The Government pandemic narrative is becoming clear. OK we made mistakes, but we were misled by bad scientific advice.
That isn't true. The mistakes were mostly because they ignored their scientific advisors.
I'll give you 10 behavioural examples starting with the most egregious
1. As today's report makes clear, the failure to respond quickly was the worst public health mistake of recent times and costs many thousands of lives. A large part of the justification was 'behavioural fatigue' - the notion that people would be incapable of coping for long...
However most behavioural scientists, including their own advisors rejected the notion, describing it as 'unscientific'
'Groupthink' implies a general inability of groups to take a wider perspective and allow views which challenge the consensus. According to this view. such failure is inevitable, it is a characteristic of all groups and so specific groups cannot be held accountable for it.
It is like responding to gender violence by arguing 'boys will be boys'. Regrettable, but inevitable. And hence something we have to live with. This, of course, hides the specific toxic cultures and ideologies which underpin toxic behaviour - which can and must be challenged.
Boris Johnson claims that the private sector is responsible for the success of vaccines. This is misleading (to be polite) in at least three different ways.
First, the vaccine development was almost entirely paid for by public funds.
The private sector paid just 2% of the costs of developing AstraZeneca.
In the US, the Government paid $2.5 billion for the development of Moderna - although, to be fair, Dolly Parton donated $1 million
Second, Governments removed any financial risks to private companies by making advance purchase commitments
Moderna got $4.95 billion for 300 million doses from the US Government
Johnson & Johnson got $1 billion for 100 million doses
Pfizer got $5.97 billion for 100 million doses
What is the connection between the BBC Comedy Quiz 'the unbelievable truth' and Boris Johnson's conference speech?
At one level they are diametrically opposed: the one devoted to smuggling in truths posing as lies, the other devoted to smuggling in lies posing as truths....
But to succeed, both depend upon confusing truths and lies so no-one can tell which is which (a core condition of totalitarianism according to Arendt, since if we cannot distinguish truth from lies then power alone defines what is real).
If you listen to the comedy show, you discover that the most effective way of confusing your audience is to deliver such a welter of remarkable claims that there is no time to interrogate every one and one runs too high a risk of being wrong in challenging any particular one.
Quite understandably, considerable concern over the risk of myocarditis from vaccination. All of us want to keep our children safe.
So this new paper is important. It shows that the risk of myocarditis from Covid is up to 6 times higher than the risk from vaccination.
As the authors state, this data forms an important part of the risk-benefit analysis we need to make informed decisions on vaccinations.
That is, it is not enough to want to keep our children safe. We need open and transparent information about how best to keep our children safe.
In the case of myocarditis it is clear that the answer to this question is vaccinate! Our analysis reaches a similar conclusion looking at all the risks and benefits in the round: rsm.ac.uk/media-releases…
Years back I worked with a Home Office researcher who explained that they knew and advised in advance that punitive Tory 'law and order' policy (then a 'short sharp shock' for young offenders) didn't work. But they got a good ovation at Tory conferences. theguardian.com/politics/2021/…
so the policies went ahead, the Home Secretary thrived politically, and the rest of us paid the price.
This time it is even worse. Such criminalisation of protest and repression of protestors, enforced by the police, leads to a perception of police as anti-protest.
It undermines any possibility of dialogue between police and protestors or of rights based policing which respects the human right to peaceful protest. Indeed, once the police are positioned as a 'repressive other' the odds of crowd conflict are decisively increased.
The murder of Sarah Everard certainly raises profound questions for the police and the inadequacy of their 'few bad apples' response. But it also raises questions for the way all our institutions (fail to) deal with misogyny, racism and more... mirror.co.uk/news/politics/…
Of course the murderer was rotten, but he was only able to murder because he could survive and thrive in the institution. His private beliefs became public acts to the extent he believed them to be endorsed (or, at least, not repudiated) by others.
