The Coronapocalypse Part 25: It’s just semantics, mate

Back in the first year of my linguistics degree there was an exchange between our lecturer and one of the students in the class. The lecturer had asked a question and the student had given an answer. The answer was correct and was, in fairness to the student, a succinct and elegant single sentence. The problem was that lecturer clearly wanted a one word answer where the word was one of the technical terms that we had been studying. That word was polysemy, which denotes the state of affairs when a word carries multiple meanings. The lecturer bluntly told the student his answer was wrong and that the correct answer was ‘polysemy’. The student objected to this saying that even though he hadn’t recited the word he had got the meaning of the concept right and that was what was important. The lecturer, a little annoyed at this show of impudence, informed the class that we were students of linguistics and one of our main tasks was to learn the technical terminology of the field as we might one day become scholars and we would be expected to use that terminology to enable precision in our work. In one sense, the lecturer’s rant was a little over the top. One in three people now get a university education and only the smallest fraction of those will ever become scholars. But she was dead right about the precision part. Especially in the sciences where maths is not the main language of communication, it is vital to define terminology. It is because polysemy is very common in natural language that science must use words which are disambiguated as much as possible so that you don’t have to continually ask whether a scholar meant meaning one or meaning two when they use a word.

This issue of precision of language carried over from my linguistics studies into my current job as a software tester. The job of the tester is to find bugs in the software and beginner testers are very happy to find bugs as this demonstrates that they are doing their job. But after some years you begin to notice patterns in the errors. For example, incompetence or laziness on the part of the programmer (both of these are relatively rare, at least in decent software departments). One of the most common causes of errors is imprecision of language. As such, experienced software testers tend to become sticklers for meaning. This is partly because vague terminology leads to extra test cases. By excluding meanings of words you also exclude the need to run test cases for those extra meanings and you therefore reduce your workload. That’s the personal benefit a tester gets from clarifying meanings. But a second reason is that vague meanings lead to miscommunication and that’s where errors come in at the team level. Person One thinks the requirements mean this but Person Two thinks they mean that. Unless the two of them get together and talk through the meanings of the words, there will be errors. Experienced software testers who are good at their job know that making people clarify language upfront will reduce bugs later on.

Ever tried to cutting meat or vegetables with a blunt knife? It’s difficult and the result is usually not pretty. Sharpen that knife up and the job becomes easy, even pleasurable. Same with words. In domains where logic and rigor are required, such as science and software development, words must be sharpened to a fine point. But a surprising number of people take the attitude of the student in that first year linguistics class. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have been told “it’s just semantics” by people who should know better. It’s not just semantics. Choice of words and meanings directly affects outcomes. This is true even in politics where the battle is usually over language. Politicians wouldn’t spend so much time and energy fighting over the meanings of words if those words didn’t make a difference.

The words used during the corona event to denote the foundational scientific terms that should, in theory, be guiding our understanding have ranged from ambiguous to blatantly corrupt to nonsensical. This is partly just because of the contortions imposed by politics and media and partly because there are some genuine philosophical issues in the underlying science. Let’s do a lightning overview of some of the key concepts that have been at play.

  1. Virus

Viruses are deeply strange things. They are not alive and do not reproduce sexually. This makes them an edge case within the field of biology where the existing taxonomy implied sexual reproduction. This difficulty is reflected in the fact that the International Committee on the Taxonomy of Viruses has changed its criteria for categorising viruses three times in the last twenty years. The most recent change was in 2012. As I pointed out in post 8 in this series, there was strong dissent about that change. Many virologists believe that the whole concept of species does not apply to viruses. They say that Wittgensteinian family resemblance is the best way to categorise viruses. This means that no single criterion or discrete set of criteria can define a virus and you could theoretically have two viruses that are ‘the same’ even though they do not share all the same properties. This breaks the rules of logic (more specifically, Wittgenstein was challenging the validity of logic) and is not what we think of as ‘hard science’. It’s easy to see why virologists would prefer a system which seems more rigorous even if the rigor is largely illusory.

Bear in mind that, within the current rules, sars-cov-2 is a strain of the sars-cov species of virus. If, as some virologists argue, the species concept does not apply to viruses then strains are even less valid and all these variants we keep hearing about are just illusions. Even if you believe the species concept applies, currently the boundaries are worked out by mathematical analysis. That is, the difference between variant A and variant B is a genetic analysis alone. Who gets to define the boundaries? On what scientific basis is somebody allowed to declare a ‘new’ variant? Is there any disagreement? Any peer review process? Any way to test if the boundary is wrong?

2) Disease

Cambridge dictionary has several definitions for disease but two are most relevant to our purposes.

