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How the future of shopping was shaped by its past

The pandemic changed the way we shop – with many ‘new’ initiatives actually reinventing old ways of doing things.



It’s a sunny, spring Saturday morning in early 2019 and I’m having coffee at the local Costa in Brentwood, an Essex town where I’ve never been before. There are plenty of people out and about and smiling. I have a couple of hours to spare so I’m planning to wander around and have a look in the shops. Then my phone pings: “Surprise!” It’s a promotion from M&S. “Here’s 20% off when you shop online”.

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The Brentwood branch of M&S is just a couple of doors down from where I am – I just passed it. But the notification isn’t suggesting I go there. On the contrary, this special offer will deter me from shopping in an actual shop, on an actual high street, where I know I’d now be paying 25% more (if you start from the lower price) than I would if I bought online. It is, in effect, a counter-advertisement – taking me away from the shops and towards a virtual, online-only future.

Around this time, M&S had been closing stores in numerous locations. Many of these shops had been there for as long as people could remember, and were part of the towns’ identity. Like “our” NHS, and unlike most other commercial brands, M&S evokes a feeling of belonging to a shared history.

A 20% discount advert for online shopping. Shutterstock/AlexPhotoStock

Looking back, my little counter-epiphany now seems to encapsulate something of the fraught shopping mood of three years ago. The incident felt like a painful sign of the contradictory state of British retail – and especially that part of it that is commonly known as the high street.

The choice on offer was absurd for both the customers (only one rational way to go), and the company (why push customers away from the stores that are still in use?). But it was somehow feasible then, in those innocent pre-pandemic times, to take for granted the inevitable triumph of online retail, even if it brought with it the destruction of most other modes of buying and selling.

From pedlars to supermarkets

Online shopping seemed in those days to be the next and natural step along the path that began with the introduction of self-service. I started charting these developments more than 20 years ago when I wrote Carried Away: The Invention of Modern Shopping. And a year after the sad Brentwood episode, at the start of 2020, I was coming to the end of writing my new book Back to the Shops: The High Street in History and the Future. This investigates the different stages of shopping, from its early beginnings to the present.

This history stretches back to pedlars and weekly markets and runs through small fixed shops in towns and villages to the grand “destination” city department stores of the last part of the 19th century. Then, in the later 20th century, came self-service, to be followed in recent years by the move online.

This story is part of Conversation Insights
The Insights team generates long-form journalism and is working with academics from different backgrounds who have been engaged in projects to tackle societal and scientific challenges.

But shopping history never moves in one single direction or all at once. There have always been regional and chronological divergences from mainstream developments. There are also retailing modes that fall by the wayside and then return at a later date in new guises or with new names. They often have every appearance of being newly invented.

Take fast fashion, for instance. We think of fast fashion as inseparable from a contemporary culture of rapid turnover. But a version of it can be found as far back as the 18th century, well before garments were mass-produced in factories. Clothes at this time were all sewn by hand.

In late 18th century London, a new type of shop appeared where, for a price, a lady or gentleman could commission a customised outfit that would be made up for them overnight. It offered an instant transformation into the style and class of the best social circles. But unlike modern fast fashion, it wasn’t cheap and the clothes weren’t flimsy or soon discarded.

The same period also saw the arrival of short-term shops not unlike those that we now call pop-ups. They might appear in any village, when an itinerant salesman rented a room in the local pub as a temporary location for what he’d present as a flash sale: “now or never”. In the 1760s, for example, Thomas Turner, who kept the main shop in the small Sussex village of East Hoathly, complained in his diary about just such a character zooming into the area – and taking away attention, and trade, from his own steady service.

Shop sign.
A sign in Shoreditch, London, for a pop up designer shop in 2018. Shutterstock/Matt Rakowski

Today, pop-ups move into empty shop units on a short-term basis and at a lower-cost rental. It is a useful arrangement for both the owner of the premises and the shopkeeper. The landlord gets some (if not all) of their usual income for a space that would otherwise be yielding no income, while the tenant, with no long-term commitment, takes no great risk. The business itself – often selling time-limited, seasonal stock – is here today and gone soon after.

