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]

RIP Professor Alice Coleman 1923-2023

Alice Coleman, geographer whose study of failed council estates impressed Mrs Thatcher – obituary

Alice Coleman, who has died aged 99, was a professor of geography at King’s College London whose book Utopia on Trial (1985), in which she launched a scathing attack on post-war high-rise housing estates, so impressed the prime minister Margaret Thatcher that she was given a five-year, £50 million contract to put her ideas into practice.

Her book, inspired by the American architect Oscar Newman’s seminal study Defensible Space: Crime Prevention Through Urban Design (1972), was based on a “design disadvantagement survey” in which she and a team of researchers surveyed blocks of flats, containing more than 100,000 dwellings in total, with the objective of mapping “lapses in civilised behaviour” (litter, graffiti, vandalism, pollution by excrement, and family breakdown leading to children being placed in care) against design features (number of floors per block, dwellings per block, dwellings per entrance, and so on).

She detected correlations between levels of crime and antisocial behaviour and the design of estates and, in her book, advanced the provocative thesis that badly-designed social housing schemes “breed antisocial people”. Change the design, she argued, and crime and antisocial behaviour would dramatically drop.

Le Corbusier’s vision of a “Radiant City” of tower blocks surrounded by parkland was, she wrote, the “great Utopian blunder”. Taken forward in Britain by an unholy alliance of planners and civil servants, it had been “conceived in compassion” but was “essentially a device for treating people like children, first by denying them the right to choose their own kind of housing, and then by choosing for them disastrous designs that create a needless sense of social failure”.

I saw Professor Coleman speak at a Libertarian Alliance event once. My memories of the time and place are foggy – late 1980s or early 1990s and somewhere near Holborn, I think – but I remember her and what she said very well. Not because she was a good speaker. On the contrary, she was difficult to hear and seemed nervous. But somehow that made her message all the more powerful. She was not there for fun; she was there to say things that urgently needed to be said. I still have the copy of Utopia on Trial that I bought that day.

The Telegraph obituary reports that not long after Margaret Thatcher’s downfall, Professor Coleman quit as an adviser to the government. Recalling the circumstances of her departure later, she said that civil servants “continually put obstacles in her path”, and that the new Environment Secretary, Michael Heseltine, did not wish to see any project with Margaret Thatcher’s name on it succeed. Given what happened after Brexit, I do not find either assertion hard to believe.

Nonetheless, I think the Telegraph obituary underestimates her influence and overestimates how much it mattered that she did not leave garlanded with flowers. As a quote attributed to both Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan goes, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” Some people contribute most to a cause by being the person who shifts the Overton Window. Alice Coleman moved the mainstream. Her achievement was to make her findings about the inhumanity of utopian architecture into background knowledge.

And how cool was this:

In 1960 Alice Coleman decided to update the national land-utilisation survey first conducted by Sir Dudley Stamp before the war, and recruited a team of some 3,000 volunteers to gather the information. With no funding available, she spent some £65,000 of her own money on the exercise. Although, due to lack of resources, less than 15 per cent of the country was covered with a published map, she reported some of the key results of her research.

English children ranked fourth in international reading test. Yes, really.

England came fourth out of the 43 countries that tested children of the same age in the Progress International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), announces the government. Singapore, Hong Kong, Russia, England. Yes, dear highly literate Samizdata readers, your own reading skills have not failed you. English schoolchildren are the fourth best readers in the world and the best in Western Europe.

Pinching myself, I offer my sincere congratulations to England’s teachers and to the Department of Education, in particular Nick Gibb MP, the Minister of State for Schools. Mr Gibb is serving the third of three non-contiguous stints in this ministerial role. That suggests he is genuinely interested in education, and indeed his Wikipedia biography says “Gibb is a longstanding advocate of synthetic phonics as a method of teaching children to read”. He himself says, “Our obsession with phonics has worked”.

Tomorrow I will get back to calling the teachers “the Blob” and the government “the government” in a voice that suggests I can think of no worse insult. Today, I give credit where credit is due. For British education nerds, this is like our own little 1989. OK, perhaps that is over the top, but a wall that seemed no more than slightly cracked as recently as January 2022 has finally fallen. By the “wall”, I mean the side in the so-called “Reading Wars” that wasn’t phonics. The Not!Phonics side has had many names, “Look and Say”, “Whole Word”, “Whole Language”, and most recently “Balanced Literacy”. That last name was an attempt to paper over the cracks in the wall. Or perhaps, since I am allowed more than one metaphor, it was a deliberate breach in the wall of a dam, done in an failed attempt to stop the whole damn dam wall collapsing.

