The Free Market Foundation has presented its very first award to PANDA co-founder Nick Hudson for freedom of expression, decentralisation, and an evolutionary approach. Alec Hogg caught up with Hudson to unpack what the award means to him and the rest of the PANDA team. “It’s been a long, hard struggle and a lot of the people at PANDA have put up with enormous risks and challenges to their livelihoods and careers,” Hudson explains. “So to have this recognition for them I think is particularly welcome and important.”
Why have people at Panda come under such pressure?
A very strange authoritarian aspect has infiltrated academic and public health institutions. There is a notion now of science as an authoritarian concept, of there being such a thing as “settled science”, something you should follow, almost trademarked. It is antithetical to what science is actually about, which is conjecture and criticism, dissent and debate to drive the formation of new knowledge. In that authoritarian environment, someone who looks at the data, has a different interpretation, sees the world differently from the average person, is at risk of being cancelled, censured and bullied. By people who are doing something that in a normal world couldn’t be described as scientific.
An email received from Mark Jackson today said “I wonder what people at Panda, and other Covid idiots, have to say now that the hospitals in Gauteng (South Africa) are being overrun and doctors have to choose who to save?
We don’t deny the existence of Covid. Our perspective from the beginning has been that the response has been disproportionate, and later on that the response has actually worsened the situation. So it’s rather strange to attack people who have taken this perspective, supported with data and quality scientific perspectives, as though this somehow refutes us. Especially when this is happening in a country that has one of the most insane policy responses on the planet. Such as adopting policies which were already evidently not working elsewhere in the world.
The stringent restrictions that have been imposed have done nothing, other than cause massive collateral damage and worsening public health outcomes. It is patently clear for more than a year now that lockdowns, ruled out by all prior respiratory virus policy guidelines, were ruled out for a reason. This is not contentious. It is novel and unusual to be saying that lockdowns are good and should continue. This has been proven wrong systematically through the entire course of this pandemic. There is not a single country’s curve where the beneficial impact of restrictions or mask mandates can be seen, nor a detrimental effect of releasing these restrictions or mandates.
When Texas opened up and removed mask mandates and lockdowns, these guys on the other side of the debate called them neanderthals. Predicted disaster. It’s been months now and absolutely nothing has happened. You would think that at some point these pro lockdown people would start to eat some humble pie and stop encouraging policymakers enacting these restrictions.
What about the “third wave” in Gauteng? Just about every second person I know now, has Covid.
It is a terrible situation. But it isn’t improved by mask mandates or going to level 5 or whatever. There is no evidence for that claim being valid. I believe very firmly that we are in this situation precisely because we locked down so hard at the beginning. It would have been much better for us to have pursued the effective strategy of countries like Sweden.
The other thing that is not being talked about enough is that there appears to be a quite high representation among the sick people who are recently vaccinated. That is not being analysed and discussed enough because it is another area that is profoundly censored. But it is a conversation that has to be had.
We see all around the world, resurgences in Coronavirus deaths that coincide with the inception of mass vaccination. We have our theories as to what may be causing that. Our theories may be wrong, but the discussion needs to happen. Instead we get this blanket silence. There is no debate and everything we learn is leaked out of official forums.
You also get accused of many things you presumably don’t think you’re guilty of?
Of course. The email you read implied that what is happening in Gauteng is somehow our fault, or that we are recommending policies that would make it worse. No. What we are saying is that the policies that have been implemented have made it worse, and are to a large extent responsible for the gravity of our second and third waves.
So what would PANDA advise, then?
We stand for proportionality in response and the importance of conducting cost-benefit analyses before conducting massively impactful restrictions. Secondly, we have, since the very beginning, pointed out that these non pharmaceutical interventions have not shown any benefit in the data. And that the one that showed promise, which was to concentrate on ventilation (of spaces), especially in hospital and nursing home settings, to reduce viral titres in the air, was worth paying attention to. But that’s only been belatedly acknowledged by the World Health Organisation in the last few weeks. WHO and CDC have quietly slipped onto their websites that yes, airborne aerosol transmission is an important component of Coronavirus transmission and can be controlled by use of improved ventilation. We have been saying that since May last year.
But instead people continue running around implementing the things they did when WHO claimed droplet and fomite transmission (sanitising, social distancing, plexiglass, masking), which in our minds are a completely poor effort in light of the scientific evidence that has emerged.
Surely if someone is infected and wears a mask, it reduces the potential for them to infect others, as it does pass on through droplets?
