2018 Lakatos Award Winners Announced

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 12/07/2018 - 11:53pm in

The Lakatos Award is given annually “for an outstanding contribution to the philosophy of science, widely interpreted, in the form of a book published in English during the current year or the previous five years.” This year two recipients were selected


The award is £10,000 (approximately $13,220), which will be split between the two winners. They will receive the awards and deliver their prize lectures at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) this fall.

The award is endowed by the Latsis Foundation, in memory of the influential philosopher of science Imre Lakatos, who was a professor at LSE.

The post 2018 Lakatos Award Winners Announced appeared first on Daily Nous.

Solving Home Problems - Floor, damper, small boy.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 10/07/2018 - 10:07pm in



Salmonella Germs Horrified At Thought Of Touching Andrew Bolt

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 06/07/2018 - 8:18am in



Billions of salmonella germs have waged protests in petri dishes across the country after learning that the plastic bag ban may lead them to make contact with the skin of opinion writer Andrew Bolt.

“‘Most of us are decent, hard working germs who simply want to live quiet lives on onion skins at the bottom of a reusable bag waiting for the opportunity to leap onto some reheated chicken,” said protest leader Beck Tearia. “I’m sure no organism, single celled or otherwise, wants to know what Andrew Bolt’s bowels look like from the inside.”

Salmonella germs living near the white bread section of Woolworths feel most at risk of accidentally coming into contact with Bolt.

“We were amazed to find the salmonella cultures in our lab had arranged themselves into the words “bring back the plastic bags”,” said microbiologist Dr Esther Colley. “The fear of Andrew Bolt is so great amongst bacteria that we are thinking of developing a new super antibiotic constructed out of cells scraped from his host chair on The Bolt Report.”

Peter Green

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The Norms of Science: Extract from Paul Romer

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 01/07/2018 - 6:23pm in



I was looking for something on economic method, and found this section of Paul Romer’s “The Trouble with Macroeconomics” which I thought was worth posting.

Some of the economists who agree about the state of macro in private conversations will not say so in public. This is consistent with the explanation based on different prices. Yet some of them also discourage me from disagreeing openly, which calls for some other explanation.

They may feel that they will pay a price too if they have to witness the unpleasant reaction that criticism of a revered leader provokes. There is no question that the emotions are intense. After I criticized a paper by Lucas, I had a chance encounter with someone who was so angry that at first he could not speak. Eventually, he told me, “You are killing Bob.”

But my sense is that the problem goes even deeper that avoidance. Several economists I know seem to have assimilated a norm that the post-real macroeconomists actively promote – that it is an extremely serious violation of some honor code for anyone to criticize openly a revered authority figure – and that neither facts that are false, nor predictions that are wrong, nor models that make no sense matter enough to worry about.

A norm that places an authority above criticism helps people cooperate as members of a belief field that pursues political, moral, or religious objectives. As Jonathan Haidt (2012) observes, this type of norm had survival value because it helped members of one group mount a coordinated defense when they were attacked by another group. It is supported by two innate moral senses, one that encourages us to defer to authority, another which compels self-sacrifice to defend the purity of the sacred.

Science, and all the other research fields spawned by the enlightenment, survive by “turning the dial to zero” on these innate moral senses. Members cultivate the conviction that nothing is sacred and that authority should always be challenged. In this sense, Voltaire is more important to the intellectual foundation of the research fields of the enlightenment than Descartes or Newton.

By rejecting any reliance on central authority, the members of a research field can coordinate their independent efforts only by maintaining an unwavering commitment to the pursuit of truth, established imperfectly, via the rough consensus that emerges from many independent assessments of publicly disclosed facts and logic; assessments that are made by people who honor clearly stated disagreement, who accept their own fallibility, and relish the chance to subvert any claim of authority, not to mention any claim of infallibility.

Even when it works well, science is not perfect. Nothing that involves people ever is. Scientists commit to the pursuit of truth even though they realize that absolute truth is never revealed. All they can hope for is a consensus that establishes the truth of an assertion in the same loose sense that the stock market establishes the value of a firm. It can go astray, perhaps for long stretches of time. But eventually, it is yanked back to reality by insurgents who are free to challenge the consensus and supporters of the consensus who still think that getting the facts right matters.

Despite its evident flaws, science has been remarkably good at producing useful knowledge. It is also a uniquely benign way to coordinate the beliefs of large numbers of people, the only one that has ever established a consensus that extends to millions or billions without the use of coercion.

