Le philosophe du rugby

France’s coach, Fabien Galthié, was philosophical after one of the worst defeats of his tenure, pointing to Paul Willemse’s red card as the turning point. “We played with 14 players almost the entire game,” he said. “But I told the players that this is not the time for reflection. There is too much disappointment to be lucid in our analysis.”

“The offensive performance was not there, that’s clear. Waste, turnovers, dropped balls, a lack of speed. We did not prepare accordingly. It’s a moment to live collectively. But the tournament continues.”

End of science (as we once knew it)

Citation cartels help some mathematicians—and their universities—climb the rankings | Science | AAAS

Cliques of mathematicians at institutions in China, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere have been artificially boosting their colleagues’ citation counts by churning out low-quality papers that repeatedly reference their work, according to an unpublished analysis seen by Science. As a result, their universities—some of which do not appear to have math departments—now produce a greater number of highly cited math papers each year than schools with a strong track record in the field, such as Stanford and Princeton universities.

These so-called “citation cartels” appear to be trying to improve their universities’ rankings, according to experts in publication practices. “The stakes are high—movements in the rankings can cost or make universities tens of millions of dollars,” says Cameron Neylon, a professor of research communication at Curtin University. “It is inevitable that people will bend and break the rules to improve their standing.” In response to such practices, the publishing analytics company Clarivate has excluded the entire field of math from the most recent edition of its influential list of authors of highly cited papers, released in November 2023.

Corporations tend to choose survival over morality in the absence of countervailing power.

Apex predators

Acktivism | No Mercy / No Malice

Scott Galloway

An apex predator known as an activist investor has escaped its cage and is now attacking social issues. What happens to Harvard is a sideshow. Ackman’s billionaire tantrum represents a far more dangerous virus that has plagued humans throughout history: the concentration of power.

Kings of convenience

Europe’s monarchies are a study in dignified inanity

From the Economist.

Every family has an heirloom which is too precious to throw away yet of little practical use. A dozen European countries have the constitutional equivalent. ….Like the human appendix, Europe’s royal highnesses are essentially vestigial: they serve little obvious purpose, but few think there is much reason to excise them until they cause trouble.

And who would have thought…

“Bicycle monarchies” mostly replaced fusty aristo balls. The Dutch king has been a part-time pilot for klm for over two decades. Princess Victoria, next in line to the Swedish throne, married her personal trainer.


The Notional Health Service.

Heading in last week’s Economist (13/1/2024). Sad, but true.

Not leaving your kids alone

UN aid chief Martin Griffiths: ‘The war in Gaza isn’t halfway through’

At least 136 UN workers have been killed; staff bring their children to work, so they might survive or at least die together.

And what to do?

We have to get much better at pitching into people’s souls.”

Medical science, one trim at a time

The Economist on pogonophobia and pogonophilia.

Many also believed that not shaving offered health benefits. In 1854, more than 400 members of the Dublin police force petitioned to be allowed to join the beard movement on the ground that “almost all, if not all, diseases of the respiratory organs are in great part, if not altogether, caused by the practice which obtains of shaving off the beard.” Beards were even thought to bring productivity gains. An article in the British Medical Journal in 1861 calculated that America lost 36m working days each year to shaving.

The beard craze petered out in the 1890s as fashions shifted, better razors became available and doctors took to warning against facial hair (a damp beard was thought to spread germs). Beards became the preserve of older men as the young rejected the fashions of their fathers. The army was slower to adapt. The requirement for moustaches lasted until 1916; some regiments maintained a stockpile of artificial ones for those unable to grow their own.

Note the tendency to take tenuous and marginal observations and multiple by a big number to make them seem important. Epidemiology 101, sadly, (but beloved by all grant writers).

Edinburgh’s Festivalisation

Rory Scothorne · Short Cuts: Edinburgh’s Festivalisation

The first humans​ settled in Scotland around 14,000 years ago. They must have arrived in summer; nobody in their right mind would choose to live here during the winter. Even as far south as Edinburgh, the sun emerges late only to disappear before 4 p.m., the rain eats umbrellas for breakfast and the Arctic gale is as rough as sandpaper. We don’t have much of a Christmas celebration to distract us from the gloom: the Scottish Reformation stamped out idolatrous Yuletide celebrations and Christmas only became a public holiday in 1958. Instead, we have Hogmanay.

(London Review of Books)

When capital and ideals clash, capital smothers ideals in their sleep

Mammon | No Mercy / No Malice

The collapse and rebirth of the Valley’s preeminent private company was the most bewildering business story of 2023 and an object lesson in a truth that’s hiding in plain sight: When capital and ideals clash, capital smothers ideals in their sleep. The end of the charade that OpenAI was a nonprofit signals the beginning of the end of ESG.

