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]

Ask not for whom the tik toks

“TikTok and WeChat: US to ban app downloads in 48 hours”, reports the BBC.

All things considered, I do still want Trump to win the US election, but this sounds like a stupid measure. Banning things is almost always intrinsically stupid, as is running your politics by the threat of bans. It will also lose him votes from people who happen to like TikTok.

I suspect that like Sadiq Khan’s ban on Uber operating in London (the appeal against which will be heard on 28th September), Trump’s move is basically a shakedown. Note the delay before implementation in both cases. Either ban could be reversed at a moment’s notice for the right price. So far as I know Londoners can still use Uber now, and that will continue until the appeals process is exhausted, which could mean ten days or ten years. As for Tiktok in the US,

If a planned partnership between US tech firm Oracle and TikTok owner ByteDance is agreed and approved by President Trump, the app will not be banned.

“I know that I will not be able to avoid destroying humankind.”

That was a line from a Guardian op-ed written entirely by a robot. The machine was instructed to focus on why humans have nothing to fear from AI. I do not find this reassuring.

Test results are not binary. Good tests are not all the same

Simon Gibbs of Libertarian Home renown has some interesting information about Wuhan Coronavirus testing.

By the end of this article, I want you to be writing to someone and sharing this link. That person could be your MP, your employer, or if you are in a position of power, someone in your organisation who you will want to start making a plan. Preferably, all three.

There is a lot of drama in comment sections and on the street about false positives and tests for The Coronavirus producing positive results for other coronaviruses, like the common cold. Usually this is understood to mean you should ignore the Government. I have some sympathy for that, obviously, but what I have come to understand about tests, however, is that they are not binary. They are not limited to producing yes and no answers – if the person using them allows for it.
Usually the people doing tests don’t allow it, for reasons that are basically economical, but actually the missing subtlety is interesting. Tests can tell you how much virus is present – the “viral load”.

There are two other interesting properties of tests:

Specificity – a test with good specificity only detects SARS-COVID-2 i.e The Coronavirus, and not older or similar bugs

Sensitivity – a test with good sensitivity will tell you if your body has ever come into contact with SARS-COVID-2 even if the “viral load” is small.

There were, apparently, some issues with specificity at one point. The major issue at the moment is that most tests are far too sensitive.

If you just caught the virus yesterday then you are probably not spreading it yet, but you’ll test “positive” because there are already a few thousand bits of virus DNA in the sample. If you had it in January then you will have stopped spreading at the very latest by mid-February but would still be testing “positive” in March, because there are still thousands of bits of virus DNA in the sample. Either of these results makes it unclear what you, as an individual, should do about it.

What researchers have learned is that SARS-COVID-2, specifically, is mainly transmissible in a period between 1 to 6 days when your body is producing trillions of copies of the virus. If the test was able to tell you that you had trillions of copies in your body, then you would know what to do. You would know that tomorrow will be a bad day for you, and that going to a party today would make next Saturday a bad day for everyone at the party.

The brevity of this period is easy to overstate. It might be up to six days long, but by day two of that period you will probably want to be in bed anyway, and limited transmission will actually happen after that.

Testing as a means to stop transmission has only one day to do anything useful.

→ Continue reading: Test results are not binary. Good tests are not all the same

Which do you want more, strict product liability or a Coronavirus vaccine?

The Brussels Times reports,

Coronavirus: Belgian experts ‘shocked’ as AstraZeneca seeks liability waiver for vaccine

A pharmaceutical firm developing a coronavirus vaccine of which Belgium has already secured millions of doses has made the “exceptional” request to not be held liable for any potential side effects.

As it enters the final stages of human trials in the development of a vaccine against the new coronavirus, drugmaker AstraZeneca has introduced several requests to be protected from future claims of liability.

The request was received with surprise by some observers in Belgium, with, health and medical law experts in Belgium referring to it as exceptional or even shocking.

Professor Thierry Vansweevelt is one of those most shocked.

“There is a European directive on product liability,” Vansweevelt said. “Any producer who places a defective product on the market is responsible for that without exceptions. You can’t escape that.”

For the sake of the people of Belgium, a country of which I am fond, I rather hope they can escape it. It is telling that even its supporters see this directive as something that people might want to escape.

