The verminous James Morrow, one of the three stooges on Sky After Dark’s Outsiders menagerie of stupidity and gullibility1,2, has really claimed a new nadir of Murdoch bastardry, and this bastardry has been so clearly in evidence during this pandemic. Morrow has done a hatchet job on Dr Norman Swan, Professor Bill Bowtell, Dr Jeannette Young, Professor Raina MacIntyre, and Professor Nicola Spurrier. If you don’t know who these people are, you mustn’t have been paying attention over the last 18 months, at least.
Dr Norman Swan was born in Scotland and obtained a degree in medicine, graduating in 1976, and then specialised in paediatrics. He emigrated to Australia in 1982 and joined the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, at which he was manager of Radio National for three years and has also been co-host on the Life Matters program and has produced and presented the Health Report since its inception in 1985. He has been awarded a Gold Walkley in 1988 for uncovering the scientific fraud perpetrated by Dr William McBride. Swan has won for Walkley awards they latest in 2020 for his Coronacast series, and the highest honour in Australian Science Journalism, the Michael Daley Award, and in 2004 was awarded the Medal of the Australian Academy of Science3.
Professor Bill Bowtell obtained a Bachelor of Arts specialising in Political Science and Government from the University of Tasmania and trained as a diplomat and has had postings in Portugal, Papua New Guinea and Zimbabwe. He was one of the architects of Australia’s highly successful and well-regarded response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. He was a senior adviser to the Labor Health Minister in the mid 1980s and played a significant role in the introduction of the Medicare health insurance system in 1984. From 1994 to 1996 he was a senior political adviser to then Prime Minister Paul Keating. He is now an Adjunct Professor at the University of New South Wales and is a strategic policy adviser with particular interest in national and international health policy structures and reform. Since 2005, has been a Director of the HIV/AIDS Project at the Lowy Institute for International Policy and, since 2009, the Executive Director of Pacific Friends of the Global Fund, which has sought to increase knowledge and awareness of the challenges posed globally, and to the Pacific region, by AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria4,5.
Dr JeannetteYoung was raised in Sydney and graduated from the University of Sydney in 1986 with a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery. She then worked at Westmead Hospital from 1986 before moving into medical administration at the same hospital in 1992. She went from there to a similar position in Rockhampton Hospital in late 1994, and in 1995 she obtained a Master of Business Administration from Macquarie University. In 1999 she moved to Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane. In August 2005, she was appointed Chief Health Officer for Queensland. Her recommendation to the Queensland Government to close the state’s borders, which was implemented in the second half of 2020, caused her to receive numerous death threats. Young has received honorary doctorates from Griffith University and the Queensland University of Technology and was awarded the Public Service Medal in 2015. She has also been selected to become the next Governor of Queensland6.
Professor Raina MacIntyre graduated from the University of Sydney with a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery, and has a Master’s degree in Applied Epidemiology and a PhD in Epidemiology, both from the Australian National University. She has worked as a clinician in hospitals, in health departments on outbreak control, and her PhD research was on screening, surveillance and contact tracing for tuberculosis and involved detailed tracking of the risk of infection in high risk contacts. She was at the National Centre for Immunisation Research for 15 years, and has conducted many vaccine clinical trials and has expertise in vaccinology and vaccine programs, especially vaccination of adults, at-risk and immunosuppressed populations. She is best known for research in the detailed understanding of the transmission dynamics and prevention of infectious diseases, particularly respiratory pathogens such as influenza, tuberculosis, bioterrorism agents and vaccine-preventable infections. She has been awarded the Sir Henry Wellcome Medal from the US Association of Military Surgeons for her work on risk analysis of bioterrorism and the Frank Fenner Award for advanced research in infectious diseases. She has served on numerous expert committees nationally and internationally, including for the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, Institute of Medicine (both US) and the World Health Organisation. She has over 400 publications in peer-reviewed journals and is on editorial boards for Vaccine, BMJ Open and Epidemiology & Infection7,8.
