Categories
Opinion

How SAGE and the UK media created fear in the British public

COVID-19 started registering with most of the British public around late February and early March. Many were concerned but not particularly afraid. Only weeks later people were terrified to leave their homes or go near other human beings. How did such a dramatic shift in public perception happen so quickly?

In early March 2020, The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) produced a document for the UK Government highlighting methods for rolling out new social distancing rules. There seemed to be some doubt as to whether the public would comply with the upcoming measures so SAGE outlined a methodology based on known psychological behavioural modification techniques.

Research and analysis: Options for increasing adherence to social distancing measures, 22 March 2020

SAGE, SPI-B and applied psychology

SAGE is an advisory group to the UK government responsible for making sure decision makers have access to scientific advice. We are told that the advice provided by SAGE does not represent official government policy.

SAGE also relies on expert sub-groups for COVID-19 specific advice. These sub-groups include:

  • NERVTAG: New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group
  • SPI-M: Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling
  • SPI-B: Independent Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours

The identity of individual committee members themselves were initially kept secret, purportedly due to national security. Some names were eventually released, largely due to efforts by UK businessman Simon Dolan and his legal challenge campaign. Nevertheless, two members remain anonymous.

Psychological techniques for behavioural change

The document itself, titled Options for increasing adherence to social distancing measures, was drafted by SPI-B, the behavioural science sub-group for SAGE.

SPI-B highlighted nine broad ways of achieving behavioural change in the public:

  1. Education
  2. Persuasion
  3. Incentivisation
  4. Coercion
  5. Enablement
  6. Training
  7. Restriction
  8. Environmental restructuring
  9. Modelling

In the document, SPI-B focused on the methods most relevant to their stated goals and set out ten options that were evaluated on six criteria.

The six criteria, under the acronym APEASE, were:

  • Acceptability
  • Practicability
  • Effectiveness
  • Affordability
  • Spill-over effects
  • Equity
Source: Options for increasing adherence to social distancing measures, 22 March 2020

Government persuasion through fear

A key part of SPI-B’s behavioural change strategy that seems to have been adopted was to ‘persuade through fear.’ The Persuasion section of the document states:

A substantial number of people still do not feel sufficiently personally threatened.

Clearly, the psychologists felt that, as of late March, the public was still not afraid of COVID-19. It therefore suggested that the government increase the level of fear:

The perceived level of personal threat needs to be increased among those who are complacent, using hard-hitting emotional messaging.

Appendix B of the document lists ten options that can be used to increase social distancing in the public. Option 2 advises:

Use media to increase sense of personal threat.

Source: Options for increasing adherence to social distancing measures, 22 March 2020

In hindsight, this explains the tone of government sponsored social media and physical billboard advertising campaigns that started appearing around April.

SPI-B recommendations to increase personal threat and use hard-hitting emotional messaging are on display with eerie imagery coupled with taglines such as:

  • Anyone can get it. Anyone can spread it.
  • Don’t put your friends and family in danger.
  • Stay home for your family. Don’t put their lives in danger.
  • If you go out, you can spread it. People will die.
Source: Reuters, 8 April 2020
Source: Sky News, 18 April 2020

Hysterical news headlines

During the first week of April 2020, the InProportion2 project noticed a change in the BBC headlines and posted the article, BBC: Informing or scaring?

Source: BBC headlines in April 2020 compiled by InProportion2

The article compared hysterical BBC news headline from the first week of April 2020 with those from 2018, when mortality rates were peaking due to a bad flu season. It found no references to flu or excess mortality on the BBC home page during the 2018 peak. InProportion2 asked, “Do the headlines reflect the gravity of the situations in an equivalent way – or is additional fear being stirred up in 2020?

Persuasion through shame and approval: Covidiots and heroes

SPI-B psychologists knew that fear on its own would not persuade everyone. Messaging needed to be tailored to take into account different ‘motivational levers.’

Some people will be more persuaded by appeals to play by the rules, some by duty to the community, and some to personal risk.

It therefore suggested using both social approval and disapproval, with compulsion (legislation) as a backup:

  • Option 6: Use and promote social approval for desired behaviours
  • Option 7: Consider enacting legislation to compel required behaviours
  • Option 8: Consider use of social disapproval for failure to comply

We can see the obvious approval-disapproval dialectic with the ‘Heroes and Covidiots’ narrative that soon began to surface in the news. The term ‘Covidiot’ appeared around March with The Economist’s 1843 Magazine describing covidiots in this way:

Even in a pandemic, many of us are prone to judge others and find them wanting: the term “covidiot” describes any and every person behaving stupidly or irresponsibly as the epidemic spreads. Sometime in early March the word was born, and, almost as fast as the virus spread, so did instances of covidiotic behaviour.

