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Samizdata quote of the day

“The precautionary principle is a gigantic paternalistic arm around humanity to keep all risk at bay.”

Philip Johnston, Daily Telegraph. (Item behind paywall.)

I have friends and relations in the EU (Italy, Malta, Germany, Belgium) so I cannot take pleasure from the Biblical-level clusterfuck of the EU’s approach to vaccines, and I am certainly angry at the bullying of Brussels vis a vis the UK as the EU top brass attempts to save face. But leaving my obvious personal reasons aside, it is hard not to also enjoy watching the European political classes make such tits of themselves, and in bright lights.

19 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Lee Moore

    IIRC Italy invoked some emergency law to prevent Astra Zeneca exporting vaccine to Australia and has now…….banned the use of the AZ vaccine on bloot clot fears (which even the EU accepts are purely random noise.)

    A shame that Farage is no longer in the European Parliament, otherwise all those simultaneous translators would have to translate “clusterfuck” into 319 languages.

  • Lee Moore

    As for the precautionary principle, it only applies to things the left opposes. It does not apply to things the left wants to proceed – such as radical national upheaval of healthcare (Obamacare); ditto voting law (HR1); transgender surgery for teenagers; defunding the police; locking down the country and so on.

    It is a mistake to characterise it as “a gigantic paternalistic arm around humanity to keep all risk at bay” – it’s simply a political tactic to keep all risk of things the left doesn’t like at bay.

  • JohnK

    The French firm Sanofi tried to develop a vaccine and failed. Does anyone think that the French state would have any qualms about using it if there were a few random casualties?

    Sanofi is now making the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, which is all right because it was developed in Germany and made in the EU. The Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine is a joint venture between Britain, a euroheretic state, and Sweden, which does not count. So long as the Franco German axis rules the EU all is well, and who cares about the peasants?

  • Black Beard

    My server is down, so:

    Have the countries suspending the roll-out of the AstraZeneca vaccine against Covid taken collective leave of their senses? Is there something so amiss that merits shutting down a programme of inoculations designed to save thousands of lives and reopen economies without which we will all live in penury anyway?

    Conspiracy theorists might conclude that there is a real problem and we are not being told the full truth here in the UK. But, in fact, the Europeans are in thrall to a pernicious concept known as the precautionary principle, which essentially states that if there is something science cannot be certain is safe then don’t do it.

    Yet science, as we have seen during the pandemic, is rarely 100 per cent certain about anything. The bizarre aspect of the precautionary principle, however, is that even when the science is almost certain as, say, with the safety of genetically modified (GM) crops, they are still prohibited because there is always a sliver of doubt.

    It was the green movement’s efforts to block GM agriculture despite its obvious potential to feed a massively growing world population that led to the promulgation of the precautionary principle. It was a development of something originally called the Vorsorgeprinzip, or foresight principle, and was picked up as a rationale for interventionism.

    Since people could never judge for themselves what risks were attached to certain activities, someone would have to do it for them, namely the state. The precautionary principle is a gigantic paternalistic arm around humanity to keep any risk at bay.

    In the early part of the century this became central to EU policy making, insinuated into every aspect of regulation, legislation and research. Protecting the public was the justification. Suffocating innovation and common sense was the outcome. It fed into the British public consciousness with the phrase “health and safety gone mad”.

    But the implications went far beyond banning conkers in the school playground. Essentially, the precautionary principle is an element of what we would once have called risk management but without the risk, which must be almost entirely removed. The pandemic lockdowns were partly governed by this principle and by another concept called the “reasonable worst case scenario”.

    Put the two together with statistical models predicting hundreds of thousands of deaths and politicians are not going to do anything else other than shut down the country. They do not believe people are capable of understanding, let alone managing, risk and in view of the public response to the lockdowns they may be right.

    However, while all recent UK governments have subscribed to the precautionary principle they have tended to do so with greater pragmatism than our continental neighbours, reflecting different philosophical heritages, ours Burkean, theirs owing more to Rousseau.

