You’re talking politics, not science – Letters

BBC1’s Question Time got one reader riled

On BBC Question Time of 14 May, Professor Devi Sridhar, apparently strongly in favour of an extended lockdown period, stated that “science is universal” and used this to “prove” that the UK was one of the worst with respect to its tackling of the Covid-19 pandemic, using a selected list of other countries for her purpose.

That’s politics, not science. Among many countries methods may have varied very little yet the outcome so far has resulted in sometimes orders of magnitude differences in deaths per million. Within countries different regions having exactly the same approach to the problem have also shown sometimes huge variations in outcome.

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It is now known that even ethnicity may play a major part and it has long been evident that viral infection often has a seasonal dependency – one of Professor Sridhar’s “good” countries is New Zealand which, of course, is seasonally almost the direct opposite of the UK .

Emerging science certainly is not, and has never been, “universal”. An important attribute of a scientist is the ability to think “outside of the box”. There are things outside of the restricted medical box of Covid-19 but resulting from it which for many are now beginning to have a potentially greater adverse effect than the disease itself.

Scientific analyses pontificating about how many lives would have been saved if their authors’ advice (based on what I would call prescient hindsight) had been taken are already emerging. A pandemic is not an isolated phenomenon but part of human experience. An acceptable analysis of that experience can only arise well after the event when every nuance can be evaluated.

A McCormick, Kirkland Road, Terregles

Blame modellers

I was starting my career in 1968 with what is now GlaxoSmithKline when Hong Kong flu emerged. It was allowed to spread without restrictions on economic activity until a vaccine became available four months after it started.

The virus returned during the following 1969/1970 flu season and remains in circulation today as a strain of seasonal flu.

From July 1968 until it faded in the 1969-70 winter, one million died worldwide including 80,000 in the UK (equivalent today to two million and 97,000 respectively). Though that death toll was much higher in real and percentage terms, there was none of the government panic which led to the catastrophic damage to the economy we see today.

Lockdown was enacted in March on a forecast of 500,000 deaths in the UK and a claim our hospitals couldn’t cope with such a preposterous figure.

Today our intensive care units are at 40 per cent capacity yet Scotland remains paralysed. The blame rests with epidemiology’s computer modellers who exhibit the hysteria of climate science.

John Cameron, Howard Place, St Andrews

Do the science

Beating the virus is a scientific problem, but neither of our leaders has scientific training. Boris Johnson studied classics, Nicola Sturgeon law. Is this why their guidance – “Stay alert” and “Wear masks – if you like” – seems more whim than science? How qualified are they to judge scientists’ advice?

In easing the lockdown we must keep the reproduction number (R) below one. In Scotland it is about 0.8, giving little leeway.

Why is it so high? Is the guidance right? The two-metre rule dominates our life. Yet France, where the rule is one metre, is doing better at “bending the curve”; and the World Health Organisation says: “In an analysis of 75,465 Covid-19 cases in China, airborne transmission was not reported.” The main problem is contaminated surfaces. We might do better to focus on soap and water.

Likely a small number of people are keeping R high. Some workers necessarily have many contacts – in hospitals and shops, and on public transport. Is this the problem – or, as some reports suggest, is it people flouting the rules, meeting others when they shouldn’t?

Instead of bending it like Boris or Nicola, we need a scientific approach: gather the data, then tailor the restrictions accordingly.

George Byron, Comely Bank Avenue, Edinburgh

Sorted... sort of!

Last night I had an excellent, impromptu virtual pint with two friends – a world- renowned infectious disease expert (who wasn’t wearing a mask, by the way) – and a “seen it all” oil and gas expert, who wore an old North sea survival suit.

It was a great evening and we got corona policy “going forward” sorted out, too. Here are our conclusions:

1) Stop lockdown and get everyone back to work.

2) Impose tougher lockdown to save the country.

3) It is all Boris’s fault.

4) He has done a great job.

5)This is all due to Brexit.

