Science

Error message

Deprecated function: The each() function is deprecated. This message will be suppressed on further calls in _menu_load_objects() (line 579 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/menu.inc).

America’s Star Teenage Scientist Is Catalyzing Generational Change

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 06/09/2021 - 6:00pm in

Motivated by the water contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan, Gitanjali Rao was only ten years old when she created her first invention, a now patented lead test for water. For this, Rao, now 15, was named America’s Top Young Scientist of 2017 and TIME Magazine’s first-ever “Kid of the Year” in 2020. 

Not one to rest on her laurels, she has since invented an app to fight cyberbullying and an early detection kit for opioid addiction. But today, her greatest passion is getting more people like herself — young, female, people of color — involved in science. RTBC spoke with Rao from Lone Tree, Colorado, where she lives with her parents and younger brother, about the unique contribution her generation can offer, how science can catalyze social change and creating a platform for other young innovators. 

You just published a book this spring, A Young Innovator’s Guide to STEM: 5 Steps to Problem Solving for Students, Educators, and Parents. Specifically, how can we get more young people into STEM, especially more young women and people of color? 

The first step is introducing young people to more role models. Most scientists don’t look like me. Seeing people who look like you in the field and on the news is one of the most empowering experiences. Science and technology don’t just revolve around robotics and coding, but that’s how it has been portrayed. That can scare people away. I like to present STEM as a means to solve problems, using science and technology as a catalyst for social change rather than just as raw skills.

Do you have role models that inspired you to get into STEM?

Gitanjali Rao“Innovation and problem solving should be introduced at a young age, as an everyday part of our life.” Photo courtesy Gitanjali Rao

My parents are both IT engineers and work in a different field than I do, but they have been my biggest supporters and are my biggest role models. One of the people who first got me interested in STEM is my second-grade teacher. Out of nowhere, she told me I was going to change the world someday, and that stuck with me. Little things like that empower me on a daily basis. 

Even now, I do tend to get comments about how I don’t look like your typical scientist. Or, ‘“You’re smart for a girl.”’ When it comes to innovation, a lot of times you’re expected to act or look a certain way. The biggest thing I’ve learned is to recognize that no one defines what I do, except for myself.

When did you first realize you had an interest in science?

When I was four, my uncle got me this earth science kit instead of the Barbie Dreamhouse I wanted. I complained about it for days, but I decided to open the kit and play with it. That was a great starting point. From a very young age, my parents exposed me to lots of ideas. Everything. I did everything. Ice skating. Hang gliding. Fencing. Baking. Playing the piano. I went to flight school. I was trying out things every single day. We had this deal: If I wanted to quit something I could the next day, but I had to go to one practice, one class, or one lesson. I didn’t recognize it at the time, but what that risk-taking did is that I was able to choose my own path and have that path fostered for me. 

Did your parents set any limits?

I wanted to invent a chair that sinks into the ground to save space, but my mom wouldn’t let me drill a hole into the floor. So that didn’t work out. 

You’re all about finding solutions to pressing problems, just like Reasons to be Cheerful. What are the problems you’re personally most passionate about solving? 

The biggest ones are definitely, number one, the contamination of our natural resources. Second, education opportunities, creating equality. Third, the spread of diseases and pandemics. I am working toward finding solutions for these three things in the next couple of years, but obviously, it takes time, effort and people.

Gitanjali Rao

Well, you already put in the effort with the first issue, contamination. When you were ten years old, you heard about the water contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan, and with just a cardboard box and a couple of drawings in the beginning, you developed Tethys, a lead test that resulted in you winning the 3M Young Scientist competition in 2017, arguably the most renowned science competition for kids in America. How did you achieve this?

I found it absolutely appalling to see how many kids my age are drinking poison every single day that causes lifelong damage to their mental capacity, their organs and their normal growth. I was also interested to see the impact carbon nanotube sensor technology has. It was already used to detect hazardous gases in the air, and I wanted to create a water-soluble version of it.

Hang on, how did you know what carbon nanotube sensors are at ten years old? I had to look that up. 

I was just reading through MIT’s Tech Review, seeing stuff that had already popped up on my radar and recognizing that it could be easily used and shifted over for multiple uses. Tethys is a fully patented device, but it is not currently available for people to start using yet. I’m working with a variety of organizations such as Intel to help with field testing and mass production. Hopefully, in the next couple of years, people can start using it. 

Crushed by negative news?

Sign up for the Reasons to be Cheerful newsletter.
[contact-form-7]

The idea is that it’s something that anybody could use, like a resident of Flint could use it to test their water, right? You don’t need to be a scientist or have a lab to use it. 

Exactly.

How many inventions have you created? 

Seven to eight, depending on if you want to count the ones that are not fully developed yet. I’m currently working very closely with UNICEF on Kindly, my app against cyberbullying. 

What sparked your interest in that? Have you experienced any bullying? 

Not personally, but I recognize it as an issue as someone who’s moved to seven different schools in the past 11 years because of my parents’ jobs. Every new place is something you have to adapt to, with a new set of people. But bullying is an issue that shouldn’t even exist in the first place. 

How does the app work?

Gitanjali Rao“I like to present STEM as a means to solve problems, using science and technology as a catalyst for social change rather than just as raw skills.” Photo courtesy Gitanjali Rao

The best way to describe it is “the spellcheck of bullying.” It looks at the latest terms, emojis, slangs, whatever, and basically categorizes them into various grades of intensity, what may be considered bullying or insults or “nice words.” The application itself is pre-programmed to take further action and send a message. It creates a learning experience out of every bullying situation, with a non-punitive approach. 

You’re also creating a network to bring other people who look like you into the field of STEM. How do you envision this? 

Three to four times a week, I’m running innovation workshops for students across the world. I have impacted about 50,000 students today across 26 countries and five continents. The goal is to make these innovation workshops self-sustaining beyond me to help students come up with an idea. But we do not stop at the ideation phase; I also mentor them on the execution, allowing their ideas to go from just a concept to out in the real world. 

How?

That support needs to come from organizations in the workplace, being willing to bring students in and making internships about more than coffee and copies. Because, believe it or not, youth play a part in the real world. We just need to take advantage of the latest work Gen Z is doing. We might hear about it on the news, but we don’t do anything about their ideas. 

What kind of ideas have come out of your workshops that you think have big potential?

