Jack Lesgrin’s week: Put seven-year-olds, not experts, in charge of Covid response. Seriously.

by Jack Lesgrin

Put seven-year-olds, not experts, in charge of Covid response 

Throughout last week, the airwaves were a-buzz with the monotone, trance-like speech patterns of a plethora of the scientific community’s “usual suspects”, called upon by the media to fulfil their role providing endless commentary about an imminent event – the PM’s pre-announcement of a later announcement about so-called “Freedom Day”.

This is much in the same way as with general elections: the commentary does not change a single vote; the votes will be counted; there will be a winner; so why not commentate once the result is in? I digress… The scientists, all of whom are, somewhat implausibly, part of one or other of the government’s advisory committees – SAGE, NERVTAG, SPI-B, SPI-M and so-on, are of course, hugely talented people, doing a superb job. But often, these interviews do not show them in their best light.

First, what they say is almost always conditional, nuanced and non-committal. Not only do they all end up playing the get-out-of-jail-card of “advisers advise, ministers decide, and so I’m not able to answer the question of what should actually be done”, but they seem terrified of saying anything quotable. Instead, they equivocate, they seek a balanced line: “well, if we did this then that, and if we did that then this, and I’m not able to say which is right as that’s the job of ministers”. They’re so wedded to the scientific method that they cannot bring themselves to act on an intelligent hunch. The answer is always, “the data are incomplete, so we must wait for another couple of weeks before we can see that for certain.”

Normally, this would be fine, but a deadly virus does not do nuance, or equivocation; it does not wait for “the evidence”, nor does it defer to ministerial edict. Its defeat or suppression can only be achieved through the application of the scientific approach, carried out by scientists. Yet this is a necessary, though not sufficient condition. What was needed last spring, and is needed now to deal the continuing pandemic, is intelligent hunches that are acted upon. Here is my hunch about hunches and how they would have saved far more lives. Here we go…

First, gather together some seven-year-olds – call them a junior citizens’ jury. Have a primary school teacher explain to them the basics of how respiratory viruses transmit and the pre-Covid evidence from the WHO on how to control pandemics. The teacher explains such matters as how borders work, how graphs show numbers of infections going up or down, the basics of the Spanish Flu, how quickly it spread and what mitigations worked a century ago.

Second, ask them, given what they know, whether they would assume that there was no asymptomatic transmission (in children’s terms, you could say: “do you think we should be careful around people even if they’re not coughing, or just the people who are coughing?). I think they would veer towards caution. Yet our experts last March, chose to assume no asymptomatic transmission because “there was no evidence to suggest this”. As this diary has said previously, a lack of evidence “proving” something now, does not mean there will not be evidence of it later. This is quite possibly one of the biggest flaws of the scientific approach in the context of a pandemic.

Then ask them whether they thought that Covid could be transmitted through the air? Again, unlike our experts, who waited for the evidence to accumulate, I wager that our seven-year-olds would knock this one out of the park. They’d think: “I know that when my pal was coughing and sneezing, I caught their cold”.

How about the question of whether or not it’s a good idea to allow large numbers of travellers in from a country with a clearly dangerous rise in cases and a new variant. Again, the non-expert children would likely say “close the border”. We did not close our border properly until the Delta variant had seeded itself in our country.

As for whether Britons should be allowed to travel around the world, given the large and growing prevalence of Delta here, a seven-year-old would be able to work out that if Delta is far more transmissible, then people in Place A (high Delta variant cases), travelling to Place B (low Delta variant cases) would make it likely that Delta would spread in Place B. Yet a scientist on the radio last week prevaricated about this, unable to say, categorically, that it is a ludicrous thing to do.

The above is a thought experiment, so it’s flawed, in part because there are no seven-year-olds who haven’t sadly had their lives blighted by the pandemic, so there can never be an actual experiment of this kind, but you get the gist. Would this junior citizens’ jury have saved a lot of lives: there is no evidence of it, but on a hunch, I would say “Yes.”

