We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Trafalgar Day, and another commemoration

Today is Trafalgar Day. The anniversary of Nelson’s victory “was commemorated by parades, dinners and other events throughout much of the British Empire in the 19th century and early 20th century” before declining in the aftermath of the First World War.

Those who have been reading Samizdata for many years will remember the immensely knowledgeable contributions by Findlay Dunachie. This post, “Trafalgar – and after”, was written two hundred years after the battle and a few days before Findlay’s death.

Justin Trudeau’s finest hour

It wouldn’t kill us to give credit where credit’s due:

Canada becomes second country to legalise recreational cannabis, reports the BBC.

I expect crime to fall – and the sky not to.

I also expect that some Canadians have already got over-excited and done some stupid things over the last couple of days, and more will follow.

One of the many bad effects of prohibition of cannabis and related drugs was that it led users to wrongly deduce that because these substances are not nearly as harmful as was claimed in order to justify the ban on them, then they must not be harmful at all. One of the saddest experiences of my stint as a teacher was to watch a colleague use soft drugs to slowly paddle himself towards dementia in his mid-thirties.

Prohibition of drugs did not stop him getting them, did it? When something does not work it is good to stop doing it as America did in 1933 and Canada has now. Let us rejoice at an outburst of sanity.

Introducing RightTube

“Why it’s time for YouTube to ban the alt-right” is the latest piece in the New Statesman from the journalist and commentator Paul Mason, or Corbyn Ally Paul Mason to give him his full name.

Recent academic studies of alt-right sympathisers show that they are, indeed, divided into people prepared to glorify their own violence and those uneasy about it; rabid authoritarians completely sold on destroying democracy, and a wider group suffering from cultural insecurity. The political challenge is to defeat both, but in the process the task of preventing the evolution of the authoritarian conservative into the fascist is important.

I can think of no better way of doing this than excising the entire alt-right from YouTube. Hate speech is, in many countries illegal; incitement to rape and violence is a crime, so why does the world’s third biggest company, staffed largely by liberals, feminists and rationalists, want to make money by providing an echo chamber?

Some students of the alt-right argue that, by censoring them, we feed their narrative of paranoia. That is a danger. But YouTube is not a civil society in miniature: it is a business, and has business ethics and a reputation to maintain. It has already kicked the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones off the platform; it would be very easy to remove not just the open fascists but any of the useful idiot brigade who knowingly platform them and drive customers to their books and lectures.

To do this would require a mixture of redesigned algorithms and prudent human judgement, challenging the fiction that YouTube and other social networks are “platforms not publishers”. It would mean YouTube’s executives having to take an overt business decision that they do not want their platform to be the primary means of spreading far-right ideologies such as “race science” or anti-vaccination mythology.

The far-right would still be free to make videos and send them to each other. But by depriving them of network tools and incentives, the world’s primary online video platform would be taking a major stand in favour of democracy. And their sympathisers in the echo chamber would then face a choice: stop driving traffic and attention to the outright fascists, or lose access in the same way.

Depriving fascism of its platform online is, in current circumstances, even more important than confronting it on the streets. Its strategy is not a direct read-off from the Hitlerite playbook, which begins with street violence and ends with state power. Modern fascists are quite happy operating in the parallel universe of online influence, doxxing political targets, polluting the information society, acting as a provisional wing of authoritarian conservatism, while politicians like Trump, Salvini and Le Pen do the heavy lifting in thousand dollar suits.

So it is in the interest of all of us that YouTube’s executives develop an editorial and political morality. I doubt CEO Susan Wojcicki thinks it’s cool to be running the primary transmitter of racism, fascism and misogyny in the world. But it’s time to stop.

I would be the last to deny that as a private company YouTube has the right to ban ban banban banban like the Pearl & Dean theme tune if it wants to. But the results might not be to Mr Mason’s liking. Or YouTube’s. At present when YouTube bans an individual extreme right winger, or someone it thinks is an extreme right winger, the utility of YouTube to the average person looking for political content is not much changed. However if it were to excise a whole chunk of the the political spectrum – for make no mistake, any definition of “far-right” compiled with the assistance of Mr Mason will stretch a long way left – then, to adapt the sardonic remark that Charles Krauthammer once made about the success of Roger Ailes, the founder of Fox News, it would open up a niche market of half the world. Then you would have RightTube and LeftTube in all their Fallopian glory, and never more the twain would meet.