One of my favorite ideas is from a kid in Wyoming who came up with this app similar to Pokemon Go, which allows you to collect litter. In the beginning he hated coding, but then he programmed it all by himself. It’s incredible to see how these students really recognize their potential after they recognize that science isn’t as intimidating as it seems in the real world. We just need to present it in a way that people want to engage with it. And that’s what I aim to do.

One of your main interests is opening science access for people who have fewer resources. What do you think schools can do to get more young people interested in science? 

K-12 education should explicitly teach ideation and problem solving. We shouldn’t just focus on getting an A in a math class, but getting an A in life. Innovation and problem solving should be introduced at a young age, as an everyday part of our life. And I think that it’s completely possible. 

What advice do you have for other kids who want to innovate solutions?

Don’t be afraid to take risks. And don’t be afraid to take that first step. Sometimes taking that first step is all you need to make a difference in society. And remember, the worst answer you’re going to get is no. What’s the worst thing that’s going to happen? It is that you fail. There’s no one stopping you but yourself.

The post America’s Star Teenage Scientist Is Catalyzing Generational Change appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Petless Couple Lavish Creepy Amounts Of Attention On Their Children

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 03/09/2021 - 7:49am in

Friends of a petless Kirrawee couple are concerned that they may be overcompensating for their lack of a cat or a dog by obsessing over their children.

“You go over to visit and like the kids are just running around inside the house as if they own the place,” said Phillipa Nerkle, good friend of Tony and Jane Fiddlesticks. “They wash them every day. Every day. And they take them out to a special place just to get their hair cut every month or so.”

“They actually take them with them when they go away on holidays”, said Phillipa’s incredulous husband Scotty. “The last time I was there one of the kids didn’t want to eat all its dinner and Jane finished it off for them, using the same knife and fork. I was almost ill.”

“They’re not just kids, they’re part of the family,” admitted Jane, who even changed her work schedule to part time so that she could stay at home and spend more time with them. “Tony and I tried to become dog owners but it just wasn’t to be. I know people look at us funny when we take the kids out in public dressed up in little outfits we’ve made for them.”

The Fiddlesticks’s crazy daily routine includes spending several hours playing with their children in a special part of the park set aside for children and their owners. At night they read them a bedtime story.

“You just can’t have a conversation with Jane where she doesn’t twist the subject around to what her children are doing,” said Janes frustrated sister Karen. “She was going on the other day about how one of her kids was walking. Big whoop. All kids walk.”

Peter Green
http://www.twitter.com/Greeny_Peter

You can follow The (un)Australian on twitter @TheUnOz or like us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/theunoz.

We’re also on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/theunoz

The (un)Australian Live At The Newsagency Recorded live, to purchase click here:

https://bit.ly/2y8DH68

The Great Covid Panic: now out!

It’s here, the booklet I am sure you have all been waiting for. The one which Gigi Foster and Michael Baker slaved over for 10 months. It is also on Kindle. It is dedicated to all the victims of the Panic, in poor countries and rich countries. They include our children, the lonely, and the poor.

The short publisher blurb: How to make sense of the astonishing upheaval of Spring 2020 and following? Normal life – in which expected rights and freedoms were taken for granted – came to be replaced by a new society as managed by a medical/ruling elite that promised but failed to deliver virus mitigation, all in the name of public health. Meanwhile, we’ve lost so much of what we once had: travel freedoms, privacy, a democratic presumption of equality, commercial freedoms, and even the access to information portals. Something has gone very wrong.

The longer blurb that our publisher chose for it is over the fold! There is also a website that will tell you where book launches will take place, which bookstores sell it, and who has liked it sofar.

To make sense of it all, the Brownstone Institute is pleased to announce the publication of The Great Covid Panic: What Happened, Why, and What To Do Next, by Paul Frijters, Gigi Foster, and Michael Baker. Combining rigorous scholarship with evocative and accessible prose, the book covers all the issues central to the pandemic and the disastrous policy response, a narrative as comprehensive as it is intellectually devastating. In short, this is THE book the world needs right now.

In the Great Panic of early 2020, nearly every government in the world restricted the movement of its population, disrupted the education of its children, suspended normal individual liberties, hijacked its healthcare system, and in other ways increased its direct control of people’s lives. Attempts to control the new coronavirus in most countries made the number of deaths from both the virus and other health problems rise. Some countries and regions snapped out of the madness in early 2021 or even before. Yet other governments, still in 2021, were ever more fanatically obsessed with control.

Why did 2020 become, so suddenly and so forcefully, a year of global panic over a virus that for most people is barely more dangerous than a standard-issue flu virus? This book reveals how the madness started, what kept it going, and how it might end. This is also a book about stories and experiences, some real and some fictionalized to protect identities. Join Jane the complier, James the decider, and Jasmine the doubter, the three core protagonists of the narrative part of the book. Their experiences illustrate what happened to individuals and through them to whole societies, telling us — if we care to listen — how to avoid a repeat. This literary presentation is mixed with detailed reports of the actual data and deep research that has generally been obscured in the midst of media madness and obfuscation by public-health authority.

“A tour-de-force on how the pandemic response was driven by fear, crowd thinking, big business and a desire for control, rather than by sound public health principles. This is bound to be a classic.” ~ Professor Martin Kulldorff, Harvard Medical School

“When I received the manuscript, I was hooked from the first page and knew then that I would miss a full night’s sleep. I did indeed. My heart raced from beginning to end. As the publisher, I must say that this book is a dream for me, the book I never thought would exist, the book that I believe can change everything.” ~ Jeffrey Tucker, Founder Brownstone Institute.

Pete Evans Calls For An Ivermectin Passport

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 02/09/2021 - 8:54am in

One time celebrity chef Pete Evans has called on the Government to bring in an Ivermectin passport to allow he and his fellow anti-vaccers to travel and go about their everyday business and hustles.

”I don’t believe in this so-called ”pandemic” however for those who do think it’s real please do buy my corona busting light machine,” said the celebrity Chef. ”It’s a steal at $15,000 or 4 payments of $3750 through After Pay.”

When asked why he feels that he knows more about disease and immunology than trained experts, the celebrity chef said: ”The clue is in what you describe me as, celebrity.”

”It’s a well known fact that celebrities know more than most. I mean what else do we have to do all day other than do a few Instagram posts and get our anuses bleached.”

”Speaking of which I have some nuts I have to activate.”

Mark Williamson

@MWChatShow

You can follow The (un)Australian on twitter @TheUnOz or like us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/theunoz.