Withdrawing from Afghanistan; withdrawing from having influence

On Saturday, Tom Tugendhat MP, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons, told Radio 4’s Today Programme: “if you’re saying the British army, alongside the RAF enablers and perhaps some others cannot maintain an operation of ten thousand personnel this far from home…what you’re saying is the British army is no longer an expeditionary force. Now that’s a very big change in British govt policy and sadly I think you’re right: the British army has now, sadly, been stripped down too far to maintain these kind of operations…and that means that the UK has, as Rory Stewart quite rightly puts it, withdrawn from Global Britain”. Readers of this column will know that this confirms my sentiments entirely. To those who rejoice that our foreign military interventions seem behind us, it is worth reflecting that in the case of Afghanistan, their approach of merely condemning from afar (remember when pre-9/11 the Taleban blew up the Buddhist statues and mistreated women and children on an industrial scale?), does not work, because they allowed Al Qaeda to plan their attacks from their territory. Non-intervention has consequences. The world doesn’t pack up its bags and allow us to add the finishing touches to our treatise on human rights, from the safety and comfort of our semi-detached suburban house. Human rights are only worth having if someone will defend them, and that takes more than words.

The impunity of thugs

On Sunday stories broke about crime. The first was the appalling antisemitic abuse that a Jewish man received on a London bus and later in the underground, and the second was a about rising violent abuse of shopworkers during the pandemic.  There isn’t space here to explore the evil of antisemitism, but it is worth noting that in both cases, while the despicable motivation to be violent or abusive is different, there is nonetheless a shared contempt for common standards of decency, for fellow citizens, for the community and for the law. It might be another question to put to our citizen jury of seven-year-olds. Explain to them that thugs know that there is a low risk of getting challenged by fellow citizens, of being arrested, if arrested of being charged, if charged of being convicted, if convicted of being imprisoned and if imprisoned of being jailed for a lengthy or even a whole sentence. Even a seven-year-old could tell you that this is not much of a deterrent.


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8 Responses to “Jack Lesgrin’s week: Put seven-year-olds, not experts, in charge of Covid response. Seriously.”

  1. Tafia says:

    Please update the comments on your articles every day or so. It is mickey-mouse bone idleness to leave it for a week and is destrying what was once a vibrant site because people are getting haccked off and bored with the total indifference being shown by some article writers.

    Sometimes it is a week or more before comments appear – which is amateurish farce at best.

  2. Tafia says:

    No expert ghives a definate prediction on anything.

    Economists are notoriously vague, littering their ‘work’ with liberal doses of c’could, might, possibly, may etc’ rendering them as little better than guesses. You only had to see the utter garbage that the so-called finest economic minds came out with as what would happen to UK within months of a leave vote. As an example, I direct you to the Sunday Times. Every year, this globally estimed rag asks each of the top 20 economic forecasting houses – such as Erenest Young, Morgan Stanley, Bank of England etc etc, for their prediction for the next 12 months – just basic kindergarten level stuff that if you can’t even get that right, then all your work is rubbish. Inflation, unemployment rate interest rate, employment rate, $/£ exchange rate, €/£ esxchange rate, price of a barrel of oil. The actual bread and butter.

    A couple of years ago , just one out of the top 20 got it even closely right – Bank of Nova Scotia. A poor endorsement of economists skills you might think. However it was a year of note – a high point, a veritable zenith complete with fireworks. It was the first time for 20 years one had acttually got it right, and none have since. In over 100 forecasts, spanning over 20 years just a solitary one forecaster had made an even remotely close to reality forecast.

