16 October 2020 — Off Guardian
Bernhard, the proprietor of alternate-news site Moon of Alabama, has taken it upon himself to “fact-check” one of our many Covid-related articles. It was done without informing us of his intent, or indeed offering us a right of reply.
Whilst this is regrettable – and highly unprofessional – I do understand, given the nature and quality of the article, why he would neither want us to read it, nor respond to it.
Nevertheless, read it I did, and respond we must.
I would like to start with a few words of regret, mourning for the age of solidarity now passed. Until very recently I had believed – perhaps “hoped” is the better word – that all of us in the “alternate news” sphere were more or less on the same side. After all, OffGuardian and MoA have a long history – continuing to this day – of agreement.
On Ukraine, Syria, Libya, Russia-gate, Assange and MH17 our opinions and coverage have always almost totally aligned. This pattern is solid up to this very day, with the obvious attempted coup Belarus forming the most prominent recent example.
I would hope that such numerous strokes of agreement – accompanying as they do a broadly similar world-view – would therefore be able to comfortably encompass such diversions of opinion as are sure to manifest between even the most like-minded of people. I had assumed that any such conflicts of interpretation which did eventually arise would be handled with, if not amiable good humour, at least passing civility.
Sadly, that is not the case, and whilst “B” is not noted in the alt-media world for either his good humour or social skills, it is nonetheless sad to find a former ally has become so willing an enemy. Disagreeing is one thing, but publicly attacking our intentions and honesty is quite another.
Secondly, I would like to make note of certain contradictions – not only from MoA, but across a lot of those who consider themselves “independent journalists” or “alternative news” or “alt-media” or whatever their preferred nomenclature. Specifically the contradiction of picking and choosing when and how to trust the mainstream.
Many of these people devote their entire careers, if not their lives, to debunking and contradicting the mainstream media – and yet, when a story appears with which they agree, which reinforces their preconceived ideas or bolsters their own particular biases – they gladly accept it. MoA’s “fact-check” is a prime example. I have to say I fundamentally disagree with this approach.
The modern media is not a machine you can trust. Not ever. It is a construction built to control and corral opinion. To shuffle the public mind around a game-board they do not know they are on, based on rules they must never be allowed to understand. It serves no other function. It doesn’t “tell the truth sometimes”; it isn’t “occasionally trustworthy”. It’s a buffet of poisoned courses, selectively stacking your plate to suit your palate will not spare you the toxic effects. You’ll just smile as you choke.
To choose to believe or disbelieve the media only when it suits your case is as foolish as being entirely oblivious to its nature. Perhaps more foolish, because you cannot hide behind blameless ignorance. You, notoionally, know better.
Scepticism is a lens through which one must examine everything, or nothing. It cannot be put aside lightly when you want to score easy points, or salve your own sense of panic, or you just feel like fitting in for once. To do so is moral cowardice.
Using the mainstream propaganda term “covidiot” is a perfect example. It is the product of the same Deep State-media thinktanks and focus groups that birthed “conspiracy theorist” into the public consciousness. More recently we have seen “Russian bots” and “Assad apologist” and “Kremlin stooge” join these ranks – alongside the ubiquitous “denier”.
These are labels designed to encourage groupthink, to “other” dissenters and stifle intelligent and informed debate. To use them is to debase both yourself and the conversation.
Thirdly, and finally, I would like to add a few words about professionalism, integrity and the ethics of journalism. Journalistic ethics are not really different from the natural decency with which one hopes everyone seeks to comport themselves.
It is unseemly, we can all agree, to attack someone and give them no chance to defend themselves. For example, blocking someone on twitter and continuing to bad-mouth them or their work when they can offer no refutation, is not generally speaking “the done thing”. Likewise, it is basic professional practice that, if you intend to refute someone’s work, you inform them of this. It would usually be considered right to offer them space to reply.
Likewise selectively quote-mining is always considered bad form.
Claiming that “It makes little sense to review and refute the whole mess”, and choosing to “concentrat [sic] on the 6 of the 8 [sic] “Take Home Messages” might seem, at first glance, to be an effort at maintaining brevity. However a more cynical reader might point out that, in doing so, MoA has chosen the only section of the text with no hyperlinked sources.