To knock on the door is better than booting it in

Debbie Hayton has written an article in the Spectator in which she describes herself as a transsexual who has “undergone a meaningful gender transition supported by medical interventions.” In the article she argues against change to the Gender Recognition Act.

I do not wish to argue either for or against changing that Act. I said my piece on all that two days ago. However, I would like to highlight one particular point that Ms Hayton made:

There is danger, too, to transsexuals – albeit one which is less obvious. As a transsexual woman, I have lived alongside women for many years. My acceptance has been based not on legal mechanisms, but on trust and confidence. When transsexuals like me transition gender, most women assume we have done so to preserve our mental health and usually respond with acceptance and kindness. We have been helped by excellent role models – like Jan Morris and April Ashley – who have engendered a sense of decency and decorum.

Sadly, some campaigners in the current climate have projected a sense of entitlement and recent events – whether it be a convicted rapist sexually assaulting female prisoners or transgender athletes sweeping aside female competition in women’s sports – have inflamed the debate. If this carries on, trust and confidence will lie in tatters. Even if the government does introduce self-declaration it will be worthless if our acceptance is the collateral damage.

I have no doubt that Ms Hayton will be roundly abused by more militant transgender activists for having sought the acceptance and friendship of cisgender women. Why, it’s almost like she thinks they have the right to refuse! Like some warrior cultures of old, the grievance culture holds getting what you want by asking or peaceably trading to be fit only for slaves. The superior person does not ask for what they want; they demand it.

Added later: “Demand” is putting it mildly for some transgender activists. By following a chain of links I have come across a website called “TERF is a slur”. Its strapline is “Documenting the abuse, harassment and misogyny of transgender identity politics.” The website consists simply of screenshots of social media posts by transgender people expressing their hostility to “TERFS”, i.e. Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists. The tweets are astonishingly violent. I don’t for a moment think that this behaviour is typical of transgender people, but nor do I see this stream of threats of death and rape coming from the other side.

Edit and save?

While we follow the soap operas at Westminster, Brussels and Washington other things happen in the world. Some of them will have effects that may still reverberate when the names “May” or “Merkel” or “Trump” have become no more than answers to pub quiz questions. Harry Phibbs, writing in CapX, has depressing news:

Anti-scientific EU rules are hindering work to save millions of lives

Let us consider another EU imposition. It is a rule that inhibits our contribution to the fight against malaria. According to UNICEF this disease is “the largest killer of children” on the planet. That agency estimates that malaria kills one child every 30 seconds, about a million a year. Most of those children are under five years of age, with 90 per cent of cases occurring in sub-Saharan Africa. Research suggests that while the number of deaths has fallen since 2010, in the last couple of years progress has stalled.

The good news is that a gene editing application has been developed which could eradicate malaria. It is called CRISPR — Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats — and is considered “cheaper, faster, and less error-prone than any gene editing technology that came before it”. It could help preserve endangered species, improve welfare for farm animals — and save the lives of millions of children. The idea is to make mosquitoes immune to the disease.

But

In July, the BBC reported that the “European Court of Justice ruled that altering living things using the relatively new technique of genome editing counts as genetic engineering.” It added that “scientists who work in the areas of gene editing and genetic modification warned that the ruling would hold back cutting-edge research and innovation.”

Denis Murphy, professor of biotechnology at the University of South Wales, said the EU rules would “potentially impose highly onerous burdens on the use of genome editing both in agriculture and even in medicine, where the method has recently shown great promise for improving human health and well being.”

I must be honest here. As I read that article, mixed in with the genuine sadness and anger I felt about the way the EU’s restrictions look likely to hinder the development of a technique that could have alleviated large amounts of human suffering, I also felt a certain ignoble exhilaration. The European Union is being as bad as I always said it was. I had found a devastating answer to “Name me one bad thing the EU does, then!” It is possible that partisan passion is blinding me to the good reasons the ECJ might have had for caution. Ecosystems are complicated. Messing about with them has a habit of going wrong. Think of the introduction of rabbits to Australia or Mao’s attempt to eradicate sparrows from China.

