A response to Critical Thinking may make You Critical of the Covid Crisis
(HPR episode 3414, produced by CoGo and released on 2021-09-02)
- What is Critical Thinking?
- The Wikipedia definition begins: “Critical thinking is the analysis of facts to form a judgment.”
- It goes on to say: “The subject is complex, and several different definitions exist, which generally include the rational, skeptical, unbiased analysis, or evaluation of factual evidence.”
- See the references below.
Note the use of the terms fact, factual evidence and unbiased analysis. It is my contention that HPR episode 3414 fails in these regards in several places.
- What is an “experiment”?
- Wikipedia’s definition begins: “An experiment is a procedure carried out to support or refute a hypothesis. Experiments provide insight into cause-and-effect by demonstrating what outcome occurs when a particular factor is manipulated.”
The term experiment is often used incorrectly in episode 3414. A better term would be observation or anecdote
- The virus:
- The virus is a coronavirus. There are many viruses classified in this way.
- The name of the virus is SARS-CoV-2. The SARS part stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, the type of disease caused by the virus. CoV signifies that it is a coronavirus and the 2 means it’s the second SARS-type corona virus to have caused problems in the recent past. The other one, just called SARS occurred in 2003.
- The name of the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2 is COVID-19. The letters COVID define it as a coronavirus disease. The 19 part is because it was first discovered in 2019.
An analysis of the points made in episode 3414
Each point refers to an observation or argument made in the audio. The start and end times are noted in each case.
I have a degree in Biology and maintain an interest in the subject while working in Information Technology. During my education I was required to read and understand scientific papers and the arguments that they made. I have tried to use these methods to analyse the points made in show 3414 and to refer to relevant papers and articles to support my arguments.
Andrew, who joins me in this show, has a PhD in applying statistical methods to analysing solar and geomagnetic activity and a background in science and explaining it to the public and was a lecturer (aka professor) at the Open University where he taught a post-graduate course on statistics and wrote a book on astronomy for children published by Cambridge University Press. More recently, his book How Scotland Works, published by Luath Press, explores the ideas, politics and statistics that describe Scotland’s society and economy. He has been closely following the developments in COVID-19 particularly in Scotland and throughout the UK.
I have transcribed the audio of this episode and will make reference to parts of this transcription throughout this response.
Point 1: Social Distancing
From 00:01:34 to 00:02:22
I want to take you on a tour of thinking. I want to expose you to some very common experiments.
The news media used a spray bottle filled with a clear liquid that turns blue under UV light. They had someone stand six feet away and they sprayed the bottle in the subject’s direction. At six feet many large droplets made their way from the bottle to the subject. Because of this we have our six foot Social Distancing rule. If this proves anything it proves six feet is not enough. But if they told us that we couldn’t get within eighteen feet of another person, how far do you think that rule would get?
The face mask takes up the slack, right … right?
While it might be argued that this use of a spray bottle is an experiment, it’s not much of one. In what respect is a spray bottle a simulation of a human breathing or coughing? How does the liquid used relate to what comes out of a human mouth or nose?
I disagree that this simulates the human transmission of infectious materials, it only demonstrates that whatever the UV-reactive liquid being used in the demonstration is can travel further than six feet when sprayed from this particular device.
The point would be strengthened with a specific reference. We are only told it was in the “news media”.
The implication is that the six foot distancing rule is based on this simple, flawed experiment. There are much more rigorous experiments, which I’ll refer to when we come to masks, but no experiment can tell us what distance we should specify. Indeed, although the UK quotes it as 2 metres, similar to the US, several European countries went with a 1 or 1.5 metre rule. These details and others are aired in this debate in the UK parliament.
A six foot distancing rule is intended to be a simple and easy to understand measure that will help reduce transmission. It is commonly understood that droplets or aerosols can exceed that distance.
Point 2: The effectiveness of masks
From 00:02:22 to 00:03:21
If you wear eyeglasses you have already done the next experiment many times. If you don’t wear eyeglasses you can still observe this experiment. When you come out of a grocery store on a cold day, stop for a while and watch those who are coming in. Those wearing eyeglasses will have their eyeglasses fogged up; you already know why I know.
If everybody’s breath is going around their masks already, what good is a second mask going to do? You can answer that one easily. How much more effective is an N95 mask on your face over an N95 mask in your pocket? A little.
