Norman Swan v Peter Hitchens

Normal Swan has apparently become the guru of choice in Australia on the Corona Virus: Australia’s Coronavirus Guru Is Taking His New Celebrity Status Seriously. Perfect for the job: “seems calm, consistent, and knowledgeable. His delivery has been appropriately urgent, without lurching into panic.” An MD as well, which is useful for treating medical problems, not necessarily for statistical analysis to determine just how dangerous the CV is.

And on the other side we have Peter Hitchens: Is shutting down Britain – with unprecedented curbs on ancient liberties – REALLY the best answer?

Dissent at this time will bring me abuse and perhaps worse. But I am not saying this for fun, or to be ‘contrarian’ – that stupid word which suggests that you are picking an argument for fun. This is not fun…. If I did not lift my voice to speak up for it now, even if I do it quite alone, I should consider that I was not worthy to call myself English or British, or a journalist.

With Swan, if you want standard-issue but calmly stated hysteria you can find him on the ABC. This is Peter Hitchens, standing up for our traditional liberties in the face of the left and the far-left. This is only part of what he wrote. You can read it all at the link.

Here I am, asking bluntly – is the closedown of the country the right answer to the coronavirus? I’ll be accused of undermining the NHS and threatening public health and all kinds of other conformist rubbish. But I ask you to join me, because if we have this wrong we have a great deal to lose.

I don’t just address this plea to my readers. I think my fellow journalists should ask the same questions. I think MPs of all parties should ask them when they are urged tomorrow to pass into law a frightening series of restrictions on ancient liberties and vast increases in police and state powers….

It may also be the day our economy perished. The incessant coverage of health scares and supermarket panics has obscured the dire news coming each hour from the stock markets and the money exchanges. The wealth that should pay our pensions is shrivelling as share values fade and fall. The pound sterling has lost a huge part of its value. Governments all over the world are resorting to risky, frantic measures which make Jeremy Corbyn’s magic money tree look like sober, sound finance. Much of this has been made far worse by the general shutdown of the planet on the pretext of the coronavirus scare. However bad this virus is, the feverish panic on the world’s trading floors is at least as bad….

What can one say to this? In a pungent letter to The Times last week, a leading vet, Dick Sibley, cast doubt on the brilliance of the Imperial College scientists, saying that his heart sank when he learned they were advising the Government. Calling them a ‘team of doom-mongers’, he said their advice on the 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak ‘led to what I believe to be the unnecessary slaughter of millions of healthy cattle and sheep’ until they were overruled by the then Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir David King.

He added: ‘I hope that Boris Johnson, Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance show similar wisdom. They must ensure that measures are proportionate, balanced and practical.’
Avoidable deaths are tragic, but each year there are already many deaths, especially among the old, from complications of flu leading to pneumonia.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) tells me that the number of flu cases and deaths due to flu-related complications in England alone averages 17,000 a year. This varies greatly each winter, ranging from 1,692 deaths last season (2018/19) to 28,330 deaths in 2014/15.

The DHSC notes that many of those who die from these diseases have underlying health conditions, as do almost all the victims of coronavirus so far, here and elsewhere. As the experienced and knowledgeable doctor who writes under the pseudonym ‘MD’ in the Left-wing magazine Private Eye wrote at the start of the panic: ‘In the winter of 2017-18, more than 50,000 excess deaths occurred in England and Wales, largely unnoticed.’…

We are warned of supposedly devastating death rates. But at least one expert, John Ioannidis, is not so sure. He is Professor of Medicine, of epidemiology and population health, of biomedical data science, and of statistics at Stanford University in California. He says the data are utterly unreliable because so many cases are going unrecorded. He warns:

‘This evidence fiasco creates tremendous uncertainty about the risk of dying from Covid-19. Reported case fatality rates, like the official 3.4 per cent rate from the World Health Organisation, cause horror and are meaningless.’

In only one place – aboard the cruise ship Diamond Princess – has an entire closed community been available for study. And the death rate there – just one per cent – is distorted because so many of those aboard were elderly. The real rate, adjusted for a wide age range, could be as low as 0.05 per cent and as high as one per cent.