Large Grant to Fund Philosophical Work on Scientific Testimony and Diversity

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 27/06/2018 - 12:03am in

Mikkel Gerken, associate professor of philosophy at the University of Southern Denmark, has been awarded a DKK 4,259,520 (approximately $666,750) grant for his research project, “Scientific Testimony in a Diverse Society,” from Independent Research Fund Denmark (Dansmarks Frie Forskningsfond, or DFF).

The project brings social epistemology to bear on questions regarding scientific testimony, with an emphasis on the tension between respecting epistemically diverse minorities while also respecting scientific expertise. The work will be based at the University of Southern Denmark and will include recruiting two post-doctoral fellows. Its funding begins in September 2019 and will run for two years.

DFF funding “creates space for pursuing original research ideas with a yet unknown potential to improve our lives and lifestyle.” You can learn more about it here, and more about Professor Gerken’s work here.

The post Large Grant to Fund Philosophical Work on Scientific Testimony and Diversity appeared first on Daily Nous.

When Scientists Read Philosophy, Are They Reading The “Wrong Philosophers”?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 26/06/2018 - 10:35pm in

“The trouble with physicists who denigrate philosophy is that they read the wrong philosophers, which sad to say is most philosophers.”

That’s Clark Glymour (Carnegie Mellon) in an interview with Richard Marshall at 3:AM Magazine.

Glymour distinguishes between two different approaches to philosophy, noting that the one that is more useful is not the one most philosophers identify with:

By their fruits ye shall know them. Compare Plato and Aristotle, superficially. Plato made no effective contributions to how to acquire true belief. Plato had analyses and counterexamples (The Meno) and a huge metaphysical discourse; we still don’t know necessary and conditions for virtue, the subject of the Meno. Aristotle had axioms for logic, a logic that was pretty much the best anyone could do for 2300 years. He had a schema for conducting inquiry (albeit, not a terribly good one, but it wasn’t bested until the 17th century). Euclid was not a contemporary of Plato or Aristotle, but he systematized the fragments of geometry then current. The result was a theory that could be systematically investigated mathematically, applied in a multitude of contexts, and that constituted a stalking horse for alternative theories that have proved better empirically. Euclid has no formal definition of “point” that plays any role in his mathematical geometry. Just imagine if instead the history of geometry consisted of analyses of necessary and sufficient conditions for something to be a point.

Newton, von Neummann, Schulte, Ramsey, Hilbert, Bernay, and Lewis come in for praise for their axiomizations and systematizations of physics, decision theory, first-order logic, and the logic of counterfactuals. Meanwhile, “Socratic thinking has no comparable fruits.”

That way of conceiving the landscape of philosophy informs Glymour’s answer to this question from Marshall:

Several prominent scientists, including the late Stephen Hawking, ask: if philosophical questions are so vague or general that we don’t know how to conduct experiments or systematic observations to find their answers, what does philosophy do that can be of any value? Maybe in the past it was creative and was the basis of science, but that was then: why do philosophy now? How do you answer them?

Here is Glymour’s reply:

The trouble with physicists who denigrate philosophy is that they read the wrong philosophers, which sad to say is most philosophers.   Had they read Peter Spirtes (CMU), or Jiji Zhang (Lingnan, Hong Kong) or Frederick Eberhardt (Cal Tech) or Oliver Schulte (Simon Fraser) or Teddy Seidenfeld (CMU) or Scott Weinstein (Penn), they might have had a different opinion. Looking back to the last century, philosophers (e.g., Bertrand Russell) made major advances in logic, created the basics of behavioral decision theory (Ramsey), co-created computational learning theory (Putnam), and created the causal interpretation of Bayes nets and the first correct search algorithms for them (Spirtes, Glymour and Scheines)…. One of my colleagues, Steve Awoody, made a central contribution to the creation of a new branch of mathematics, homotopic type theory.

The reason a handful of philosophers were able to make these contributions is relatively simple: they were well-prepared and in academic or financial circumstances that enabled them to think outside of disciplinary boxes and develop novel ideas in sufficient detail to make an impact, or in Ramsey’s case, lucky enough to have a later figure really develop the fundamental idea. It is a rare university department that allows for such thinkers.

