AS IF WE WEREN’T CONFUSED ENOUGH

After the Spanish civil war, the British government took urgent action, aware that the aerial bombing of civilians was highly likely to occur should war with Germany be declared. Prompted by the very real fear that poisonous gas such as chlorine would also be deployed, a government factory was established in Blackburn, Lancashire, where production of gas masks began in earnest in 1938. By the following year, 38 million gas masks had been issued to every adult, child and baby in the UK. 

That the masks were never actually needed is an irrelevance. Their issue got across to the British Public the fact that they were in a very serious situation, that the government cared about all of them, and that precautions should be adhered to, which they were. 

Cut to 2020 and as the world finds itself coping with a dangerous pandemic, we are saddled with a weak government which sees deflecting blame as more important than taking decisive action. Having had all our social services, including the NHS, squeezed systematically into near-extinction by misdirected austerity, we are reassured by Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, who informs us that “according to the science” masks are not much use for the public during this lockdown. 

University of San Francisco data scientist, Jeremy Howard, who recently chaired a review panel of world experts on the effectiveness of masks, was quoted on Bristol Live saying that Matt Hancock’s claim that masks were not vital contravened all available evidence. 

He cited WHO assistant director-general, David Heymann, who said masks could be more effective in combating the spread of Covid-19 than social distancing: “… it looks like there’s an extra 1,500 deaths a week (in the UK) due to this disease … the entire country of Taiwan has five deaths. Now here’s an example of a great country that is distributing masks to everybody.” 

In the meantime, our dedicated NHS staff are terrified because not enough personal protection equipment (PPE) is being supplied. Why so? We can build a hospital in five weeks. Factories all over the country are standing empty. Could they not be requisitioned for the emergency manufacture of masks? Where is the sense of a government taking control of the situation in a way that unites the nation? My impression is of a bunch of headless reactionary chickens in the midst of a crisis who, instead of listening to the advice given to them by experts, are much more interested in deflecting any blame for its mishandling. Social care directors have written to the Department of Health and Social Care, calling the Government’s handling of PPE for care workers “shambolic”.


CONFIRMATION BIAS

Coincidentally, the current fog of conflicting information has turned out to be a fertile breeding ground for the baseless ramblings of conspiracy theorists, all of whom miss the ironic point that they are the victims of an actual conspiracy rather than an imaginary one. That well-documented, sinister conspiracy is the very same one with which Dominic Cummings hoodwinked the masses into voting for Brexit and eventually delivered us our current gang of pickpockets and money launderers. 

Cambridge Analytica perfected the harvesting of algorithmic information from every person who ever clicked on any site or link. This information having been number-crunched and sold on to interested advertising companies or political parties, enabled them to target voters or consumers individually. Because they now knew everything they needed to know about you, by using the same data, it was comparatively simple to find out who your closest friends were, so that certain recommendations, both political and commercial, would appear to come through them. Anyone who persists in engaging with bogus conspiracy theory sites will become the victim of exactly the same thing. The result is confirmation bias, a phenomenon whereby people interpret ambiguous evidence as support for their existing beliefs – thus creating a perfect feedback loop of certainty based entirely on misinformation. Just say no. 

Further reading:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2004/feb/07/highereducation.news1


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