When I spray paint, if the mask seals to my face I won’t smell the thinner, but when it doesn’t quite seal, I can smell the thinner. If you can smell the coffee… Well air should never go around the mask.
- Again, the observations made here are not an experiment, but nevertheless this is a question worth asking. Does having a poorly fitting mask completely cancel out the effect of wearing a mask?
- Different types of masks will have different levels of effectiveness.
- Masks need to be worn properly to optimise effectiveness - so people with their noses outside their masks are wearing them improperly, as are people who wear them on their chins!
- The readily-available mask types such as disposable surgical masks and washable cloth masks will reduce the “respiratory cloud” and therefore will lessen the likelihood of a COVID-19 carrier spreading the virus.
- Have a look at the first paper below for a detailed analysis.
It is true that a mask is not 100% effective in stopping transmission of the virus but this point risks being a strawman argument because very few people make such a claim. In fact, a government minister who tried to claim mask wearing was nearly 100% effective in stopping transmission had to retract the claim under pressure from journalists and the public as the infographic he based it on had no valid source.
I wear masks but am unsure about their efficacy. This is because there are so many factors in play that real world usage is very difficult to assess or simulate experimentally. How many people are present? What type of mask? How are they being worn and handled when removed? What is the ventilation like? That’s just to name but a few. This article published in the journal Nature is typical of many experiments and finds some surprising results.
Even if a mask was, say, 50% effective, then it is still a measure worth considering in concert with others. The statement in the previous point that the “face mask takes up the slack” is too simplistic. There are many measures that can and are considered.
Point 3: The spreading of the virus
From 00:03:21 to 00:05:05
The next experiment I do nearly every day. I make a cup of coffee and I put milk into it. You can probably do this with tea also. If you pour the milk in along the edge of the cup, you don’t need to stir it with a spoon. With the right cup the milk will be completely mixed in. Why is this important? If you put a Covid patient wearing a mask in the corner of a room the air they breathe will be stirring up the room. It won’t be as complete as the milk gets mixed but it will get some mixing done.
The next experiment requires the weather to cooperate, but hopefully you can recall a previous version of this experiment. It concerns water in the air. When water in the air is in large groups or drops it falls to the ground very quickly. When the drops are really tiny they have very little weight but proportionately great wind drag. This allows the tiny drops to spend a lot more time in the air, before hitting the ground. The drops that come out of a person’s mouth are very tiny indeed. Combine their time in the air with the breathing causing the mixing and you have six feet and masks adding up to a very short safe time in an enclosed area.
The other day I saw two people travelling in a car with masks on. If they are from different families and are brought together for some task that requires them to travel together the media would have them wear masks to keep safe. If you’ve been paying attention you’d know that if they had different viruses in their systems before the trip they were sharing those viruses after the trip.
No experiments here, however, some observations worth discussing. Yes, an infected person in a closed, poorly ventilated room will spread viruses in the atmosphere.
Yes, human breath contains some very fine aerosols which may contain infective agents
This is the reason why the advice from all of the sources is to:
- Avoid situations where large numbers of people are congregating in indoor environments
- Boost ventilation in indoor environments as much as possible
- Use masks and suitable distancing in indoor environments
The description given here is accurate enough and even though it doesn’t reference any research, the real-world, everyday analogies are appropriate.
This point uses the same kind of strawman argument as before, in that it is rebutting the claim that masks plus social distancing are effective by themselves. This claim is not widespread. In some situations such measures may reduce transmission significantly, such as passing through a room or making a brief visit to a shop, but in others they may not, say, when spending hours in a small badly ventilated room with many people.
Point 4: The importance of Vitamin D3
From 00:05:06 to 00:07:21
And now I drop the bomb – the bomb of hope.
There are three web pages that I want you to know about. Two of them testify of the importance of Vitamin D3 to your immune system, and one of them testifies to the importance of body temperature to someone exposed to Covid, or any other virus.
4000 to 5000 IU is the recommended dose for winter time, but I talked with someone whose Doctor recommended 45,000 IU for a short time to get her D3 up to a safe level.