    Fortunately, when it comes to the vaccine, pragmatism has won out in Britain with hardly anyone calling for the programme to be halted, though the EU attitude threatens to undermine confidence in the vaccine.

    Had the Government followed the precautionary principle slavishly it would not have changed the period between the two jabs from three to 12 weeks to allow for more people to be vaccinated. Yet that decision has been vindicated by real-world data showing that protection is high from the first jab and dramatically reduces fatalities and hospitalisations. As adherents to the precautionary principle we would also be suspending the AstraZeneca programme because of the blood clotting fears associated with it. But we’re not, or at least I hope we’re not.

    Elsewhere, in Germany, France, Spain, Italy and a dozen other countries, pragmatic risk management – or even rational thought – seems to have been entirely suppressed by a commitment to the precautionary principle which was embedded in the governance of the EU by the Amsterdam Treaty. Or maybe it is political as more recipients of the Pfizer vaccine have reported blood clotting so why has it not been banned?

    Despite the World Health Organisation, the European Medicines Agency and scientists pointing out that the risk from Covid is greater than the risk from thrombosis, their policy makers are incapable of reaching the obvious conclusion.

    Since the dawn of time people have had to consider the consequences of taking difficult decisions, from following a mammoth across a swamp to driving along a motorway. There are always risks and assessing them is a matter not only of experience but of circumstance. To err on the side of excessive caution in a pandemic when it comes to using a vaccine known to be safe for the great majority is madness.

    No-one suggests it should not have been put through all its regulatory processes. Had thalidomide been as rigorously tested here as it was in the US the birth defects disaster of the early 1960s would not have happened. But the Oxford vaccine was passed for use only after a strict assessment by independent regulators and more than 17 million doses have been administered with hardly any serious ill effects. The 37 cases of blood clotting in people who have received the jab are fewer than would normally be expected.

    If we had applied the precautionary principle to mobile phones, as some campaigners wanted, we would still be using the dial up telephone. There were suggestions years ago that heavy use of the phones caused brain tumours and that the masts were responsible for all sorts of ailments. In 2000, the Stewart report on mobile phone safety advocated a precautionary approach, stating that “before accepting a new development we should have positive evidence that any risks from it are acceptably low”.

    This suggested that any amount of unknown risk must be regulated away. Had that applied in the 19th century we would have had no trains. Ask William Huskisson, the first railway fatality.

    While we have our own home-grown precautionists, risk aversion in Brussels is far greater than it is here. When we were members the battles between the UK and the Commission were more often than not over directives that we considered restrictive and unnecessary but which Eurocrats justified by reference to the precautionary principle. Indeed, it could be said that by repeatedly offending against this country’s innate good sense, it led directly to Brexit.

  • Horace Dunn

    it is hard not to also enjoy watching the European political classes make such tits of themselves

    Well, yes. But what isn’t funny is the fact that Ursula von der Leyen and all the rest of them, whose actions have imperilled the lives of, probably, hundreds of thousands of people, are entirely unaccountable. One of the reasons that I voted for Brexit is precisely that: these people are unaccountable and even when they have been criminally incompetent, as they have been over vaccinations, the people they supposedly serve cannot get rid of them.

    They will continue to enrich themselves and their friends and associates out of the pockets of the working people of Europe. I’m glad that it no longer comes out of my pocket, but I’d prefer it if von der Leyen and the rest of them were reduced to penury (rather like so many Greeks thanks to policies required to prop up the Eurozone) which is what they truly deserve.

  • Zerren Yeoville

    Europe’s pausing of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine has precisely nothing to do with the science though, really, has it?

    It’s just that age-old Continental Anglophobia rearing its head again (with a seasoning of post-Brexit ‘jilted bride’ sour-grapes-attitude sprinkled on top).

    Now, if it had so happened that it was the ‘Edinburgh/AstraZeneca vaccine’ the Europeans would be queuing out of the door and down the street to receive it (and neither would Nicola Sturgeon ever conveniently manage to omit the name of the university which developed it when speaking of it).