  • An illness caused by infection or a failure of health rather than an accident;
  • a condition of a person, animal, or plant in which its body or structure is harmed because an organ or part is unable to work as it usually does

Straight away there are all kinds of problems with these definitions. In the first, an attempt is made to distinguish a ‘failure of health’ and infection from accident. But surely viral infection is accidental. Viruses are not alive. They have no will of their own as far as we know. Being infected with a virus is accidental according to the dictionary meaning of that word.

The second meaning, which refers to damage to cells and structures of the body is not much better. The cells of our body are ‘harmed’, in fact, destroyed all the time. You’ve probably heard the bit about how all the cells in your body are replaced every seven years. It’s not quite as simple as that but it’s a good approximation. Some cells, such as skin cells and cells in the stomach lining die and are replaced every few days. If cells ceasing to work is the criterion for disease, we are in a permanently diseased state by nature. When a weightlifter goes to the gym, they are deliberately ‘harming’ the cells and sub-structures of their body. Lifting heavy weights tears the muscles but the weightlifter knows that it’s the response of the body to repair the damage which leads to muscle gain. Given enough food and rest, the body will not just repair the muscles but make them thicker and stronger for next time which means that the weightlifter will be able to lift heavier weight. According to the above definition, weightlifting is a disease.

These simplistic definitions quickly lead to nonsense unless we understand our body as a system responding to the larger systems that comprise its environment. The body attempts to achieve equilibrium or what is called homeostasis. The fluctuations around homeostasis usually occur within regular boundaries and this is called health or the state of being healthy. When the body is pushed outside of those bounds it mounts a response to return to homeostasis. In the case of the weightlifter, this response involves the rebuilding of muscle and ligament. In the case of a broken bone, the healing of that bone. In the case of viral infection, antibodies and other immune system adaptations. Viral infection provides a nice case study here. The body is exposed to viruses all the time and deals with them without trouble. If a virus gets out of control, it throws the body out of homeostasis. The body responds by causing fever and other symptoms. In essence, it diverts resources away from other sub-systems so that as much metabolic energy as possible can be used to fight the infection. That’s why the best thing to do is go to bed and wait for the fever to pass. Other symptoms such as coughing and sneezing are part of the body’s response.

What the dictionary meanings are missing is the element of time. Nietzsche famously said that what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. A less poetic but more accurate version might be ‘whatever I recover from makes me stronger’. On the other side of a heavy weightlifting session, you are back to homeostasis but with thicker and stronger muscles and ligaments and denser bones. On the other side of a viral infection, you are back to equilibrium but now armed with antibodies to fight that virus and related viruses in the future. In both cases, you are better adapted to your environment; the artificial one you created with your weightlifting and the natural one that your body must deal with every day in the microbiological world.

3. Feeling Sick

Disease would be complicated enough but a big extra layer of complexity is added due to psychological and mental factors that accompany it. It is possible to be diseased and not know it which is called anosognosia. Errol Morris has a brilliant series of essays on the subject. Conversely, it’s possible to think you are sick even though you aren’t which is called somatic symptom disorder. Isn’t it funny how children start to get sick right before having to go to school? Or what about the employee feeling down in the dumps just before having to go to work on a sunny Monday morning. Both of course will make a miraculous recovery mid-morning. These cases are not just outright lies (well, sometimes they are). It is possible to make yourself feel sick. It is even possible for the mind to create the physical symptoms themselves. Perhaps the most dramatic example of this is phantom pregnancy where the women in question show all the signs of pregnancy without actually being pregnant. I once met a doctor from India at a social function and I asked her what was the main difference she noticed between Australia and India. “In India, my patients were actually sick,” she said. She estimated about half her patients were not really sick but were making it up whether at a conscious or, more commonly, subconscious level. This observation fits with the official statistics which state that most disease in wealthy countries is neuropsychiatric in nature.

The point is that feeling sick and being diseased are not the same thing. Again, weightlifting provides a nice example to explain this. The day after a heavy training session you might feel tired, lethargic and sore. You may even feel pain. Part of learning weightlifting is learning to distinguish between genuine injury (disease) and ‘normal’ pain that comes from adaptation. Similarly, once you’ve had the flu a couple of times, you learn to recognise it and you don’t worry about it. You know that if you go to bed for a few days you’ll be fine. But when somebody tells you you’ve got a brand new disease you’re going to worry. How much that worry contributes to outcomes is a question our science doesn’t want to answer. We look for physical causes alone and consider all that psychological stuff to be just epiphenomena. Except we know that it isn’t just epiphenomena. Mass hysteria is a real thing and there are countless examples of groups of people all thinking they were sick when they weren’t.

