Categories
Big Data and Government Covid19

Fact Checking the Fact Checkers

A few weeks ago I decided to produce a short video (see below) highlighting a very obvious fact that the government seemed to be ignoring – that Winter excess deaths are always higher than the Summer baseline. I was curious to know if the Winter of 2020/21 was proving to be much worse than other years. In fact, at the time I wrote the content, all-cause deaths in January 2021 were not much different to the Winter of 2014/15 (and were lower than other years such as 1999/2000). To illustrate this fact I used official data produced by the Office for National Statistics, for England. I also suggested that while in 2015 no large-scale laboratory testing programme was used to diagnose respiratory illness – especially among the elderly – in 2021 we seem to be in the midst of a government sponsored data pandemic, fuelled by testing. I produced the video myself. The views expressed were mine and mine only. No-one funded it. There were no sponsors.

As it turned out, based on the volume of video views, the video content resonated with many. Some people re-published it on YouTube. Others on LinkedIn. It has been watched by tens of thousands of people and seems to have been well received by most who watched it.

The video did not discuss, in detail, the merits of PCR testing as a methodology. I chose not to get into the detail of amplification cycles and cycle thresholds, the shoddiness of testing processes, the origins of the Drosten assay or any other academic discourse. To an extent I’d covered this base before with my interview with Kevin McKernan in December last year. No, this video was really about my view that testing was providing the excuse for continued lockdowns that are, in my view, much worse in terms of social harms and damage to individual liberty, than Covid-19.

The expression of viewpoints like this, especially when backed up with empirical data, tended to be respected, prior to Covid-19. For years, prior to the “pandemic”, I was sought out by media organisations to give my opinions on issues of the day. My profession is research. After graduating in Economics I worked in, or for, several of the world’s most respected opinion research firms. As a specialist in technology markets I worked as an evidence-based consultant for many of the world’s leading tech firms. And, most recently, I was engaged as an Advisor to the UK government for three years working on inward investment in the tech sector (until I resigned just before Christmas).

It came as something of a surprise, therefore, when – after publishing my little video on Facebook, that I was informed that the video contained “partly false information” and now bore a warning notice (reproduced below).

I was informed by Facebook that one of their “independent” fact-checkers had reported the video, hence the warning. In addition to the grave-looking warning notice, Facebook also placed a link to a post on the “independent fact checker’s” website – FactCheckNI.

I had never come across this organisation and had no idea about its existence. According to the organisation’s website it is an “independent, non-partisan, community interest company” that engages in fact checking. It also states, “We fact check claims using the same standard for every fact check. We do not concentrate our fact checking on any one side. We follow the same process for every fact check and let the evidence dictate our conclusions. We do not advocate or take policy positions on the issues we fact check.”

None of “the management” of the organisation has any background in journalism. They seem to have appointed themselves to their opinion-policing roles. And quite why these people created this organisation is a mystery. Who checks them and the facts they choose to check?

So quite why the organisation had taken it upon itself to check the facts in my short video is a total mystery. At time of writing their post taking issue with the “facts” in my video is on the home page of their website. But I could find no fact checking posts on claims made by the government in their latest “look into their eyes” advertising or the thousands of media articles written or broadcast in support of government lockdowns. In fact, given the thousands of articles written and videos published about Covid response, why was mine given this bizarre treatment by this strange little organisation – that’s paid by Facebook to report content that clearly constitutes wrong-think.

Prior to Covid-19 we tended to diagnose respiratory disease based on symptoms – but we also believed that opinions were simply opinions. In fact many opinions were not of one “side” or another. They were simply opinions and could be nuanced. They were not subject to fact checking. And they could contain all sorts of shades and creative devices and arguments could be made using metaphors and similes. It’s called free speech.

In drafting the script for my video I drafted the following phrase. “[The] problem with PCR is that it’s something of a haystack creator in the search for the needle that should be very obvious.” This wasn’t a fact. It’s called a metaphor. It was a reference to looking for a needle in a haystack. My point was that PCR testing was not needed in the past as a diagnostic tool for respiratory disease during Winter – and that it created data that was of little use in identifying people who were infectious if the healthy and non-symptomatic were being labelled as infectious (when they, clearly, weren’t presenting in hospital). Moreover my video didn’t mention Northern Ireland once, nor was there any reference to Northern Ireland case data.