Mail order shopping also has a rich history that seems to anticipate later developments, too. Catalogue companies, like Freeman’s or Kay’s, were massively popular in the middle decades of the 20th century. But despite its popularity, “the book” (the affectionate name for the big, “full colour” catalogue) never posed a threat to the shops. Nevertheless, mail order was a form of virtual shopping at a distance, and now looks like a striking precursor to online shopping.

Perhaps the most surprising example of an early retail development whose beginnings have now disappeared from view, is the chain store. We tend to think of chain stores as having pushed independent shops out of the way in the late 20th century, with the result that every shopping mall and every high street (if it survives at all) looks like all the rest. But, in fact, chain stores were everywhere a century earlier, including some of the names that are still well known today.

Chains took off in the second half of the 19th century. Nationwide grocery companies like Lipton’s or Home & Colonial had thousands – yes, thousands – of branches by 1900. Of these early chains (or “multiples” as they were then called) only the Co-op remains. The Co-op no longer maintains the cultural and trading pre-eminence it had from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century. But unlike the other dominant chains of that era, it has endured. It even pioneered the move to self-service in the middle of the 20th century and it remains a significant player among the biggest supermarket chains of today.

WHSmith, the newsagent and bookseller, developed from the late 1840s alongside the growing railway network. There was soon a stall to be seen inside every station of any size, providing the passenger with novels or newspapers for their journey. In 1900, there were no fewer than 800 branches nationwide. From the beginning of the 20th century, Smith’s also had outlets on town shopping streets.

Old black and white photo of two men stood outside a shop.
An image of a WH Smiths store from 1918. WH SMITHS, CC BY-NC-ND

Boots the chemist was another 19th-century chain that is still a standard high street presence. The first Boots shop was opened in Nottingham in 1849. By the turn of the century, there were around 250 branches – and 1,000 by the early 1930s.

Numerous small and large chains, selling many types of commodity, faded away, died their deaths, or were taken over. But the striking point is that chain store Britain is nothing new. It dates back well over a century.

The self-service revolution

If online retail was the new feature of early 21st century shopping, self-service was the shopping revolution of the 20th century.

Self-service reached Europe after the Second World war. In the US, it had been an accidental invention of the Great Depression, when abandoned factories and warehouses were turned into makeshift, cut-price outlets. Customers picked out goods as they walked around and paid for everything at the end. By the 1940s, this new type of store was well established, often in regional chains, as the “super market”. Postwar, this new American mode of retail operation was exported to the rest of the world.

Information leaflet from 1950s describes how to use a supermarket.
Advertisement for Sainsbury’s self-service store in Lewisham High Street, London, in 1955, including illustrations demonstrating how to use the shop and ‘special wire basket’. Sainsbury archive, CC BY-NC-ND

Promoted as a modern, efficient way to shop, self-service entailed both a different type of store layout and new norms of customer and shopworker behaviour. Before this, every purchase made was asked for over the counter, item by item, and the assistant “served” the customer personally. Few goods were packaged, so every order was literally customised: measured or weighed and then wrapped.

But self-service did away with all this. There was no need for counter service if customers were making their own selections. All available goods were put out on display, within reach. No need to ask someone to fetch them. And there was no one else waiting behind you for their turn to be served. You could take your time, look around – or get it done at speed. It was your choice.

This was a newly impersonal shopping environment. The customer was in control of the pace and the selection, but they were on their own and there was no longer someone standing there to serve them. For shop workers, meanwhile, the abolition of counter service meant that their various skills, including their people skills, were made redundant. So too was their often detailed knowledge of the products they sold.

When the customer did encounter a person across a counter, it was not to ask for advice about what to buy; it was simply to pay and get out. Now they just handed over a basket of goods already picked out; the assistant was not involved in the choosing. Nor was the checkout for chatting. Like factory workers, cashiers had to keep up to speed.

The whole process was meant to be more efficient, a saving of time and money for the benefit of business and customers alike. The customer, notably, was seen now as someone for whom time was a finite and valuable resource. In this way the shift to self-service was perfectly matched with some large social changes of the postwar decades.