Oh, here’s another experiment that happens every year, even those who want you to get a vaccine admit it. When October came around last year, even those advocating for a vaccine predicted a second wave of Covid infection. In order for a second wave to happen there had to be a receding of the first wave. That would have been during the experiment in the summer. History records this experiment every year, not just for Covid but for all viruses. Flu season takes a break in the summer. That doesn’t mean you can’t get the flu during the summer, but it is a lot harder. The politicians don’t want you to think about how the sunshine increases Vitamin D3 in your system and keeping your body temperature warm slows the growth of viruses. I want you to ask yourself why the flu takes a break in the summer, and how can we keep it going through the fall and winter. I’ve mentioned the two reasons I can think of.
If you duck up (using Duck Duck Go) “COVID-19”, “Doctor” and “Clinical Trial” you’ll find the first web page, a YouTube video. A hospital in Spain did a double blind study with patients who came in with Covid symptoms. All 76 got normal hospital treatment for Covid, but 50 of them also got Vitamin D3. It’s admittedly a small study, but the score: 7.6% death rate without the D3 and 0% death rate with D3 means it deserves to be repeated all around the world.
If you duck up “RadioLab Podcast” and “invisible allies” you’ll find the RadioLab episode of the same name. This episode suggests that Vitamin D3 helped the homeless population weather the Covid outbreak. How few homeless came down with the Covid symptoms is notable.
There has been a lot of discussion about the role of Vitamin D3 in the lessening of the effects of COVID-19. Yes, Dr John Campbell has discussed this on a YouTube video which is referenced in the show notes (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V8Ks9fUh2k8). Unfortunately the Spanish Clinical trial mentioned in the video is too small to give enough confidence in its results, and other trials have so far proved inconclusive.
However, the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK has been recommending the taking of Vitamin D3 supplements for elderly and immunocompromised people, and has been providing free access to supplies during the winter.
Dr Anthony Fauci is on record as having said he takes a Vitamin D3 supplement himself.
The conclusion seems to be that supplements should be taken, but in addition to vaccination and certainly not instead of vaccination.
The argument that homeless people have avoided COVID-19 due to higher vitamin D3 levels is unsupported.
Whether or not Vitamin D3 helps protect against COVID-19, it has been clear for many years that many people who live at higher latitudes (I live just short of 56°N) do not get enough exposure to sunlight in the winter and so have a deficiency in this vitamin. In Scandinvian countries this is offset by a diet naturally rich in Vitamin D3 but in the UK and especially Scotland many people really need to either change their diets or take supplements. This advice has fallen on deaf ears and even if the effect of Vitamin D3 on COVID-19 was as clear cut, I suspect it would still continue to be ignored.
The point is made that viruses recede during the summer months. The usual and most obvious explanation for this is not mentioned: people spend more time indoors with the windows closed in winter.
Further, the first COVID-19 wave began in spring in the northern hemisphere and continued into the summer. The most recent wave had a peak in summer months in several countries, including the UK, US and France. This is not usual for a respiratory virus or a flu virus. This can be verified by the data published on cases by Our World in Data.
Point 5: Body temperature and COVID-19
From 00:07:53 to 00:10:01
If you duck up “Corona virus”, “2003” and “BMR” you’ll find a web page where a medical professional points out the importance of staying warm to fight Covid. This knowledge is from 2003 and a previous Covid outbreak. We learn from history that we don’t learn from history. But medical professionals should be required to answer for this information from 2003.
When I was a kid, if you came in wet from winter weather, your Mom would say something like “Get out out those wet clothes before you catch your death of cold.” After this some people calling themselves scientists said “You don’t get a cold from being cold, you get a cold from a virus.” Unfortunately we’ve built a society on this misinformation. Though there’s some truth to this, those who paid attention knew that being cold for a length of time could lead to catching the flu. Now there is evidence that many if not all viruses replicate faster if your body temperature is reduced by 5°(F) or so. Spiking a fever is probably a way for your body to fight off a virus. Some people assert that a fever, if it’s less than 104°F should be encouraged. How do people get their temperature down by 5°? The group of people in Texas who got Covid together worked in a meat packing plant. Cold extremities? Probably. Another method to reduce the temperature of people’s extremities is to take them to a hospital.
Most of us have had the experience of being cold in a hospital room. There’s valid scientific reason for this. The air is kept cold around beds made with stainless steel to keep condensation from forming, and to keep bacteria from growing on parts of the bed. While this is important, it’s also important for the patient’s body temperature to be maintained. One solution would be to supply each bed with an electric blanket.
There’s little evidence that being cold in the sense being used here has any effect on susceptibility to viruses (or other agents). Animal experiments have shown an effect of significant lowering of body temperature on the immune system, but nothing was found when looking for human information.