Throughout the original 5,000 word article there are over 60 linked references, the majority to academic journals and peer-reviewed studies. Bernhard does not refute one of these sources, in fact he doesn’t even acknowledge their existence. Instead choosing to attempt to refute 75% of the article’s conclusions, whilst ignoring 100% of the arguments and facts upon which those conclusions are based.
Lies by omission are poor form, you could even call them the hallmark of hack journalism.
With all that said, let us turn our attention to the task at hand. I will address each of Bernhard’s criticisms in turn, firstly quoting the original article authored by Dr Jeanmonod, then Bernhard’s response, and then my thoughts. Dr Jeanmonod has been informed on MoA’s attack on his work, and has given his blessing to us to make a response; while we don’t speak for him, we hope he can approve.
1. Coronaviruses, colds, SARS and MERS
In the original article for OffG, Dr Jeanmonod wrote:
1. Corona viruses are one of the viral agents of the common cold, which, just like the flu, invade the whole planet every year. They cause largely widespread, mostly benign, yearly pandemics of respiratory tract infections.
MoA’s response fits a familiar pattern – a rather pedantic nitpick, and then rather dishonest conclusion.
There are seven distinct corona viruses that infect humans. Four of those can cause the common cold. The infections are generally mild. At times they have more severe consequences like pneumonia. The infection fatality rate for these four corona viruses is estimated to be about 0.1%.
This is broadly speaking true. It also doesn’t, in any way, contradict anything Jeanmonod says.
This, however, is a misleading and irrelevant tangent:
The three other corona viruses, SARS, MERS and SARS-CoV-2 are very different beasts. They cause very severe symptoms in a significant numbers of the infected people. The infection fatality rate for SARS was 9% and for MERS it is even 37%.
Equating SARS and MERS with the other four coronaviruses he already mentioned neglects an important difference: The four “common cold” coronaviruses cause around 15% of the world’s “colds”. That is literally 100s of millions of cases every year. Conversely, there have been only 10,617 officially recognised cases of SARS and MERS combined in over 18 years.
Clearly, Jeanmonod is justified in claiming the vast majority of coronavirus infections as “mostly benign”.
SARS and MERS, themselves already the subject of hysterical “global health scares”, have fatality rates based on such small samples as to make them meaningless. They are suffering from the same problem the Sars-Cov-2 outbreak was suffering from back in spring – we have only hospital admissions to go on. We have only severe case data.
There have been very, very few seroprevalence studies done on these viruses, thus we have no data for how widespread these viruses are. How many asymptomatic infections for SARS or MERS have there been? We don’t know. How many mild cases dismissed as “the flu” or “colds” etc.? We don’t know.
However, even if we accept the high fatality for SARS and MERs, that is irrelevant, which Bernhard himself admits in the next sentence…
The true infection fatality rate for SARS-CoV-2 depends on various circumstances (health service availability, social and medical conditions of the population etc.) but is currently estimated to be around 1%.
Firstly, the fatality rate for Sars-Cov-2 is not 1%. It is substantially lower than that. In May the CDC estimated it to be 0.26%, they then changed it to 0.65%. Dozens of studies have been done all around the globe which roughly confirm 0.2% (the numbers range from 0.08% to 0.3%). According to the WHO’s “best estimate” it’s likely around 0.14%.
But let’s put that aside (we’ll go into it in more detail in point 2) – let us temporarily concede that MoA’s figure is correct – that Sars-Cov-2 has a fatality rate of 1%. Why is he then listing it alongside diseases which have fatality rates between 10 and 37 times higher?
He has conceded that the IFR for Sars-Cov-2 is nothing like as high as the other viruses. Introducing the fatality rates of SARS and MERS is a good example of the Association Fallacy – an attempt to put some large scary numbers into the mix, by claiming an irrelevant connection. All it really does is demonstrate that the Sars-Cov-2 fatality rate is comparatively low.
Summary: The fatality rate of Sars-Cov-2 is much less than 1%, as evidenced by many studies. The fatality rates for SARS and MERS are entirely irrelevant to discussion of Sars-Cov-2.
