Sunday, December 4, 2016

Stephen Hawking and Martha Nussbaum Agree - Leftist Elites Need to be Nicer

Those of us on the Left know the electrifying surge of self-righteous indignation as we expound our views on inequality, discrimination or climate change and "other" those on the "Right" or "wrong" side.  But is it we who fertilise the ground for Trump and Hanson like politicians by destroying the space for polite discussion and applying a scorched earth policy to any basis of truth held by the other side?   If they hate us and won't talk to us, then we are part of the problem.
These themes run through a recent article by Stephen Hawking "This is the most dangerous time for our planet" and a recently published book by Martha Nussbaum "Would Politics Be Better Off Without Anger?". Both writers could be described as members of the liberal elite so this may be the beginning of a new liberal introspection.  Hawking calls for elites on the Left to recognise the massive social disruption brought by technological change and globablisation that falls mainly on unskilled workers - we should not be surprised by their support for Brexit or Trump.  He ends:"We can do this, I am an enormous optimist for my species; but it will require the elites, from London to Harvard, from Cambridge to Hollywood, to learn the lessons of the past year. To learn above all a measure of humility."

Nussbaum focuses more on the disutility of anger - acknowledging that at times it may be of some benefit for victims - but otherwise it is a destructive force that only clouds judgement and destroys political interaction and understanding.  The Nation's book reviewer doesn't like Nussbaum's total dismissal of the utility of anger in harnessing political action. But I am more convinced by Nussbaum - if we need anger (I certainly have at times), our motivation may be tarnished and our judgement sullied.  Would I judge anyone from a victimised group for being angry - no. But if I had to bet on whether the activist filled with anger or forgiveness would bring peace and resolution to their cause, I would bet on the latter.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Peter Singer on Rio Games Travel - ? unethical

Peter Singer's article in Project Syndicate finishes his article on Zika virus and the decision by WHO not to recommend the cancellation or postponement of the Rio Olympics with: "Until qualified experts have laid out all the facts, the world should stay away."   I have worked on disease outbreaks on three continents since my training as an Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer at CDC in 1992 and have repeatedly heard such assessments in the midst of outbreaks - they are usually based on a narrow assessment of the issues as exemplified by Peter Singer's article.

 Let me address several important considerations.  For the WHO to advise against travel to Rio for the Olympic Games would have significant implications. It would impact travel to every country impacted by Zika virus with potentially significant economic consequences - often borne disproportionally by the poor.  Saying "don't travel to Rio" is saying don't travel to a large part of the world - and for how long?  Peter Singer is optimistic that the travel ban on Brazil would be temporary because a vaccine will be found, however in 2002 it was announced that a vaccine for the closely related West Nile Virus was in preparation with licensure anticipated within three years. But there are currently no vaccines licensed for preventing West Nile Virus disease in humans.  Despite millions of dollars of development attempts, there is no human vaccine available for SARS virus recognised in 2003 or  for the MERS virus first reported in 2012.

There is a guiding ethical maxim of medical practice: "first do no harm".  There are always academis and others willing to "sound the alarm" as if there is no down side to scaring people.  As an ethicist Peter Singer may be well versed in assessing ethical arguments but he is clearly not schooled in assessing epidemiological risk assessment, risk communication in outbreaks and risk management.  Not to say an ethicist cannot inform technical debates outside their field but it probably should be done in support of international expert groups. While Peter Singer claims the "facts are not clear", it is clear that there is not enough evidence to recommend against generic travel to the Rio Olymics - to do so would cause harm and the benefit is extremely uncertain.  Adding his voice to this call may well be unethical.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

More on Bullshit...Pseudo-profound and Classical

Another article on Pseudo-profound Bullshit - Misperceiving Bullshit as Profound Is Associated with Favorable Views of Cruz, Rubio, Trump and Conservatism has been published and I wrote this response - after which I had a really nice exchange with the lead author Stefan Pfattheicher.   What was funny was the PLoS profanity filter blocked submission of any letter/response with the word "bullshit" in it and all responders had to write "B.S, or "bullsh_t" to get past the filter as they responded to an article on bullshit - thats bullshit isn't it?  The liberal press in the US lit up with this article and the headlines singled out Trump supporters as being the most susceptible to bullshit whereas supporters of Ted Cruz were most strongly susceptible to pseudo-profound bullshit (as defined by the Bullshit Receptivity Scale - which I question). How could this get weirder  - the previous letter I wrote on this issue  has been combined with the original article by a small French publisher, translated to French, and is about to be published as a booklet!  Thats bullshit isn' it?

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Obesity bigger problem than Underweight says Lancet Study - Really???

Maybe the Lancet didn't really say this, but the SMH subeditor certainly did. MPH students - is this is anexample of how a graph can abstract us from the lived experience of those who are graphed? Yes the lines showing % of population with obesity and underweight cross around 2006 - but are these meant to be equal "problems" measured on the same scale?  I suspect the suffering of the hungry underweight is much greater than those weighing in as obese. Isn't it more complex than this graph would suggest?

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

International Workshop on Participatory Surveillance (IWOPS) in Newcastle

Just had the wonderful opportunity to convene the 3rd IWOPS in Newcastle. Great to catch up with colleagues from around the world working on participatory surveillance. Thanks so much to the Skoll Global Threats Fund for supporting the workshop.   The workshop ended with a seminar at HMRI which is available on Youtube. I interviewed a range of innovators on the enablers and supports for innovation in public health surveillance - both organisationally and personally. And asked them what was around the corner for innovation in public health surveillance from a tech perspective.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Bullshit for You - Transcendence for Me

So for some reason I wrote a response (the reason will be the subject of a later post) to Gord Pennycook's article On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit entitled  Bullshit for You; Transcendence for Me.  I admit I was way out of my depth but I found the editorial process mediated by the journal editor Jonathan Baron very stimulating. Even though I was attempting to crtitique Gord Pennycook's paper, he and I exchanged several cordial emails and was left with a great admiration for the graciousness of Pennycook and his team. It seems there may even be a new discipline of Bullshit Studies. emerging.

One of those journals that has an internet robot inviting academics to resubmit their papers to their pay for publication predatory journal contacted me as a recognised expert in transcript follow...