Laura Dodsworth: How Government Weaponized Fear and Human Psychology During the Pandemic
“Most of the public do not understand the behavioral psychology techniques that are used on them. … We certainly haven’t signed consent forms.”
Over the last two years, governments, in the United Kingdom and beyond, used subliminal methods to secretly manipulate the public, says writer and filmmaker Laura Dodsworth. In the United Kingdom, there’s a government unit dedicated to such activities. It’s colloquially described as the “nudge unit.”
“It’s about understanding how human beings behave and exploiting those mechanisms to encourage people to make the ‘right’ decisions.”
Laura Dodsworth is the author of “A State of Fear: How the UK government weaponised fear during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Jan Jekielek: Laura Dodsworth, such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.
Laura Dodsworth: Thank you so much for having me.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, and I should say finally, because I’ve been following your work for some time. It’s been almost a year now since you published your book, “A State of Fear” which focused on how the UK government used fear, for lack of a better term to incentivize the population, or maybe you wouldn’t use the word incentivize. In the book, I remember you said that you wrote this book out of fear, but ostensibly not the fear that most people experienced itself. So tell me a little bit about that to start us off.
Ms. Dodsworth: Yes, that’s true. Yes, the title of the book is “A State of Fear: How the UK government weaponized fear during the COVID-19 pandemic,” quite a strong title. Incidentally, I don’t think I’ve said this in an interview yet. Although, my publisher very much wanted me to write this book, encouraged me, gave me the idea in a way, after our conversations about the use of behavioral science in pandemic.
When they actually got the manuscript with my subtitle, he pretty much had a stroke and he is like, we can’t say this. We can’t say the UK government has weaponized fear, but yes, that is the hypothesis of the book, even if it was supposedly in our best interests. Now, I didn’t have the same kind of fear about the virus as I think a lot of people shared at the beginning. I did have a little bit of fear because it was unknown.
Obviously, the measures we were taking were so extreme and so draconian, that in themselves may think, well, what is this? How bad is it going to be? I remember stocking up on tin food because I thought, well, gosh, if my children get ill as a single parent, how would they feed themselves? Because we’re not allowed to leave the house and get help from the normal suspects—sister, friends, mother.
And my children mock me now that I made them wash their hands when they came in the house for the first couple of weeks. They like to remind me that I was a little captured by the fear. But no, I was actually frightened by the fear around me. Because I had tuned into videos and writings quite early on by a quite broad range of epidemiology scientists, such as Dr. John Ioannidis, Professor [inaudible, 03:22], Dr. Wolfgang Wodarg.
I had maybe a more balanced view of the virus. I only had the same data that everybody in government had. We had quite early data that this virus was very stratified. The risk was very stratified according to age and to clinical comorbidity. But the lockdown was such an extraordinary measure that that frightened me.
And I have to say that while a lot of people now adopt a kind of a centrist position, they’ll say I’m talking about the UK where we had three full lockdowns and a whole sway of other restrictions. It was different in different devolved parts of the union, but we had the first lockdown and the second and the third in January 2021. A lot of people would say, well, I went along with the first one because we just didn’t know.
Well, I didn’t go along with the first one because actually, for some reason, right from the beginning, it struck me as completely immoral to say to people who are healthy and no reason to believe they’re infectious that they can’t leave the house to work, to earn a living, to provide for their family; let alone to do all the other normal things that we consider to be basic human rights like have relationships, go to a place of education, place of worship.
So the lockdown was such a tough and authoritarian measure and so unprecedented, and the fear around me, you could kind of smell it in the air that made me frightened of authoritarianism. And on the 23rd of March, my goodness, it’s nearly two years now; we’re coming to the two-year anniversary.
On the 23rd of March, when Boris Johnson made an extremely stern address to the nation that we must stay at home and it was very, very wartime, very Churchillian. Trying to be Churchillian, that in itself put the fear of God into me. And I would try to balance and rationalize that fear and talk to other people. Well, what do you think is going on? Do you think this is an appropriate response? And try to talk to people that I felt would have different perspectives to me and just do as much reading up as I could.
Then in May of 2020, some minutes were published which were a truly extraordinary insight into the decision-making within government, the minutes of a SPI-B meeting. Now, SPI-B is the Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviors. They provide psychology and behavioral science advice to the government when the government poses it questions.
In this document, it said that people might not adhere to the lockdown rules because they understood the risk for their demographic and the sense of perceived threats needed to be raised. Essentially these psychologists and behavioral scientists suggested that people would need to be frightened to follow the lockdown rules. That really sent me off on a journey to understand how fear was weaponized, even if it was in our best interests.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, that’s incredible. I mean, so many things to what you just said, right? Because, of course, someone here is deciding, and to some extent behind the scenes, what indeed is in the best interest. Why not just be transparent about it?
Ms. Dodsworth: I think that nudge and behavioral science have become a really integral part of government business. It’s become how governments do business, and that’s not just here in the UK. That’s most definitely there in the United States as well and in countries all around the world. You see behavioral science is a way to avoid regulation. It’s a way to avoid debates. It’s a way to nudge people into being model citizens.
And this carries through from everything to cutting down smoking, trying to work towards obesity targets, climate change behavior, and lockdowns. I mean, it’s really; well, and also recovering taxes. I mean, so many different parts of government business. I think it’s actually a muscle that government naturally flexes now.
Mr. Jekielek: Maybe just define nudge, because I don’t think this is a common term here in the US yet. Although, I have seen it in some; I think I’ve seen it in headlines in some UK media and so forth.
Ms. Dodsworth: Sure. Well, nudge is about choice architecture. It’s about nudging you into a different form of behavior. Essentially, the premise of it is that human beings don’t make rational decisions.
Now, you don’t have to look on this as a bad thing, because you can’t actually, necessarily, rationally assess every single choice you make. So there are biases in how we behave. And so it’s about understanding how human beings behave and exploiting those mechanisms to encourage people to make the “right” decisions.
This is where I think it gets tricky—that policymakers and the behavioral scientists advising them decide what being a model citizen is. They decide what being good is and they nudge you. Now, nudges are, they’re subliminal. They work below the level of consciousness. An example would be, let’s just say your government wants to encourage you to eat more fruits and vegetables because your government believes that’s better for you.
Let’s not go into whether it is or not, and there’s no evidence, but never mind. Let’s just say they think that’s good for you. They could make fruits and vegetables very cheap and heavily tax sugary goods. But a nudge would be putting fruit to eye level in the supermarket. It’s a little bit more subtle, and it’s part of behavioral psychology and behavioral science.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, except that the kind of nudging that happened here, I mean, you sent me a few of the ads and some headlines, frankly, that were used in the UK. I mean, that was not nudging. That was like a cartoon hammer over the head kind of nudging, right? From my perspective.
