by Toby Young
On Friday, April 3rd 2020 I wrote an article for the Telegraph about the tsunami of criticism I’d received after publishing a sceptical piece at the end of March about the Government’s lockdown strategy. That piece appeared in the Critic and shortly after it was published I started trending on Twitter, with thousands of people denouncing me, often using intemperate language. In the Telegraph article I expressed my disappointment about this reaction and said people shouldn’t feel shy about criticising the lockdown even if those views put them at odds with the Establishment, as well as a majority of the electorate. Our leaders were making decisions every day that would affect all our lives for years to come and it was right to challenge these decisions in the public square.
In the days that followed the Telegraph article I was contacted by dozens of people, many of them scientists, who shared my reservations about the lockdown policy and were frustrated that it wasn’t being adequately scrutinised. Some had tried to get their views published in newspapers, either as letters or articles, but without success. That’s when I decided to set up Lockdown Sceptics. The idea was for it to serve as a hub for sceptical articles, academic papers and interviews that have appeared elsewhere, as well as to provide an opportunity for experts and non-experts to air views that they couldn’t get published elsewhere. From the start, I also welcomed rebuttals to these arguments and you can see a thoughtful response to my piece in the Critic by Sam Bowman here, as well as my reply to Sam’s critique here. I have been a critic of the lockdown policy almost from the moment the first lockdown was imposed in late March, but I’ve never been 100% certain it’s the wrong way to mitigate the impact of SARS-CoV-2 and am still open to having my mind changed (although I think that’s unlikely). The critical thing is that we should have an informed public debate. Decisions of this importance shouldn’t be “left to the experts”, as some people would have it. To invoke David Hume’s famous distinction, scientific knowledge can tell you what is; it cannot tell you what you ought to do.
I’ve done my best to get across the main sceptical arguments in the form of questions in the right-hand menu. If you click on one, it will take you to a new page where I’ve tried to summarise the issue concerned and then linked to the best articles, papers and interviews I can find on the topic. There is also a sub-menu under nearly all of the questions where I’ve published original pieces, some of them signed, some of them unsigned. New pieces are being added to these sub-menus all the time.
If you want to post comments beneath posts, try and avoid conspiracy theories. If you believe 5G masts are linked to the spread of coronavirus, or that Bill Gates is in favour of mass vaccination because he wants to implant microchips into people’s brains, this site isn’t for you. It’s important that we all keep clear heads. And if possible, try not to engage in too much partisan point-scoring. Most sceptics are small ‘c’ conservatives because we believe in liberty and are horrified by the confinement of people in their homes and… well, because scepticism is at the core of our political philosophy. But I’ve received plenty of emails from people with very different political views to mine, including some lifelong socialists. These emails usually begin: “I’ve never agreed with anything you’ve ever said before, but on this issue…” Again, the critical thing is that we have an informed public debate and that means setting aside our party political allegiances if we can. As Pericles, the Prime Minister’s political lode star, said: “Instead of looking on discussion as a stumbling-block in the way of action, we think it an indispensable preliminary to any wise action at all.”
That democratic ideal has been hard to hold onto as the debate over the lockdown policy has become more and more polarised. When I came up with the phrase “lockdown sceptics” to describe those who were critical of the lockdown policy I didn’t anticipate that it would enter the political lexicon or be used by many as a term of abuse. Sam Bowman, whom I had a relatively civilised debate with over a year ago, went on to join forces with a powerful Conservative MP to set up a website devoted to attacking lockdown sceptics, including Sunetra Gupta, Karol Sikora and Carl Heneghan. He and others have homed in on some of the inaccurate predictions made by sceptics – many of them on this website – and cited those as proof that our cause is a busted flush. But, of course, lockdown enthusiasts have made just as many inaccurate predictions – remember the Graph of Doom? – and it seems unfair for Bowman and co to hold us to a standard they don’t hold their own people to. When you’re debating how best to respond to something as fast-moving as SARS-CoV-2 it’s inevitable that all sides are going to get some things wrong. I don’t think our track record is any worse than that of our opponents. In fact, I think it’s a good deal better. (You can watch me debate Christopher Snowdon, one of the fiercest critics of lockdown sceptics, on talkRADIO here.)
One of the headings on the right-hand menu is entitled “Why Haven’t Our Points Landed?” and beneath it, in the sub-menu, is a series of articles about why we’ve been unable to persuade many people to change their minds about the lockdown policy. One reason, I think, is because the pro-lockdown side has had the entire might of the state at its disposal, and has been able to make its argument without the usual scrutiny of the mainstream media. Insofar as the MSM has been critical of the Government’s handling of the crisis, it has been for not locking down sooner or more severely or for longer. There are exceptions – the Mail and the Telegraph have been the most sceptical of the national newspapers, although not unequivocally so, and the occasional sceptical voice slips past the BBC’s gatekeepers, notably Lord Sumption. But the only media platforms that have embraced the sceptics’ cause are those on the fringes of the MSM, such as talkRADIO, the Critic and the Conservative Woman. It’s been because sceptical voices have largely been excluded from mainstream platforms that this website has proved so popular, attracting an average of 1.25 million page views a month.
But another reason our arguments have failed to land is that so many people have been gripped by panic and fear, rendering them unable to think straight. As we come out of lockdown and people gradually return to sanity, I think they will begin to evaluate the Government’s response more carefully and that’s when sceptics can make a real contribution to the debate. By then, of course, there will be many more of us – including some who, a few months earlier, were among the most passionate lockdown enthusiasts. Eventually, as the full extent of the damage done by the lockdown policy becomes clear, I expect the tide to turn completely – and we sceptics will have the satisfaction of having been right all along. But it will take a while yet.
Since starting this site I’ve recruited a team of people to help, including Will Jones, Charles Johnson, Jonathan Barr, Conor Chaplin and Michael Curzon – and there are other people who’ve been sending me links to notable articles and blog posts from day one, notably Mitesh Karia, as well as people who’ve become regular contributors, such as Guy de la Bédoyère, Sinéad Murphy, Freddie Attenborough, Clare Craig, Mike Yeadon, David Livermore, Sean Walsh, Jonny Peppiatt, David McGrogan, John Fanning… and many more. Some of our regular contributors, such as the Senior Doctor, have had to remain anonymous because if it became known to their colleagues that they are sceptics it would seriously damage their careers. A special thanks to all of them, as well as to the team of moderators who’ve worked tirelessly to maintain a modicum of decorum in the comments and the forums. And particular thanks to all those readers who’ve made a donation towards the upkeep of the site
One person who has been involved from the very beginning is Ian Rons, who designed the website and maintains it to this day. He deserves heartfelt thanks.
If you’ve spotted any stories you’d like to see highlighted or comment pieces that are worthy of wider circulation, or if you want to tell us your story or have an original piece to submit, please email us here.