As late as the 1960s, for example, “housewife” was the default designation for women over the age of 16 (even though many had part- or full-time jobs). But the “housewife” would soon be replaced by the double-shift working woman, eternally “juggling” the demands of both home and work. By the end of the 20th century, now with the help of a fridge and a car, the daily walk to the local shops had been replaced by a weekly trip to the supermarket, where everything was available under one roof and the shopping was now a substantial task.

A 1970s supermarket flyer advertising jobs for women.
A leaflet from 19773 advertising supermarket jobs for women. Sainsbury archive, CC BY-NC-ND

The first 1950s self-service stores are distant enough today to have become the subject of mild nostalgia, obscuring the original picture of smart efficiency. Black and white photos from the archives show people (particularly women) of every social type gamely learning to manage the curious “basket” containers provided for them to carry around on their arms and fill up as they walked around the shop. These shoppers are no longer standing or sitting at the counter while they wait for their turn and that, at the outset, was the visible difference introduced by self-service. What looks odd now, many decades later, is how little they’re buying – just a few jars and tins.

Archive image of shoppers in a supermarket.
Image of shoppers at the self-service fresh meat cabinets in a Southampton branch of Sainsbury’s in 1954. Sainsbury archive, CC BY-NC-ND

Save time online

With self-service firmly established to assist supposedly “time-poor” consumers, the stage was set for internet shopping to promise an even more efficient way of doing things.

An Ocado flyer from early 2019 displays the caption: “More time living, less time shopping”, as if living and shopping have become mutually exclusive. And crucially, it is not money but time – its saving or gaining – which is the quantifiable currency of the promotion.

In this way, the online upgrade appears to remove all remaining real-life interference from the task of shopping. You don’t have to take yourself anywhere to get to the store, which never closes. There are no empty shelves; everything is always there on the screen. There is still a trolley or basket, but not one that you have to push or carry, and it will hold whatever you “add” to it, irrespective of volume or quantity.

The shop assistant is wholly absent from the screen, although there are downgraded virtual versions available in the form of programmed chat-bots. With online shopping, the backstage work that “fulfils” an order occurs in a storage facility far away and is invisible to the customer. But in large self-service settings, like supermarkets and DIY mega-stores, the role of the checkout cashier had already been reduced to that single scanning function, requiring no specialist range of skills and no particular knowledge of any one of the thousands of possible things, from bananas to baby wipes, that they might be rapidly moving along.

Back to the ‘real’ shops?

Town centres had been dying a much discussed death for years, as more and more shops were being closed down – and stayed unused.

But amid the doom and gloom, some towns had been taking action to resist the trend, battling back with collective imagination and sometimes with significant financial backing. Shrewsbury Town Council revitalised a 1970s market building to make it a thriving centre for food stalls, cafés and specialist shops. The council also bought a couple of run-down indoor shopping centres in the town, which can now be redeveloped with community interests in mind.

On a smaller scale is Treorchy in South Wales, which won a national best high street prize in 2019 thanks to its flourishing independent shops and cafés. They all worked together to organise cultural events with the help of an enterprising chamber of commerce.

Still, initiatives like these were exceptional. For the places at the other extreme, where boarded-up units were everywhere, the call to keep shops open could sound like a hopeless plea, and too late to make a difference.

Lockdown’s impact

In the first weeks of lockdown, it seemed that the pandemic would hasten the move online, by closing down most of the shops that were left – and seemingly leaving online as the only option. But as that slow, strange time went on, it became clear that something quite different was going on. Two years later, we can see that the lockdowns brought about a return to slower, more local and personal modes of shopping.

The shops still open for normal business – those that officially qualified as providers of “essential” goods – were being used in new (and yet old) ways. They became places to go for some vital variation in our daily routines.

People also began to make a point of supporting and using independent, local shops. At the same time, home deliveries were being organised by these smaller shops, often working together in groups. This was the case with Heathfield, a few miles from Thomas Turner’s village in East Sussex. And it was nothing to do with the networks set up by the supermarkets and other big chains.

In the media, shop assistants, working on checkouts or filling shelves, began to be referred to as “frontline workers”. The implication of this “promotion” was that they were doing invaluable work that was comparable to the public-spirited dedication of NHS employees.

