YouTube deletes Wittkowski interview

On April 14, I posted a video interview with epidemiologist Knut Wittkowski, former head of the Department of Biostatistics, Epidemiology, and Research Design at Rockefeller University — you know, just your garden-variety internet conspiracy theorist. YouTube has now deleted that video for unclear reasons, perhaps because Wittkowski takes the unconventional view that coronavirus is basically a normal respiratory virus similar to the flu — an idea that obviously cannot be permitted on YouTube because it might lead people to question the wisdom of China-style lockdown policies in the West, and even to violate those policies through reckless and irresponsible acts of social de-distancing, and worst of all, to refuse to let Bill Gates, the avuncular and benevolent software vendor, stick a needle in their arm — and we can’t have that because then, well, MILLIONS OF PEOPLE WILL DIEEEE!!!!

So anyway, here’s the same video hosted on the website of the American Institute for Economic Research. Long may it live there, out of reach of Susan Wojcicki’s censorious hand.

And as a bonus, here’s a new interview with Wittkowski in Spiked, the British internet magazine. Some highlights below (emphasis added):

spiked: How far along is the epidemic?

Wittkowski: It is over in China. It is over in South Korea. It is substantially down in most of Europe and down a bit everywhere, even in the UK. The UK and Belarus are latecomers, so you do not see exactly what you are seeing in continental Europe. But everywhere in Europe, the number of cases is substantially declining.

spiked: Have our interventions made much of an impact?

Wittkowski: When the whole thing started, there was one reason given for the lockdown and that was to prevent hospitals from becoming overloaded. There is no indication that hospitals could ever have become overloaded, irrespective of what we did. So we could open up again, and forget the whole thing.

I hope the intervention did not have too much of an impact because it most likely made the situation worse. The intervention was to ‘flatten the curve’. That means that there would be the same number of cases but spread out over a longer period of time, because otherwise the hospitals would not have enough capacity. (…)

spiked: Were hospitals likely to be overrun?

Wittkowski: Germany had 8,000 deaths in a population of 85million. They had 20,000 to 30,000 hospitalisations. In Germany, that is nothing. It does not even show up as a blip in the hospital statistics. In Britain, the highest hospital utilisation was about 60 per cent, if I am not mistaken.

In New York City, it was a bit higher. The Javits Congress Center was turned into a field hospital with 3,000 beds. It treated just 1,000 patients in all. The Navy ship sent to New York by President Trump had 179 patients but it was sent back because it was not needed. New York is the epicenter of the epidemic in the United States, and even here at the epicenter, hospital utilisation was only up a bit. Nothing dramatic. Nothing out of the ordinary. That is what happens during the flu season. People have the flu, and then there are more patients in the hospitals than there otherwise would be.

spiked: Are we on the way to reaching herd immunity?

Wittkowski: All the studies that have been done have shown that we already have at least 25 per cent of the population who are immune. That gives us a nice cushion. If 25 per cent of the population are already immune, we are very quickly getting to the 50 per cent that we need to have what is called herd immunity. We will actually get a bit higher than that. So we have flattened what otherwise would have been a peak, and if we now let it run, even if the number of cases would increase a bit, it would not get as high as it was, because we already have enough immune people in the population. So it is not going to spread as fast as it could have spread in the beginning. (…)

spiked: Should people practice social distancing?

Wittkowski: No.

spiked: Why not?

Wittkowski: Why? What is the justification for that? People need to ask the government for an explanation. The government is restricting freedom. You do not have to ask me for justification. There is no justification. It is the government that has to justify what it is doing. Sorry, but that is how it is. (…)

spiked: The UK government was also heavily influenced by the situation in Italy. Why did that go so wrong?

Wittkowski: What we saw in Italy was that the virus was hitting those who were both old and had comorbidities, so lots of people died. But the median age of those who died in Italy was around 81 years. It is not that children or working people were dying. It was the elderly in nursing homes – not even the elderly living by themselves mostly. We saw lots of deaths and that scared people. But then, Italy did an illogical thing. It closed schools so that the schoolchildren were isolated and did not get infected and did not become immune. Instead, the virus spread almost exclusively among the old, causing more deaths and a higher utilisation of hospitals. And that is mind-boggling. (…)

One third of all deaths in New York State were in nursing homes. One could have prevented 20,000 deaths in the United States by just isolating the nursing homes. After three or four weeks, they could have reopened and everybody would be happy.

