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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.” – Claire Badenhorst
Nick Hudson on the award PANDA received from the Free Market Foundation:
It was a delightful surprise, yes, and we had a wonderful evening last night with a fairly lengthy presentation and [I] thoroughly enjoyed it. I think true to their colours, they were looking at the work that PANDA had done and our fight against dogma and a very bigoted version of science, and I think they saw in that something that was consistent with the values of their organisation, and I think it was on that basis that the citation reads as it does and they decided that the members of PANDA deserved the recognition and it was very welcome. You know, 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. So to have this recognition for them I think is particularly welcome and important.
On why people at PANDA are under pressure:
There’s a very strange authoritarian aspect that has infiltrated our academic institutions and public health institutions and this notion of science as an authoritarian concept, as there being such a thing as settled science, as science is something that you should follow, almost a trademarked ‘the science’ kind of concept. And it’s very antithetical to what science is actually about, which is conjecture and criticism, dissent and debate, driving the formation of new knowledge, the creation of new knowledge. It’s in that authoritarian environment where somebody who looks at the data has a different interpretation and sees the world differently from the average person. You know, they’re at risk of being cancelled and censured and bullied, really, by these people who are doing something that couldn’t, in any normal world, be described as scientific.
Well, it’s symptomatic of the really weird thinking of a lot of our critics because none of what we have to say is anything to deny the existence of Coronavirus. Our perspective from the beginning has been that the response has been disproportionate and later on the response has actually worsened the situation. So it’s rather strange to attack people who take this perspective and support it with data and quality scientific perspectives and somehow refute it by things getting very bad in a country that has had amongst the most insane policy responses on the planet.
On why he says our policy responses were insane:
We have adopted policies which were already evidently not working in the rest of the world. It didn’t take a lot to look at the emergent data. We did it a year ago. And since then, around 50 papers have been published showing that the stringent restrictions that have been imposed have done nothing. They, of course, have lots of collateral damage involved and they worsen the public health outcomes in that regard but it’s been quite patently clear for more than a year now that lockdowns, which were ruled out by all prior policy guidelines for respiratory virus policies, have indeed been a bad idea and that those guidelines ruled them out for good reason. It’s not a very contentious thing to be saying. The contentious thing to say is that lockdowns are good and that they should continue. That is the novel and unusual thing to be saying and it’s been proven wrong systematically through the entire course of this pandemic. There isn’t a single country’s curve where we can see the beneficial impact or the imposition of restrictions or mask mandates or the detrimental effect of the release of those restrictions or mask mandates. And it’s just been astonishing to me.
You know, when Texas opened up and said, that’s it, no more mask mandates, no more lockdowns, these guys on the other side of the debate called them Neanderthals, predicted disaster and 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 to enact these restrictions.
On the third wave in Gauteng:
Yeah, it’s a terrible situation. It just wouldn’t be made any better by continuing with mask mandates or going to Level 5 or whatever. I mean, there’s just no evidence for that claim being valid. And, you know, your heart goes out to anybody who’s in that kind of position of having to make these life and death decisions, but I believe very firmly that we’re 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’s relevant here and not being talked about enough is that there appears to be a quite high representation among the sick people who are recently vaccinated. And that is not being analysed and discussed enough because that’s another area that is profoundly censored but it’s 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 plans. We have our theories as to what may be causing that and those theories may be wrong but the discussion should be had. Instead, what we get is this blanket silence with no debate happening and everything that we learn has leaked out of official forums and that kind of thing.
On what PANDA stands for:
So we stand for proportionality in response and the importance of conducting cost-benefit analysis before conducting massively impactful restrictions, number one. Number two, we have since the very beginning pointed out that these non-pharmaceutical interventions by and large just haven’t shown any benefit in the data and that the one that held a lot of promise, which was to concentrate on ventilation, especially in hospital and nursing home settings, to reduce the viral titers in the air in their settings was one thing that was really worth paying attention to. That’s only been belatedly acknowledged by the World Health Organisation in the last few weeks. Both the World Health Organisation and the CDC have quietly slipped onto their websites paragraphs saying that, yes, airborne aerosol transmission is an important component of transmission of Coronavirus, and the World Health Organisation for the first time made a nod in the direction of the importance of maintaining good infection control by use of improved ventilation. We’ve been saying that since May last year. Now it gets recognised. Instead, people continue running around doing all the things that they did when WHO initially emphasised fomites and droplet transmission – all the sanitising, all the social distancing stickers, the weird little bits of Plexiglass and so on are still what you see when you walk around. Those are, in our minds, just a completely poor effort in light of the scientific evidence that’s emerged.