So why did FactCheckNI feel the need to fact-check the veracity of my metaphor?

Part of the reason may relate to reach and influence. Several prominent Northern Ireland business people shared my video on social media platforms and messaging. And I have a Northern Ireland accent. But, despite this, I’m an individual citizen and don’t have access to hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayer money for advertising and propaganda peddling.

Interestingly, when FactCheckNI tweeted the link to its post that “fact-checked” my article it included the following: The Minister for Health for Northern Ireland; the Department for Health for Northern Ireland and BBC Northern Ireland’s Health Correspondent – and various others. I wasn’t included in the list – even though the fact checking related to my video, my content, my intellectual property. And, clearly, for an organisation that doesn’t take sides it seems rather strange that it chose to notify only those organisations and individuals associated with one side of the PCR testing argument. Perhaps FactCheckNI could explain the facts behind this.

But let me explain certain facts to FactCheckNI. If I need to check facts I won’t be asking you – nor do I require you to check my opinions. And, as for Facebook, if you need to employ organisations like factCheck NI to police the opinions of your users, then your users will, like me, leave.

Perhaps you should, Facebook and FactCheckNI, note these words:

People having the power to express themselves at scale is a new kind of force in the world — a Fifth Estate alongside the other power structures of society. People no longer have to rely on traditional gatekeepers in politics or media to make their voices heard, and that has important consequences. I understand the concerns about how tech platforms have centralized power, but I actually believe the much bigger story is how much these platforms have decentralized power by putting it directly into people’s hands. It’s part of this amazing expansion of voice through law, culture and technology.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s speech at Georgetown University, October 2019
Categories
Covid19 Uncategorized

From Lockdown to Openup

Just think about the technology companies that have defined modern computing. Some have fallen from our memories. Even those of us who have worked in tech for most of our careers have probably no idea which companies, and which pioneers, defined the sectors outside of our own narrow spheres of interest.

That’s true for data networking, enterprise software, semiconductors, trading systems, geospatial technologies…in fact any area of tech. Companies are founded, funded, grow and are acquired, acquire or disappear. The market decides. It’s not a perfect market, admittedly. But it works and it has been the means by which we have seen startling progress.

That’s the way technology innovation has always worked. We’ve created a relatively level playing field and allowed all comers to innovate.  And with each iteration of tech we have built on the shoulders of the pioneers. 

The system has been criticised, of course. Some say that Silicon Valley has too strong a power base and that in order to play in the game one has to be the right type. Mix in the right circles, know the right people, have the right background, go to the right school. And Silicon Valley tends to favour certain types of investment – especially software. It’s not so good at funding the things that the world might need more of, like hardware engineering expertise, or better ways of producing energy.

But Silicon Valley doesn’t have a monopoly. London has been better at betting on financial technology innovation. Canada has created more than its fair share of quantum computing innovation. Australia has built a huge reputation for innovation in mineral exploitation technology and blockchain based supply chain innovation.

But then, in March 2019, everything seemed to stop. A virus emerged from China. And the Chinese response to dealing with the virus, lockdown, became the definitive way of dealing with it in the West too. Technology was the means by which business – or rather, some business – dealt with lockdown. Services businesses and the administrative bits of the public sector were readily able to cope given the uniquity of mobile devices and the ready availability of collaborative software and video conferencing. But the impact on the travel and tourism, hospitality, and retail sectors was devastating. Governments stepped in with generous welfare programmes to avoid wholesale economic collapse, but the cost in terms of sovereign debt has been without parallel since the second world war. 

While VCs have been quick to assure everyone that nothing really has changed – everything has.  There has been an employment flip in many Western societies – systemically away from the private sector towards the state. Furlough schemes, coupled with increasing unemployment and a long-term increase in public sector employment, has resulted in a significant increase in public sector dependency (financed through public debt) when coupled with the Covid policy response. And there’s also been a systemic tilt away from small and medium enterprises in certain sectors towards big gorilla players. So competition has been lockdown casualty too.

Consumer spending has also been changed. With lockdowns continuing in one guise or another in most Western economies for nearly a year, now purchasing patterns are potentially going to replace everything that came before.