We’re also on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/theunoz

The (un)Australian Live At The Newsagency Recorded live, to purchase click here:

https://bit.ly/2y8DH68

Magpies Postpone Swooping Season Till December

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/09/2021 - 10:34am in

magpie

Faced with the possibility that the streets will still be bare of people in September, Australia’s magpies have reluctantly pushed back the swooping season to December.

“What’s the point of swooping season if there’s no-one to swoop down on but a couple of posties, ginger cats and the odd weirdo scurrying home from the shops with a plastic bag full of toilet rolls,” sighed Tommy Rawkdonikis, CEO of Magpies Australia. “The only alternative is to conduct the whole season behind closed doors with some shop mannequins set up in a field somewhere.”

“September is still six months away but people don’t understand the amount of preparation that goes into a successful swooping season,” lamented Lidcombe magpie Arthur Squawkins. “There’s big tall trees to be scouted out, busy parks to be allocated and beaks to be sharpened.”

Some magpies fear a return to the war years where so many Australians were fighting overseas that the streets were nearly empty, leading to ugly scenes where five or six magpies were forced to swoop the same postman.

“December is not an ideal time to hold the swooping season because it’s right in the middle of summer, which means there’s a plastic ice cream container in every fridge,” warned Ashfield magpie Les Bird. “On the plus side, people get shorter haircuts in hot weather, which means better access to ears.”

Peter Green
http://www.twitter.com/Greeny_Peter

You can follow The (un)Australian on twitter @TheUnOz or like us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/theunoz.

We’re also on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/theunoz

The (un)Australian Live At The Newsagency Recorded live, to purchase click here:

https://bit.ly/2y8DH68

Two summary pieces of HART and SWPR on masks

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 31/08/2021 - 5:31pm in

Tags 

Health, Science

Guy Fawkes Mask ➤ V for Vendetta Mask purchase | horror-shop.comSince I learned in April 2020 that transmission of covid was mainly via extremely small aerosols, I have regarded face masks as a placebo: they are to aerosols what garden gates are to mosquitoes. Yet, placebos have a role so I wasn’t too against them and willing to have my assessment overturned by new insights. After all, face masks might not stop aerosols, but they made many people feel better and might unexpectedly work in some other way against covid, such as by changing behaviour or changing the way the air flows into noses, or whatever. 16 months later, I am more against them because a multi-billion dollar industry has arisen that thrives on creating a mask-waste mountain and is thus heavily invested in their continued use, just as the industry of hand sanitizers, tests, and others. I personally found masks a nuisance to wear and an overt sign of submission. I have a like-minded friend in Sydney going around Sydney shops with a guy fawkes mask as a quiet symbol of defiance against compulsory masks.

I want to share two external reviews on masks of two different groups I have been following. One is a group of largely retired UK doctors who assembled in 2020: the HART group that looks at all the medical science around covid. The people involved in that group write on personal title, so one knows who the advice is from, which is a big plus. The second is a pre-existing’ Swiss policy research’ group formed in 2016. It is a bit like the research version of wikileaks and seems to have found its origin largely in concerns for press freedom and suspicion of the CIA, which is why its contributors are anonymous (which I understand, but dont like, particularly not as a sole source of information). SWPR took it upon itself early on to wade through the science of covid so as to come to its own assessment.

I have found the combination of them useful. SWPR is not so good in understanding the models or being consistent about what explains covid-outcomes, but is good at classic medical stuff (treatments, trials) and media manipulation. The HART group is good on covid measurement issues, medical organizational matters, and has better modelers on their team, but it largely stays away from political economy and is less prepared to venture guesses about origins and such. Yet, both have taken reasonable lines on things for which there is little doubt. Both those sources for instance say vaccines reduce covid severity. These sources have not always agreed the last 18 months and I have noted technical issues in areas I have particular expertise where they didn’t quite understand what some sophisticated empirical studies were saying, but I have learned to lean on them for useful summary takes. I haven’t detected an obvious bias. Here is what the HART people say about masks (https://www.hartgroup.org/masks/):

Contrary to the Government message that it ‘follows the science’, the sudden change in advice by the WHO was not based on any new, high-quality scientific studies. By summer 2020, there was substantial evidence that non-medical masks for the general public did not reduce the transmission of respiratory viruses. A review of 14 controlled studies had concluded that masks did not significantly lessen the spread of seasonal ‘flu in the community.[] A Norwegian Institute for Public Health review found that non-medical masks achieve no benefit for healthy individuals, particularly when viral prevalence is low.[] From a common sense angle, scientists had argued that cloth masks contain perforations that are far too big to act as a viral barrier and therefore ‘offer zero protection against COVID-19’.[]

Inevitably, the public often wear masks incorrectly, or improperly handle them when putting them on, or removing them, constituting an additional infection hazard. There has been recognition of this contamination risk in the scientific literature[] and other researchers have cautioned against the use of cloth face coverings.[] Potential harms to the wearer include exhaustion, headaches, fatigue and dehydration.[] Some doctors have suggested an increased risk of pneumonia.[] Furthermore, the widely varying physical characteristics of the face coverings used by people in the community, that are not standardised for material, fit, length of wearing, changes after washing and drying, and disposal, means that laboratory research on mask efficacy cannot be generalised to real-world situations.

With particular reference to COVID-19, the only large randomised controlled trial exploring the benefits of adopting face coverings in the community found that masks (even the surgical variety) did not result in a significant reduction in infection risk for the wearer.[] A detailed analysis[] of all research investigations, including those purported to suggest that masks might achieve some benefits, led to the view that there is ‘little to no evidence’ that cloth masks in the general population are effective.

Masks impair verbal communication, render lip-reading impossible for the deaf, and stymie emotional expression, the latter effect potentially constituting a gross impediment to children’s social development. Acting as a crude, highly visible reminder that danger is all around, face coverings are fuelling widespread, irrational fear.

Wearing a mask will heighten the distress of many people with existing mental health problems and may trigger ‘flashbacks’ for those historically traumatised by physical and/or sexual abuse. Sadly, going without a mask (even as a means of avoiding psychological distress) can often attract harassment and further victimisation. In response to this, ‘exemption lanyards’ have been developed, which further stigmatise those who cannot wear face coverings due to health conditions or previous trauma.

Note that this is their summary conclusion, which did not go over the more positive studies that one would like to see discussed. So below is what the Swiss policy people have just said about masks (https://swprs.org/face-masks-evidence/), whereby I only repeat their take-aways on various studies (both for and against). They have put their conclusions more starkly elsewhere, but here I basically stick to their literature analysis.