On the effectiveness of mask-wearing:
I mean the intuition is, yes, that some percentage of the droplets, the larger droplets would be stopped by a mask – but that’s only a one-stage analysis. The next stage is, once large droplets have been stopped by your mask and you exhale over those droplets, you cause them to turn into aerosols which stay suspended in the air. That’s also not a very difficult intuition to grasp and it’s a better one because it’s consistent with the data, which, as I say and have repeatedly said, is consistent with there being no benefit to a slight harm from the imposition of mask mandates.
I don’t think you should wear a mask. It’s a kind of fantastical idea that viral transmission of respiratory viruses will be stopped by cloth masks. Even the idea that surgical masks are effective is extremely contentious and seems only to be valid to a small degree in the highly controlled settings where the masks are fitted and worn by qualified professionals. There’s modest evidence in favour of those but there’s absolutely nothing to support the effectiveness of cloth masks. The experiments that have supposedly been done to support them are all highly contrived and the European CDC, which did an analysis of the studies that had been conducted, came to the conclusion that all the evidence in favour of mask-wearing was of no evidentiary quality and most of it reflected strong bias. And, you know, you can’t really argue with an analysis like that.
On Covid censorship and the oppression of free speech:
From the start, this whole response to Coronavirus has adopted a decidedly technocratic securicrat surveillance-type tone with oppression of free speech, with 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 was just temporary and that it was two weeks or three weeks or until the vulnerable had been vaccinated or until whatever. The goalposts just keep moving. It should be clear to any thinking person that what we are seeing is an assault on liberal values and it’s not done in the interest of public health. It’s not about a virus.
I think the thing that’s not entering the public discourse nearly 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 disagreed with the policies or conventional narratives of the times. And that is just 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. And this is one of the the hushed-up stories.
There are elements of ideology and culture that I think are the easiest ones to describe. Our universities for decades now have been teaching the completely bogus narrative of postmodernism, of critical theory. This is where wokeness comes from in all its manifestations. This is where safety culture and cancel culture come from. They are fundamentally illiberal ideas. They are fundamentally unscientific ideas. And we can’t get too surprised when we see that our culture is full of people who behave in this fashion. So that’s my starting point, is to talk about ideology. But we also need to look at, as I say, at the influence of some of these super national 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 even if they decided that they disagreed with what is being done.
The central question is, 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? And there are several reasons for this. First of all, there’s this stranglehold that these supernational organisations have, which we’ve already spoken about and secondly, there’s a problem in the culture – an ideological problem – that is antithetical to normal scientific discourse. But 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. So I see it as a three-fold problem that’s very serious and very costly to our society.
On what happens to PANDA next:
We carry on fighting. With every passing day, people come around to our view and begin challenging the narrative that 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 – 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 and, you know, in those circumstances, it’s terminal to critical thinking and to the ability to make wise decisions and evaluate risk appropriately. So what we see is with every passing day, people wake up one by one and once they’ve woken up, once they come in the direction of open science, in the direction of facts, data and evidence over this very false narrative, it’s an absorptive state. They never turn around and go back into the fear mindset. We don’t see people who have sat down with us and gone through the information in the cold light of day, looking at our perspectives, you know, from a calm and considered perspective, we don’t see those people suddenly waking up the next morning and and wetting the bed. So we believe that that will just continue, that it’s a slow and gradual process of bringing people back to sanity, back to a sense of proportionality and perspective.
I suspect the organisation will remain involved in science rather than gravitate towards politics because it’s not only public health that is subject to this kind of very almost Stalinist approach and culture. I think as we go the frame of reference will expand. The very important thing is that for a lot of the scientists who are involved, 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 and it seems to me that in many ways, PANDA presents the only place to them where they are able to have open debate and discussion with their colleagues, where they’re allowed to be wrong without being shouted at and allowed to learn and change their minds. The scientists appear really to enjoy that. Our weekly open science meetings are now so well attended that we’re thinking of having to break them up into channels. And it’s really a joy to be involved in that because the rest of the week we confronted by this shouty, woke kind of attitude that seems so disconnected from the real world and from the data. So it’s almost as if PANDA has become an oasis for people who love science as opposed to, you know, loving dogma.
On the team at PANDA:
I guess it would be much more depressing if I didn’t have access to such wonderful people and if I wasn’t able to tap the brains of these guys to understand what’s going on. And I mean, the last week was a case to point, again, something not mentioned anywhere in the 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 he had uploaded. Now, this guy managed to track those sequences back, they were originally up in the cloud and they turned out not to have been entirely deleted. And so he managed to discover these sequences and what they reveal is fascinating because it shines a light on the much larger diversity of the cluster of viruses that you would describe as the SARS viruses. It raises the question that we’ve been saying is suggested by the epidemiological data 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 before and 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 the cluster of viruses was in broad circulation, then that would really draw the line under efforts to speak of lockdown appropriateness or effectiveness.
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