Sympathy & Critique in the Coronacrisis

Wherever “flat-Earth” funding is coming from, it’s extremely effective in stifling critique of any established and popularised paradigm because anyone questioning an authoritarian view (presented as only as authoritative) can be dismissed as a denialist and flat-Earther. The slur of being an “anti-vaxxer” is less effective because the idea that large pharmaceutical companies may not actually operate out of love of humanity but of the bottom line – and that this may cause them to market pills and other products that are known to be useless or toxic – does not seem utterly outrageous.

(Personally, I feel it’s quite possible to simultaneously believe that Edward Jenner did do humanity a favour but that, from time to time, human greed for wealth and power overcomes caution – and lives are lost as a result.)

While there are all the usual dingbats, some with more clearly articulated ideologies than others, claiming extra-ordinary (or extra-terrestrial) causes and motivations for the viral panic or ‘the’ virus itself, there are also some experts in epidemiology, in politics and in medicine, who are clear-eyed and clearly not rabidly right or leftwing.

But rational discourse has been out of fashion for years. No-one is interested in what you think. What they’re looking for, especially on social media, is that you’re wearing the correct badge of identity – and that means feelings.

Here’s how you get points for that:

  • Championing the cause of the vulnerable (especially just online)
  • Being vulnerable (ditto)
  • Both

Here’s how you don’t get points:

  • Trying to change the mental paradigm that is making people vulnerable.

Dom Hélder Câmara, RC Archbishop in NE Brazil and thorn in the flesh of the regional government and large landowners, famously said:

When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.

So here’s the point.

If people are talking about demographics in the analysis of mortality data in the present viral panic, they’re not going to get any sympathy online. Because someone in tears over their own or someone else’s suffering (physical or mental) is going to trump them every time.

Stop and think.

Critical thinking is valuable. Without it we are simply docile and naïve consumers of infotainment and propaganda.

If people are questioning cause and effect, it just might be that they’re doing it to try to stop avoidable suffering and death.

We all suffer. We all die. Frightened, deprived of our civil liberties, under constant surveillance, isolated, inhaling toxic air and subject to inappropriate and aggressive medications (on our own advice or that of others) and unnecessary invasive medical intervention, we stand a good chance of doing both.

If you can’t think critically, try to distinguish between those who do. At least ask yourself who benefits from the paradigm in question:

  • Is it the Government?
  • Big Pharma?
  • Or you?

red-kitten-and-watering-can

Thanks to George Hodan for releasing his photo, “Red Kitten and Watering Can”, into the Public Domain.

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Bat Soup or Pea Souper?

There’s something about Wuhan that most of us have missed. Forget the bat soup, racoon dogs, civet cats and pangolins – and all the other elements of orientalia that have made this such a spicy story. Even before the outbreak of this viral panic, Wuhan was one of the most polluted cities on Earth. So it’s unsurprising that, when the epidemic of testing began, so many of its inhabitants were found to be coughing and sneezing, to have respiratory problems from heavy colds and flu, and shadows on their CT scans indicative of pneumonia.

That data is all accounted for by air pollution, especially the specific combination found today in China’s ‘medium-sized’ industrial cities where the airborne particles of modern industrial chemical waste mix with the old-fashioned smog from fossil fuel burning – which was infamous in London’s ‘pea-soupers’, the toxic miasma filled with the imaginary villains of Sherlock Holmes (and the real ones, like Jack the Ripper).

In Italy, the data appears to show a similar correlation, as there have been higher levels of air pollution for years in the areas where viral phenomena (the cycle of symptoms, panic, testing, aggressive medication and intubation, sickness, death, publicity and more panic) are now most prevalent.

This is also true in the UK where ClientEarth reported in October 2019 that modern air pollution has been a dirty little open secret for decades. Even the NHS noted a link between pollution and pneumonia back in 2018. Where are the hot spots according to ClientEarth? In order of times over the legal limit of air pollution: Greater London (2.2); South Wales (1.6); West Midlands Urban Area; Glasgow Urban Area (both 1.5). Of the 39 other UK ‘zones’, only 6 are under the limit – and 5 of those (at 0.9 or 0.8) are just under it. The other one (at 0.7) is the Highlands of Scotland.

