Science

How can the University of Queensland recover from the Drew Pavlou affair?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 30/05/2020 - 3:12am in

This Will Reflect Well On Me,' Says Cartoon Villain Peter Hoj ...The management of the University of Queensland, and in particular Peter Hoj and Peter Varghese, stand condemned today by the international media, by both Labor and Liberal politicians, by both left-wing and right-wing Australians, by its own students, and by the powerful pro-American lobby. That management unleashed a shit-storm on itself today by its decision (via a kangaroo court) to suspend Drew Pavlou for 2 years and thus oust him as student representative on the UQ Senate, as well as make it impossible for him to finish his studies.

I have talked about the intricacies and wider politics of this case before, and in a recent comment I analysed the particulars of the shit-storm and how UQ management has effectively already admitted defeat. They’ll back-track on Drew.

Here I want to talk about how the University of Queensland, where I worked for more than 6 years and where I still have friends and colleagues, can truly recover from its current shame. Let’s first scope the full extent of the scandal and then the two paths the university can now take: a cosmetic make-over that will leave the corrupted structures in place and will hence just mean another scandal in 5 to 10 years time, or a radical clean-up that would restore UQ as a place of learning and debate. Obviously the cosmetic make-over is the far more likely course of action, but the radical clean-up is the better course of action in the longer run, so I want to sketch that one too.

Let’s first think about the scope of the scandal. Being condemned by the whole of the Western world, exposed as a place that has totally lost its values and its way, is no small matter.

The current condemnation is much bigger than the one around the corruption scandal with the previous vice-chancellor, Greenfield, who secured his daughter an undeserved place in the medical school. That scandal opened the way for Peter Hoj who promised to clean the place up but, instead, joined in with all the shenanigans. He set up an internal police to subdue any dissident academic and student voices, a police force that wrote the 186 page report on Drew. He looked after Greenfield in retirement via helping him with lucrative commissions and board positions. He set up even more management layers than UQ already had, and, as many now realise, sold out completely to the Chinese Consulate.

Within a few weeks or so, I think the following picture of UQ management will be shared by Australians in general, including the citizens of Brisbane:

  1. The management of Queensland’s premier university sold out to a foreign power (China) for money, a foreign power that has just enacted a controversial new law regarding the suppression of civil liberties in Hong Kong.
  2. UQ management allowed that foreign power to violently suppress peaceful demonstrations on campus that supported the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.
  3. It allowed that foreign power to dictate the content of courses related to China, to vet the academics teaching it, and to control Chinese students on campus.
  4. UQ management hence abandoned Chinese students critical of the Party, Australian students, human rights principles, any usual academic standards, any notion of free speech, and any form of independence.
  5. In order to be able to make such a Faustian bargain, UQ management needed absolute control. It had achieved this by systematically suppressing academic independence and student free speech for many years, such that the academics and students felt intimidated enough to just go along with anything management wanted. If you need proof of this, just ask yourself the question where you can read the voices of UQ academics critical of Hoj’s handling of the case. Till very recently, there were almost none because they are far too afraid, having seen what happens to dissenters many times in the last 10 years. Also, there is no more obvious token of the conversion of a once real university into a subdued craven fiefdom than the fact that Peter Hoj arrived as merely a vice-chancellor and is now the President of UQ. It will be King of UQ next, then Emperor.

I think all this will be publicly known soon and accepted as the lay of the land, seen widely as a problem that should be fixed. There are much deeper problems though for the University of Queensland, extending far beyond the current management group, which will not be so visible and hence will not be part of the thing that is asked to be fixed. Those much worse and deeper problems are listed later on.

 the easy scapegoat - Canadian Counselling and ...Now, the cosmetic solution to these five visible problems is to scape-goat Peter Hoj, get rid of any overly visible Chinese Communist Party influence on the UQ campus, and otherwise continue to pretend UQ management is not bullying its academics and students into continued submission.

That cosmetic makeover would minimally mean taking away the honorary academic title given to the Chinese Consul-General, a man with a background as a police officer, not an academic. It would mean promising to get rid of the Confucius Institute on campus as soon as is legally possible, while reducing its power over UQ academics and students immediately. This would entail not letting that Institute decide on the content of course material, getting some outside academic group to judge the content of China-related courses, and actively outlawing violent pro-Party activities on campus.

Otherwise, not much would change except for small adjustments in personnel and rhetoric. Hoj and Varghese out, replaced by a “fresh team” of people who can be trusted to keep happy all the current interest groups who have their claws in the place. The new team would come in with lots of promises and noise, announcing to do lots more “human rights initiatives” (like those “Paris principles” UQ just signed up to), meanwhile doing the exact opposite, just like Peter Hoj himself when he arrived there about 8 years ago.

Behind the scenes in this scenario, UQ management, and particularly its next vice-chancellor would try and patch up relations with the Chinese consulate as much as possible to still attract new Chinese students, though of course also trying to diversify the foreign student portfolio. So they wouldn’t say anything negative about the Consulate but simply talk of “taking away any possible impression that…”, “representing various views on campus….”, “fully respecting free speech of course…” and all the other blabla that comes with saving face.

An on-campus police would continue to exist to terrify the UQ academics, who have been understandably silent during the whole Drew Pavlou affair, totally cowed and intimidated as they have been for years. There would certainly be no return of free speech for academics, though students would be allowed a bit more leeway.

This has got to be the front-runner in terms of what happens next at UQ: an embarrassed Brisbane elite organising a cosmetic make-over for UQ, meanwhile ensuring little really changes. It is politically the route of least resistance.

What would a complete overhaul mean? To see what it would take, one needs to realise some of the deeper problems that now exist at UQ:

  1. UQ owns a lot of property throughout Queensland and has set up side-firms and organisations to manage that property, which means it has become entangled in the property mafia that is very connected and powerful in Queensland, something I wrote about with Cameron Murray in “Game of Mates”. This property has spawned a group of ex-UQ administrators who administrate and get rents out of all that property and who are invested in the question of who will run UQ next.
  2. The UQ campus has made property deals with developers and business people who run the student dormitories on that campus. This is big business worth hundreds of millions, of which the university gets a slice. It means there is a whole set of legal obligations and business networks around UQ management that would drag many a well-meaning administration into the mud, let alone a management that is more than happy to start in the mud from the get-go.
  3. UQ has made deals with foreign universities (like in China) to send it students on which a lot of money is made. Similarly, it has made deals with language-provision companies, insurance companies, legal firms, and lots of other commercial entities in Brisbane who make money from servicing foreign students and doing other business with the university. This too provides a very corrupting force on any UQ administration because it gives so many opportunities for getting bribes, lucrative positions, cosy commissions, board jobs for retired UQ administrators, etc. It also means those outside companies, including many of the top legal firms in Brisbane, have an interested in continued business with the university, which gives them an interest in resisting any true attempt at a clean-up.
  4. UQ has made implicit deals with Brisbane politicians not to rock the boat on whatever those politicians do. That is what my own case of 5 years ago so clearly revealed, when the University did the bidding of the council in suppressing research into racism on council buses, but by now its a worked-out system. So UQ academics are prevented via all these bogus “ethics committees” from looking at serious corruption of Queensland politicians and civil servants: essentially the “ethics rule” that is now enforced is that the corrupt have to agree to be researched. Some ethics! This system gives Brisbane politicians a strong incentive to want another corrupt management team to take over from any previous set at UQ: the Brisbane politicians strongly fear a truly independent academia in the middle of the city. They might just do what a crime-and-corruption commission should do in Queensland but has been prevented from doing for over a decade. Corrupt local politicians need a corrupt and docile local university.
  5. There are many skeletons in the cupboard, including lots of UQ academics who took UQ to court for bullying. One cannot run a local dictatorship without forcibly shutting up the strange and the brave. UQ management has a whole list of people it has bullied over the years, and then had to fend off in the courts or compensate them to keep quiet. This is now oddly enough a protective layer for UQ management: if UQ truly cleans up, those skeletons will come back to haunt them. Openly acknowledging the bullying of the past would be a costly legal liability for any new management and would suck up a lot of time and effort, easily portrayed in the media as the failure of a new management.  All the little torturers who are still working for the university and who facilitated the bullying and profited in their own little way would be compromised and hence would resist opening up about the past. Not openly acknowledging the past means letting the little torturers continue and thus perpetuate the system of the past.

Total Corruption Cartoons and Comics - funny pictures from ...In short, UQ management is but the tip of the ice-berg of a totally corrupted system that encircles and constricts the University of Queensland. The corrupt network encircling it includes a whole network of interested top-politicians, property developers, former UQ-managers, interested professional bodies (lawyers and medics in particular), and others. This is exactly the group that would normally decide how to actually “clean up” the University of Queensland in the Drew Pavlou affair.

I hope you can thus see why it is so unlikely that the present scandal will lead to a true clean up of the problems with the university and why hence a cosmetic make-over is so much more likely: most of the big movers and shakers in Brisbane have a lot to lose from a real clean-up. They might make room for the pro-American anti-CCP lobby that wants CCP influences gone from the UQ campus, but that’s not the same as letting go of their investments entirely. And the anti-CCP lobby has no real stake in cleaning up local corruption. Their interest is not the university community in Queensland. Not their fight.

Let’s dream a little though and think of some of the moves needed to truly clean up UQ.

 Grab the bull by the horns - Less Conversation More ActionObviously, it would need a whole team to come in, breaking down a lot of the previous control apparatus and working its way through new institutions and habits on campus. It would need unprecedented powers to sever previous contracts, including labour contracts (think of those police enforcers!), and to re-arrange the campus physically (those dorms!) and intellectually (those ethics rules!).

Frankly, such a thing could not be contemplated without real backing from the very top of Queensland and Brisbane politics. They would have to enact laws specifically designed to make the clean-up possible, such as breaking up many of the property deals and other legal obligations that would keep UQ in the mud. These politicians would have to own the new narratives and be ok with the new scrutiny that they themselves would fall under if a real university would once more arise in Brisbane.

This is basically unimaginable at present. Though I desperately want it, I can’t see it as a remotely realistic option. There is no appetite for it that I can see in the Brisbane elites, as one can gather from the quickest of glances at how the Brisbane Times is reporting the Drew Pavlou case.

The underlying problem, which is that of a totally corrupted layer running UQ and having many unseemly relations with big interest groups in Queensland, will thus probably persist and will ensure new scandals in the future as the next group of leaders becomes just as arrogant and dictatorial as the current mob. That machismo will inevitably over-reach itself, as it has done the last two administrations, leading to the next scandal. It is in the nature of local dictators to push the boundaries of their fiefdom, convinced of their own greatness and invincibility, till they run out of luck.

The previous vice-Chancellor Greenfield came up against the medical profession that resented the dilution of their educational reputation by having entry into the medical courses corrupted. Peter Hoj came up against an energetic innovative campaigner serious about human rights, who to his own surprise was backed up by powerful interests. So in both cases, an insular UQ management mob came up against the reality of outside forces they underestimated because they had gotten away with so much previously.

The next mob will surely be just the same, so it will be a cosmetic makeover followed by repression and corruption as usual for the next few years. It will remain painful for any real academic to be at UQ. But at least I now do think they will get the pleasure of more robust student protests on campus. Maybe those students will start to do the research and investigating that the academics are prevented from doing? Now, there’s a thought….

And what will happen to Drew Pavlou? They’ll reinstate him, hope he finishes his studies soon, suffer his antics whilst grinding their teeth, count the days till he leaves UQ, and then build him a statue once he is gone and can no longer actually bother them.

 

 

Ten Aphorisms on Capitalism, Covid-19, and the Climate Crisis

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 28/05/2020 - 6:33am in

The climate crisis, and by extension, the COVID-19 crisis, is a prolonged act of violence perpetrated on the 99% by capitalism’s accumulation for accumulation’s sake.

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The post Ten Aphorisms on Capitalism, Covid-19, and the Climate Crisis appeared first on New Politics.

Radio 4 Programme Next Week on Gef the Talking Mongoose

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 28/05/2020 - 5:17am in

According to next week’s Radio Times for 30th May – 5th June 2020, Radio 4 next Tuesday, 2nd June, is broadcasting a programme on the bizarre affair of the Manx poltergeist, Gef the talking mongoose. The blurb for it in the Radio Times runs

In the 1930s, a BBC employee who was interested in psychic phenomena investigated the story of Gef the Talking Mongoose – a supernatural creature with a foul mouth and disturbing habits, said to haunt a remote farmhouse on the Isle of Man. Thinking to amuse the public in the silly season, he published an account of his findings, little knowing that Gef would cause a national scandal, prompt questions in the House, drag in Lord Reith himself, and provoke a front-page court case. Docudrama by Robin Brooks featuring Jasmine Nazina-Jones.

Gef the Talking Mongoose is supposed to be one of the poltergeist cases with the best supporting evidence. About a decade or so ago the Fortean Times, the magazine for connoisseurs du weird, published a long article about it. I leave it to you to decide for yourself what you think of it or the paranormal, but this could be an interesting programme. However, with docudramas you’re always left wondering how faithful they are to the facts, and how much is dramatic license.

Way back in the ’90s ghosts and ghost-hunting were all the rage, and Most Haunted and other shows like it were gathering sizable audiences for what were niche shows on the satellite and cable channels. It was lampooned on the Beeb comedy show, Dead Ringers, where Most Haunted’s star psychic at the time, Derek Acorah, received psychic impressions from a hibernating tortoise in a shed in a garden centre, before being possessed by the unquiet spirit of Desmond Decker. Slumping, ‘Acorah’ started singing ‘I don’t want to dance’.  The ghost hunting craze has passed, though there are still very many people up and down the country spending their weekends visiting haunted places in the hope of seeing or experiencing one. Most Haunted has come and gone, and Derek Acorah, I think, has sadly left us. But nevertheless, its fellows and competitors are still around on some channels.