I saw this story on Reddit UK politics. It is usually a bit of a left wing hive mind, so I was relieved to see that the highest-recommended comment was by someone going by the name “LiteralTory” who said,

I’m shocked he’s shocked. Developed under incredible pressure and speed. A novel mechanism of action compared to other vaccines. Going to be given to literally billions of people within months of release. Even extremely rare side effects could be numerous enough to destroy the company. And with no vaccine, who bears the risk? Governments, populations and economies. I can entirely see why in this instance they’d expect governments and populations to accept a certain share of the risk.

Does this professor have no imagination not to be able to see that?

Samizdata quote of the day

“It’s extraordinary that a state that struggles to provide essential services like public health and education somehow thinks it can be the vanguard of a new technological revolution. British ARPA is destined to fail because it is built on a fundamental myth: that state-funding for scientific research magically turns into marketable innovations and economic growth.”

Matthew Lesh

Samizdata quote of the day

Tin whiskers. If you use a pure tin solder then the electronics will grow little whiskers which will, over the course of perhaps 3 or 4 years, short circuit the system. Hmm, OK, has a good chance of doing so. The cure for tin whiskers is to add lead to the tin solder. This is now illegal because using lead is verboeten on environmental grounds. Thus we have a shorter life span for electronics. And yes, it is worth noting that the electronics which really does have to be reliable is not subject to the no lead rule.

Tim Worstall

Discussion point – current events show why universal basic income would be a terrible idea

There are lots of reasons in my mind why UBI would be a bad idea. I know that some libertarians/classical liberals, such as the late Milton Friedman, favoured a form of it in the form of “negative income tax”, but largely because they wanted to sweep together existing welfare benefits into a single payment, and for that payment to be cut fairly low so as not to kill incentives. More recently, I have seen folk such as some (not all) “transhumanists” claim that in our marvellous tech future where there is no scarcity, we can have all these goodies for “free” (no more of that stuff about “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”), and that therefore UBI will be affordable and that it will be needed, as conventional “work” no longer exists. This sort of argument is bound to be made more and more because of how work practices have been hammered by the lockdowns, among other forces.

Apart from the implausibility of the idea that scarcity will be overcome – as seen by this critique of a Charles Stross book, another reason why I distrust UBI is that it is going to create a whole class of entitled brats if UBI were to not just replace existing welfare, but be added to them in significant ways. We have had a recent demonstration of what happens when lots of people are paid for doing nothing, with only a few diversions to amuse them, and the results aren’t pretty.

Do we want to scale that issue of people living in prolonged adolescence even more? The cultural/economic consequences of a world in which a handful of evil capitalists are paying all the taxes while the rest of the population loll around on UBI, updating blogs and being generally bored out of their minds is not one I look forward to. It could end up as Ray Bradbury-meets-George Orwell-meets Aldous Huxley. Here is a good case against UBI from David Henderson.

UBI is a terrible idea, at least in terms of somehow covering a vast chunk of the population and funded by a small group who, apparently, are happy to do so without conditions. If people think I misrepresent what UBI is, and can achieve, by all means come back to me in the comments. So far, all too often it appears to be sold as some sort of utopian replacement for work. I am not buying it.

I think I might be able to guess

In the Guardian James Heathers, a research scientist, asks,

“The Lancet has made one of the biggest retractions in modern history. How could this happen?”

The Lancet is one of the oldest and most respected medical journals in the world. Recently, they published an article on Covid patients receiving hydroxychloroquine with a dire conclusion: the drug increases heartbeat irregularities and decreases hospital survival rates. This result was treated as authoritative, and major drug trials were immediately halted – because why treat anyone with an unsafe drug?

Now, that Lancet study has been retracted, withdrawn from the literature entirely, at the request of three of its authors who “can no longer vouch for the veracity of the primary data sources”. Given the seriousness of the topic and the consequences of the paper, this is one of the most consequential retractions in modern history.

It is natural to ask how this is possible. How did a paper of such consequence get discarded like a used tissue by some of its authors only days after publication? If the authors don’t trust it now, how did it get published in the first place?

The answer is quite simple. It happened because peer review, the formal process of reviewing scientific work before it is accepted for publication, is not designed to detect anomalous data. It makes no difference if the anomalies are due to inaccuracies, miscalculations, or outright fraud. This is not what peer review is for. While it is the internationally recognised badge of “settled science”, its value is far more complicated.

Just a guess, but I think there is a more immediate explanation for the way that this study was accepted a little too readily: a widespread desire among doctors and scientists to believe that anything Donald Trump believes must be wrong.