2. Death rates, selective reasoning and filler
In the original article for OffG, Dr Jeanmonod wrote:
2. COVID-19, the infection caused by SARS-CoV-2, the current corona mutation, is not more lethal than the flu, with a 0.1-0.2% infection fatality rate.
Bernhard’s response to this is in two halves – firstly a pedantic focus on the word “mutation” and a lot of text about genomes, second an accusation of dishonesty.
This is a. outright nonsense that has no scientific basis and b. a lie.
The paragraphs devoted to waffling about genomes are irrelevant. Viruses mutate very rapidly, for a number of reasons, and it seems undeniably clear that Dr Jeanmonod is using the word “mutation” as shorthand to refer to this seasonal generation of respiratory viruses, that is all.
The accusation of dishonesty is far more serious. He calls Jeanmonod’s claim that Sars-Cov-2 has a fatality rate in line with seasonal flu “a lie”, and claims it is “outright false and easy to refute.”
For some reason best known to himself, he then chooses to ‘refute’ this by doing his own maths using rough, months old data from New York City. Doing this he produces an IFR of 1.29%.
As we discussed above, this is much too high.
The World Health Organization estimated the IFR to be 3.4% back in the Spring. This was an absurdly high number which totally disregarded the possibility of mild or asymptomatic cases. We now know that the majority of infections are symptomless, and the vast majority of those who get symptoms only ever get mildly ill. The corollary of this is the IFR has tumbled.
If Bernhard were being an honest broker on this issue he would, at this point, acknowledge that OffG has been shown to completely right about this. We have been writing that the IFR was inflated and would surely drop since May. Whereas his own predictions relating to IFR have not aged half so well.
Of course, Bernhard is free to disagree with Jeanmonod’s interpretation, and to pick and choose which evidence he puts weight on and which he does not. But to ignore these data sources and claim the author is lying is incredibly dishonest.
Summary: The 0.1-0.2% fatality rate is based on seroprevelance studies from scientific journals. It is not “a lie”.
3. On age and co-morbidities
In the original article for OffG, Dr Jeanmonod wrote:
3. An immense majority (95%) of fatal evolutions happen in old and frail individuals with premorbidities, with an average age of death at or above 80 years old.
Bernhard responded with:
That claim is again an outright lie
I’m going to be charitable and assume that Bernhard’s mistake here is to misread some admittedly ambiguous wording.
He calls the claim “an outright lie”, and proceeds to try and debunk the idea that 95% of Covid19 deaths are over 80 years old, but that is not what Dr Jeanmonod said. The “95%” here refers to having serious comorbidities, not the age. But, as I said, I will cede that this conclusion is ambiguously worded.
Of course, if Bernhard had bothered to tackle the entire article – and not just 6 of the 8 bullet-pointed conclusions – he would know that. Here is the full quote from the body of the text (with sources included):
For example in Italy, 95% of the fatalities happened for patients suffering from one up to three or more pre-existing morbidities, and the
. Such a mean fatality age is very close to the average life expectancy of developed, e.g. European countries (83.6 years for Switzerland).
As you can see, there is no ambiguity here. The “95%” here refers to pre-existing medical conditions, not the ages.
That the vast majority of alleged Covid19 deaths have serious comorbidities is not just limited to the figures from Italy – it has been shown to be the case in UK and the US as well. In fact basically everywhere.
Bernhard does make a claim that these co-morbidities don’t cause death and the virus does. This is unsourced conjecture, and is not in any way verifiable.
What IS verifiable is that government officials all around the world have gone out of their way to point out how loose their definition of “covid death” is, that it has already lead to huge over-counts.
It is also true that the average age of those who allegedly die from/with covid19 is over 80 (you can see a list of average age by country here). Bernhard does not refute this, because he can’t.
Summary: His claim this statement is “a lie” is based on either an accidental misreading of an ambiguously worded sentence, or deliberate quote-mining to take the author’s words out of context. Either way, the original claim is demonstrably true, and sourced to official reports.
4. On T cells, herd immunity and the “second wave”
In the original article for OffG, Dr Jeanmonod wrote:
4. Antibody studies, cross immunization with other corona strains and the completion of the death toll curve in many countries are strong evidence that the human population is developing herd immunity against SARS-CoV-2. In this context, a severe “second wave” for SARS-CoV-2 is improbable. We may rather expect a new cold episode from it just like every year, but of regular or even weak intensity thanks to the gained herd immunity.
