Brock University in St. Catherines, Ontario, just announced its Fall 2021 return-to-campus procedures. The decision that “vaccines will not be mandatory“, which is highlighted in the title of the announcement, is a welcome distinction from certain other universities’ approaches. For example, under the guise of “safety first”, Western University in London, Ontario, “mandates vaccinations for students in residence“, noting possible exemptions under the Ontario Human Rights Code, and the University of Toronto requires students to have at least the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in order to provide a “safe and welcoming residence experience” (no exceptions mentioned). Unfortunately, my university just announced a 180-degree turn from last week and followed its big sister across town to require vaccines for students living in residence on campus. Our spokesperson is quoted saying “This measure is necessary to support students’ safety, growth and development“.
Does a mandatory COVID-19 vaccine really provide a “safe and welcoming residence experience” and contribute to “safety, growth and development” of our students? It may indeed bestow a feeling of safety, which I argue is misconstrued as a consequence of persistent, possibly willful, ignorance of the science behind the vaccine trials and an outdated COVID-19 risk assessment.
Throughout 2020, state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, in charge of Sweden’s moderate response to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, kept pointing to the longterm collateral damage caused by lockdowns and saying that the year-end excess mortality would be the earliest metric to assess the success or failure of the “Swedish model”, as compared to what we might call the “Chinese model” based on the origin of lockdown measures. Many a lockdown skeptic has been waiting for the annual mortality statistics, only to find out that even something as seemingly straightforward as recording deaths isn’t without challenges and delays, and moreover that the concept of “excess mortality” is anything but definitive.
Let’s examine mortality trends for Canada. Most of the data sources and graphs included here were inspired by Twitter user @Milhouse_Van_Ho, who has prepared and shared series of COVID-19 statistics for Toronto, Ontario, Quebec, and all of Canada since April 2020, and whose contributions to an evidence-based discussion of the virus threat and suitable response measures I want to gratefully acknowledge. Statistics Canada wrote about “Excess mortality in Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic” in August 2020, explaining that measuring excess mortality requires an accurate death count as well as “some way to determine the number of deaths that would be expected to be observed were there no pandemic”. Without giving details, they suggest that Canada is using an estimate that takes longer-term trends into account. And, “In the Canadian context, with an aging and growing population, the number of deaths has been steadily increasing over recent years and so a higher number of deaths in 2020 would be expected regardless of COVID-19.”
Documentary Explores the Science Behind the Pandemic
“CORONA.FILM” was conceived in April 2020 as a crowd-founded documentary to investigate the corona crisis. The credentials of Berlin-based director and producer Robert Cibis include the 2017 documentary “trustWHO”, which uncovered the influence of the pharmaceutical industry on the World Health Organization. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cibis’s company OVALmedia had worked primarily for mainstream TV channels. Since mid-2020, they also act as the broadcaster of the weekly sessions of the German corona commission.
The 75-minute documentary “CORONA.FILM – Prologue” premiered on Tuesday, 23 March 2021, through contribution-based viewing, but within two days Vimeo deleted OVALmedia’s entire 10-year old channel. The filmmakers then released the film freely on Bitchute (https://www.bitchute.com/video/8jp63jH8kauM), Libry (https://odysee.com/@ovalmedia:d/CORONAFILM_prologue_EN:d), and also Youtube (censored), asking viewers for voluntary donations. The English copy of the film is subtitled (not synchronized), with some of interviews included in their original language (English, Italian, …).
Yet Another Review of the Terminology Used to Describe Techniques for Making Multiple Variables Comparable
Ok, here we go again. I wrote in this blog on 30 November 2013 about “Normalization vs. Standardization – Clarification (?) of Key Geospatial Data Processing Terminology using the Example of Toronto Neighbourhood Wellbeing Indicators“. Note the question mark in that title? Its length and that of my title and subtitle today, and the choice of words used in them, will tell you a lot about the challenge at hand: clarifying, reviewing, and settling – once and for all! – the meaning of terms like “normalization”, “standardization”, and “rescaling”. The challenge is related to the processing and combination of multiple variables in GIS-based multi-criteria decision analysis, for example in my ongoing professional elective GEO641 GIS and Decision Support, and extends to many situations in which we utilize multi-variate statistical or analytical tools for geographic inquiry.