Statistically, the physicist critics are pretty near correct. Philosophy of science is a deadletter subject filled with commentary book reports on real scientific work, banal methodological remarks (e.g.,scientists of a time don’t always think of true alternatives to the theories they do think of; scientists sometimes have to think at multiple “levels”), and “mathematical philosophy” some of which is very interesting but none or which is of practical scientific relevance. I once was interviewed for a job at UCLA. Pearl was invited to dinner with me and with some of my potential colleagues. Pearl managed to compliment me and insult the others with one question: “Why don’t the rest of you guys do anything?” In the context of your question, Pearl’s was a very good question.

Here is my answer to Pearl’s question: Demographics and history have killed philosophy of science. The Logical Empiricists, European émigrés just before and after World War II, had almost no interest in methodology, did not engage much in the developments in statistics or computation, and basically gave philosophy of science a reconstructive turn—the heritage of their neo-Kantianism. They educated two generations of American philosophers interested in science. By the 1980s computer science and statistics increasingly took over methodology, and (at least in computer science) began to address some of the issues that motivated me a generation earlier to study history and philosophy of science. After that, someone with my interests would have to be either very ambitious or foolhardy or not really smart to study philosophy rather than statistics and machine learning. Born too early, I was.

There’s more (and more kinds of) philosophy of science than ever before. Glymour knows that, of course, so when he talks about philosophy of science being “killed,” he doesn’t mean that no one’s doing it. What he means, rather, is that it is Socratic, in the sense of fruitless. I would imagine that many philosophers of science would disagree. Thoughts welcome in the comments.

Roxy Paine, “Symbiosis”

The post When Scientists Read Philosophy, Are They Reading The “Wrong Philosophers”? appeared first on Daily Nous.

A lucky boy from a golden age of economics

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 19/06/2018 - 12:24pm in


history, Science

When the financial crisis struck, it was back to the economics Max Corden learned in the 40s and 50s — a golden age of economics in which conceptual simplicity was a feature not a bug and the central criterion of good work was its generality and usefulness — rather than the conspicuous cleverness that defined later economics.

(Cross posted from The Mandarin) This has been adapted from Nicholas Gruen’s address at the launch of Max Corden’s memoirs Lucky boy in the lucky country at Queens College, University of Melbourne on May 29.

The German philosopher Hegel said “the Owl of Minerva spreads its wings at dusk”. It’s an oracular way of putting an arresting and, if the truth be told, deeply melancholy thought.

In our fallen world, so much of life is revealed to us in retrospect. Reflection and wisdom come too late to be useful. In some ways, Max’s penchant for economic theory is an assertion of optimism against that melancholy. For by the fragile and imperfect construction of theory we try to build bridges between the events of the past and those of the future. We want to be ready next time. But therein lies a challenge. We want our theory to be useful, a point to which I’ll return.

The owl has been visiting Max lately. In an earlier discussion with Ross Garnaut to try to coordinate what we’d each speak about, I mentioned to him that my father was less conscious of his Jewish roots and less reflective of his past than Max. “Exactly like Max” said Ross. My father died twenty years ago and Ross says that Max’s deeper interest in his past has grown considerably since then.

Still that owl has a habit of creeping up on one. It was only towards the end of my father’s life that I gained any real interest in his history. It was much later again when I realised that all those things that migrants’ kids said – for instance about the strange food they ate at home – were also true for me, at least in small ways. A couple of decades ago I wouldn’t have noticed Max’s Europeanness. I barely noticed my father’s. But I do now.

I was invited to speak at this launch because of my father’s friendship with Max and the similarity between Dad’s and Max’s stories. I don’t know if Max knows some of the eerie similarities. I’ll tell you one. As Max tells us, in May 1938 he started two terms at the Streete Court School in Westgate-on-Sea in Kent.

He would meet Dad in Australia twenty years later at Monash University and write a paper together. They’d become closer friends another twenty years after that as respective heads of their centres at the ANU. Indeed Max writes in his memoirs “I don’t think I have met anybody in my life whom I have admired so much for his personality and balanced judgement”. But all those years back at Streete Court School, Max was just six miles or so up the road from Herne Bay College where my father had been boarding since 1936.

As Ross was speaking of the clarity of Max’s work, the simplicity that came from thinking things through before one opened one’s mouth or put pen to paper, it put me in mind of Steve Jobs who spoke of the simplicity on the other side of complexity – the simplicity that comes from all that work trying to find the most compelling way into and through some difficult problem.