To see what the wall looked like in the days of its Krushchev period, discredited but still seemingly impregnable, read this 1998 paper that Brian Micklethwait originally wrote for the Libertarian Alliance: “On the Harm Done by Look-and-say: A Reaction to Bonnie Macmillan’s Why Schoolchildren Can’t Read”, and this one written in 2002: “The Failure of Politics and the Pull of Freedom: Reflections on the Work of the Reading Reform Foundation.” I wish I could ask Brian what he thinks about this now, but thanks to the Brian Micklethwait Archive you can see what he thought about it then, and be reminded that truth stays true. Read those two papers and you will know most of what you need to know about the battle that raged across the Anglosphere over how to teach children to read, including these cynical words of wisdom:

The phonics-persons have pretty much proved their case, probably even in the eyes of many of the look-and-say people. But the look-and-say “experts” at the DfES are in an arkward position. (The inverted commas around “experts” being there because these people don’t know things which are true, they “know” things which are untrue.) Suppose their bad techniques are completely swept away and completely replaced by completely good ones. The teaching of literacy in schools would leap forward. A mass of seemingly “complex” problems, like the recent huge rise in “dyslexia”, the spiralling cost of “special needs” education, and the general inability of several generations of people to learn how to spell, will be revealed as not so complex after all. These problems will be revealed to all as having been caused by the government’s own literacy “experts”. Thus it is that even – especially – those “experts” who have been completely convinced of the wrongness of their own former opinions now face a huge, career-saving incentive to perpetuate their follies as much as they can, to disguise the enormity of the disaster they have caused.


That would have been a fine, dramatic line with which to end the post, but I must add → Continue reading: English children ranked fourth in international reading test. Yes, really.

Beware the graduate

Mr Grundy, an Oxford academic expresses his doubts about the value of modern education:

One wonders what these unfortunate lads are going to do for a living after they leave the University ; and one wonders, too, what the parents are going to do when they come to realize the returns on the heavy expenditure on their boys’ education. They will realize this soon, for these sons of theirs, these products of post-war ideas in education, will soon be coming back on their hands ; and then they will have to solve the question of getting employment for those whose ignorance renders them unemployable in the professions and in many forms of business.

Now as you’ve probably guessed from words and phrases like “lads”, “on their hands”, reference to parents paying for education and the fact that this post has my name at the top, this is not a recent quotation. It is, of course, from a hundred years ago and formed part of the latest episode of that YouTube channel I do.

But the sentiments are familiar enough. Which causes me a difficulty. While I am quite happy to believe that many modern degrees are worth less than the cost – and indeed may have a wholly negative value – I am reluctant to believe the same was true a hundred years ago. So how do I tell?

Did this generation fail to find gainful employment as Grundy suggests? Not that I know of. Shift forward ten years and many did awfully well… in the KGB. Which brings me on to a worrying thought: this generation was bloody awful. This was the generation that gave us the 1945 Labour government with the horrors of nationalisaton, gun control, the NHS, the welfare state, the Town and Country Planning Act, council housing and the abolition of flogging. This was a generation whose arrogance was fortified by a point blank refusal to let facts get in the way of ideology.

So, maybe Mr. Grundy was right.

By the way, Grundy’s main complaint about post-war ideas in education – as far as I can make out – is that Latin and Greek are being dropped in favour of modern languages.

Avoid the Equater!

My spellcheck pulsates in impotent frustration, but I don’t care. An Equater is a person who equates. In this context, which I get to decide because it is my post, an Equater is a person who is not content to compare something bad done by a liberal democratic government to the very much worse things done by despotic governments in order to shame the former into better behaviour, but who insists on going from comparison all the way to equation.

Since the death of Her Late Majesty, there have been many occasions when the British police reverted from their recent tendency to exceed their legal powers while stamping down on those who say rude things about illegal aliens or the LGBTQ+ Progress Pride flag, in order to return to their traditional role of exceeding their legal powers while stamping down on people who say rude things about the monarchy. Or even on those who film other people saying rude things about the monarchy: in this tweet, a documentary filmmaker called Rich Felgate writes, “Yesterday I got arrested whilst filming a @JustStop_Oil supporter holding a banner on the pavement near the coronation route. I’m a filmmaker and had my @BECTU press accreditation visible around my neck. Police deemed this to be “conspiracy to commit a public nuisance”.

That is bad. Dammit, it almost looks similar to what you would expect to see in a communist country. Similar, much too similar for comfort, but no one with any respect for the millions murdered by communism would say “identical”.

