Letters to the Editor

A reality check for Covid-19 claims

Editor’s note: If you would like to submit a letter for possible publication, please email it to editor@rationalist.com.au.

Dear Editor,

Recently, I read on the RSA Facebook page the encouraging statement on the topic of the Covid-19 pandemic that “we urge governments and policy-makers to make decisions based on reason and evidence. That means listening to the best available science and to experts in relevant fields … “. It is with this in mind that I feel compelled to question the decision to print in volume 121 of Australian Rationalist the highly dubious and fallacious article by Ray Moon entitled ‘A man-made panic’.

The article is a series of unfounded and unreferenced claims which reads like far-right pseudoscience and misinformation the likes of which circulates on social media.

The author begins by calling, without citation, the Covid pandemic “a crisis based almost entirely on artificial constructs”. He goes on to make appeals to nature (a classic logical failure). He claims that PCR testing is unproven and unreliable, and repeats the conspiracy that cases of infection are an “artificial statistical construct”. There is the fallacious “99 per cent unaffected” claim and a string of other claims seeking to undermine the seriousness of the situation.

To his claim that PCR testing is not reliable, I, as a lab technician of 14 years experience, am familiar with the techniques of PCR and the rigorous quality control checks which go into confirming each positive result. I am aware of the startling degree of sensitivity with which the method can detect a targeted genetic sequence.

The author’s claim that reliance on PCR “is to brush aside nature in preference for a man-made guess” is as far from reality as one can get. It only reveals a complete lack of understanding of the science involved.

To his claim that “more than 99 per cent … were only mildly affected”, where did he get this number? The conspiracy peddlers always throw out a number in the realm of 99-point-something but always fail to cite their source.

Even if it were accurate, could he not appreciate the maths involved? Could Mr Moon not calculate one per cent of Australia’s population or the world’s population? Or even 0.5 per cent? What number of people dying from preventable disease would convince him that this is not “a man-made panic”?

Let me also cover the false dichotomy that the consequence of COVID is either death or recovery. It is well established now that many who “recover” do so with lingering organ damage that they may deal with for the rest of their lives.

I wonder whether the author would apply this bizarre logic to other diseases, too? After all, 90-95 per cent of polio cases are asymptomatic and the death rate is less than one per cent. Perhaps he should ask those who remember polio if the panic was man-made?

To his constant reliance on the appeal-to-nature fallacy: just bloody stop it! This is the RSA, not the Telegram app.

I am forced to apply Hitchens’ razor to the entire article and to implore you to be more discerning with the quality of your contributors in the future. There is nothing rational about misinformation during a global health crisis.

Ben Kschenka

 

Words fail me

Dear Editor,

The pull quote from Mr Jeff Lerner’s article ‘On prescriptiveness’ (volume 121, Australian Rationalist), ‘Who decided that irregardless should be added to our lexicon?’, made me smile. In our family, we’ve used this word in jest, safe in the knowledge regardless more than covers the intended meaning.

While I can’t offer a scholarly response to his piece, I agree there needs to be some language prescription. Why should that which linguists deem the most accurate expression be corrupted and eventually become common usage! To my mind, these errors should not be seen as the evolution of the language which we must accept.

Other equally offending examples, to my ears, include: their life, rather than lives; different to rather than from; the dropping of g’s (even the ABC has a program entitled Movin’ to the country); and, spare me, anythingk, as was often uttered by an Australian ex-Prime Minister.

Where do they get it? And where on earth does eckcetera (etcetera) come from? I have myriad examples I could cite.

As for My bad, well, words fail me. Similarly, as in Mr Lerner’s well example, I feel like responding: ‘Your bad what?’

His reference to the inclusion of an extra syllable in mischievous reminded me of the often omitted ‘l’ in vulnerable. Media presenters are notorious for telling us about vunnerable people.

Transposition of the word order in sentences such as We must establish what the reasons are … to read We must establish what are the reasons … would have pedants like me struggling to parse, not that a lot of parsing would be happening these days, I imagine. In any event, it can be put more simply: We must establish the reasons

This is almost as bad as the split infinitive. I haven’t come to terms with He was asked to not come Surely, He was asked not to comehas a better ring.

While I don’t have a suggestion on where to draw the line on prescription, I’m in favour of callin’ out this movin’ and groovin’ and anythingk else wot ain’t proper English!

Incidentally, I loved Mr Lerner’s dog/cat ‘effective’-communication example.

Nonie Sadler

 

Photo by Omar Elsharawy on Unsplash.

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