Unfortunately, as Camilla Hodgeson of the Financial Times points out, epidemiological (at basis, statistical) ignorance has caused confusion so widespread, that it is impossible to compare rates of mortality across the world. The ‘death rate’ figures published around the world are incompatible with each other (technically ‘incommensurable’ meaning they aren’t measuring the same thing) as some are percentages of the population as a whole, some of ‘confirmed cases’, some of the latter who have been hospitalised – and even then different countries have different approaches to testing and treatment. So, basically, these figures tell us nothing.

Added to that, media insistence, especially in the tabloids, on sensationally reporting mortality in terms of individual deaths rather than percentages of population hides the fact that (e.g.) 1,228 UK deaths from seasonal flu/ pneumonia/ other feverish or respiratory conditions, as an aggregate of mortality of 3 months out of a population of some 68 million people works out at a percentage of approximately 0.0006 a month. (And that figure has to be reckoned against the UK birth rate, which even in decline is still about 11 per 1,000, so 1.1%.)

So the general UK population is not being decimated by an insidious plague from the Mysterious East.

Is this why the same tabloid feels the need to ramp up numbers with a huge table giving figures for Europe and the United States? That’s a larger number but it’s still a percentage of an even more immense number.

Professor John Ioannidis of Stanford University describes the epidemiological statistics as “utterly unreliable”.

In summary, what we need to know is not the number of cases, or even the number of deaths. In terms of causation, and prevention, that data is useless. Even the death rate doesn’t help – especially if differently calculated from place to place. What would help is to know the rate of excess death.

Professor Ioannidis, who might be trusted to know a thing or two about numbers and the spread of disease, has this to say:

If we had not known about a new virus out there, and had not checked individuals with PCR tests, the number of total deaths due to “influenza-like illness” would not seem unusual this year. At most, we might have casually noted that flu this season seems to be a bit worse than average.

With so many people panicking and submitting themselves to the most aggressive and unnecessary medication and medical interventions, that’s hardly surprising!

air-pollution

Thanks to Mohamed Mahmoud Hassan for releasing his image “Air Pollution” into the Public Domain.

 

Groundhog daze and enigma variations

I’m re-watching Charmed, that late last millennium/ early this one American TV show about three beautiful weird sisters, their witchy ways, their hunky men and their low-cut tops. (Alyssa Milano, the younger sister, had something to say about the latter.) This time I’m watching it with German audio and subtitles on DVD because you can still enjoy something again, especially if you do it a bit differently. The last episode of Season 1, “Déjà Vu All Over Again”, is about that particular hell of doing the same thing in the same way, over and over again which, two years later, Buffy the Vampire Slayer also explored (hilariously) in S6E5: “Life Serial”. Both clearly inspired by the 1993 movie Groundhog Day.

James Temperton (whose pic makes him look like an inspired saintly monk from Mount Athos) writing for Wired, complains about the same experience:

In the grip of a coronavirus lockdown […] time has started to lose meaning. […] What’s the point of time, after all, when each day is an excruciating repeat of the one that preceded it, stuck on a loop of endless Zoom calls and Houseparty drinking sessions?

Handsome hipster James, like many young men used to getting out of the house to go to work, may have a negative attitude towards repetition precisely because it’s unusual for him (though I bet he does the same things, in sequence, over and over again, at the gym). For many mothers, some fathers, most carers – and all monks and nuns – repetition is something you just have to get used to. Monotony, to get spiritual for a second, can become a mantra.

So one way to deal with it is to settle into it. Think of going through your daily routine as following a rhythm, not being stuck in the blues. Music and poetry need rhythm – even without rhyme or reason. It keeps us on track. So if you’re in lockdown and you don’t yet have a rhythm to your day, establish one. Stop making endless decisions each day and all day about what to do next, it’s exhausting.

