I’m not sure how or when “truther” became the go-to word to describe people who routinely spread lies, but I suspect it’s going to be a word we hear a lot in the coming months. (Quickly checks the OED. First use: 2005, in the alt.fan.gene-scott usenet group, during a discussion about the government’s “involvement” in 9/11.)
The word, as I tend to think of it, refers to people who belong to the anti-vax movement; peddlers of some questionable, outlier, or hoax science that puts the lives of children at risk. They usually dress it all up in more elaborate stories. They believe that Bill Gates, one of the world’s great philanthropists, is really some malignant force trying to control us through the chips that are slipped into our bodies during vaccination. Others think it’s George Soros, wrapping the whole nonsense up in an even deeper layer of conspiracy with antisemitism as its core. Others believe the coronavirus is only activated by wearing masks. From there, it’s a short hop to lizard people and claims that the centre of the universe is six inches up Harry Styles’ arse.
I have no time for any of that and yet I do worry. One of the big issues that’s coming down the pipe is the requirement for most of the population to get a coronavirus vaccine. We don’t know if one works, but we have an early sense that something might help reduce the symptoms, reduce the spread, generally help life get back to something more like the old normal. However, we will need a fairly large majority of the population to get the vaccine before we achieve herd immunity.
All great and sensible… if enacted by any other government.
And that’s my problem. I’ve reached the stage where I worry about everything I hear coming from this shower.
I know. I know. It’s wrong of me but I’ve tried my best. During this pandemic, I’ve been less cynical than normal. I gave Johnson huge amount of leniency and even, perhaps, too much. These are extraordinary times and to coin a phrase: science isn’t a precise science. It a methodology that involves testing a hypothesis and modifying it based on the results before you move forward. Good science today generally looks like bad science tomorrow (whilst paradoxically remaining good science). In other words: what we learn now is the best we have in the moment. We might discover it’s wrong tomorrow, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t do the right things today.
So, whilst I accept that the government scientists made mistakes, I worry how the politicians magnified those mistakes by not listening to the large number of epidemiologists who were screaming warnings throughout March. Those experts warned that the modelling was wrong. The government assumed this was a bad seasonal flu when it needed to be treated as a respiratory disease like SARS. We also didn’t learn from other outbreaks. We thought we knew better than countries that had already been dealing with the virus for months. We entered lockdown too late.
Then PPE was an mess and the government tried to fiddle the statistics, counting a pair of gloves as two items of PPE.
Testing was woefully handled. They also fiddled the statistics, counting posted tests as completed tests, and then the two swabs into mouth and up the nostrils as two tests.
Nursing homes were a disaster. Even there they tried to be clever with the stats, keeping nursing home deaths from the published deaths. Only when the ONS came along later did we get a better sense of the scale of the mortalities.
The tracing app has been ditched as dead on arrival.
And in the meanwhile, we hear that they’re splurging £900,000 to make a drab military aircraft (which they don’t even own) look suitably patriotic. (Google suggests that a normal jumbo costs $200,000 – $300,000 to repaint), whilst Boris makes swivel-eyed videos to Australia yammering on about biscuits. And we’ve still not seen the Russian report, which had we not been otherwise distracted, would be a scandal. It certainly remains a huge question mark over this government.
I’ve never been a science denier and I hate conspiracy theories. If or when a vaccine comes along, I want to accept it based on the best available science. I don’t want to be forced to accept it based on the worst available politics. That’s when things become tricky. Because if I’m already a sceptical, the truthers will be fizzing and this culture war will explode as the likes of Hitchens and Young get into a growling rage about the right not to get the vaccine.
I hope I’m wrong because today the threat level has been reduced from 4 to 3 and I’d like to feel as optimistic as I felt yesterday. It’s just that nothing this government does – from doing dodgy deals for Richard Desmond to the ‘No-Deal’ Brexit we were promised would never happen – feels above board.