    As for Afghanistan, we couldn’t stay because the USA was intent on withdrawing. The mission was a total failure for NATO. Only ourselves and the Americans met our committment (as usual). The rest of the member states were indifferent or provided as little as they could get away with. Unfortunately Biden made it a pledge to withdraw in full before autumn of this year – America embarking on it’s journey back to isolationism and the democrats viewing the pacific rim as far far more important economically, strategically and militarily than Europe – which they openly view as dying. Already you are seeing politicians from all sides of the House – both here and in the USA, publicly having absolutely no grasp on reality. Coming out with such garbage as “the Taliban will have to negotiate” and other laugh-a-minute, finger-NOT-on-the-pulse garbage. The Talibnan will not be negotiating with anyone – they don’t need to. They are the masters of all they survey now and are openly not interested in the outside world, democracy or any other western thing. They already control over half the country and half the population, heavily outnumber and outgun a demoralised and inept Afghan National Guard, who are alreasdy surrendering to them in whole units complete with all their equipment. More than half the provincial capitals are already in Taliban hands or are under siege. By the end of this year, their capital – Kandahar, will be back in their hands and large parts of what the west views as the capital (and which the Taliban couldn’t give a toss about other than to destroy) – Kabul, will have fallen. The Taliban will then start to export their brand of islamic fundementalism, via the Pashtun rebels, into Pakistan, destabilising what is a nuclear power with heavy tribal, cultural and family links to this country. Hurrah. We’ll have no hand -wringing by liberals over what is about to happen to the female population – removed from school, forced back into burkhas, auctioned off for marriage from age 12, and the what will be a rapid rise in FGM, to non-muslim minorities who face extermination as heretics etc, nor to the plight of what will be a mssive refugee crisis. It was you same hand-wringers that undermined western military involvement to start with. There is only one way of dealing with extreme islamic fundementalism – physically exterminate it. Because if you don’t, it is coming to exterminate you (and if you haven’t grasped that yet, you probably deserve exterminating). I know soldiers from my former regiment that died out there, lost limbs out there etc etc. Possibly the most tragic being the son of one of my Regimental buddies. He joined the regiment stas a bright 18 year iold, having been born and brought up in the married quarters. HBis time started as my 22 years were in their final few months. He died leading a ptarol trying to fight it’s way through Taliban in order to rescue a surrounded Afghan National Guard unit.

    If your officer’s dead and the sergeants look white,
    Remember it’s ruin to run from a fight:
    So take open order, lie down, and sit tight,
    And wait for support like a soldier.
    Wait, wait, wait like a soldier . . .

    When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,
    And the women come out to cut up what remains,
    Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
    An’ go to your Gawd like a soldier.
    Go, go, go like a soldier,
    Go, go, go like a soldier,
    Go, go, go like a soldier,
    So-oldier of the Queen!

    Prisons – ha ha, you mean holiday camps. A work colleagues son was sent to prison two years ago (I think I mentioned it previously). He got 8 years (first offence as well) for severely injuring a man in a fight – who actually attacked him, not realising he was quite an accomplished regional amateur boxer and former paratrooper. In the ensuing carnage, he shattered the mans jaw, both his eye sockets, one of his sholders and multiple ribs, continuing to beat the man while he lay unconscious on the floor until the police arrived and managed to drag him off. Within a week of being sentenced, said colleague stumped up the required readies to get his now imprisoned son an iPhone, an iPad and – believe it or not, a 32″ HDTV. Colleague was proudly showing photos at work of his son hosting a drinks party in his cell, complete with pizza deliverywhile they were watching the boxing on his new TV. Prison is absolutley no deterrent and only half-witted liberals think it is. It is slack, the prisoners rule the wings, and they openly breach rules in front of prison officers who are too scared to enforce the rules least they get sacked. On the other side of the coin, I have former Army colleagues who left the prison service because they regard it as a shambles and the system bending over backwards not to upset the prisoners. All prisoners, on arrival, join a gang in the prison. They have no choice in the matter – if they don’t they face repeated and continued attacks by other gangs. Most gangs are geographically based – ie you get Scouse gangs, Manchester gangs, Brummy gangs etc etc. Many are along ethnic lines and heavily politicised. Prisoners that come form place with little regional representation invariably have no option other than to convert to islam and join one of the islamic gangs (islamic gangs are ethno-religious as opposed to regional), explaining why there is such a high percentage of islamic converts in the prisons. You may actually be sentenced for nothing particuallry severe, have no other links to criminal activity, and on leaving at the end of your time are a gang memeber, with heavy links to criminal gangs on the outside. They have become a breeding and recruitiong ground for the urban ‘knife & drug’ gangs happily butchering each other all over the inner cities. And it isn’t going to be stopped by being nice to them and trying to undertstand their feelings.