As Prof Ioannidis says: ‘That huge range markedly affects how severe the pandemic is and what should be done. A population-wide case fatality rate of 0.05 per cent is lower than seasonal influenza. If that is the true rate, locking down the world with potentially tremendous social and financial consequences may be totally irrational. It’s like an elephant being attacked by a house cat. Frustrated and trying to avoid the cat, the elephant accidentally jumps off a cliff and dies.’

Epidemic disasters have been predicted many times before and have not been anything like as bad as feared.

But while I see very little evidence of a pandemic, and much more of a PanicDemic, I can witness on my daily round the slow strangulation of dozens of small businesses near where I live and work, and the catastrophic collapse of a flourishing society, all these things brought on by a Government policy made out of fear and speculation rather than thought.

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22 Responses to Norman Swan v Peter Hitchens

  1. Iampeter

    This is Peter Hitchens, standing up for our traditional liberties in the face of the left and the far-left.

    You mean in the face of Trump, Boris, Scotty M, et al…

  2. OldOzzie

    Coronavirus: Donald Trump vows to ease restrictions ‘to save economy’

    Cameron Stewart
    Washington Correspondent

    Donald Trump has signalled he will soon ease social distancing rules to help rescue the US economy despite warnings from health experts that it could cause a catastrophic increase in coronavirus infections and deaths.

    In what looms as one of the most difficult trade-offs of his presidency, Mr Trump said the damage to Americans from a collapsed US economy was greater than the danger posed by the virus. He cited the high number of deaths from the flu and from automobile accidents as examples of other threats that Americans routinely faced.

    “The doctors say let’s shut down the entire world and that would be wonderful …(we are) the number one economy in the world we can’t do that,’ Mr Trump said.

    He said the cost of a collapsed economy in terms of lost jobs, anxiety, depression and suicides would “probably” lead to a larger death toll than that caused by the coronavirus if the economy was allowed to remain closed for long.

    “This could create a much bigger problem than the problem you start out with … because of the magnitude of our economy … we can’t turn that off….there will be tremendous death, probably more death from that than anything with respect from the virus,” he said.

    Mr Trump has agreed to temporarily back social distancing as a means of slowing the spread of the virus but is increasingly alarmed by the massive economic fallout as the nation grinds to a halt and financial markets plunge.


    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 23, 2020

    Mr Trump also offered an apology to Asian Americans for causing offence by insisting on calling the virus “China virus.”

    “To every single American, please know that the sacrifice you are making at this time is saving lives, many, many lives. It’s very important that we totally protect our Asian American community in the United States, and all around the world,” the president said.

    “They’re amazing people and the spreading of the virus is not their fault in any way, shape or form. They’re working closely with us to get rid of it. We will prevail together. It’s very important.”

    It is very important that we totally protect our Asian American community in the United States, and all around the world. They are amazing people, and the spreading of the Virus….
    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 23, 2020

    ….is NOT their fault in any way, shape, or form. They are working closely with us to get rid of it. WE WILL PREVAIL TOGETHER!
    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 23, 2020

    His comments came as infection rates and deaths from the virus soared by almost 25 per cent in a day across the US which has now recorded more than 42,000 infections and 514 deaths.

    It also came as the US Senate failed for the second day to strike a deal over a $US2 trillion rescue package and both Democrats and Republicans hurled names across the chamber amid extraordinary scenes.

    “This has got to stop and today is the day it has to stop,” a frustrated Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said. “The country is out of time.”

    The failure of Congress to pass a bill that is desperately needed to help prevent the US economy from complete collapse, spooked investors who sent stocks plunging yet again.

    Democrats blocked the bill, saying it was too focused on large corporate bailouts rather than protecting ordinary workers.

    “We have an obligation to get the details right, get them done quickly,” Democrat Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said. “That doesn’t mean blindly accepting a Republican-only bill.”

    Mr McConnell accused Democrats of blocking the bill to try to include reforms that were not relevant to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

    Mr Trump’s pledge to review social distancing guidelines after 15 days means that they could be relaxed as early next week when the period expires.