4. Viral Disease

Technically, viral disease occurs whenever a single cell in your body is infected by a virus. Some have noted that with the corona event we are all sick until proven healthy. More specifically, our public health bureaucrats consider us diseased if even a single cell is infected with a virus. There are all kinds of problems with this:-

  • The PCR test does not prove a current or past infection
  • Even if you have an infection, it doesn’t mean you are or will get sick
  • Even if you have an infection, it does not mean you are or will be infectious or how infectious you will be
  • Even if you are infectious, it does not mean other people will actually get infected. (That depends on all kinds of environmental factors)
  • Even if other people do get infected, it doesn’t mean they will get sick or become infectious

Note how the technical definition here differs from the lay definition. The thing any of us care about is feeling sick i.e. coming down with a fever or a cough or, in a worst case scenario, a pneumonia. These are what we can call ‘system level’ issues. With an asymptomatic rate of about 50%, most people would have sailed through corona blissfully unaware that they were ‘diseased’. Nevertheless, a public health bureaucrat considers them diseased and that’s true by the dictionary definition. Prior to corona, a public health bureaucrat only cared about you if you showed actual signs of disease (system-level symptoms). Now they care about you at the cellular level. That is the wonderful bit of ‘progress’ that the misuse of the PCR has brought us.

5. Pandemic

For all of human history until 2020, a pandemic was recognised by external symptoms of disease (note: PCR tests were widely available for the 2009 Swine Flu false alarm but there was not enough to go around and the US CDC had to restrict their use to those who were hospitalised). The corona event started in the traditional fashion i.e. some doctors in Wuhan thought they noticed something unusual in their pneumonia patients. Those doctors reported their concerns to the China CDC who showed up and, within a couple of weeks, were using the PCR test to diagnose ‘infection’. The rest, as they say, is history.

The dictionary meaning of pandemic is a disease that has spread across a wide geographical area. According to this definition, there is therefore a permanent global pandemic of cold and flu viruses including coronaviruses. That is why, prior to 2009, the WHO’s definition of pandemic included a criterion for ‘enormous numbers of deaths and illness’. This criterion enabled us to separate a genuine pandemic from the usual cold and flu cycles. But in 2009, that criterion was dropped by the WHO. Because of that change, we are technically in a permanent pandemic of every cold and flu virus. Because the symptoms shown by sufferers of these viral diseases are indistinguishable, we lump them all, including the known coronaviruses, into a category called influenza-like illness. But in 2020, the WHO decided that this ‘new’ coronavirus would not be lumped into that category but would have its own category called ‘covid’ even though the symptoms of ‘covid’ are no different to any other cold or flu virus. Was there a formal process to make the decision? Were the reasons made public? Is there a procedure to object to the decision on scientific grounds? The answer seems to be: No.

These changes are groundbreaking. Public health bureaucrats now reserve the right to declare any new respiratory virus a ‘new’ disease and to label you as diseased based on a PCR test result for that virus. They then reserve the right to label infections of that new virus a pandemic even if the level of serious illness in the community is not severe. If ever there was an example to show why semantics are important it has to be that. In 2020, we were locked in our houses because of semantics.

6. Herd Immunity

Way back at the start of corona some old fashioned epidemiologists came out and said that lockdowns were the worst thing we could do. What we should do, they argued, was protect the old and immuno-compromised. The best way to do that was to have them stay at home while everybody else got infected as quickly as possible leading to herd immunity. For reasons that I still don’t understand, the counter-message floating around at that time was that we didn’t know that herd immunity could be achieved for a new virus. That was an extraordinary claim. It’s a bit like saying we don’t know whether gravity would exist on a new planet. Herd immunity is not just one of the foundational concept of epidemiology, it’s straight up common sense. Humans have only survived to this day because of herd immunity. How else could it be so?

But not any more according to the WHO which changed the definition in October 2020 so that herd immunity is now all about vaccines. They now say that herd immunity is achieved by protecting people from a virus not exposing them to it. Note the choice of language here. The wording somehow implies that humans now have the power to choose whether we are exposed to viruses or not (I touched on the importance of this change in my post on Acts of Nature). Of course, even if you somehow had individual choice and you chose to expose yourself to a virus rather than get vaccinated you would not be contributing to herd immunity any more. That can only happen by vaccination from now on.

This change of definition seems to me completely indefensible on scientific grounds. I was prepared to cut the WHO some slack early on in the corona event but no longer. It is clearly a corrupt organisation.

The result of this? Public health bureaucrats reserve the right to declare you diseased even if you aren’t sick and to say that the ONLY way to cure your ‘disease’ is by administration of a vaccine.