The consequence may be that tech innovation will take place in this more constrained and government defined set of parameters. It just doesn’t feel like the kind of market that we associated with tech markets of old. It’s true, of course, that tech investment had a tendency to create asset bubbles. But now it feels like the money that’s undoubtedly still sloshing around in the system will only make it to those businesses that are apparently fit for purpose for a new normal that many people would prefer not to be normal.

The VCs aren’t stupid though. New, new things are much more lucrative than the current, safe, normal. And despite attempts to create a global reset and to build back better (as long as we all agree what this better stands for) there’s not much room for speculation and big returns in that kind of world.

There are opportunities to create new, new things that have a different view of what the future might be. The likelihood is that it’ll be much more like the old normal than what passes for it today – regardless of what today’s regulation brokers in government might believe.

We believe it’s time for a debate to discuss how we resume innovation post the lockdown era. We shouldn’t assume that the extent of technology innovation is more server capacity to support more real-time video conference sessions.

As Naseem Taleb has said, “The difference between technology and slavery is that slaves are fully aware that they are not free.”  We all need to be aware that the constraints we currently work under are not immutable, interminable constraints. They will change and they will go away. We are no longer required to employ men carrying red flags to walk in front of our cars. 

VCs aren’t investing at the rate they have invested in the past and are overlooking opportunities. They’ll soon get bored with that. 

Foreign direct investment will happen again. Airlines will start operating again. Hotels will open and parties will be organised. Perhaps the world will be different. But we need innovation to make the new normal more like the old normal. And here’s where we start making this happen.

Because Tech is always about the new era, not the current one. 

Categories
Covid19 Uncategorized

Covid, the answer to Jeremy Corbyn’s dreams

This article first appeared on The Conservative Woman

Even the mainstream media admits that the latest (national) lockdown will result in a huge hit to the UK economy. But there’s precious little sympathy being offered to the people who have provided the money to allow governments to function, ever since governments became a thing. After all, goes the government line, we have to protect the NHS.  It’s almost as if the NHS was sufficient reason for itself.

But that logic is applied elsewhere in government too. Covid response is showing us just how vast government has become and the extent to which it can remove freedom. And that has been as big a shock to me as anyone. 

Read the full article on The Conservative Woman.

Categories
Covid19

PCR and Lockdown

Every day we hear reports – especially from the mainstream media – about the number of Covid-19 cases there are.  Since mass PCR testing was rolled out across the UK the so-called case numbers have been used to justify lockdown after lockdown. But these aren’t cases. They are positive PCR tests. To date over 40 million of these tests have been conducted in the UK with hundreds of thousands testing positive.

With every lockdown based on increasing PCR positive test results comes huge damage to our society. Destroyed business, cancelled surgery, massive increases in domestic violence and mental ill-health. In my view lockdown is destruction – and the response to Covid is much worse than the disease itself – a coronavirus like many other coronaviruses, the cause of the common cold. 

But at heart of the policy is testing – but especially the PCR, the so-called gold standard of testing for SARS Cov2, the RNA sequence that’s been identified as the cause of Covid-19. 

Jeff Peel interviews Kevin McKernan

In this interview with Kevin McKernan, for PCR Claims, I ask him about the PCR test and its fitness for purpose. Kevin is a genomics expert and runs a genomics sequencing laboratory near Boston in the United States. Kevin has also conducted a peer review of the PCR test that’s used by most countries that use data from PCR testing to justify lockdowns – the so-called Drosten test (named after the German scientist who developed it).  Kevin’s view is that the PCR test is simply not fit for purpose for measuring Covid infection in general populations – and should not be used by governments to justify lockdowns.

Categories
Big Data and Government Covid19

Misinformation, Covid and the BBC

Since my appearance on BBC Radio Ulster Talkback on Friday I’ve had to face a fair amount of criticism on social media – but, thankfully, I’ve also received lots of messages of support. The criticism tended to focus on the fact that I clearly lost my temper on-air. My defence is that it’s tricky to maintain calmness when the interviewer (in this instance, William Crawley) was, from the outset, hostile.  But, I also wanted to present an alternative to the calm and clerical sounding Chief Scientific Advisor who was allowed to ramble, unchallenged, about the need for yet another draconian lockdown in Northern Ireland from Boxing Day. 