For those of us who are carers, it is our charges who provide the rhythm. Bathing, dressing, meal and snacktimes, exercise, education, entertainment and play, communicating with loved ones and with outside agencies, planning, finding time for yourself – often when your charge is resting or sleeping – carers either do all of these or work with those who do. Especially when caring for the very old or very young, a rhythm to the day can be reassuring – and can avoid having to answer at least some of those endless questions.

Not all of our charges are human, animals and plants (if we’ve put them in an artificial environment so they are unable to fend for themselves) need our care too. Here’s some wee seedlings I rescued from outside a supermarket – I won’t name and shame them for not watering their plants as the staff said their spray machine was broken and they did give me a discount. (The cabbage plants at the bottom show most improvement, the Brussels at the top were rescued before them.)

Another way is to introduce some variation. There are lots of ways to do that so let’s focus on just one: cooking! With supermarket shelves emptying of the dead flesh, stodge and sugar that comprise the infamously unappetising British/English diet (don’t sneer, America, yours is even worse!) now is the time to Google that funny fruit or vegetable that you’ve been walking past your whole life.

courgette

For some, courgette/ zucchini might be an unknown but, as well as slicing it in small sections to pop into soup, you can also slice it lengthwise, scrape out the middle to fry it with garlic and onion and herbs then fill the skins and bake them. You can even make a lovely loaf with it.

avocado

Millennials have made avocado toast famous (which is probably what’s keeping them alive as they’re too busy online to eat a square meal) but this extremely nutritious fruit is easily mashed and mixed with some crushed garlic and a squeeze of lemon – and a sprinkle of freshly chopped or dried coriander/ cilantro if you like – half an hour in the fridge will give you great guacamole. And it’s great in a smoothie!

sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes need no introduction to many people (outside Northern Europe) and you can do everything with them that you can with regular spuds – compared to which they have more vitamin A & C, as well as more flavour, though spuds have more protein and fibre.

garlic

GARLIC!!!!! Just eat it. Just get it into everything you can. Best thing ever for your immune system (and for your plumbing, guys). This is why the French survived trench fever and ‘Spanish flu’. And everyone else didn’t. Trust me. I’m a doctor. (Okay a metaphysician, not a physician, but still, I’m right about this.)

celeriac

Celeriac. Why not? It’s a weird muppet-faced funky mass of fibers that you can cook the same as turnip. Here’s Jamie Oliver, with his usual aplomb (I love Jamie but I do wish he wouldn’t chuck his hair about in the kitchen, it’s unhygienic and it started a trend) with a simple recipe frying chunks of it with just olive oil and herbs.

So the next time you’re out shopping and confronted with empty shelves, walk on until you find a bit of adventure. Enjoy!

Establish a rhythm to your day but play variations on the theme!

Photos © Alan McManus

Meditation is Medication – how to keep sane shut-in

If, because of this global madness, you spend weeks (or months) shut up indoors just worrying, winging and binging – on drink, drugs, porn or TV/online drama – you’re likely to emerge dazed into daylight a lot less healthy, mentally and physically, than you are now. Addiction to work online, though lucrative, may give you eyestrain and RSI; addiction to either exercise or sex, gruelling or gratifying, may leave you (and your partner) rather worn out.

There’s more to life than all that, and whereas religious nuts may be prophesying The End of Days (just as the Earth is recovering and small island nations like lovely Barbados may, after all, have a chance to remain above sea-level) not all who are interested in the spiritual side of life are that nutty. Some are even quite fruity. But that’s another discussion.

Anyone who’s spent any time in solitude knows that the primary experience, when you get away from it all, is being alone with yourself. Those who rely on the applause of others to stoke their egos may find that hard, as will those whose one purpose in life is to emote as much as possible and let everyone know every detail of their lives.

Because not a lot happens when you’re shut in. At least, apparently not.

The spiritual dimension is not just some sacred space that you enter, as if you were checking in on TripAdvisor. It’s a perspective on life that is always possible. You just may not have looked that way yet.