Ms. Dodsworth: Well, absolutely. I mean, the thing is nudge is used as an umbrella term for all types of behavioral psychology, but that’s not necessarily right. But there are various appeals within nudge behavioral psychology—fear. I sent you examples of ads that we had in the UK.
I mean, the other quite egregious forms of behavioral psychology that were exploited to make people do the right thing and the pandemic were shaming. Making people feel ashamed, scapegoated, and othered, and also using social norms. So encouraging people into collective behavior and groupthink, and behaving like a herd.
One of the examples of the ad I sent you was called “Look Him In The Eyes.” So one of the taglines was “look him in the eyes and tell him you never break the rules.” Now, the visual is very close up on the face. It’s somebody who’s very ill. Their eyes are big. They’re looking at you. This is to make you feel scrutinized. You’re being watched.
They’re wearing a mask—not a face mask, a face covering, but an oxygen mask—because they need assistance breathing. I think that ad had the chevrons. We had lots of yellow and black chevrons which are like disaster cordons on the ads here. So it means danger—do not cross, stay back, be cautious. It also looks like wasps—this stings, this hurts.
That particular campaign that came at a time not very long after our Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, was actually having an affair in his office. So while we were being told not to break the rules, we know that government ministers, a government minister, and other politicians were breaking the rules. It was very much for you, the little people. Be scared—this is how all you could look.
And not only are you at risk, you are the risk because it’s your rule-breaking that will make people ill. Other ads like don’t let a cup of coffee cost lives, hanging out in the park with your mates can kill, don’t kill granny. Did you have don’t kill granny in the US?
Mr. Jekielek: We had a variance of that. I don’t know if I’ve seen the ads. I mean, I try; you talk a little bit about inoculating yourself from fear. I try to not, let’s say, imbibe the strong fear messaging, which was quite considerable here as well, actually. But no one’s done this kind of rigorous study of how it was done or how these behavior units actually function here in the US or Canada, which is my home country for that matter.
Ms. Dodsworth: Right. So don’t kill granny wasn’t ever a struck plan on an ad. However, it’s something that was very much pushed through the media. Our health secretary, Matt Hancock actually used the term don’t kill granny. So imagine that pressure, that burden that’s put onto young people.
Now, some young people did lose their grandparents. Was it their fault? No, they did not kill their granny. How did granny die? Probably in a care home or catching it in a hospital to be fair. That’s no criticism intended at people who work in hospitals. Hospitals these days are like cities for infections. They’re huge. They’re not ideal places to contain a respiratory airborne virus.
These ads put a huge burden onto the individual that you can capture and you can spread it. In fact, that’s another tagline of an ad—anyone can catch it, anyone can spread it. The problem with that is it wasn’t really true, as we know.
The risk was very stratified according to age and clinical condition. We also know from studies that younger people were disproportionately frightened of COVID. So it had a huge impact on them. Not the least in terms of not attending school and the results of the restriction, but the responsibility and the mental health burden of the fear campaign.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, the ad that struck me in particular from the ones that you sent was one of three young men basically hanging out in a park or something like this and saying, somehow, you could kill somebody here by doing this. And while given what we already knew about the risk stratification for that age group, you wonder to yourself, how is this even, could this be legal? It doesn’t sound reasonable, but is it even acceptable, right?
Ms. Dodsworth: It’s amazing what has passed for acceptable. I mean, every single one of these ads gave me a little whiplash of shock. I just couldn’t believe it. This kind of messaging doesn’t only live on the billboards or on the magazine pages or on your social media stream. It comes out into the real world. That’s the point of advertising—influences our brains and our behavior. That’s the point.
So one of my children said that a teacher shouted in the corridor to a student who wasn’t masked, you’re killing people. Now, of course, the student who wasn’t wearing a mask, probably, momentarily in a corridor, had killed nobody. If they’d killed somebody, it would of course be a police matter.
So the teachers’ hysteria, probably, they can’t control because they’ve been bombarded 24/7 by calamitous media coverage, and these government adverts. The government and Public Health England became two of the biggest advertisers in the United Kingdom in 2020 and 2021.
They didn’t spend that money because it doesn’t work, it does work. Now, you say, was this acceptable? While some people will believe that using fear appeals is acceptable in a pandemic, others might not. It’s not a debate we’ve had. I think we’ve really deviated from acceptable psychological best practices.
There are psychologists who wrote to the British Psychologist Society here in the UK, which very much brushed them off. They’ve also written to parliament to ask for an inquiry to use behavioral science and I’ve done the same thing; again, being brushed off. But I do think that ethical codes have been breached.
After all, if this was a laboratory experiment, if psychologists were trying to frighten people in a lab, we would have to sign consent forms. Most of the public do not understand the behavioral psychology techniques that are used on them and they don’t know it’s happening and how much of their taxpayers’ money is spent on it. We certainly haven’t signed consent forms.
What’s more, in this laboratory, we wouldn’t have been allowed to leave until we were happy. At the end of the experiment, probably would’ve involved watching a rom-com and having a slice of chocolate cake. We’re not there yet. I’ve not had my chocolate cake. So students conducting experiments would go through a more rigorous ethics process than advisors working for the government there, in my opinion.
Mr. Jekielek: Wait, so you see this, I think you may have even said in the book that you almost see this like a giant Milgram experiment or something. And maybe if I recall correctly, maybe you could just explain what’s going on there in the Milgram experiment for those uninitiated.
Ms. Dodsworth: Stanley Milgram was a psychologist who conducted a test on how obedient people would be to authority, and it involved laboratory psychologists who addressed as, well no, they were dressed like laboratory technicians asking people to inflict an electric shock on somebody else for performing a test. And if they passed, that was great. And if they failed, they’d have to administer an electric shock, which became sequentially more painful even to fatal degrees.
What the experiment found is that most people will give someone else an electric shock if they’re told to. So you should read the book, which I think is called “The Milgram Experiment” which is very good. In fact, my publisher publishes it, which is just an interesting coincidence. I don’t think that the government or SPI-B or the nudge unit has been consciously conducting a Milgram experiment. It’s just felt a bit like one because we’ve seen how far people will go in obeying authority and not necessarily questioning the ethics of it.
Mr. Jekielek: You noticed something a lot quicker than I did. Okay. I was looking through the vantage point of watching what was happening in China and understanding that there was this incredible censorship and silencing of scientists who were, let’s call it close to the virus in some way, trying to say something about it. And there was in fact a very serious outbreak in China. A lot more people dying than the officials were willing to admit, which is kind of par for the course over there, right?
Then of course they had these videos of people falling over, ostensibly from COVID, right? Which were broadcast millions of times everywhere. So this is possibly part of a fear campaign coming from there, we don’t know. But the point was that it actually did seem like something very serious and very scary, coming from a place which would never admit it; in fact, quite the opposite, right?