The day after that broadcast we heard from the Prime Minister that London and the SE of England was to have Christmas effectively cancelled as an opportunity for families to get together – as London moves into “Tier 4” of a tier system that starts with Tier 1/Medium and goes to Tier 4/Be Scared, Be Very Scared. The Covid Scare Taxonomy is running out of severity descriptors. 

My attempts, on Friday, to provide an antidote to the scary stuff from public health “experts,” were stifled at every opportunity by Crawley. When I attempted to present evidence to counter the fear narrative, I was closed down with accusations that my evidence essentially wasn’t allowed. It was, apparently, misinformation. Only the correct sort of evidence is allowed by the BBC these days.

But there were three central points I was trying to get across on Crawley’s programme that were stifled.

The first relates to lockdowns themselves. They don’t work. An excellent article to this effect was published by Nick Hudson (of PANDA) on Medium today. Although there’s a growing body of evidence that viruses will do their thing until populations achieve near herd immunity. There’s good evidence that we’re there already in the UK. Winter seasonal flu, which has nearly overwhelmed A&Es in the past (e.g. in December 2017/January 2018) is now being reclassified, it would appear, as Covid (see chart, below). Bed occupancy in London has been pretty consistent since mid September, but patients are being reclassified as Covid to fit the narrative.

NHS Bed Capacity, London, September to December, 2020

The second is that the PCR test is a duff test. I’m not going to re-hash a huge volume of work and back catalogue of research. There are a lot of resources on www.pcrclaims.co.uk that justify the view that the testing is creating a false narrative of “cases” – when they are, in fact, simply false positives. The PCR test produces large volumes of false positives simply because it is not fit for purpose for testing large populations of asymptomatic people.

Because PCR is the test of choice for NHS personnel it means that perfectly healthy healthcare workers are being sent home to isolate at a time when they are most needed i.e. during a Winter respiratory disease spike. 

And the final point I wanted to make relates, inevitably, to the social cost of all of this – especially when the concept of asymptomatic transmission must be questioned. Covid-19 is not a particularly dangerous disease for most people. Many have innate immunity (probably around 50% from T-cell immunity). Many have acquired immunity from having had the disease, even in a mild form. Therefore, people who are concerned that they may suffer severe ill-health if exposed to it can choose to isolate or take precautions. But those of us prepared to take the risk should be allowed to get out and socialise or engage in trade. The restraint of trade, and restraint of education, that are the the cornerstones of lockdown are extraordinarily damaging – especially to business owners, children and young people. 

These are not extraordinary claims or misinformation. These are valid concerns about a policy that has been tried, repeatedly, in all four home nations since March. It is a policy that’s is hugely damaging to our society and our way of life. If we are not allowed to question government policy, it starts to feel conspiratorial. Freedom of speech is at the heart of this. And curtailing that freedom – by the BBC or government – is the stuff of misinformation-spreading and propaganda. 

Categories
Covid19

The Test is the Problem

Some of you may remember the advertisement for the Volkswagen Golf a few years back where the driver – and proud owner – of a Golf hears an annoying squeak. He starts checking the car for sources of the squeak. But the punchline of the advert is that the squeak is coming from the earring of the driver’s sleeping wife.  It should have been obvious. No Golf squeaks.

We’re now nearly a year into the most significant curtailment of civil liberties that this country has seen since the second world war. And in the same manner that the Golf driver used all the usual tests for checking for squeaks, this government has implemented a draconian programme of testing to find the source of the problem (Covid-19). But the testing doesn’t seem to be finding anything very useful. 

In fact, some 41 million SARS Cov-2 tests – mostly PCR tests – have been conducted to date in this government’s search for that damned elusive Covid. Most of the tests have been negative.  Only 4% or so have been positive – and most of those people testing positive suffer little, if any, illness. We’re testing the healthy and labelling them unclean, for no obvious reason.

The testing itself is causing one hell of a squeak. Hundreds of billions of pounds have been forked out in furlough payments to people who can’t work, because of continued partial closure of the economy based on the big test. Testing has cost £billions. Health-care workers are being tested constantly. Students hoping to return home to their families are being tested.  School children with sniffles are being tested and being sent home if they test positive. Remote learning programmes have been set up to allow students and teachers to connect via Zoom. The airlines are near collapse. The hospitality sector is on its knees. City centres are like ghost towns. Retail chains are laying off thousands. Public debt is now well North of £2Trillion. And still we push on the bonnet of the nation, rocking it up and down on its shock absorbers hoping to find the source of that bloody squeak.

