Tuesday, 7 April 2020

Public Health England up to its old tricks

Anyone hoping for Public Health England to turn over a new leaf and be honest with people in the age of coronavirus is et to be disappointed. They put out this press release on Friday...

Smokers at greater risk of severe respiratory disease from COVID-19

Emerging evidence from China shows smokers with COVID-19 are 14 times more likely to develop severe respiratory disease.

This is a highly selective use of the evidence, as I explain in an article for Spectator USA...

An evidence review published three weeks ago found no association between smoking and the severity of COVID-19. This is a rapidly evolving field of research and the results may change over time, but evidence from the 13 studies published to date ‘does not support the argument that current smoking is a risk factor for hospitalization for COVID-19’. On the contrary, it ‘raises the hypothesis that nicotine may have beneficial effects on COVID-19.’

Taken as a whole, the evidence on smoking and COVID-19 does not point in the direction the ‘public health’ lobby would like it to. And so they have ignored it, focusing instead on a single study which reported a monstrously high 14-fold increase in risk for smokers who contract the disease. The study only looked at five smokers and is an obvious outlier, but it has been treated as definitive proof by activists around the world. Public Health England, which is under fire for its weak response to the pandemic, retreated to its comfort zone last week, telling smokers that they are ‘at greater risk of developing severe disease from the COVID-19 virus’ and that there ‘has never been a more important time to stop smoking.’ The only evidence cited by the agency was ‘a small but highly impactful survey from China’ which found that ‘smokers with COVID-19 are 14 times more likely to develop severe disease.’

The article looks at several examples of single-issue pressure groups making tenuous links between their pet causes and coronavirus. Do have a read.

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

To mute is human, to block is divine

I hit an important benchmark today when I blocked my thousandth account on Twitter. A volley of deranged abuse after I tweeted an article by Toby Young helped me sprint over the line.

A thousand sounds like a lot, but it's a big world out there and most of us will only ever see a few pockets of it. Of the planet's seven billion people, there are bound to be many millions of bad faith actors, obsessives, bores, pile on merchants, psychopaths and borderline retards, but you don't realise quite how many morons there are until you get on social media.

Twitter has 145 million active daily users. If you assume that one per cent of them are scumbags - surely a massive underestimate - that is well over a million people with whom you want no contact. Even if you block several thousand people, you will barely scratch the surface.

But Twitter is also host to many of the world's funniest, cleverest and most creative people. It is indispensable for breaking news, expert opinion and knowledge you would never otherwise stumble upon. I have probably learned more from being on Twitter than from any other medium and it saddens me when people feel they have to delete the app for the sake of their sanity. Yes, it can be a cesspool, but not if you curate it properly.

Several of my friends believe that the best way to de-scum their timeline is through judicious use of the mute button. There are two arguments in favour of this.

Firstly, they think that an idiot will take being blocked as some sort of victory.

Secondly, they like the idea of someone tapping pointlessly away at their keyboard to produce a reply that will never be seen.

Both arguments are flawed. On the first point, I doubt many blockees take being blocked as an admission of defeat by the blocker. Even if they do, so what? The worst they can do is take a screenshot and tweet it to their 16 followers, saying 'lol, looks like someone doesn't beleive in free speech!'

The second point misunderstands how many people use Twitter. A tweet is a micro-blog and the replies are effectively the comment section. The person replying is not just interacting with you. They are interacting with other people who reply. The muted user is therefore not tapping pointlessly away. They are saying things that other people can read and you can't. They are continuing to pollute your little slice of the internet and every time you don't reply they are thinking that you don't have an answer to whatever pathetic zinger they imagine they have launched at you.

No, it has to be a block. Blocking also holds the possibility, however slight, that the individual might reflect on their conduct and try to be more civil in the future.

It's not about stopping people seeing your tweets; you should be happy for everyone to hear your views. It is about stopping the worst people from fouling the air of your timeline and the timelines of those you engage with.

Your time is not limitless and you have to remember that you are on Twitter for your own benefit. You are not there to provide a free service to other people. You are not there to be harassed or insulted. You are not there to provide information to anyone who demands it, especially when they could easily find it themselves elsewhere on the internet.

