As someone who was once affectionately called a ‘retard’ by my O-level physics teacher (people didn’t mince their words in the 1980s), I am in awe of scientists.
Not just because, as far as I’m concerned, what they do is actual magic, but also because, for the most part, they make the world a better place.
These past months, we have seen that truth in action. It is thanks to the work of scientists such as Sarah Gilbert, Teresa Lambe and countless others that we have a successful vaccine in circulation.
Their work is invaluable. But like the rest of us, they get things wrong. Not deliberately, of course; but it happens.
In the case of Covid, trying to predict patterns and outcomes relating to a new, unknown disease would be challenging at the best of times — but nigh on terrifying when people are dying.
These past months, we have seen that truth in action. It is thanks to the work of scientists such as Sarah Gilbert (pictured), Teresa Lambe and countless others that we have a successful vaccine in circulation
But science was our best and only hope. That’s why we have all, from the Minister down, been if not quite at the mercy of scientists, then in their thrall.
As our world spiralled out of control, it was Chief Medical Officer Prof Chris Whitty, Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and their colleagues at SAGE — the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies — to whom we looked for answers.
When it came to questions over lockdown, it was impossible to argue with their dire projections of potential fatalities.
Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty (left) and Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance arrive at Portcullis House in Westminster
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Lockdown scepticism was tantamount to blasphemy. The science was gospel, and anything else was just ignorance.
But this week something changed. Thanks in large part to Boris Johnson’s insistence on going ahead with ‘Freedom Day’ — despite many attempts to get him to postpone — we have been afforded a unique opportunity.
We can see what happens if we don’t slavishly listen to the scientists. And it’s not as cut and dried as they’d have us believe.
Earlier this month, Professor Neil Ferguson — an influential voice in government (despite the fact he ignored his own advice by seeing his married lover during the first lockdown) predicted that cases could soar to 200,000 a day if we lifted the restrictions.
Yesterday, after such an apocalyptic scenario failed to materialise (the rate is around 25,000), he told Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I’m positive by late September, October time, we will be looking back at most of the pandemic.
Teresa Lambe, Associate Professor at Jenner Institute, University of Oxford, who was awarded an honorary Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to Science and Public Health in the Queens Birthday Honours List
‘We’ll still have Covid with us,’ he added, ‘we’ll still have people dying; but we will put the bulk of the pandemic behind us.’
This is encouraging news. But if Ferguson can have been so wide of the mark, how do we know he — and his colleagues — haven’t been wide of the mark before?
How do we know that if we had locked down for shorter periods of time, the NHS still wouldn’t have been overwhelmed? That children could have stayed in school; that cancer screening could have gone ahead; that jobs and businesses could have been saved?
The answer, of course, is we don’t. Even I, a science dunce, know you can’t prove a negative. It is possible that the boffins were right, and that lockdown averted a much bigger disaster.
It is also possible that they weren’t, and that the real disaster — the fallout from shutting down the country for the best part of two years — will be greater than anyone, scientist or layperson, could have predicted.
It’s hard to see why an updated edition of the Harry and Meghan hagiography, Finding Freedom, is being issued. What could the authors add that the Sussexes haven’t already told us — or sold to the highest bidder.
It’s hard to see why an updated edition of the Harry and Meghan (pictured) hagiography, Finding Freedom, is being issued
Tragic victim of gang glorification
For years, the curse of online porn has been corrupting the minds of young people. But there’s another online scourge that is now threatening our children: the glorification of violent gang culture via social media.
Just as porn desensitises young people to sexual violence, UK gang culture — in part driven by the popularity of drill rap, but also on TV and in film — normalises criminal behaviour such as drug dealing and murder and, in some cases, even glorifies it.
Mostly this translates into kids pestering their parents for overpriced trainers and other absurd posturing; but, for others, it’s a dangerous game that can turn deadly.
That is exactly what happened in the case of Olly Stephens, the autistic 13-year-old who was stabbed to death by two other boys in a park in Reading.
Olly Stephens (pictured), an autistic 13-year-old, was stabbed to death by two other boys in a park in Reading
The youths — one 13, the other 14 — convicted this week of his murder were from perfectly ordinary, suburban backgrounds.
Yet, the jury were told, they were obsessed with inner-city culture, posing online with knives and balaclavas and pretending to be part of a gang.
In their immature minds, they had convinced themselves that poor Olly had somehow ‘disrespected’ them, so they enlisted the help of another teenager — a 13-year-old girl — to lure him to the park, where they killed him.
And all for what? So, as one of the killers put it, they could ‘big’ themselves up on social media.
Yet again, a tragic example of how an unregulated internet drips adult poison into children’s minds — with devastating consequences.
Civil servants in Scotland may soon be required to specify their preferred pronouns in email sign-offs in a bid to be more ‘inclusive’. This is despite the fact that an internal survey of workers found that 60 per cent of them didn’t favour the idea at all.
But that’s what inclusivity means these days: a small but highly vocal minority telling the silent majority how to live their lives . . . on pain of cancellation.
The row about women’s pants in sport continues, with pop star Pink offering to pay the fines for the Norwegian women’s beach handball team after they refused to wear tiny bikini bottoms. Good for them and good for her. Athletes — male or female — should not have to compete in such skimpy clothing. Not that it seems to bother Tom Daley. Honestly, has the man not heard of a cold wash?
The row about women’s pants in sport continues, with pop star Pink (pictured) offering to pay the fines for the Norwegian women’s beach handball team after they refused to wear tiny bikini bottoms
The Prime minister says that Dilyn the dog is making a nuisance of himself by constantly humping people’s legs. But my calculation, Dilyn’s almost three, which means, in dog years, he’s basically in his Magaluf and tequila phase. I would recommend keeping a water spray to hand: a quick spritz to the muzzle should cool his boots. Works on dogs and teenagers alike.
Mother of all shame
Every child has to suffer their parents’ foibles (God knows, my two have a lot to put up with). But spare a thought for Sebastian Shemirani, whose mother, Kate, is the former nurse-turned-conspiracy theorist, who recently addressed an anti-vax rally in Trafalgar Square. She compared NHS staff to war criminals and urged people to send her details of doctors and nurses taking part in the vaccination programme.
Judging by the look of her, I’d say that the real criminal is whoever does her Botox.
I fear that some of it might have gone to the poor woman’s brain.
All aglow about J.Lo and Ben
I’m not usually interested in celebrity pairings, but even I find myself seduced by the rekindling of the romance between Ben Affleck and J.Lo.
It’s not just that they’re the Hollywood equivalent of childhood sweethearts, having dated early in their careers.
It’s also that theirs is such a modern romance: 20 years ago, a 48-year-old star like Affleck would never have dated a woman aged 52. Finally, equality!
Theirs is such a modern romance: 20 years ago, a 48-year-old star like Ben Affleck would never have dated a woman aged 52. Finally, equality! Pictured, Jennifer Lopez
I’m not usually interested in celebrity pairings, but even I find myself seduced by the rekindling of the romance between Affleck and J.Lo (pictured together)
My poor friend has been a victim of recent floods, her entire kitchen practically knee-high in raw sewage. If that wasn’t bad enough, her insurance company has told her it will be two weeks before they can send out a loss-adjuster, so she can’t touch anything till then and still doesn’t know if the firm will pay out.
Luckily, she has somewhere else to stay — but imagine if she didn’t?
Don’t insurers have any duty of care towards their customers? Or are we all just sitting ducks? In this case, quite literally.