  • Shirley Knott

    The precautionary principle fails its own test. What more is needed to discard it?

  • APL

    “The precautionary principle is a gigantic paternalistic arm around humanity to keep all risk at bay.”

    Disagree. We had a paternalistic society, the one that gave us the greatest technological civilization in recorded history.

    The ‘precautionary principle’ is the maternalistic model, don’t do anything if there is a risk involved.

    I agree with Camille Paglia, “If civilization had been left in female hands we would still be living in grass huts”.

    Better get used to raw sewage running in the streets, because that’s the way things are headed.

  • Lee Moore

    Very witty Shirley.

  • George Atkisson

    The Precautionary Principle is more like “We need an excuse to do nothing so we can avoid any responsibility for any negative consequences, regardless of the potential cost and damage of our inaction.” Typical bureaucratic thinking: Claim all the credit, deny all accountability.

  • Lee Moore

    The Precautionary Principle is more like “We need an excuse to do nothing

    No. The typical appeal to the precautionary principle is :

    1. Somebody wants to do something new
    2. Somebody else wants to stop them, but cant think of an actal reason (or a reason they’re willing to admit to in public), so
    3. The somebody else appeals to the precautionary principle – something bad, that I can’t specify, might happen

    Of course it’s perfectly true that all sorts of unforeseen consequences, good and bad, can follow from any course of action. But the same goes for any course of inaction. It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future. But “freeze right there until we’ve worked out all the consequences” is not a sincere proposition. It means – you stop while I walk round you.

  • Paul Marks

    It is all very odd. The powers that be tell us, endlessly, that vaccines are good – unless they are Russian vaccines (the first vaccine was Russian), in which case vaccines are supposed to be evil.

    In Italy San Marino (the highest Covid death rate in the world – number two is the Czech Republic, one of the first lockdown countries, and the first mask mandate country) is now using Russian vaccines – but just a short walk away in Italian villages, they are illegal. That Central Banker who is the UNELECTED Prime Minister of Italy has just imposed another “lockdown” as well – after a year of insane government policy, he still has a deep dark fear that some small business in Italy is not yet bankrupt.

    As for Early Treatment of Covid 19 (which is nothing at all to do with Russia) – the European Union, the United Kingdom and the United States endlessly chant “there are no Early Treatments for Covid 19” – and they are just NOT TELLING THE TRUTH, because there are Early Treatments that would save most people, and this has been known for a year.

    We have reached the stage where people get better treatment for this sickness in Paraguay and many other very poor countries, than they do in Britain and most of the United States (or the European Union).

    An illegal immigrant from Honduras going to the United States (and bringing more Covid with them) would get better medical treatment for this disease in Honduras (a VERY poor country) than they would in most of the United States.

    I know have asked this question many times over the last few years Jonathan Pearce – but what the BLEEP is going on?

  • Paul Marks

    Early Treatment got nothing to do with the “precautionary principle”.


    If, for example, the British authorities had been “obsessed with saving lives” they would have closed the borders (as Taiwan and other countries did) as soon as they heard of the virus – and that is exactly what they did NOT do.

    And SMEARING Early Treatment has got nothing to do with the “precautionary principle” – such things as hydroxychloroquine, elemental zinc and azithromycin (or doxycycline) have been known for many years, they are not “experimental” things (and as for saying that President Trump wanted people to “drink fish bowl cleaner” even by the incredibly low standards of the bureaucracy, and the the media, that was really pathetic).

    Nor is Ivermectin some “new” thing – not at all. So nothing to do with the “precautionary principle”.

    How about people increasing their Vitamin D3 levels? How is that anything that could be harmful?

    As for the vaccines…..

    The OLDEST (the one that has been around since August 2020) is the one that the European Union still bans,

    It may be that Sputnik V has terrible side effects that do not show up for some time – but it has been almost a year.

    The main fear about the vaccines is that they may make the immune system OVER respond to infections – leading to auto immune disease down the line (say over the next couple of years).

    We just do not know whether that is true or not yet – let us hope it is NOT true.