7. Cause of Death

The first thing to be said about cause of death is that, even in normal times, it is wrong about 1/3rd of the time. That is, the cause of death put on a death certificate by a doctor or pathologists is incorrect in about 30% of cases that are reviewed by an autopsy. Now, add to that baseline level of inaccuracy the psychological biases caused by a purported pandemic then add to that the political pressures. For example, there have been countless anecdotes floating around about how some family member died in the last year and the family was asked if corona could be placed as the cause of death so that the institution in question could receive the extra government money paid for corona cases. Cause of death is often difficult to determine and a PCR test doesn’t help. All the problems with the PCR as a tool for diagnosing infection apply to the cause of death. Just because you tested positive does not mean the infection played a meaningful role in your death and, even if the infection was serious, we know that in about 95% of cases there is at least one other co-morbidity. I recall early on hearing a statistic that about 50% of ‘corona deaths’ had four or more co-morbidities. This makes sense when you consider that the average age of death ‘from corona’ is the average life expectancy in most places. The people dying are the elderly and the elderly have co-morbidities.

Dying with four co-morbidities is like a zebra being killed by a pack of hyenas. Sure, it might be one of the hyenas that delivered the bite that finally ended the struggle but that hyena on its own wouldn’t have killed the zebra. It took the whole team. But with corona we have pretended that the hyena that delivered the killer bite was really a lion.

8. Excess Mortality

Excess mortality implies an average and the first question of any average is what is the standard deviation. But even if you know the standard deviation, that doesn’t give you certainty. The stock market deviates around an average most of the time and then it crashes. In Australia, the bushfire season deviates around an average and then you get a major inferno. There are things that can be done to prevent the size of a stock market crash and the size of a bushfire and those things absolutely should be done but what you can’t do is prevent them altogether, not without destroying the system i.e. preventing a free market or chopping down all the trees. The same goes for viral disease. There absolutely are measures that can and should be taken but those measures should not destroy society. That is the line we crossed in the last year.

All posts in this series:-

The Coronapocalypse Part 0: Why you shouldn’t listen to a word I say (maybe)

The Coronapocalypse Part 1: The Madness of Crowds in the Age of the Internet

The Coronapocalypse Part 2: An Epidemic of Testing

The Coronapocalypse Part 3: The Panic Principle

The Coronapocalypse Part 4: The Denial of Death

The Coronapocalypse Part 5: Cargo Cult Science

The Coronapocalypse Part 6: The Economics of Pandemic

The Coronapocalypse Part 7: There’s Nothing Novel under the Sun

The Coronapocalypse Part 8: Germ Theory and Its Discontents

The Coronapocalypse Part 9: Heroism in the Time of Corona

The Coronapocalypse Part 10: The Story of Pandemic

The Coronapocalypse Part 11: Beyond Heroic Materialism

The Coronapocalypse Part 12: The End of the Story (or is it?)

The Coronapocalypse Part 13: The Book

The Coronapocalypse Part 14: Automation Ideology

The Coronapocalypse Part 15: The True Believers

The Coronapocalypse Part 16: Dude, where’s my economy?

The Coronapocalypse Part 17: Dropping the c-word (conspiracy)

The Coronapocalypse Part 18: Effects and Side Effects

The Coronapocalypse Part 19: Government and Mass Hysteria

The Coronapocalypse Part 20: The Neverending Story

The Coronapocalypse Part 21: Kafkaesque Much?

The Coronapocalypse Part 22: The Trauma of Bullshit Jobs

The Coronapocalypse Part 23: Acts of Nature

The Coronapocalypse Part 24: The Dangers of Prediction

The Coronapocalypse Part 25: It’s just semantics, mate

The Coronapocalypse Part 26: The Devouring Mother

The Coronapocalypse Part 27: Munchausen by Proxy

The Coronapocalypse Part 28: The Archetypal Mask

The Coronapocalypse Part 29: A Philosophical Interlude

The Coronapocalypse Part 30: The Rebellious Children

The Coronapocalypse Part 31: How Dare You!

The Coronapocalypse Part 32: Book Announcement

The Coronapocalypse Part 33: Everything free except freedom

The Coronapocalypse Part 34: Into the Twilight Zone

The Coronapocalypse Part 35: The Land of the Unfree and the Home of the Safe

The Coronapocalypse Part 36: The Devouring Mother Book Now Available

The Coronapocalypse Part 37: Finale

44 thoughts on “The Coronapocalypse Part 25: It’s just semantics, mate”

  1. Gday mate,
    Important post. Should be required reading for continued membership in the club of h. Sapiens.
    Unfortunately the whole discussion is not based on facts. Otherwise it would have been over 14 months ago.
    It is in the interest of the powers that be, that people do not think clearly.
    Or, as the politician said to the journalist : if you keep them stupid, i can keep them in chains.
    Not that the journalist has a very hard job there.

  2. Huh. This was very interesting. Yes, I believe I’d heard that the WHO had redefined “herd immunity” (for what were very obviously political reasons), but I didn’t know they’d redefined “pandemic.” But even the old definition is a bit sketchy: what exactly counts as “enormous numbers of deaths and illness”? That’s obviously subject to manipulation.