I guess I can imagine at the beginning, a lot of people thinking the worst, right? So the question in my mind, but then very quickly this age stratification date, I think we already had that by April of 2020, I believe.
Ms. Dodsworth: February.
Mr. Jekielek: February. Okay, well, there you go. The question is, was it already too late to turn off the fear in the age of insane social media where your devices that your head is in, however many hours a day, are weaponized to capture your attention and have you imbibed all this information? Was that enough, right? That it couldn’t be turned off. That was one of the things that struck me as I was watching this.
Ms. Dodsworth: Yes, I think that’s possible. I mean, I’m purely speculating given my feelings. Actually my feelings about this, I think the world went into panic mode. Now, those original videos that came out of China, they’re really interesting. Were they some sort of psyop? Were they a prank? I don’t know what they were but they were not real. We’ve seen what COVID looks like in the rest of the world where cameras are allowed.
We know that people, they’re not just standing in a bank and they go (falling noise) and then be immediately surrounded by crowds of people in white hazmat suits. This is not what COVID looked like. But this was the image of it that came out of China, and there were multiple videos. I tried to track them down. By the time I did, they’d be; the original sources were removed. But here in the UK, they had already been shared by multiple mainstream media outlets—The Sun and The Mail, our two biggest newspapers.
And the thing is if you’re in the newsroom, you’re like, gosh, this is hot stuff. This is clickbait. How much effort can you go to verify the source of a random video that’s come out of China? It was published, wisely or not, I don’t know, but then it shares and it proliferates.
So the panic spreads in multiple ways. That’s just one way. Then I think it became difficult to stop. I mean, here in the UK, the original plan was that we would cocoon the elderly. It was a form of focused protection. But the use of the term herd immunity really got people’s backs up here in the UK, that drew fire in the British media.
Funnily enough, it was actually the head of the nudge unit who used this term first on BBC News, inadvertently; not knowing what he would unleash. Dr. David Halpern, who heads up the Behavioural Insights Team, referred to how the elderly would need to be cocooned until there was herd immunity that had gone through the rest of the population.
Well, people went nuts about this. I think it’s because the word herd conjures up ideas of animals going for slaughter; it’s dehumanizing. They didn’t like to think that they would just be given up in a culling for the greater good.
Anyway, people didn’t like the term herd immunity. But of course, that’s how pandemics end one way or another—through both natural infection in the community, and of course, in our modern age through vaccination. That’s how pandemics end. We reach a state of détente with the virus where it’s endemic, and sufficient people have been infected or vaccinated that it can’t accelerate in the same way.
But by giving up on the idea of herd immunity, all we then did was put ourselves on an altar of behavioral science to herd psychology, because as the behavioral scientists here in the UK have put in documents, we have a powerful tendency to conform. They use behavioral psychology techniques in order to make people comply with plan B, which was lockdown.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, and the really interesting thing and I still think there are a lot of people that aren’t aware of this, is that lockdowns are just a gross departure from normal effective pandemic policy. In fact, at this point, when we know what’s in the data across many examples, or a few examples of places that didn’t lockdown, just following the original pandemic, tried and tested pandemic guidelines, probably would’ve been a much better idea.
Ms. Dodsworth: I think many planners would agree with you. People that have got experience working in the past here in the UK with the civil contingencies unit, people who’ve worked on pandemic preparedness before. You’re absolutely right—lockdowns weren’t just not in pandemic plans. They were contraindicated because there isn’t sufficient evidence they work and the harms, the collateral damage, were known and could be estimated. It was a big departure. Basically, the world copied a brand new and unevidenced policy that came out of China.
Mr. Jekielek: How did this happen? I mean, this is kind of part of your; this is your meditation, frankly, throughout this book, right? It’s just trying to figure this out. But why don’t you give me the best thumbnail of what you think actually happened that led us into this current reality?
Ms. Dodsworth: So, I have to be very clear that my book is not about why we locked down and it’s not even really about lockdown. But it was impossible to write a book about the tactics used to encourage compliance with lockdown without talking about lockdown. So there is an appendix in the book on lockdowns and it’s called “Why Lockdowns Don’t Work?” You’ll kind of get the gist about where, what my colors are that I’m nailing to the mast.
I put in references to the World Health Organization and also some British plans, which show that lockdowns weren’t part of the plan. It’s quite possible that it was a panicked response copying China. More than that, I really wouldn’t know. My book is very much about how we were exhorted and nudged and manipulated into obeying the lockdown rules, into adhering with it, and increasing that compliance.
I think of this as a house on fire. I think lockdowns and what we’ve done have been one of the greatest acts of self-destruction societies could inflict upon themselves. For me, it’s been horrific to watch. But you don’t know what’s caused a fire until the embers have cooled. So, I really tried to limit myself in this book to the how and not to the why. The big why I’m left with really is human psychology.
I haven’t come at this as a psychologist or a behavioral scientist. I’ve come at this fresh, as a journalist, a creative and a writer because epidemics will come and go, but our psychology is here to stay. Although I don’t know why lockdowns were chosen, what’s worried me is that people can be persuaded to follow such draconian rules and can be frightened to such a degree that they will do almost anything.
Now, fear of infection and a pandemic is natural. This is a natural, hard-baked human response, but it was put on steroids by the government’s handling of it. Now, if they can do that for lockdown, what else can happen? And I think that we will have muscle memory from this. We’re trained into a certain level of compliance, and we’ve been trained to think of lockdown as a response. There are so many learnings to come out of this.
But my interest is in that kind of essential question of the human condition, what makes us do what we do? Really, that’s probably what made me write this book. For me, it seems that fear was the big and enduring story. COVID will become an endemic disease, but we can always be frightened, and that can always be leveraged against us.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, and to your point, as you were publishing this book, the vaccines had just come out and you were saying, well, this looks like it should be a happy ending. It looked very promising. But at the same time, you were noted that you’re already seeing some of the same coercive scapegoating-type language that was associated with the previous policies. I guess that was intended to get us to the vaccines in the first place.
And so I should say, I think everything you wrote in there has aged remarkably well. In fact, I couldn’t find anything in your book that is remotely not correct a year after it was published, which I think is quite an achievement on your part.
Ms. Dodsworth: Thank you, that’s very kind. I’ll take that. I mean, I hope that we were very careful about fact-checking. The book went through, obviously the edit of the publisher and two fact-checkers. And I tried to be as circumspect and proportionate as I could all the way through. And where something is not a fact, where it’s an opinion, it is stated as such. It’s either someone’s opinion in an interview or it’s my speculation. I’m very clear about separating that out.
Yes, when I wrote the chapter about the vaccines; if I’m honest, I had a really bad feeling in the pit of my stomach, nothing to do with the safety or the efficacy of the vaccines. I stay completely well away from that. I feel like that’s just a lane I can’t get into as well as being in this lane. But I was really worried about the panoply of incentives and coercions that we could already see beginning.
