Why is good news about Covid so hard to accept?
Pundits refuse to believe that the latest pandemic developments are positive
There are plenty of reasons to be cheery this Summer: the UK has one of the most vaccinated populations in the world, with 88% of those over-18 having received at least one Covid jab, Covid cases are falling, despite the lifting of restrictions on July 19th, and the virus looks to be on its way to becoming endemic.
There is much to be optimistic about — and after almost 18 months of near constant bad news and a worsening mental health crisis — finally having some positive news should come as a relief to all.
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But this glut of good news appears to have unearthed a new British pastime. As quickly as the good news on Covid rolls in, more and more people seem to be taking solace in finding the cloud to these silver linings.
When a GP tweeted last week that there were no Paediatric ITU beds left in the country — a fact which simply wasn’t true —it quickly picked up traction, eventually being retweeted over 7000 times. The GP subsequently explained that, whilst her information was incorrect, she felt the tweet justified, as she had been whistleblowing to highlight the plight of the NHS in general.
Similarly, a tweet on Sunday by ITV’s political editor Robert Peston, which queried recent case numbers has been widely shared.
In it, he explained that “the daily tally of infections seriously understates the actual number of infections” due to a failure to include reinfections. Many responded, including PHE officials, informing him that, actually, this was clearly noted on the dashboard, and the daily reinfection rate currently sits at around 1% — hardly significant. Despite this, the tweet remains up, and has had, to date, over 4000 retweets.
Meanwhile, a study associating Covid and lowered IQ, has been widely circulated both on twitter and in the media, gaining tens of thousands of likes and retweets, including from prominent accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers. Many commentators neglected to mention that — given the nature of the study — there were several cofounders that needed to be considered when interpreting the results, making it impossible to say for certain that Covid was the cause of the lowered IQ
Some people, such as Covid pundit Eric Ding argue that this gloominess is valid, that: “Healthy precautionary principle alarmism is good”. He thinks we should always expect the worst when it comes to Covid. This represents a gross simplification of the principle, but even if it didn’t, it is difficult to argue that sharing information which is misleading or untrue fulfils the precautionary principle. There is plenty to be alarmed or concerned about over Covid, without creating unnecessary panic.
It is not disrespectful to those who have died of Covid to find happiness in life, nor is it a tacit approval of the entire Conservative government to acknowledge when policies are successful. It may be that, as winter approaches, the Covid picture worsens, and there are once again more reasons to be gloomy. Few things are guaranteed in life, which is why when things are going well, we should enjoy good news, and not reach to find reasons to be unhappy.
One of the most dispiriting things about the pandemic is the sheer number of people in this country who’ve been revealed to be thrilled by the idea of people’s lives being constrained and restricted.
There are those who seem to be enjoying the vicarious bullying, plus, of course, those who are hoping that the economy crashes to the extent that it enables/causes socio-political revolution of some sort. The Great Reset has its fans.
I have seen a new trope doing the rounds – that the government is using the economic damage caused by covid and lockdowns to hide a failed Brexit.
Nothing to do with 11.5 million people being paid furlough, the closing down of a large number of industries and billions launched at the NHS at all I am sure. Brexit all the way down.
Some people just love to wallow in how sh!tty they think everything is.
“those who are hoping that the economy crashes” Who is doing that?
I am terrified the economy will collapse, and expect it to. Try educating yourself – what if the disaster is really looming? Would you not like to have taken what methods you can to help mitigate it?
Here is one of many hundreds of good Youtubes on the economy (USA, but really global) where the Fund Manager tells his theory of the inflation turning into dis-inflation, then Deflation, and when the Gov kicks in massive QE, as they cannot lower interest rates, or raise interest rates, or even taper, the die is cast for disaster – and an extremely high inflation will begin and destroy middle class, and everyone but the wealthy (and others) who were prepared.
If you cannot fallow his arguments, then you cannot be bothered to preserve what you have, and will go down if all of it does. Everyone should have at least enough economic understanding to fallow – or you cannot be prepared if things happen – To not be educating yourself now is negligent in the extreme – because as your post points out it could happen. I will post link below, Part I, Part II also should be watched, take an hour and half from Netflix.