The local high street seemed to be benefitting from renewed appreciation. It was as if the pandemic had demonstrated what shops were really for, and why we should not let them go. To say that shops – real shops – are a much needed community resource used to sound worthy and well-meaning. Now it just states the obvious.

A return to home delivery

Meanwhile, another, related revival is happening: home delivery. This is often assumed to have been an online invention, promoted by big supermarkets as the latest expansion of their networks and by big stores of all kinds. Some of the big home delivery names, such as Boohoo and Asos, have no physical shops at all.

But until the middle of the 20th century, most shops offered home delivery as a matter of course. For many food products, like milk or meat, this arrangement was the default. The butcher’s boy brought round the tray of meat, and the milkman delivered the bottles direct to your doorstep every morning.

With self-service came the end of most home delivery services, too. When bigger supermarkets were built on the edges of towns, in the 1980s and 1990s, the basket became a big trolley, and people put all the bags they came out with into the back of a car. As with all the other changes associated with “self”-service, the difference was that customers were doing this work themselves. The “service” was no longer provided by others.

The new delivery services offered by smaller, independent stores that started up during lockdown represented a return to local arrangements of the kind that were standard before the arrival of self-service. Yet orders are often now made online. In this case, then, new technology has actively contributed to the revival of an older form of shopping.

In the East Sussex village of Rushlake Green, for example, the local shop began to offer home deliveries. This was so successful that they acquired a new delivery van with their name on the side. This marked something of a return to the 1930s, when local shops first started investing in a “motor van” to make deliveries (a new trend much remarked on in the trade handbooks of the time).

A while delivery van.
A Rushlake Green Village Stores delivery van. The East Sussex shop started doing home deliveries during the UK lockdowns. Rushlake Green Village Stores, Author provided

As it happens, this joining of the traditional with the latest tech is itself a long established phenomenon in the history of retail distribution. New modes of transport and communication have repeatedly modified the existing conditions of shopping, and the current manifestation has striking antecedents.

Virginia Woolf’s last novel, Between the Acts, offers a nice illustration of this. It is set at the end of the 1930s, when the installation of domestic telephones was beginning to make it possible for affluent customers to ring up the shop and order their meat or groceries for delivery, without having to leave the house or send a servant.

One scene in the novel has a country lady distractedly ordering fish “in time for lunch”, while she brushes her hair in front of the mirror and murmurs lines of poetry to herself. A few pages later, just as she requested, “The fish had been delivered. Mitchell’s boy, holding them in a crook of his arm, jumped off his motor bike.”

The narrator stays with this small domestic event for a moment, commenting on how the motorbike, a recent arrival on the local scene, is driving slow old habits out of use.

No feeding the pony with lumps of sugar at the kitchen door, nor time for gossip since his round had been increased.

In Woolf’s time, this mode of transport, along with the phoned-in order, was a notable innovation, allowing just-in-time gourmet food deliveries. Almost a century later, the exclusive telephone is now the semi-universal smartphone, but the method of ordering at a distance is the same. And as it turns out, the motorbike has not been superseded in the online age of Deliveroo.

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Rachel Bowlby does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Alzheimer’s, Now A Leading Cause Of Death In US, Is Becoming More Prevalent

Alzheimer’s, Now A Leading Cause Of Death In US, Is Becoming More Prevalent

Alzheimer’s disease is now one of the leading causes of death…



Alzheimer's, Now A Leading Cause Of Death In US, Is Becoming More Prevalent

Alzheimer’s disease is now one of the leading causes of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Alzheimer’s is a degenerative and incurable brain disease that predominantly affects older people.

Early symptoms include memory loss and lapses in judgment, but at a later stage these can progress to problems with a wider range of functions too, such as balance, breathing and digestion.

As Statista's Anna Fleck details below, while heart disease, cancer and Covid-19 claimed by far the highest numbers of lives in 2021 (which was the latest available data), Alzheimer’s disease ranked in a high seventh place with 119,399 deaths that year, equating to 31 people per 100,000 population.

You will find more infographics at Statista

The rate of people dying of Alzheimer’s disease in the United States more than doubled between the years 2000 and 2019, according to the Alzheimer’s Association's latest report.