The kind of the tone, the tone was that was beginning to come through in the media about unvaccinated people, which was following on from sort of a tone we’d had about asymptomatic and infectious people. People being described as epidemiological time bombs or weapons or bioterrorists. This quite dehumanizing and objectifying language about people because people became the weapons. They became the vectors of transmission.
Whereas in a normal war, we have geopolitical borders. In a war on a virus, the borders are just the air between our skin. So I was already worried about that. Yes, I think, unfortunately, I have been proven correct. There’s a report that came out, well, an article from the head of the UK’s nudge unit just today, actually. One thing that he talks about is what’s worked and what hasn’t and says that actually offering financial incentives to take the vaccine was a bad idea.
Well, this was pretty obvious to me and to, I think, lots of people. If you are going to have the vaccine anyway, you don’t need to be offered 20 pounds or whatever to have it. You’re going to have it. If you’re not sure if you’re going to have it, well, that might persuade you. But then having the vaccines become about a financial incentive. Well, I’m not going to have the next one and then the booster and then the fourth booster, and then every year for the rest of my life in perpetuity, unless you pay me.
But what it also does is create a quite entrenched group of people who were not quite sure about the vaccine, a bit suspicious. I don’t use the term anti-vax, I find it annoying or vaccine-hesitant. Maybe they’re just not sure about this vaccine. They just want to wait a bit and they think, well, hang on, you’re going to pay me. Why? What’s special about this vaccine?
You didn’t pay me for measles or diphtheria or tetanus. Well, now I’m really not sure. And so it doesn’t ultimately, it might create a short-term net-shifting behavior, but what does it do medium-term and long-term to trust? So around the world, we’ve had these insane incentives. I mean, in Washington, there were jabs for joints. In the US, you had raffles for college education. I mean, that’s some serious prize to get back vaccinated in a country where college education is expensive, right?
In Vienna, Austria, you could have a free session with a prostitute in a brothel in exchange for your vaccine. Here in the UK recently for children, they had a petting zoo at a vaccination clinic, so that children who were stressed could stroke sheep. I mean, it’s just completely bizarre. But I think even more concerning than the incentives, which we’ve never done for a vaccine before are the coercions.
There are countries where you need jabs for jobs. You can’t work, or you can’t go on public transport, let alone go to a restaurant or to a concert or a sporting event unless you’re vaccinated. So you create this division between the clean and the unclean, the obedient and the non-compliance.
And vaccine passports, of course, were the ultimate nudge because there was never a good public health case for them because the vaccine doesn’t stop transmission. They were the ultimate keratin stick.
Here, if you have the vaccine, we reward you by letting you excluded into places—you get your treats, your rewards. But if you don’t have it, you’re on the naughty step. You’re in the corner, you get excluded from society. But even to the degree that you can’t participate in economic life, so it’s the ultimate sanction.
Actually, of course, we’re seeing countries roll back from that now, which shows even more that it was just a behavioral psychology tool, which some people will agree with. Personally, I find it sneaky, underhand, devious, blackmail and I think it’s a really gross way for governments to treat citizens.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, it’s not even just reminiscent, but it’s effectively a social credit system, or at least the beginnings of one. What we see active, and to mention China again, under the Chinese Communist Party. If you’ve done the wrong thing, you’ve had the wrong thought and you’ve verbalized it, you can’t take the train the next day. That’s how it works over there.
Ms. Dodsworth: Well, absolutely. I think that is a genuine risk, but we also have to be careful about our confirmation bias. So we were talking earlier about what we tuned into at the beginning of the pandemic. Now, I’ve learned that I seem to be programmed to be quite fearful and resistant to authoritarianism. I’m not a fan.
You were immediately suspicious of China. What are they hiding? Or it’s worse than they’re saying. We both kind of had an approach that was dependent on our own psyches. So I also look at the vaccine passport, and I think, uh-uh, this is social credit. I don’t like this at all, but it’s not necessarily a precursor to social credit. But we have to be realistic about how things can be rolled out. Here in the UK, the government announced that they would be trialing a health app.
If you do the right things, that could be eating the right amounts of fruits and vegetables or buying them or whatever from the supermarket, which will probably be linked up with, or if you’re walking enough steps, then you get rewards of some nature. You’d also been incentivized to go for your health checks.
Now, I hear something like that and I think, well, butt out, I don’t want you, the government, to even think about how many steps I’m walking, or reward me or check out what health checks I’m going for. That’s my business as an individual and an adult. I’m a responsible person, it’s my choice.
But you can also see how that can be linked with digital ID, and especially digital ID that permits entry into places or permission to work. I think that it is right that even if we have confirmation bias, we hold them absolutely to account about what this is for—where it’s going, the legal parameters.
And we say no if we don’t like it because, after all, government is supposed to be working for us. We invest our authority in government to do what we collectively want as a society. It shouldn’t be a top-down imposition of something that we don’t want; not in a democracy.
Mr. Jekielek: You reference Edward Bernays many times in the book. It’s certainly captured my attention to want to read more into his work, the original book “Propaganda,” I think it was called. Ostensibly, what he was doing was for the good of society, or at least that’s what he believed, right?
Is this the birth of a different way of approaching people? And not just government we’re talking about here, but frankly, there’s almost a messaging war to get people to do different things; whether it’s for products, competing for product attention, or apps in social media content.
I’ve been wondering to myself, are we in the midst of something where it is actually a war of propaganda being hoisted on us that we were trying to deal with? This is, I think, a very different situation than humanity had, even maybe 150 years ago when information wasn’t so omnipresent.
Ms. Dodsworth: I think that’s true. I think we’re at a really acute phase. So Bernays is known as one of the fathers of propaganda. He actually coined the term “public relations” when propaganda started sounding a little bit iffy, but we know that propaganda really took off with World War I.
I think that all the work that he did has just developed and become more sophisticated. These days, I think of us as being blown about by our passions, our irrational choices as the paternalistic, libertarian behavioral scientists like to think of us, and social media and very sophisticated behavioral science.
I think of it as being like an information battlefield in a way. Every time you engage with the media and social media, you need to be aware that someone is trying to persuade you of something. Sure, go on, get the information you want; get the entertainment you want. But try to use everything consciously; try to be sure what you want to use it for.
Now, I’m my own worst example because I can do the slot machine effect on Twitter for ages. And I’m very much its slave, not its mistress quite often. But ideally, we should be trying to engage with media as consciously as possible. Because there are advertisers, there are governments, there are all kinds of people, and there are bad actors on there trying to persuade you, nudge you, manipulate you the whole time.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, let’s talk about the role of media here because you did mention this enormous spend that was basically given to media to promote the government’s position on how to deal with the virus.
In Canada, there was this, I don’t know if it was exactly a bailout, but I think there was something like $600 million was distributed to media. But there’s just, the media itself seems to have taken on a much larger role of telling you what to think, as opposed to trying to give you information so you can figure out how you want to think.
