It's quite proper in a free and open society that anyone should be able to question not only the actions of government but to challenge the prevailing orthodoxy. And at times of radical government action - war, plague - questioning the rationale and objectives of particular courses of action must be expected, and is neither unpatriotic nor counter-constructive.
We must also expect a full spectrum of fanciful suggestions and conspiracy theories, misinformation, distortion, omission and misrepresentation of fact, and many, many innocent errors. And it's often the nature of things that false information spreads more easily than the reality. As Terry Pratchett used to say, a lie can go around the world before the truth has got its boots on.
Social media is censoring the most immediately harmful lunacies to protect the most gullible, the most credulous and the most intellectually vulnerable. But already in the US, following suggestions that Chloroquine may be effective in relieving symptoms, a man has died after drinking something from his garden shed that sounded fairly similar. And both here in Austria and in the UK the nonsense is doing the rounds that the virus can be safely washed into the stomach by drinking warm water.
At the other end of the spectrum, confusion over the numbers of excess fatalities due to the virus baffles even advanced minds. If the lockdown is successful, as it is suggested it is, the R0 of the SARS-Cov-2 virus will fall below 1. A figure of 0.6 was suggested yesterday as being possible. This means there will be few overall excess fatalities. If the government is right, there's not going to be a huge bulge in the mortality figures - evidence for the lethality of the virus will be scientific and clinical.
The other advanced argument against the lockdown was put most eloquently by Toby Young - the economic argument. In The Critic, he argued using QALY figures that spending £350bn to save a few hundred thousand elderly people was a gross distortion of policy. However, also interestingly in the same publication, his arguments were comprehensively rubbished by Sam Bowman;
Taking all this together, we can attempt a rough recalculation of whether the government shutdown is worth it, from a statistical perspective. If 230,000 lives are saved (the difference between mitigation and suppression in the Imperial model Young cites), with an average age of 79.5, that is around 2,070,000 life years saved. At the statistical life year value of £60,000, that is a total benefit in statistical terms of £124.2 billion, compared to less than £66 billion lost to the economy.I do commend the latter piece. Sam Bowman is an economist who explains succinctly and simply why the government's policy is the right one.
Take care all.