So far, most studies found little to no evidence for the effectiveness of face masks in the general population, neither as personal protective equipment nor as a source control.

  1. A May 2020 meta-study on pandemic influenza published by the US CDC found that face masks had no effect, neither as personal protective equipment nor as a source control. (Source)
  2. A Danish randomized controlled trial with 6000 participants, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in November 2020, found no statistically significant effect of high-quality medical face masks against SARS-CoV-2 infection in a community setting. (Source)
  3. A large randomized controlled trial with close to 8000 participants, published in October 2020 in PLOS One, found that face masks “did not seem to be effective against laboratory-confirmed viral respiratory infections nor against clinical respiratory infection.” (Source)
  4. A February 2021 review by the European CDC found no high-quality evidence supporting the effectiveness of non-medical and medical face masks in the community. Furthermore, the European CDC advised against the use of FFP2/N95 masks by the general public. (Source)
  5. A July 2020 review by the Oxford Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine found that there is no evidence for the effectiveness of face masks against virus infection or transmission. (Source)
  6. A November 2020 Cochrane review found that face masks did not reduce influenza-like illness (ILI) cases, neither in the general population nor in health care workers. (Source)
  7. An April 2020 review by two US professors in respiratory and infectious disease from the University of Illinois concluded that face masks have no effect in everyday life, neither as self-protection nor to protect third parties (so-called source control). (Source)
  8. An article in the New England Journal of Medicine from May 2020 came to the conclusion that face masks offer little to no protection in everyday life. (Source)
  9. A 2015 study in the British Medical Journal BMJ Open found that cloth masks were penetrated by 97% of particles and may increase infection risk by retaining moisture or repeated use. (Source)
  10. An August 2020 review by a German professor in virology, epidemiology and hygiene found that there is no evidence for the effectiveness of face masks and that the improper daily use of masks by the public may in fact lead to an increase in infections. (Source)

Additional aspects

  1. There is increasing evidence that the novel coronavirus is transmitted, at least in indoor settings, not only by droplets but also by smaller aerosols. However, due to their large pore size and poor fit, most masks cannot filter out aerosols (see video analysis below): over 90% of aerosols penetrate or bypass the mask and fill a medium-sized room within minutes.
  2. The WHO admitted to the BBC that its June 2020 mask policy update was due not to new evidence but “political lobbying”: “We had been told by various sources WHO committee reviewing the evidence had not backed masks but they recommended them due to political lobbying. This point was put to WHO who did not deny.” (D. Cohen, BBC Medical Corresponent).
  3. To date, the only randomized controlled trial (RCT) on face masks against SARS-CoV-2 infection in a community setting found no statistically significant benefit (see above). However, three major journals refused to publish this study, delaying its publication by several months.
  4. An analysis by the US CDC found that 85% of people infected with the new coronavirus reported wearing a mask “always” (70.6%) or “often” (14.4%). Compared to the control group of uninfected people, always wearing a mask did not reduce the risk of infection.
  5. Researchers from the University of Minnesota found that the infectious dose of SARS-CoV-2 is just 300 virions (virus particles), whereas a single minute of normal speaking may generate more than 750,000 virions, making face masks unlikely to prevent an infection.
  6. In the US state of Kansas, the 90 counties without mask mandates had lower coronavirus infection rates than the 15 counties with mask mandates. To hide this fact, the Kansas health department tried to manipulate the official statistics and data presentation.
  7. Contrary to common belief, studies in hospitals found that the wearing of a medical mask by surgeons during operations didn’t reduce post-operative bacterial wound infections in patients.
  8. During the notorious 1918 influenza pandemic, the use of face masks among the general population was widespread and in some places mandatory, but they made no difference.
  9. The initially low coronavirus infection rate in some Asian countries was not due to masks, but due to very rapid border controls. For instance, Japan, despite its widespread use of face masks, had experienced its most recent influenza epidemic just one year prior to the covid pandemic.
  10. Early in the pandemic, the advocacy group “masks4all” argued that Czechia had few infections thanks to the early use of masks. In reality, the coronavirus simply hadn’t engulfed Eastern Europe yet; a few months later, Czechia had one of the highest infection rates in the world.

Studies claiming face masks are effective

Some recent studies argued that face masks are indeed effective against the new coronavirus and could at least prevent the infection of other people. However, most of these studies suffer from poor methodology and sometimes show the opposite of what they claim to show.

Typically, these studies ignore the effect of other measures, the natural development of infection rates, changes in test activity, or they compare places with different epidemiological conditions. Studies performed in a lab or as a computer simulation often aren’t applicable to the real world.

An overview:

  1. A meta-study in the journal Lancet, commissioned by the WHO, claimed that masks “could” lead to a reduction in the risk of infection, but the studies considered mainly N95 respirators in a hospital setting, not cloth masks in a community setting, the strength of the evidence was reported as “low”, and experts found numerous flaws in the study. Professor Peter Jueni, epidemiologist at the University of Toronto, called the WHO study “essentially useless”.
  2. A study in the journal PNAS claimed that masks had led to a decrease in infections in three global hotspots (including New York City), but the study did not take into account the natural decrease in infections and other simultaneous measures. The study was so flawed that over 40 scientists recommended that the study be withdrawn.
  3. A US study claimed that US counties with mask mandates had lower Covid infection and hospitalization rates, but the authors had to withdraw their study as infections and hospitalizations increased in many of these counties shortly after the study was published.
  4. A German study claimed that the introduction of mandatory face masks in German cities had led to a decrease in infections. But the data did not support this claim: in some cities there was no change, in others a decrease, in others an increase in infections (see graph below). The city of Jena was an ‘exception’ only because it simultaneously introduced the strictest quarantine rules in Germany, but the study did not mention this.
  5. A Canadian study claimed that countries with mandatory masks had fewer deaths than countries without mandatory masks. But the study compared countries with very different demographic structures and covered only the first few weeks of the pandemic.
  6. A review by the University of Oxford claimed that face masks are effective, but it was based on studies about SARS-1 and in health care settings, not in community settings.
  7. A review by members of the lobby group ‘Masks for All’, published in the journal PNAS, claimed that masks are effective as a source control against aerosol transmission in the community, but the review provided no real-world evidence supporting this proposition.
  8. A study published in Nature Communications in June 2021 claimed that masks reduced the risk of infection by 62%, but the study relied on numerous questionable modelling assumptions and on self-reported online survey results, not on actual measurements.