His previous offences were treated as trivialities, his reputation as a 'rapist' was laughed off and women felt unable to challenge such sexism for fear that their male colleagues would abandon them to 'get kicked in the street'.
Key message: behaviour is critical to the course of the pandemic - most critical are the no. of contacts we have. When you see models with widely different projections, much of that lies in uncertainties about behaviour. But that's only the half of it.
It is equally important to recognise that behaviour is not all about individual motivation. Equally important is the information we are given and our opportunities to act in different ways. So, for instance...
messages that suggest infection doesn't matter undermine any actions (such as limiting contacts) to mitigate against infection. And equally, requiring people to leave the home will increase the numbers of contacts and hence infections.
Just out: three key behavioural science lessons of the pandemic: research-live.com/article/opinio…
They are: 1. Behaviour matters! We need to understand how the virus spreads and to develop vaccines, but that doesn't help unless people change behaviour to avoid spread and get vaccinated.
2. Behaviour is not all psychology! How people act is often more to do with what they can do than what they want to do. If people go out, mix, and spread infection, it was less because they chose to party than because they had to go to work to put food on the table.
3. Get the psychology right! Government started from the premise that the public is mentally and emotionally ill-equipped to deal with the pandemic. They catastrophically underestimated the importance of social relations and trust - and in so doing lost the trust of the public.
The Government is still refusing to introduce measures to stop spiralling infections in schools even though their own (Office of National Statistics) figures suggest that 10% of pupils and over a third of staff will develop Long Covid.
The figures are open to challenge. Different methods yield different figures. The actual figures could be higher or lower. But I repeat, these are the Government's own figures. And what sort of Government remains passive with the prospect of so many children facing so much harm?
But let's not forget the adults. The figures of over a third getting Long Covid are deeply disturbing and match the results of a much larger study on over 270,000 Covid survivors published yesterday - where 37% still had symptoms 3-6 months later.
On @BBCBreakfasr this morning
This is not a crisis of panic buying. Listen to people. They are not panicking. It is a crisis of believing that others are panic buying. And if you believe others are buying up a scarce resource, you can't afford to be at the end of the queue...
And that belief is not only a function of talking about panic buying. It is also fuelled by media values which value a crisis over mundane reality, prefer a picture of emplty pumps to working pumps and thereby inflate the impression that you must fill up before it is too late...
And then, on top of that, the reporting loves to focus on anger and conflict, it positions us as individual consumers in competition with each-other and undermines the sense of community and solidarity that we need to act for the common good.
The current fuel crisis reveals two important things about human behaviour.
1st our behaviour is often governed as much by what we think others think than by what we think ourselves. Indeed, if we believe that our opinions are at odds with the norm we are unlikely to express them
This is clearly critical right now: people are filling up because they are led to believe others are 'panicking' and they can't afford to be at the back of the queue. If you think everyone is is acting madly, you would be mad not to do so!
For this reason, the means by which we gain knowledge of what others are doing - the media - becomes critical in shaping behaviour And media values (crises are newsworthy, mundane normality is not, empty pumps make a better picture than pumps) helps produce a crisis.
Boris Johnson's plan to bring back imperial measurements on the grounds of our tolerance for traditional measures is laughable on many grounds, not least because it totally misunderstands the nature of both 'tradition' and 'tolerance'...
On the one hand the notion of imperial measurements as 'traditional' and reflecting folk traditions is quite simply wrong. The current imperial system was imposed in the 1824 weights and measures act as a form of standardisation and getting away from 'the tyranny of tradition'
On the other hand, there was huge popular resentment to the imposition of new imperial measures. In his brilliant 'moral economy of crowds', E.P. Thompson relates how "the lower order of people detest" the 8 gallon bushel and how they actually rioted against it
So, if you tell everyone that everyone else is acting irrationally in buying up resources, it becomes rational to do what you are told they are doing, before everything is gone.
You also deflect attention from the real cause of the problem. Once again, blaming individual psychology is a convenient distraction from the systemic causes of the crisis - from Brexit and the shortage of drivers to a failure to respond early to warnings of market fluctuation.