    But such a move would contradict the advice of health professionals who say the US could suffer an Italy-style catastrophe unless it strictly adheres to social distancing which includes millions of people staying at home and the ongoing closure of bars, restaurants and large gatherings.

    But the White House has been alarmed by the speed and magnitude of the shut-down in the economy, with millions of job losses and the devastation of key industries like aviation, tourism, restaurants and small businesses across the board.

    Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Mr Trump’s comments showed how he was all over the place in his response to the crisis.

    “The president will not take responsibility,” she said. “He’s a notion-monger, just tossing out things that have no relationship to a well-coordinated science-based governmentwide response to this

    New York mayor Bill De Blasio admitted that the distancing measures being employed in virus hotspots like New York were “extreme’ but maintain there was no other choice.

    “If you don’t slow this thing down, it will sacrifice a lot more on the other end of the equation, and we’ve got to think about the human cost here,” Mr De Blasio said.

    The US Surgeon General Jerome Adams warned that American faced a grim week ahead as infection and deaths rates continue to rise.

    “I want America to understand: This week, it’s going to get bad,” Dr Adams said.

    “We really, really need everyone to stay at home. … There are not enough people out there who are taking this seriously.”

    Fallen Hollywood producer and convicted sex offender Harvey Weinstein was reported to have tested positive for the virus as was the husband of former Democratic presidential contender Amy Klobuchar.

  3. H B Bear

    The ALPBC are seeking to talk up Norman Swan to boost their credentials as an “essential service”.

    Expect the budget demands to follow.

  4. Chris M

    The climate change panic is easier to take because although it costs a lot of money we know it only exists inside lefties heads.

    Problem with this one is the half-baked approach. If they need to shut down then shut everything for a month and kill this Wuhan disease right off. After that re-start but no travel / visitors.

  5. Sean

    We are in the midst of a safety-off. Just like the Woke trying to out-woke each other. Each of the states will pass more and more restrictive rules to be ‘ahead of the curve’.

  6. MACK

    Swan was directly contradicted several times by the experts on Q&A . He is clearly out of his depth – ABC management should direct him to just ask questions and not give opinions.

  7. Tezza

    Hitchens asks sensible questions and Ioannidis is doubtless right about the ropey data that form a very unsatisfactory basis for decision making.

    But there are only low errors in counting the bodies that mound up when an advanced economy’s health system, already marginal, is overwhelmed by a peak of transmission of a new infection compressed into just a few months.

    Once a health system is overwhelmed and lacking the doctors and nurses who sickened or died, the country’s health problems become much more general than COVID-19, and the rebuilding processes becomes much more complicated and protracted.

    Any suggestions of alternative policies to avoid a destruction of the health system now being experienced in Italy and very close in the UK are most welcome. Australia is probably only about 2 or 3 weeks behind the UK.

    As one alternative, I would love to rely on people’s understanding of compound growth, their common sense and their sense of mutual responsibility with their fellow citizens, but that wish is confronted by the recent scenes at Bondi Beach.

    Historically, such scenes and the denial of reality were the early stages of each resurgence of the plague over centuries in Europe.

    IMHO, the only practical alternative we had, but have now lost, was the opportunity to completely close Australia’s external borders about a month ago, with supervised and COVID-tested quarantine of returning Australians and any essential foreign visitors. Jo Nova has been advocating measures of this type since about 1 February. At the time, such measures seemed excessive on the evidence available at that time, just as today’s measures seem excessive on today’s evidence. That is always the case with any attempt to catch up with a serious pandemic exhibiting exponential growth before the point when it has eventually begun to burn itself out by having killed all those most vulnerable to it.

  8. Ed Case

    Swan has been around for a while.
    He played a part in bringing down Dr William McBride over Debendox research in 1991.

  9. Tel

    Nothing reported by the World Health Organization should be taken in any way seriously. They failed to report this until two weeks after they were first notified and even after Taiwan had very officially told then that this virus is both contagious and has a higher than average lethality, the WHO claimed (falsely) there was “no evidence” of it spreading from human to human.

    They must not be allowed to get it so totally wrong, and come back with any credibility.