  • Paul Marks

    I remember asking last year “why has the government not closed the borders?” – if the government had made the decision to NOT go for herd immunity (as Sweden did), the closing the borders (to keep the virus out – if possible) was the obvious first step.

    Internal “lockdowns” are, even by Collectivist “logic”, utterly pointless if the borders remain open. As the saying went in MARCH 2020 “pubs shut – borders open”.

    That made no sense – not even by Collectivist “logic”.

    Either you close the borders or you go for herd immunity – Sweden made the latter choice (although it did NOT treat the sick well – in fact their Early Treatment was as non existent as it was here).

    But to keep the borders open and NOT go for herd immunity (to go for an internal lockdown – with the borders OPEN) that policy is…. well words fail me.

  • Paul Marks

    By the way – Dr Fauci, and his merry band of medical bureaucrats (none of whom have ever treated a patient), is back to pushing taxpayer money at the World Health Organisation (that gang of stooges for the People’s Republic of China), this is the same Dr Fauci who spent taxpayer money, via a corporation, on “Gain of Function” research at the Chinese government lab (whether or not it was a cover for a bio weapon facility) from where the virus “escaped”.

    Oddly enough, by a total coincidence, people of European origin appear to be genetically more vulnerable to this virus (originally a natural virus – which was tweaked a bit) than Chinese people are.

    The media are, sadly, totally uninterested in all the above – and everything else that is not in the press releases of governmental and corporate bodies.

    The old style journalist appears to be no more.

    There was a time when half a million dead Americans would have got more thought from the media than “how can we use this against Trump?”

    Although, yes, Donald John Trump was foolish enough to be totally deceived by the bureaucracy – both the “health” bureaucracy and the “Justice” bureaucracy.

    Essentially they rang rings round him – and half a million Americans are dead because of that.

    And 126 thousand British people are dead because of that.

  • Paul Marks

    On the “vaccines” (or whatever one should call them) – the fear is more complicated than that they just make the immune system over respond to future infections.

    The changes to the body that these drugs lead to may have various problem in relation to the immune system – we just do not know yet. Over the next couple of years (a couple of “flu seasons”) the situation will become clearer.

    But it impossible to have a conversation about this with most people – as they will respond “you are saying that the vaccine will make me grow two heads”.

    Ditto on Early Treatment – people either say “you want me to drink fish bowl disinfectant” or chant “THERE IS NO EARY TREATMENT”.

    Most people do not even respond positively to being advised to increase their Vitamin D levels – they just respond with abuse, or say “when did the NHS say that?”

    At some point one just has to give up and walk away – as expressing dissent (no matter how well grounded in evidence) just leads to PUNISHMENT.

    I suspect that some members of the media know the truth (and not just about Covid 19), but do not wish to lose their jobs and end up begging in the streets.

    And that is quite understandable.

  • Stephen Houghton

    The “precautionary principal” is the opposite of liberty. Under the freedom principal you can do anything that can not be shown in advance to harm others. Under the “precautionary principal” you can’t do anything if you can’t prove in advance that it will harm no one.

  • Paul Marks

    Stephen Houghton.

    Sir – I repeat that nothing that is going on, in relation to Covid 19, has anything to do with the “Precautionary Principle”.

    The idea that what governments have done is motivated by the desire to “save lives” is just wrong. The international establishment are not motivated by that objective.

  • APL

    Paul Marks: “The international establishment are not motivated by that objective.”

    I believe all COVID-19 vaccinations are permitted under an EUA ( Emergency Use Authorization ) which can only be issued if there is no safe and effective alternative treatment.

    Hence, the vilification of Hydroxychloriquine & Zinc. Now that herd immunity has been achieved, (delayed by eighteen months, as a result of lock-down, social distancing, etc.) we are hearing that Ivermectin is also an effective treatment ( 30 tablets £18.39 retail ).

    If these remedies had been tested eighteen months ago, there would have been no justification for the vaccination EUA.

    Oh! and the COVID-19 vaccines, authorities are telling us they do not confer sterilizing immunity. If so, then what’s the point ?