Risks associated with face masks

Wearing masks for a prolonged period of time may not be harmless, as the following evidence shows:

  1. The WHO warns of various “side effects” such as difficulty breathing and skin rashes.
  2. Tests conducted by the University Hospital of Leipzig in Germany have shown that face masks significantly reduce the resilience and performance of healthy adults.
  3. A German psychological study with about 1000 participants found “severe psychosocial consequences” due to the introduction of mandatory face masks in Germany.
  4. The Hamburg Environmental Institute warned of the inhalation of chlorine compounds in polyester masks as well as problems in connection with face mask disposal.
  5. The European rapid alert system RAPEX has already recalled 70 mask models because they did not meet EU quality standards and could lead to “serious risks”.
  6. A study by the University of Muenster in Germany found that on N95 (FFP2) masks, Sars-CoV-2 may remain infectious for several days, thus increasing the risk of self-contamination.
  7. In China, several children who had to wear a mask during gym classes fainted and died; the autopsies found a sudden cardiac arrest as the probable cause of death. In the US, a car driver wearing an N95 (FFP2) mask fainted and crashed due to CO2 intoxication.

Conclusion

Face masks in the general population might be effective, at least in some circumstances, but there is currently little to no evidence supporting this proposition. If the coronavirus is indeed transmitted via indoor aerosols, face masks are unlikely to be protective. Health authorities should therefore not assume or suggest that face masks will reduce the rate or risk of infection.

Postscript (August 2021)

A long-term analysis shows that infections have been driven primarily by seasonal and endemic factors, whereas mask mandates and lockdowns have had no discernible impact. [pf. Yes, they include Australia]

 

Conclusion (mine)

I can see the point of advocating a low-cost placebo even if it is unlikely to help and not supported by much science. So up till now I have not been too bothered. But the role of the mask industry in the political economy of covid is making me reconsider the damage that the mask-mandates are doing. The placebo is starting to look more and more costly. In such a circumstance, advocating masks under the essential argument that ‘they might help and it has not yet been proven they do not’ is no longer reasonable because that argument can be used for anything, from garlic necklaces to voodoo dolls. Given the lock-in effect by mask producers (and their waste-mountain effects), I think there should now be pretty solid evidence of strongly beneficial effects in order to advocate them. The onus of proof is hence on their adherents.

My main take home message to readers is to take the two sources of external summary views (the hartgroup and swpr) seriously. They cannot be censored by any internet giant. I have so far not found them to have an outrageous take on anything.

 

[update Sept 3rd 2021]

Probably the biggest RCT on masks has just been released, a study from Sri Lanka. Let us go over it carefully to see what it truly tells us about masks because I bet this study will be abused a lot. Yet, it is a nice study. In the below I generously borrow from a sceptical website that is more negative about the study than I am, but also seems to have actually missed the main point in the findings if you look carefully.

The authors randomly assigned 600 villages in rural Bangladesh – comprising more than 300,000 people – to one of two groups: an intervention group and a control group.

Villages in the intervention group received an eight-week mask promotion campaign, which involved distribution of masks, promotion of masks in public spaces, and role-modelling by community leaders (including imams at local mosques). Villages in the control group did not receive any interventions.

The main outcome variables were measures of seroprevalence. Using phone and in-person surveys, the researchers obtained data on the number of people who experienced COVID-19 symptoms after the intervention. They then collected blood samples from some of those individuals to gauge the number who were seropositive.

Overall, mask-wearing reached 42.3% in the intervention villages, compared to 13.3% in the control villages. What about the outcome variables? 7.6% of participants in the intervention villages reported COVID-19 symptoms, compared to 8.6% in the control villages.

And when the researchers zoomed in on those who reported COVID-19 symptoms and tested positive for antibodies, the seroprevalence was 0.68% in the intervention villages, versus 0.76% in the control villages. (Note: the figure in the chart below is ‘0.69’ because it is an adjusted value from a model.)

 

Among the intervention villages, some had been randomly assigned to get cloth masks, whereas others had been randomly assigned to get surgical masks. The researchers compared these two groups, and found that the reduction in seroprevalence was larger for the surgical mask group. They also found that the reduction was concentrated among individuals aged 50+ (see p.28).

Discussion

Let us take the findings at face value and trust them (I have no particular reason at this point not to trust that the authors did an honest job, for reasons I will make clear below).

The skeptical website discussing it points out that the study is looking at the effect of not just masks, but also a promotion campaign that will have included a lot more information than just on masks. Whilst that is true, I find that argument weak because that is true for any medical intervention that is hands-on and hence noticed by participants: what is tested is always not just the effect of a piece of medical equipment but also the effect of the whole hooha around it. That is also true for medical health interventions, happiness interventions, schooling interventions, etc. It does not take away from a finding that a whole package has some effect. It merely means that one cannot say for certain what element in the package did what, although one often can say something reasonable about that.

The much more important and key finding of the Sri Lanka study is that cloth masks clearly make no difference, either statistically or in size (from 0.76 to 0.74), despite a whole campaign around the use of cloth masks as well. That is a big finding and the one I think matters because it blows away mask studies that look at the supposed effects of cloth masks. This study is so big (300,000 people) that it also blows away all the small studies or happenstance studies (of the kind ‘we introduced masks and next day we had less positives in place X’). 300 villages is a big sample of places and people (50 times bigger than the Danish study) so it clearly is the new benchmark. So if I wanted to play propaganda I would say the Sri Lanka study proves cloth masks do nothing at all. I wouldn’t be surprised if that is exactly how it will be used.

The big difference the study finds between cloth mask effects and surgical mask effects, btw, also takes away from the argument that we are looking at the effects of village promotion activities or other information, because that effect would surely show up irrespective of mask-type. So it is more likely a true mask effect one is looking at with the surgical mask study. Its a smallish effect, but it is a clearly significant effect that at least conveys some potentially useful information (ie surgical masks might in some situations (villages) be a form of ‘focused protection’ for some groups).

If we then look at where we do find some significant and reasonable size effects, we thus need to look at the effects of surgical masks. They reduce the seroprevalence by about 11% (from 0.76 to 0.67). Another way to say it in the context of the length of the study (1-2 months) is to say these masks delay the spread of the virus by 1 week, a bit longer for the more at risk (the over 50).