One of the skipped-over paragraphs from Mr Phibbs’ article that I covered with the word “But” is this one:

“The team began with just two edited males, designated mosquitoes 10.1 and 10.2, into which the drive was inserted. After two generations of cross-breeding with hundreds of wild-type mosquitoes — and in mosquitoes, two generations can pass in less than a month — they produced 3,894 third-generation mosquitoes, of which 3,869 (99.5 percent) had the resistance gene. Just two mosquitoes were able to spread the trait to thousands of progeny — and malaria resistance along with it.”

The speed of that geometric progression scares me. Once started, the spread of these gene-edited mosquitoes could not be easily reversed.

But maybe it does not scare you, and you know more of genome editing than I do. My knowledge of biology is that of an attentive reader of pop science. Can any of you tell me more about this subject? Is the EU being as bad as I always said it was?

When the pot is boiling over, try turning down the heat

I am told that one of the ways Libertarians irritate normal people is by their attitude that there is a simple answer for so many of the political dilemmas that vex society.

Suck it up, normies, there is. There is certainly a simple answer for the political dilemma about which the Times is asking in this Readers’ poll: “Should everyone who identifies as female have access to women-only spaces?” The rubric says,

The government is consulting on a reform of the Gender Recognition Act. Currently the law allows people to gain legal recognition for a change of gender, but some transgender groups say the process is bureaucratic and intrusive and are pushing for a change that will allow anyone to freely choose their gender.

This is opposed by a number of women’s rights groups, which say the change would give men access to female-only spaces such as lavatories and changing rooms, putting women in danger.

The equalities minister, Penny Mordaunt, will consider whether to reform the law after the consultation ends on October 19 — but as The Sunday Times reports, many Conservative MPs are opposed to any change.

What’s your view?

You doubtless want to hear the result of the poll. I will tell you by and by, but for now I will exercise my freedom to irritate, and reiterate that the simple answer to the political dilemma is to take politics, in the sense of laws voted into existence by MPs like Penny Mordaunt and then enforced by the police and the Equalities Commission and suchlike, entirely out of the equation. Freedom of association for all! But what about bad people? What about Nazis? Yes, them too. If Nazis own or legitimately hire a space to do their Nazi stuff in, leave them to it. Don’t want to hire your hall to Nazis? Then don’t. Want to boycott any premises that lets Nazis in – or any that keeps Nazis out? Then do so.

Between groups of people who are not bad but among whom there are differences of opinion, try negotiation. It doesn’t have to be a million separate negotiations for every individual village hall or public lavatory, or for every women’s sporting competition or Brownie pack; there are such things as organisations and organisational policies. Not that there is anything wrong with having a great many separate local deals. This is called “subsidarity”.

Many fear that this radical strategy would give free rein to the worst instincts of the people. I don’t get it. To get into the habit of settling disputes by meeting the other party and peacefully trying to reach a compromise sounds a great deal more likely to give free rein to the best instincts of the people. Humans are nicer when not being threatened. Conversely when they suspect that in their relations with another group that, as the saying goes, “if you give them an inch they’ll take a mile” – then they won’t give an inch.

The other day I read this post from Econlog entitled “Tradeoffs Between Immigration and Reduced Freedom of Association”. Key quote:

The more that people’s freedom not to associate with others is reined in, especially when those others are people of different races, the less likely they are to favor immigration and, even if they never favored immigration, the more likely they are to be outspoken opponents of immigration.

Race is not the only category this applies to. Have you noticed how people who five years ago would have thought a transwoman was a lady from Transylvania now see transsexuals and/or transgender people as a threat? Have you also noticed how discussion of this issue is another pot beginning to boil over to use the metaphor of my earlier post. So far the lid is being held down. One word out of place on this topic can get you into trouble. But the pressure keeps rattling the pot, with jets of steam coming from such unlikely members of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy as users of Mumsnet, members of the Labour party and Lesbians at a Pride march.