I found the video below from Red Letter Media on YouTube. That channel specialises in film reviews, not always respectful, but always well informed and often hilariously funny. One of the hosts, Mike Stoklasa, here talks about his guilty pleasure. Which is watching one of these shows, Ghost Adventures. It’s clear that he doesn’t take it too seriously, but is very careful not to say that it’s all scripted, even when there’s abundant evidence in the clips he provides to show that it is.

In the edition he talks about, the ghost hunters visit a museum that contains a dybbuk box. A dybbuk is a type of Jewish demon. The show’s stars intend to open the box to see if it really does contain a demon. To make sure they are properly protected spiritually, they have on hand a rabbi. They ask the reverend gentleman if he knows how to deal with such a demonic object. He replies that he does, as he’s just looked it up that day. The ghost hunters seem a bit crestfallen, but ask him if he personally believes in demons. He tells them that he doesn’t, not in his personal religion, but he’s prepared to believe in them for the sake of the script. Oh dear! Stoklasa then helpfully explains that he thinks that what the rabbi meant was that he would, if the course of the programme required it, and that the show didn’t have a written script.

More proof that the show isn’t scripted comes from a video Ghost Adventures put on YouTube. One of the ghost hunters is talking to the viewer about some place he wishes to investigate in the locale they’re investigating. Then a door comes open. The presenter makes an exclamation of surprise, the sequence cuts, and then he is shown approaching the same location and giving the same speech. Stoklasa merely comments that it’s bad editing. Here’s Stoklasa and Jay talking about it.

There’s a considerable amount of evidence for the existence of ghosts and the paranormal, and many of the people I’ve come across who take them seriously enough to investigate them, whether believer or sceptic, are by no means gullible fools or cynical debunkers. But, as with everything else on TV, not everything you see is objective reality and it’s a myth that the camera never lies.

Nuclear Physicist On Probation After Putting Hot Wheels Cars In Supercollider

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 27/05/2020 - 7:41am in

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A contrite nuclear physicist at CERN has been severely reprimanded after putting Hot Wheels cars at each end of the Large Hadron Collider and conducting experiments to see if anything cool happens when they crash at high speeds.

“We caught Dr Lesney accelerating a 1967 Chevrolet RS and a Batmobile to velocities just below the speed of light when he should have been doing some kind of shit with a Higgs Boson or something,” said supervising scientist Professor Jack Corgi. “We had to remind him that the LHC is not a toy, at least not on weekdays. Sure, on the weekends when we put the superballs in it, that’s different.”

“I suspect they got a bit suspicious of my intentions when I lobbied hard for them to include a loop the loop in the initial design of the super collider track,” lamented a sullen Dr Matt L. Lesney. “I was hoping to create the elusive Brock-Moffat particle, thus proving the quantum theory that a Hot Wheels car can be both a toy and a model at the same time.”

The resulting high speed collision has sent a little die cast metal door and a plastic wheel into an alternative dimension.

Peter Green

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80s Space Comedy From Two of the Goodies

Astronauts, written by Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie, 13 episodes of 25 minutes in length. First Broadcast ITV 1981 and 1983.

I hope everyone had a great Bank Holiday Monday yesterday, and Dominic Cummings’ hypocritical refusal to resign after repeatedly and flagrantly breaking the lockdown rules aren’t getting everyone too down. And now, for the SF fans, is something completely different as Monty Python used to say.

Astronauts was a low budget ITV sitcom from the very early ’80s. It was written by the two Goodies responsible for writing the scripts for their show, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie, and based on the personal conflicts and squabbling of the American astronauts on the Skylab programme six years earlier. It was about three British astronauts, RAF officer, mission commander and pilot Malcolm Mattocks, chippy, left-wing working-class engineer David Ackroyd, coolly intellectual biologist Gentian Fraser,and their dog, Bimbo,  who are launched into space as the crew of the first all-British space station. Overseeing the mission is their American ground controller Lloyd Beadle. Although now largely forgotten, the show lasted two seasons, and there must have been some continuing demand for it, because it’s been released nearly forty years later as a DVD. Though not in such demand that I didn’t find it in DVD/CD bargain catalogue.

Low Budget

The show’s very low budget. Lower than the Beeb’s Blake’s 7, which often cited as an example of low budget British science fiction. There’s only one model used, that of their space station, which is very much like the factual Skylab. The shots of their spacecraft taking off are stock footage of a Saturn V launch, the giant rockets used in the Moon landings and for Skylab. There also seems to be only one special effects sequence in the show’s entire run, apart from outside shots. That’s when an accident causes the station to move disastrously out of its orbit, losing gravity as it does so. Cheap matte/ Chromakey effects are used to show Mattocks rising horizontally from his bunk, where he’s been lying, while Bimbo floats through the bedroom door.

Class in Astronauts and Red Dwarf

It’s hard not to compare it with the later, rather more spectacular Red Dwarf, which appeared in 1986, three years after Astronaut’s last season. Both shows centre around a restricted regular cast. In Red Dwarf this was initially just Lister, Holly and the Cat before the appearance of Kryten. Much of the comedy in Red Dwarf is also driven by their similar situation to their counterparts in Astronauts – personality clashes in the cramped, isolated environment of a spacecraft. The two shows are also similar in that part of this conflict from class and a Conservative military type versus working class cynic/ liberal. In Red Dwarf it’s Rimmer as the Conservative militarist, while Lister is the working class rebel. In Astronauts the military man is Mattocks, a patriotic RAF pilot, while Ackroyd, the engineer, is left-wing, Green, and affects to be working class. The three Astronauts also debate the class issue, accusing each other of being posh before establishing each other’s place in the class hierarchy. Mattocks is posh, but not as posh as Foster. Foster’s working class credentials are, however, destroyed during an on-air phone call with his mother, who is very definitely middle or upper class, and talks about going to the Conservative club. In this conflict, it’s hard not to see a similarity with the Goodies and the conflict there between the Conservative screen persona of Tim Brooke-Taylor and Bill Oddie’s left-wing, working class character.