That would have been a reasonable strategy. But shutting down schools, driving the economy against the wall – there was no reason for it. The only reason that this nonsense now goes on and on, and people are inventing things like this ‘second wave’, which is going to force us to change society and never live again, is that the politicians are afraid of admitting an error.

Game over

Johan Giesecke

It’s hard for people to change their mental models when confronted with new information. But it helps when the source of that information is an authority figure — the more authoritative, the better. So, for those who are still not seeing the obvious, here is an article in the esteemed medical journal The Lancet by the former state epidemiologist of Sweden, which I assume should satisfy most people’s requirements for credibility. The key paragraph is below:

These facts have led me to the following conclusions. Everyone will be exposed to severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus, and most people will become infected. COVID-19 is spreading like wildfire in all countries, but we do not see it—it almost always spreads from younger people with no or weak symptoms to other people who will also have mild symptoms. This is the real pandemic, but it goes on beneath the surface, and is probably at its peak now in many European countries. There is very little we can do to prevent this spread: a lockdown might delay severe cases for a while, but once restrictions are eased, cases will reappear. I expect that when we count the number of deaths from COVID-19 in each country in 1 year from now, the figures will be similar, regardless of measures taken.

My takeaway: all of the radical interventions to contain this virus — from the Stalinist lockdowns in China and India, to the high-tech public health panopticon in South Korea, to the police-state hilarity in England, to the mass business closures and “social distancing” rules in the US — all of it, absolutely all of it has been completely and utterly pointless in terms of its stated purpose of containing the virus. The virus can’t and won’t be contained.

From the above, it follows that the interventions should stop — immediately! They never should have been done in the first place — except, of course, for protecting nursing homes (which New York State and other places infamously failed to do). Furthermore, all the scaremongering needs to end — the live updates of death and infection figures, the media and social media hysteria, the alarming headlines about the mysterious damage this disease might or might not do — which is pointless to dwell on, because people can’t avoid being exposed to the virus, and the chances of dying from it are so very low.

All the talk about mass testing and contact tracing is a totalitarian absurdity. There are 1.37 million confirmed cases in the US. Expanded testing will reveal millions more cases. Assuming we can successfully contact trace all of those millions of people, this theoretical (and impossible) process will identify tens or hundreds of millions of contacts. We are not going to forcibly quarantine, say, 100 million people, or make them stay home from work. To attempt such a thing would require inconceivable, Maoist interventions that would destroy American society. But without large-scale quarantines, what’s the point of testing everyone? There is none.

While we’re at it, let’s drop the talk of a “new normal.” No, we are not entering a new normal, we are going back to the OLD normal where Americans are allowed to leave their homes for any reason or no reason, eat at restaurants, worship at churches, gather, congregate and interact with their fellow human beings, minus the face coverings and the bizarre and complicated social-distancing rituals — except, of course, for those who prefer to cover their faces and stay isolated. But they will be a minority — hopefully.

Above all, the new cult of “social distancing” should be resisted. Treating every American like a disease vector is not going to save us. Forcing shoppers to stand six feet apart from each other and curbing elevator occupancy is not going to stop this virus. Making normal, everyday social interactions impossible or de facto illegal is not going to improve public health. Individuals must reject this intensifying campaign to atomize and destroy society through pointless, humiliating behavior controls that create distance between human organisms but, in reality, cannot meaningfully contain the virus — and in the long run will kill more people than the alleged pandemic itself.

We need to be clear that these measures are stupid and counterproductive. If you doubt this, please read the above article by Johan Giesecke again and think through the implications. We are all going to be exposed to this virus. The only way to avoid it, perhaps, is to become an anchorite in a distant cave or desert — but by the time you get there, you will have been exposed anyway — unless you wear a hazmat suit en route. But you won’t do that, because that would be insane.

He’s back!

Prof. Knut Wittkowski is back for a follow-up interview:

He says that the number of coronavirus infections peaked around March 8 in the US – before the lockdowns began.

“Shutting down schools and restaurants and he economy around 10 days later is something that is totally absurd.”

See the first interview with him here.