Respectful disagreement is a good thing. Arguments are useful and it doesn't matter if they get heated once in a while. But there is nothing to be gained from engaging with people who are never going to change their mind and are intent on arguing aggressively about somebody about which you know something and they know nothing. You shouldn't be prepared to waste a nanosecond's screen time thumbing through idiotic responses from irredeemable nitwits.

If someone comes striding into your mentions with a comment that maliciously misrepresents what you said, questions your motives, or insults you, ask yourself two questions:

  • Will your life be any worse if you never hear from this person again?
  • If a stranger came up to you in a pub and said what this person has just said to you online, would you punch them in the face?

If the answers are no and yes respectively, get them out of your life forever.

You can do due diligence by looking at their profile. More often than not it will be full of retweets - Twitter flotsam rarely have anything original to say - and the retweets will usually be from the most needy, lowest common denominator Twitter personalities (David Schneider, Otto English, Owen Jones, etc.)

After a while you get a sixth sense for the type of person who is going to start out with a seemingly innocuous question but turn into a snarling demon within a couple of replies. The following first impressions prompt an instant block from me:

  • Communist or fascist iconography in profile. I don't see much of this but it's always creepy when I do. Anyone who publicly aligns themselves with regimes that killed millions of people is at least half-mad and should be avoided.
  • #FBPE in profile. Since February I have been blocking 'follow back, pro-EU' accounts on sight. I wish I'd done it sooner. It's not that I disagree with their europhilia, though I do, it is that they are so consistently thick and hysterical on every issue. They are so ovine that in my mind's eye, they are all the same person. Putting pro-EU hashtags (and black spiders) in your profile was sad enough when there was a chance of overturning the referendum result. Keeping them there two months after we've left is inexcusable.
  • 'Who funds you?' bots. This is a niche one for people who work for the IEA. We don't publish a list of all our donors, partly to protect them from the kind of lunatics who tweet 'who fnuds u?' fifty times a day. Long experience has taught me that these people are not actually interested in who funds the IEA. It is just a way of avoiding debate on substantive issues. I have also learned that the conversational skills of someone who tweets those three little words as their first interaction with you are not going to improve if you engage with them.
  • Malicious quote-tweeting. Commenting publicly on someone else's tweet is fine, but if it is  done purely to invite a pile on, block the fiend responsible. Admittedly there is a fine line, but you know it when you see it. Similarly, if you have deliberately not tagged in the person you're tweeting about (because you don't want to lead a pile on), it is very bad form for someone to try to stir things up by tagging them.
  • Profile pics that only show the user's eye. These are almost invariably men. Presumably they do it because they are ugly. Maybe they think it makes them look cool. It actually makes them look like serial killers. For reasons I can't explain, their opinions are nearly always appalling.

There are other red flags that do not necessarily deserve an instant block, but point that way if combined with other aggravating factors:

  • Red rose (🌹). Popular with Corbynistas in recent years. Not everybody who puts it in their profile is a wrong 'un, but many of them are incorrigible spreaders of fake news and are liable to go into a psychotic rant at the drop at the hat.
  • Football imagery in profile pic. I love football but using a footballer or football stadium as your main photo isn't really acceptable for anyone over the age of 15 (I'll tolerate it as a background or header image). Adults who go down this route on Twitter seem inclined towards witless and illiterate abuse. Supporters of one team in particular are worse than most, but I won't name the club.
  • Photo of the user (always a man) running or cycling. Usually, but not always, a sign that the user is an angry cyclist or a low carb diet bore.

As I was writing this, I received a tweet that nicely illustrates my point. This one is virtually a full house: #FBPE and spider in username, basic misunderstanding of a simple point, obvious spelling mistake and a bit of gratuitous abuse to finish it off.


Don't be like MrsMinx🕷#GTTO #FBPE. Be like Mike.

Geoff Norcott hates being told what to do (and so do I)

In what seems like another era but was actually three weeks ago, Geoff Norcott recorded a comedy special about the nanny state, with me acting as the straight man. It was broadcast last night and features several themes that will be familiar to regular readers of this blog.