Just look. Just be aware.

How? What do I do when I want to get spiritual?

I’d suggest that more is less and that the first thing to do is limit your input.

Switch off the TV, the radio, silence your phone (don’t take your landline off the ringer ‘cos folk will literally call the police if you do). Ask your ever-talking housemate to SHUT UP. Calm the dogs. Get the kids involved in something quiet (good luck!). Close your laptop and your tablet. Fill the kettle with just enough water for one cup (they can get their own later! honestly!) and just listen.

Focus – A watched kettle never boils, they say, impatiently. But attend. Wait. Do nothing more than listen. Hear the beginning of the sound the water makes as it heats up. Listen to the phase changes. After the bubbling, as you pour (yes it can be coffee if you can’t stand chamomile) listen to the encounter of liquid and powder and solid. Alchemy.

Reflect – Let your mind rest on things that change. All things change. Some just do it more slowly.

Breathe – You can become conscious of your breathing if you want (some find that annoying) or watch things move in the wind.

Look – What’s moving? Trees outside. Scarves on the washingline. What’s still?

Feel – Peeling off the layers of the onion: partner, family, kids, parents, social media friends and enemies, colleagues, officialdom, all those groups you’re in…how are you? Who are you?

Let go – Observe how the world keeps turning. You’re not at the centre. It’s not all about you.

Be grateful – don’t count your blessings, just remember them. There are so many!

Hope – Actively, turn your attention to all you know that’s good about humanity. Affirm this. Affirm it in you.

Reach out – Pray if that’s what you do, or just visualise all the little lights of hope in your household, next door, along your street, your neighbourhood, town, city, country, all over the globe. Light. Healing. Be part of it.

Commit – You are a drop in the ocean/ the ocean is made up of drops.

…to justice

…to peace

…to love

Amen/ so be it/ let it be

(Feeling better? Okay, now you can go and sort out whatever utter mayhem the kids have been up to.)

Scarves blowing in the wind

Photo “Scarves Blowing in the Wind” (C) Alan McManus

          

 

Dread and Viruses

Coronavirus causes the common cold. It’s already everywhere. As for what really happened in Wuhan, read this.

It’s a long read and requires thinking so, for the Goldfish Generation, here’s the conclusion (the skinny):

“The coronavirus panic is just that, an irrational panic, based on an unproven RNA test, that has never been connected to a virus. And which won’t be connected to a virus unless the virus is purified. Furthermore, even if the test can detect a novel virus the presence of a virus is not proof that it is the cause of the severe symptoms that some people who test positive experience (but not all who test positive). Finally, even if the test can detect a virus, and it is dangerous, we do not know what the rate of false positives is. And even a 1% false positive rate could produce 100,000 false positive results just in a city the size of Wuhan and could mean that a significant fraction of the positive test results being found are false positives.

The use of powerful drugs because doctors are convinced that they have a particularly potent virus on their hands, especially in older people, with pre-existing health conditions, is likely to lead to many deaths. As with SARS.

There is very little science happening. There is a rush to explain everything that is happening in a way that does not question the viral paradigm, does not question the meaningfulness of test results, and that promotes the use of untested antiviral drugs. And, given enough time there will be a vaccine developed and, for some of the traumatized countries, it may become mandatory, even if developed after the epidemic has disappeared, so that proving that it reduces the risk of developing a positive test will be impossible.”

David Crowe, the author of the article, does goes into a lot of detail and is clearly trying to be reasonable and impartial – which puts him at a disadvantage compared to the media hacks (and social media hysterics) who simply repeat, louder, whatever someone else has claimed.

In this blogpost I’m not going to focus on arguments over the events in Wuhan but rather why we are all so prone to accept one interpretation (and only one version) of those events – an interpretation that has led to global panic with an already devastating effect on the economy (apart from pharmaceutical industry profits) physical and mental health and is having a knock-on effect on animals and the environment.

Unfortunately it’s quite simple: it’s a failure of logic.

