Ideas@TheCentre – The Centre for Independent Studies


Ideas@TheCentre brings you ammunition for conversations around the table.  3 short articles from CIS researchers emailed every Friday on the issues of the week.

Civic repair key to recovery

Peter Kurti

18 June 2020 | Ideas@theCentre

Australia is beginning post-covid recovery from a better position than many other countries. Yet the country nonetheless faces an unprecedented challenge of rebuilding prosperity. Economists have pored over emergency funding proposals intended to sustain the economy’s weakened heartbeat. But it’s not just about the numbers.

As I outline in Civil Society After Covid: On re-building a virtuous civic culture, civic repair is equally important for recovery; attending to bonds of community strained during lockdown and to the spirit of mutual obligation lying at the heart of mateship.

Community, informed by recognition and acceptance of that obligation, plays a key role in shaping the lives of individual citizens and the relations with the state.

Classical liberalism has come under widespread attack in many Western democracies because of what is seen, unfairly, as its singular emphasis on individual freedom alone.

But classical liberalism has never just stopped at individual liberty. It recognises that liberty only finds its fullest expression in a society marked by concern for the well-being of others.

The challenge for classical liberalism — often attacked for spruiking greed and selfishness — is to re-state its historic commitment to strong civil society and to a strong civic culture.

Civil society comprises the network of voluntary, civic associations that build civic trust, forge bonds between individuals, and cultivate habits of living.

Government action in response to the pandemic — however defensible — strained the bonds of civil society and weakened those obligations that define community life.

Strictly-enforced limits on public meetings, gatherings of family and friends, unerals and weddings, meant that people bound by common interests were unable to meet.

As post-covid recovery begins, economic assistance alone will not be enough to restore that civic culture. For one thing, it will cost too much and, if prolonged, will be unaffordable.

The public mood is for a renewal of a community life supported by a spirit of neighbourliness, trust, and mutual support These are the habits of life that we can call ‘civic virtue’.

No simple prescription of policies exists by which governments can cultivate civic virtue. Indeed, it might be best for governments not to take action or — at least, not more action.

Yet government can promote renewal of civic culture by ensuring adequate levels of funding to support charities and not-for-profit organisations through the economic crisis.

These organisations provide essential services across various sectors of the Australian economy to those in need. They warrant government support for this crucial role.

Work must now begin to forge stronger communities to help bind neighbours and to provide for those whose lives have been disrupted by coronavirus.

Restoration of a virtuous civic culture must be a priority so that civil society again perform effectively the essential roles upon which the wellbeing of every Australian depends.

Wrongthink will be spellchecked

Monica Wilkie

18 June 2020 | Ideas@theCentre

In response to the BLM movement, comedy, film and beer have been ‘cancelled’ due to their ‘problematic’ nature. The latest purge reveals how terrifyingly easy it is to use technology to cancel those who transgress the dogma of wokeism.

Netflix removed Chris Lilley’s back catalogue because of his racial depictions;  only the pretentious schoolgirl Ja’mie and Lunatics survived — for now.

Little Britain wasn’t so lucky, as many streaming services hit delete — their creators saying they were “very sorry” because of their portrayal of “characters of other races.”

Other cancellable racial offences include Basil Fawlty accidentally ‘mentioning the war.’ At least John Cleese had the fortitude to stand up for his comedy and his famous series will be reinstated — albeit with “extra guidance.”

And, after being temporarily blown away from HBO Max, Gone with the Wind will return with an introduction to place “the film in its multiple historical contexts.” Hopefully, this can be skipped like those pathetic anti-piracy ads at the start of legally-purchased DVDs.

But it is not only fiction receiving the cancellation treatment.

Coon cheese (named after its founder who developed a new ripening process) was briefly targeted,  before the comedian who tweeted whether we were still cool with the name was cancelled himself when his past comments on diversity in acting surfaced.

Woke bible The Guardian – after cheering the drowning of Edward Colston’s statue – is experiencing a digital pile-on because their paper was founded “using profits from a cotton plantation that used slaves.”