New Jersey police use Chinese drones to harass Americans

Remember when we laughed at China for using drones equipped with loudspeakers to enforce lockdown orders? Back in the good old days of… early February? Yep, those were the days.

Well, it didn’t take long for that dystopian innovation to reach America’s shores:

Police departments across the country are resorting to the use of drone surveillance to enforce social distancing in both public and private spaces during statewide shelter-in-place orders.

New footage shot by MSNBC shows police in Elizabeth, New Jersey using drones to look for people not social distancing in areas their patrol cars cannot access.

“The drones make it easier for people to see into certain areas where access by patrol car is more difficult,” Rehema Ellis, an NBC news correspondent said. “That includes tight spaces between buildings, behind schools, and in backyards.”

Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage told MSNBC that cities need to get creative, and defended the intrusive tactic as potentially saving lives.

“If these drones save one life, it is clearly worth the activity and the information the drones are sending,” the mayor said.

Of course. That is going to be the justification for every outrage in the future. “If it saves ONE LIFE, it’s worth [… suspending your civil liberties, trashing the economy, dissolving society… forever].” One life. I wonder what the founding fathers would have made of this argument?

When a drone identifies a group of people collected together, such as individuals quarantined in their backyard, it says, “you should not be congregating in groups.” Consequences for refusing to abide by the drones in Elizabeth, NJ include a court summons or a $1,000 fine.

Here’s the kicker:

A Chinese company known as Da Jiang Innovations (DJI) donated these types of drones to 43 law enforcement agencies in 23 states. Last May, the Department of Homeland Security issued a memo warning that Chinese drones are possible security risks, ripe for the “potential use for terrorism, mass casualty incidents, interference with air traffic, as well as corporate espionage and invasions of privacy.”

Donated, seriously? And the police departments thought this was a good idea?

Another epidemiologist speaks

New Zealand is under a harsh lockdown, with prime minister Ardern promising more of the same in view of the terrible plague that has so far killed 11 people in the country. But this policy of universal house arrest has attracted some prominent dissenters:

A group of academics say we can – and should – come out of lockdown and is proposing a ‘Plan B’.

The plan suggests ending the lockdown after four week period and immediately shift to a risk-based management plan, similar to the Government’s alert level two.

Auckland University senior lecturer of epidemiology Dr Simon Thornley told Mike Hosking the situation here shows the risk is generally low for working age and young people.

“We don’t think the lockdown is justified, we think we can safely head back to work and school.”

Dr Simon Thornley says there’s compelling evidence the threat posed by Covid-19 is not much more severe than seasonal flu.

“We need to pay particular attention to rest homes and hospitals, but to the rest of us, the threat is very low.”

Here is full “Plan B” statement.

A failure to understand

A disturbing article by David Goldman highlights the American establishment’s failure to correctly ascertain the contours of China’s grand strategy, and the unfolding and soon-to-be highly unpleasant (for the US) consequences of said failure:

Not only the Chinese, but South Korean, Japanese, British and other teams are building the capability to embed quantum communications in the new 5G networks. Not only will China go dark to U.S. signals intelligence; the rest of the world will, too, and in short order. Huawei’s 5G systems will wipe out America’s longstanding advantage in electronic eavesdropping. The U.S. intelligence community spends $80 billion a year, mostly on SIGINT, and the whole investment is at risk. […]

Huawei owns 40 percent of the patents related to fifth-generation broadband, largely because it spent twice as much on research and development as its two largest rivals (Ericsson and Nokia) combined. The strategic challenge to the United States comes not from Chinese technology theft, obnoxious as that is, but from Chinese innovation backed by state resources. The American intelligence community realized too late that China had gained the upper hand, and convinced the Trump administration to try to postpone the 5G rollout until it could work out what to do next. The failure is of such catastrophic proportions that no one in a position of responsibility dare acknowledge it for fear of taking the blame.

Domination of E-Commerce and E-Finance

Huawei’s vision of a global broadband market under its domination is hardly a secret. This is a case where China has advertised its intentions while the United States ignored the issue. Since 2011, the company’s website has promulgated an “eco-system” enabled by broadband networks that in turn would bring in Chinese e-commerce, e-finance, logistics, and marketing—in short, the whole array of business and financial services that will integrate the labor of billions of people into the greater Chinese model.