Meet Dr Charlotte Proudman:

→ Continue reading: Avoid the Equater!

Teaching maths and the “Soviet” mistake

“The Soviet Union was world-renowned for maths and science instruction but that failed to translate into a strong economy. Similarly, the UK has some of the top universities in the world yet has experienced stagnant growth for the last decade. Prosperity requires creating the right institutional environment for entrepreneurship, not dictating curriculums from the top.”

Matthew Lesh, Director of Public Policy and Communications, at the UK-based Institute of Economic Affairs, the UK think tank. (The quote is from an emailed press release I was sent today.) He responded to UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s comments on the case for extending the teaching of maths and how far too many people think it is okay to be poor at the subject. (I used to be poor at maths, but certainly did not wear that as a silly badge of pride.)

Lesh’s point, however, is certainly worth focusing on. Being good at certain subjects and having knowledge about subjects is not the same as having a flourishing economy, particularly if one has oppressively high taxes, heavy regulations, spending on flashy projects such as HS2 that crowd out private investment, etc. At the margins, having a more maths-literate population might have a positive effect if, for example, more people can get their heads around statistics – and how they can be manipulated – and important concepts for business and finance such as compound interest, for example. Of course, in an age when the teaching of STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) gets more attention, this all fits.

Here is a paper from Stanford University about maths skills and economic growth.

I do worry that Mr Sunak, in his understandable and laudable desire to encourage teaching and better grasp of such subjects, can come across as assuming that this might be a sort of silver bullet to the UK’s economic woes. As the Lesh comment about Soviet Russia shows, having lots of maths whizzes in a country is no good if the underlying economics is poor. And by the way, a lot of those Russian maths aces, such as those of Jewish descent, emigrated to Israel as soon as they could, which explains, among other things, why Israel has been a STEM and start-up powerhouse.

On a final point, I remember some years ago (I cannot find the link, sorry) watching a televised talk by Michael Collins, the Apollo 11 and Gemini astronaut, given at MIT. He talked about teaching, and about why there needs to be another “E” in the STEM acronym: E for English. There’s no point in having all this knowledge if you are lousy at communicating it. He’s right. An example of how to communicate complex ideas brilliantly and clearly is that of Edward Chancellor in his recent book The Price of Time, where he writes about interest rates, and why manipulation of them is dangerous and a folly that goes back centuries. It is an outstanding case of clear exposition, fascinating facts and an enjoyable tone of voice.

The power of studying humanities

I like the following comments by Adrian Wooldridge, the journalist, writing in Bloomberg ($ paywall) a week ago:

The humanities at their best are also perfectly equipped to provide an education in something that has been sadly lacking in recent business history: human judgment. The notion of judgment might sound a bit vague — certainly compared with the profit and loss of the business balance sheet or the ones and zeros of the digital economy — but the difference between a successful leader and a mediocre one does not lie in the amount of information they possess. It lies in the very human ability to process a vast mass of ambiguous information — sales patterns, technological innovations, political threats — and then make a rapid decision under pressure. The importance of judgment is growing as the world becomes more uncertain and trade-offs become more pressing. Who knows? Perhaps this week’s financial turmoil could have been avoided if Greg Becker, the CEO of the just-shuttered Silicon Valley Bank, had studied the humanities at Indiana University instead of majoring in business.

A preference for deceptive certainties over fuzzy truths has arguably been the biggest problem for business in recent years. Businesspeople have grown incomparably rich since the 1980s by embracing the deceptive certainties of business theory while forgetting the great truths of political theory. They have embraced the cult of shareholder value (paying themselves like owners rather than employees) while also providing themselves with golden parachutes and exploiting every accounting trick in the book. But in so doing they have whipped up popular fury that is threatening to overturn business civilization (and will not be placated by a few bromides about diversity and sustainability).

They would have been wiser if they had studied classical political theory along with contemporary economics and business theory. Aristotle argued vigorously for the “golden mean” on the grounds that a prosperous middle class is necessary to long-term stability. Plato insisted that elites inevitably collapse if they give way to their own appetites rather than restraining themselves in the interest of the public good. Surely Plato+Aristotle is a better formula for understanding the state of modern America than any number of business theorists?

I’d like to quote the whole article but there is a copyright/subscription issue, and I am a free marketeer and respecter of property, after all.