Class, however, plays a much smaller role in Red Dwarf. Lister is more underclass than working class, and the show, set further in the future, has less overt references to contemporary class divisions and politics. The humour in Red Dwarf is also somewhat bleaker. The crew are alone three million years in the future, with the human race vanished or extinct with the exception of Lister. Rimmer is an ambitious failure. For all he dreams of being an officer, he has failed the exam multiple times and the B.Sc he claims is Batchelor of Science is really BSC – Bronze Swimming Certificate. Both he and Lister are at the lowest peg of the ship’s hierarchy in Red Dwarf. They’re maintenance engineers, whose chief duties is unblocking the nozzles of vending machines. Lister’s background is rough. Very rough. While others went scrumping for apples, he and his friends went scrumping for cars. The only famous person in his class was a man who ate his wife. The three heroes of Astronauts, however, are all competent, intelligent professionals despite their bickering. Another difference is that while both series have characters riddled with self-loathing, in Red Dwarf it’s the would-be officer Rimmer, while in Astronauts is working class engineer Ackroyd.

Britain Lagging Behind in Space

Other issues in Astronauts include Britain’s low status as a space power. In a speech in the first episode, the crew express their pride at being the first British mission, while paying tribute to their American predecessors in the Apollo missions. The Ealing comedy The Mouse on the Moon did something similar. And yet Britain at the time had been the third space power. Only a few years before, the British rocket Black Arrow had been successfully launched from Woomera in Australia, successfully taking a British satellite into orbit.

Personal Conflicts

There are also conflicts over the cleaning and ship maintenance duties, personal taste in music – Mattocks irritates Ackroyd by playing Tubular Bells, publicity or lack of it – in one episode, the crew are annoyed because it seems the media back on Earth have forgotten them – and disgust at the limited menu. Mattocks is also shocked to find that Foster has been killing and dissecting the mice he’s been playing with, and is afraid that she’ll do it to the dog. Sexism and sexual tension also rear their heads. Mattocks fancies Foster, but Ackroyd doesn’t, leading to further conflict between them and her. Foster, who naturally wants to be seen as an equal and ‘one of the boys’ tries to stop this by embarrassing them. She cuts her crew uniform into a bikini and then dances erotically in front of the two men, before jumping on them both crying ‘I’ll have both of you!’ This does the job, and shames them, but Beadle, watching them gets a bit too taken with the display, shouting ‘Work it! Work it! Boy! I wish I was up there with you boys!’ Foster also objects to Mattocks because he doesn’t help his wife, Valerie, out with the domestic chores at home. Mattocks also suspects that his wife is having an affair, which she is, in a sort-of relationship with Beadle. There’s also a dig at the attitudes of some magazines. In the press conference before the three go on their mission, Foster is asked by Woman’s Own if she’s going to do any cooking and cleaning in space. Beadle and his team reply that she’s a highly trained specialist no different from the men. The joke’s interesting because in this case the butt of the humour is the sexism in a certain type of women’s magazine, rather than chauvinist male attitudes.

Cold War Espionage

Other subjects include the tense geopolitical situation of the time. Mattocks is revealed to have been running a secret espionage programme, photographing Russian bases as the station flies over them in its orbit. The others object, and Ackroyd is finally able to persuade Beadle to allow them to use the technology to photograph illegal Russian whaling in the Pacific. This is used to embarrass the Russians at an international summit, but the questions about the origin of the photos leads to the espionage programme being abandoned. The crew also catch sight of a mysterious spacecraft in the same orbit, and start receiving communications in a strange language. After initially considering that it just might be UFOs, it’s revealed that they do, in fact, come from a lonely Russian cosmonaut. Foster speaks Russian, and starts up a friendship. When Mattocks finds out, he is first very suspicious, but then after speaking to the Russian in English, he too becomes friends. He’s the most affected when the Russian is killed after his craft’s orbit decays and burns up re-entering the atmosphere.

Soft Drink Sponsorship

There are also digs at commercial sponsorship. The mission is sponsored by Ribozade, whose name is a portmanteau of the British drinks Ribeena and Lucozade. Ribozade tastes foul, but the crew nevertheless have it on board and must keep drinking it. This is not Science Fiction. One of the American missions was sponsored by Coca Cola, I believe, and so one of the space stations had a Coke machine on board. And when Helen Sharman went into space later in the decade aboard a Russian rocket to the space station Mir, she was originally to be sponsored by Mars and other British companies.

God, Philosophy and Nicholas Parsons

The show also includes arguments over the existence or not of the Almighty. Mattocks believes He exists, and has shown His special favour to them by guiding his hand in an earlier crisis. Mattocks was able to save them, despite having no idea what he was doing. Ackroyd, the sceptic, replies that he can’t say the Lord doesn’t exist, but can’t see how God could possibly create Nicholas Parsons and Sale of the Century, one of the popular game shows on ITV at the time, if He did. As Mattocks is supposed to be guiding them down from orbit, his admission that he really didn’t know what he was doing to rescue the station naturally alarms Foster and Ackroyd so that they don’t trust his ability to get them down intact.

Red Dwarf also has its jokes about contemporary issues and politics. Two of the most memorable are about the hole in the Earth’s ozone layer being covered with a gigantic toupee, and the despair squid, whose ink causes its prey to become suicidal and which has thus destroyed all other life on its world in the episode ‘Back to Reality’. Other jokes include everyone knowing where they were when Cliff Richard got shot. Red Dwarf, however, is much more fantastic and goes further in dealing with philosophical issues, such as when Rimmer is incarcerated in a space prison where justice is definitely retributive. If you do something illegal, it comes back to happen to you. This is demonstrated when Lister follows Rimmer’s instruction and tries to set his sheets alight. He shortly finds that his own black leather jacket has caught fire.

Conclusion

Red Dwarf is able to go much further in exploring these and other bizarre scenarios as it’s definitely Science Fiction. Astronauts is, I would argue, space fiction without the SF. It’s fictional, but based solidly on fact, including generating gravity through centrifugal force. But critically for any comedy is the question whether its funny. Everyone’s taste is different, but in my opinion, yes, Astronauts is. It’s dated and very much of its time, but the humour still stands up four decades later. It had me laughing at any rate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Philosophers Among Recent NSF Grant Winners

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 21/05/2020 - 12:31am in

The National Science Foundation (NSF) may not be the first place people think of when they think about support for philosophical research, but several philosophers are among recent winners of grants from the agency.

Lauren Ross, assistant professor in the Logic and Philosophy of Science Department at the University of California, won an NSF Career Award to support her project, “Causal Explanation in Biology and the Diversity of Causal Concepts”:

In the context of modern biology, the way that scientists describe their research often makes use of a mechanistic framework; biological phenomena are understood as machine-like, having lower-level causal parts that all interact to produce some outcome of interest. As a result, philosophers of science and the general public have come to regard explanations in biology as predominantly mechanistic. However, this view fails to accommodate the diversity of causal concepts in biology that differ from the mechanistic paradigm. For example, biologists appeal to causal concepts that are not well understood with the notion of mechanism including concepts such as pathways, cascades, triggers, and processes. This suggests that causal explanation is more diverse and variegated than the single mechanistic paradigm that is communicated by scientists and supported by philosophers. A view that reduces all biological explanation to mechanisms, obscures the rich and diverse set of causal concepts, reasoning strategies, and experimental techniques that are found in this scientific field. Maintaining our best biological science requires that scientists have an awareness of this diversity, that it is properly characterized in science communication, and that is it appreciated in the philosophy of science literature. This research proposal will use philosophical and historical methods to develop a novel account of biological explanation that accommodates the diversity of causal concepts and causal reasoning in biology. This account will be used to further our understanding of biological explanation and enhance science communication.