You can listen here.

I was there to provide facts and statistics. I wasn't able to provide references (that would have been far too boring), but here are the souyrces for some of the things I mentioned that some people might find surprising:

We don't measure child obesity properly. See also here.

Child obesity hasn't risen in twenty years.

Rates of adult obesity have risen more slowly than predicted.

E-cigarette taxes lead to higher cigarette sales. See also here.

Problem gambling rates in Britain have not risen since we started measuring it in 1999.

Tuesday, 31 March 2020

'Public health' groups want you to die for their dogma

It’s been encouraging to see the private sector using its money, ingenuity and supply chains to help tackle the coronavirus pandemic. Mercedes F1 has been producing breathing aids. Dyson is manufacturing 10,000 ventilators. Diageo and several e-cigarette companies have been turning their skills towards producing hand sanitiser.

Meanwhile, the lifestyle wing of ‘public health’ has never looked more out of touch and irrelevant, reduced to lying about vaping and carping about big business. Today, a bunch of them have written to the British Medical Journal demanding cigarette-style warnings on petrol. Their inability to read the room in the last few weeks has been astonishing.

According to Matt Ridley, the rot goes all the way to the top:

Last week, I mentioned the temperance group whining about Diageo’s generosity. This week it is the turn of the anti-smoking fanatics. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which is best known for getting fake news on Newsnight and nearly destroying the programme, is now being funded by uber-nanny statist Mike Bloomberg to produce articles attacking ‘Big Tobacco’. It was behind last month’s Dispatches programme about Philip Morris (PMI) and it has come up with an equally lame gotcha this week.

Philip Morris International, the world’s largest multinational tobacco company, has been accused of a “shameful publicity stunt” by a leading campaigner after it donated ventilators to the Greek government as coronavirus infections mount in the country.

One of PMI's affiliate companies donated fifty ventilators to Greek hospitals, the bastards. The 'leading campaigner' who is outraged by this is our very own Deborah Arnott of the state-funded pressure group Action on Smoking and Health:

“This is a shameful publicity stunt by Philip Morris International, which owns Papastratos and has a 40% share of the Greek tobacco market.” 

But if this is first you’ve heard about it, it’s because PMI didn’t seek publicity. As Moira Gilchrist, PMI’s refreshingly vocal vice-president explains...

My old pal Dick Puddlecote has often said that the obsessive puritans who have weaselled their way into the ‘public health’ movement are not interested in health. This little story illustrates that perfectly. These people would rather see people die in agony than allow one of their disfavoured industries to provide life-saving equipment.

It's one thing to die for your beliefs, but expecting other people to die for them is a step too far.

The current pandemic will leave us poorer and weaker in many ways, but if, when the dust settles, people realise what the bottom feeders of fake 'public health' are like, some good many yet come of it.

Sunday, 29 March 2020

Whatever happened to Public Health England?

Public Health England has been strangely quiet during the pandemic. Its CEO Duncan Selbie, who earns more than the prime minister, has been nowhere to be seen. The job of tackling coronavirus has been left to the NHS and the Chief Medical Officer while PHE has been reduced to retweeting the Department of Health.

Only a tiny fraction of the £4 billion spent on public health in England goes towards the prevention of infectious disease. Far more is spent hassling people about their lifestyles. I have long called for the WHO and other public health agencies to focus on genuine public health problems rather than lifestyle regulation. Nothing could have fully prepared us for coronavirus but you'd think £4 billion a year would at least get us a decent supply on face masks.

I discuss this and more with Claire Fox and Tom Slater in the latest episode of the Last Orders podcast. Have a listen.

Public Health England is a beacon of competence compared to the wretched World Health Organisation. Patrick Basham has produced a shocking timeline showing the WHO's mismanagement of the pandemic and its creepily pro-China stance. It's well worth reading.

I was also talking to Mike Graham on TalkRadio last week about the economic implications of the lockdown.