Although it’s not clear how the term came about, it was quickly adopted in UK mainstream and social media. At the same time, we began seeing praise for heroes who ‘did the right thing’ by complying with the government measures.

The METRO article below shows all three options in play:

  • Social approval:These local heroes have been doing amazing things…”
  • Social disapproval: “Lake District closed…because covidiots won’t stay away…”
  • Compulsion:Matt Hancock threatens to close beaches…”
Source: METRO, 27 Mar 2020

An incentivised media

These psychological techniques would have been impossible to deploy on the public without a compliant media. How did the government convince the media to go along with the plan?

Increased UK government media spending

Digiday, a media and marketing industry publication, reported in April that the government is becoming UK news publishers’ most important client. In the 20 April 2020 article for Digiday, Lara O’Reilly wrote:

…the government is spending more than usual, judging by their bookings. The publishers also pointed out that the lack of activity from other advertisers in the current market means the government campaigns will have an outweighed share of voice compared with normal times.

Digiday Stay At Home campaign
Source: Digiday, 20 April 2020

During that period, the British public started seeing coverage across media outlets with the unified “In this together” messaging. O’Reilly pointed out that the campaign was worth £35 million over a three month period.

Last week, the government and newspaper industry launched a three-month advertising partnership dubbed “All in, all together.” The campaign — worth approximately £35 million ($44 million) for the full course, according to sources — kicked off on Apr. 17, with all the U.K.’s national and regional daily news brands running near-identical cover wraps and homepage takeovers, which carried the copy, “Stay at home for the NHS, your family, your neighbours, your nation the world and life itself.” 

So, we ask again: how did the government convince the media to go along with the plan? The answer is simple and obvious: with lots of money.

Psychological techniques to change behaviour

We can see that the UK Government has a public document outlining psychological techniques to change the behaviour of the population. We see a unified mass-media campaign that falls in line with these techniques. We then see a dramatic shift in public perception and behaviour.

What else can we call this but ‘brainwashing’?

Despite the open nature of what has transpired, it seems to have gained little coverage in the media. This is of no surprise since it was clearly complicit in spreading fear in the public.

Download the document

The document is freely downloadable on the gov.uk website in a page titled, “Research and analysis – Options for increasing adherence to social distancing measures, 22 March 2020“.

We encourage you to read the document, compare it with your observations about how the government and media has acted, then make up your own mind.

Categories
Opinion

SAGE advises use of media to increase sense of personal threat

Update 27 June 2020: For a more in-depth commentary, please read How SAGE and the UK media created fear in the British public


In early March 2020, The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) produced a document for the UK Government highlighting recommendations for increasing adherence to social distancing measures. There seemed to be some doubt as to whether the public would comply with the upcoming measures so SAGE developed a methodology based on criteria called ‘APEASE’.

The document itself was drafted by SPI-B, the behavioural science sub-group for SAGE. More information about SPI-B can be found in this document.

Source: Options for increasing adherence to social distancing measures, 22 March 2020

APEASE criteria

In the document, behavioural change options were set in a grid and evaluated based on the six criteria. See Appendix B in the linked document.

SPI-B’s APEASE criteria are:

  • Acceptability
  • Practicability
  • Effectiveness
  • Affordability
  • Spill-over effects
  • Equity

Persuasion through fear

It seems that a big part of SPI-B’s behavioural change strategy was to ‘persuade through fear.’ The Persuasion section of the document states:

The perceived level of personal threat needs to be increased among those who are complacent, using hard-hitting emotional messaging. To be effective this must also empower people by making clear the actions they can take to reduce the threat.

Appendix B of the document lists ten options that can be used to increase social distancing in the public. Option 2 advises: “Use media to increase sense of personal threat.

Psychological techniques to change behaviour

In this document, the UK Government has openly admitted to using psychological techniques to change the behaviour of the British population. Despite the open nature of this admission, it seems to have gained little coverage in the media.

This is of no surprise since the British media was clearly complicit in spreading fear in the public.

Download the document

The document is freely downloadable on the gov.uk website in a page titled, “Research and analysis – Options for increasing adherence to social distancing measures, 22 March 2020“.