The medical professional cited in the notes for show 3414 was responding to a Hong Kong report into the original SARS virus. The opinion reported in this response was that cold might be a factor in the worsening of the disease. This is an opinion, not a clinical trial.
Note that the 2003 corona virus called SARS was not referred to as “COVID”.
My experience of hospitals in the UK (and other parts of Europe) is that these establishments are kept very warm, sometimes uncomfortably so.
- As suggested, I did do some web searches on this topic and found that the evidence of the effect of body temperature was not at all clear cut. Again, there are many factors involved in virus transmission and the immune system and it is too simplistic to point to just one in isolation.
Point 6: Trust issues and conspiracy theories
From 00:10:02 to 00:12:02
My government, and probably yours, wants everybody vaccinated. But they don’t trust the vaccines enough to hold Big Pharma accountable for the damage the vaccines cause. The unvaccinated, who already have antibodies for Covid, are on their list. But if they already have antibodies, what use is the vaccine to them? It’s an important question because there may be reasons why governments want people vaccinated other than health. If they are ignoring Vitamin D3 and body temperature, and concentrating on experimental vaccines, then public health is clearly not the issue. I think we need ambulance chaser lawyers for the Covid crisis. If someone has an ambulance chaser lawyer send a registered letter to a hospital or nursing home, detailing the importance of vitamin D3 and body temperature to fight Covid viruses, they will have to give patients vitamin D3 and keep them warm. Just a few institutions as targets are all that will be necessary, because the rates of serious infections will show the efficacy of this treatment. Once this information goes public, the ambulance chasers will be able to drain money from any institution that ignores this - possibly including governments.
If you’ve already had Covid and don’t want to get an experimental vaccine, you should get an antibody test. If you already have the antibodies for Covid, public health cannot be a reason for getting this experimental vaccine. An ambulance chaser lawyer can then drain money from whoever compels you to get the vaccine and then fires you for not getting it. If a company or school system or hospital compels their employees to get the vaccines, even though the drug companies are given immunity by governments, the company that requires vaccination should be held responsible for harmful side effects and death.
Since vaccines were invented they have been vital to prevent the spread of diseases. The list of diseases and their vaccines is long and getting longer: smallpox, cholera, diphtheria, polio, rabies, tetanus, tuberculosis, and so on. I was growing up in the 1950s when everyone was frightened of polio and diphtheria, a fact that even I as a child was aware of. See the article on NHS childhood vaccination. It is unbelievable that anyone in 2021 would wish to ignore or attempt to undermine such science.
The COVID-19 vaccine is not experimental. Vaccine technology has moved forward tremendously in recent years to the level that targeted vaccines can be made much faster than ever before. Several of the current vaccines use messenger RNA (mRNA) to make human cells generate the virus proteins which stimulate the immune system (e.g. Pfizer and Moderna). Others use existing harmless viruses which have been modified to cause human cells to generate these proteins (e.g. AstraZeneca, J&J). These vaccines can be developed a lot faster than previously, and the full range of normal clinical trials is being run at high speed in order to reach the required confidence level as rapidly as possible.
All vaccines have some risks associated with them, but these are almost always minimal. The NHS staff check for any allergies when you are receiving a vaccination and you are asked to remain nearby for 10 minutes in case you might have a serious allergic reaction. A very rare blood clotting problem has been reported in relation to the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, and this is currently under investigation. The risk of getting COVID-19 is much higher than any vaccine side-effects – especially if you are older than 50 or have comorbidities.
It is advised that people who have had COVID-19 and who have antibodies to the virus be vaccinated to ensure that they have a safe level of immunity. It is possible that so-called natural immunity is not as effective as that provided by the vaccines. This would depend of factors like which variant had been caught, whether the illness was asymptomatic, and so forth.
As mentioned before, there are some indications that maintaining vitamin D3 helps support the immune system. There are similar indications that zinc also has effects. However, the maintenance of D3 and zinc levels are not a cure for the COVID-19 disease. Also the evidence for their effectiveness is still minimal. It is important to emphasise that these measures are not a substitute for the vaccine
Some countries are considering immunity passports showing that you have had the virus in addition to vaccine passports. However, it is easier to show that a person has had a vaccine than it is to show they have immunity or even just that they have had the virus and recovered mainly because testing has not been done consistently in time or across countries. So it is not surprising that relatively easy option of vaccine passports is being preferred.
