Ten Takeaway Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic: In a Nutshell
Many Western countries abandoned traditional, largely voluntarist methods of disease control, instead following in the footsteps of China’s pandemic response, which entailed a turn to authoritarian and coercive measures like lockdowns and vaccine mandates.
Because this sort of internationally coordinated, authoritarian response to a pandemic has no historical precedent, it can reasonably be viewed as one of the most high stakes social experiments of all time. We have seen the experiment play out: what can we learn from it? In this article, I outline ten lessons I have drawn from the international response to Covid-19.
This is a “quick and dirty” version. Click here for the more in-depth version of this article.
1. The emotional and cognitive salience of risk should not be confused with the objective gravity of risk.
2. Treating highly population-stratified risk with a uniform response imposes unnecessary costs upon citizens and wastes precious resources.
3. The lack of disciplinary breadth and plural opinion on scientific advisory counsels advising governments led to inadequately informed, simplistic, and catastrophically misguided scientific advice.
4. Mainstream media seemed unable or unwilling to do their job and provide critical and objective reporting and commentary on matters related to the pandemic.
5. The stunning success of governments’ use of fear as a means of “nudging” citizens into compliance demonstrates how extraordinarily vulnerable citizens of constitutional democracies are to emotional control and manipulation.
6. Private censorship can probably do just as much damage at impoverishing the public sphere as State-sponsored censorship.
7. Many governments and public health agencies have proven themselves unworthy of public trust, due to their refusal to be truthful with the public or correct their own mistakes.
8. The public tolerance for draconian measures like stay-at-home orders, outdoor mask rules, police raids on households, medical segregation, suppression of anti-government protests, and vaccine mandates suggests that many citizens have become only half-heartedly committed to basic values like liberty, constitutionalism, and rule of law.
9. The popular wisdom that great public emergencies call for hyper-centralised and authoritarian responses is contradicted by the abysmal failure and extensive collateral harms of centralised, authoritarian pandemic policies.
10. The presentation of scientific data and arguments was significantly distorted by strategic political goals like the legitimation of lockdown policies and the justification of vaccination campaigns, raising questions about the integrity of scientists working for governments.
Governments were not forthright in their presentation of Covid data. For example:
Governments used PCR test results uncritically throughout the pandemic, even after it was well known that PCR data over-reported illness by picking up a lot of past illnesses and false positives.
Public officials uncritically reported official data on Covid deaths without properly explaining that such statistics included both deaths from Covid and deaths from other causes that correlated with a positive Covid test.
Political leaders and public health officials continued to sing the praises of measures like lockdowns and masks, even after many studies showed that such measures had a very marginal impact, if any, on disease spread.
Official public health agencies often conflated the numbers of unvaccinated patients and patients with a single jab or even two recent jabs, artificially inflating the extent of vaccine efficacy and covering up possible adverse effects of the vaccines.
Government representatives repeatedly claimed that this was a “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” even when transmission rates between vaccinated and unvaccinated were comparable, and even when they knew perfectly well that many unvaccinated citizens, including those who had already had Covid-19 and those who were young and healthy, made a minimal contribution to hospitalisations.
Last but not least, public authorities rarely came clean with citizens about the fact that the risks associated with Covid vaccines, especially risks for children and teenagers, were still not adequately understood, and that there were some worrying signals in the adverse event reports, such as uncharacteristically high rates of myocarditis in young people recently vaccinated.
All of these “fudges” or half-truths served to (a) artificially accentuate the gravity of the pandemic, (b) artificially inflate the perceived real-world efficacy of Covid interventions, (c) keep the public in the dark about the true extent of collateral harms of Covid restrictions, and (d) artificially downplay potential worries about the adverse effects of vaccines.
While some scientists refused to go along with this charade, many kept quiet or even adopted an active role in “massaging” the data to fit government-approved narratives. This is very worrying, because it suggests that scientists who were elevated to important advisory roles were disingenuous and politically strategic in their presentation of scientific findings and data, and that many scientists (with a few notable exceptions) were unable or unwilling to question the misrepresentation of scientific findings.
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