Where an average of 17.6 people per 100,000 died from the form of dementia at the turn of the millennium, the figure had climbed to 37 per 100,000 people nearly two decades later.

Infographic: Alzheimer’s Is Becoming More Prevalent | Statista

You will find more infographics at Statista

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, this is likely the result of an aging population, since age is the predominant risk factor for Alzheimer’s dementia. However, they note, it could also reflect a rise in the number of formal diagnoses of the disease or even in the number of physicians who are reporting Alzheimer’s as a cause of death. 

The charity’s analysts forecast that by 2025, the number of people aged 65+ with Alzheimer’s dementia in the U.S. could reach 7.2 million, and up to 13.8 million by 2060, if there were to be no medical breakthroughs in that time to prevent, slow or cure the disease.

On that note, pharmaceutical companies have a number of drugs in development, targeting different symptoms, from inflammation to synaptic plasticity/neuroprotection pathways.

According to AgingCare, neurological damage and muscle weakness can lead to patients finding it difficult to manage even simple movements such as swallowing food without assistance. This is the most common cause of death among Alzheimer's patients, since it can result in the inhalation of food or liquids to the lungs, which in turn can lead to pneumonia, since it more difficult to fight off bacterial infections.

The Alzheimer’s Association stresses the importance of seeing a doctor when someone develops Alzheimer’s symptoms. This is because an early diagnosis allows for treatment from earlier on, which may be able to lessen symptoms for a limited time as well as to make more time for people to plan for the future.

God bless nana.

Tyler Durden Sat, 09/23/2023 - 23:30

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American Pandemic ‘Samizdat’: Bhattacharya

American Pandemic ‘Samizdat’: Bhattacharya

Authored by Jay Bhattacharya via RealClear Wire,

On May 15, 1970, the New York Times published…



American Pandemic 'Samizdat': Bhattacharya

Authored by Jay Bhattacharya via RealClear Wire,

On May 15, 1970, the New York Times published an article by esteemed Russia scholar Albert Parry detailing how Soviet dissident intellectuals were covertly passing forbidden ideas around to each other on handcrafted, typewritten documents called samizdat. Here is the beginning of that seminal story:

Censorship existed even before literature, say the Russians. And, we may add, censorship being older, literature has to be craftier. Hence, the new and remarkably viable underground press in the Soviet Union called samizdat.

Samizdat – translates as: “We publish ourselves” – that is, not the state, but we, the people.

Unlike the underground of Czarist times, today’s samizdat has no printing presses (with rare exceptions): The K.G.B., the secret police, is too efficient. It is the typewriter, each page produced with four to eight carbon copies, that does the job. By the thousands and tens of thousands of frail, smudged onionskin sheets, samizdat spreads across the land a mass of protests and petitions, secret court minutes, Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s banned novels, George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” and “1984,” Nicholas Berdyayev’s philosophical essays, all sorts of sharp political discourses and angry poetry.

Though it is hard to hear, the sad fact is that we are living in a time and in a society where there is once again a need for scientists to pass around their ideas secretly to one another so as to avoid censorship, smearing, and defamation by government authorities in the name of science.

I say this from first-hand experience. During the pandemic, the U.S. government violated my free speech rights and those of my scientist colleagues for questioning the federal government’s COVID policies.

American government officials, working in concert with big tech companies, defamed and suppressed me and my colleagues for criticizing official pandemic policies – criticism that has been proven prescient. While this may sound like a conspiracy theory, it is a documented fact, and one recently confirmed by a federal circuit court.

In August 2022, the Missouri and Louisiana attorneys general asked me to join as a plaintiff in a lawsuit, represented by the New Civil Liberties Alliance, against the Biden administration. The suit aims to end the government’s role in this censorship and restore the free speech rights of all Americans in the digital town square.

Lawyers in the Missouri v. Biden case took sworn depositions from many federal officials involved in the censorship efforts, including Anthony Fauci. During the hours-long deposition, Fauci showed a striking inability to answer basic questions about his pandemic management, replying “I don’t recall” over 170 times.