And where are the voices in the government, where are the rebels, where are the libertarians asking why this incessant, unending PCR testing continues? 

We know that PCR isn’t finding what it’s looking for. We’ve been told that this test is simply not fit for purpose. Studies tell us that fragments of the virus revealed by PCR do not actually tell us much at all. People testing positive are mostly not in the slightest bit infectious. Yet they are sent home, told to isolate. Our Prime Minister had the disease, recovered, and is immune, and yet decided to self-isolate because he stood close to someone who tested positive. The Heath Minister, on Sky News, told those who could be bothered to watch that those who had been infected with Covid should still get the Pfizer vaccine – because the vaccine is better, he hinted, than the virus itself at creating immunity. His comments left respiratory disease and immunology specialists gasping for air at the extent of such a public display of ignorance on the part of the person who has built this great testing edifice. 

All over the home nations hideous, grey testing centres have been shoddily erected in car-parks, manned by dour, masked security guards – things that would not look out of place in a Soviet Gulag. The expectation is that we will volunteer to get tested if we have even a hint of a Winter sniffle. If we test positive and fail to isolate, we will be fined and suffer the opprobrium of vast swathes of the scared in in our nations, rendered grey and joyless. 

But there is another way.

We can refuse. We can say enough is enough.  The PCR tests are the problem. They tell us nothing useful. They simply feed a statistics machine upon which the BBC gorges. It’s time to say, NO. No to PCR tests, no to tracing, no to those disapproving stares. Because the tests are the problem. 

Categories
Big Data and Government

Check out this BIG data dump…

When Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, was asked by Julia Hartley-Brewer on TalkRadio if the cost-benefit analysis would be presented to MPs later in the week, before they vote on another new-variant lockdown, Shapps retorted with a killer answer. Not only has such analysis been done, apparently, but a “huge data dump of a lot of analysis” would be delivered. This great dump, he suggested, could be pored over by MPs and, after their foraging in the dump, they would be super-wise to make a decision. 

Shapps’ answer says it all. Government policy, regardless of what it is, can be justified by obfuscation and lots of references to the bigness of the data. He made clear that data analysis would be part of the smoke and mirrors process to make sure that MPs were no wiser at all about the rationale for locking people down from meeting, drinking, eating and shopping before Christmas.

Shapps, apparently, got his big job back in government (after being side-lined by previous administrations) because he was seen to be a good media performer. But his past, littered with get-rich-quick schemes and dodgy pyramid-selling, has been all about saying one thing and meaning something else entirely.  Much of his dealings with the media in the past have been about justifying behaviour that was incompatible with high public office. 

But being good with the media seems, whatever form this takes, is all.  The Shapps approach involves knowing just enough about “data” to be able to evade what the data mean – what story it tells.

However, the arguments against the lockdown-based Covid response of the government have been made very well by scientists and very effective number-crunchers outside of government – notably Ivor Cummins, Carl Heneghan and Michael Yeadon.

Between them, they have meticulously destroyed the arguments for lockdown based on claimed Covid threat (centred around the R number). Instead, they have argued that PCR tests result in high levels of false positives, that the pandemic is probably over (based on reduced hospital admissions and evidence indicating T-cell immunity in a large percentage of the population).  They have also made compelling cases indicating that lockdowns just don’t work.  Along the way they have used precise and relevant data – not data dumps – to provide evidence for their assertions. But the government ministers responsible for implementing policies that are increasingly seen as damaging can run away from empirical evidence and use arguments that are based, frankly, on mumbo jumbo or just plain obfuscation.

The cost-benefit analysis of lockdown is likely to be complex and is likely to require some considerable evidence. But the result that we are seeking is an answer to this question: Is continued lockdown justified if the result is massive economic destruction, huge curtailment of non-Covid related treatment in hospitals, and significant damage to our civil society – even if a few more people get infected with what is, for most, a mild disease or one that results in no symptoms.  The answer cannot be a “huge data dump of a lot of analysis”.  That’s just not good enough anymore. 