Further information here and here.

Nicholas Teh, associate professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, won a Standard Research Grant to support his project, “A Novel Philosophical Analysis of How Modern Gauge Symmetries Can Have Empirical Content”:

This project develops a new philosophy of symmetry. The researchers will analyze how and why physicists’ present conception of the empirical content of symmetries outstrips the naive Galilean paradigm. They will use the results of this analysis to develop a new account of how gauge symmetry (the key symmetry of our best physical theories) can be empirical. They will then connect their notion of empirical content to an important episode in the history of symmetry, the Noether-Klein-Einstein correspondence about energy conservation in General Relativity. Noether and Klein famously charged that the conservation laws derived by Einstein for General Relativity were trivial; they do not bear any physical significance. The researchers will show that Noether and Klein’s concerns were precisely about the failure of the Galilean paradigm, and that Einstein’s rejoinders (though not entirely successful) were important clues towards the project’s novel account of symmetry. The researchers will also apply their notion of empirical content to two important topics in the foundations of physics; they will use it to shed light on the possible of existence of boundary observables in Newtonian gravity, and on the phenomena of the quantum Hall effect.

Further information here.

Melissa Jacquart, currently a post-doc but soon to be an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Cincinnati, and Angela Potochnik, associate professor of philosophy there and director of the university’s Center for Public Engagement with Science, won a grant to support their workshop, “Philosophy of Science and Public Engagement”:

The workshop will serve to enhance the capacity for socially engaged philosophy of science. That capacity includes conducting philosophical research with broader social relevance, developing the practical implications of philosophical research (such as advancing public policy), and involving philosophy of science in public engagement with broader science endeavors including science education, science communication, and citizen science. The workshop will work towards the overarching goal by fortifying existing bridges with other disciplines relevant to public engagement with science including science communication, science education, and science and technology studies. The first two days of the workshop will consist in morning and early-afternoon lectures from experts on each of the four key areas indicated above, followed by interactive breakout sessions in the late afternoon on each topic. The third day will focus on developing philosophy of science’s potential to contribute to these areas of public engagement with science. Some of the core questions to be addressed are the following. What do philosophers of science have to contribute to this area of public engagement? What are some ways in which that contribution be realized? What resources or discussions in other disciplines already exist? What research do philosophers need to do public engagement? What are potential challenges? The end goal of this workshop is the development of new research networks between philosophers of science and other communities that focus on public engagement with science.

Further information here and here.

You can learn more about NSF awards here.

 

The post Philosophers Among Recent NSF Grant Winners appeared first on Daily Nous.

Models, Politics, Populations, and Public Science in times of Pandemic (V); On Marc Lipsitch and Synthetic Science

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 20/05/2020 - 9:32pm in

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Politics, Science

I share Medawar’s pragmatic vision of scientific reasoning. Scientists must resist the temptation to excessive skepticism: the kind that says no evidence is ever quite good enough. Instead they should keep their eyes open for any kind of information that can help them solve problems. Deciding, on principle, to reject some kinds of information outright, or to consider only particular kinds of studies, is counterproductive. Instead of succumbing to what Medawar calls “habitual disbelief,” the scientist should pursue all possible inputs that can sharpen one’s understanding, test one’s preconceptions, suggest novel hypotheses, and identify previously unrecognized inconsistencies and limitations in one’s view of a problem....If the COVID-19 crisis has revealed two “competing” ways of thinking in distinct scientific traditions, it is not between two philosophies of science or two philosophies of evidence so much as between two philosophies of action....

This is not to deny that there are different and valuable perspectives on epidemiology. Like any other field, there are many specialties and subspecialties. They have different methods for how they study the world, how they analyze data, and how they filter new information. No one person can keep up with the flood of scientific information in even one field, and specialization is necessary for progress: different scientists need to use different approaches given their skills, interests, and resources. But specialization should not lead to sects—in this case, a group of scientists who accept only certain kinds of evidence and too rigidly adhere to a philosophy of non-interventionism....

Infectious disease epidemiologists must embrace diverse forms of evidence by the very nature of their subject. We study a wide range of questions: how and under what conditions infectious diseases are transmitted, how pathogens change genetically as they spread among populations and across regions, how those changes affect our health, and how our immune systems protect us and, sometimes, make us vulnerable to severe illness when immune responses get out of control. We also seek to understand what kinds of control measures are most effective in limiting transmission. To understand these issues for even one type of disease—say, coronavirus diseases—requires drawing on a wide range of methodologies and disciplines....

The upshot is that, done well, epidemiology synthesizes many branches of science using many methods, approaches, and forms of evidence. No one can be expert in all of these specialties, and few can even be conversant in all of them. But a scientist should be open to learning about all of these kinds of evidence and more.--Marc Lipsitch (May 12, 2020) "Good Science is Good Science" The Boston Review. [HT Matt Lord]

(This is the fifth in a series of posts (see the first here inspired by Phillipe Lemoine; and, inspired by Stegenga, the second and third.)

Sometimes I notice the English heritage plaque commemorating Sir Peter Medawar on Downshire Hill, and I am reminded of the joys of reading the belles lettres of urbane scientists who, through their attention to detail, and highly specialized knowledge, open gates to inviting, untrodden paths meandering in nature's library and our location in it. The essays collected in Medawar's The Uniqueness of the Individual are among the greatest in the genre.  

Unlike Kuhn's image of scientists as unreflective puzzle solvers, Medawar developed a strong interest in philosophy, even a philosophy of science that emphasized the creativity of working science.* Because his philosophy of science seems to have been developed under the influence of a philosopher (Popper) I find this work less stimulating.** Although I take a professional interest in the way in which philosophical ideas play a role in (what I call) the image(s) of science -- (recall these posts on Hume, Williamson, Spinoza), within science and public pronouncements of scientists (and aggregators or what Polanyi called 'influentials'). An image of science is a list of characteristics that function as short-hand for representing science when these characteristics are used in debates where one side (or more) appeals to the (epistemic) authority of science to settle debate.

The passages quoted from Lipsitch, an epidemiologist, are a response to an essay by Jonathan Fuller itself a rare philosophical intervention in unfolding scientific and public policy controversy (which I discussed in the fourth post in this series). Lipsitch gives us a glimpse, from under the hood, of a species of (what in honor of Jacob Stegenga I call) policy apt, fast science. This species involves the synthesis of many different kinds of sciences and different kinds of evidence. And Lipsitch self-consciously presents his discipline as synthetic in this fashion.