I voted “No” in that Times poll. As so often with me and polls I did not agree with the premises of the question. Other people freely choosing the gender is none of my business. I do not support or oppose a change in the criteria for legal recognition for a change of gender; I support tearing up all the laws on this subject and setting them on fire. Still my answer to the question “Should everyone who identifies as female have access to women-only spaces?” was closer to “No” than “Yes”.

5,068 votes have been cast so far in the poll. 97% of them were “No”. Of course it is a self-selecting sample from readers of one newspaper. Do not read too much into it. But you probably should read something into it. That is a strikingly high level of disapproval of a Conservative government’s proposed policy from the readers of a Conservative-leaning newspaper.

The Guardian takes the lid off the pot

I avidly followed the coverage in the British press of the the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court. In this post I will look at one paper in particular, the Guardian. When it was founded as the Manchester Guardian in the nineteenth century, this newspaper’s name was meant to indicate that its role was to “zealously enforce the principles of civil and religious Liberty”, which included an earnest concern for legal protections such as the presumption of innocence. The modern Guardian published many, many news and opinion pieces describing how to tell that Kavanaugh was a bad ‘un. I was more interested in the readers’ comments.

The Guardian used to allow readers to comment on practically every news article and opinion piece. Sometimes this meant that its editors and writers would be made painfully but usefully aware that many of its readers were not “with the program”. That changed under the current editor, Katharine Viner. Throughout most of the Kavanaugh saga comments were firmly closed. There was at least one story that I cannot now find for which comments were opened in error and then quickly slammed shut again. Then on 5th October came a story in which comments were intentionally opened: “Trump and Kavanaugh claim we live in a meritocracy. Don’t believe a word of it” by Arwa Mahdawi. The tone of the piece is that of a shared joke: “… Brett Kavanaugh. You know, the judge who really likes beer and seems to hate women having autonomy over their reproductive systems”. I think the writer may have been surprised at the trend the comments took. The top rated comment was by “SpringinAmsterdam1” and said,

Arwa can I ask, how would you feel if an event someone else felt had happened, had no issue was raised at the time, and when it was raised and people know there is no proof of the event, but thousands of people had decided through the court of social media, believed you to be guilty?

How would you deal with that, and can you see how this could be used to assassinate a persons character? Lastly, do you believe in innocent till proven guilty?

October 8th saw the breaking of a tiny little Berlin Wall: two pieces which acknowledged that all was not well with the narrative. For Jessa Crispin’s article “Women aren’t united against Kavanaugh. That’s a dangerous myth” the top comment came from “HarSingh” and said,

It might be because women are sensible? There was no corroborating evidence, she can’t recall if he was there, or even where it happened. She listed 4 people who could provide evidence but none of them decided to.

The timing of the allegation points to a witch hunt and a political hatchet job. It backfired, male or female, the majority realise this

Also on October 8th came this article by Cas Mudde putting forward the novel argument that Kavanaugh’s confirmation might boost the Republicans. The most recommended comment was by “Truewordshere” and said,

The Republican senator Susan Collins once again broke the hearts of many naive liberals

True liberals should watch her speech explaining her choice. A calm and reasoned explanation based on deeply-ingrained liberal principles. “Liberals”, however, branded her a “rape apologist”.

Comments were pre-moderated for “Trump sees only his own victimhood as he apologises to Kavanaugh” by Gaby Hinsliff on 9 October. The top one came from “HappyExpat50” and started by quoting Ms Hinsliff,

For a moment, as Donald Trump spoke of the “pain and suffering” endured by one noble individual in his wretched supreme court nomination process, you almost wondered if he might find some gracious way to acknowledge Christine Blasey Ford.

HappyExpat50 then went on,

Has he been charged with anything ?

Has he been convicted of anything ?

I would have thought that the Cliff Richard fiasco in the UK would have at least taught some people that people are innocent until proven guilty.

The lid is off the pot and there is something bubbling up within.

Thinking outside the box

According to its website the responsibilities of the Scottish government include the economy, education, health, justice, rural affairs, housing, environment, equal opportunities, consumer advocacy and advice, transport, taxation, and ensuring that Shetland only appears on maps of Scotland as an indecipherably tiny smudge in the top right corner.

Ban on putting Shetland in a box on maps comes into force

New rules barring public bodies from putting Shetland in a box on official documents have come into force.

