Tuesday, 26 May 2020

Who controls the past, controls the future

The guiding principle of the Ministry of Truth in Orwell's 1984 has been thrown into relief by Dominic Cummings' latest escapade. Like Winston Smith in the novel, Cummings amended a historical record (a March 2019 blogpost) to make it appear that he had predicted the threat of coronaviruses.

Now, in case it is not obvious, I should explain that Blogger (which hosts this blog) and WordPress (another popular blogging platform, and one that I used when I was a councillor) allow posts once published to be amended or even deleted. Indeed, life for a blogger might be fraught if this escape hatch were not provided. Most importantly, a libel - intended or inadvertent - has to be capable of being removed. I believe it is also acceptable to correct spelling and grammatical mistakes, and I have done so. This happens once or twice a month - too frequently for my peace of mind, but still within the bounds of morality. This should be as far as it goes. There are one or two blog posts which I wish I had never posted, because they show my judgment or knowledge in a poor light, but it would be unethical, in my view, to delete them. Even worse would be to alter the sense of a post. If I have significant second thoughts, I add them as a comment (properly dated). What Dominic Cummings did, on top of his other misfeasance, was unforgivable.

What is worse is that Cummings, if he had been fulfilling his duties as a senior adviser to the government, should have been aware of the danger of a novel pathogen from the East. If he really had been concerned early last year about the effects of an epidemic he would have pressed for the implementation of the recommendations of parliamentary reviews of the handling of previous epidemics, in particular regarding preparedness. We ordinary citizens, who do not habitually review the scientific and medical literature, may be excused for not realising the imminent peril of Covid-19. There is no such excuse for Johnson and Cummings. We expect our governments to take care of things which we are unable to cope with ourselves. Just as they should be prepared to defend us in case of war., they should also be alert to other dangers. There is no shortage of scientific advice available to government these days, and even classically-trained civil servants surely read the periodicals appropriate to their Departments. It was shocking to find just how many portents there were out there in the literature going back to 2015 at the latest.

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