Bernhard’s response to this is flawed in a few ways. Firstly:
Antibody prevalence even in hard hit place [sic] like New York City is way below the 80% or so that would be needed for some kind of “herd immunity”. In the U.S. and Europe antibody prevalence is in total way less than 10%. The bay area for example has only some 2%. Is the U.S. ready to give 10 times more lives than the 266,000 who have already died of Covid-19 to achieve a only potentially temporary herd immunity?
His figure of 80% exposure for herd immunity is old, and based on flawed modelling which assumed there was no pre-existing mucosal and cellular immunity, this has been shown to be incorrect.
The Herd Immunity Threshold (HIT) for any disease is always, at best, a rough estimate and Sars-Cov-2 is no exception. It was stated as 80% back in April, but back then they said the UK would get 500,000 deaths and the IFR was 3.4%. Sweden worked on the model of 60% HIT. An article in Nature suggested it was closer 50%. Another model put it at 43%.
The point is the HIT is not nailed down, and Jeanmonod’s statement is backed up by scientific studies which Bernhard ignores.
Cross immunization with other corona viruses is a conjecture. We have so far no data that shows that there is cross immunity from other viruses that works against SARS-CoV-2.
The “improbable” second wave of Covid 19 is already developing in several European countries. Just take a look at France. And don’t worry. The rise in the still low death toll WILL follow the infection curve with a four weeks lag.
He illustrates this point using a graph of cases from France, insisting that the fatalities will lag but are coming soon (his tone regarding predicting the deaths of 1000s of people, is slightly odd, almost gleeful, but we’re not here discuss his psychology).
What he doesn’t mention is that cases have spiked – not just in France, but the rest of the Western world – ONLY thanks to a huge increase in the number of tests. If you test 100,000s of people, using a test with a known false-positive rate (more on this in point 5), looking for a disease with a high percentage of asymptomatic infections, you will undeniably get a spike in “cases”.
And that’s not actual cases, but “cases”.
You see, before 2020 a “case” of a disease was someone who got sick and developed symptoms. For some reason Covid19 has recently changed that, throwing all previous clinical practice out the window.
Summary: The statement about immunity and antibodies is backed up by several scientific papers, and MoA’s herd immunity threshold is out of date. The “second wave” is likely being generated by huge numbers of tests finding asymptomatic cases and false positives.
5. On PCR Tests and the Casedemic
In the original article for OffG, Dr Jeanmonod wrote:
5. PCR testing of SARS-CoV-2 presence does not give any reliable prognostic evidence of its infectious power and lethality. The monitoring of the pandemic state and evolution is given only by the daily evolution of fatalities. In Switzerland as in many other countries, there is no longer any excess mortality attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic. Positive test rate is low (around 3%), and tests have as always a technical false positive rate and react to inactive viral fragments or to other corona strains.
Since Bernhard’s response to this is refreshingly brief, I will quote it in full:
The author says that to evaluate the state of the pandemic we should follow the number (death) that is known to lag at least four weeks behind infections instead of following the number of new infections per day. That is lunatic. Its driving at high speed while only looking into the rear view mirror. During a highly dynamic pandemic we need current infection data and predictions, not reviews.
Also: SARS-CoV-2 PCR tests DO NOT react to other coronaviruses. The RNA strings they are reacting to are unique to SARS-CoV-2. The tests can not even ‘see’ any other ones.
Before we address the flaws in what Bernhard does say, let’s take a second to focus on what he does not say.
He doesn’t, for example, refute the statement that PCR tests are of almost no diagnostic use. Because he can’t. Because it’s true.
He doesn’t, you may notice, refute that PCR tests have a noteworthy false-positive rate. Because he can’t. Because it’s true.
And he doesn’t, interestingly, refute that there is no longer any appreciable excess mortality. Because he can’t. Because it’s true.
Now, let’s move on to what he does say.
Firstly, his assertion that “new infections per day” is the best way to track the pandemic.