As it happens he probably was wrong. Though the use of hydroxychloroquine to try to treat the coronavirus appears not to be the disaster it was reported as being, the latest tests say it is not a cure for Covid-19 either. It does pretty much nothing either way. But we would have found out that useful piece of information earlier if the trials had proceeded without interruption.

All the more credit to the Guardian for its role in uncovering inconsistencies in the paper by Dr Mandeep Mehra, Sapan Desai and others that was retracted. That was a demonstration that ideology does not always trump old fashioned journalism, even when it means forgoing a chance to denounce Trump.

But it does not inspire confidence that the editor of the Lancet is Dr Richard Horton. Some of you may remember him of old. In October 2006 I blogged about him sharing a stage with George Galloway and saying,

“As this axis of Anglo-American imperialism extends its influence through war and conflict, gathering power and wealth as it goes, so millions of people are left to die in poverty and disease.”

Now, that’s what I call optimism!

“Council borrowed £1bn from taxpayers to bet on British sunshine”, report Gareth Davies and Charles Boutaud of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Among Thurrock’s rundown council estates and neglected public parks, typical of many towns after a decade of austerity, there is nothing to suggest that over the past three years the local council has borrowed and then invested hundreds of millions of pounds of other councils’ money.

Under the direction of a senior council officer Thurrock borrowed from about 150 local authorities across the UK with little public scrutiny. These loans were not for direct funding of council services, or investing in infrastructure – instead they financed solar farms more than a hundred miles away.

Now, let us not reflexively roll our eyes upon hearing the words “solar farms”. While there has been some reason for the widespread perception that investment in sunbeams has about the same record of success as investment in moonbeams, the technology of solar power genuinely has improved in recent years.

Sean Clark, Thurrock’s director of finance, oversaw the investment of £604m in the solar industry, investments he says were prompted entirely by intermediaries approaching him with money-making opportunities. In an extraordinary interview with The Bureau, Clark wondered whether he had gone too far. At last count Thurrock owed other councils an unprecedented £1bn.

OK, now you can roll your eyes.

John Kent, the former Labour leader of Thurrock council, called on the current administration to come clean. He said: “People absolutely need to be aware that the council has borrowed £1bn – that’s billion with a b.” He claimed that the council had declined to give elected members or the public adequate details of precisely how it invested the money.

As you might have deduced from that, Thurrock Council is currently controlled by the Conservatives.

Come to sunny Thurrock, where the Tories splurge on borrowed money and it is left to Labour to be the voice of prudence! Or come to sunny Britain, which is the same except for the bit about Labour.

Samizdata quote of the day

“The humanist ethic begins with the belief that humans are an essential part of nature. Humans have the right and the duty to reconstruct nature so that humans and biosphere can both survive and prosper. For humanists, the highest value is harmonious coexistence between humans and nature.”

– Freeman Dyson, the great scientist and futurist who died recently. As quoted in this fine article over at National Review, by Robert Bryce.

Dyson did not buy global warming alarmism, which must have given many in the government-funded science establishment the vapours, (excuse the pun).

If you ever for a moment doubted that we are ruled by lunatics…

If you ever for a moment doubted that we are ruled by lunatics, let this dispel such notions:

The BoE said last week Britain’s economy could shrink by 14% this year – the most since the early 1700s – due to the government’s coronavirus shutdown, before growing by 15% in 2021. But the central bank warned there were risks of an even worse performance.

Haldane said in the longer term, Britain needed to put its net-zero carbon target and boosting growth in underperforming regions – as pledged by Prime Minister Boris Johnson before the coronavirus crisis – into its growth strategies.

Net zero is the most insane anti-economic notion conceived in the last few decades, a literal rejection of modern energy intensive technological society. The idea that the economic fallout caused by the Wuhan coronavirus lockdowns can be alleviated by making energy more expensive and travel less accessible is like, well, drinking bleach or fish tank cleaner to ward off said virus: the behaviour of genuine authentic unalloyed idiots.

The only way to put net zero carbon targets into growth strategies is to utterly repudiate net zero policies in favour of actual economic growth.

Mick Hartley on the politics of the Lockdown

I at first thought that I’d just wait and see, and avoid opining about Cornonavirus until the whole ghastly episode was over and we were all back to the new normal, whatever that turned out to be. But, having waited, I am already now seeing. It is becoming ever clearer, as a few were loudly asserting from the get-go, that this bug is far more widespread, but far less likely to kill you even if you get it, than had at first been proclaimed. I do not care who Professor Ferguson is bonking, but I care very much about how wrong he has been, about so much, for so long, and yet how the governing classes around the world, including the British government, still chose to listen to him. (Is it known (comments anyone?) what Ferguson thinks about climate change? I bet he’s been a fanatical catastrophist about that also.)