Dr Nicola Spurrier graduated with a Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery from the University of Adelaide. She has a Graduate Diploma in Epidemiology from the University of Newcastle and a PhD in child health from the University of Adelaide. She worked at the Women’s and Children’s hospital in Adelaide from 1993-1999, before becoming a lecturer in paediatrics and child health at Flinders University and a consultant paediatrician at Flinders Medical Centre. Spurrier became Chief Public Health Officer for South Australia in August 20199.
All these people are hammered in different ways: Swan for predicting in March of 2020, that Australia could have 70,000-80,000 Covid-19 cases per day; Bowtell for effectively preventing many deaths from HIV with the ‘grim reaper’ ad, but not being impressed with the awful Covid-19 ad with a young woman gasping for breath; Young for preventing an Anzac day flyover because social distancing of crowds could not be guaranteed, and for advising against the AstraZeneca vaccine for under 40s; MacIntyre (whose name Morrow misspells) for stating that ‘we could be looking … at 10,000-20,000 deaths’ from the swine flu in 2009 and that hundreds of thousands could die of Covid-19 in Australia; and Spurrier for locking down at the ‘tiniest indication of a cluster’ of Covid-19.
While Morrow’s stupidity is exemplified by his appearances on Sky’s Outsiders and his ignorance of science and his gullibility for pseudoscience, his editorial skill (he is the political editor of the Daily Bellylaugh) is clearly problematic given that he misspelled MacIntyre’s name, and some time ago, he attacked the wrong story about a Donald Trump telephone call printed in the Washington Post10.
Morrow also clearly doesn’t understand logic. The reason we didn’t get anything like the 10,000-20,000 Morrow says MacIntyre predicted from the Swine Flu, was in part because Australia had a plan with dealing with pandemics, and this pandemic response was guided by the Australian Health Management Plan for Pandemic Influenza 2008 (AHMPPI)11. The virus was first recorded in Mexico and the USA, and the World Health Organisation declared it a pandemic in June 2009. Around the world 1.5 million people were believed to have been infected and over 25,000 died12. The morbidity of this virus was overestimated at the time, as it was the same virus (H1N1) that caused the 1918-1920 Spanish Flu, which is estimated to have killed 50 million around the world. A vaccine for it became available late in 200913.
The reason we didn’t get the massive numbers of Covid-19 infections predicted by Swan was because of people like Spurrier and Young insisting on lockdowns when infection clusters became evident. You can see what happens when politicians don’t want to inconvenience themselves and their wealthy mates by locking down early enough. The UK, with a population two and a half times that of Australia, has had 140 times the number of deaths (so far). The US, with a population 13 times that of Australia, has had 680 times as many deaths14. If it hadn’t been for people like Spurrier and Young advising their state premiers rather than the premiers listening to Scott ‘live with the virus’ Morrison last year, we could have been in the same boat as the UK and the US. If the state premiers had not handled the pandemic as well as they have, based on that advice, Berejiklian notwithstanding, and if we had handled the pandemic as badly as the UK or US, we could have had over 50,000 dead, not too far from Swan’s estimate. Morrow is either too limited to understand this, or is too dishonest to admit it. While we haven’t had the disastrous result of the UK or the US, the Australian vaccine strollout has been so diabolically slow, it is too soon to be smug, especially with the shambolic handling of the outbreak in Sydney.
The stupid attitude of people like Morrow, who seems to believe that if predictions in the absence of any response do not come true because there has been a more or less effective response, then there was no problem in the first place. The profundity of this stupidity is mind boggling. It is akin to a cancer patient, having been cured of cancer by surgery, berating the surgeon and stating that he didn’t have cancer in the first place.
Morrow is one of those insipid little men who hate expertise. He has lots of colleagues in this hatred within the coalition parties and among the other Murdoch hacks and liars. He has an enormously high opinion of his own abilities despite having no reason to do so, and it upsets him enormously that others have so much more knowledge, expertise, credibility and numerous awards recognising their excellence. What a sad little man he is.