Islands MSP Tavish Scott had sought to change the law to ban the “geographical mistake” which “irks” locals, by amending the Islands (Scotland) Bill.

The bill’s “mapping requirement” has now come into force, although it does give bodies a get-out clause if they provide reasons why a box must be used.

Mapmakers argue that boxes help avoid “publishing maps which are mostly sea”.

A couple of points: (1) Tavish Scott MSP is a Lib Dem, proof that the Scottish National Party is not the only one in contention for a Holyrood Comedy Award. (2) the “ban” only applies to public bodies, so no need to get outraged about free speech. Yet. These “bans” do have a way of being trialled in the public sector before being unleashed on the actual public. For now, however, I think a more appropriate reaction is gratitude for the good laugh Mr Scott is giving us. And his comedy routine is not over yet:

Mr Scott said it was “ridiculous” that he had to change the law to close the box

True, but not in the way that he means.

He said: “There is no excuse now for the Scottish government, its agencies or others to put Shetland in a box. The box is closed. It doesn’t exist, whether that be in the Moray Firth or east of Orkney. Shetland is now in the right place.

This box is no more. It has ceased to be. It is … an ex-box.

A renowned Democratic Senator opposes the nomination of a judge to the Supreme Court

To remind us all that the opposition of the Democrats in the Senate to the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh (or Justice Kavanaugh as he now is) to the Supreme Court of the United States is in accordance with the traditions of that party, allow me to quote the words from thirty years ago of that great defender of women, Senator Ted Kennedy, as he spoke out against the nomination of Judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court:

“Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the Government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is—and is often the only—protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy … President Reagan is still our president. But he should not be able to reach out from the muck of Irangate, reach into the muck of Watergate and impose his reactionary vision of the Constitution on the Supreme Court and the next generation of Americans. No justice would be better than this injustice.”

Bork was not confirmed, and the verb “to bork” entered the dictionary.

This is not terrorism

A bunch of lefty protesters are on trial at Chelmsford Crown Court.

Care ye not? You should. I have been banging on a lot about the degradation of norms of justice and law that had once seemed securely established. One particular aspect of these protesters’ trial is a disgrace. See if you can spot what it is:

Activists accused of blocking Stansted flight go on trial over terror charge

Fifteen activists who locked themselves together around an immigration removal charter flight to prevent its departure from Stansted and displayed a banner proclaiming “mass deportations kill” have gone on trial charged with a terrorist offence.

Jurors at Chelmsford crown court heard how the members of the campaign group End Deportations used lock-on devices to secure themselves around the Boeing 767, chartered by the Home Office, as it waited on the tarmac at the Essex airport to remove undocumented migrants to Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone.

The activists have said they acted to prevent human rights abuses from taking place and have received high-profile political backing. However, they are accused of putting the safety of the airport and passengers at risk and causing serious disruption to international air travel. If convicted, they could face potential life imprisonment.

Oh, poot, I forgot to hide spoilers. Never mind. You’d have guessed it anyway. Come to think of it, the title of this post was a bit of a clue.

Protesters who mess around with airport security do not immediately gain my sympathy. Not only do they screw over blameless travellers, many of whom will have had to scrimp and save for their holiday, the prosecuting counsel made a decent point when he said,

“In order to deal with this incursion, a number of armed officers already at Stansted had to down-arm, thus reducing the capacity of police to carry out their duties at the terminal,” he said. “Had another major incident occurred at the terminal at the same time, the police resources able to respond to it would have been reduced.”

But to pretend that to give an (imaginary) terrorist attack that might have happened that day (but didn’t) an infinitesimally higher (but still purely theoretical) chance to succeed is terrorism … that is indecent.

Anyone else remember the expulsion of Walter Wolfgang from the Labour party conference in 2005? They chucked him out for heckling Jack Straw. Then it sunk in that he was old and emerged that he had come to this country as a Jewish refugee from Hitler, and Labour fell over themselves in their haste to apologise. I said at the time that I saw no reason why they should apologise for ejecting a heckler. The thing they needed to apologise for was far more serious than that:

Buried in the story and not, at first, attracting much comment was one thing that left me flabbergasted. For this Tony Blair and his entire government should get down on their knees and humbly beg forgiveness, swearing at the same time not to rest until the harm they have allowed to flourish is undone:

Police later used powers under the Terrorism Act to prevent Mr Wolfgang’s re-entry, but he was not arrested.

