A senior epidemiologist who advised the government during the coronavirus pandemic claims he was told to “correct” his views after he criticised what he thought was an “implausible” graph shown at an official briefing.
Professor Mark Woolhouse has also apologised to his daughter, whose generation “has been so badly served by mine”, and believes that closing schools was “morally wrong”.
The Edinburgh University academic is deeply critical of the use of lockdown measures and says “plain common sense” was a “casualty of the crisis”.
Speaking to Sky News, Prof Woolhouse seemed concerned about a possible “big-brother” approach to the control of information about COVID.
He says he was told to watch what he was saying following a briefing given by Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA) Sir Patrick Vallance on 21 September 2020.
Scientists abandoned their objectivity, misled with alarming models and failed to appreciate the damage lockdown would cause, a government adviser has claimed in a damning indictment of Britain’s pandemic response.
In his memoir, The Year The World Went Mad, Prof Woolhouse claimed that lockdowns “had surprisingly little effect” and just “deferred the problem to another day, at great cost”.
He argued that Spi-M was set up to tackle the wrong disease, influenza, and that early models were based on flu dynamics, and so mistakenly thought schools were a major driver while underrepresenting the impact of shielding.
Scientists did not have accurate Covid case numbers, and were unsure of hospitalisation and death rates when they published models suggesting that more than 500,000 people could die if Britain took no action in the first wave of the pandemic, it has emerged.
On March 16 2020, Imperial College published its “Report 9” paper suggesting that failing to take action could overwhelm the NHS within weeks and result in hundreds of thousands of deaths.
Before the paper, the UK coronavirus strategy was to flatten the peak rather than suppress the wave, but after the modelling was made public, the Government made a rapid u-turn, which eventually led to lockdown on March 23.
However SPI-M (Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling) minutes released to the Telegraph under a Freedom of Information request show that by March 16, modellers were still “uncertain” of case numbers “due to data limitations”.
The minutes show that members were waiting for comprehensive mortality data from Public Health England (PHE) and said that current best estimates for the infection fatality rate, hospitalisation rates, and the number of people needing intensive care were still uncertain.
They also believed that modelling only showed “proof of concept” that lockdowns could help, and warned that “further work would be required”.
It is more than a rebuke to Medley and the modellers though. This pandemic began, for many, with an announcement from Imperial College, whose study predicted 500,000 deaths if we did nothing. We locked down and never tested the prediction.
This time, in the face of what the public saw as dire predictions, we didn’t lock down and the apocalypse never came. The unspoken — and sometimes spoken — implication is clear: are we all fools?
Everything the government has got right on Covid-19 in the past 12 months has happened when it ignored ‘the science’. If the modellers hadn’t made such fools of themselves in the summer and autumn of 2021 they might have been taken more seriously by the government in the winter. As it was, their incompetence had seeded enough doubt in Johnson’s mind for him to resist going beyond ‘Plan B’ despite almost every ‘scenario’ modelled telling him that hospitalisations and deaths from the virus would exceed anything England had ever seen before.
Modelling that helped persuade the Government to delay the June 21 reopening was overly pessimistic and the lockdown lifting should “possibly” have gone ahead on time, a government adviser has admitted.
Dr Mike Tildesley, an epidemiologist from Warwick University, said Britain had been in a “much better situation than we thought” when his group released models suggesting third wave deaths could hit 72,000.
As Sarah Knapton has revealed in these pages, the brutal postponement of Freedom Day coincided with the release of a bunch of alarmist models predicting a huge new wave of deaths. The most pessimistic, inevitably from Imperial College, forecast 203,824 deaths over the next year. It did so by assuming just a 77-87 per cent reduction in hospitalisations following two vaccinations, despite the fact that real world data shows two vaccinations to be between 92 per cent (AstraZeneca) and 96 per cent (Pfizer) effective in preventing hospitalisation. That would cut the Imperial forecast of deaths by a gob-smacking 90 per cent to 26,854.
This keeps happening. In April the modellers assumed a 30 per cent effectiveness for the vaccine at preventing the spread of the virus. This was described as “a pessimistic view – but it is plausible, it’s not extreme”, by Professor Graham Medley, chairman of the SPI-M sub-group of Sage. It turns out it was far from plausible. At the end of March the BBC’s favourite modeller, Imperial College’s Neil Ferguson, was forecasting that by June 21, even with “optimistic” assumptions, less than half of Britain would be protected against severe disease by vaccination. The true figure is over 80 per cent.
“When you create a state of confusion, people become ever more reliant on the messaging,” she says. “Instead of feeling confident about making decisions, they end up waiting for instructions from the Government.”
…This week’s chaotic and contradictory advice on travel is all part of the growing use of fear to control the public, she believes – a tactic which has been supercharged by the Covid pandemic.
…Less well known is the Home Office’s Research, Information and Communications Unit (RICU), which, according to Dodsworth, “attempts to covertly engineer the thoughts of people” by providing support to bodies seen by the public as “grassroots” organisations.
So, the third wave is officially no more. New modelling by SPI-M, the government’s committee on modelling for pandemics, has, at a stroke, eradicated the predicted surge in new infections, hospital admissions and deaths which it had pencilled in for the autumn or winter as a result of lockdown being eased.
…As Philip Thomas explained here on Sunday, Imperial College has also assumed strangely low estimates for the number of people in Britain carrying antibodies. If you are going to use assumptions that are far more pessimistic than real world data suggests, it is small wonder that SPI-M keeps predicting waves and surges that turn out to be wide of the mark. The question is: why are these modelling teams using such negative assumptions?
THE Government has been accused of over-relying on pandemic modelling and risking “catastrophe by computer”. Last week Boris Johnson published a cautious ‘roadmap‘ to normality after scientists warned him there could be 91,000 extra deaths if he scrapped curbs completely at the end of April.
These figures were based on Imperial College modelling that has since been challenged by Mark Harper, deputy chair of the Covid Recovery Group of MPs. He argued the model did not account for key factors shown to change the course of the pandemic such as the most up to date evidence on the protective effect of the vaccines as well as the “seasonal effect” as the country moves into summer. Modelling has driven much of the pandemic response. The initial reaction in the UK, the US and other European countries was shaped by the dramatic headlines in March last year, suggesting 550,000 deaths in the UK and 2.2 million in the US if mitigation measures were not put in place.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.“
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 Magazinedescribing 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…”
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?
…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.
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.
Campaign, the world’s leading business media brand for the marketing and advertising, reported that the UK government spent more than £184m on Covid communications in 2020.
It has emerged that German politicians, scientists and public health bureaucrats have also collaborated to induce panic to justify the first German lockdown. The source material is in German but a Twitter thread explaining the leaks in English has been archived. We will update here if an English source becomes available.
Researcher Ian Davis reports about the ties between the UK Government and Omnicom, the New York-based corporate communications company the behind the phrases “flatten the curve”, “stay home, protect the NHS, save lives”, “rule of six” and “look into my eyes” campaigns. The UK Government has awarded Omnicom with £1.6 billion in media buy-in contracts since 2018.
Traffic log cookies are used to measure site traffic. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Cookie settingsACCEPT
Privacy & Cookies Policy
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.