Welcome everyone to the Illusion of Consensus podcast.
I'm Professor Jay Bhattacharya. I am delighted to be here with Kevin Bardosh. Kevin is the research director and the director of Collateral Global, which is a charity in the UK. Just full disclosure, I'm a trustee of this charity. The goal of the charity is to document the harms that the lockdowns globally from 2020 and onward. And again, with an emphasis on documenting these harms in a scholarly way with data and with rigorous analysis.
I hope you take away something new from this wide-ranging conversation on the multitude of negative societal shifts causes by lockdowns.
Note to readers: the full podcast transcript is available thanks to Substack’s new functionality. You can access it by clicking on the podcast tab above.
— Jay Bhattacharya
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Note: For some strange reason, Jay’s audio has an intense echo for the first 10 minutes before it goes away. Apologies in advance.
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Podcast Transcript Highlights:
Kevin on his background:
I've worked for 15 years in public health, global public health programs, mostly in the global south, so in over 20 countries in Africa, Asia, and that's on infectious disease programs. So I was involved tangentially in the Ebola response. And during the Zika pandemic, I actually led quite a large mosquito control program in Haiti. So that's dealing with community engagement, messaging, mosquito control, and the whole sort of range of scientific questions also about, well, where are microcephaly cases happening, et cetera.
I've also worked a lot on parasitic diseases, neglected tropical diseases, et cetera.And all of that work in the global public health community in general, we have these sort of ethical frameworks around not doing harm, around equity, or, you know, community empowerment, et cetera. And we saw a lot of those sort of guiding principles thrown out the window during the COVID response. And I think a lot of people felt like, or a lot of academics who work in this space, didn't feel like they had a voice, or at least were very confused about where the consensus was going. And so... my sort of work for the last two years has been to try to somewhat speak to that issue, which is obviously a very political issue.
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Kevin’s detailed survey on the literature on lockdowns and their effects on poor countries:
The report is called, How Did the COVID-19 Pandemic Response Harm Society? A Global Evaluation and State of Knowledge Review, covering 2020 and 2021. And I think what motivated me on, well, there's a lot of things that did, but on the one hand, the public discourse and public conversation, that there is this sort of scientific consensus. And I've actually called this and I'm covering the UK COVID inquiry for an online newspaper called Unherd. And I've called this the lockdown doctrine. which is the notion that during a respiratory pandemic, you need to lock down society faster and harder as a precondition to get a vaccine and then you reopen, right? And that's a very particular model, a political model, and it comes with some very detailed assumptions about reality and also about scientific evidence that I think is very flawed.
What I saw essentially is you have thousands of papers on all these different topics about the harms of non-pharmaceutical interventions during COVID. And yet we don't have a good sense of, well, how do you put those together? How do you weigh, let's say the control of COVID, which has these very neat statistics, right? Like cases, deaths, you can sort of talk. It has this sort of simplicity and elegance to it that compels people to act and think a certain way. But then when you put together all of the different harms, it's like, it's, it's almost too complicated for people to get their head around. And so when we challenge, let's say this lockdown doctrine by saying, Well, actually, when you think about trade-offs, there's a lot more harm to locking down society than there is benefit.
People will say, well, how do you weigh that? And so this framework was an attempt to, in as much detail as possible, come to terms with, well, what are those harms? What's the full range of it? And what does the academic community, or the academic knowledge, tell us about these harms? So on the one hand, type, right, type of harm, but then also the magnitude. And in that regard, I would say that the report has these sort of two elements to it. On the one hand, it's a story about the actual harms that took place in the real world, but it's filtered through the academic research that is available. And in some areas, we have very concrete statistics that are easy to appreciate, but in a lot of areas, we don't.
Kevin on the pandemic’s negative impact on obesity and lifestyle:
I would say one of the more worrying ones — this is from a meta-analysis on obesity rates — estimating a 1% increase in children and a 2% increase in adults in global obesity rates. So that's a pretty significant increase when you think about the consequences of obesity. People became much more addicted to screens. Screen use increased by 50% among children. And those screen addiction habits have continued, right? We're living in this sort of era where if you watch kids, they're all staring at their phones and COVID encouraged them to stare at their phones longer. And I think that that's, that is going to have astronomical cultural and psychological impacts going forward. It was something that we're already struggling with as a society, but we said, okay, everyone's, you know, don't go meet your friends at the park, which was already decreasing because how many people actually go to the park and know their neighbors. And if you go to the park, you watch the parents sitting on their phones while their kids are playing.
Anyhow, I could rant about that for a long time. I actually don't own a cell phone. No, because of these effects. Yeah, I kind of just got rid of it a while ago. So sleep problems, all sorts of interesting studies, actually even about dream interruption. There's actually a whole sort of niche area of COVID and dreams, which is quite interesting. Obviously, exercise decreased, and exercise has all sorts of beneficial effects for health.
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