The world will become a Chinese company store: Chinese banks will lend the money, Huawei will build the broadband network and sell the handsets, Alibaba and JD.Com will market the products, Ant Financial will make micro-loans, and Chinese companies will build airports and railroads and ports. […] Among other things, Huawei is building most of Mexico’s new national broadband network, including 5G capability, in a consortium with Nokia financed by a group led by Morgan Stanley and the International Finance Corporation. Huawei also dominates telecommunications infrastructure in Brazil and other Latin American countries. China’s tech dominance in America’s neighborhood, remarkably, has occasioned no official comment from Washington.

In my view, this is far more alarming than what Gertz envisions. He writes, “China will control all deals and win any business arrangements it seeks by dominating the information domain and thus learning the positions of bidders and buyers. All Chinese companies will be given advantages in the marketplace.”

That simply isn’t the way things work. China will lock whole countries into Chinese hardware through state-financed national broadband networks, including Brazil and Mexico, where construction is underway. It understands the network effect that made Amazon and Facebook dominant players in the U.S. market, and will use its financial and technological head start to establish the same sort of virtual monopoly for Chinese companies throughout the Global South.

China envisions a virtual empire, with military deployments to protect key trade routes, starting with oil from the Persian Gulf. China’s navy established its first overseas base in Djibouti last year. Meanwhile China has invested heavily in high-tech weaponry, including satellite killers. During the first minutes of war, the United States and China would destroy each other’s communications and reconnaissance satellites. But China has a network of thousands of high-altitude balloons around its coasts, too many for U.S. forces to destroy.

And the money quote:

As we examine the details, the picture of a Soviet-style communist regime bent on world domination falls apart. China’s concept of world domination is so different from what we imagine that it has halfway come to fruition before we noticed it.

Quite.

Social credit system in action

China’s dystopian social credit system is in full swing, and the results are… sweeping:

Skipped paying a fine in China? Then forget about buying an airline ticket.

Would-be air travelers were blocked from buying tickets 17.5 million times last year for “social credit” offenses including unpaid taxes and fines under a controversial system the ruling Communist Party says will improve public behavior.

Others were barred 5.5 million times from buying train tickets, according to the National Public Credit Information Center. In an annual report, it said 128 people were blocked from leaving China due to unpaid taxes.

The ruling party says “social credit” penalties and rewards will improve order in a fast-changing society after three decades of economic reform have shaken up social structures. Markets are rife with counterfeit goods and fraud. The system is part of efforts by President Xi Jinping’s government to use technology ranging from data processing to genetic sequencing and facial recognition to tighten control.

How long before China adds social credit incentives to boost its lowest-in-the-world fertility rate? Have another baby, get “points” that you can redeem on Taobao!

And before you get complacent, the Western democracies are not far from implementing “social credit systems” of their own.

A scientific dead end

CERN particle collider

Particle colliders are fairly awesome, as technological achievements go. Do we really need another one though? Physicist Sabine Hossenfelder comments on the news that CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) is planning to build a huge $22 billion collider by 2050 that will be ever bigger than its Large Hadron Collider near Geneva:

CERN’s press release of plans for a larger particle collider, which I wrote about last week, made international headlines. Unfortunately, most articles about the topic just repeat the press-release, and do not explain how much the situation in particle physics has changed with the LHC data.

Since the late 1960s, when physicists hit on the “particle zoo” at nuclear energies, they always had a good reason to build a larger collider. That’s because their theories of elementary matter were incomplete. But now, with the Higgs-boson found in 2012, their theory – the “standard model of particle physics” – is complete. It’s done. There’s nothing missing. All Pokemon caught.

The Higgs was the last good prediction that particle physicists had. This prediction dates back to the 1960s and it was based on sound mathematics. In contrast to this, the current predictions for new particles at a larger collider – eg supersymmetric partner particles or dark matter particles – are not based on sound mathematics. These predictions are based on what is called an “argument from naturalness” and those arguments are little more than wishful thinking dressed in equations.

I have laid out my reasoning for why those predictions are no good in great detail in my book (and also in this little paper). But it does not matter whether you believe (or even understand) my arguments, you only have to look at the data to see that particle physicists’ predictions for physics beyond the standard model have, in fact, not worked for more than 30 years.

