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.

4 thoughts on “Trutherism”

  1. In times of crisis you have no choice but to cut the government more slack, they are in charge and the only thing worse than people obeying bad instructions is not obeying bad instructions in which case you descend into chaos. That was effectively the point I was making on TWTW a while back and one that Starmer and the rest of the opposition understood. You know I spent three weeks prior to lockdown shouting stuff at the telly like, “just fucking lock down” or “close the fucking borders”. I think it was blindingly obvious to anyone with a brain bigger than a pea that if we were going to lockdown, the time to do it was then. The government of course had no intention of locking down, until they pissed their pants when confronted with the imperial model. They then took that model as gospel which led to them clearing hospitals of old folk and refusing to admit them as they waited for a deluge of non care home patients that didn’t come.

    This is essentially the problem with Johnson, and something we both agreed on when he was elected leader, he is a ditherer and conflict averse into the bargain. In WW2 one of the strengths of the German Army was the standard of their officers who were taught that when under fire, any decision, even a bad one, was better than no decision at all. Possibly worse than no decision at all is to u-turn on a decision you believed was right. I don’t hold politicians in great esteem as you know but even I have been shocked by the incompetence on display over the past few months. It is like having the crew of a ship in a storm run from one side to the other in order to balance it, only to find they have overdone it and all run back again, to the same effect.

    Johnson contracting Covid clearly hasn’t helped, he was extremely ill for the first two weeks of April, and if my experience of people who have come out of intensive care is anything to go by he will not have been able to resume anything like normal activity until the beginning of June at the earliest. So the country has been essentially leaderless for two crucial months of a crisis. A bad leader is probably better than no leader at all.

    For all of that, we only have 13,000 more deaths than France, a country with a better health service, half our population density and most importantly a much lower level of obese and overweight people. As a nation we have probably managed to collectively dodge a bullet in this first wave. Doubt our luck will continue to hold at the current rate though.

    1. I was the same. I’d been eyeing this virus since I heard about it in late December. Started stockpiling in February and even though I left going into lockdown until the last moment I thought reasonable, that was still March 11th, a good time ahead of the government. Like you say: anybody with eyes to see knew what was coming.

      Good point about WW2. I was watching the Netflix WW2 in Colour series and didn’t realise that many of the German troops were actually off their heads on methamphetamine known as Pervitin. Sort of makes sense. If you’re going to do anything in war, it’s sometimes better to do it fast and without thinking.

      I have no idea what’s coming. I keep thinking the science can’t be wrong but we are unlocking but there doesn’t *seem* to be the rise I expected. That said, I understand most people still aren’t coming out of lockdown and those that are might be younger and still obeying most of the rules.

      1. All about the economy now David, honestly can’t see us locking down in the same way no matter how many people die, the science will be bent to suit, as is already being done.

        Part of me could always see this turning out similarly to appeasement in the 30’s. There you had a very popular policy with very few naysayers that had the noble intention of saving lives, or at least the lives of British and French people. Up until 1939 it had succeeded in its aim and then its proponents decided the cost was too high and ripped it up making the previous six years utterly pointless. I can see the same happening now, we will end up abandoning lockdown, only delaying the loss of life rather than stopping it and have wrecked the economy into the bargain. If that happens then we may as well not have bothered.

        Hopefully someone will make it law to wear face masks in all public places and we may be able to stumble our way through until the virus mutates into something milder. I also can’t believe that there hasn’t been a campaign to get people to lose weight. It may be politically incorrect but this is a disease that kills fat people.

        1. Yep. Resigned myself to the economic argue some time ago, or, at least, the “tap” theory. Keep things just so the hospitals work just under capacity until a vaccine, which I think will come rather quickly. In some ways as I implied here, worryingly quickly, which will escalate into another battle of the culture war.

          In the US, the whole mask thing has degenerated into a pure ideological fight. I suspect we’d see the same if the government got a bit too demanding.

          As for weight: hard to argue against that but this has always been a problem, linked to lifestyle and food choice, which is then linked to income. I know it’s probably too easy to say but it demands such a big paradigm change as to how people buy and cook food. I’m probably a bit too chunky myself — not yet obsesely so… I don’t think… but I’m blaming lockdown. I also know it’s down to some of the food I eat, which is often down to tiredness.

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