If I bang my head against a brick wall, there is no immediate need to check if I have a brain tumour when I complain of pain. I may indeed have a brain tumour but bashing my head is sufficient cause for my symptoms.

If I bang my head against a brick wall and medicos immediately conclude I have a brain tumour and put me on chemo twice daily, I may die.

But what from?

If that question is never impartially investigated, and everyone admitted to hospital with concussion is immediately diagnosed with a brain tumour, put on chemo twice daily, and many die, is that evidence of a sudden spike in brain tumours? Or just in stupidity?

I’m a White, middle-aged, tertiary-educated man currently teaching at a prestigious university, and I’m a doctor. I’m assumed to be an expert in a lot of things (which I’m not) just because of all of the above. I’m a doctor of philosophy – but put me in a white lab coat and add to M.D. to Ph.D. and I become practically infallible.

Not all assumed experts are in these same demographic categories – but those who are not (women, people of colour, young professionals, the retired and unemployed, the self-educated, independent researchers, etc.) have to work extra hard to get taken seriously.

So no-one is going to question the grey wisdom delivered on prime time TV of a top White male medical doctor in the measured self-assured tones of middle-England or the American Mid-West.

If you belong to a demographic that defines sanity, anyone else must be a lunatic. Which David Crowe (clearly) must be. Because his suggestion, that we treat the presenting phenomena of the obvious symptoms of concussion rather than assuming the remote possibility of brain tumour, is insane. Isn’t it? Here’s his intro:

“The Coronavirus scare that emanated from Wuhan, China in December of 2019 is an epidemic of testing. There is no proof that a virus is being detected by the test and there is absolutely no concern about whether there are a significant number of false positives on the test. What is being published in medical journals is not science, every paper has the goal of enhancing the panic by interpreting the data only in ways that benefit the viral theory, even when the data is confusing or contradictory. In other words, the medical papers are propaganda.”

I’m absolutely not saying that there is some conspiracy behind all this. It’s just xenophobia and money and our unquestioning docility to the discourses of grey patriarchs. I’m also not saying that we should ignore the social fact of panic – because the risks from iatrogenic harm (death by prescription or psychosomatic nocebo) are grave indeed at the moment.

So, if someone is convinced that their life depends on social distancing, invading their personal space may be detrimental to their health because of that belief and because any subsequent symptoms of the common cold they may develop may lead them to continue the epidemic of testing and iatrogenic harm.

bat-silhouette-for-halloween

Thanks to Karen Arnold for releasing her image “Bat Silhouette for Halloween” into the Public Domain.

 

 

How to live under Lockdown

As the panic about the “pandemic” worsens, I’m revisiting a previous post called 10 Tasks to Survive Brexit. (Remember then?) Because here in the UK we’re now not only being cut off from Europe but, together with many people in many countries, we are being cut off from each other. Community groups are folding, plays and play groups cancelled, team sports have stopped, schools are closing and varsity has retreated up its ivory tower and locked the door. Spurious miscellaneous items are disappearing from supermarket shelves, business for Big Pharma is booming and everyone is terrified of human contact and is binge-watching boxsets. And it’s our own panic that’s doing it.

Some would call this commonsense. I wouldn’t but I’m not now going to argue the case. Instead, I’d like to suggest how to live under Lockdown:

  1. Plant vegetables. Get out to the garden, plant herbs in hanging baskets and windowboxes or even sneak out to the allotment. On Good Friday it’s a Christian rural tradition to plant potatoes. It doesn’t matter if you don’t believe in Christ. Believe in the life cycle. Remember: this too shall pass.
  1. Plant flowers. Plant a tree too! Resist the high-handed madness of your local authority and their war against trees. We need them.
  2. Go vegan. Seriously. The NHS is overloaded, you really can only afford good nutrition. And if you live in a country without free healthcare, even moreso!
  3. Get a dog or two if you can and take them out for (long) walks three times a day. That vitamin D will perk you up and you’ll need the serotonin to stop obsessing about whatever is happening on TV, phone and computer screens. This is perennial advice. When humans go batshit crazy, animals suffer. Take care of them. They will more than repay you. Get a cat, while you’re about it.
  4. Make things. Learn to knit, crochet (buy wool in charity shops) weave, make macrame and ceramics and cook if you don’t know how – and branch out if you do. Home cooking can be therapeutic, social and far cheaper (and healthier) than over-packaged store-bought ready meals with way too much sugar and salt. This might not be an option if things get worse – it might be absolutely necessary. So get ahead of the curve!
  5. Repair things. Google: sewing, darning, changing a fuse, changing a washer on a leaky tap, learn bicycle/ motorcycle/ car maintenance – or even rebuild a boat – go online and learn! You think you can rely on tradespeople not being affected by this madness? Think again!
  6. Teach. You know things. Share those skills. Online, by conference call. Just do it.
  7. Reuse, recycle, upcycle and barter. There are lots of schemes, like Freecycle. Yup!
  8. Try to be happy – and help others to be. I’ve lived in countries where the economy is a joke. It’s difficult but people are resilient and you adapt. You don’t have to wait for the glorious socialist revolution in order to share planned or spontaneous moments of joy and people are all around you. That’s still true. Stop obsessing about yourself and wallowing in your own misery and anxiety. Get up and get organised. Look around you – who’s worse off than you/ How can you help? Stop waiting for some higher authority to tell you what to do. HELP PEOPLE!
  9. Read. No, not just (social) media posts – read them as little as possible. At times like these, they’re mostly poison to a healthy mind. Read books and magazines and long, thought-provoking articles. Get around to it. Improve your mind. Stop opining and get informed. Learn the joy of good education and to put all this into perspective.

Above all, STAY ALIVE!

Knitting doll

“Knitting Doll” Image (c)Alan McManus, wooden knitting doll from Ridley’s House of Novelties

“Panic” and Other Games People Play

Further to my previous post, Foreign Bodies and Home Truths, here’s some informed common sense from Josh Farkas (@PulmCrit), “an associate professor of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at the University of Vermont”:

COVID-19

CXR & CT scan

  • The typical finding is patchy ground glass opacities […]  Over time, patchy ground glass opacities may coalesce into more dense consolidation.

lung ultrasonography

findings
  • Patchy ground-glass opacities may cause B-lines

performance
  • A patchy B-line or consolidation pattern can be seen in any pneumonia or interstitial lung disease […] Note that supine, hospitalized patients may have B-lines and consolidation

general approach to imaging

all imaging modalities are nonspecific
  • All of the above techniques (CXR, CT, sonography) are nonspecific.  Patchy ground-glass opacities may be caused by a broad range of disease processes (e.g. viral and bacterial pneumonias).  For example, right now in the United States, someone with patchy ground-glass opacities on CT scan would be much more likely to have a garden variety viral pneumonia (e.g. influenza or RSV) rather than COVID-19.

  • Imaging cannot differentiate between COVID-19 and other forms of pneumonia.

key principle: supportive care for viral pneumonia

general principle:  avoid COVID-19 exceptionalism

  • There is not yet any compelling evidence that the fundamentals of treating COVID-19 are substantially different from treating other forms of viral pneumonia (e.g. influenza).

Prof. Farkas sums up his advice in a poster:

KEEP

CALM

and

PROVIDE

USUAL

CARE

Let’s take that advice. Let’s not play any of these popular (and deadly) games:

  • Us & Them
  • They’re to Blame for It!
  • Round Them Up!
  • It’s Us or Them!
  • It’s Coming For Us!
  • We’re Doomed!
  • Let’s All Panic!

Instead, let’s be sensible and supportive of each other. That might not be quite as exciting as the seven games people play listed above. I don’t know if that will save our souls but it might just save lives. It will certainly save sanity.

Please retweet and share this post. All over the place.

man-scared

Thanks to Mohamed Mahmoud Hassan for releasing his image “Man Scared” into the Public Domain.