It’s a clue to Max’s success as an economist – a discipline which, as Keynes remarked, is intellectually “a very easy subject compared with the higher branches of philosophy and pure science?” Keynes’ sting in the tail was that “good, or even competent, economists are the rarest of birds.”

You see economics itself is built on very simple foundations. In fact, I was once at a lunch following the launch of Nugget Coombs’ last book at which a ditzy blonde acolyte was on my left and Nugget was on my right. She trilled that economics was far too complex for her to understand. I responded that economics might look complex, “but it’s really all built on a single idea”. Nugget, who like surprisingly many economists towards the end of their days despair of their profession, leant across to her and said: “Yes and it’s wrong!”

Max and my father made their careers during a golden age of economics in which conceptual simplicity was a feature not a bug and the central criterion of good work was its generality and usefulness. Gradually academia somehow came to reward conspicuous cleverness as its apex value and quite quickly its usefulness of economics receded – a Tower of Babel rising in its stead. It’s telling that, when the financial crisis struck, it was back to the economics Max learned in the 40s and 50s. Paul Krugman, of whom I’m a huge fan is the impresario of this new age, a strident but pathologically clear headed critic of the way in which the macroeconomics of the business cycle actually retrogressed after the 1980s. Ironically, as I’ll argue shortly, he was an architect of a similar retrogression in trade theory from about the same time.

I recall one of the first conversations I had with Dad at around the age of thirty when I’d finally relinquished one of my life-long goals to not become an economist. He read me a marvellous passage from the great British economist and friend of Max, John Hicks. In Value and Capital published in 1939 Hicks spoke of how little progress could be made in economic theory if one incorporated scale economies which are logically incompatible with perfect competition. Here’s the money quote from Hicks:

“It is, I believe, only possible to salvage anything from this wreck – and it must be remembered that the threatened wreckage is that of the greater part of economic theory – if we can assume that the markets confronting most . . . firms . . . do not differ very greatly from perfectly competitive markets. . . . At least this get-away seems well worth trying. We must be aware, however, that we are taking a dangerous step, and probably limiting to a serious extent the problems with which our subsequent analysis will be fitted to deal. Personally, however, I doubt if most of the problems we shall have to exclude for this reason are capable of much useful analysis by the methods of economic theory.”

Note that last sentence. Hicks didn’t say “I doubt you can get a paper published assuming imperfect competition”. Indeed, people had done it throughout the 1930s though with disappointing results. His claim was that, in the light of his carefully considered and formulated arguments, formally modelling scale economies would not be useful.

Of course, he never advocated ignoring scale economies. Indeed he wrote about scale economies often. He understood that in a formal model the realism of one’s assumptions came at the price of the tractability of the model and the generality of its results. Therefore perfect competition would generally be assumed in his formal modelling, particularly in general equilibrium, and scale economies would be taken into account formally in simplified partial equilibrium models and diagrams and/or in discussion of limitations to the generality of one’s formal modelling or how some theoretical conclusion might be applied in a specific context.

For Hicks, as for Keynes and for Max and my father, economics was commonsense, worked over, clarified and applied.

However, at about the time Max moved on from the microeconomics of trade, these sensibilities changed. Paul Krugman and a cadre of others set about ignoring Hick’s warning. Here’s a challenge I’ve put for a couple of decades now without anyone rising to it. Show me any paper from the ‘new trade theory’ that mentioned Hicks’ warning or one like it (Milton Friedman had the same advice) and carefully considered why this time it was different. I think of Krugman as about the most brilliant and useful economist we have. But his most brilliant work wasn’t useful, and his most useful work isn’t brilliant.

And what’s that they say about people forgetting the lessons of history being condemned to repeat it? Krugman later lamented that such a “fundamental rethinking” of trade theory “can have such modest implications for policy”:

“The models [we] used were, in a way, typical of economics: clearly untrue assumptions (symmetric constant elasticity of substitution preferences; symmetric costs across products!), and involved a fair bit of work to arrive at what sounds in retrospect like a fairly obvious point: even similar countries will end up specializing in different products …. But this point was only obvious in retrospect. People in trade were not saying anything like this until the New Trade Theory models came along and clarified our thinking and language. Trust me, I was there ….”