Friday, 27 March 2020

Corona-vultures in the temperance movement

The International Order of Good Templars has changed its name to Movendi International, presumably in the hope that adopting a bland, corporate name will make people forget that it is one of the world's oldest gospel temperance groups.

The Anti-Saloon League and the UK Temperance Alliance did the same thing and are now trading as the American Council on Alcohol Problems and the Institute of Alcohol Studies, respectively. What is it about their origins that they are so ashamed of?

Like nearly every other single issue pressure group these days, the folks at 'Movendi' are trying to exploit the coronovirus pandemic for their own ends. They are very concerned about - you guessed it - the alcohol industry.

Major alcohol producers have announced their commitment to helping fight the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. Alcohol producers are shifting production to make hand sanitizers.

The alcohol industry is doing valuable public health work. That must sting.

While this is welcome, there are several reasons for caution and concern.

Such as?

Producing hand sanitizers and taking care of employees is the least the alcohol industry can do in this crisis.

Other people and professions are contributing with far greater efforts to the fight against the pandemic.

But not Movendi, because Movendi is a puritanical lobby group that has nothing to offer.

Movendi International cautions against the promotion of alcohol brands, free media coverage and PR-celebrations of an industry that is not and has never been a responsible corporate citizen. Political leaders and the media should refrain from providing a platform for brand exposure and free coverage of a health harmful industry.

Yeah, because people thinking well of the alcohol industry is the real issue at the moment, isn't it? Get a grip.

Corporate social responsibility initiatives are known to be strategies by the alcohol industry to do well by appearing to do good.

They are doing good. Suck it up.

Movendi's demands won't surprise you...

Declare alcohol retail outlets non-essential and find effective ways to provide services for all people, alcohol users and non-users, affected by alcohol harm during the crisis.  

This is straight out of the Anti-Saloon League's playbook. Remember this?

They continue...

Alcohol is not an ordinary commodity and alcohol harm is multifaceted and pervasive. A major dimension of alcohol harm is the damage to others than the alcohol user. Comprehensive impact assessments should be conducted and will lead to the conclusions that alcohol retail outlets are non-essential businesses...

They will, will they? I know that the quack social science of 'alcohol control' styarts with the conclusion and works backwards, but you're not supposed to say that out loud.

Be gone with you 'Movendi'. We need you now less than ever.

Thursday, 26 March 2020

The corona-vultures circle

Dr Farsalinos and colleagues have been updating their working paper on smoking, vaping and coronavirus. The evidence for either activity increasing COVID-19 risk remains virtually nonexistent.

Not that this has stopped the pretend 'public health' lobby muscling in on a genuine public health problem. The Mayor of New York has been urged to ban tobacco and e-cigarette sales, and South Africa has just announced that it will effectively ban the sale of tobacco and alcohol during its 21 day lockdown.

In the Alice in Wonderland world of tobacco control, the myth about smoking increasing COVID-19 risk has become an established fact. Cherry-picking the one study that suits their purposes and ignoring the rest, they have come to the usual conclusion: they need more taxpayer cash:

The role of smoking in the contraction, transmission and mortality rate of Covid-19 should be given research attention, and countries should allocate resources to health stimulus packages, scientific research, and actions to further reduce smoking rates.

The corona-vultures are circling. Most 'public health' professionals wouldn't know one end of a microscope from the other. They are all about politics and lifestyle regulation and are therefore useless in a pandemic, but they can smell authoritarianism in the air and are keen to piggy-back it with their usual obsessions.

Take this nit-wit, for example. Terrifyingly, he is the WHO's external relations officer. Speculating wildly, he links to a Daily Mail article as supporting evidence:

Meanwhile in Britain, Greg Fell, Sheffield's low IQ public health director, is hopeful that COVID-19 will speed up the 'endgame' of total prohibition.

Today I read about an anonymous group that has just been set up under the name Lower The Baseline. Its website address was registered a few days ago but it has already got some media attention for an open letter which appears not to have been published anywhere. Their solution to COVID-19? Minimum pricing for alcohol and a lower speed limit.

Expect much more of this. The authoritarian nightmare in which we are temporarily living is Utopia for some.