Losing trust in ‘the science’

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I spent a decade living in New Zealand as a member of the NZ Skeptics. We would mock those who believed in alternative medicine, UFOs, anti-vaxxers, you get the idea. To say I’m a big believer in empiricism and scientific medicine would be an understatement. I even used to say that medical doctors made the best university Vice Chancellors because at least they believed in the Western canon and in transmitting the great works of culture to the next generation in a way that didn’t portray all things from the West as worse than all things from everywhere else.

In other words, medical doctors seemed to me, back then, to have a love of the old Arts curriculum that you don’t readily find in today’s university Arts faculties.

I preface this piece in that way because I have to confess to having lost most of my trust in the doctorly caste since the start of the pandemic. I now see cowardice; an unwillingness to stand up to the cancel culture mavens. There are next to no defenders of those who go against the current orthodoxy (and that defending of iconoclasm is even more important coming from those who disagree with the heretics, apostates, and iconoclasts).

Let me trace out my dissatisfaction or disgruntlement with this caste through the lens of Covid vaccines.

My main complaint is that epidemiologists and doctors (I generalise, you understand) have either been pushing lines we now know are wrong, or they knew these lines were wrong for some time but have been unwilling to speak up.

Go back a year and a half and recall that virtually all politicians and many public health types were selling vaccination as the near guarantee against infection. Here is a clip of President Biden saying the vaccines would stop everyone from getting infected. And here are wildly differing quotes from White House Covid response coordinator Deborah Birx in December 2020 versus July 2022.

You can find similar claims made by British politicians and public health types, Canadian ones, and Australian ones. The farther back you go, the more such claims you can find.

Did the orthodox epidemiological position and the bulk of the doctorly caste believe that these Covid vaccines would be overwhelmingly effective in stopping people from catching Covid – or not?

Certainly, the primary endpoint of the clinical trials was symptomatic infection. The mRNA vaccines were then claimed to be over 90 per cent effective against that endpoint. Severe Covid was a secondary endpoint, and though the vaccines looked promising on that front there were too few cases to get a clear finding and it was not statistically significant.

Of late, I have heard a new claim. Various virologists and epidemiologists are saying – maybe they always thought this, though I never heard it at the time – that way back in January 2021 they weren’t sure about the protection the vaccines would provide. ‘Only time will tell’ was the predominant expert view.

If that is true – and here is the core of my grievance – then why did we members of the public not hear any of these sceptical views made openly, publicly, and loudly?

Over the last 30 months, I have read endless amounts about masks, vaccines, and lockdowns. I don’t recall any such public health views being voiced outside of what might be described as subscribers to ‘the Great Barrington Declaration’ (meaning those who agreed with the views of epidemiologists Professors Sunetra Gupta (Oxford), Martin Kulldorff (Harvard), and Jay Bhattacharya (Stanford) who authored that document).

Here is the nub of the problem. When you go down the road of thinking you can bend the truth a little for the greater good because you are part of an elite class who knows better, you open yourself up to the old utilitarian dilemma. In the long term, this is a loser strategy. Truth will out, and then you’re worse off than if you’d admitted your doubts at the start.

The popular ‘let’s just keep quiet’ approach appears to sum up the attitude over these past two plus years – though I accept that medical leadership groups like the AMA and health bureaucrats seem to have tried to impose an orthodoxy on all doctors on pain of professional penalties. People like me (and I concede, I’m no doctor – I am a lawyer with a first degree in mathematics who can, and has, read much of the data and a fair few studies) will stop trusting these so-called experts.

Many attacked dissenters in the field; many tried to suppress counter-views, and many oversold the benefits of their position.

We know that pharmaceutical companies unblinded the trials and then went ahead and vaccinated the control group after six months. Pharmacodynamics, pharmacokinetics, reproductive toxicology, and carcinogenicity studies were not widely performed while a number of serious adverse events do not appear to have been correctly logged. Meanwhile, on the question of the merits of lockdowns, there is considerable evidence that Sweden got this right while most of the world’s despotic, heavy-handed, thuggish ‘weld them in their homes’ approach turned out to be counter-productive.

Occasionally you may read that Sweden is an unusual case because it was actually de facto locked down in a voluntary or cultural sort of way. But that’s not true. During the first lockdown, people in Sweden still went to restaurants and shops and they met in one another’s homes. The photos and videos of this were circulated at the time and are still online.

Florida, which locked down for a couple of weeks and then (no one denies this) was virtually wide open, has Covid deaths, hospitalisations, and case data that compares favourably to New York, California, and New Jersey – the most locked down of the US States – and despite Florida skewing to an older population. Even the Lancet paper that attempts to buttress the case for lockdowns has had the flaws in its premises pointed out by many.

Finally, US Presidential adviser Fauci has been wrong more often than right. The man simply wasn’t – what’s the word I’m looking for? – honest about the American funding and the Wuhan Lab.

It is a sin to voice these concerns in print. Consider what happened to Alex Berenson, the former New York Time’s science writer, after he voiced scepticism about the efficacy of the vaccines.

What we are seeing is scientific Stalinism. Censorship in the medical profession will end in disaster, but it appears much of the doctorly and scientific caste are cowards. I’ve said that about the lawyerly caste for ages, but I had long thought doctors would be better. I no longer think that.

Worst of all, there appears to have been a group of knowledgeable medicos who chose to keep their doubts to themselves. If they lack bravery, why should we show them trust? Frankly, I don’t want to hear those retrospective doubts now. ‘Hoist with their own petard’ springs to mind (if you know your Western canon) because trust in our expert class is going to take decades to recover. It certainly will for me.

This article is a republication of an article originally published here by the Spectator Australia.

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  • Prof James Allan

    Professor James Allan holds the oldest named chair at The University of Queensland. He practised law in a large Toronto law firm and at the Bar in London before shifting to teaching law and has taught around the Commonwealth, arriving in Australia in 2005. Allan also writes regularly for the Spectator Australia, the Australian and Law & Liberty in the US as well as semi-regularly for British and Canadian outlets. He came out against lockdowns, in print, as soon as they were imposed and never waivered from that position. His core research areas are moral and legal philosophy and anglosphere constitutional law.

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