Categories
Publications

HM Government guidance states evidence for face coverings is weak

Working safely during COVID-19 in offices and contact centres, published 24 June 2020, states:

6. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and face coverings
Unless you are in a situation where the risk of COVID-19 transmission is very high, your risk assessment should reflect the fact that the role of PPE in providing additional protection is extremely limited.

6.1 Face coverings
There are some circumstances when wearing a face covering may
be marginally beneficial as a precautionary measure. The evidence
suggests that wearing a face covering does not protect you, but it
may protect others if you are infected but have not developed
symptoms.

It is important to know that the evidence of the benefit of using a face covering to protect others is weak and the effect is likely to be small…

(Emphasis mine)
Screenshot from HM Government publication Working safely during COVID-19 in offices and contact centres, published 24 June 2020.

Advice for offices and contact centres: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/5eb97e7686650c278d4496ea/working-safely-during-covid-19-offices-contact-centres-240620.pdf

Advice for restaurants, pubs, bars and takeaway services: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/5eb96e8e86650c278b077616/Keeping-workers-and-customers-safe-during-covid-19-restaurants-pubs-bars-takeaways-230620.pdf

Advice for close contact services: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/5ef2889986650c12970e9b57/Keeping-workers-and-clients-safe-during-covid-19-close-contact-services-230620.pdf

Categories
News

Non-apologies for coronavirus deaths are not good enough – Al Jazeera

The UK government blusters its way through excuses for its poor response to coronavirus. It must be held accountable.

https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/apologies-coronavirus-deaths-good-200416115612897.html

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Opinion

As the Left now controls every lever of power, we face nothing less than Regime Change – Peter Hitchens, The Mail on Sunday

The sad but unavoidable fact, that the disease is little danger to most young and healthy people but is especially deadly to the old and ill, is also now beyond dispute…

The ceaseless assumption of the Government and the BBC that the shutdown ‘protected’ the NHS is simply not borne out by any facts. The NHS was never going to be overwhelmed. Covid deaths in this country peaked on April 8 – an event far too soon to have been caused by the shutdown announced on March 23 and begun the following day.

In fact, the country with the highest number of deaths per head is Belgium (843 per million). Yet Belgium introduced one of the tightest and most severe shutdowns on the planet. Sweden, without a shutdown at all, has suffered 472 deaths per million.

The UK figure of 620 per million may be inflated by our lax recording methods but hardly suggests that we did better than Sweden by throttling our economy and grossly interfering in personal liberty. Japan, which also did not shut down, suffered just over seven (yes, seven) deaths per million…

I believe that forces hostile to our country, its history and nature, have seen this as an opportunity. Probably incredulous to begin with, they realised the British people really had gone soft, accepting absurd and humiliating diktats, believing the most ridiculous claims. 

https://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2020/06/peter-hitchens-as-the-left-now-controls-every-lever-of-power-we-face-nothing-less-than-regime-change.html

Categories
Publications

UK GDP fell by 10.4% in the three months to April 2020 – Office for National Statistics

In June 2020, The Office for National Statistics released their Gross domestic product (GDP) report for April 2020. They calculated that GDP fell by 10.4% in the three months to April. This was directly caused by the UK government’s policy of lockdown.

https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/grossdomesticproductgdp/bulletins/gdpmonthlyestimateuk/april2020

Categories
Opinion

Has the British scientific establishment made its biggest error in history? – The Telegraph

The scientific establishment in this country has had a bad war. Its mistakes have probably made the Covid-19 epidemic, as well as the economic downturn, worse. Britain entered the pandemic late, with lots of warning, so we should have done better than other countries. Instead we are one of the worst affected in Europe and one of the last to begin to recover.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/06/06/has-british-scientific-establishment-made-biggest-error-history/

Categories
Opinion

The architects of lockdown must not be allowed to rewrite history – The Telegraph

Britain’s lockdown nightmare may be far from over, but an attempt to rewrite the history of the country’s greatest political blunder has already begun. With the UK now past the peak, the lack of evidence that lockdown served any useful purpose is glaring. And crucially, thanks to a growing abundance of raw data – from deaths and hospital admissions, to Covid-related 111 calls and mobile tracking intelligence –we now have the power to piece together what Britain’s lockdown achieved (or didn’t) in hideous technicolour.

