How the WHO and CDC are redefining the meaning of key public health concepts
Pandemic. The word that describes something affecting all (= pan) people (= demos). But what is that something? According to the World Health Organization, it’s about the global spread of a novel virus that results in “enormous numbers of deaths and illness.” Or rather it was how the WHO defined an influenza pandemic up until 2008. Some time before or during the 2009 H1N1 outbreak, the definition was changed and the quoted words about the severity of the impact were removed.
I have written about COVID-19 being a déjà vu of the 2009 swine flu. There, I mentioned the Franco-German TV documentary “Profiteers of Fear – The Business of Swine Flu”, which investigated how the (newly defined) pandemic declaration enabled a global political overreaction with immense financial reward for the pharmaceutical industry. The H1N1 virus was benign and would likely not have qualified for a “pandemic” under the pre-2009 definition. A nuanced round-table discussion of the “elusive definition of pandemic influenza” was published in the WHO Bulletin in 2011 for further reading.
Dr. Julie Ponesse, professor of Philosophy at Huron College at Western University in London, Ontario, published an emotional video on September 7, 2021, the day of return to campus for many Canadian universities and colleges. The video, which was censored by Youtube within hours but re-uploaded numerous times, including by myself here, reveals that Dr. Ponesse was threatened with dismissal from her faculty position or had already been dismissed that day. In the meantime, it has become clear that she was suspended with pay and received a “termination with cause” letter on September 16.
In the viral video, Prof. Ponesse gives a mock lecture in Ethics 101, using her own case. The central question is whether an employer is right to dismiss an employee in the midst of a successful and productive career for declining an unnecessary, experimental medical procedure. As per Ponesse’s expertise and dedication to teaching philosophical principles, the question is asked from a moral and ethical perspective. It is no secret that she was facing this exact situation, like many higher-education faculty members, and had already answered the question for herself with an unreserved “no”.
The preparations for, and start of, the Fall 2021 has brought the corona crisis to a new level of intensity. I have not had time to write any of the many blog posts I have in mind or already drafted. Instead, I want to provide a quick summary and update of recent work.
A number of faculty from across Canada and various disciplines spanning the natural and social sciences and humanities have formed Canadian Academics for Covid Ethics. The group had already published several pertinent letters and op-eds that you can find on the web site.
Last but not least, I joined the Canadian Covid Care Alliance and co-authored a letter-to-the-editor of the Toronto Star with Drs. Steven Pelech and Julie Ponesse, in response to the Star’s disturbing August 26 front page hate messages.
Surfing the Waves of SARS-CoV-2 and Lockdowns in Canada and Around the World
In a way, writing about the ongoing insanity is helping me keep sane … that’s the last sentence of the conclusion of volume 2 of the Coronoia series. “The Coronoia Reloaded” was published on Bastille Day of 2021, sadly also coincident with President Macron’s announcement of vaccine passports to further establish totalitarian central control of life in France.
The book is currently awaiting re-approval from Amazon KDP (Kindle Desktop Publishing) after undergoing a few minor corrections. For the cover photo, I again took a picture of a discarded mask sullying my Southern Georgian Bay beach. The mask is a stark symbol of the futile precautions (see Chapter 13) we continue to engage in, while SARS-CoV-2 just wants to be its viral self (see Part I).
With non-pharmaceutical interventions against SARS-CoV-2, we are pursuing futile precaution at the cost of focused protection.
In an interview for the documentary “Planet Lockdown”, retired epidemiologist Dr. Knut Wittkowski mentions the subtitle of the famous play, “The Barber of Seville”. The subtitle “The Futile Precaution” refers to the literary theme of an older man’s useless attempts to prevent his young wife or love interest from running away with a younger man. The non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) — lockdowns, “social” distancing, and face-covering — mandated to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2 increasingly feel like such a futile attempt at stopping a respiratory virus from running its course. As Dr. Wittkowski notes, “we have seen that theme be played on the largest stage possible, the entire world!”
To cope with the “world … gone bonkers” (quoted from Dr. Malcolm Kendrick), I signed up for daily emails from one-of-a-kind libertarian Tom Woods. His confident bashing of “lockdown supporters” has been quite uplifting among the dissonance of zealous-hysterical fear-mongering found across the (social) media. For months now, Woods has been promoting the work of twitterer Ian Miller. Miller shares graphs of daily new “COVID-19 cases” for different countries, US states and counties, and the occasional Canadian province, with markers for noteworthy policy changes such as the beginning and end of mask mandates; public news and statements about mask effectiveness; or major holidays or sports events that were expected to result in “spikes” of cases. The graphs unfailingly show no difference between the curves of states that pursued different approaches; no outbreaks after the lifting of lockdowns and mask mandates; but conversely epidemic curves increasing dramatically despite government restrictions. A small selection is shown here.
Following “the” science will get us nowhere – our pandemic response needs a greater diversity of strategies being explored and implemented
The lines above were the original title and subtitle for an opinion piece written by myself and five other Ontario academics, which was published this week in the Toronto Sun under the title “It’s time to follow the scientific method — and re-evaluate Canada’s COVID approach“. We did not intend to present any groundbreaking new findings around the disease or the pandemic response. We merely wanted to put another stake in the ground to argue for more open debate, the end of debasing, censoring, and deplatforming critical voices, and the return to common sense and evidence-based government decision-making.
The greatest strengths of the piece, in my opinion, lies in the group of authors, which consisted of a biotechnologist, two geographers, a historian, a physicist, a physiologist, and a statistician. Across these natural and social science disciplines as well as the humanities, we are united in the conviction that the Western world’s pandemic response to SARS-CoV-2 was badly mismanaged. Importantly, we believe that at this point in the pandemic, you do not need to be a medical or public health expert to speak up; every single person in the world is a stakeholder in the pandemic that they are experiencing and often suffering from!
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.