There was a wee fuss about the role of anti-terror powers against Wolfgang at the time, but the point about the blatant abuse of powers that we had been assured would only be used against dangerous fanatics out to commit mass murder was lost amid all the other issues. Because this tactic was not challenged strongly when it was first tried, it became widespread. We have reached a point where half of councils use anti-terror laws to spy on ‘bin crimes’. I don’t recall that possiblity being mentioned in the Parliamentary debates about the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.

Now this bloated definition of terrorism threatens life imprisonment to people who are not terrorists.

It was a GOOD day for justice

Of the many stories of science fiction, fantasy and horror that I have read in my time, the one – I think the only one – that for years afterwards I wished I had never seen was It’s a Good Life by Jerome Bixby. That Wikipedia link contains spoilers, obviously, but it is a story some of you might prefer to have spoiled. If not, the full text of the story is here. It is, of course, one of the greatest science fiction/horror stories ever written. If it were not it would not have had such an effect on me when I came across it concealed like a tarantula among sweet fruit in an anthology of science fiction stories for and about children that I got from the library.

Most of the horrors described in the story belong solely in the realms of nightmare. But there is one aspect of life in Peaksville, Ohio, that like all the best fantasy tropes, derives its power from the way it resonates with certain situations in real life. They, the forty-six inhabitants of Peaksville who might or might not be the last remnants of the human race, dared not be unhappy. “Oh, don’t say that, Miss Amy … it’s fine, just fine. A real good day!”

This is the first paragraph of an article by Hugo Rifkind in today’s Times:

Besides the red face, and the shouting, and the hurt indignation, and the mad howls about still liking beer, one thing was very obvious last week about the US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. With a litany of legal achievements behind him, this was not a man who had expected, at 53, to be answering for his behaviour as a teenager.

They really do want to extract the last drop, don’t they? It is not enough to demand that Kavanaugh prove where he was thirty-six years ago when he was seventeen. Correction, approximately seventeen, since Christine Blasey Ford cannot even specify the year in which the alleged crime took place. It is not enough to demand that he defend himself against a baying claque who joyfully proclaim abandonment, not just of the presumption of innocence, but of the very possibility of innocence when the accusation is sexual assault and the accused is male. (Just one example via Instapundit: Students demand professor fired after he champions due process, says ‘Accusers sometimes lie’). That does not sate them. They also demand that the man in the dock must suppress his emotions as utterly as must the slave of a cruel master. Indignation is not permitted him. His voice must remain low and humble. And woe betide him if the involuntary reactions of the body send blood rushing to his face.

Perhaps too much science fiction has addled my brains, but when I read that I really did think of the scene in It’s a Good Life where poor Dan Hollis suddenly can’t find it in him to be happy any more. And I also thought of what followed soon afterwards, not in the context of Judge Kavanaugh this time, but in the context of all those “liberal” journalists like Hugo Rifkind who once upon a time would have been all for due process and the presumption of innocence, but whose courage nowadays – though tested infinitely less than that of the people of Peaksville – stretches only to not being the loudest in the mob:

Some of the people began mumbling. They all tried to smile. The sound of mumbling filled the room like a far-off approval. Out of the murmuring came one or two clear voices:

“Oh, it’s a very good thing,” said John Sipich.

“A good thing,” said Anthony’s father, smiling. He’d had more practice in smiling than most of them. “A wonderful thing.”

You had me worried there for a moment, CERN!

We girls do get ourselves in a tizzy sometimes. Even me, and I’m an unusual girl, being into boy things like science. As a sixth former my dream was to become an astronaut, or, failing that (edit: or in addition to that), a particle physicist who would unlock the secrets of the universe at CERN. Those dreams weren’t so crazy, either. I did go to Oxford to study physics, and I did make some use of my degree in parts of my subsequent career. I never made it to CERN but I know people who did. For these reasons I have a motherly concern for the future of science, with particle physics being particularly close to my heart. When my old college and the Oxford Department of Physics send me their respective begging newsletters I throw them both away but I never fail to commit the physics one to the depths of the recycling bin in a respectful manner.