Lacking antibodies does not necessarily mean a lack of immunity. A paper published in the journal Nature presents evidence that long lived immunity can arise from T-Cells and that such immunity can even apply across different corona viruses. Also, it is known that antibodies wane over time from infection, falling by a half in 90 days. For both reasons, an antibody test in itself would not be definitive on immunity.
Previous points argued that measures to prevent COVID-19 transmission are either only partially effective or being overlooked entirely, but at this point the argument jumps to the assertion that governments and big pharma, with some form of media cooperation, are encouraging us to get the vaccination for some ulterior motive. If taken at face value, the previous points are consistent with this but they do not justify such an assertion.
It is not said what this motive might be, but the way big pharma is mentioned implies it is profit. Why is this left vague?
“…the company that requires vaccination should be held responsible for harmful side effects and death.” Companies and governments should certainly be held to account for any harm they do, but no evidence has been presented of the vaccine causing harm here. Huge numbers of people have now been given vaccines in many countries and so we should now see hard evidence of such harm if it were real. If governments were somehow covering this up on an enormous scale that would require an amazing level of competence to control, far beyond the level of (in)competence I have seen from any government. But let’s say I’m wrong, and they have managed it: how is it that of all the people I know who have had the vaccine — which is now almost every adult that I know — not one of them have told me of anything more than a minor side effect.
- Childhood Vaccination and the NHS
- COVID-19 false dichotomies and a comprehensive review of the evidence regarding public health, COVID-19 symptomatology, SARS-CoV-2 transmission, mask wearing, and reinfection
- Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines side effects and safety
- TWiV 802: “Another epitope with Shane Crotty” - interview on “This Week in Virology” with Shane Crotty, a renowned immunologist.
- Nature paper on T-cells
- Waning of antibodies and COVID-19
Episode 3414 is in general misleading. It purports to be applying Critical Thinking to various aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic but in reality is propagating vague anecdotes at best and serious misinformation at worst. It is possible that this propagation of misinformation is well-meaning, but this type of thing should not be done without plentiful references to facts in the form of peer-reviewed scientific papers and items from properly qualified expert sources.
The part of episode 3414 separated out in this critique as Point 6 contains examples of conspiracy theories. The theory that in a pandemic governments are pushing vaccination for some nefarious purpose makes no sense. Neither does calling the vaccines experimental. No attempts are made to support such a case - because there is nothing to support it. This is a particular example of the failure of critical thinking and even plain common sense.
This show is well-presented and some thought has gone into its structure. Rhetorically it is good.
But it is not logically sound. The argument is geared to persuade and the reasoning and evidence base is unsound.
“Critical thinking” most certainly involves questioning the orthodoxy, that is widely accepted thinking, and it is crucial to do that with those who wield power, including governments and corporations amongst others. But true critical thinking does not only target those with power. It should be applied to all arguments.
The true test of a critical thinker, and I’m open to challenge on this, is that they welcome criticism and will use it to improve their thinking.
- Wikipedia article: Critical thinking:
- University of Greenwich article. What is critical thinking?:
- Wikipedia article: Experiment:
- Where does the six-foot guideline for social distancing come from?:
- Wikipedia article: Social distancing:
- How effective is a mask in preventing COVID‐19 infection?:
- Why Masks Work BETTER Than You’d Think:
- Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Ventilation and air conditioning:
- Ventilation and air conditioning during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic:
- False Perception of COVID-19’s Impact on the Homeless:
- Vitamin D3 as Potential Treatment Adjuncts for COVID-19:
- Graphic Outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome in Hong Kong Special Administrative Region: case report:
- Response to - Graphic Outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome in Hong Kong Special Administrative Region: case report:
- Childhood Vaccination and the NHS:
- COVID-19 false dichotomies and a comprehensive review of the evidence regarding public health, COVID-19 symptomatology, SARS-CoV-2 transmission, mask wearing, and reinfection:
- Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines side effects and safety:
- TWiV 802: “Another epitope with Shane Crotty”:
- UK parliament discussion on 2m rule.
- Government minister retracts mask claim.
- Nature paper on masks and aerosols.
- Our World in Data.
- Nature paper on COVID-19 and T cells.
- Antibody waning and COVID-19.