Let me then make the economist point. How much do these masks cost? How many are used per day? How much would they help what type of villager? How much would the same resources improve health via other expenses? These are the questions that always need asking, particularly in a poor place where there are lots of cheap interventions to reduce child mortality, other infectious diseases, road fatalities, snake deaths (a big thing there), etc.

Interestingly, the study itself has tried to do this calculation and much of it is a quite reasonable calculation (their Appendix 1). They go over what the costs have been by type of village, coming to a ‘mid-range’ estimate of 100,000 USD per death from covid averted, using the costs of their own study. Kudos! They also say, quite reasonably, that doing this all at scale, so for the whole country, probably means costs would go down to about 16,700 USD (I find that calculation a bit optimistic on savings, but lets not quibble). They even helpfully tell us that in Sri Lanka, the statistical value of life is about 200,000 USD, meaning that that is what the average individual willingness to pay in Sri Lanka is to averted the loss of a whole life (though it will be way smaller in villagers where people are much poorer on average than in the cities). Then, unfortunately, they make two mistakes in one go by comparing the 16,700 to the 200,000 number: they presume individual willingness to pay is the same as what a government (who would do the ‘at scale’ intervention) should be willing to pay and that a covid-death amounts to a whole life lost (life expectancy in Sri Lanka is around 77). Both are rookie mistakes you see a lot these days.

For one, the average covid casualty does not have another 77 good years of life to go. In the West, it is more like 3. It is a bit hard to give a reasonable guess what it will be in a place like Sri Lanka, but given the actually quite high life expectancy there (only 2 years below the US!) and the unusually high numbers of covid-casualties for a poor country (probably around 0.1% of the population when the current wave is done), we are probably talking a very similar victim group in Sri Lanka as in the West. Let’s be generous and say 5 good years on average in Sri Lanka per covid-death. An individual willingness to pay for that in Sri Lanka would then be just below 15,000 USD (almost the same as average income for 5 years). So that would mean close to parity. However, individual willingness to pay is about 2.5 higher than government marginal productivity of health expenses in the West, simply because governments are much more health-productive than individuals: governments produce healthy years for a lot less than individuals are willing to pay for them. So the opportunity costs are far higher than the statistical value of life: if one is going to make the ‘at scale’ argument about costs one also has to use the ‘at scale’ opportunity costs, so not individual willingness to pay but marginal cost to the government of producing a year of good life. Applying those two insights, we are looking at a cost to benefit ratio of 2.5 to 1.

Moreover, of course, the authors do not take the long view on the dynamics of the virus and hence build into their assumptions the notion that avoiding infection in one wave means victory forever. As we have seen pretty much everywhere, that is a bit of an unwarranted fantasy: the virus keeps coming back in variants and such. So avoidance in one wave buys a bit of time but not a whole 5 good years (ie all that a would-be victim still has left on average). Hard to know how much postponement buys, but as a guess (based on the timing between waves so far), its more like a year, maybe 2. That brings the cost to benefit ratio up to 5 to 1.

So perhaps one can find parity for the absolutely most vulnerable, but unlikely for a whole community. And that for a place where masks then are about 5 cents per pop.

ScoMo Assures Australia That We Won’t Open Up Till Jen And The Girls Are Fully Vaccinated

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 30/08/2021 - 8:03am in

Prime Minister for Sydney Scott Morrison has moved to assure the Nation that he won’t open everything up until Jen and the Girls are fully vaccinated.

”I know a lot of Australians are concerned that at the moment the Girls aren’t vaccinated and Jen has only had the Astra Zeneca,” said the PM. ”But, rest assured I will not take any risks like opening borders or Bunnings until the girls are fully vaccinated.”

”As we speak, I have little Greggy Hunt looking at sourcing some vaccines from rural West Australia to get the Girls jabbed and ready to travel.”

When asked why he was prioritising his family’s vaccination over the rest of the community, the PM said: ”I reject the premise of your question.”

”In Australia we’re all equal, just some of us are a little bit more equal than others.”

”Besides, it’s not a race. Jen didn’t book us to travel to Hawaii till November.”

”Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to see if I can source some vaccination for the cleaning crew of Engadine Maccas. After all it’s the least I can do.”

Mark Williamson

@MWChatShow

You can follow The (un)Australian on twitter @TheUnOz or like us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/theunoz.

We’re also on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/theunoz

The (un)Australian Live At The Newsagency Recorded live, to purchase click here:

https://bit.ly/2y8DH68

ScoMo Thanks His Creepy Mate For The Pallet Of Ivermectin

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 27/08/2021 - 8:25am in

Tags 

Science, Liberals

Prime Minister for Sydney Scott Morrison has thanked his creepy mate the Member for Dawson George Christensen for the pallet of Ivermectin that the MP gifted Jen and the Girls.

”George is a very generous chap, when he heard of my concern that the girls were yet to be vaccinated he sent us a pallet of Ivermectin,” said the PM. ”Sure, all he asked in return was for asylum visas for the Manilla girls ping pong team, but it’s the thought that counts.”

”Weird that the boxes that they came in had pictures of sheep on them.”

When asked why in a pandemic he would not bring the Member for Dawson to task for his anti-lockdown and anti-science rhetoric, the PM said: ”I reject the premise of your question.”

”The Coalition is a broad church, a very broad church, well it needs to be just to get George through the door.”

”Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to pick up a package, it’s another gift from George.”

”What do you know about gargling bleach?”

Mark Williamson

@MWChatShow

You can follow The (un)Australian on twitter @TheUnOz or like us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/theunoz.

We’re also on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/theunoz

The (un)Australian Live At The Newsagency Recorded live, to purchase click here:

https://bit.ly/2y8DH68

Judgement Day?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 18/08/2021 - 1:55pm in

The news may have left American readers – at least those less absorbed by the fall of Afghanistan or the “pandemic of the unvaxxed” – reeling:

(source)

Yep, that’s right. For the first time since its creation in 1930 (that’s 91 years, people!), the US Bureau of Reclamation declared a Tier 1 water shortage in the US’s largest fresh water reservoir. Come January the great states of Arizona and Nevada, plus their southern – and perhaps less great – neighbours of “old” Mexico will have their Colorado River water allocations reduced (Arizona, currently worst affected, will lose about one fifth of it). Further cuts affecting other equally great states are scheduled.

But wait, there’s more. When the water level is high, the Hoover Dam (which created Lake Mead) generates up to 2,000 megawatts of hydroelectric power. Currently it’s only 327.66 m above sea level or 1,075 ft (which triggered the Tier 1 restriction declaration). If it were to fall to 289.56 m (950 ft) the Dam would not be able to generate any electric power.