In two other blog posts, I discussed the need to normalize raw-count variables for choropleth mapping. On 26 March 2020, I wrote about “The Graduated Colour Map: A Minefield for Armchair Cartographers“. The armchair cartographer’s greatest gaffe: mapping raw-count variables as choropleth or graduated-colour maps. In a post dated 3 November 2020 on “How to Lie with COVID-19 Maps … or tell some truths through refined cartography“, I go into more detail about why to use “relative metrics” on choropleth maps. These metrics can take the form of a percentage, proportion, ratio, rate, or density. They are obtained by dividing a raw-count variable by a suitable reference variable. In class, I used the example of unemployment, where the City of Toronto provides the number of unemployed people in each its 140 neighbourhoods.
The New Public Health: Goodbye, common-sense compassionate care and social justice, and welcome, state-ordered child abuse.
In Sartre’s play “Huit Clos”, three individuals find themselves quarantined post-mortem in a room that serves as hell. They turn on each other to the point where the protagonist laments “l’enfer c’est les autres”. I won’t claim that I even begin to understand the existentialist nuances of these words, yet the superficial meaning of “hell is other people” is becoming more and more evident in the corona crisis.
My brilliant girlfriend had just made me aware of the Sartre quote that fits so well with the new hotel quarantine procedures for travellers returning home to Canada. But then the public health authority of our neighbouring Region of Peel raised the bid even higher. In a flyer summarizing what to do when a child is sent home after exposure to COVID-19 (e.g. because of a classmate with a positive test), they literally wrote:
“The child must self-isolate, which means: • Stay in a separate bedroom • Eat in a separate room apart from others • Use a separate bathroom, if possible • If the child must leave their room, they should wear a mask and stay 2 metres apart from others”
Source: Peel Region child dismissed protocol, posted at https://peelregion.ca/coronavirus/_media/child-dismissed-protocol-en.pdf until 28 February 2021
A few years ago, some American and international cartography and GIS experts banded together to hold low-key community mapping events under the Maptime label. The international site and the MaptimeTO Twitter account of the Toronto group are dormant, but the idea is alive and well – let’s start a Ryerson University map club under the MaptimeRU banner!
In class the other day, we had a look at “The True Size Of…” web app, which illustrates the size distortion of countries under the Web Mercator projection. Some students already knew the example of Greenland. In most online maps, Greenland looks about as big as the continent of Africa, but its size is greatly inflated under the Mercator projection due to its far-northern latitude. When you pull it towards the equator for size comparison, it shrinks to as little as 7% of Africa, and that is the actual ratio of their land surfaces.
Size comparison maps are popular talking points but they are surprisingly tricky to make in geographic information systems (GIS). After all, we usually aim to map things at their actual location on planet earth’s surface. John Nelson, cartography and user experience specialist at world-leading GIS company Esri, recently posted a blog and video tutorial on “How to make one of those size comparison maps” in ArcGIS Pro. As possible kickoff for a recurring MaptimeRU meetup, I will sit down with interested Geographic Analysis students during study week and replicate John’s instructions as well as try the same in the free and open-source QGIS package.
We Are in a Public Emergency Situation – Health Scientists Are Not Qualified to Lead the Response
According to a March 2 press release by the Government of Ontario, “A new Command Table will be the single point of oversight providing executive leadership and strategic direction to guide Ontario’s response to COVID-19.” The Command Table, whose membership has never been disclosed, reports to the Minister of Health, Christine Elliott. The Ministry’s existing Emergency Operations Centre “will continue to provide situational awareness and perform an overall coordination function”. Yet, the Minister, along with the Province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Williams, and municipal and regional MOHs such as Toronto’s Dr. Eileen de Villa, are the public faces of the pandemic response and use their powers to order sweeping restrictions on everyday live. The March 2 press release is clearly focused on the health and medical side, promising to “Safeguard [the] Public from COVID-19” and “Ensure Health System Readiness”.