Then try Dalio, when this guy talks people listen – he owns the largest hedge fund in the world. multi Billionaire
Many have very different ideas of the way it goes, deflation, inflation, disinflation (Stagflation) but all agree it will be coming, at least as a 30% correction, and not V shaped. Japan is still down on the Nikkei Index THIRTY years later –
Try Jim Rodgers, Cambridge House, Munger, De-Martino, Schiff, and dozens of them to get the grounding everyone should have. The money spent to idle the West is VAST beyond anything ever done – this is very real. (but do not get carried away, the Bit-coin and gold-bugs will sell you on buying their investments as the more who do the more it goes up) – but best to not till you really know what it all is.
You don’t seem to be replying to the article at all. It’s about negative news about progress and management of the pandemic, not about management of the economy.
Further, it does appear that you have collected youtube videos which are all negative, even doom-laden about stimulus/ govt support. Have you even considered the other side, that active support might work ? Plenty of youtubes on that, I’m sure. After all active govt stimulus worked in US and Europe for 30 years after the war – it was called Keynesian, rather than neoliberal economics.
There are many people who are comforted by bad news. (There are people who are comforted by almost anything, including things you would think would be impossible to find comforting, such as suicidal thoughts. see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3972436/ ) Other people think that negativity and cynicism makes them sound smarter than the optimists. (World-weary cynicism is fine for a summer as a teenager, but if you want to make a life out of it, you had better be as witty as Oscar Wilde or Dorothy Parker.)
It also took me many years before I realised that when people call a meeting about a problem, often it is not because they would like the problem fixed, but instead because they want to ‘discuss and validate each other’s feelings’. If you persist in trying to make the problem go away, or insist that the problem isn’t as bad as some people are saying (I.e. telling them that their feelings are misplaced, or disproportionate) the room will turn on you.
I think that many of the people who resent covid good news are in much the same boat. They either don’t want or don’t know how to reach a point where their feelings no longer need constant expression and validation.
Just out of curiosity: did you find any difference between men and women in their tendency to call meetings to validate each others’ feelings? My favourite psycholinguist, Deborah Tannen (and some limited life experience) suggests that men have a tendency to concentrate more on external problems where women concentrate more on harmony and emotional support.
On this one, I 100% agree with that. Though I suppose we will both be cancelled for suggesting a difference 🙂
I think the idea that women concentrate more on harmony than men do is a myth. There are men who are among the absolute best at it, and women who are masters at creating disharmony wherever they go. ‘I don’t speak up because I value social harmony’ also sounds a whole lot better than ‘I am a spineless worm, who lets everybody push me around’. There is an awful lot of moral cowardice, practiced by both men and women which gets dressed up as ‘valuing harmony’.
But I think that it is true that men, in general treat problems as solvable, at least potentially whereas women are more divided on this issue, with a good fraction of them believing that problems are always to be endured with emotional support. Men, at least men of my generation, tend to think that problems that cannot be solved and have to be endured are best endured without somebody trying to get you to express your feelings so they can validate them.
This becomes a problem when some women, and I have several times been on the receiving end of this, decide that I cannot be a ‘real woman’ or that I have absorbed male values or some such because I too don’t enjoy a good round of emotional validation and rarely want to share my feelings with others (unless they are good feelings).
And, of course, there is often somebody out there who gets to declare which feelings get validated, and which people get cast into the void for having ‘unacceptable feelings’. It is a great way for the emotional bullies to crack the whip on those of us whose personal harmony requires more emotional distance than they are willing to give us.
That is the secret of that sort of bullying. ‘Ya ya ya, I had (or anticipate having) a feeling! Now everybody must stand on their heads! (and do what I want)’. Some men do this, too, though ‘do it my way or I will get angry’ tends to play better than ‘do it my way or I will get upset’ if you are male.
The problem is that you have to stand up to bullying, even when the bullies insist that all they want is emotional validation.
Sounds like we agree on some things, at least. it would have been interesting to talk it through IRL. Anyway, if you are interested in such things, I can really recommend Deborah Tannen “You Just Don’t Understand”, for the framework of understanding it gives.
Disasters do happen, Titanics do sink, stock markets do crash. My feeling that the writer is like those in
The Phoney War was an eight-month period at the start of World War II, during which there was only one limited military land operation on the Western Front,”
Where Germany had taken Poland and just stopped – and all was a cold Peace for 8 months where a great many were saying it was all going to be OK, no shooting, no invading…..Then Blitzkrieg and the phony was was over.
Not that it will happen, but to say negative projections is just people looking for something to complain about is misunderstanding the situation so utterly that you must never read on economy.