I was there too. So let me decode Krugman’s statement that “people in trade” weren’t saying that “even similar countries will end up specializing in different products”. He’s saying first that economists can’t see what isn’t in their models – whereas Hicks and pretty much every economist until the late twentieth century would have understood the need for careful and ongoing reconciliation of formal modelling and other sources of knowledge. More shockingly he’s saying that those who smell a rat at the dysfunctionality of all this should just get over themselves. To quote Krugman:

“You may not like this tendency; certainly economists tend to be too quick to dismiss what has not been formalized (although I believe that the focus on models is basically right).”

It’s ironic given how compellingly Krugman has documented the regression of macroeconomics in the same period that saw his own rise via new trade theory. I think both retrogressions were driven by formalisation at all costs, though, in the case of new classical macro, this mindset gave additional licence to the motivated reasoning of the libertarian right. In each case, economics regresses into scholastic abstractions, and obviously important parts of the story slide pristine invisibility to the elect.

For the record when Krugman says “people in trade” weren’t thinking of scale economies driving trade patterns he really means academics at the commanding heights of formal neoclassical trade theory. The rest of us were shouting ourselves hoarse. Take Linder’s early 60s model of mass marketing at home and luxury marketing abroad, Raymond Vernon’s ‘product cycle’ model of trade a decade later,  or Peter Gray’s late 1980s heuristic model of trade and imperfect competition. Two distinguished antipodean economists Peter Drysdale and Peter Elkan (from New Zealand) not to mention another Kiwi by birth Peter Lloyd who is with us tonight elaborated the significance of scale economies for trade. They proposed ad hoc partial equilibrium toy models and diagrams to illustrate various ideas and proposed policies based around them. Then there was the empirical work of people like Bela Belassa, Anne Krueger, Jagdish Bhagwati and others who, from the early seventies on, explored the implications of scale economies, regional trade agreements and intra-industry trade. This is not to mention Max himself, who has a whole chapter on scale economies in Trade and Welfare.

Before I wind up. One more coincidence – this time in the form of a riddle. What do I and Max’s student, Sir Nicholas Stern have in common? I don’t know if Max knows this but we’re both second generation Dunera Boys. My father came out on the Dunera and stayed. His father came out and went back, surviving the journey unlike a few unlucky souls who set sail to return during the war but perished at sea.

And finally to kindness. Max concludes his book Lucky boy in the lucky country with a typically straightforward accounting of all the lucky breaks he had in his life. His humble gratitude for the kindness of others is palpable. As it was with my father who often made a point of thanking those who had gone out of their way to help him and to protect him. Like a woman who’d looked after him in Austria, Frau Heller and Miss Margaret Holmes of the Student Christian Movement in Australia who helped the Dunera Boys get access to books and other things necessary for their education in their new homeland.

I thought I would end with a quote from one of the Dunera Boys about one of the people who was kind to Dad and other Dunera Boys. For me it has the quality of a kind of incantation. I read it every now and again and also read it to other people. Let me read it to you now. It’s a description of Captain Edward Broughton who was the Sergeant of the 8th Employment Company in which my father and many Dunera Boys worked towards the end of the war. The first Australian to write a book on the Dunera, Cyril Pearl describes him thus:

“He was a half-caste tattooed Maori. At the age of 16, by falsifying his age, he . . . served in the South African war. Fourteen years later he fought with the Maori Battalion on Gallipoli, was mentioned in dispatches, and commissioned. After the evacuation of Gallipoli, he served in France, and with a Russian regiment. Having overstated his age for the Boer War, he understated it by 16 years to fight in World War Two.”

This is what one Dunera boy said about him on his death in 1955:

“Keenly intelligent, well-read, endowed with a superb sense of humour, completely untainted by any racial prejudice… deeply interested in human beings, he did not only gain immediate respect and obedience, but also the love and affection of the unit. He enjoyed hugely being at its head, learned and meticulously respected Jewish customs, and was immensely proud of the unit because of the splendid work it did, humbly unaware of the fact that it was only he who could have turned these people into willing manual labourers. … He engaged in incessant publicity war on our behalf and fought hard to have our status changed, only to be booted out by the Army eventually. After being shoved around as flotsam and jetsam for many years he managed… to make us feel like human beings again. He restored our faith in man, as something more than 92 percent water and a few chemicals. He was a scholar and a gentleman.”

As Broughton said to one of his refugee charges from across the world “You and me, we’re the same”.

Both were lucky. And luckier still adding to each others’ luck.