Categories
Big Data and Government

Northern Ireland’s “Pandemic”

Every day people die. It’s an unfortunate fact. But people die. We’ll all die. And, when we do, our deaths – little data-points in the aggregate – will get added to the mix. Northern Ireland, like every administrative region in every part of the developed world, has a statistics agency that counts up all the deaths every day and collates them by month. And this year, 2020, is no different to any other year. Deaths have been tallied. There’s no denying the data. Or is there? 

In this, a ‘pandemic’ year, the month by month death data are more interesting than most. I’ve been looking at the numbers. And one month really jumps out. The month?  January 2018.  Why is this month particularly note-worthy?  Well in most months, most Winter months, around 1,200 or 1,300 or even 1,400 people die. But in January 2018 2,101 people died. In fact, more than 500 more people died in January 2018 than the average number of deaths for the five years previously. This is the excess deaths number.  506 to be precise. 

But, we’re told, 2020 is a pandemic year? So presumably we’ve knocked that previous record out of the park? Well, no. In not one month of 2020 have we seen that number of deaths. In April we came close with 1,933 deaths. In January this year we had much fewer deaths than in January 2018.

In 2018 it was well publicised that the health service came close to being overrun.  There was a crisis. Seasonal deaths were very high. But, of course, no convoluted tests were being used to determine what people were dying of. No doubt, respiratory diseases played a big part in causing end of life, especially among older people. But no new test was conceived. After all, if people are dying from chronic respiratory failure the symptoms are obvious, the diagnosis easy. No fancy tests are needed to test for what is normally described as Winter flu.  Or perhaps a particularly virulent form of cold.

Now let’s focus on April 2020 again. This is the month this year that was nearly as bad as January 2018 in terms of death count. If the health service was completely overrun in 2018, surely that was the case again in April, in a pandemic year? Well, no. That’s not the case. Because in 2020 – in March and April and May – the chronically ill patients, mostly elderly, were sent to care homes to die – for fear of hospitals being overwhelmed. So there was no real crisis in the hospitals. And, of course, elderly people with co-morbidities aren’t eligible for the limited ICU beds (there are less than 100 of them in Northern Ireland).  So ICU beds never got to capacity in April. 

So what about the so-called “second wave” in 2020 in Northern Ireland?  Well, we’re told, hospitals, many of them, are at more than 100% capacity. But in September deaths were pretty average for time of year at 1,384. This number isn’t significantly worse than the death number in September 2015. And yet, in 2015, most of the economy hadn’t been closed down. People weren’t on state-funded furlough. We could all still get out for a meal or a pint, and still get our hair cut.  But in 2015 we didn’t have the PCR test – a test contrived to define people as sick who clearly aren’t. And one result of this PCR test is that perfectly healthy medical staff are being sent home to “self-isolate” – meaning that they can’t help the spike in Winter patients – spikes that have occurred frequently in the past. 

And remember, the most severe spike was in January 2018, not in any month, so far, in 2020. 

Categories
Uncategorized

Lockdown Folly

Dr Mike Yeadon’s video, explaining the nonsensical response by the UK government (and its crazy devolved government variants) to the Covid virus, has been removed from YouTube for violating its terms. Quite why, is not explained. Dr Yeadon explains carefully, succinctly, and based on years of experience as an immunologist, why lockdowns are failing and why bad data is driving awful policy. This is a tour de force argument against lockdowns. And I’m posting it here as an homage to informed debate and freedom of speech. And as a tribute to business people whose livelihoods are being destroyed by catastrophic policy.

Categories
Events

TECH|The New Era

I’m delighted to be working in partnership with Switch New Media on a new event that will take place to coincide with London Tech Week in September. TECH|The New Era will be on September 8 – during London Tech Week. It will be a day-long conference involving technology thought leaders, start-ups, scale-ups, commentators, analysts, writers, economists, investors, and policymakers. Our objective will be to provide a forum for some of the best, unhindered thinking on how Tech should respond and bounce back – and what technology solutions we should be building and funding right now. We will also hear from those who see real opportunities for a V-shaped recovery rather than one that looks more like an L. 

We plan to run the event from early morning to early evening allowing participation from across time-zones. We hope (subject to social distancing rules in place at the time) to anchor and live stream the event from London with a rolling studio audience and studio guests throughout the day.