Decent article – though all comes from Twitter doesn’t it? Which is not analogous to real life or what the majority think.
Funny old thing, shrill tweeters ([email protected]?) like complaining about the state of affairs. People who are overwhelmingly drawn from a demographic who think they’re being edgy by constantly haranguing their countries of birth and banging on about others’ privilege.
The irony is that the very countries and societies they seem to hate are in fact the the source of the privilege they seem so ashamed of, and instead of acknowledging that fact, they revel in trying to denigrate them to alleviate their own guilt.
Or something, perhaps.
“How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is To have a thankless child! King Lear”
I think it’s odd that Twitter has become the source of news. It’s not representative of the way most people thin and has been taken over by the shouters and their followers. I don’t think Twitter and its (their?) ilk should be given the oxygen of publicity.
I find the trick with twitter is to find people who know what they’re talking about. eg the leading epidemiologists/ immunologists on Covid. Not just them, they lead me to excellent people like James Ward
who goes into govt/ONS/zoe etc data sources to analyse very plausibly whether we’re in an increase/decrease scenario right now in UK.
Tweets of unsubstantiated opinions I avoid like the plague
It is because Corporate Media dines on sensationalism, panic, bad news and many blatant lies 24/7. Social media has also acted to shut down the truth and much of the truth has been comparatively good news.
Many people have become incapable of digesting any good news.
“Good News/Bad News for Ministers
Good News: You baptized seven people today in the river.
Bad News: You lost two of them in the swift current.
Good News: The Women’s Guild voted to send you a get-well card.
Bad News: The vote passed by 31-30.
Good News: You finally found a choir director who approaches things exactly the same way you do.
Bad News: The choir mutinied.
Good News: Mrs. Jones is wild about your sermons.
Bad News: Mrs. Jones is also wild about the “Gong Show,” “Beavis and Butthead” and “Texas Chain Saw Massacre.”
Good News: The trustees finally voted to add more church parking.
Bad News: They are going to blacktop the front lawn of your parsonage.
Good News: Church attendance rose dramatically the last three weeks.
Bad News: You were on vacation.
Good News: Your deacons want to send you to the Holy Land.
Bad News: They are stalling until the next war.
Good News: Your biggest critic just left your church.
Bad News: He has been appointed the Head Bishop of your denomination.”
I agree. We are told daily about the people who have died of Covid within one month of being diagnosed but we are never told how many of that number were already terminally ill. The only way to judge the extent of the pandemic is to know the excess deaths for the year. Why are we never told that?
As far as Long Covid is concerned, serious illness has always had a negative effect on some patients – rheumatic fever, acute asthma attacks and many more. No doubt Long Covid is no different in that respect. We cannot abolish illness and individual DNA, lifestyles and willpower all effect the ability to recover…
This is my first post so please be patient. My husband and I are hovering around the 70s. Because of a family tragedy, we have lived through lockdown, school closures etc with our daughter and two grandchildren. We only want the best for our daughter and especially the grandchildren. School closures have been torture so we are so cheered by good news. On a personal view, we have seen friends so badly affected by lockdown. One lady had to be sectioned because her mental health was so badly affected by loneliness and two friends have accelerated into dementia so please stop protecting the elderly just so that they can die of something else. I need good news, I need to hear something positive because I cannot cope with life like this. I do not have too many years left.
Fear porn, like any other form of porn, is addictive.
Still, giving credence to Twitter is shortsighted at best. Who are you representing? At best a subset of the subset of the population that is on twitter. Is that representative of real life or are we just feeding off each until THEIR truth becomes THE truth?
See my reply to A Spezari above
Am I the only one who thinks of this trend as being covid disaster porn?
Why are we not feeling ‘good’?
There’s so much good around. We are on top of the virus, bankruptcies at an all time low, deaths a fraction now of what they were and way below initial projections. And there’s an economic boom in place with £200bn of personal sector savings. So why are we not feeling good about life?
Flash flooding today, pingdemic all weekend, political positioning seem to come out on top. Inflation threats and supermarket shortages.
The answer is in a thinking style that normally keeps us safe by looking at the downsides. We learn it as kids, at school and at home and, over time it becomes habitual – a style of thinking.
If you think for a moment of an entrepreneur who you admire, they will likely have the opposite style. Their formative years were characterised by looking for the upsides. It’s mainly nurture before nature but there’s a bit of both.