Getting at the truth will be an uphill struggle, however: Downing Street has shown no appetite whatsoever for sifting through the evidence, even though it could inform (or, let’s face it, rip apart) its uniquely odd approach to easing lockdown. We must also beware the shape-shifting, scientific architects of the stay-at-home order; as criticism grows, are they attempting to dress their reconstructed reality in the language of scientific pedantry?

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2020/06/04/architects-lockdown-must-not-allowed-rewrite-history/

Categories
Opinion

Best-selling author and political commentator The coronavirus lockdown may have been unnecessary – The Express

THERE IS a growing body of evidence which, if it is ever proved true and it may well be when our present nightmare is over, would leave the Government’s policy over the past 20 months in discredited tatters.

Trying to predict the future is the oldest delusion known to Man. It has never worked, save exceptionally by a fluke. This time we were told “Follow the science”.

https://www.express.co.uk/comment/columnists/frederick-forsyth/1291651/coronavirus-lockdown-end-UK-death-toll-latest

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Videos

Dr John Lee on The James Delingpole Channel

  • There was genuine fear at the beginning but the COVID-19 response is now political.
  • Nothing at the beginning of the epidemic justified the subsequent reaction.
  • The community suffered from ascertainment bias: hospitals saw the worst form of the virus so they thought we were dealing with a big problem.
  • Lockdown means people will be getting nastier versions of the virus.
  • We implemented a policy of enormous magnitude without considering the implications. This goes against the most fundamental principle of medicine.
  • A significant number of the excess deaths are not victims of COVID-19 but of the lockdown. More than half of the deaths may be found due to other causes.
  • The response of the authorities and media has made it impossible to understand what was going on.
  • Our huge and emotional overreaction has caused more harm.
  • Years of life lost is a more important metric than the number of deaths.
  • Most people working in the NHS wouldn’t speak out about these things.
  • There were two types of journalism during the epidemic: investigative journalism and illustrative journalism (propaganda). Most of the mainstream media were engaged in propaganda and ended up frightening the people and the government. They need to take their share of the responsibility of the damage caused.
  • COVID-19 is nowhere near as bad as previous epidemics.
  • The medical establishment should have been speaking out since the beginning of the lockdown. The evidence was pretty clear, pretty quickly.
  • Vaccine is a red herring because it’s unlikely we’re going to have one. The Common Cold Research Institute spent 43 years trying to make a vaccine for the common cold and didn’t manage it.
  • Track and Trace is extremely worrying and not thought-through with its implications for a Big Brother society. None of it makes sense.
  • Social distancing is nonsense. Vulnerable people should be given information and allowed to make their own decisions.
  • The NHS is there to protect us. That’s what we pay our taxes for.
  • Young people are being thrown in the scrapheap for a disease that isn’t going to affect them.
  • As you get older, your immune system starts to ‘forget’ diseases you’ve already had. That’s why older people are more susceptible to getting sick.
  • We can say with absolute certainty that there is no overwhelming risk. It’s wrong to say the opposite.
  • Many doctors are smart but don’t have a huge amount of time to question things. Most doctors get their information in the same way most people do and unfortunately that information has been very biased. The science has moved on but the narrative has not.
  • The media was responsible for amplifying the fear about something they didn’t know about.
  • Models are useful scientifically when you have an understanding of something but they’re very bad at predicting outcomes. The government should have known this because we’ve have many examples of models and resulting policies being spectacularly wrong.
  • Politicians have forgotten that leadership is not about telling people what they want to hear. Where is the criticism of the narrative?
  • There is no evidence that lockdown has had any effect except in modelling. The evidence show that the lockdown plays out in similar way.

Categories
Publications

Sir David Norgrove response to Matt Hancock regarding the Government’s COVID-19 testing data – UK Statistics Authority

The way the data are analysed and presented currently gives them limited value for the first purpose [of understanding the epidemic]. The aim seems to be to show the largest possible number of tests, even at the expense of understanding. It is also hard to believe the statistics work to support the testing programme itself. The statistics and analysis serve neither purpose well.