Legal discovery unearthed email exchanges between the government and social media companies showing an administration willing to threaten the use of its regulatory power to harm social media companies that did not comply with censorship demands.

The case revealed that a dozen federal agencies pressured social media companies Google, Facebook, and Twitter to censor and suppress speech contradicting federal pandemic priorities. In the name of slowing the spread of harmful misinformation, the administration forced the censorship of scientific facts that didn’t fit its narrative de jour. This included facts relating to the evidence for immunity after COVID recovery, the inefficacy of mask mandates, and the inability of the vaccine to stop disease transmission. True or false, if speech interfered with the government’s priorities, it had to go.

On July 4, U.S. Federal District Court Judge Terry Doughty issued a preliminary injunction in the case, ordering the government to immediately stop coercing social media companies to censor protected free speech. In his decision, Doughty called the administration’s censorship infrastructure an Orwellian “Ministry of Truth.”

In my November 2021 testimony in the House of Representatives, I used this exact phrase to describe the government’s censorship efforts. For this heresy, I faced slanderous accusations by Rep. Jamie Raskin, who accused me of wanting to let the virus “rip.” Raskin was joined by fellow Democrat Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, who tried to smear my reputation on the grounds that I spoke with a Chinese journalist in April 2020.

Judge Doughty’s ruling decried the vast federal censorship enterprise dictating to social media companies who and what to censor, and ordered it to end. But the Biden administration immediately appealed the decision, claiming that they needed to be able to censor scientists or else public health would be endangered and people would die. The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals granted them an administrative stay that lasted until mid-September, permitting the Biden administration to continue violating the First Amendment.

After a long month, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that that pandemic policy critics were not imagining these violations. The Biden administration did indeed strong-arm social media companies into doing its bidding. The court found that the Biden White House, the CDC, the U.S. surgeon general’s office, and the FBI have “engaged in a years-long pressure campaign [on social media outlets] designed to ensure that the censorship aligned with the government’s preferred viewpoints.”

The appellate judges described a pattern of government officials making “threats of ‘fundamental reforms’ like regulatory changes and increased enforcement actions that would ensure the platforms were ‘held accountable.’” But, beyond express threats, there was always an “unspoken ‘or else.’” The implication was clear. If social media companies did not comply, the administration would work to harm the economic interests of the companies. Paraphrasing Al Capone, “Well that’s a nice company you have there. Shame if something were to happen to it,” the government insinuated.

“The officials’ campaign succeeded. The platforms, in capitulation to state-sponsored pressure, changed their moderation policies,” the 5th Circuit judges wrote, and they renewed the injunction against the government’s violation of free speech rights. Here is the full order, filled with many glorious adverbs:

Defendants, and their employees and agents, shall take no actions, formal or informal, directly or indirectly, to coerce or significantly encourage social-media companies to remove, delete, suppress, or reduce, including through altering their algorithms, posted social-media content containing protected free speech. That includes, but is not limited to, compelling the platforms to act, such as by intimating that some form of punishment will follow a failure to comply with any request, or supervising, directing, or otherwise meaningfully controlling the social media companies’ decision-making processes.

The federal government can no longer threaten social media companies with destruction if they don’t censor scientists on behalf of the government. The ruling is a victory for every American since it is a victory for free speech rights.

Although I am thrilled by it, the decision isn’t perfect. Some entities at the heart of the government’s censorship enterprise can still organize to suppress speech. For instance, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) within the Department of Homeland Security can still work with academics to develop a hit list for government censorship. And the National Institutes of Health, Tony Fauci’s old organization, can still coordinate devastating takedowns of outside scientists critical of government policy.

So, what did the government want censored?

The trouble began on Oct. 4, 2020, when my colleagues and I – Dr. Martin Kulldorff, a professor of medicine at Harvard University, and Dr. Sunetra Gupta, an epidemiologist at the University of Oxford – published the Great Barrington Declaration. It called for an end to economic lockdowns, school shutdowns, and similar restrictive policies because they disproportionately harm the young and economically disadvantaged while conferring limited benefits.

The Declaration endorsed a “focused protection” approach that called for strong measures to protect high-risk populations while allowing lower-risk individuals to return to normal life with reasonable precautions. Tens of thousands of doctors and public health scientists signed on to our statement.