  3. Tafia says:

    I see Jolyon and his crowd-funded Good Law rubbish has lost yet again in less than a week. First they were late filing papers for one case, so it was thrown out and earlier today the High Courts threw out his nonsense case that BoJo giving Cruddas a peerage was corruption.

    One wonders how many more of these increasingly stupid cases the Guardian readers are willing to fund.

  4. Tafia says:

    And in a further legal case, being dealt with by the Supreme Court regarding the governments ‘two child rule’, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the Government, rejected mothers’ claims that the limit was intended to discourage women from having more children.

    It also disputed the claim that the limit had a damaging affect on third or subsequent children and affected their integration within a family.

    The Supreme Court concluded that “the two child limit has an objective and reasonable justification” and also said the difference between children in households with more than two children was also justifiable.

    The Ruling also said “In practice, challenges to legislation on the ground of discrimination have become increasingly common in the United Kingdom. They are usually brought by campaigning organisations which lobbied unsuccessfully against the measure when it was being considered in Parliament, and then act as solicitors for persons affected by the legislation, or otherwise support legal challenges brought in their names, as a means of continuing their campaign.” – Widely regarded as a ‘gypsies warning’ to the legal profession to drop the habit of spurious, politically motivated cases.

  5. Jack Lesgrin says:

    Great comments, Tafia.

    On economists, well yes, as I say, in a pandemic you need hunches and swift action (plus some science), given that knowledge is patchy and there’s no time to wait for evidence as by then we’ll all be dead…

    On Afghanistan, your analysis and the detail is very interesting. Again, my point is that to fail to achieve our goals is a telling indictment of our weakness both militarily and morally. We don’t seem to care enough from the humanitarian perspective, we don’t have the stomach for the fighting (not the soldiers, the public and politicians), but then we bleat when the problems wash up on our shores as terrorism or, god forbid (!) refugees.

    On crime – my point is that criminals of all kinds do not fear the community, the police, the criminal justice system or prisons. Until they do, they won’t desist from offending. They are the strange ones, the people breaking the very simple and easy to live by criminal law, not us for trying to police it. Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime should be the mantra but Labour will never win unless it remembers the first part of the aphorism.

  6. John P Reid says:

    If there was a general election labour would be up 1% on 2019 Tories down
    0.5% , libdems down 2.3% the reform party replacing the brexit part up 0.6% and the greens up 2% and SNP down 0.8%
    Tories majority would fall by 10 or 3 with new boundary change
    Can’t see a poll change in the next 9 months, and reckon they’ll be a election may 2023

  7. Tafia says:

    And since I wrote that about Afghanistan, the Taliban have now seized all the road border crossings with Iran, all bar one of the road border crossings with Tadjikstan and Turkmenistan, and nearly all the road border crossings with Pakistan. They also now have virtually every airfield in the country capable of handling international flights, within artillery and multi-launch rocket range.

    In short, they are now in a position to throttle the entire country and bring it to it’s knees just be closing it down.

    Already people are selling everything they possess and attempting to leave the country according to the Sunday Times. Some women in Kabul have armed themselves and say they will resist the Taliban, who in turn have announced they will not be taken prisonerif they resist, just killed.

  8. Tafia says:

    Latest from Afghanistan.

    The US & NATO have written an open letter to the Taliban basically asking them to stop. How absolutely pathetic can you get.

    The Taliban have not even bothered replying.

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