Ms. Dodsworth: I wonder if it’s always been like that, I just don’t know. I had a real epiphany during COVID and became very alert to the language and analytical about it. But it’s certainly been the case during the pandemic management. The thing is if you have governments giving media a lot of money, that has the potential to create an unhealthy relationship for the government to be the biggest advertiser with national newspapers, broadcasters; it’s not the ideal relationship for a free media.
But that doesn’t mean it necessarily did influence it. But there are other factors also at play. You’ve got editor and proprietor biases. You also have preferential relationships between politicians and political journalists. And in the very fast-paced situation in a pandemic, perhaps things weren’t always verified as quickly as they could be. Things go through the newsroom really fast. And perhaps, there wasn’t enough diligence about checking things.
I think activist journalism is another problem. So look at anything Trump said, automatically had to be wrong and bad. And then, a huge sway of the political establishment, the media, and the people take against it because the bad orange man said it. I think of myself as quite apolitical and I wouldn’t necessarily think that one politician holds court to the truth on an epidemic.
I want to hear what everyone’s got to say. But there was this very hyperpartisan approach in the media, which meant that the opposition to policy came from within the framework and never from outside. It wasn’t—what does lockdown mean, should we lockdown? What’s the evidence? Where’s it been done before? It was—well if the conservative government is finally locking down now, why didn’t we do it earlier? We should be doing it harder. We should be doing it longer.
So, the direction of travel was always to criticize the government and push for more of what they were doing rather than really step outside the framework. I think, honestly, that a lot of journalists aren’t really that numeral and that’s another problem. Well, I’m not that numeral. I’ve had to work very hard at it and I’ve got a couple of math friends that I go to when I need help with things. But I think it’s been a big problem that a lot of journalists don’t have good enough science heads for this.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, not good enough science heads, but also a kind of a strange credulity to authority that isn’t frankly, almost the opposite of what media was supposed to be—truth to power, right? Or something like that.
Ms. Dodsworth: Yes. Yes, I agree. I suppose that’s part of a wider cultural trend.
Mr. Jekielek: As I was reading, I kept thinking about this concept of informed consent, when it comes to medical interventions. The vaccines in particular, but there’s this idea that you have to know the risks.
So just broadly speaking, right? I don’t mean necessarily, specifically the vaccines but that’s the obvious example. When you’re doing this nudging, you’re doing something that people aren’t aware of. It’s almost like the concept of informed consent just gets totally thrown out. Did you see it that way?
Ms. Dodsworth: Yes. Yes. You’ve gone straight to the heart of it. It’s something that really, really bothers me and it comes out more by the end of the book. I think it is absolutely wrong for us to be paying our taxation towards activities to shape our behavior when we are not aware that it happens. Now, I think we need public inquiries in countries where they have behavioral science units to; we need to be consulted. There needs to be a debate about this.
And in fact, going back to 2011 in the UK, which is just after the inception of the nudge unit, there were suggestions. There were calls to hold a public debate because the thing is we pay our taxes to the government, and the government does stuff that we know about. We have this transactional relationship. We’re investing authority. We’re giving permission for them to lay down rules because we’ve said, yes, we voted for you based on what’s in the manifesto.
Now, as soon as a government starts employing subliminal methods to change your behavior, the transactional relationship has changed. Then that leaves you as a citizen, once you realize feeling disenfranchised, deceived. It’s changed our relationship with the government. So, yes, I think there’s a kind of an informed consent angle to this, but not just that. I think it’s fundamentally anti-democratic.
It’s the politician’s job to put forward good ideas, and then you vote for them and then they enact them. It is not their job to get voted in, have good ideas in a room with closed doors, and then work out sneaky ways to make you go along with it.
Mr. Jekielek: There are also a lot of unelected people that are in there for a long time. In the US, we call it the administrative state. Frankly, just looking at the last few years, I don’t think you could have a better example of why it’s a bad idea to have people making decisions like this without, let’s say, extensive public participation.
The argument is sometimes you need to make decisions quickly, right? But if you see these decisions being made, poor decisions being made, those decisions being doubled down upon despite evidence being presented. Again, and again, it begs this question of how, does this make sense? Or is this now a foregone conclusion? Is this how things are going to work going forward?
Ms. Dodsworth: I would say I’m not really sure about decisions needing to be made quickly because a coronavirus and a pandemic are very known risks. They’re on the national risk register in the UK. It’ll be exactly the same in the US and I think every country around the world. This was a known risk. There were pandemic plans. Deviating in such a severe and radical way was a danger. And so this is why decisions like this aren’t made in the teeth of the crisis and why there are pandemic plans, why they exist.
There’s literally almost a guidebook for what to do, even if some things are different. And yes, I think it is definitely a risk when you’ve got unelected health bureaucrats or psychocrats, even, as I call them in the book, who are involved in making these decisions behind the scenes.
Now, it took off in the UK and the US around the same kind of time, because you had Cass Sunstein who was working in the Obama administration, and he’s literally the author of the book “Nudge.” There’s one example from him, which I think is quite interesting.
He wrote a paper called “Conspiracy Theories” quite some years ago. One thing that he recommended in it was that because conspiracy theory is so dangerous, what government should do is have covert agents that go into chat rooms and dispel the conspiracy theories.
Now, this is how they think, this is how the behavioral scientists think. That the way to dispel conspiracy theories is to have secret people that infiltrate chat rooms to dispel the conspiracy theories. You almost couldn’t make it up. Similarly, here in the UK, we’ve got the research information communication unit that works with agencies who work with grassroots agencies to do work, to influence behavior and change. Those grassroots agencies don’t even know they’re working with the governments.
I interviewed somebody who worked for one of the agencies in my book, completely anonymously, about the sort of work that they’ve done in penning those propaganda plans. This kind of really sneaky covert work happens. Some people think there’s a place for it, but it is essentially quite deceptive.
I think, really, the best way to persuade people to have a vaccine is you give them the information, let them decide. The best way to dispel conspiracy theories is don’t go undercover and infiltrate their terms. Give people the information, let all the information be out there, and let people come to their own decisions; allow free speech and debate and openness.
Mr. Jekielek: This is actually quite important. Right now, we’re in the midst of this Russia-Ukraine war. Russia invaded Ukraine. And, of course, Russia is best in class in disinformation, from my perspective, from everything I know and they’re using a lot of it. At the same time, when I look at a lot of the information coming from the west, it’s hard for me to look at it in any way differently than war propaganda, which frankly you would expect at a time of war, actually. It’s part of doing war, right?
And just watching this happen and think, okay, it’s very hard for us if we’re not intimately familiar with the information, to really try to understand what’s going on. Some people even argue that’s the purpose to have you on, to keep you on your toes and not knowing.