This is seriously flawed in more than one way:
The term “new infections per day” is incorrect. Just because Person A is tested on Monday and Person B is tested on Tuesday does not mean B is a “new infection”, that is absurdly bad logic. If you start widespread testing, testing 10,000s of people every day – you have no way of knowing which infections are “new” and which are old. You could only get “new infections per day” by testing everybody every single day, which is obviously impossible.
If your test can’t tell the difference between viral RNA fragments and living virions (which PCR does not, and cannot), then you can’t tell the difference between someone who is actively infected and someone who was previously exposed to the virus and either never got sick, or got sick and recovered.
If your test doesn’t assess viral load (which PCR does not, and cannot) then you have no way to distinguish between a person who has enough virions to cause disease and someone who does not.
If your test can react to the RNA of other viruses (which, counter to MoA’s assertions, some studies suggest it does), then you have no idea who is “positive for Sars-Cov-2” and who just had a cold a couple of weeks ago.
All in all the “cases” number is unreliable and borderline meaningless. To use it as a measure of the pandemic would be to create a forever war on an enemy which may already be defeated.
Summary: The PCR tests have been shown to be highly unreliable in more than one way, and are a potentially disastrous way of “tracking a pandemic”. Jeanmonod’s preference for dealing with confirmed deaths instead of misleading test results is backed by science and experts in epidemiology.
6. On Lockdowns, Death and Hypocrisy
In the original article for OffG, Dr Jeanmonod wrote:
General isolation, distancing and lockdown measures, by limiting social contacts, freedom and basic human rights, add to the death toll through an upsurge of psychosocial and economic destabilization, worsening of psychiatric and demented individuals and reduction of medical care to the whole population. We have thus a combined causality for an excess mortality of COVID-19, a significant part of it being not due to the SARS-CoV-2 virus itself but to the worldwide COVID-19 panic wave and the imposed introduction of drastic and inhumane measures.
Bernhard responds with his trademark tact and charm:
That is the “Lockdowns kill” thesis that many covidiots use to claim that negative side effects of pandemic control measures outweigh their positive effects.
The thesis is wrong. Spain had a total lockdown everywhere between March 14 and May 9. It also had a lot of excess death. A large countrywide seroprevalence study showed where the most people were infected. That data is available on a granular and localized level.
Here we see again the very careful process by which Bernhard selects his data, choosing to evidence his claim that “lockdowns don’t kill people” with a rather tortured statistical reasoning based on numbers from six months ago, and limited to a single country (Spain).
This is where the “debunking” lurches from impolite strident arrogance into complete denial, intellectual dishonesty and – worst of all – abject hypocrisy.
Lockdowns do cause death and destruction, this has never been debated, even by the people instituting them. The question was whether or not the risks of Covid19 merited the undoubted toll of collapsing the economy and shuttering hospitals. No one, on either side of this argument, has ever suggested they do no harm at all. Until now.
Refuting this kind of madness is like having to refute someone claiming they’re a coffee table or that they have six legs. Yes, it’s easy, and yes it probably does need to be done…but it’s slightly demeaning, and since you know they’re only going to ignore you and carry on being crazy, is there really any point?
Nevertheless, here we go: Yes, the lockdowns have killed people, and will likely continue to do so. They kill people in myriad ways which can be broadly defined in three categories:
Denial of medical treatment. The shuttering of hospitals has lead to countless tests, screenings, treatments and surgeries being cancelled. This is not up for debate. The exact number of deaths caused by this is unknown, but experts estimate 24,000 missed cancer diagnoses in England alone. Writing in the Daily Mail, a prominent oncologist revealed that over 110,000 patients are waiting to begin their cancer treatments. A study at Birmingham University found that, globally, over 28 MILLION surgeries had been cancelled.
In a similar vein, the media’s pushing of the message that the virus is incredibly dangerous, combined with worrying people about over-crowding hospitals, has lead to a huge drop in people calling for emergency medical care. Hospital admissions for heart attacks, strokes etc. are all way down from yearly averages. According to the British Heart Foundation, this has already lead to thousands of excess deaths from heart disease in the UK.