----------

Aussies are more used to droughts than Yanks. Unfortunately, our greater familiarity with the problem has not made us any wiser.

You see, every time a drought hits this also Great Southern Land, the reaction of ignorant demagogues – sorry – respectable politicians is to promise more dams: that should “drought-proof” Australia. It never fails, no matter how much people try to explain the folly of that.

Well, that damn Hoover Dam was not meant to produce hydroelectric power only, but also to … “drought-proof” the great states of the south-west of the American Union!

It ain’t working no more, uh? But it will work here, surely? Drought-proof my ass.

But wait, there’s still more.

----------

(source)

Click that link and watch the short (35 seconds) video attached. It was posted less than a week ago. Go ahead, unmute it. Don’t worry if you don’t speak Spanish. Here’s what the woman speaking says:

“We are walking on the Paraná River’s bed. It’s a really sad image. Look! Paraguay, ahead. The Caraguatay island. Look what water remains. The Argentine bank, where we’ve walked. Today everybody is meandering, shocked, on the Paraná riverbed, the majestic Paraná River”.

Those people were justifiably shocked. In fact, everyone, but especially readers in Australia, Europe and North America, should be shocked.

Why?

----------

Think of the largest river by volume of water where you live.

Australians, no doubt a little self-consciously, will point to the Murray River. Next, Western and Central Europeans, probably a little less self-consciously, could mention the historical Rhine or the blue Danube, respectively. At hearing that, East Europeans – particularly Russians – will likely scoff: the mighty Volga (pronounced as “Wolga”) dwarfs those creeks, they might say. Then North Americans, with characteristic chauvinism, may point to the Mississippi or Saint Lawrence.

This table should help to understand why this is shocking news:

River            average water
              discharge (m³/s)
==============================
Colorado                   640
Murray                     763
Rhine                    2,900
Danube                   7,130
Volga                    8,060
Mississippi             16,792
Saint Lawrence          16,800
Paraná                  17,290
Source here, here, and here.

No river in Europe, North America or Australia is bigger than the Paraná River! Not one! (The Colorado River, which is really variable, on average actually carries less water than the Murray!)

Only the Congo (in Africa), 4 rivers in Asia (Ganges, Yangtze, Brahmaputra, and Yenisei) and 6 in South America (Amazon, Orinoco, Madeira, Guainía/Negro, Río de la Plata, and Caquetá/Japurá) carry more water.

Well, that river, the world’s twelfth by water discharge, the Paraná (“as big as the sea” in the language of the Tupí, natives of the area, Wikipedia says), is running dry in part of its length because of a drought in southern-central Brazil. Let that sink in (pun intended).

----------

I could not believe it, so I did my fact-check. The island the woman mentioned (Caraguatay Island) is home to a park of the same name – in Spanish – and is located to the south of world-famous Foz do Iguaçú, not far from it.

[A]

Google Maps shows the precise location of Isla Caraguatay. That part of the now exposed riverbed where the video was made is normally covered by a river more than a kilometre in width, marking a natural border between Argentina (to the east) and Paraguay (to the west). Google Images has photos of the island, the park and, importantly of the river, flowing and as it is now, not flowing.

A few images and sundry reports, from Twitter and here, indicate that the area is indeed affected by a drought. I could find two reports from local newspapers (here and here, both in Spanish).

I found only two references from well-known news sources, both dated August 1th. The Paraná River is not only an important waterway in South America, it is also the Río de La Plata River main tributary. Its riverine ports afford both land-locked Paraguay and inland Argentine provinces access to the sea. That explains the interest from Reuters and Al Jazeera: a large part of the Argentine soy and corn harvest is moved through the Paraná/Río de La Plata and ships cannot be fully loaded, because there’s no water enough for a fully loaded ship.

This is the Al Jazeera report:

----------

Whatever those charlatans tell you, there’s no drought-proofing climate change, people. You guys better go to China and Germany with your buckets and wait for the rains.

And this talk of buckets reminded me of fires …

Image Credits:
[A] Source: WikiMedia. File licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. You know the customary disclaimer: my use of the file suggests no endorsement, blah, blah, blah.

Go Slow and Break Things

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 16/08/2021 - 7:00pm in

This review was first published in Arena Quarterly #6.

*

The short decade between the global debt crisis and the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency was a time of great excitement on the Left. Like the devil in Baudelaire’s The Generous Gambler, capitalism’s power had been based on its ability to convince the world that it didn’t exist; but in the months and years after the financial meltdown, its tail and trotters were distinctly visible to anyone who cared to look. Fred Jameson’s crack about it being easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism still held true for the majority of people. But at least it was beginning to occur to some of them, as the end of the world drew ever closer, that capitalism might have something to do with it. 

One prominent emphasis that emerged in this time, on the Left as well as in other milieux, was the role that automation might play, or was already playing, in capitalism’s demise. As more and more jobs were automated, the prospect of a “jobocalypse” was widely mooted, as indeed was the “crisis of realisation” that was bound to follow hard on its heels (unemployment translates into a …) The emergence of near zero marginal cost technologies invited a Marxian interpretation of these developments, as “non-rival goods” (data, sunlight) collapsed the usual pricing/profit mechanisms and pointed forward to a world of abundance and relatively “clean” technologies. The economic system to come was growing in the belly of the one we had; the potential for a post-capitalist future—a cybernetic Great Leap Forward—was in prospect, if not inevitable.

To say that these enthusiasms (some of which I shared) have cooled somewhat would be to put it mildly. Catalysed by the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the ‘techlash’ against Big Data’s abuses of consumer data is now utterly mainstream, while the idea that increasing automation might spell an end to exploitation is plainly incompatible with the degradations of the gig economy and the reality of working life at the shitty end of online commerce. Perhaps the starkest example of the latter is the Amazon ‘Fulfilment Centre’—the Potemkin village of cybernetic capitalism. Once billed as the cutting edge in automation, with an army of orange Kiva robots at the supervisors’ beck and call (in the depots of the past, flesh-and-blood humans would pick things out with their hands, like schmucks; today they arrive at your arm with a whisper), these warehouses are now seen for what they are: Taylorist hellholes in which it’s the humans that are ‘automated’, and in which surveillance, precarity and appalling conditions are marbled into the employment model.