Contrast Boris and Keir. Branson is an outstanding example of the second type.
If you’re interested in working on your own style reach out to me. Our first session is absolutely free. http://www.mentoringservices.org
#thinkingstyles #coaching #entrepreneurs #leadership #entrepreneurship #growth #mindset
Surely an expert who is pessimistic and advocates intervention is much more likely to continue smelling of roses (other than on Unherd arguably) than the optimist? The nation will forgive and forget the former as having helped create the environment for the improved outcome, whereas the optimist is either right (in which case nobody likes a smart-ass) or plain wrong and therefore guilty of making the outcome worse.
In fact I’m amazed and relieved that there are any optimistic Covid pundits at all; surely their reputations are safer if they keep their opinions to themselves?
Yes agreed. And is why I find isage so nauseating, lying for Jesus is lying
It’s hard to accept because it can’t easily be explained and so could be temporary. For example, the fall is too sharp for herd immunity and Israel, with a higher rate of vaccination, is now experiencing increasing infections.
Good news are hard to accept because we have had a couple of years of false and baseless optimism from the prime minister, and a strong faction in the debate that would grasp at any straw, imaginary of otherwise, to claim that there was no need to take any irritating precautions. That makes you suspicious that any good news might be more of the same. As Mandy Rice-Davies said: “They would say that, wouldn’t they”?
Over a year ago there were people who claimed that most likely herd immunity had already been achieved and the problem was over. We were wise not to believe them then. Before we believe the same message now, some reasonable scepticism is in order.
Good news is perhaps difficult to accept, because SAGE and Ferguson and others were predicting that if lockdown was ended on July 19th then cases/hospitalisations/deaths would inevitably rise. And how did they know that? Because their models told them that that is what would happen.
But if it turns out, as it looks to be, that they were comprehensively wrong, it begets the question: were they ever right? Did lockdown ever have any beneficial effect on Covid19 outcomes?
Add the comparisons between, for example, different states in the USA, and countries like Sweden and Croatia in Europe, and the answer to *that* question looks more and more plausibly: NO.
If the answer is NO then these people (and their equivalent in other countries) have arguably been responsible for possibly one of the greatest mistakes ever made in the history of government policies.
So, for them, the good news would be almost impossible to accept.
You are a good example, actually. Since you are clearly, completely, convinced that lockdowns, masks, etc. were always totally useless, any good news coming from you are likely to reflect your convictions rather than the data. Of course you might be right this time, much like a stuck clock is right twice a day, but I have little reason to believe you this time, any more than i did a year ago.
The UK government ‘opening up’ is another. If the government had kept the mask obligation and some limited restrictions on indoor meetings, one could have thought ‘OK, these guys have evaluated the situation, they think the risk is now less, and we need fewer restrictions. Maybe they are right’. When you instead get the Boris talking about ‘freedom day’ and removing all restrictions even as the delta variant infections are increasing, the obvious conclusion is that he is gambling with people’s health in order to get some headlines and satisfy his backbenchers. Which would frankly be true to type.
I now believe that lockdowns, masks, etc., have little benefit, and that benefit is hugely outweighed by the costs. I have been convinced of that since the end of the first wave (so say from May/June last year) on the basis of the data. My conviction follows from the data, for instance
- studies from Oxford CEBM and elsewhere showed that numbers were falling before the first lockdown was imposed
- Sweden having similar results to other European countries without the heavy lockdowns (comparison with Norway and Finland are not valid, on account of demographics and borders)
- Ferguson predicting that Sweden would see a huge increase without lockdown, which was not the case (see the Unherd interview)
Subsequent data has served to increase my conviction:
- Comparison of different states in the USA
- Further failed predictions (like, a big increase when schools reopened)
So, yes, good news coming from me would, as you say, reflect my convictions, but those convictions are based on the data, not despite the data.
Well, that is the trouble. My convictions are also based on the data – and they are completely different from yours. That does not mean that one of us is stupid – there is enough uncertainty in the situation that you could defend going in either direction. It all depends on your prior assumptions, which comparisons you pay attention to, which you dismiss, how perfect you demand people’s predictions to be, and how much you value risking lives as opposed to risking the economy.
My main beef is actually with uncertainty. Even at the start I never said the Swedes were wrong (how could I know, after all?), just that they were taking an unacceptable risk, considering how uncertain the situation was.