Economic misery and poverty. The destruction of the economy, including rendering millions of people unemployed and possibly many thousands literally homeless, will obviously result in death and suffering. Malnutrition, suicide, violent crime, drug use and alcoholism all surge as poverty increases.
Plus the increased anxiety of financial destitution causes stress-related disease – ulcers, heart attacks, strokes – which we already established are not being treated thanks to medical shutdowns. In the United States, with their private healthcare system, unemployment and poverty can mean not being able to afford medications you need to live.
Fear, Anxiety and Stress. The increased stress isn’t just related to financial problems, but the pandemic itself. Fear and anxiety – as well as causing heart attacks etc. – also deplete the immune system, leading to increased risk of other diseases. Further, denial of human contact is known to accelerate the progress of degenerative disease such as dementia. Mental health treatments have been halted, and people already suffering are at massively increased risk of suicide.
Even Dr David Nabarro, World Health Organization special envoy for Covid-19, said recently:
We in the World Health Organization do not advocate lockdowns as the primary means of control of the virus[…]just look at what’s happened to the tourism industry…look what’s happening to small-holding farmers[…]it seems we may have a doubling of world poverty by next year. We may well have at least a doubling of child malnutrition […] This is a terrible, ghastly global catastrophe.”
To argue that lockdowns don’t cause harm, don’t cause death, is patently absurd. But, as I said, it’s also hypocritical.
Throughout this whole ordeal we “Covidiots” – or “pandemic deniers” or whatever you want to call us – have been told we are putting “money before people”, that we don’t care about the lives and suffering of human beings. That we’re saying some lives matter less than others. We’ve been called “selfish”, “inhumane”, even “genocidal”.
And now those authoritarians who are so pro-lockdown are turning around and not just backing policies which are proven to result in deaths – they are then refusing to acknowledge the deaths they cause. To wipe thousands of human lives out of existence, and claim they never existed. It’s sickening and, frankly, disturbing.
Summary: Lockdowns cause excess deaths. This has been shown across multiple nations and for multiples causes. Denying that, at this stage, is almost insane. And one senses, more than anything, that Bernhard is attempting to soothe his own conscience more than deal with reality.
On the whole, if there were a theme to this “debunking” it would be “selectivity”.
He carefully selects to refute this article, and not the literal dozens of others we have done over the few months.
He carefully selects to refute the only part of this particular article without linked sources.
He carefully selects to refute the death rate with old data from one city, instead of new data from all around the globe.
He carefully selects to refute the idea lockdowns increased mortality with hastily constructed correlation, instead of officially cited causation.
And all the way through he carefully selects to ignore the academic sources Dr Jeanmonod references, and choose instead to present him as an ill-informed man making sweeping statements based on no evidence, rather than the truth: A highly educated expert making reasoned conclusions based on dozens of academic sources.
It’s not a “debunking” in the true sense. It’s 2000 word strawman, deliberately twisting the irrefutable original into something with which he can argue. It’s intellectually flawed, but it’s also sad. MoA is a site I have always respected, but this is small.
His attacks on the author’s honesty, and the integrity of our site, are likewise unfair and, worst of all, all based on his deliberate misrepresentation of our position. There is no attempt at even-handedness or discussion. Only venal rage and abuse.
If he wanted to disagree with our article – or any of our hundreds of articles – he could simply have done so with a logical argument which acknowledged and attempted to understand our position. That would be reasonable and display integrity. He could have asked for a right of reply (we have never denied one to anybody, ever), or offered us one on his site.
If he would simply acknowledge that we cite sources from academic journals, that our interpretations differ but we have a reasoned argument based on science, and that our worries stem from a place of genuine concern for our fellow human beings, then perhaps some kind of understanding could be reached.
Instead he has set about burning a bridge, and claiming we started the fire. There’s a fevered madness about it. An hysterical refusal to admit any evidence he doesn’t like even exists at all. I don’t understand it, and I can’t excuse it.
If your only recourse to win an argument is to simply ignore all the evidence you may be mistaken, whilst spouting abuse and accusing the other side of dishonesty…isn’t that already an admission of something?
He closes his piece with this quote:
There are quite a number of authors with titles who have preconceived opinions and defend them even when that requires mangling the facts or to simply lie about the science.
The irony is apparently totally lost on him.