As it happens, despite the increasing significance of ecology and climate science, there is not more sustained reflection, philosophical or popular, on synthetic disciplines in science.+ In addition to the integration of specialist knowledge from the special sciences it requires non-trivial judgments about the ways these hang together. When these connecting links are subject to experiment and statistical techniques, the integration may itself be a scientific discipline; when these links involve leaps of the imagination or conceptual creativity the integration may be more likened to philosophy (what I call synthetic philosophy). Of course, the dividing line between science and philosophy may be blurry or a matter of sociology of the academy.

When there is time to integrate, one aims to develop the techniques that allow one to stress test the links (models, techniques, experiments, concepts, etc.) constitutive of a synthetic science. But as Lipsitch describes, when such time is absent, a lot of the integration occurs almost heroically on the fly.++ This is so even if the underlying (special) sciences are robust and well understood. Lipsitch describes how good judgment across multiple forms of evidence is required. Presumably this also involves comparing features of COVID-19 to better understood diseases and mechanisms.

It follows from Lipsitch's account of the practice of infectious disease epidemiologists that their synthetic science involves lots of judgment calls that can generate plausible disagreements among even the most informed experts. This matters in a policy context because it means that one is not in the realm of constrained choice -- characteristic of applied ethics and decision theory ; in constrained choice areas, and as Ellsberg taught the intermediary contexts (characterized by constaints and uncertainty), experts can have considerable understanding of possible consequences of policy and one may even evaluate them in light of ends one may wish to pursue or avoid. 

But in the context of fast, synthetic science that aims to be policy apt -- "decisions are urgent and must be made with the evidence we’ve got" -- we should expect lots of controversy: legitimate second guessing of both the judgments internal to infectious disease epidemiology as well as the judgments about how to pursue policy (even if there were consensus about ends/values). From that vantage point it is to be welcomed that Lipsitch engages in critical dialogue with learned critics.

But there is a more important moral lurking here. As I noticed last week (recall this post on Ernest Nagel), it is a deeply ingrained way of thinking about the role of science in public policy that it supplies the decision-makers and public with authoritative, univocal answers to decisions. And when the scientific community does not spontaneously supplies such unicity, the impulse has been to create mechanisms of consensus generation (through surveys, panels, boards, special issues, etc.). The impulse is natural both (a) when one fears that diversity of voices will make space for political arbitrage or even to allow slick operators to sideline  knowledge altogether or (b) thinks that univocalness allows for the benefits of social coordination to materialize.  But premature (that is not stress-tested) consensus generation is also fraught with risks because it also means the authority of a particular synthetic science rests on fragile foundations.*** Thanks to Eric Winsberg I have been alert to the (reputational) risks to science as such that accompany this.

So, the moral is this. Lipsitch rightly calls for a philosophy of action in the context of fast, policy apt synthetic science. In my view, informed by Medawar's embrace of human diversity within (imaginative) science tempered by responsibility and obligations, such action will be better constrained once science and society learn to be comfortable with an image of science that permits listening to and speaking with multiplicity of informed voices. 

 

*While looking for a choice quote, I found this lovely paper by Neil Calver.

**Lipsitch quotes from Medawar's "Aspects of Scientific Life and Matters," which is, in fact, an attack on a variety of snobbisms found within science (and society), and has a lovely section, en passant, devoted to art and nature of scientific collaboration. But it is not especially interested in explaining how science is done.

+Anthropology, for example, receives very little attention, although much of what I learned about synthetic science is indebted to the writings of Alison Wylie. 

++On the fly we can also make visible mistakes. He writes, "On the question of how we should make decisions under uncertainty, of course more data are better." More data is not always better. In the present crisis we are already drowning in data. But the studies that involve excellent sampling and excellent testing equipment which can generate high quality data, which can be turned into high quality evidence, are frustratingly rare.

***As I noted Ernest Nagel is very disciplined about recognizing that there occasions when the authority of science also means one has no answers. It does not follow (as I implied last week) that anything goes. For one may still follow legal precedent or obey political and judicious constraints.

The Race to Measure the Global Emissions Plunge

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 19/05/2020 - 3:03am in

The Covid-19 pandemic is taking a toll on science. Laboratories are shuttered, major field campaigns are suspended and scientists who traveled to remote parts of the globe to conduct research are struggling to return to a world in lockdown. But some research has kept going through it all, including a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration–led effort to keep tabs on the amount of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere.

NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network might not be a household name, but the agency considers its activities as essential as the work of NOAA’s National Weather Service forecasters. As a result, this global network of staffed observatories, mountain stations and remote sampling sites that collect and record atmospheric concentrations of key greenhouse gases including CO2, methane and nitrous oxide is up and running despite the pandemic. The reason is simple: If this network were to go down even for a few weeks, one of our best sources of intel on how humans are altering the atmosphere would disappear, disrupting records that have been going strong for decades.

The disruption would be very poorly timed.

“It has the best lens on trends in our atmospheric makeup,” University of Colorado Boulder research scientist Bruce Vaughn said of NOAA’s greenhouse gas network. “Enter the pandemic, which creates this enormous, widespread reduction in fossil fuel emissions globally. I don’t think we could have designed a better experiment for our atmosphere.”

The greenhouse gas network has a few different core components, including four “baseline” observatories (at Mauna Loa, Hawaii; Barrow, Alaska; American Samoa; and the South Pole), which have been continually monitoring the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide concentration since the 1970s, as well as nine tower and mountain sites across North America that have been collecting similar data since the 1990s. In addition, NOAA coordinates a remote flask collection network that currently consists of 55 locations around the world where local researchers or volunteers collect air samples in bottles every week that are shipped to a federal lab in Boulder, Colorado, for analysis.

Data from the network and its partner stations is behind some of climate science’s greatest hits, including the Mauna Loa observatory’s long-running CO2 measurements, which alerted the world that Earth’s atmosphere breached the ominous 400 parts per million threshold in 2013 and that it’s been logging new CO2 records ever since. In addition to carbon accounting, the network allows scientists to see what fraction of our CO2 emissions are being absorbed by the oceans and land and to look for evidence of dangerous tipping points in the climate system, like a hypothetical but oft-discussed massive pulse of methane from thawing Arctic permafrost.

For the past several weeks, NOAA has scrambled to keep this vital climate monitoring work afloat amid global travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders. So far, it has been largely successful — although parts of the network are feeling the strain.

mauna loaThe NOAA Mauno Loa Observatory has been gathering emissions data since 1958. Credit: Christopher Michel / Flickr

For now, all four permanent observatories are still up and running, as are those nine mountain sites, according to greenhouse gas monitoring network lead Arlyn Andrews. At the utterly isolated South Pole Observatory, it’s business as usual. But the observatories at Mauna Loa and Barrow are limiting the number of people on site at once, with just two staff going up to the Hawaiian observatory every day and a lone technician running the show in Alaska.