    About overdiagnosis: I was immediately reminded of an article by Atul Gawande ( One example he gives is that of thyroid cancer. Turns out that thyroid cancer is very common, but highly unlikely to kill you (because it usually grows very slowly, and if you don’t check for it, you won’t even know you have it, and you’ll die of something unrelated). Here are the relevant paragraphs:

    “More than a third of the population turns out to have these tiny cancers in their thyroid, but fewer than one in a hundred thousand people die from thyroid cancer a year.


    Over the past two decades, we’ve tripled the number of thyroid cancers we detect and remove in the United States, but we haven’t reduced the death rate at all. In South Korea, widespread ultrasound screening has led to a fifteen-fold increase in detection of small thyroid cancers. Thyroid cancer is now the No. 1 cancer diagnosed and treated in that country. But, as Welch points out, the death rate hasn’t dropped one iota there, either. (Meanwhile, the number of people with permanent complications from thyroid surgery has skyrocketed.) It’s all over-diagnosis.”

    So anyway, now they’re going to give experimental vaccines to potentially billions of people, most of whom face little danger from this virus, and we have no idea what complications this might lead to down the road. Heh. At least with thyroid cancer, you can just say “thanks doc, but I’ll take my chances on that micro-cancer that you found,” and then skip surgery. With these vaccines, the penalty for skipping them is increasingly exclusion from civil life.

  3. Roland – agree that facts aren’t playing much of a role in the general discussion. The terminology changes made by the WHO are clearly political, however. Let’s just change the definition of a vaccine and of herd immunity to mean that everybody has to take these new gene treatments that we’re calling vaccines.

  4. Irena – the same thing happened with mammograms. The dream was to find all the breast cancer early and treat it before it got too bad. However, like all tests, there was a false positive rate and if you get a false positive they would treat you like a cancer patient and the treatments for that are very damaging to the body. So, we went from recommending yearly mammograms for all women to now only recommending them for high risk groups. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

    How far advanced is the vaccine rollout in Czechia? Can employers there require that you take the vaccine? Here the official law at the moment is that you can’t be forced to take it by your work. I’ve got my fingers crossed that it will stay that way but I wouldn’t be on it.

  5. Simon, here’s the thing with mammograms: they don’t exactly have to be “false positives.” That is, the woman has a tumor, all right, and it’s malignant, but it’s so slow growing that it would take it a couple hundred years to cause any problems, except that in a couple hundred years, well, you know.

    As for CZ: so, the thing is, I’m a foreigner. I speak passable Czech by now, but my level is still too low for me to able to scan large amounts of text in order to extract useful information. Furthermore, being a foreigner, I don’t exactly have a large social network here, and the only Czech person with whom I can discuss these matters more or less openly is my Czech tutor. The point: I don’t have all the relevant information. I do know they passed some law last year saying that the unvaccinated wouldn’t be discriminated against, but I don’t know what exactly that means in practice. The higher-ups at work would like vaccination to be mandatory, but for the time being at least, it is not, and I don’t think they’ll be able to force it unless there’s some new legislation. So, I’m a bit in the dark, but at least for now, I can avoid gene therapy.

  6. Irena – that’s good to hear. I have my fingers and toes crossed that these things don’t become mandatory.

  7. I agree about the WHO. You do realise however that this is a conspiracy theory? This is not meant as criticism. I said right from the start, this whole thing can only be explained through a conspiracy theory. Or several, as it is not monocausal. This is probably why the media is in overdrive discrediting them.
    On a side note, sadly most of my pet conspiracy theories turned out to be rather weak and passed away when exposed to the new reality of the post 2019 era. How could they possibly have stood up to the likes of klaus schwab.

  8. Roland – I’m not sure they even count as conspiracy theories anymore. Conspiracy facts, maybe. After all, they are happening right out in the open. Just like Big Tech is openly censoring political dissent now. Where it gets really weird though is that the official narrative is that pointing out what is happening right in front of your eyes is a conspiracy theory. The MSM now is openly involved in gaslighting the public. That’s been the game for a while, of course, but it’s now been turned up to 11. So, they have laid all their cards on the table now and the question is do they have a winning hand. If it wasn’t for Texas, Florida etc., I would say they did.

  9. Excellent post, and bringing people’s attention to semantics does help with having more civil arguments. My brother the other day said he read that X% (does it even matter?) of people who “got corona” ended up with brain damage. I asked him if he means the symptomatic illness that is often accompanied by the systemic issues (what is known as COVID-19), or simply being infected with the virus (sars-cov-2). Once he realized my question is valid, he admitted he in fact had no idea.

    One could also, much like you did in your treatment of disease, ask what did he mean by brain damage – I remember reading somewhere that if you hit your head relatively hard in something some brain cells die, so if your brain is the cells, that could be considered brain damage. I accidentally hit my head twice at work a few weeks ago. Do you think I should sue for damages? Maybe their defense could claim there is no way to know if maybe I got COVID and the brain damage is from there.

