by Elizabeth Oldfield
Monday, 2
November 2020
Seen Elsewhere
16:07

You can’t quantify the effect of lockdown

Rationality can only take us so far
by Elizabeth Oldfield
Credit: Getty

Has there ever been a global emergency communicated with this much data? The numbers are vital for leaders making agonising decisions, and useful for the rest of us as we modify our behaviour. But most of us are drowning in a sea of deadening graphs, charts and figures. Data is not designed to engage our emotions or our senses, so it can have a numbing, even anaesthetic effect.

With prescient timing, a new album has reminded me that one antidote to this anaesthetic is aesthetic; we need art, beauty, creativity to also help us process what is happening. This week, the BBC released ‘Isolation, In your words,’ a song cycle, commissioned as part of the Culture in Quarantine series.  

Based on interviews recorded in the first national lockdown — spanning a wide cross-section of the public, from children to cancer patients, medics to furloughed workers — it draws on jazz, rap, a cappella and musical theatre to create a lush and effecting soundscape of the UK’s 2020 experience.

In one episode, a child speaks about wanting the world to turn back into 3D because “2D isn’t as good. You can’t touch anything”. In another, there are meditations on technology that illustrates how digital devices have been a saviour for many older people, yet an addiction for an aimless younger generation, one of whom raps: “I am consumed by the things I consume”. 

Elsewhere, a doctor fights to get her colleagues to take her breathlessness seriously, but is told it’s just anxiety, while a regular NHS service user, cut off from his trips to the wellbeing centre, says: “I won’t starve, so to speak, but you can starve in other ways”.

Turbulent times require more than numbers to navigate. Reason, data and evidence are all necessary but not sufficient. And an over-zealous focus on them can numb us to what we are really living through.

In the West we still live in the long shadow of Kant’s conception of reason and the rational life. As Terry Eagleton comments

Reason in Kant is too aloof from the senses, too much at war with the flesh to take root in everyday life. It has something of the Freudian superego’s sadistic disregard for the needs and natures of those it subjugates.
- Terry Eagleton, Culture and the Death of God

This time around, I want to make sure I am drawing on all my senses, as well as the numbers, to get through.

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Nick Whitehouse
Nick Whitehouse
1 year ago

I am not drowning in a sea of graphs & figure.

What I am drowning in is a sea of projections & computer models – and not being told their assumptions.

I am told that the benefits of lockdowns/tiers will take 2 or 3 weeks to take effect. Yet Liverpool is seeing a drop in positive cases already – why?

Deaths from other causes are far higher than from/with Corvid yet we do not receive these figures on a daily basis.

There is no context given to judge the seriousness of Corvid, all the media seem to just frighten people. Unfortunately most do not have the time/inclination/numeracy to understand this.

Do not kid yourself that data is not designed to engage your emotions, that is exactly the point of all the (misleading) graphs.

David Uzzaman
David Uzzaman
1 year ago

Garbage in garbage out. There are serious doubts about the tests on which all of the governments strategy is based.

maps foderit
maps foderit
1 year ago
Reply to  David Uzzaman

Per Nick’s thoughts, perhaps the garbage is intentional. That should be a more prevalent concern.

mf

Nick Welsh
Nick Welsh
1 year ago

Unable to wheedle out any bad news from the current Liverpool data, the BBC decide to go for full ‘Italy in March’ coverage of a Liverpool hospital.
And lo and behold mass testing came to pass.
Shameless.

Andrew Harvey
Andrew Harvey
1 year ago

Sorry, but reason, data and evidence are exactly what is needed right now, and exactly what we are not be provided with. Where is the cost/benefit analysis behind the governments actions? How many quality adjusted years of life are we gaining, and at what cost, by locking down? This isn’t a difficult exercise (using reasonable assumptions) and should be the basis of the governments actions, but it’s no where to be seen.

More guff from the BBC is the last thing we need.

david bewick
david bewick
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew Harvey

I would include C4 News, ITV (Peston) and Sky in that. Oh and chuck the Grauniad in for good measure!

Warren Alexander
Warren Alexander
1 year ago

The government, knowing full well that their appalling overreaction to covid has resulted in the devastation of our economy, the destruction of hundreds of thousands of jobs and businesses, the deaths of countless thousands from the lockdown and not from covid, now needs to find a way out of the mess of their own creation, that absolves them from any blame.

By ordering a lockdown, at a point in the natural history of the virus when it is likely to be fading (and the statistics seem to be pointing to a reduction in the already lower rate of infections), they can claim, in four or five weeks, that their “decisive action” is responsible for saving us from this disease.

They must think we are all fools.

croftyass
croftyass
1 year ago

Unfortunately most people are-tragically.Try having a reasoned discussion about this and prepare to be amazed at the lack of knowledge.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 year ago

what is the end game and what does “safe” look like? To the latter question, I suggest that no one has any idea, meaning that no one will be able to recognize a ‘safe’ environment. In more concrete terms, however, is safe zero new cases? Is it X cases during Y period of time? Because this could, ostensibly, continue for some time at an enormous economic and social cost that only a few are talking about, almost none of them holding political office.

This week, the BBC released ‘Isolation, In your words,’ a song cycle, commissioned as part of the Culture in Quarantine series.
This is absolutely perverse. Isolation is not the natural state of people. Even loners will interact with people from time to time. I don’t recall a time when “cases” was another word for hospitalizations or deaths, or a time when man thought a virus could be eliminated by hiding from it. There is enough data to know which populations are mostly adversely affected, yet again, the approach is to treat all as being under equal threat.

Alex Mitchell
Alex Mitchell
1 year ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

End game is never discussed. Here in NZ we have (for now) eliminated it, but there is absolutely no consideration anywhere of what we do if (when) no vaccine is forthcoming and the rest of the world learns to live with it.

Go Away Please
Go Away Please
1 year ago

Some very rational comments for this article.
I enjoyed reading it. Many thanks Elizabeth. After all we are more than just rational beings. And often, we aren’t even that.

Michael Whittock
Michael Whittock
1 year ago

Thankyou Elizabeth for this article. Very important to be reminded how important the inner life is. As the Man said ” You shall not live by bread alone”.

Rickard Gardell
Rickard Gardell
1 year ago

Whats wrong with actual data? For the last two weeks covid cases in the uk has been stable between 20-25,000. This means it is not growing and has reached a peak, which questions the purpose of a lockdown. Just like last time…..

James Moss
James Moss
1 year ago

Who on earth would want to quantify the effects? It’s much easier being able to refer to all the terrible consequences without any quantification of any of them and simply assert that they are far worse than the alternative.

A few folks like Toby Young had a stab at such quantification back in the Spring. His analysis got laughed at. He learnt his lesson.

Now the favoured approach is to claim there is no virus left and all the deaths are faked. Much easier.