With hindsight, it is clear that this strategy was the right one. Sweden, which in large part eschewed lockdown and, after early problems, embraced focused protection of older populations, had among the lowest age-adjusted all-cause excess deaths of nearly every other country in Europe and suffered none of the learning loss for its elementary school children. Similarly, Florida has lower cumulative age-adjusted all-cause excess deaths than lockdown-crazy California since the start of the pandemic.

In the poorest parts of the world, the lockdowns were an even greater disaster. By spring 2020, the United Nations was already warning that the economic disruptions caused by the lockdowns would lead to 130 million or more people starving. The World Bank warned the lockdowns would throw 100 million people into dire poverty.

Some version of those predictions came true – millions of the world’s poorest suffered from the West’s lockdowns. Over the past 40 years, the world’s economies globalized, becoming more interdependent. At a stroke, the lockdowns broke the promise the world’s rich nations had implicitly made to poor nations. The rich nations had told the poor: Reorganize your economies, connect yourself to the world, and you will become more prosperous. This worked, with 1 billion people lifted out of dire poverty over the last half-century.

But the lockdowns violated that promise. The supply chain disruptions that predictably followed them meant millions of poor people in sub-Saharan Africa, Bangladesh, and elsewhere lost their jobs and could no longer feed their families.

In California, where I live, the government closed public schools and disrupted our children’s education for two straight academic years. The educational disruption was very unevenly distributed, with the poorest students and minority students suffering the greatest educational losses. By contrast, Sweden kept its schools open for students under 16 throughout the pandemic. The Swedes let their children live near-normal lives with no masks, no social distancing, and no forced isolation. As a result, Swedish kids suffered no educational loss.

The lockdowns, then, were a form of trickle-down epidemiology. The idea seemed to be that we should protect the well-to-do from the virus and that protection would somehow trickle down to protect the poor and the vulnerable. The strategy failed, as a large fraction of the deaths attributable to COVID hit the vulnerable elderly.

The government wanted to suppress the fact that there were prominent scientists who opposed the lockdowns and had alternate ideas – like the Great Barrington Declaration – that might have worked better. They wanted to maintain an illusion of total consensus in favor of Tony Fauci’s ideas, as if he were indeed the high pope of science. When he told an interviewer, “Everyone knows I represent science. If you criticize me, you are not simply criticizing a man, you are criticizing science itself,” he meant it unironically.

Federal officials immediately targeted the Great Barrington Declaration for suppression. Four days after the declaration’s publication, National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins emailed Fauci to organize a “devastating takedown” of the document. Almost immediately, social media companies such as Google/YouTube, Reddit, and Facebook censored mentions of the declaration.

In 2021, Twitter blacklisted me for posting a link to the Great Barrington Declaration. YouTube censored a video of a public policy roundtable of me with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for the “crime” of telling him the scientific evidence for masking children is weak. 

At the height of the pandemic, I found myself smeared for my supposed political views, and my views about COVID policy and epidemiology were removed from the public square on all manner of social networks.

It is impossible for me not to speculate about what might have happened had our proposal been met with a more typical scientific spirit rather than censorship and vitriol. For anyone with an open mind, the GBD represented a return to the old pandemic management strategy that had served the world well for a century – identify and protect the vulnerable, develop treatments and countermeasures as rapidly as possible, and disrupt the lives of the rest of society as little as possible since such disruption is likely to cause more harm than good.

Without censorship, we might have won that debate, and if so, the world could have moved along a different and better path in the last three and a half years, with less death and less suffering.

Since I started with a story about how dissidents skirted the Soviet censorship regime, I will close with a story about Trofim Lysenko, the famous Russian biologist. Stalin’s favorite scientist was a biologist who did not believe in Mendelian genetics – one of the most important ideas in biology. He thought it was all hokum, inconsistent with communist ideology, which emphasized the importance of nurture over nature. Lysenko developed a theory that if you expose seeds to cold before you plant them, they will be more resistant to cold, and thereby, crop output could be increased dramatically.