Foreign Bodies and Home Truths

  1. When is a virus not a virus?
  2. When it’s a plague?

A fortnight off Twitter has given me some perspective on various phenomena currently plaguing humanity, among them, those associated with the Coronavirus “Covid-19” (& co.) – which we all know all about. We’ve seen the colour photos taken by scientists with electron microscopes. Lovely.

Odd that, Googling the word, the images that immediately appear are all in different colours: dshs.texas.gov has the globe of the cell in light blue and the crowns in coral; cnn.com opts for light green throughout, but with the base of the crowns cleverly backlit; theolivepress.es uses the same effect but with contrasting shades of green – and the preferred palette of gov.uk (I must say, rather unpatriotically) is quite horrible. Blue and green should never be seen. And that hot pink doesn’t help at all!

Of course, scientists know that electron microscopes are produced by capturing electrons, not photons – so are these images fake? Well…it is true that since 2016 micrographs have been produced by “a false-color visualization of key features found within microscopic objects” that uses rare earth metals painted onto biological structures. However, today’s quickfire media just doesn’t have the time to wait for authentic micrographs, monochrome or not, and instead usually makes do with a quick artist’s impression.

I’m not knocking artistry. Luke Jerram’s glass sculptures of microbes are mindblowing. He’s not only honest enough to tell us he’s colourblind (so am I, like most men, to some extent) but also that, when it comes to electron microscopy, we all are:

“viruses have no color as they are smaller than the wavelength of light. Viruses are so small they can only be seen under an electron microscope (EM) as quite undefined grainy images”

And who wants grainy images when you can have lots of lovely detail in pretty pastel shades? Coloured detailed images of microbes, whether based on simply on artistic preference or informed guesswork, are not usually presented as such to the general public – or, if they are (in the small print) their fabrication is not highlighted.

Fabricated illustration is not the only aspect of popular science often not highlighted for Jo Public. Having been involved (one way or another) for decades with teaching methodology to postgraduate students of various academic disciplines, I realise how opaque most scientific research writing is. The duty of a popular science writer should be to clarify the confusing jargon that scientists use as a shorthand, and the duty of any journalist should be to check his or her facts!

Instead, many such writers don’t take the time to do either. I’m not suggesting that non-experts try to contend with experts. There are often enough experts in the field in disagreement with the establishment view whose views can be reported too, for balance. That’s the approach I took when I wrote Silence and Dissent: Expert Doubt in the AIDS Debate. I quoted Gallo but I also quoted Duesberg. I’m not an expert; they are.

I am suggesting that, expert or not, we can stand back from the details and look at the line of argument, the train of logic. Is it a straight line? Does it derail?

Take this, standard, advice on the Coronavirus posted yesterday by a medical doctor and a registered nurse (who describes herself as a “clinician”):

“Given the threat this epidemic presents, managers shouldn’t hesitate to send employees who present with Covid-19 symptoms home.”

Yet only at the end of January, Chu et al. (2020) admitted:

“The spectrum of this disease in humans is yet to be fully determined. Signs of infection are highly nonspecific, and these include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, dyspnea, and viral pneumonia. Thus, diagnostic tests specific for this infection are urgently needed for confirming suspected cases, screening patients and conducting virus surveillance.” (end of Introduction)

Meanwhile, the good old BBC, while certainly taking the party line, does provide some interesting information:

“The WHO says the virus appears to particularly affect those over 60, and people already ill. In the first large analysis of more than 44,000 cases from China, the death rate was 10 times higher in the very elderly compared to the middle-aged.”

The bar chart below that quote (unfortunately the BBC doesn’t seem to be able to format a bar chart differently from a histogram) explains what “already ill” means: about 11% cardiovascular; 7% diabetes; 6% respiratory disease; 6% hypertension – with only about 1% having “none”. Which means that 99% had something other than the virus that made them ill enough to be described as such.