Thank you for accepting that my convictions are based on the data (rather than your original claim “any good news coming from you are likely to reflect your convictions rather than the data”)
The problem with the uncertainty argument as you present it, is someone can always come along and say “you are taking an unacceptable risk, we must be even more cautious“. A race to the bottom, if you like.
Also, the “how much you value risking lives as opposed to risking the economy” argument is a false dichotomy. Damaging the economy (and consequently non-Covid health care) also risks lives.
There is a subtle difference here. I did not mean to say that you are in bad faith or being deliberately slapdash. But the conclusions you draw from the data are totally different from the ones I draw from the same data, presumably because you have different judgement, different priorities, or different prior assumptions. If you are telling me that in your judgement the latest news mean that we do not need to take precautions, that does not tell me that anything has changed. It just tells me that we have the same disagreement we have been having since COVID started, and that you have found a piece of evidence that can be used to confirm what thought was obvious anyway.
For the rest, the arguments go both ways. A raging pandemic also damages the economy, even without any measures to abate it. And yes, you can always say that the risks are too high and we need to be more cautious. That is why you need to make a realistic judgement of risks and downsides, even in the face of considerable uncertainty, before you judge what to do. My judgement back then was that with a completely new disease the Swedes were way too cocksure about their policies. I stand by that. I also think the Danish policies were a much better choice, though these things are admittedly hard to prove. The stakes are lower now, in a fully vaccinated country, but I still think the risks are objectively too high to let our guard down completely and let people ‘decide for themselves’ how much risk they want to impose on their neighbours.
well put sir
But you must have realized in a few months that the Swedes were right…
I still think they were wrong. Though the exact consequences of various policies will take years of reserach to sort out, it is taht complicated.
I thought Sweden’s almost flat all cause mortality graph from 2011 to 2020 did all the talking.
I thought the difference in registered COVID deaths between Sweden Norway, and Denmark should have been enough to convince anyone – in the opposite direction. In a confused situation, we both select the theory that makes most sense, and the set of facts that goes with it. With enough uncertainty in the data there is not necessarily only one way it can be done. As see it, my reaction to a disease that hospitalises and kille a lot of people is to try to reduce transmission, whereas yours is to keep the restaurants open and let the dead fall as they may. You undoubtedly have a similarly unfair description of my attitude. Personally i think it may take years of researh before we can be more sure of the answer.
So they were wrong being cautious and we were right being radical and inventive?
Just add up the costs and benefits of each strategy. Caution probably turns out to be a wiser path (easy to say this in hindsight I admit).
Who are ‘they’ and who are ‘we’? I do not think the Swedes were being cautious. They were faced with a largely unknown threat, and they took it for granted that they knew how it would pan out, and that the precautions that had been developed for influenza would work in this case as well.
What is the death rate in Sweden now?
Alas, they would be making it up either way.
That the message from the PM has been constantly atrocious is beyond dispute, and, just like the clock you mention earlier on, the PM will be statistically right every so often. It doesn’t follow in the slightest that this time had he advocated X rather than Y it would have been a better choice.
Boris, like most leaders, is just making it up as he goes along and follows what the focus groups (including SAGE) tell him on what the latest flavour of restrictions that is popular with the public is.
I agree on UK policy on “Freedom Day”; I expected prudence by maintaining low-cost safety measures. Against good scientific advice they went for the full relaxation experiment. It was a reckless gamble … which happily appears to be working for now; see James Ward on twitter
who goes into govt/ONS/zoe etc data sources to analyse very plausibly.
As it happens, there is even a theoretical background to this (Jeffries, on Bayesian reasoning, I believe). There are two sides to incorporating new information – the content of the information, and the reliability of the source. In a polarised discussion, like this one, information that goes strongly against what you already know (believe?) can cause you to reduce your trust in the messenger instead of modifying your views.
Of course that effect goes in both directions of debate.
heck – well put again !
You missed the fundamental principle that scientists only build a model that produce results consistent with their own prejudices to give those prejudices spurious credibility.
Could you give some examples to justify your colourful opinion please ?
You find it hard to accept that the precautions around COVID may have been a little on the hyperbolic side?
Surely erring on the side of caution can hardly be severely criticised ??? More to the point the covid plan should have differentiated between differing circumstances eg intensive european living situations compared with the open savannahs of africa – or a very young population etc. Assessing a situation from a responsible position of power is very different from sitting in front of a keyboard attempting to figure it all out……
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