But what struck me is that, are we just in this kind of ever-present escalating realm of war propaganda? I touched on this a little bit earlier, right? But this is very, very serious, aggressive messaging—to have people have the courage to fight, or for example, would be one of the reasons you would use it and many other reasons.
Ms. Dodsworth: Yes, you’re right. Russia, the home of chess players, they are brilliant at propaganda, particularly by being naive to think the propaganda is only on one side. I mean, interestingly, somebody said to me on the radio today, oh, the west hasn’t produced any propaganda about Ukraine and I was momentarily stumped. I said I have to disagree. For instance, the Ghost of Kyiv right near the beginning. Now, lovely story. Amazing title, sounds a bit like the title of a dark fairy tale, sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?
Well, it was too good to be true, same with the 13 signal guards from Snake Island—not true. Actually, RT reported that one correctly and I’m not a pro-Putin, Russian cheerleading, RT-consuming person, either. Not at all. But there is propaganda on both sides and it leaves you as the citizen, as the consumer of the news, a little bit adrift.
I think the problem with COVID is that it’s red-pilled people. Some people are now very aware of the propaganda, the behavioral science techniques, the appeals to emotion, specifically fear. And they feel cautious, and you don’t know what’s true and what isn’t. Well, you just have to try to be measured about it.
I watched a documentary last night, “Winter on Fire.” And tonight I shall watch “Ukraine on Fire,” which has been censored and banned. Therefore, because of the Streisand effect, I’m even more keen to watch it.
I’m trying to consume material from different sources and make up my own mind on things. One thing I found disappointing here in the UK about the media coverage is how highly emotional it is. Now, war and death and destruction are emotional. But I was listening to Radio 4 and hoping for really in-depth analysis of the geopolitical background.
What I heard was interviews with children who were leaving Ukraine and it was just very, very emotional. It was designed to pull on the heart’s strengths rather than inform you, as unbiased news should do. It is difficult; I don’t know what the answer is. I think we need a really radical transformation in media.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s extremely difficult. I mean, we’ve had people on the ground in Ukraine reporting. There are 1.5 million Ukrainian refugees in Poland as we speak, and there are many more. We saw it ourselves, so we know it’s true. I mean, I’m kind of joking. I think we can agree that, probably all agree that, that is definitely a reality. Russia is the aggressor here, whatever the background.
But there is this kind of reflexive response by some people that I’m seeing that are simply like, well, if these corporate media that have been propagandizing us about all sorts of things all these years—if they’re saying it, therefore the opposite must be true.
And maybe, Vladimir Putin is right in what he’s doing, which is kind of, again, this is the cost of being in this kind of world, right? Where media have lost their interest in truth-seeking and are just pushing these various agendas. I’m deeply troubled by this.
Ms. Dodsworth: Well I’m too, and it was one of my major warnings in the conclusion to the book. That people would lose trust in public health and governments because playing with people’s emotions, and fear is the steam in the engine of our emotions is wrong. And the control of information and the misinformation and the propaganda has created an atmosphere of distrust.
This is why I say people have been red-pilled by COVID. Now, I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I don’t want to assume that everything that I hear in terms of public health or from the government or the media is wrong. The unfortunate truth is that I’m aware, now, it sometimes is wrong.
So you have to do that extra little bit of research, and perhaps triangulate opinions, and get different sources. Yes, of course, when we’re talking about the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Russia is the aggressor. It’s invading a nation, it’s destroying buildings and lives and killing people. That’s clearly wrong. But there is still propaganda on both sides.
As you said, you get this in war. You get wartime propaganda, but it doesn’t make understanding the situation simple for us once you recognize that there is propaganda.
Mr. Jekielek: You have a chapter in the book which I found was really fascinating—“Biderman’s Chart of Coercion” was just showing all the different methods. I mean, it was just stunning when you read this reference document, you go, yep, check. It looks like 90 percent of what’s here has been utilized, right?
The other piece of it that I was just thinking about was just how you made the case that it’s almost brought into a cult of sorts, right? I found it incredibly fascinating that you made that connection. Is this something that you’ve been studying in the past and you just saw the hallmarks of this, or how did you make that connection?
Ms. Dodsworth: I think I had an immediate and visceral response to how people behaved at the beginning of the pandemic. It felt like everybody else was jacked into a matrix that I wasn’t jacked into. They’d all joined a secret cult and I wasn’t in it. There was just a feeling I had about it. Now, about “Biderman’s Chart of Coercion,” this came after the interrogation of American prisoners of war in Korea. I am not suggesting that our governments have deliberately tortured us with lockdowns.
But what I was showing, what I was trying to show is there are various methods which lead to disorientation, mental destabilization and create fear. That’s what that chapter was about. Now, on cults, William Sargant said that the priest, the policeman, and the politician have much to learn from each other. I think there’s a type of leader that leans into these cult-like techniques.
In fact, a lot of the pandemic management did sound like it was coming from cult leaders. Again, I’m not remotely suggesting that Boris Johnson is the leader of a cult or is trying to emulate a cult leader. But it wasn’t just him, it was also public health advisors. Things like if you leave the cult, calamity will befall you. If you break the rules, this will go on forever. If we leave lockdown, the sky will fall in. A lot of this was an illusion of control. Every time we were warned about things, they never happened.
Things like separating you from people. Now that, again, wasn’t a deliberate intention. I don’t think governments were trying to atomize us to destabilize us and make us lean on them more, but that is an inevitable result of the lockdowns. We were quite socially atomized and people were getting their interaction from screens rather than from each other. They weren’t cheering each other over a pint in the pub or on the golf course.
It was very; we were living quite lonely and media-driven lives. Yes, I think there were these parallels with cult leaders; but possibly inadvertent, and possibly a certain type of leadership.
Mr. Jekielek: I’ve been following various types of people whopandemic plans have been impacted, perhaps, red pill was the term that you used during coronavirus. I’m very fascinated by some of these stories of people that were just leading perfectly normal, maybe unremarkable lives, you might say. Just a normal part of society, and suddenly something happens.
And this woman, basically her husband had a car accident in the midst of COVID. This was in Canada and there were lockdowns. He died, but she wasn’t able to have the closure. He didn’t even die of COVID, but because of the rules, she couldn’t have a normal funeral with him. Her point is I’m never going to forgive the government for this. Even in a situation where it might be justified. Of course, we know now that it isn’t, but that would be a questionable choice, I think.
Ms. Dodsworth: Yes, it’s a very basic human right. There are ways in which the government’s management of pandemics influence all of our intimate human rights—birth, marriage, and death. Now, in pandemic plans, you won’t find that those things are interfered with in the way that happened. Partners should always be at the birth and we need funerals. People need this for grieving and for closure. It creates a very deep-seated trauma.