Meanwhile, the American Samoa Observatory’s lone NOAA scientist is continuing to collect data for now, but NOAA is monitoring this station closely in case the situation on the Pacific island where the observatory is located changes. “That’s the one most likely to go down,” Andrews said.

The U.S. territory is currently operating under Code Blue restrictions, meaning public gatherings are suspended and government departments are operating at 50 percent staffing levels. If Covid-19 starts to spread widely, the territory could enact far stricter containment measures, including suspending all passenger air and sea travel and most government operations. NOAA spokesperson Theo Stein said that the Coast Guard has a C-130 plane available to evacuate several of its staff from the island if necessary, and that this plane could be used to evacuate the climate scientist, too.

south poleScientists at the South Pole launch a balloon to take measurements from the ozone layer. Credit: NOAA

The flask network has experienced different challenges. As of last week, four of the 55 sites — in Guam, Barbados, New Zealand and an Oklahoma facility operated by the Department of Energy — were unable to sample due to local stay-at-home orders. At other sites, including several remote island locations, researchers are still collecting air samples but are finding it impossible to ship them back to Colorado for analysis. If these samples sit around for too long, the chemistry of the air inside them could start to change, something NOAA scientists will have to correct for, Andrews said.

Meanwhile, the Boulder-based Global Monitoring Laboratory where samples from around the world are processed is currently staffed by a skeleton crew. Just eight of the roughly 100 scientists and support staff who work there are still showing up, Andrews said, and all of them are adhering to strict social distancing and hygiene protocols. Other NOAA employees have been performing “normal work duties” with as much teleworking as possible, according to Stein.

“It’s been a little eerie for those who are there,” said Vaughn, whose CU Boulder lab partners with NOAA to analyze carbon and oxygen isotopes in the flask network samples. It has been granted special permission from the university to continue working on a staggered shift schedule that limits contact among lab members.

Those doing the actual sample collection have also had to adjust to the new world of social distancing. Jen Morse is a climate technician at CU Boulder’s Mountain Research Station. It’s her job to go up to Niwot Ridge every week, collect air samples at 11,500 feet, and pass them off to NOAA for analysis in order to continue the site’s climate record, which dates back to the 1960s. At this time of year, Morse and her fieldwork partner would normally drive up to the shack where they collect samples in a snowcat. But because it’s impossible to social distance inside one of these small, enclosed vehicles, for the past few weeks they’ve been cross-country skiing 4.5 miles to the sample site with their gear in tow, and working apart once they arrive.

Morse doesn’t mind the extra exercise, although she said everything does feel “a bit more stressful” right now.

“I have an underlying tone of anxiety with everything which I think is just how it is right now,” Morse said. “But there’s also increased camaraderie between those of us who are still working.”

south poleScientists release a weather balloon at the South Pole in 1978. Credit: NOAA

All of the extra stress and effort involved in working through the pandemic will pay off if NOAA is able to collect high-quality atmospheric data over the next few months. For weeks, climate scientists have been discussing the massive slowdown in global carbon emissions as billions of people stay home to slow the coronavirus’s spread. A recent analysis by Carbon Brief found that carbon emissions are now on track to fall 5.5 percent this year, which would be the largest annual emissions drop in history.

The signal of this carbon slowdown hasn’t shown up at NOAA’s baseline observatories yet, and scientists don’t expect it will for another few months at least. For context, Andrews said it would take four to six months for a hypothetical Northern Hemisphere-wide emissions dip of around 30 percent to show up in these records; a smaller drop could take even longer to become visible and would be more difficult to distinguish from the yearly variability associated with carbon-absorbing plants and with soils, which can absorb or release carbon. Andrews said NOAA is keeping a close eye on its Mauna Loa climate record, which is the first place scientists think a global emissions dip might be visible.

“We’re definitely going to be looking, I just think it’s going to take a while,” she said.

Finding such a signal could turn this strange era into a teaching tool, Vaughn said. Although everyone agrees a pandemic is a terrible way to reduce emissions, the last few months of lockdowns may offer a real-world demonstration of what would happen to the atmosphere if humanity took aggressive action to fight climate change.

“If you believe there’s any hope in saving the Earth by trying to understand it, this is critical,” Vaughn said.

This story originally appeared in High Country News. It is part of the SoJo Exchange of COVID-19 stories from the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous reporting about responses to social problems.

The post The Race to Measure the Global Emissions Plunge appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Man Wants To Know When He Can Go Back To Not Washing His Hands

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 18/05/2020 - 1:00pm in

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Science

sad man window

Scouring news reports for details of what restrictions are being lifted where and when, Brad Murray has just one question: when can he go back to never really bothering to wash his hands?

While many have had their lives turned upside down in recent months, the 33-year-old single IT worker’s lifestyle has barely changed. Except in one important area.

“I’m one of the lucky ones, really,” Murray told The (un)Australian. “With more tech illiterate people trying to set up workstations in their bedrooms than ever before, my job is safe. I already worked from home and have no social life, so I was looking for what I could do, in my own life, to help combat this terrible virus.”

When he heard a government ad advising people to wash their hands, he realised he’d found his niche. “I was like, sure, I don’t really bother with much more than an occasional rinse with a bit of water, and then only if I’m a public toilet and others can see me, but this thing means we all have to make sacrifices.”

But while Mr Murray says he has been more than happy to make the change, he’s keen to know when he will be allowed to stop.

“We all have to do our bit at this difficult time,” Mr Murray said. “But spending at least 20 seconds thoroughly washing my hands every time I go to the bathroom? That’s seriously cutting in to my FIFA 2020 game time.

“Everyone is talking about going back to work or when pubs will reopen, but all I really want to know is at what stage of the restrictions easing do I get to go back to just flicking my hands vaguely at some water for half a second after I take a piss?”

Carlo Sands

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Shaw’s Classic Defence of Socialism for Women Part Three

George Bernard Shaw, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism, foreword by Polly Toynbee (London: Alma Classics 2012).

Socialism and Marriage, Children, Liberty and Religion

Shaw also discusses what socialism would mean for marriage, liberty, children and the churches, and these are the most problematic sections of the book. He looks forward to marriage being a purely voluntary commitment, where people people can marry for love instead of financial advancement. This will produce biologically better children, because people will be able to choose the best partners, rather than be limited to only those from their class. At the same time incompatible partners will be able to divorce each other free of stigma.

He defines liberty in terms of personal freedom. Under socialism, people will be freer because the amount of time they will have for their personal amusement and recreation will be greater. Legislation might go down, because the laws currently needed to protect people will become unnecessary as socialism is established and society advances. Shaw also believes that greater free time would be enough to attract the top brains to management positions in the absence of the usual inducement of greater pay. Shaw realised that not everyone could run industries, and that it was necessary to hire the very best people, who would be a small minority. Giving them greater leisure time was the best way to do this, and he later criticises the Soviet government for not equalising incomes.