  10. Bakbook – as a thought experiment, let’s say the PCR test has nothing at all to do with disease. It just returns a positive result at random. We have tested anybody with flu symptoms or anybody who wants to get tested or needs to for work reasons: in other words, a random sample of the population with a bias towards people who are immuno-compromised as they are more likely to show flu symptoms. What ‘results’ would we expect from such testing?

    Well, the average age of death from the people who tested positive would be the average life expectancy of the population. Also, some of the people who die will be younger people but the majority would be elderly people with co-morbidities. We would expect some people who tested positive to get embolism and blood clots. Some would get brain damage etc. etc. In short, the proportion of disease in the people who tested positive would match the average rates of those diseases in the population with a bias towards diseases associated with colds and flus.

    There were some studies floating around from China early in corona which indicated an 80% false positive rate which is as good as useless and would give almost the same results as a random positive.

  11. Simon – The PCR test reminds me of the empathy test in Blade Runner and the book it is based on – “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”. The book elaborates on the test a bit more than the movie – as you read the book you find out the test is highly unstandardized and arbitrary, the people administering it such as the main character are privately aware of its shortcomings but it seems it’s taboo to openly criticize it, and some people who seem like they should fail it pass it, and vice versa.

    Additionally, much like the PCR test, it is hard to prove the test is wrong – maybe I do have COVID, which is otherwise indistinguishable from the common flu? Maybe I am a robot so advanced I am otherwise indistinguishable from a human?

    I very quickly started privately referring to the PCR test as the Voight-Kampff test, as it is called in the movie , as an in-joke with myself in order to keep myself sane.

  12. Hah! I like that.

    This program was shown way back in April 2020 on the Australian national broadcaster. I still marvel at this question about the test –

    So, yes, bearing in mind that we have no idea how accurate the test is, we think it’s 70% accurate. It’s a good example of how an expert can answer a question kind of truthfully (although he presumably just made up the 70% bit) and yet by not giving appropriate context still mislead.

  13. Roland, conspiracies are as common as dirt. Any time two or more people decide to withhold information from (or provide misleading or downright false information to) a third party, you’ve got a conspiracy. Happens probably hundreds of millions of times per day, from Mom and Dad telling the kids about Santa Claus, to the Pentagon lying about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. In this case, the WHO changed some definitions in order to get governments to act a certain way, or perhaps to help governments get their their populations to act a certain way. No space lizards involved.

  14. I’m going to have to defend Merriam-Webster. Their only job it to describe how language is actually being used. And yeah, this is how the term is increasingly being used. So, they did their job.

    But there’s one problem they’re overlooking (not Merriam-Webster, but the people using words in new ways): when you start altering meaning like this, you can turn a previously negative word into a positive one. (If John McWhorter is to be trusted, “nice” used to mean “clumsy.” And “black” used to mean “white.”) So, how long before “anti-vaxxer” comes to mean: a person who believes that medical treatments should undergo proper testing before being approved by regulatory agencies? And then a “vaxxer” might become a synonym for “lunatic.” 😛

  15. Irena – my recollection was that ‘nice’ comes from the Latin for ‘stupid’.

    How about Anti-Vaxxer(n): a person capable of forming their own opinions based on critical thinking.

    That’s certainly the type of person nobody in power wants to have around.

  16. “How about Anti-Vaxxer(n): a person capable of forming their own opinions based on critical thinking.”

    Nah. Too far from vaccines. My version is more likely. 😛

  17. @irena i agree. Conspiracies are everywhere and at every level. What i was trying to say is, that by discrediting them, you take away the possibility of understanding events. This is what the media pushed hard over the last year. Space lizards are useful in the discrediting.

  18. @simon
    The only dictionary i trust these days is the devils dictionary by Ambrose bierce.
    While there is no mention of anti vaxxer, it has this definition for a cynic
    (n.) A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be.

  19. Irena – hang on, who’s the one here with a degree in linguistics? ?

  20. Simon: “hang on, who’s the one here with a degree in linguistics?”

    Ha! You are. But I’m an amateur linguist! (Or dilettante linguist, as you prefer. 😉 ) I listen to linguistics lectures all the time, and occasionally even read linguistics books. 🙂

  21. Irena – “Amateur” derived from the Latin for love. A lover of linguistics.

    Roland – sounds right up my alley. Will put that on my reading list.

  22. Roland: “Conspiracies are everywhere and at every level. What i was trying to say is, that by discrediting them, you take away the possibility of understanding events. This is what the media pushed hard over the last year. Space lizards are useful in the discrediting.”

    Ah, yes. That’s a very good point. The mechanism is to notice that the WHO changing definitions in order to get governments to act a certain way is vaguely similar to space lizards conspiring to rule the world, and then argue that because the latter obviously hasn’t happened, neither has the former. Heh. You might as well argue that airplanes are vaguely similar to teleportation devices, and since the latter don’t exist, neither do the former.