Those who’ve been paying attention to the multi-dimensional scandal of academic publishing may not be surprised to learn that Max’s publisher Palgrave have done Max the great disservice of gouging those who might want to read his book. Their price is $125 for Max’s slim, elegant volume. At the launch Max was subsidising this for readers and is pitching in his own money on top of the publishers discount to him to bring the price down to $50. In any event, if people wish to borrow my copy they should email or tweet me – and I’ll be happy to arrange to lend it to them.

Ellen Clifford of DPAC Attacks DWP and the Renewed Contracts to Atos and Capita

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 17/06/2018 - 7:21pm in

This is another short video from RT. It’s just over five minutes long, and is an interview with Ellen Clifford of Disabled People Against Cuts on the renewal of the contracts given to Atos and Capita to continue assessing disabled people’s benefit claims.

The interviewer states that the two outsourcing companies have been criticised for failing to meet targets and disabled people themselves through incorrectly assessing them as fit for work. 100,000 people have so far had the decisions against them overturned on appeal. The Labour and Liberal parties have called on the work to be taken back in house by the state.

The government, however, has released a statement, which runs as follows

The quality of assessment has risen year on year since 2015, but one person’s poor experience is one too many. We’re committed to continuously improving assessments, and have announced we’re piloting the video recording of PIP assessments with a view to rolling out this widely.

Clifford states that Capita and Atos have had their contracts extended only for two years, but that’s two years too long. They want this profiteering by the outsourcing companies to end. She also makes the point that one of the major complaints they hear about the assessments is dishonesty – or lies – by the company, and this is at such a rate that it cannot be coincidence. The current rate for decisions being overturned on appeal is 69 per cent. The interviewer asks if there is a chance that the process could be improved in the next two years. Clifford replies that over the past few years the government has announced that they’re changing and improving the scheme, but this is just tinkering around the edges. What is needed is a fundamental overhaul of the system, which is based on a model of disability that DPAC would not advocate. She hopes that the videoing of assessments will lead to more transparency, and DPAC will be watching this very carefully.

The interviewer also states that the majority of people are satisfied with the assessment process, and looking at the number of appeals against the positive cases, wonders if the issue isn’t being politicised. Clifford states that while the percentage of bad decisions may be small, they still affect millions of people, and so are statistically high. She says that anyone who works in the welfare sector or disability is inundated with cases from people, who have been turned down when they genuinely need that money. The interviewer asks her if she sees a glimmer of hope. She states that they see a government under pressure, experiencing market failure in this area. She states that DPAC also wants the assessments to be taken back in-house. They need to keep the pressure up. The assessments need to be taken back in-house and the whole system given a radical overhaul.

Everything Ellen Clifford says in this interview is exactly true. I’ve personally experienced Atos lying about my assessment and health, when they assessed me for incapacity benefit several years. And this was overturned on appeal. And when blogging about this issue, Mike and I, and many other left-wing bloggers, have received posts from commenters telling us how they were also wrongly assessed by the outsourcing companies to prevent them claiming benefits. Whistleblowers from inside the companies and DWP have come forward, stating that the government has set targets for the number of people, whose claims are to be rejected. I’ve reblogged a number of pieces, including videos about this. The fault lies with the DWP. And Kitty S. Jones has also described extensively on her blog how the DWP’s model of disability was produced by an American researcher working for Unum, one of the private medical insurance companies. They won the ear first of Peter Lilley, and then Blair and New Labour. The model assumes that people are malingering, and has been scientifically discredited. Nevertheless, this model is still used by the DWP.

The current system is a disgrace. It is, as Clifford states, all about throwing people off benefit. And despite its promises, all the so-called improvements introduced by the Tories are nothing but tinkering at the edges. When the Tories haven’t promised something more ominous. When they talked about cutting the rate of appeals, what they intended to do was not make the assessment process more honest, so that disabled people could claim benefit more easily, but actually making the conditions for being assessed as disabled more difficult, so that fewer people would be assessed as disabled, but could not successfully appeal against the decision because it followed the new, harsher conditions.

The whole process needs to be taken back in-house, and a radical overhaul done, with a view not to throwing disabled people off benefit, so that greedy multi-millionaires can enjoy another tax cut, but to make sure they genuinely have the welfare support and money they deserve and need.