While this singular focus may have been appropriate in the early phase of the COVID-19 outbreak, doubts have started to emerge as early as March 2020 and continue to grow. In a May 12 post titled “Corona Crisis – Tunnel Vision vs Comprehensive Risk Assessment“, I summarized a leaked report — known as the “false alarm paper” — from Germany’s crisis management specialist Stephan Kohn, in which the author argues that “a new crisis situation should be declared and the out-of-control pandemic crisis management itself be battled”. In “We Have a Different Emergency Than You Think“, an anonymous blogger and self-identified business professional provides a brief but scathing assessment of the Ontario government’s situation assessment and emergency response capabilities. He recommends listening to Canadian emergency management experts, at least two of whom have spoken up about the corona crisis: David Redman and Alex Vezina.
The writing’s on the wall: COVID is a totalist cult with righteous followers who are impervious to evidence
In his Master’s thesis “Hope Wanted: Wall Writing Protests in Times of Economic Crisis in Athens“, Georgios Stampoulidis presents a photo of a graffiti on Athens’ Sina Street reading “Merry Crisis and a Happy New Fear”. This play on the words of the standard holiday greeting became a symbol for the street protests in conjunction with the 2008 economic crisis and its political fallout, as it primarily affected southern Europe. In the context of the 2020 corona crisis, this aphorism is so spot on that I can’t skip writing about it.
Mentioning the state of Florida in my Dec 14 Sun newspaper op-ed was one of the triggers for a nasty personal attack from a fellow geographer on Twitter, suggesting that I spread “cherry-picked disinformation” and “contribute to ignorance”, “rather than listening to [the health experts]”. After having my olive branch spurned, I decided to ignore these uninformed and underhanded comments and let others think for themselves. Some community members indeed seem to have a better sense of what a geospatial data analyst can contribute to resolving the corona crisis. In response to a similar kick at the expertise of a “professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies” by a Sun reader, other readers’ answers included that “it’s about data and using it properly” (John Cauchi) and “As for this professor, he is a professor because he has critical thinking skills” (John Smith). My personal favourite is Twitter user Darryl Schomson’s observation that “Geographers have a unique, synthetic view of the world which no other discipline has.” I am very grateful for the overwhelmingly positive response and support; hopefully I will find the time to put together a collage of the most insightful comments.
Due to recent events, I want to talk a little bit more about Florida. I mentioned Florida in the op-ed because they had recently mandated their labs to report PCR test results along with the cycle threshold (Ct) count (for source, see my blog post “Brave New Covidworld?“). This was a consequence of concerns about what Stanford professor of medicine Dr. Jay Bhattacharyan calls “functional false positives” (see the interview referenced in my post “Some Doctors Are Giving John Snow a Bad Name“).
As if it was coordinated with my op-ed, the World Health Organization (WHO) this Monday, 14 December 2020, issued an information notice/medical product alert for laboratories that use PCR tests to detect SARS-CoV-2. According to this document, the WHO is responding to reports of “an elevated risk for false SARS-CoV-2 results“.
Today’s the day that my first-ever newspaper op-ed is published. I argue that “Canada’s current pandemic response isn’t supported by the facts“. The working title of the op-ed was “Brave New Covidworld?”, inspired by a brilliant paper by British philosophers Ian James Kidd and Matthew Ratcliffe. In “Welcome to Covidworld“, they raise many of the same concerns with the global pandemic response that I reiterate in the op-ed and that many clear-thinking academics, health scientists, professionals, and other citizens have developed since March 2020. For example, I maintain a short list of dissenting Canadian doctors’ voices published in the mainstream media, see MSHFD.ca. These reasonable critics are largely ignored though, and that is a problem.