  23. Irena/Roland,

    On the conspiracy front – way back in part 7 of this series (August 2020) I mentioned a dodgy-looking article I found in the NPR that featured a guy called Peter Daszak of the Ecohealth Alliance. Daszak was later magically chosen to lead the task force into the origins of the virus ( and just this week Rand Paul has picked up on the story because Fauci gave some evasive answers about the funding that went to Ecohealth Alliance. Some of that grant money went, guess where, the Wuhan virology lab.

  24. @irena
    You’re not saying that you actually believe in airplanes, are you?

    But seriously: The old association fallac works on two levels here. The first one is the one you described. The idea shares certain properties with some whacko theories, hence it is whacko too.
    The second level is nastier. There are some very strange, stupid and outright evil people who believe in conspiracy theories, hence if you believe in any conspiracy theory, you are strange, stupid and evil as well. Kind of a reductio ad hitleram.
    Especially the German media has been using this tactic relentlessly.
    If you don’t follow the official narrative you are stupid, right wing, evil or, the nuclear option, antisemitic.
    This has effectively removed the possibility to discuss or even see any actual conspiracies, which in turn is rather nice for the conspirators.
    It goes on here in Australia too, but to a much lesser extent.

  25. Simon, is it just me, or has “trust science” also changed meaning? As I understood it, it used to mean something like “We’ve done all these studies, and they overwhelmingly favor explanation X. Studies that reached other conclusions were small and typically flawed. Minor details are still being worked out, but the big picture, based on all this data that we’ve collected and analyzed, is clear. So, trust science: it’s X.”

    When it comes to these vaccines in particular, “trust science” means something very different. It’s more like “Very smart and highly credentialed people have created these vaccines, and therefore, you should believe they are safe [left unsaid: even though mid-to-long term safety data does not exist].” So, it’s more like IQ worship than anything else.

  26. @irena
    Thanks for that link. What an incredible piece of rubbish. I think we can all agree that the word “journalism” has changed meaning recently. “Logic” would be another one.
    Although I am not sure what they mean now.
    To give the writer credit, she reflects the mindset of the german media quite well. The New German Insanity in a nutshell.

    Like i said before, all my conspiracy theories were all way too pedestrian.
    But how could I possibly compete with the reality of this century.

  27. Irena, the overall message is the same – “shut up and do what we say or we’ll label you a conspiracy theorist/anti-semite/racist/(whatever label would be most socially damaging to you).” in the process, they are destroying science and that’s the real shame of it.

    Roland, agree. this helps explain a few parts of the story that never made sense. primarily, how did they identify and test for the virus so quickly? well, they went to the lab and found it had been working on a respiratory virus. they run some tests for that virus and start finding it everywhere. but this is not just any virus but one sponsored by the US government. you could see why the Chinese would freak out and shut down a city over that. that’s my current best guess for what happened. either way, the story of the century is sitting there waiting to be told. of course, any journalist who tried to tell it would end up like Julian Assange.

  28. Hi Simon,

    Exactly! For the life of me I don’t know why we didn’t protect the vulnerable and reach for herd immunity. It makes no sense whatsoever, because to do otherwise puts us on a treadmill of utter weirdness. Unless of course the outcome is the desire? But I’m not privy to such discussions.



  29. Hey, Chris.

    In fairness to the politicians, I do remember that herd immunity was the strategy back in February. The UK government then released modelling showing how many people would die under that strategy which was, to put it mildly, a massive public relations blunder. The rest is history. What’s going on now with the re-writing of the definitions of herd immunity etc. is just blatant corruption but makes some political sense. Having chosen the vaccine route they are re-writing the rules of science to make that route seem like the only one available.

  30. Hi Simon,

    Thanks for the correction, as I had wondered about that possibility and why it wasn’t being attempted – I mean it was historically what took place. If I recall the Swedish came under a lot of fire for going that route, but things have gone quiet in our media on that particular outcome, although if you cast your mind back a year there was many a dire warning. Have you heard any updates from that part of the world?

    It may surprise you, but as to this entire narrative, I’m relying upon your analysis. 🙂 The entire affair makes little sense to me otherwise.

    As to the matter of death in general, I can state for the record that as an outcome, it has a 100% probability of being achieved. An unpleasant possibility.



  31. @Chris
    I think you are a bit defeatist there. I’m gonna try to live forever and have a 100% success rate so far.
    More than half a century and not a single failure.

  32. I haven’t died once since the government locked me in my house so if that doesn’t settle the argument I don’t know what does.