Ursula Le Guin Referenced in Radio 3 Programme about Forests

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/06/2018 - 5:17pm in

Next week, Saturday 16th June 2018 to Friday 22nd June, Radio 3 is broadcasting a series of programmes about forests, in folklore, history, anthropology, witchcraft, music and art. And next Tuesday’s edition of Free Thinking, 19th June 2018 at 10.00 pm discusses forests and the natural world in the work of the Fantasy and SF author Ursula K Le Guin. It takes as its title that of one of her SF novels, The Word for World Is Forest. The blurb for it on page 126 of the Radio Times reads

Humanity’s impact on the natural world is a theme running through the work of American novelist Ursula K. Le Guin. Matthew Sweet discusses Le Guin on forests with British academic and Green Party politician Rupert Read.

Israel Based Journo Shows How Censorship of Steve Bell Cartoon Plays into Hands of Real Anti-Semites

Last week the editor of the Groaniad, Kath Viner, spiked a cartoon by the paper’s Steve Bell for supposed anti-Semitism. The cartoon commented on the complete indifference to the murder of 21 year old Palestinian medic, Razan al-Najjar by the IDF shown by Netanyahu and Tweezer. Bell depicted the two having a cosy chat by the fire, in which al-Najjar was burning. This was too much for Viner, who immediately did what the Israel lobby always does whenever the country is criticised for its brutal treatment of the Palestinians: she immediately accused the critic of anti-Semitism. The cartoon was anti-Semitic, apparently, because al-Najjar’s place in the fire was supposedly a reference to the Holocaust and the murder of the Jews in the Nazi gas ovens. Despite the fact that Bell denied that there was any such intention in his work, or indeed, any overt references to the Holocaust at all.

Bell was naturally outraged, and issued a strong denial. I’ve blogged about this issue, as has Mike, and Bell’s denial was also covered by that notorious pro-Putin propaganda channel, RT. And an Israel-based journalist, Jonathan Cook, has also come down solidly on Bell’s side and against censorship.

Mike posted a piece reporting and commenting on Mr Cook’s view and analysis of the case on Saturday. Cook is a former Guardian journalist, who now lives in Nazareth, the capital of Israel’s Palestinian minority. Cook praised Bell’s cartoon because of the way it held power to account, and indicted the powerful and their calculations at the expense of the powerless. He stated

In other words, it represents all that is best about political cartoons, or what might be termed graphic journalism. It holds power – and us – to account.

He then went on to describe how, by siding with Israel over the cartoon, the Guardian was siding with the powerful against the powerless; with a nuclear-armed state against its stateless minority. He then goes on to make the point that when criticism of Israel is silenced, the country benefits from a kind of reverse anti-Semitism, or philo-Semitism, which turns Israel into a special case. He writes

When a standard caricature of Netanyahu – far less crude than the caricatures of British and American leaders like Blair and Trump – is denounced as anti-Semitic, we are likely to infer that Israeli leaders expect and receive preferential treatment. When showing Netanyahu steeped in blood – as so many other world leaders have been – is savaged as a blood libel, we are likely to conclude that Israeli war crimes are uniquely sanctioned. When Netanyahu cannot be shown holding a missile, we may assume that Israel has dispensation to bombard Gaza, whatever the toll on civilians.

And when we see the furore created over a cartoon like Bell’s, we can only surmise that other, less established cartoonists will draw the appropriate conclusion: keep away from criticising Israel because it will harm your personal and professional reputation.

He then makes the point that doing so plays into the hands of real anti-Semites, and generates more:

When we fail to hold Israel to account; when we concede to Israel, a nuclear-armed garrison state, the sensitivities of a Holocaust victim; when we so mistake moral priorities that we elevate the rights of a state over the rights of the Palestinians it victimises, we not only fuel the prejudices of the anti-Semite but we make his arguments appealing to others. We do not help to stamp out anti-Semitism, we encourage it to spread. That is why Viner and the Guardian have transgressed not just against Bell, and against the art of political cartoons, and against justice for the Palestinians, but also against Jews and their long-term safety.

Mike goes on to make the point that we need to be more critical about the raving paranoiacs, who see anti-Semitism in Steve Bell’s cartoon, and also in Gerald Scarfe’s depiction of Netanyahu building his anti-Palestinian wall using the blood and bodies of the Palestinians themselves. This was attacked by Mark Regev, the Israeli ambassador, as ‘anti-Semitic’, who claimed that it was a reference to the Blood Libel. It wasn’t, but the I apologised anyway. Mike goes on to say that there is no such thing as an unintentional anti-Semite, but authorial intentions are routinely ignored in these cases.