I interviewed a veteran disaster and recovery planner, Professor Lucy Easthope for the book. She’s in there a few times. She said to me this will create trauma that lives on for many, many years. One of the reasons that you have PPE in a pandemic is not just for the obvious; for interactions between patients and doctors and nurses.
It’s also so people can visit sick loved ones and be with them and hold their hand when they die, and go to funerals and look at the deceased’s body. So to have cut people off from that is heartbreaking. There was a video that went viral on social media here in the UK. It showed a funeral. It’s a CCTV footage and everyone is seated, spaced out in this funeral.
Automatically, it just makes you feel sad because having been to funerals of loved ones, you don’t want to be two meters apart with a big gap of air around you. You want to be close. So they’re seated a long way apart. And the two adult sons go up to the woman whose husband died, and they put their arms around her, and the funeral director stops the funeral, makes them go back to their seats. So the funeral director is following the rules.
This is the Milgram experiment—the obedience to authority. But perhaps he shouldn’t have followed the rules. And perhaps actually allowing grief and human contact is more important. I think there will be a lot of people who, over the years, are going to have to process quite deep-seated trauma about not being with their loved ones when they died or not having the funeral they needed.
Women who had difficult births and didn’t have their partner with them and then had postnatal depression. There’s going to be all these little, little, but very, to the individual, epic human stories to deal with afterwards. It wasn’t just about the fallen, the people who died of COVID. There are so many other stories of human loss to contend with, and it didn’t necessarily have to be that way.
Mr. Jekielek: Laura, in the book, you mentioned another very important book, “They Thought They Were Free.” I don’t know a lot of people who have read that book. I thought it was very interesting that you picked that to look at, which is, of course, this was a very, I think for lack of a better term—compassionate person.
So someone who went in and interviewed people in Nazi Germany to try to understand after the war what they were thinking as they came in, and he did it very dispassionately to truly try to understand, and this book is quite the work. So why did you choose to include this?
Ms. Dodsworth: There’s a particularly moving quote that I included, which is about, it’s a professor, it’s a German professor. And he’s describing how little changes happen in a society without you noticing. And the metaphor he uses is a farmer who’s growing corn. The corn grows day by day and you don’t notice until one day the corn is above your head.
And at times in the last couple of years, I have felt despair at the loss of humanity and compassion between people and the illusion of control and nonsensical rules. And as I said to you before my sort of driving factor with this book really was the human condition of psychology, what makes us do things?
So this idea that things keep repeating in societies, that there are cycles. When did we get to the stage when the corn was above our heads? I think as far as COVID goes, we’ve stopped. The corn’s not above our heads, but maybe it got up to our chests.
I think it could have got worse. I think it could have got a lot worse because luckily Omicron was milder, and there’s a higher level of vaccination in people as well now, which is holding some severe illness at bay. And certainly, here in the UK we have Partygate, which created a public level of frustration with politicians.
So we’ve moved on from where we were. But how bad could it have gone if we’d had vaccine mandates and vaccine passports, and we had dehumanized, and othered a whole section of society and said, well, you’re the unclean now, you’re the disobedient. And there was some shocking headlines about how the unvaccinated don’t get to live like we do. The sorts of headlines, I just couldn’t believe I was reading in 2022 after the things that we’ve learned from other societies.
So that’s why I included that quote, because human beings and societies just seem to perpetuate the same things over and over. Just before we started the interview tonight, you mentioned that in New York, little children are still masked, which I find deeply upsetting, deeply. Oh, just in their place of education, where they need faces and to communicate, brilliant.
And if you’re going to mask one subset of human beings that’s possibly the worst subset to mask because they really can’t manage masks hygienically and properly, so it’s insane. There’s no evidence that works. It’s a very upsetting imposition on young children.
But imagine trying to explain to the ancient Mayans that they don’t need to throw children into watery graves in cenotes for the rain Gods to come. There are ways in which humans sacrifice children over and over for quite non-scientific and cruel reasons. And that’s why I see this mask mandate, why are little children still wearing masks? It’s almost like a form of child sacrifice.
I’m probably going to really annoy people over in the US that hear this because you’ve been quite a masked-up society, but I think it’s cruel. It’s going to affect their learning, their socialization. It’s uncomfortable. What are they learning about the world? That everyone else has their faces out and they’re masked?
Mr. Jekielek: This is actually, you offer some really good advice in here. For as a society, you feel there should be a very, I think your biggest conclusion is you want an inquiry into the use of these behavioral methodologies. The thing that I’ve been seeing a lot of people in New York, and New York that are outdoors, still wearing masks. They ostensibly believe that this is somehow helpful.
I have looked at the literature around masks, especially outdoors. There isn’t a huge benefit, to put it nicely. There’s this sort of, I forget who said this, but there’s this idea that it’s very difficult to convince people that they’ve been fooled. It’s easier to fool them than to convince them that they’ve been fooled or that they had it wrong. Especially when they were kind of enthusiastically participating in something, that’s me embellishing the quote a little bit.
I find this deeply concerning because I’ve seen footage of people in front of City Hall here in New York, basically singing songs about how everyone should be masked at this point, because they’re afraid. I guess, something happened there and they feel strongly enough that they believe everyone needs to be masked.
And they feel threatened, as we’re kind of finishing up here, and thinking about how to move forward as a society. It feels like there were some things that were really broken here and I don’t know how to fix them at this point.
Ms. Dodsworth: I think that’s true because something so unnatural was done to us where we’re a social species and human contact was impeded. Our most sacred human rights were interfered with, and communication was curtailed. Our basic human rights were curtailed.
Yes. Yes. We’ve changed. I mean on the masks, no, there is no good evidence in favor of using masks to stop a virus—an airborne virus—especially not cloth and surgical masks. Yes, if you wore an FFP3 or an N95 and it’s fitted and you use it hygienically.
The idea of toddlers and a preschooler wearing mask is just ludicrous, but they weren’t really about stopping transmission. They were signals. They were signals of danger. When you wear a mask, you’re a walking billboard for danger. There’s an epidemic, be careful. They have also now over time become imbued with the symbolism of morality in virtue. Good people wear masks, good people of a certain class, and a certain mentality; good people who put others first.
Now, there’s a reason why they were told that your mask protects others. That’s not because it does protect others. It’s because the behavioral scientists know that appeals to helping others work better than appeals for your own safety. So there are numerous interviews in my book that talk about how masks were signals and symbols. Some people have, and will need a soft landing. They’re not going to rip their mask off and be immediately comfortable with that because they’re like a comfort blanket. They’re a crutch.
They are now the vestiture of the faithful. It’s made me wonder, did every item of religious garb start in a moment of madness at some point? Why do we wear any of the things we do? I’m afraid I think of masks as being like religious garments. They offer a sense of protection, but no actual protection, really. So they’re really about the symbolism that is imbued with them. They sacralized virtue.