Someone who has done a lot to persuade me to get off the fence like this is Mick Hartley. As I mentioned in passing at the end of this earlier posting here, Mick Hartley has been very good on the subject of the Lockdown. His typical posting on the subject has tended to consist of a big quote from someone else, often dragged out from behind a paywall, with a few comments from him topping and tailing his posting. But, in his piece on Saturday, entitled Lockdown politics, although there are links in it to the thoughts of others, Hartley writes for himself.

On the whole I’d say that the left is more supportive of the lockdown than the right. Yes I know, left vs right doesn’t mean so much any more, but it still means something. The left more supportive of the state, perhaps, vs the right more concerned about individual freedom. I haven’t looked, but I imagine somewhere in the Guardian comments someone has said that the right only want to get back to work because they want to make money and don’t care about people’s lives. And, seen this morning prominently displayed in a window: “Capitalism isn’t worth dying for”. …

Which is odd in a way, because the lockdown might be seen as a left-wing cause. Against the lockdown, that is.

It’s clear that the poor are having a much harder time than the middle classes at the moment: stuck in worse accommodation, with worse facilities, desperate for an end to this, and, for many, worried sick about their jobs and their future. We hear almost exclusively now from the middle classes – what books they should read, what films they should watch, and how to keep their kids active and up-to-the-minute with their education. These are the people, generally, who don’t have big financial worries, can work from home, and feel perhaps rather smug about how well they’re coping. But it’s obvious that there’s a whole mass of people that we never hear from … destitute, miserable people stuck in lousy over-crowded housing wondering how on earth they’re going to cope.

The longer the lockdown continues, the worse it’s going to be. …

And for what? Who are we protecting? Well, Covid-19 is deadly serious notably for the very old – not at all for the young – and especially for men. So, we’re protecting old men, at the expense of just about everybody else. …

Whatever happened to the attitude embodied in the slogan “women and children first”?

You might think this would resonate with the left, but it doesn’t seem to. …

Will Keir Starmer start pressing Boris on ending lockdown? I hope so. He should do, in the name of the people that Labour claims to represent. He did, to be fair, make some noises to that effect some weeks back, asking for the government to set out guidelines for the return of schools and getting businesses back to work. I haven’t seen much since. …

And then this:

… I hope he pushes it more, because I’m beginning to lose faith in Boris ever getting together the necessary determination.

Me too. Read, as they say, the whole thing.

Labour, it seems to me and to many others I’m sure, has mutated from once upon a time being the party speaking for the poor, often against the government, to being the party of government, even when they aren’t the politicians in titular charge of that government. These people are now “supportive of the state”, to quote Hartley, even when they’re not personally in charge of it. It’s the process of government, whoever is doing it, whatever it is doing, that they now seem to worship. It is, as similar people in earlier times used to say, the principle of the thing, the principle being that they’re in charge. Many decades ago, Labour spoke for, well, Labour. The workers, the toiling masses. Now they represent most determinedly only those who labour away only in Civil Service offices or their allies in the media, in academia, and in the bureaucratised top end of big business.

Anyone official and highly educated sounding who challenges whatever happens to be the prevailing supposed wisdom of this governing class, on Coronavirus or on anything else, must be scolded into irrelevance and preferably silenced. The governors must be obeyed, even if they’re wrong. In fact especially if they’re wrong, just as the soldiers of the past were expected to obey their orders, no matter what they thought of the orders or of the aristocratic asses who often gave them. Whether they were good orders was an argument that those giving orders could have amongst themselves, but that orders must be obeyed was a given. “Capitalism” isn’t worth dying for, but this new dispensation is, right or wrong.

Our new class of entitled asses, together with all those who have placed their bets for life on carrying out their orders or trying to profit from them, seems now to be the limit of the Labour Party’s electoral ambition. And who knows? The awful thing is that this class and its hangers-on could be enough, in the not too distant future, to get them back into direct command of the governmental process that they so adore.

Meanwhile I note, with a twinge of satisfaction amidst all the gloom, that the British politician speaking up most loudly for the right of workers, especially poorer workers, to get back to work is this excellent man. The sooner the campaign gets under way to replace Boris with him, the better.