So pernicious are many of the new technologies, and the uses to which those technologies are put, that a number of commentators have begun to question, not just the technophilia of the FALCs (‘fully automated luxury communists’), but the broader idea at large on the Left that it is less the technologies themselves that are important than the productive relations in which they are set. Indeed, one can even begin to discern a small outbreak of technophobia in some unlikely corners of the contemporary Left. Richard Seymour’s recent The Twittering Machine, for example, is dedicated “to the Luddites” and concludes with a fantasy of strolling in the park with “nice pen” and laying down “on a lily pad”. Even Paul Mason, whose 2015 book PostCapitalism was so central to the FALC analysis, now seems more keen to stress the dangers of new technology than its utopian possibilities. While PostCapitalism … His Clear Bright Future (2019) sets a new “radical humanism” against the potential for “algorithmic control” and its ambient intellectual stupidities.

It is the example of the Luddites that Gavin Mueller picks up in his new book Breaking Things at Work, a challenging, if ultimately flawed, attempt to push back against the technophilia (explicit and implicit) on the modern Left. Of course, the Luddites have always occupied an ambivalent place in radical affections. On the one hand, the followers of the mythic King Ludd are celebrated as an early manifestation of anti-capitalist militancy, while on the other, they tend to be characterised as an essentially naïve example of such—as a group that confused, or even collapsed, the forces and relations of production in a way that made technological “progress”, and not the boss, the enemy. But Mueller will have none of this. Following Hobsbawm, he argues that this characterisation is not only unhistorical (“In those pre-socialist times the working class was a crowd, not an army”, wrote Hobsbawm; “Enlightened, orderly, bureaucratic strikes were impossible”), but also misunderstands the ways in which work is itself a social activity to which the relations of production are “immanent”. It follows that attacks on new technologies are a crucial component of class composition, as well as a foreshadowing of the world to be won. For Mueller, in short, technology is never neutral; it is pregnant with bourgeois ideology in a way that the accelerationist emphasis on ownership of the means of production obscures.

Mueller wants a decelerationist Left, not an accelerationist one. Quoting Walter Benjamin’s suggestion, floated in “On the Concept of History”, that revolutions may not be “the locomotive of world history” but an attempt to “activate the emergency brake”, he seeks to rehabilitate the example of the nineteenth-century frame-breakers, and to excavate the buried tradition of which they are but one iteration—a tradition largely unsupported, in his telling, by the union movement, and despised by many on the Marxist Left as antithetical to the spirit of scientific socialism. For Mueller, the Luddites’ acts of sabotage are paradigmatic of a history of go-slows, wildcatting and general vandalism that is far more marginal than it deserves to be, especially given the central role that high technologies play in the modern workplace.

Mueller’s contention is that “actually existing automation” is not only about greater productivity but about reconfiguring labour practices in a way that makes workers easier to control. For as long as workers remained attached to ways of working that were marbled in to more communitarian modes of life, they would always baulk at the idea that their products were mere commodities for sale. But automation provides a way for capital to introduce its “values” (or its nihilism) into the labour process. By refocusing work on the efficient production of goods for profit, above all else, capital is able to transform the worker into a mere means of production, a cog in the machine. Marx himself made something like this point in an unpublished chapter of Capital called “Results of the Immediate Production Process” and its effect is to throw the various struggles over automation into a more nuancedlight. For example, when the FordMotor Company redesigned production so that materials were automatically conveyed from one process to another, it was not merely trying to increase production but to decentralise the production process in a way that allowed them to break the link with its proud and unruly workforce in Detroit. For Mueller, it follows that the struggle against such automation is more than just economic “self-interest”; it is, or can be, constitutive of an alternative socio-economic vision.

Mueller writes that he wants to turn Marxists into Luddites and Luddites into Marxists, but I think he will prove a lot more successful in the first ambition than the second one. For while he does a brilliant job of showing just how unhistorical, simplistic and idealistic the accelerationist model of “progress” is, in other respects he reproduces the shortcomings of mainstream Marxism faithfully. Noting that much of the criticism of new technology comes from “a place of romantic humanism” and from people who’ve read too much Heidegger (“who criticized technology for alienating us, through its disenchanting and instrumentalizing nature, from the mystical experience of Being”), he writes:

The problem of technology is not simply that it alienates us from Being, or from authentic experiences … [T]he more fundamental problem of technology is its role in the reproduction of hierarchies and injustices foisted upon most of us by business owners, bosses, and governments. In other words, the problem of technology is its role in capitalism.

Unless I’ve misunderstood this passage (and several other passages very similar to it), Mueller is saying that our “authentic” humanity is, as far as technologies go, less important than our participation in capitalism. But why is capitalism a problem at all if it doesn’t cut against the grain of our “nature”? Mueller writes: “What workers bitterly opposed was ‘industrial concentration’ that demolished their way of life by undermining the autonomy they possessed in small-scale home-based manufacturing, which ‘paced its activities according to its needs’ so that workers controlled the hours and intensity of their work.” Fair enough. But from what does the need for “autonomy” (or agency or conviviality) derive, if not our “authentic” humanity?

Mueller says he does not believe in a “universal essence”; but if he means by this that he doesn’t accept that humans have certain irreducible characteristics—sociality, creativity, corporeality—then he is channelling the very “Prometheanism” that he criticises in other parts of the Left: the Prometheanism that imagines human beings to be extrusions of the clanking machine of history, and thus infinitely malleable. “The argument for deceleration is not based on satisfying nature,” writes Mueller, “but in recognizing the challenges facing strategies for organizing the working class.” But organising the working class to do what? Take ownership? Get control of the surplus? This doesn’t sound a million miles away from the vulgar “workerism” of the Bolsheviks.

The point, surely, is that work is an expression of our fundamental creativity, and that technologies exist in a complex relationship to that fundamental creativity: a relationship that cannot be reduced to a forces-relations model. Frustrated with the cruder versions of that model, but still in thrall to a Marxist analysis that sees capitalism as the ghost in every machine and is reflexively hostile to any notion that human beings may have a nature that is prior to the economic “base”, Mueller ends up trying to have it both ways. To be sure, he’s made a good start on the frame, which is looking much less robust than it did before he started to wail on it. But given the utterly transformative nature of emerging and soon-to-emerge technologies, I think he needs a bigger hammer.

*

Gavin Mueller

Breaking Things at Work: The Luddites Are Right about Why You Hate Your Job

Verso; $29.99; 176pp

Pages