Underneath again, we have:

“But most patients have only mild symptoms and the death rate appears to be between 2% and 5%, the WHO said. By comparison, seasonal flu has an average mortality rate of about 0.1%, but is highly infectious – with up to 400,000 people dying from it each year.”

Hmmm…

Could there be any other factor (apart from those poor bats) that might exacerbate normal seasonal flu mortality into something bigger?

Let’s look at the “treatment”. According to Sahar Esfandiari (citing Reuters and The Wall Street Journal) of Business Insider:

“People in China are so scared of contracting the deadly Wuhan coronavirus they are begging HIV patients for their medication in a bid to find a potential cure.”

Reuters gives details:

“Although there is no evidence from clinical trials, China’s National Health Commision said the HIV drug lopinavir/ritonavir can be used for coronavirus patients, without specifying how they might help. […] That triggered a rush, specifically for Kaletra, also known as Aluvia, which is drugmaker AbbVie’s […] off-patent version of lopinavir/ritonavir and the only version approved for sale in China.”

“Gatsby Fang, a Chinese cross-border buying agent, told Reuters that he ordered generic versions of Kaletra from India on Jan. 23, shortly after he firstly heard that the drug might be useful against the new coronavirus. Fang, whose primary job is in the financial industry, said he sold each bottle for 600 yuan ($86) each, bringing in 200 yuan to 300 yuan in profit on each. His stock was sold out by Jan. 25. Some clients ordered 600 tablets at once, he said. His buyers included infected patients, front-line doctors in Hubei, and those who did not need the drug but thought it might offer protection. Other drug sellers also approached him, pretending to be patients, Fang said.”

(Gatsby Fang. How wonderful! You just couldn’t make that up!)

HIV drugs are certainly being rebranded, as this rather horrifying article from Nature explains:

“From the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, medical practitioners have followed China’s guidelines set up in January and treated hospitalized patients with α-interferon combined with the repurposed drug Kaletra, an approved cocktail of the HIV protease inhibitors ritonavir and lopinavir.”

And yet, in the same article:

“But Erik De Clercq, of the Rega Institute for Medical Research in Leuven, Belgium, says that in searching for or designing effective drugs against COVID-19: “We should stay away from antivirals known to be acting at targets not playing a role in the replication of coronaviruses”.”

And his colleague, Rolf Hilgenfeld, from the Institute of Biochemistry at the University of Lübeck, Germany, also warns here against hasty action:

“Unfortunately, with previous outbreaks, there is the experience that not all of these studies are very sound, they have been done under tight pressure, and so one has to be a little bit cautious about the results”

Let’s put all this together.

  1. Seasonal flu is highly contagious; older people and those already ill are more likely to die from it.
  2. Wuhan has had specific public health challenges.
  3. The measurable signs (and moreso the reported symptoms) of Covid-19 are “highly nonspecific” and so are the tests currently in use (Chu et al., 2020). In other words, it’s indistinguishable from other forms of influenza and pneumonia.
  4. Globally, overuse of antibiotics is making flu strains more virulent and lessening the ability of the immune system to fight pneumonia (which even the biggest drug pushers admit).
  5. People showing signs or reporting symptoms of flu, most old and already ill, are being rounded up in China, in Hubei and especially in Wuhan where the panic is worst, and being given “emergency treatment”.
  6. China’s government health guidelines recommend giving chemotherapy drugs designed for HIV, which have known serious (and eventually fatal) side effects, twice daily to sufferers.
  7. Seasonal mortality in already-vulnerable demographics, augmented by antibiotics and antivirals (like drinking bleach to cure the common cold), confirms the hypothesis that this form of Coronavirus is really bad and to blame. The panic spreads as Steps 4-7 repeat, globally).

The colourful images the media presents to us as science ain’t necessarily so. Digging a little deeper, we find that science writing is deeply funded by large pharmaceutical companies. They’re set to make a fortune from China’s catastrophe.

  1. When is a virus not a virus?
  2. When it’s profitable.

red-germ

Thanks to Dawn Hudson for releasing her image Red Germ into the Public Domain.