  33. Simon: “well, they went to the lab and found it had been working on a respiratory virus”

    You know what, Simon, something just clicked. Obviously, I was aware of the lab leak hypothesis, and it’s looking increasingly likely that that’s what actually happened. But I thought the origin of the virus and the public health response to the virus were two unrelated matters. But maybe they weren’t! What if the Chinese quickly realized the virus came from their lab, and then freaked out (and locked down) precisely because of that? And then everyone copied the Chinese.

  34. Irena – yep, that’s my best guess for what actually happened but we’ll probably have to wait 20 years before the truth can be told.

  35. Hey Simon and Chris — Bucko here. “Herd” immunity (I prefer “societal immunity” because cows are animals that live in herds, not humans. Plus to get that immunity, you wind up “thinning the herd” as in lots of herdees dropping dead) might not be possible. Many respiratory viruses mutate, which is why there’s no immunity to the common cold. (“Common colds” are likely caused by all sorts of different viruses. The symptoms are the same but the culprits are different.) In addition to thinning the herd, like wiping out a huge number of old people, people who are sick from other causes and those who didn’t get the good genetic roll of the dice with their immune systems, there’s no guarantee that all that death would do anything to prevent next year’s Covid outbreak.

    As far as Sweden, there’s been a lot of coverage of how it fared. Which is worse than Norway and Finland, which went with a more conventional approach to Clampdowns. Which I know you despise. The Naked Capitalism econoblog has had a few articles about that. It’s just not covered much in the MSM. They need that page space for stories about Married At First Sight!

    Didja go to the Freedom Rally in Melbourne on Saturday, Simon? I rode my pushbike past it on the way to a Meetup bicycle ride, but didn’t have tome to stop and listen. Plus, they weren’t wearing masks!

  36. Hey Bucko, that’s all fine except there’s no better alternative. That’s why the accepted science/public health response until Feburary 2020 had no mention of lockdowns or other ‘innovations’. We’re on our way to the same destination (rolling societal immunity as sars-cov-2 becomes part of the virome) except we’ve made the journey there far more costly than it had to be.

    Haven’t been to one of the freedom rallies as I’m not really interested in politics. I’ll get involved if and when we start hearing about vaccine passports.

  37. Hey Bucko,

    Over here in the Czech Republic, we’ve had one of the strictest lockdowns in the world, and we’ve also had one of the highest COVID death rates in the world, a lot worse than Sweden’s. If you look at the data, the relationship between lockdowns and COVID deaths is actually rather weak. Lockdowns were supposed to help “flatten the curve” until hospital capacity was increased. That made some sense, maybe, but then they (the lockdowns) got turned into a semi-permanent measure, with fewer and fewer benefits and more and more costs.

  38. Simon, you know, it used to be that lockdowns would get us out of this mess, and then the vaccines. Except that if you look at what’s actually happening, governments seem to be super-cautious, even with vaccines. So, it doesn’t look like there will be any sort of “return to normal,” even if there are high vaccination rates.

    I hate to say this, but I fear that the way we “get out of this” is the BLM or Hamas/Israel way. Basically, you get large unrests or even war. It doesn’t even have to be about lockdowns in any direct way (except that lockdowns exacerbated pre-existing problems and made explosion more likely). And then what? Well, it’s not “back to normal.” It’s something else: a pile of problems so large and so urgent that we simply forget about COVID. There’s no social distancing in a bomb shelter. 😛

  39. Irena – true. There’s all kinds of ways things can get even worse from here. I’m just grateful for Texas, Florida et al. for showing a real alternative. No rioting required. Just a bunch of grown ups exercising common sense (who knew it would be possible to say that about Florida and Texas without laughing).

  40. Simon, good for Texas and Florida. But I increasingly think we (i.e. most countries that have imposed lockdowns) won’t get out of this in any sort of reasoned or deliberate fashion. No, I think we’ll be stuck with a vocal (if relatively small) contingent of people who insist that restrictions remain in place until the “plague” is resolutely defeated (i.e. forever). And that’ll lead to more and more problems, from unemployment to the whole population slowly going a little bit crazy due to isolation. There are many ways to go a little bit nuts, but one way is to convince yourself it’s high time you did something about your sworn enemies, whoever those happen to be. We’ve seen that with BLM, we’re now seeing it in Israel, and France isn’t looking too good either. Who’s next? It could get very bad.

  41. Irena, not here in Australia. We’re going to keep the borders closed forever and let you diseased folks fight it out amongst yourselves :). But, yes, things could get bad. One of the things I’m grateful to Greer about is that because of his warnings I’ve been casually making preparations for this outcome for a number of years. Just having those ideas sitting in the back of your mind is a good thing. What’s the social situation in Czechia at the moment? Any action on the streets or are people still taking it passively?

  42. Simon, there have been a few sporadic protests in CZ, but nothing major, as far as I can tell. It’s kind of difficult to judge people’s mood. I’m a foreigner and relatively new, and so I don’t get to hear what people “really” think.

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