Samizdata quote of the day – Universities cannot withstand the assault on objective truth

After expressing my general admiration for the course, I raised my misgiving in the following way (and this is nearly an exact quote): “We need to keep in mind that we’re a state university. Our mission is to pursue, ascertain, and disseminate objective truth, and to equip our students to do the same. Given that mission, I don’t think we can list a learning outcome that requires students’ assent on a matter of personal morality. The other learning outcomes are fine. You don’t need that one, so I’d just cut it.” My colleague was fresh out of graduate school and not yet tenured, which (theoretically) put her in a vulnerable position. Nevertheless, she became apoplectic; so angry, in fact, that she had difficulty getting out her first sentence. “I can’t believe people still think that way!” she spluttered. “Queer Theory has deconstructed objectivity!”

Mark Goldblatt, The Approaching Disintegration of Academia.

US education apocalypse comment

“Skeptical American employers, to remain globally competitive, will likely soon administer their own hiring tests. They already suspect that prestigious university degrees are hollow and certify very little. Traditional colleges will seize the moment and expand by sticking to meritocratic criteria as proof of the competency of their prized graduates.”

“Private and online venues will also fill a national need to teach Western civilization and humanities courses—by non-woke faculty who do not institutionalize bias. More students will continue to seek vocational training alternatives. Some will get their degrees online for a fraction of the cost. Alumni will either curb giving, put further restrictions on their gifting, or disconnect. Eventually, even elite schools will lose their current veneer of prestige. Their costly cattle brands will be synonymous with equality-of-result, overpriced indoctrination echo chambers, where therapy replaced singular rigor and their tarnished degrees become irrelevant.”

Victor Davis Hanson, military historian, classicist and Californian farmer, writing in the American Greatness website, December 2022.

There are, I am pleased to say, signs of pushback. UK-born historian Niall Ferguson and others are building a new university in Austin, Texas, while the evolutionary psychologist and writer Jonathan Haidt – co-author of The Coddling of the American Mind – is the moving force in the Heterodox Academy. That’s what I love about the US. In contrast to a rather tired Britain, the US retains this sort of can-do mindset in the face of imbecility.

A speakeasy for archaeologists

“Stone Age Herbalist” is a pseudonym adopted out of necessity by someone who wants to practise an activity condemned by respectable society: scientific archaeology. Their piece for Unherd is called “The Rise of Archaeologists Anonymous”.

Why do these academics seek to do in secret what they used to do openly in the universities? Because academic archaeology has changed:

Historian Wolf Liebeschuetz and archaeologist Sebastian Brather, to pick on just two, have both firmly insisted that archaeology must not, and cannot, be used to trace migrations or identify different ethnic groups in prehistory. To quote from Liebeschuetz’s 2015 book, East and West in Late Antiquity: “Archaeology can trace cultural diffusion, but it cannot be used to distinguish between peoples, and should not be used to trace migration. Arguments from language and etymology are irrelevant.”

At a stroke, this line of reasoning would essentially abolish several centuries of work unravelling the thread of movements and evolution of the Indo-European peoples and languages, not to mention the post-Roman Germanic Migration Period, Anglo-Saxon invasions, Polynesian and Bantu Expansions and almost all major changes in the human record.


This became clearer than ever following the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, which saw archaeology departments and professional bodies across the world fall over themselves to pledge curriculum “decolonisation” and an explicit commitment to politicising the discipline. To quote from the “’The Future of Archaeology Is Antiracist’: Archaeology in the Time of Black Lives Matter”, published in American Antiquity:

“Consequently, Black archaeology has been and must remain purposeful in practice. It rejects research and practices defined in sterile, binary terms of objective-subjective positionality. Archaeology at historic Black sites must be conducted with an explicit politics… To the field of archaeology, it serves as a moral guide with the potential to elucidate historical wrongs and explore forms of contemporary redress.”

A helpful Finnish instructional video from 1979

Dear all,

As we wind down for Christmas, it is important to ensure that we keep ourselves safe, and I have found this wonderful but short instructional video, purportedly from Finland c. 1979, helpfully showing how to open a door correctly. I would recommend turning on the English subtitles for most of us, but other subtitles are available for those of us unable to understand the wonderful Finnish language.

I have a nagging feeling that this might have been a parody of ‘health and safety’ instructional videos, but if that was its aim, it has failed miserably to stem the tide.

Watch thou for the TERF


This photograph from today’s Times shows a sign put up at the Institute of Contemporary Music Performance in north London. The sign reads:

What is a TERF?
(Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist)
“Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist” ideology is a specific form of transphobia. The primary TERF assertion is that transwomen are not women, and accordingly have no place in women’s spaces.
This ideology also affects trans men, as TERF’s assert that people assigned female at birth, but indentify as male, shouldn’t be allowed into women’s spaces either.

Report + Support: icmp.ac.uk/report

An arrow points from the words “Report+Support” to a QR code where students can report instances of TERF ideology.