New Amnesty report on vaccines: amnesty.org/en/wp-content/…
"vaccine manufacturers have played a decisive role in limiting global vaccine production and obstructing fair access to a life-saving health product. Despite receiving billions of dollars in Government funding..."
".. and advance orders that effectively removed risks normally associated with the development of medicines, vaccine developers have monoplised intellectual property, blocked technology transfers and lobbied aggressivelyagainst measures that would expand global manafacturing..."
"... of these vaccines. Some companies - Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna - have so far delivered almost exclusively to rich countries, putting profit before access to health for all".
In short they have chosen to get rich and let people die.
Our Government has aided and abetted them
As a book 👇 which is about the power of the group, and how the first duty of leadership in a crisis is to sustain a sense of community and mutual concern (something which the UK signally failed in) it is only proper that (as @cliffordstott points out) it was produced by a group.
"UK staff to gain right to request flexible working from day one"
Good for controlling the pandemic (recent increases in numbers of contacts are almost entirely made up from contacts at work, not more socialising at home)... theguardian.com/money/2021/sep…
Good for the environment (less journeys to work)
And good for workers, increasing their choice and saving the time of the commute.
The only issues are
(a) it needs to happen immediately, especially in order to help limit the spread of infection
(b) we need to go further, especially in combatting the culture of 'presenteeism' whereby workers are lauded for struggling into work when unwell, and in providing decent sick pay for all workers (especially those in precarious work) so they are able to take time off when unwell.
It's deja vu all over again:
a year ago to the week, on 21 Sept 2020, SAGE called for action to bring down infections.
They were ignored, infections and hospitalisations went through the roof so hard restrictions were needed - hence the awful Christmas and winter were suffered...
This week, SAGE again advises that, without action, infections and hospitalisations will again run out of control. But our learn nothing Government responds by saying they will do nothing for now but wait and watch. And as they wait our hopes for this Christmas and winter fade
The irony is that, thanks to the vaccine, the measures needed now are far less intrusive than last year: ensure that spaces are well ventilated and safe, work from home where possible, support people to self isolate, wear masks in crowded spaces...
Vaccine passports ditched in England.
I think this is the right decision. They are a double edged sword.
Passports accelerate uptake in the willing but accentuate opposition in the sceptical.
They increase safety but can increase complacency.
If you don't introduce passports, the key question is what are you going to do instead to push up vaccination and push down infections.
There are two obvious steps. The first is to increase community engagement on vaccines - go to people, talk to people, respect their concerns.
This has always been the best way to maximise uptake.
The 2nd step is to make environments safe. Require that they meet Covid standards in order to be open to the public. We don't allow restaurants with dirty kitchens to trade, why should we allow venues with dirty air to open?
As the Scottish Parliament prepares to vote, here is a discussion of vaccine passports.
But I am going to break the first rule of the twittersphere - my apologies - and write a nuanced thread.
Because the issues are many and the arguments complex...
The effects of vaccine passports are very dependent on levels of social trust. In countries and in groups where trust is high - where people believe the authorities are acting for their good - then passports can have a positive impact. Equally, as our own data shows...
Amongst group who are generally positive towards vaccines, the passport can give them a reason to get on with it. That's why, as in France, you see an upsurge of take-up when passports are first introduced. That's the upside. But there is another side to the story...
We have let young people down in so many ways during this pandemic:
we don't keep them safe at school
we ignore their mental health problems
and we TWICE screwed up their examinations
this is so much more frustrating because it was entirely predictable
Earlier this year, we met with the DfE to raise three issues.
First, we pointed out that, without robust checking, both within and between schools, teacher assessment can lead to enhanced inequalities of class, race and gender. That must be addressed.
Second, we argued that grades must be accompanied by a record of the context in which they were achieved: how much school had been missed, ability to study at home, illness and bereavement in the family and so on.