Categories
News

Critics round on No 10 over ‘ridiculous’ rules for 14-day quarantine – The Guardian

Opponents claim exemptions to rules could mean great economic pain for little public health benefit

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/01/critics-round-on-no-10-over-ridiculous-rules-for-14-day-quarantine-coronavirus

Categories
Opinion

Was the lockdown worth it? – Spiked

In all of this, I could be wrong. Instituting the widest expansion of the state since 9/11, while suspending the boundaries of political power, quarantining healthy people and enacting a controlled demolition of our economy, might turn out to have been the ‘safest’ response to the pandemic. But my instincts, as well as a growing number of epidemiologists, virologists, economists, historians and journalists, tell me otherwise.

https://www.spiked-online.com/2020/05/29/was-the-lockdown-worth-it/

Categories
Opinion

These new eased lockdown rules will fast become a bureaucratic irrelevance – The Telegraph

Rather than trusting in our innate common sense, ministers are getting caught up in pointless lectures about how we can host a barbecue

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2020/05/29/new-lockdown-rules-will-fast-become-bureaucratic-irrelevance/

Categories
Publications

Coronamania? Covid-19 never grew exponentially – the threat was misunderstood

There was no exponential growth in Covid-19 infections the UK. From the first days of the outbreak growth rates were in decline.

The following chart produced by financial strategist Alistair Haimes should put the above question to rest (compare it with the above chart).

The left hand side starts in March 2020 when the UK had had its first 300 infections and then stops at 10 April when Europe as a whole had reached a growth rate of zero or less. The chart is analogous to the above chart of interest rates. If you cannot distinguish the different colours and European countries don’t worry too much (UK is dark blue) as they all show the same overall pattern. The trends are all downwards, from start to finish.

http://inproportion2.talkigy.com/exponential_or_not.html

Categories
Opinion

Coronavirus doesn’t care about politics – UnHerd

So as you read, in coming weeks, furious news stories about technical incompetence, citizen non-compliance, threats of stricter enforcement and blame in all directions, as if everything was hanging on the latest government policy, remember the humility of scientists instead of the solipsism of the political class. Yes, the Government action plan will most likely be ineffective, but politicians were never in charge of this anyway. It’s bigger than they are — the best they could ever hope to do is tinker around the edges. Coronavirus is nobody’s ‘fault’.

Categories
News

Cash borrowing by the public sector was £89 billion in April 2020, far more than in any previous month on record – Institute for Fiscal Studies

Over the months to come, more and better data will help build a more complete picture. Based on today’s data, it is nevertheless clear that borrowing will increase to historic highs this year. Borrowing of around £300 billion, or 15% of GDP, as the OBR’s Coronavirus reference scenario projects, certainly seems plausible, a level which has not been reached since the Second World War (but, as a share of GDP, would still be below that borrowed in the four years from 1940–41 to 1943–44).

https://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/14857

Categories
News

Government coronavirus contact tracing site CRASHES within minutes of launching as staff reveal first shift has been a ‘complete shambles’ – Daily Mail

The government’s coronavirus contact tracing site crashed on launch this morning amid complaints it has been a ‘complete shambles’.

Doctors and other staff reported major teething troubles as the much-trumpeted scheme finally got up and running, with some saying they had not even received passwords to start work.

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8364799/Matt-Hancock-LAUGHS-suggestion-rushed-contact-tracing-scheme.html

Categories
Opinion

How Fear, Groupthink Drove Unnecessary Global Lockdowns – Real Clear Politics

That is the story of what may eventually be known as one of the biggest medical and economic blunders of all time. The collective failure of every Western nation, except one, to question groupthink will surely be studied by economists, doctors, and psychologists for decades to come.

  • The virus is now known to have an infection fatality rate for most people under 65 that is no more dangerous than driving 13 to 101 miles per day.
  • Even by conservative estimates, the odds of COVID-19 death are roughly in line with existing baseline odds of dying in any given year.
  • The virus that bears a survival rate of 99.99% if you are a healthy individual under 50 years old.
  • New York City reached over a 25% infection rate and yet 99.98% of all people in the city under 45 survived

https://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2020/05/21/how_fear_groupthink_drove_unnecessary_global_lockdowns_143253.html

Categories
News

Health regulator tells laboratories to STOP analysing all samples from Covid-19 home antibody tests – Daily Mail

US CDC that antibody tests for Covid-19 may be wrong up to half of the time.

The CDC now warns antibody testing is not accurate enough for it to be used for any policy-making decisions, as even with high test specificity, ‘less than half of those testing positive will truly have antibodies’.

There is currently a high level of inaccuracy in the testing, however, caused by how uncommon the virus is within the population.

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8358729/Health-regulator-tells-laboratories-STOP-analysing-samples-Covid-19-home-antibody-tests.html