A fricking QR code. I wish this were satire.

“Music college accused of witch-hunt over QR-code transphobia alert”, reports Nicola Woodcock in the Times.

A college has apologised for displaying a sign asking students to report trans exclusionary radical feminist ideology, or Terf, using a QR code.

The Institute of Contemporary Music Performance in north London was criticised for the sign telling staff and students that it had “zero tolerance” of Terf ideology, which it called a specific form of transphobia.

The term is used as an insult to people who have so-called gender-critical beliefs that biological gender cannot change.

The article went on to say,

Paul Kirkham, chief executive of the college, said: “Our intention, following discussions with our student community, had been to communicate the definition of Terf to help clarify what we considered to be growing misconceptions around what the term means. We got it wrong. The signage is clunky and we can see how it can be misinterpreted.” He added that the sign had been removed.

“Clunky” is not the term I would have chosen. While I do have criticisms of the wording of the sign, I must defend whoever wrote it against the charge that it was easy to misinterpret. Its meaning was entirely clear.

Whatever term you would have chosen, an interesting question is how well does the “Scan here to report heresy” strategy work as means to reduce prejudice against transgender people?

The British Social Attitudes Survey is the gold standard for long term monitoring of, well, British social attitudes, like it says on the tin. In 1983, when the BSA survey started, 17% of respondents agreed with the statement “Same-sex relationships are ‘not wrong at all'”. In 2018 it was 66%. The responses over the last four decades to most of the BSA’s questions on issues of sexuality show a similar pattern: there are small fluctuations year to year, but the trend of acceptance is basically an upward-sloping straight line.

But not for all questions. According to Table 5 on page 14 of the report of the 39th and most recent iteration of the BSA survey, in the surveys of 2016, 2019 and 2021 participants were asked their views about whether transgender people should be able to change the sex on their birth certificate. In 2016, 58% thought that they should be. In 2019 it was 53% – a little surprising to see a decrease, but as I said, the lines always fluctuate a bit. In 2021 the proportion agreeing that transgender people should be able to change the sex on their birth certificate was…

Go on, guess.


Exhibitionists like to know that others dare not object

Kayla LeMieux

“The kids here most definitely don’t think [it’s] normal…but realistically we can’t say anything,” said a person on Twitter who claims to be a student at Oakville Trafalgar. “Last year, the teacher was a man. I don’t think the school can fire him.”

Canada’s Post Millennial reports, “Canadian biologically male teacher wears massive prosthetic breasts to school”

The teacher is Kayla Lemieux and the school is Oakland Trafalgar High School in Ontario. Please note that there exist several other people with the same name, some of whom have been in the news recently.

The Daily Mail picked up the story: “Canadian high school defends transgender teacher who wore enormous prosthetic breasts underneath tight T-shirt to class”, and has plenty more pictures if you need to be convinced that this is not a joke.

Even after I was convinced that it was not a joke, I originally had plenty of jokes to make. But upon reflection I edited them out. This is not a funny story.

Kayla Lemieux’s motivations bear no relation to the motivations of a transwoman who was born male but simply wants to be female. Nor does Ms Lemieux want to be accepted as having an ambiguous gender identity. She does not want to be accepted at all. Kayla Lemieux wants to shock. She also wants the pleasure of knowing that the people she shocks dare not say anything. Better yet, she wants to have the pleasure of thinking that some of the people seeing her are secretly, even unwillingly, sexually aroused by her fetish costume. She is a teacher, so when I say “people” I mean “children she teaches”.

Imagine the sexes/genders were reversed, and a female-to-male transgender teacher turned up at school to teach the children while wearing an enormous prosthetic penis. Imagine – but the imaginary scenario scarcely differs from what is actually happening.

Let me be clear that I believe that adults should be free to alter their appearance in any way that pleases them. I would go further than most in defending people’s right to have body modifications that are designed to shock, though I would also defend the right of others to exclude such people from their premises, and that is one of the reasons why I would like to see less public space (which is open to absolutely everyone by definition) and more private space that is open to the public so long as they adhere to rules of behaviour. I would also, though more reluctantly, defend the right of a private school to employ a person with deliberately shocking body modifications as a teacher, and the right of parents to send their children there.

However, Oakland Trafalgar High School is a public school in the North American sense, a state school. Most of the families whose children attend have no other option. Even if that were not so, the pupil quoted at the beginning was correct to say, “I don’t think the school can fire him.” As the statement from the school says, “Gender identity and gender expression are protected grounds under the Ontario Human Rights Code”.

And Kayla Lemieux knows it.