But this is sheer utopianism. The Bolsheviks had tried to equalise incomes, and it didn’t work, which is why they went back to higher rates of pay for managers and so on. And as we’ve seen, socialism doesn’t necessarily lead to greater free time and certainly not less legislation. The better argument is that socialism leads to greater liberty because under socialism people have better opportunities available to them for careers, sport, entertainment and personal improvement than they would if they were mere capitalist wage slaves.

Religious people will also object to his views on religion and the churches. While earlier in the book Shaw addressed the reader as a fellow Christian, his attitude in this section is one of a religious sceptic. The reader will have already been warned of this through the foreword by Toynbee. The Groaniad columnist is a high-ranking member of the both the Secular and Humanist Societies, and her columns and articles in just about every magazine or newspaper she wrote for contained sneers at religion. Shaw considers the various Christian denominations irreconcilable in their theologies, and pour scorn on orthodox Christian doctrines such as the Atonement, that Christ died for our sins. Religion should not be taught in school, because of the incompatibility of the account of the Creation in Genesis with modern science. Children should not be taught about religion at all under they are of the age of consent. If their parents do teach them, the children are to be removed from their care. This is the attitude of very aggressive secularists and atheists. Richard Dawkins had the same attitude, but eventually reversed it. It’s far too authoritarian for most people. Mike and I went to a church school, and received a very good education from teachers that did believe in evolution. Religion deals with ultimate questions of existence and morality that go far beyond science. I therefore strongly believe that parents have the right to bring their children up in their religion, as long as they are aware of the existence of other views and that those who hold them are not wicked simply for doing so. He also believed that instead of children having information pumped into them, the business should be to educate children to the basic level they need to be able to live and work in modern society, and then allow the child to choose for itself what it wants to study.

Communism and Fascism

This last section of the book includes Shaw’s observations on Russian Communism and Fascism. Shaw had visited the USSR in the early ’30s, and like the other Fabians had been duped by Stalin. He praised it as the new socialist society that was eradicating poverty and class differences. He also thought that its early history vindicated the Fabian approach of cautious nationalisation. Lenin had first nationalised everything, and then had to go back on it and restore capitalism and the capitalist managers under the New Economic Policy. But Russia was to be admired because it had done this reversal quite openly, while such changes were kept very quiet in capitalism. If there were problems in the country’s industrialisation, it was due to mass sabotage by the kulaks – the wealthy peasants – and the industrialists. He also recognised that the previous capitalist elite were disenfranchised, forced into manual labour, and their children denied education until the working class children had been served. At the same time, the Soviet leaders had been members of the upper classes themselves, and in order to present themselves as working class leaders had claimed working class parentage. These issues were, however, gradually working themselves out. The Soviet leaders no longer had need of such personal propaganda, and the former capitalists could reconcile themselves to the regime as members of the intellectual proletariat. And some of the industrialisation was being performed by criminals, but this was less arduous than the labour in our prisons.

Shaw is right about the NEP showing that nationalisation needs to be preceded by careful preparation. But he was obviously kept ignorant of the famine that was raging in the USSR through forced collectivisation and the mass murder of the kulaks. And rather than a few criminals in the gulags, the real figures were millions of forced labourers. They were innocent of any crime except Stalin’s paranoia and the need of his managers for cheap slave labour. It’s believed that about 30 millions died in Stalin’s purges, while 7 million died in the famine in the Ukraine.

Shaw’s treatment of Fascism seems to be based mostly on the career of Mussolini. He considers Fascism just a revival of the craze for absolute monarchy and military leadership, of the kind that had produced Henry VIII in England, Napoleon, and now Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, the Shah of Iran and Ataturk in Turkey. These new absolute rulers had started out as working class radicals, before find out that the changes they wanted would not come from the working class. They had therefore appealed to the respectable middle class, swept away democracy and the old municipal councils, which were really talking shops for elderly tradesmen which accomplished little. They had then embarked on a campaign against liberalism and the left, smashing those organisations and imprisoning their members. Some form of parliament had been retained in order to reassure the people. At the same time, wars were started to divert the population and stop them criticising the new generalissimo. Industry was approaching socialism by combining into trusts. However, the government would not introduce socialism or truly effective government because of middle class opposition. Fascist regimes wouldn’t last, because their leaders were, like the rest of us, only mortal. In fact Mussolini was overthrown by the other Fascists, who then surrendered to the Allies, partly because of his failing health. That, and his utter military incompetence which meant that Italy was very definitely losing the War and the Allies were steadily advancing up the peninsula. While this potted biography of the typical Fascist is true of Mussolini, it doesn’t really fit some of the others. The Shah, for example, was an Indian prince.

Anarchism and Syndicalism

Shaw is much less informed about anarchism. He really only discusses it in terms of ‘Communist Anarchism’, which he dismisses as a silly contradiction in terms. Communism meant more legislation, while anarchism clearly meant less. He should have the articles and books on Anarcho-communism by Peter Kropotkin. Kropotkin believed that goods and services should be taken over by the whole community. However, rather than a complete absence of government and legislation, society would be managed instead by individual communities and federations.

He also dismisses syndicalism, in which industry would be taken over and run by the trade unions. He considers this just another form of capitalism, with the place of the managers being taken by the workers. These would still fleece the consumer, while at the same time leave the problem of the great inequality in the distribution of wealth untouched, as some industries would obviously be poorer than others. But the Guild Socialists did believe that there should be a kind of central authority to represent the interests of the consumer. And one of the reasons why nationalisation, in the view of some socialists, failed to gain the popular support needed to defend it against the privatisations of the Tories is because the workers in the nationalised industries after the War were disappointed in their hopes for a great role in their management. The Labour party merely wanted nationalisation to be a simple exchange of public for private management, with no profound changes to the management structure. In some cases the same personnel were left in place. Unions were to be given a role in management through the various planning bodies. But this was far less than many workers and trade unionists hoped. If nationalisation is to have any meaning, it must allow for a proper, expanded role of the workers themselves in the business of managing their companies and industries.

The book ends with a peroration and a discussion of the works that have influenced and interest Shaw. In the peroration Shaw exhorts the readers not to be upset by the mass poverty and misery of the time, but to deplore the waste of opportunities for health, prosperity and happiness of the time, and to look forward and work for a better, socialist future.

His ‘Instead of a Bibliography’ is a kind of potted history of books critical of capitalism and advocating socialism from David Ricardo’s formulation of capitalism in the 19th century. These also include literary figures like Ruskin, Carlyle and Dickens. He states that he has replaced Marx’s theory of surplus value with Jevons‘ treatment of rent, in order to show how capitalism deprives workers of their rightful share of the profits.

 

 

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