has spent any time critiquing claims of vaccine safety, for example, is very familiar with. Articles pretending to understand "anti-vaxxers" are overflowing with this kind of assertion, usually embedded into the narrative as a given. The very premise of such pieces being something along the lines of "why do otherwise intelligent, well-meaning parents choose not to vaccinate their children when we all know it's the right thing to do?"
This kind of condescending presumption of the ignorance of one's opponents, as a linguistic tool for creating consensus, for convincing those who haven't looked into the arguments for themselves, that "everyone knows" those people are just wrong–has gone badly stale by January 2021.
And of course it never occurs to Snowdon that the very same assertion could be flung at those who unquestioningly seek and embrace the total state as a solution to what frightens them. There never has been, and there still is not, evidence that shutting down entire economies and making people prisoners inside their own homes can stop the spread of a respiratory virus. Neil Ferguson and his team at Imperial College were wrong by an order of magnitude in their estimation of the deadliness of SARS-Cov2, and not for the first time. If anyone has abandoned their faculties for reason, it is those who defend the unprecedented, irrational, and devastating lockdowns.
And yet, pieces like this one from Snowdon will continue to have influence and people will continue to believe that, because someone has asserted it in print, it must be true that the "anti-lockdowners" are just well-meaning ignoramuses. Why? Because we are overwhelmed with information; because it is the explicit strategy of those who have a great deal of influence over the media to "flood the zone" with a certain view; because nobody has the time to dig carefully into every assertion they read; and, tragically, because a great many people do not seem to understand that every assertion they read in print is not necessarily true. Because a great many people have come to substitute some form of authority for their own powers of reason.
And that is why propaganda works so well. Not only because so many people are not paying close attention to the actual facts of the debates on all of the issues of critical importance to their own lives (and how can they?) ...but because hardly any even realize that they need to. The number of people who believe themselves to be informed about what is going on in the world, simply because they read a newspaper or listen to the news on TV, is depressingly huge. And the number who recognize that we have to work a little harder if we are to be informed about even one issue is depressingly small.
And we have to keep working to inform each other anyway. It's more important than ever.