And if all this cancelling has made you thirsty please do not reach for a cold one from the Colonial Brewing Co.,  as the name is deemed so offensive a bottle shop chain pulled it from their shelves.

If only people employed the Microsoft Word ‘inclusiveness’ option to check their work for bias. This check pinged my article for using ‘schoolgirl’ — suggesting the more ‘inclusive’ ‘schoolchild.’

I suppose those are just more words to add to the blacklist. No wait, tech companies have been replacing terms such as, ‘blacklist’, ‘master’ and ‘whitelist’ for less “racially-loaded terms.” And yes, the inclusiveness checker also pulled me up for using ‘blacklist.’

Unfortunately, the AI of PC-checking does not transfer to images. If it had perhaps Kellogg’s would not have been guilted into issuing a statement explaining why the Coco Pops mascot is a monkey. Apparently using a cartoonish, cap-wearing chimp to sell brown food is racist.

All this removing of content, adding warning labels, and language policing was achieved with a few keyboard clicks and some outrage. If this pitiful pandering to the easily hurt continues all art, comedians, and food will eventually be deleted.

But until then it is time to order a slab of Colonial brew, make a toasted Coon cheese sandwich, and flick on Gone with Wind.

Antibody test misconception

Steven Schwartz

18 June 2020 | Ideas@theCentre

Italian health authorities recently reported that 57% of the residents of Bergamo, a city in Lombardy, have COVID-19 antibodies in their blood. Since the body’s immune system produces antibody proteins to combat disease, health authorities concluded that more than half of Bergamo’s population had contracted COVID-19. Is this a reliable finding? Is it applicable to Australia? To answer these questions, let’s look at how test results are interpreted.

An infallible antibody test is one that produces positive results for all those who have had the disease and negative ones for those who have not. In practice, such perfection is rare. Errors in test administration, timing, or reporting always produce some false results.

A positive antibody test does not always mean you have had COVID-19. For every 100 people whose blood contains antibodies to COVID-19, the best of the currently available antibody tests correctly identifies 99. These tests are said to have a ‘sensitivity’ of 99%.

At the same time, the best tests accurately assign negative results to 99% of those who have never had COVID-19; only 1% are misclassified as positive. With a sensitivity of 99% and a ‘false-positive’ rate of only 1%, antibody tests are exceptionally reliable.  Nevertheless, to interpret their results, we must consider the prevalence of COVID-19 in the population.

Thus far, 7,300 Australians have been diagnosed with COVID-19; a test with a sensitivity of 99% would detect almost all of them. So far, so good.

But what about the rest of the Australian population—around 25 million people? A test with a 1% false-positive rate would misclassify 250,000 of them as positive. Because the vast majority of positive results would be false-positives, the probability that a person with a positive test has COVID-19 antibodies would be very small (only around 3%).

There is reason to believe that the prevalence of COVID-19 in Australia may be much higher than the cases reported so far; mild illnesses may have slipped by undetected.

Some epidemiologists have estimated that the prevalence of COVID-19 could be 50 times higher than the number officially identified.  Applying this figure to Australia, we would expect 365,000 Australians to have had COVID-19. An antibody test with a sensitivity of 99% would correctly identify more than 360,000 of them.

However, with a false-positive rate of 1%, the test would also produce around 246,000 false-positives. As a result, those with positive tests would have only around a 60% chance of having been infected with COVID-19.

To avoid giving people who test positive for antibodies the potentially false sense of security that they have had COVID-19, it will be necessary to repeat positive tests to increase the reliability of the result.

As the COVID-19 pandemic plays out, you will be hearing a lot about tests and their results. Whenever you encounter a reference to a medical test’s ‘accuracy’, remember that

the meaning of a positive result relies not on a single figure but on three: a test’s sensitivity, its false-positive rate, and the prevalence of the disease in the population.

As we have seen, even an excellent test, with a sensitivity of 99%, will produce spurious results when the prevalence of a disease is low.