He then goes to state very clearly that as the authorial intentions of these cartoons weren’t anti-Semitic, Viner was wrong about Bell’s cartoon. Just as the Sunset Times, as Private Eye dubbed the rag, was wrong about Scarfe and Mike himself, as was the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism. And so are the people, who’ve accused Ken Livingstone, Jackie Walker, Tony Greenstein and so many others of anti-Semitism. And in the meantime, Netanyahu gets away with mass murder.

Mike concludes

But Mr Cook is right – these attitudes only fuel real anti-Semitism among those who draw the only logical conclusion about what’s going on in the media, which is that the Establishment is protecting the Israeli government against censure for its crimes.

It suggests to me that all those involved in this charade have been creating problems that will come back to harm all of us in the future.

Now part of the problem here could be certain developments in anti-racism and postmodernist literary theory. For example, some anti-racist activists have argued that there is such a thing as unconscious racism, and have used it to accuse people and material they have seen as spreading or legitimising racism, but without any conscious intent to do so.

In postmodernist literary theory, the author’s intent is irrelevant. In the words of one French postmodernist literary theorist, ‘all that exists is the text’. And one person’s interpretation of the text is as good as another’s.

Hence, those arguing that the above cartoons are anti-Semitic, could do so citing these ideas above.

Now there clearly is something to unconscious racism. If you look back at some of the discussions and depictions of racial issues in 1970s popular culture, they are often horrendously racist by today’s standards. But they weren’t seen as such then, and I dare say many of those responsible for some of them genuinely didn’t believe they were being racist, nor intended to do so. And unconscious racism is irrelevant in this case too. The accusers have not argued that these cartoons are unconsciously racist. They’ve simply declared that they are, without any kind of qualification. Which implies that their authors must be deliberately anti-Semitic, which is a gross slur.

As for postmodernist literary theory, the accusers haven’t cited that either. And if they did, it could also easily be turned against them. If there are no privileged readings of a particular text, then the view of someone, who thought Bell’s cartoon was anti-Semitic, is no more valid than the person, who didn’t. Which cuts the ground out from such accusations. That argument doesn’t stand up either, though here again, the people making the accusations of anti-Semitism haven’t used it.

Nevertheless, their arguments about the anti-Semitic content of these cartoons and the strained parallels they find with the Holocaust, or anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, are very reminiscent of the postmodernist texts the American mathematician Sokal, and the Belgian philosopher Bricmont, used to demolish the intellectual pretensions of postmodernism in their 1990s book, Intellectual Impostures. One of the texts they cited was by a French feminist arguing that women were being prevented from taking up careers in science. It’s a fair point, albeit still controversial amongst some people on the right. However, part of her evidence for this didn’t come from studies showing that girls start off with a strong interest in science like boys, only to have it crushed out of them later in their schooling. No! This strange individual based part of her argument on the medieval coat of arms for Brussels, which shows frogs in a marsh. Which somehow represents the feminine. Or at least, it did to her. For most of us, the depiction of frogs in a marsh in the coat of arms for Brussels is a depiction of precisely that: frogs in a marsh. Because, I have no doubt, the land Brussels was founded on was marshy.

But Cook and Mike are right about these accusations, and the favouritism shown to Israel, playing into the hands of anti-Semites.

The storm troopers of the right are very fond of a quote from Voltaire: ‘If you want to know who rules over you, ask who it is you can’t criticise’. Or words to that effect. Depending on whether the person using the quote is an anti-Semite or an Islamophobe, the answer they’ll give will be ‘the Jews’ or ‘the Muslims’.

Of course, their choice of the French Enlightenment philosopher is more than somewhat hypocritical. Voltaire hated intolerance, and in the early stages before it became aggressively anti-religious, the French Revolution stood for religious toleration. A set of playing cards made to celebrate it showed on one card the Bible with the Talmud, the Jewish holy book containing extra-Biblical lore and guidance, and the Qu’ran.

But by ruling that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, the Israel lobby very much appears to show – entirely falsely – that the anti-Semites are right, and that the Jews really are in control of the rest of us. It gives an utterly false, specious confirmation of the very conspiracy theories they claim to have found in the works of the people they denounce. The same conspiracy theories they claim to oppose, and which have been responsible for the horrific suffering of millions of innocent Jews.

It’s high time this was stopped, and accusations of anti-Semitism treated with the same impartial judgement as other claims of bias or racism. And false accusations should be firmly rejected as a slur, and apologies and restitution demanded from the libellers.