I hope it is not a surprise to readers to learn that Lysenko was wrong about the science. Nevertheless, Lysenko convinced Stalin that his ideas were right, and Stalin rewarded him by making him the director of the USSR’s Institute for Genetics for more than 20 years. Stalin gave him the Order of Lenin eight times.

Lysenko used his power to destroy any biologist who disagreed with him. He smeared and demoted the reputations of rival scientists who thought Mendelian genetics was true. Stalin sent some of these disfavored scientists to Siberia, where they died. Lysenko censored the scientific discussion in the Soviet Union so no one dared question his theories.

The result was mass starvation. Soviet agriculture stalled, and millions died in famines caused by Lysenko’s ideas put into practice. Some sources say that Ukraine and China under Mao Tse-tung also followed Lysenko’s ideas, causing millions more to starve there.

Censorship is the death of science and inevitably leads to the death of people. America should be a bulwark against it, but it was not during the pandemic. Though the tide is turning with the Missouri v. Biden case, we must reform our scientific institutions so what happened during the pandemic never happens again.

Dr. Bhattacharya is the inaugural recipient of RealClear’s Samizdat Prize. This article was adapted from the speech he delivered at the award ceremony on September 12 in Palo Alto, California.

Tyler Durden Sat, 09/23/2023 - 10:30

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Spread & Containment

Disney World finally brings back parking trams

The theme park giant very rarely gives back things it has taken away from ticketholders, but people will be happy with this change.



Walt Disney made a lot of changes at its theme parks during the covid pandemic.

Many of them were unpopular but necessary. Health checks, masks and social distancing were beyond the company's control. Moving to only digital ordering at many casual eateries and limiting park attendance were also logical, given the need to keep people safe from the virus.

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During the pandemic, however, the company also made some changes at Disney World that people did not like and that had nothing to do with covid. Walt Disney (DIS) - Get Free Report dropped the FastPass system and replaced it with the paid Genie+ and Lightning Lane offerings. 

Disney World also added a reservation system during the pandemic to manage crowd levels at its parks, while it also stopped so-called park hopping. Now, the company has largely restored park hopping to the way it worked prepandemic and reservations are needed only in certain situations. 

Also during the pandemic Disney World dropped another popular customer convenience. After nearly three years, the company finally restored something that Disney World visitors had missed a lot.

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Epcot has a huge parking lot right in front of the park entrance.

Image source: Daniel Kline/TheStreet

Disney World made careful choices

Disney World has some very large parking lots. On a crowded day at any of its four theme parks, people who don't arrive early can end up parking very far away from each park's entrance. It's possible to walk to the entrance at Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom and Epcot or to the monorail or ferry boats at Magic Kingdom, but the walk can be a long one.

Walking is, of course, a major part of any Disney World visit. Having customers make a long trek before they even enter a park has never made much sense.

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During the covid days, however, limited crowds allowed people to park closer to the entrances. That enabled people to walk to the entrances and made parking trams an unnecessary luxury. 

Disney removed the trams partly because they weren't needed and partly because they created a covid risk. In the social distancing days, having people fighting for space to queue up for a ride to the entrance required policing and seemed like a bad idea even when things returned to closer to normal.

Now, Disney has finally fully brought parking trams back to Disney World.

Disney World brings back parking trams

Disney had promised that its parking-lot trams would return, but actually bringing them back took longer than expected.

"After more than 1,100 days and nine months after a self-imposed deadline, parking lot trams have returned to Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios – marking a full return of the service," reported. "Parking-lot-tram service returned to Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom last year, but Disney only brought back service to Epcot and Hollywood Studios today (Sept. 21),"

The website implies that the reluctance to bring the service back could have been labor-related or it may have been Disney not wanting to spend the money. The trams have a driver and each park has attendants helping keep the lines orderly (although the system is not as organized as most Disney lines).

Disney World has mostly returned to how it operated before covid. The company has kept parts of the reservation system and digital ordering is still encouraged. 

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In addition, the company continues to manage attendance and has kept capacity at lower numbers than it did before the pandemic. Disney has also increased the number of days that it sells admission to at least one of its four Florida parks at the lowest price on its dynamic pricing scale.

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