The intuition is that some percentage of droplets will be stopped by a mask. But that is only a one-stage analysis. The next stage is once large droplets have been stopped by your mask, when you exhale over those droplets, you turn them into aerosols which stay suspended in the air. This is also not a difficult intuition to grasp, and it is a better one because it is consistent with the data. The data shows that there is no benefit, to a slight harm, of imposing mask mandates. It is a fantastical idea that viral transmission is prevented by wearing cloth masks. Even the use of surgical masks are only valid to a small degree in highly controlled settings where masks are fitted and worn by qualified professionals. There is modest evidence in favour of those. The experiments that have been done to support use of masks in community settings are highly contrived. European CDC came to the conclusion that evidence for masks had no evidentiary quality and most of the research reflected strong bias.
The tolerance of society today seems to be at an all time low?
From the start this whole response to Coronavirus has adopted a decidedly technocratic, securocrat, surveillance type tone. Suppression of free speech, all sorts of impositions on liberties and rights that are considered the norm in democratic societies. We’ve been promised time and time again that it’s just temporary, it’s two weeks, then three weeks, then until the vulnerable have been vaccinated, and until whatever, and the goalposts just keep moving.
It should be clear to any thinking person that this is an assault on liberal values. That it is not about public health, not about a virus.
The inability of the mass media to give another side of the story and facilitate both sides of the argument belies the whole point of journalism? Where did this come from?
What is not spoken about enough is the extent to which our institutions of media and public health have been captured. By a handful of entities. With the effect that neither the journalists nor the scientists could even speak out if they disagree with the policies or conventional narratives of the times. That is becoming more and more evident by the day. Editorial policy is not free and scientific opinion is not free.
So we are entering I think, very dark times.
It does appear as though we are completely changing 100 years of Western thought?
There are elements of ideology and culture which are easy to describe. Our universities for decades now, have been teaching the completely bogus narrative of post-modernism, of critical theory. This is where wokeness comes from and all its manifestations. Where safety culture and cancel culture come from. They are fundamentally illiberal ideas, fundamentally unscientific ideas. So we should not feel too surprised.
But we also need to look at the influence of some of these supernational organisations and the degree to which they have captured our institutions. You cannot find a single mainstream scientist who is not subject to that kind of pressure, and who could actually speak out if they decided that they disagreed with what is being done.
Why is there no discussion?
Why is there no debate?
Why are critics of public policy not being engaged with openly and in the public eye?
First of all there’s the stranglehold that these supernational organisations have. Secondly there’s an ideological problem that is antithetical to normal scientific discourse. Thirdly, a lot of these scientists are in very conflicted positions and one of the main reasons they will not entertain debate is they are fully aware that those conflicts will be exposed. I see it as a threefold problem that is very serious and very costly to our society.
What happens to PANDA next?
We carry on fighting.
With every passing day we see more people coming around to our view, and begin challenging the narrative they’ve been fed. They begin seeing that what public health officials all around the world have done is to promote a narrative of fear, that causes people to possess a completely distorted perception of risk. The fear is always going in one direction which is towards overestimating risk. This is terminal to critical thinking and to the ability to make wise decisions and evaluate risk appropriately.
So what we see, with every passing day, is people wake up one by one. Once they’ve woken up. Once they’ve come in the direction of open science, facts, data and evidence, over this very false narrative, they never return to the fear mindset.
So we believe the slow and gradual process of bringing people back to sanity, proportionality and perspective, will continue.
After the pandemic ends, PANDA will probably remain involved in science rather than gravitate towards politics. It is not only public health that is subject to this kind of almost Stalinist approach and culture. A lot of our scientists, many of whom have to be cryptically involved, PANDA represents an absolute lifeline. It connects them back to the science that they first fell in love with. It is the only forum for them, where they are able to have open debate and discussion, where they are allowed to be wrong, allowed to learn and change their mind. Our weekly science meetings are so well attended that we are thinking of breaking them up into channels. It is a joy to be involved as the rest of the week we are confronted by this shouty, woke attitude that is disconnected from the real world and the data. So PANDA is an oasis for people who love science as opposed to loving dogma.
If I didn’t have access to such wonderful people and I wasn’t able to tap the brains of these guys to understand what was going on, things would be much more depressing. Last week is a case in point. Again, something not mentioned anywhere in mainstream media because it runs in the face of the narrative, but very big news.
A scientist has managed to uncover the deleted sequences from the database of genetic variants of Covid, which has been a source of great suspicion and head scratching for us. There was in this database, a move taken by a Chinese scientist to delete sequences which she had uploaded. This guy managed to track those sequences back. What they reveal is fascinating. It shines a light on the diversity of the cluster of viruses known as the SARS viruses. It raises the question that we’ve been saying, based on epidemiological evidence, of whether this virus wasn’t actually around much earlier than the December 2019 Wuhan outbreak. It could quite possibly, based on these phylogenetic trees, have been around for years. That highlights the craziness of the policies we’ve been pursuing. If it wasn’t even noticed, if there was no epidemic being spoken about when these cluster of viruses was in broad circulation. That would really draw the line under efforts to speak of lockdown appropriateness or effectiveness.