That is why I was so worried when I read this report from the BBC:

Cern scientist Alessandro Strumia suspended after comments

A senior scientist who said physics “was invented and built by men” has been suspended with immediate effect from working with Cern.

Prof Alessandro Strumia, of Pisa University, made the comments during a presentation organised by the European nuclear research centre.

Cern issued a statement on Monday suspending Prof Strumia pending an investigation.

You can see why I was worried for a moment: there was no accusation of scientific misconduct by Professor Strumia. It seemed almost as if CERN were punishing unconventional political beliefs. But then all became clear. Why did I not see it before? Like true scientists, CERN proposed to investigate the Professor’s hypothesis. He has said, “People say that physics is sexist, physics is racist. I made some simple checks and discovered that it wasn’t, that it was becoming sexist against men and said so.” Obviously CERN would dispassionately examine the relevant data and draw conclusions as to how well it aligned to his hypothesis.

What a relie…

It stated that his presentation was “unacceptable”.

How do you know in advance whether it was acceptable or not, CERN? OK, I was being a sarcastic cow as per usual when I pretended to think that you ever had any plan to investigate whether what he said was true, but you haven’t even done your wretched little thoughtcrime investigation yet.

And so it goes on:

“Cern always strives to carry out its scientific mission in a peaceful and inclusive environment,” the statement reads, calling the presentation “contrary to the Cern Code of Conduct”.

The organisation said it was “unfortunate” the views of the scientist, who works at a collaborating university, “risks overshadowing the important message and achievements of the event”.

Prof Strumia, who regularly works at Cern, was speaking at a workshop in Geneva on gender and high energy physics.

He told his audience of young, predominantly female physicists that his results “proved” that “physics is not sexist against women. However the truth does not matter, because it is part of a political battle coming from outside”.

He produced a series of graphs which, he claimed, showed that women were hired over men whose research was cited more by other scientists in their publications, which is an indication of higher quality.

He also presented data that he claimed showed that male and female researchers were equally cited at the start of their careers but men scored progressively better as their careers progressed.

Carelessly, the BBC let us see a glimpse of a graph of one of his slides which did seem to kinda sorta suggest that… I will say no more. He may well be wrong. When scientists make confident pronouncements about matters outside their area of expertise they often make fools of themselves. But fair play to him, he did put the ball in his opponents’ court by publishing his data. In an older tradition of reporting this might have been the prompt for the BBC to provide an analysis of the figures. But the modern BBC prefers to outsource its analysis to semi-random people on Twitter. Some woman who must be listened to because her twitter handle is “DrSammie” tweets, “I don’t even have any rage left for the whole CERN sexism thing because, truth is, I’m not at all shocked or surprised knowing some of the attitudes of people I have met. It aint unique to any one scientific discipline.” I do hope she is able to find a new supply of rage soon; a modern female scientist must never be without rage.

Just to top it off, the BBC finishes by this charming little lie of omission. The article says:

In 2015, Nobel laureate Prof Tim Hunt resigned from his position at University College London after telling an audience of young female scientists at a conference in South Korea that the “trouble with girls” in labs was that “when you criticise them they cry”.

Way to go, BBC. Don’t let the readers know that the next words Hunt said were,

Now seriously, I’m impressed by the economic development of Korea. And women scientists played, without doubt an important role in it. Science needs women and you should do science despite all the obstacles, and despite monsters like me.”

Emphasis added. It was a joke. But it is not wise to joke against the dominant religion, as Sir Tim Hunt’s subsequent treatment demonstrated. Nor is it wise to put forward for discussion ideas contrary to that religion, as Professor Strumi’s treatment demonstrates. Perhaps it is a still too early to bring up Galileo Galilei’s dealings with the Holy Office. But when I read that the first reaction of some of the most prominent scientists in the world, endlessly lauded for their “scientific daring”, to new ideas from one of their number is to is to deem those ideas “unacceptable” – not “wrong for the following reasons” but unacceptable – I cannot help remembering that Galileo complained to Kepler that those who denounced him would not even look through his telescope.