I am totally unqualified to comment on any of this except to say that it appears that an important branch of science, theoretical physics, has stalled out. Is that right?

About that weird interstellar object

This is a nice interview with a prominent Harvard space scientist regarding the mysterious elongated object that was observed hurtling through the solar system in 2017, marking our first close brush with an interstellar entity:

On October 19, 2017, astronomers at the University of Hawaii spotted a strange object travelling through our solar system, which they later described as “a red and extremely elongated asteroid.” It was the first interstellar object to be detected within our solar system; the scientists named it ‘Oumuamua, the Hawaiian word for a scout or messenger. The following October, Avi Loeb, the chair of Harvard’s astronomy department, co-wrote a paper (with a Harvard postdoctoral fellow, Shmuel Bialy) that examined ‘Oumuamua’s “peculiar acceleration” and suggested that the object “may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth’s vicinity by an alien civilization.” Loeb has long been interested in the search for extraterrestrial life, and he recently made further headlines by suggesting that we might communicate with the civilization that sent the probe. “If these beings are peaceful, we could learn a lot from them,” he told Der Spiegel.

Quote from Loeb:

Well, it’s exactly the approach that I took. I approached this with a scientific mind, like I approach any other problem in astronomy or science that I work on. The point is that we follow the evidence, and the evidence in this particular case is that there are six peculiar facts. And one of these facts is that it deviated from an orbit shaped by gravity while not showing any of the telltale signs of cometary outgassing activity. So we don’t see the gas around it, we don’t see the cometary tail. It has an extreme shape that we have never seen before in either asteroids or comets. We know that we couldn’t detect any heat from it and that it’s much more shiny, by a factor of ten, than a typical asteroid or comet. All of these are facts. I am following the facts. […]

But when you mention the possibility that there could be equipment out there that is coming from another civilization—which, to my mind, is much less speculative, because we have already sent things into space—then that is regarded as unscientific. But we didn’t just invent this thing out of thin air. The reason we were driven to put in that sentence was because of the evidence, because of the facts.

As Sherlock Holmes said: “When you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

More here and here.

UPDATE: From the Haaretz article, I found this interesting:

What does it feel like to sit next to colleagues in a university lunchroom a day after publishing an article arguing that Oumuamua may actually be a reconnaissance spaceship?

Loeb: “The article I published was written, in part, on the basis of conversations I had with colleagues whom I respect scientifically. Scientists of senior status said themselves that this object was peculiar but were apprehensive about making their thoughts public. I don’t understand that. After all, academic tenure is intended to give scientists the freedom to take risks without having to worry about their jobs. Unfortunately, most scientists achieve tenure – and go on tending to their image. As children we ask ourselves about the world, we allow ourselves to err. Ego doesn’t play a part. We learn about the world with innocence and honesty. As a scientist, you’re supposed to enjoy the privilege of being able to continue your childhood. Not to worry about the ego, but about uncovering the truth. Especially after you get tenure.”

Here’s more about the Loeb Hypothesis:

If it wasn’t comet outgassing, what force caused Oumuamua to accelerate? It is precisely here where Loeb enters the picture. According to his calculations, Oumuamua’s acceleration was caused by a push.

“The only hypothesis I could think of,” he relates, “is a push from solar radiation pressure. For that to work, the object would have to be very thin, less than a millimeter thick, in other words a type of pancake. In addition, the Spitzer Space Telescope found no evidence of heat emission from the object, and that means that it is at least 10 times more reflective than a typical comet or asteroid. What we have, then, is a thin, flat, shiny object. So I arrived at the idea of a solar sail: A solar sail is a spaceship that uses the sun for propulsion. Instead of using fuel, it is propelled ahead by reflecting light. In fact, it’s a technology that our civilization is developing at this very time.”

Bottles in space

Avi Loeb definitely knows a thing or two about solar sails. In 2016, the physicist and venture capitalist Yuri Milner, together with Stephen Hawking, Mark Zuckerberg and others, established Breakthrough Starshot, an initiative to accelerate solar sails to one-fifth the speed of light in order to explore the neighboring solar system, Alpha Centauri, which is four light-years away from us. Loeb was appointed the project’s scientific director.

I wrote about Breakthrough Starshot a couple years ago here.