Archive for the ‘Opinion/commentary’ Category

“Payback Time” cancer campaign mis-step

September 12, 2014

Here’s the video and some background.

It’s a two minute animation currently showing on British TV, in support of an upcoming Channel 4 cancer research fundraising evening, which will be held on 17th October 2014.

The cause is impeccable and I’d urge people to support it. Furthermore, the animation is well made and quite striking. If it gets circulated widely and discussed and some of this buzz translates into increased donations to cancer research, I’m sure the makers will fairly say “job done”.


[spoiler follows]



Badgers ‘moved goalposts’ says minister

October 9, 2013


BBC story here.


Earth Day ambivalence

April 22, 2013

Never quite know what to make of Earth Day.

Eyebrows would be raised if the International Space Station had an annual “CO2 Scrubber Day” or submarine crews celebrated “Pressure Hull Week” every April.

I should say, I have a general disquiet about the whole concept of annual awareness time intervals. I’m certainly not against the idea for every good cause, but often they trivialise the thing they’re trying to promote. Not saying they don’t work, but somehow Earth Day, like Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, has a touch of absurdity and mild desperation.

Margaret Thatcher

April 9, 2013

If you hadn’t noticed, she died yesterday. If the media (yes, them again) are to be believed, here in the UK we should all divide neatly into two groups: those huffing and puffing about how disgraceful it is she’s not going to have a state funeral— as if St Paul’s cathedral, gun carriages and military salutes are not enough— and those who broke out the champagne and partied hard all last night.

So when I try to decide what I think about her passing, it’s with half-hearted surprise that I conclude— pretty much nothing.

It’s not that I don’t think she was a hugely influential figure in national, and arguably global, 20th century politics, society (yes, it does exist) and culture.

It’s just that she was in power through most of my childhood, and like most background things you grow up with, she was just there. Being brought up in a middle class household in the south of the country, her policies didn’t appear to have any direct, immediate impacts on my family. According to my understanding, she did some necessary things early in her premiership, such as facing down the unions— although she did them in what appears to be a notably divisive and compassionless way. And much like an over-ripe cheese or Tony Blair, she stuck around far too long at the end.

In all, I struggle to marshal any strong feelings towards her one way or the other.

It’s always sad when a family member or friend dies, even when peacefully at the ripe old age of 87. So my condolences go out to those who knew her personally. As for her long term impact on the world, history will pass judgement in due course. I suspect it will be a mixed verdict.

That’s it really.

The Death of Theory: Kaggle, randomised control trials, and optimisation without understanding

January 7, 2013

Another effort to draw together some semi-coherent thoughts prompted by a couple of recent-ish items in the media.

Item 1:

“Down with experts”, a New Scientist opinion/interview piece from last month. It looks like Slate has the same interview subscription-free. (more…)

Homo economicus, the pirates’ code, and the squeezed middle

April 3, 2012

…the code is more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules.

Captain Hector Barbarossa, in Pirates of the Caribbean

A brief foray into economics, prompted by a recent ‘big idea’ article in New Scientist magazine. (more…)

Why I’m no longer so fussed about climate change (although I probably should be)

February 20, 2012

I follow climate change issues intermittently in the mainstream press and on a shifting selection of blogs. But it’s dawned on me that I probably follow them less now than I did two, three, four or even five years ago. Leaving out the personal and professional factors, [*] here are a few reasons why I think this is the case:


All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (BBC documentary): a review

May 31, 2011

Saw the second part of this last night, having stumbled on the first part last week. It’s a documentary series by Adam Curtis, a film maker I hadn’t come across before— but on the evidence of these two programmes, someone with a distinctive and interesting slant on some Big Ideas. Last week it was about Ayn Rand, computers, the 2008/ongoing financial crisis, and Monica Lewinsky. The connections between some of these topics were more than a touch forced, but as a critical exploration of “out of individuals’ search for self-realisation, comes emergent social order, and you can use computers to help it along”-flavoured ideas, it was compelling. Dreamy visual images and melancholic music made it much more engaging than might be expected, given the heavyweight subject matter.

This week was just as intriguing, and perhaps a little more focused— only a little, mind— and opinionated, with more to disagree with as a consequence. All in a distinct and thought-provoking way; hence this post.

UK coalition health plans in a nutshell [with commentary]

December 1, 2010

Scrapping primary care trusts (PCTs) [neutral-to-good], replacing them with GP commissioning consortia to make local health services more responsive to local needs [sounds good but a minefield of conflicting interests for GPs; making services locally responsive does not make them regionally or nationally equitable].

Removing regulatory powers of NICE so that consortia make decisions to fund treatments on a local basis [=removal of main justification for NICE’s existence and return to postcode lotteries, so bad].

Moving public health function into local authorities [good in principle- if allows health considerations to more effectively influence housing, transport, and environment policy, but bad if leaves the public health profession distanced from NHS with limited influence over consortia].

Scrapping the Health Protection Agency (HPA) quango, and absorbing its functions into a new Public Health Service directly answerable to the Department of Health [pointless politics, bad if only because expensive and disruptive- does the Health Minister really want or need a role in containing pandemics?]

The Perfect Steak

September 7, 2010

A belated response to last month’s news.