Mr. Jekielek: What do you think at this point, Laura, is the best way forward? And let’s talk about this specific area that you focused on. You’re suggesting serious inquiries into the use of this. I imagine there will be serious calls for the same in the US, even though there isn’t as much information about what behavioral techniques specifically were used here; at least not that I’ve seen at this point.
Ms. Dodsworth: Interesting that there isn’t so far. Well, I mean, people should have a look at the World Health Organization and Cass Sunstein who heads up the WHO Behavioural Insights Team. I think is still connected with the US government, do some digging around.
But I don’t think there will be serious calls for inquiries in behavioral science approach, not unless people clamor for it, because the thing is that behavioral science is incredibly useful to governments. It avoids the awkward debate, the persuasion that’s needed. It avoids enacting legislation. You just nudge people subtly into doing what you want.
I think it’s a very cheap and reasonably effective and quite sneaky way to get people to do what they want. So I don’t think that serious inquiries will be met with a serious acceptance in government. I have already written a letter to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee in the Westminster government who will not be holding an inquiry for now into behavioral science.
I imagine it will form part of the general inquiry into COVID because there is now a very wide acceptance that the fearmongering was off the scale and I like to think that my book helped move the dial. I think, really, citizens have to take action. You have to write to your representative and ask them about it. We have to push back on governments that are doing it. So that’s one thing. I think every citizen has power.
We have to remember that we invest governments with authority. I think we need to show a lot of empathy to each other. It’s very easy for people who don’t like masks to be frustrated with those who do and vice versa. They’ve become symbols of the tribe you belong to, the Covidiots versus the moral person, or the clever person who never fell for the conspiracy theory versus the masked sheep—whatever way you want to define it. It’s become very divisive.
But ultimately we all have to find peaceable agreement with each other. And like I said, as the pandemic comes to an end, some people will need a soft landing. It’ll take them time to take their mask off and revert back to normal life because some people have been left somewhat terrorized.
A psychologist coined a term called COVID anxiety syndrome, and has identified that 20 percent of people are hanging onto obsessive hygiene measures, and watching the news, and are not ready to live normal life again; so that we need to be tolerant.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, I’m going to read this headline from the Daily Mail, “Did flawed PCR tests convince us COVID was worse than it really was? Britain’s entire response was based on results—but one scientist says they should have been axed a year ago.”
I happened to have seen in a string on Twitter of all sorts of responses of people in the UK just happened to be, to this particular headline. One person was suggesting, this is like now nudge in the opposite direction, right? It’s very interesting because obviously this messaging is very different from the bulk of the messaging over the last, however many years. What do you think?
Ms. Dodsworth: Okay. So, I mean, one theory that I saw is that the big testing labs will have had contracts with the government that would’ve seen them through to a certain period of time. And so therefore, the testing continued because it’s like a commercial obligation—the sunk cost fallacy—you’ve paid for, it might as well use it.
I do absolutely think there’s some reverse nudge going on and this isn’t the first time we’ve seen it here in the UK. I, along with others raised questions about the validity of the PCR test to determine infectiousness. And, of course, so anybody that raised concerns was derided or censored for it one way or another a year ago.
Something I tried to interrogate back in January 2021 was the hospitalization data because I had an inside source at NHS. So I was looking at the data, and it was clear that the big number, how many people had been hospitalized each day, actually comprised people who went to the hospital with COVID symptoms and COVID. They’re the true hospitalization number, okay?
But it also comprised people who went to the hospital for something completely different, had a routine test, and were found to have COVID. Now, it’s important to know about them because you have to house them properly in the hospital. You don’t want other people catching COVID from them, but that’s not what the figure was for. The hospitalization figure was to make you realize lots of people going to the hospital. It wasn’t about managing wards.
And thirdly, it comprised people who acquired COVID in the hospital. We were given one number that included three very different subsets. I mean, I went back and forth with the NHS so many times to try to get this information and this wasn’t the information that they wanted to share and dissect and provide a granular level.
But just recently, there’s been a lot more talk about how the hospitalization figure does include these different subsets and you can be hospitalized with, not just hospitalized from. And so the reason that we’re getting this little chipping away at what the data means is to reverse people out of fear.
Because once you frightened people, your only tools left are to really shockingly change the narrative into a whole new story, or to just reverse them out. Which, in a way though, is a bit sneaky because it’s a bit gaslighting.
Oh, did you think those numbers were big and serious? Oh no, sorry, they included this, didn’t you realize? But all that fear they created at the time when they were talking about the big numbers was real. So I think we have got what I’d call a reverse ferret going on, that we are being nudged out of the fear, and that’s why we’re seeing these stories coming out now.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, and then of course.
Ms. Dodsworth: But it’s just speculation.
Mr. Jekielek: Of course. Then there are a lot of people that are speculating that the particular messaging around the war in Ukraine is being used to divert attention, right? From all of this that has happened, let’s help the. Frankly, is this something good that could actually help people move on?
Ms. Dodsworth: Well, I don’t think so, because I think there are questions that have to be treated seriously. Certainly here in the UK, we need to be talking about what’s happening to the PPE stockpiles. We do need to talk about how valid the PCR test means and the transparency of data. We do pay for the NHS. I don’t see why we shouldn’t have accurate NHS data throughout a pandemic, including the subset of hospitalization figures. We do need an honest inquiry.
We shouldn’t just be brushing under the carpet because there’s a war. I don’t think the war’s being confected to change the story, but it does provide very useful dense cover for hiding stories, but we mustn’t let that happen.
Mr. Jekielek: Any final thoughts, Laura? This has been wonderful. And I should add, this is a must-read book. It’s a year old, but it has aged incredibly well. I think anyone interested in this topic will do well to give it a read.
Ms. Dodsworth: Thank you. No, I mean, we’ve covered so many subjects. It’s been really interesting talking to you and I’m so grateful you think it’s aged well. Obviously, it’s certainly what I hoped. And although it’s specifically about the UK, I think that over time, it’s been clear to me that it’s quite a good case study internationally.
It’s now in Spanish in Spain, and it’s going into other countries because there does seem to have been this kind of synchronized approach in terms of the behavioral psychology across countries. So I think that it will resonate. After all, fear is very basic, it’s the strongest human emotion. It’s very basic so it will resonate with people in different countries, probably.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, Laura Dodsworth, it’s such a pleasure to have you on the show.
Ms. Dodsworth: Thank you.
Mr. Jekielek: Thank you for watching this episode of American Thought Leaders. I’m your host, Jan Jekielek. We live in an age of censorship and disinformation where some of the most prominent voices, most important voices aren’t actually being heard because they’re being suppressed. I invite some of these people onto the show, onto American Thought Leaders. So to stay up to date on the most recent episodes in our exclusive content, you can actually sign up for our newsletter at Theepochtimes.com/newsletter. Just hit the check box for American Thought Leaders.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
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