6) Thank God we are out of the EU and have taken back control of our germs.

7) Nicola Sturgeon is playing politics.

8) Nicola Sturgeon is not playing politics.

9) Taxes will have to go up to pay for this.

10) They’re not getting a penny more from me.

Then we all staggered off to our virtual beds.

Allan Sutherland, Willow Row, Stonehaven

Grilled politicians

Donalda MacKinnon, the outgoing head of BBC Scotland, says that the role of political interviewers is “to ask questions of those in power that the public don’t get the chance to ask, and ask the questions that those in power would sometimes rather we didn’t ask” (report, 14 May).

This credo, which seems to be held throughout the BBC, causes me some concern. Isn’t it somewhat arrogant of this body to assume that its interviewers know what “the public” thinks or wants?

After all, unlike the politicians they are grilling they have not been elected. Also, they are either acting as proponents of the views of the opposition parties or seeking to take over their role.

Then again this attitude has led to aggressive interviewing of ministers and others, with point-scoring, reiterated demands for simple answers to complex matters and attempts to elicit an injudicious reply – the great prize.

This gladiatorial contest may be entertaining for the viewer or listener, and massage the ego of the interrogator, but may do little to elucidate what the government is about or what the effects of its policies may be. A calm but incisive approach which does not go all out to back the interviewee into a corner can be much more illuminating.

I recall interviews by Eddie Mair, for instance, conducted in that way which were very revealing.

S Beck, Craigleith Drive, Edinburgh

Crime Bill threat

The Hate Crime Bill currently under considered by Holyrood seeks to “modernise, consolidate and extend existing hate crime law ensuring it is fit for the 21st century”.’

It is a sweeping, mule-headed threat to freedom of speech and conscience. Perhaps we should remind ourselves of one of the most shocking episodes in the history of the Church of Scotland. It involved the 20-year-old Edinburgh University student Thomas Aikenhead, who was the last person to be hanged in Britain for blasphemy, having been betrayed by friends in a city riven with overheated religious fervour and suspicion.

Religious scepticism of the kind so freely expressed by Aikenhead was never likely to be tolerated by a resurgent Kirk. After a trial, he was sentenced to death, and was hanged at the Gallowlee, down Leith Wynd, on 8 January 1697. God’s will was done.

As the philosopher Blaise Pascal said: “Men never commit evil so fully and joyfully as when they do it for religious convictions.”

Doug Clark, Muir Wood Grove, Currie

No song, Sherlock!

The UK’s poor performance at the Eurovision Song Contest could be the result of bias by our European neighbours (your report, 12 May).

Goodness gracious me, what an amazing scientific breakthrough by researchers from the University of Stirling. This will benefit mankind immensely. This is just the latest in a long line of useless research, so why can these “researchers” not do something useful?

Research could include why female genital mutilation (FGM) is still routinely being practiced throughout the world, despite billions of UK foreign aid cash being spent to eliminate it. Why are no medical checks being made in the UK despite FGM being declared illegal in 1985? Why has there only been one successful UK prosecution? Now that research would be useful.

Clark Cross, Springfield Road, Linlithgow

Non-attendance

I lived and worked in Africa for four years. I caught malaria, but barely knew that I’d had it. My best friend caught it and died. Several other friends caught it, suffered considerably, and then recovered. Over 400,000 people die of malaria each year, mostly in Africa.

The risk of malaria never stopped me from going to work, never stopped my friends from going to work, and doesn’t stop millions of people in Africa from going to work every day. SNP MPs, who should be setting an example, should be ashamed of themselves for being too scared to go to Westminster to do the job they were elected to do.

Roddy MacLeod, Windsor Place, Edinburgh

Publish and damn

Now that the UK has the highest Covid-19 death toll in Europe and Boris Johnson is too timid to share the international comparisons with us, please publish these instead in order that we can continue to hold this rash and incompetent government to account.

David Adams, Newton Street, Blairgowrie

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