    I will point out that current WHO propaganda is “no evidence” that it can get into pets, which is also a flat out lie, because at least one case directly reported that his cat got sick and died. True that one case might not be huge, but neither is it “no evidence” and for that matter absence of evidence would not prove evidence of absence even in the case where there was no evidence. If the WHO can’t understand these simple logical concepts then they are clearly unqualified for their job.

  10. Pyrmonter

    If we’re going to play games with qualifications, can I say I suspect Swan’s understanding of statistics might be better than that of Hitchens, a graduate in philosophy and politics.

    Setting that aside momentarily, I presume Dr Kates thinks Tyler Cowan a shill for the globalist Sorosphere, and Robert Barro . Marginal Revolution however is running interesting material, free (almost) of the culture war battles so common here.

  11. David Brewer

    Tezza – I agree with almost all what you have to say, but do you really think that we are only 2 or 3 weeks behind the UK in having our health system over-run? I suspect we had much lower prevalence when we started avoidance measures, and that fatalities and serious cases here will be much more manageable. So far, we have 8 deaths and there are 11 serious/critical cases among the 2,000 identified. There are obviously a lot more people out there and carrying it, but transmission is bound to be slowed by all the hunkering down, don’t you think?

  12. vlad

    What Swan is doing should be called “pulling a Shorten” as he evidently sees this as his Beaconsfield and a chance to swan around.

  13. JC

    What Swan is doing should be called “pulling a Shorten”

    That’s Dr. Norman Swan to you.

  14. One look at Italy should tell you all you need to know by the way of data and precedent.

    Hitchens’ solution to the trolley problem is to save the trolley and let all the humans die.

  15. nb

    One thing of which we can be sure: Impoverishment of the population is an agenda of the left. A prosperous society provides no base for redistributive totalitarianism with its accompanying class of privileged guardians.

  16. H B Bear

    mUnty – w o g demographics are sui genesis. It’s full of geriatrics with a degraded hospital system.

  17. Bruce of Newcastle

    I was slightly amazed that Powerline had the Buzzfeed story about Norman Swan on the Powerline Picks list this morning.

    Anything Buzzfeed excretes has got to be taken with a pile of salt after they were the bunch who went public with the Steele pee pee dossier that even the lefty MSM outlets wouldn’t touch.

    And Norman Swan is a standard ABC climate change alarmist. Which lends a degree of scepticism towards other scientific matters in my mind at least. He may be fine talking about coronavirus, but I would find it very hard to take him seriously after the usual ABC line he had been pushing on CO2.

    I suspect it is just Powerline being snowed, without a knowledge of Australian lefty MSM people. But linking Buzzfeed is close to inexcusable.

  18. Archivist

    Here’s the problem: China implemented extreme, authoritarian measures. They say it worked, but we can’t trust the Chinese data so we have no idea.

    The World Health Organisation has been telling the world for the past two months to emulate China. The world’s medical experts and advisors have been to large extent following the direction set by the WHO.

  19. Confused Old Misfit

    “seems calm, consistent, and knowledgeable. His delivery has been appropriately urgent, without lurching into panic.”

    Harvested from somewhere, probably the internet:

    “We have put into power a class of people whose skills are all in manipulating language and managing image and narrative, and as a result their procedures for dealing with problems rely first, and sometimes exclusively, on these tools.”

  20. Bernie Masters

    Hitchens makes a lot of sense except for fact: the very high death rate in Italy. If this death rate is replicated in those countries with an aging population such as Japan and other European countries, the human cost of the virus will be far higher than the economic cost of a lockdown.

  21. John snowy Bowyer

    Anyone see the mayor in Northern Italy having a love in with local Chinese FIFO workers ? Back to China for the new year and then hugs all-round on their return. He thought his fellow Italians were not servile enough so launched a campaign so the Chinese workers all got hugs. Same sort of people here now want to lock us up and throw away the key!

  22. OffGuardian has published an article, ’12 Experts Questioning the Coronavirus Panic’. A list of twelve medical experts whose opinions on the Coronavirus pandemic contradict the mainstream news on the topic, for anyone interested in alternative opinions.

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