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. 

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.


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.

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 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. 


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. 

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. 

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. 


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.


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.


Not all virtual events are created equal

Just over 10 years ago I hatched an audacious plan in conjunction with Diarmaid Lynch of Switch New Media. The plan was that we’d run a tech event (with a twist). But what made this an audacious plan was that we’d live stream it and allow live chat in real time, using Twitter.  We’d have a small audience, crammed into a conference room in central London, but we’d pack the room with broadcast quality cameras and run the thing like a TV show. Great sound, a proper set, good lighting, – and we’d allow people to comment and ask questions live. Amazingly, we pulled it off.

We had a good live stream audience (in the thousands) as well as around 100 people in the room. Despite corporate firewalls most people were able to watch it live, regardless of the browser they were using (and this was an issue back then). We had media sponsors who helped promote it. And we had corporate sponsors behind us – like IBM and Microsoft – to help fund the thing. And we had compelling keynote speakers to draw people in. 

The secret to its success was that it was a proper event. It had an element of theatricality. In fact, possibly even an element of show business.  There were glitches, of course. But it worked. And since then the concept has been honed and improved.

Fast forward just over ten years and everyone is offering “Webinars” or live streamed events. In lockdown there is no alternative. But, my goodness, where is the show business? 

The business world has suddenly, apparently, embraced what we were offering a decade ago. Except, of course, they are overlooking the fact that without the show business the audiences will ultimately go away. The sheer volume of “webinars” is simply unsustainable.

All the old world event rules still apply. There needs to be a reason to attend an online event as much as a real in-person event.  Networking and connecting comes into it, certainly. But the content needs to engage as well – offline and online. 

As we come out of lockdown physical events will return but it’s likely that travel policies will be slow to unstick. Large events will be tricky. And, in any case, there will also be a reluctance to travel and mix in big groups. But I suspect that the amalgam event will return – a modest, in-studio live event (with invited guests and speakers) combined with streamed as live content. And the whole thing professionally anchored. And everything properly mixed, streamed from a robust platform, with crisp sound and polished continuity and slick collaboration and networking. 

Because anything less than this isn’t an event – virtual or not.