We are always ready, and want, to believe that this time it’s different, we will do good while making billions. The last big corporate jazz hands was the ESG movement, purporting to prioritize environmental, social, and governance concerns over shareholder returns. Succumbing to this siren call, we abdicated our responsibility to discipline corporations and curb the externalities wrought by the pursuit of profit, believing instead that one profit-seeking entity could cajole another profit-seeking entity to seek something else.

When a “nonprofit” takes a billion dollar investment from a for-profit, it has been bitten by the dead and is now also a profit-seeking White Walker.

Which reminds me (somewhat) of some comments made by Derek Bok, a former president of Harvard, with respect to higher education: Institutions choose survival over morality.

Home: That nice warm feeling

Welsh couple bereft after bomb squad detonate ornamental garden missile | Wales | The Guardian

A couple who kept a live bomb as a garden ornament have said they were sorry that their “old friend” had been detonated by a disposal unit.

The missile, which had been outside the home of Sian and Jeffrey Edwards, is thought to date back to the late 19th century. The couple, from Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire, had thought it was a “dummy” bomb with no charge. Sian Edwards said she used to bang her trowel on the bomb to remove earth after gardening.

On Wednesday, a police officer informed the couple he had spotted the bomb and would need to alert the Ministry of Defence. An hour later, the officer told the couple the bomb squad would arrive the next day.

Jeffrey Edwards, 77, said: “We didn’t sleep a wink all night. It knocked us for six. “I told the bomb disposal unit: ‘We’re not leaving the house, we’re staying here. If it goes up, we’re going to go up with it.’”

Just a little container of precious

The best way to invest in gold

All the gold ever dug up would fit inside a 20 by 20 metre box.

Is that all there is? I feel richer already.

All about catching thermals

Small publishers are sweeping the Booker and Nobel prizes

On this years’s Booker by Philip Lynch (Prophet Song)

What is the secret to big success for small presses? Nothing new, the editors say, but rather something as old as the book trade: picking worthy titles, editing them carefully and promoting them well. It often comes down to money—in particular, not thinking too much about it.

Publishing, by its nature, is a gamble. The recent renaissance of independent presses may fade with the changing tastes of prize committees or the fickle fancies of readers. “Sometimes you catch a thermal,” Ms Mabey says, and a book soars. “Sometimes you don’t.” But small publishers can adapt to changing winds. And with another Booker in the bag, Oneworld, like so many of its peers, is flying high.

Which is once the way academia worked. All about being the right size for the job in hand.

On the importance of not achieving anything

Psychology Lost a Great Mind – Nautilus

At a dinner one night, a first-year graduate student noted how he preferred his new intellectual freedom to the pressure for immediate results he had endured in industry:

“I like coming home at the end of the day not having accomplished anything.”

John replied, “Young man, you have a bright future in academia.”

Steve Pinker writing about John Tooby who died earlier this month.

On not being properly confused

I like orderly confusion very much. But this is neither orderly nor properly confused

Dieter Rams

His German is a pleasure to the ear.

Via John Naughton 10 November 2023 link

Departure time 2023, arrival 1943

Timothy Garton Ash in the NYRB

When I started writing my book Homelands: A Personal History of Europe five years ago, I thought that in order to bring home to young Europeans the horrors against which postwar Europe has defined itself, I must hurry to track down some of the last surviving elderly Europeans with personal memories of the hell that was Europe during World War II. So I did, in Germany, France, and Poland. But today all you need do to experience such horrors firsthand is take a train into Ukraine from the southeastern Polish town of Przemyśl. Departure time 2023, arrival 1943.

The (not so) strange case of Katalin Karikó

The 2023 Nobel prizes – What they mean for higher education

The strange case of Katalin Karikó

Dr Katalin Karikó, joint winner of the physiology-medicine award, has received much comment in the media. Born and educated in Hungary, she has spent most of her career in the United States. But she has also held appointments in three other countries at a variety of institutions, and has most recently been senior vice president at BioNTech, a biotech company in Germany.

The debate stems from her time at the University of Pennsylvania, where she worked from 1989 to 2001, in positions ranging from scientific assistant professor, to senior head of research, to adjunct associate professor.

During that period, she was demoted from a tenure-track position in 1995, refused the possibility of reinstatement to the tenure track and eventually ushered into retirement in 2013.

Meanwhile, her close collaborator and fellow prize winner, Dr Drew Weissman, whom she met in 1997, remains at the University of Pennsylvania as professor of medicine, as well as being co-director of the immunology core of the Penn Center for AIDS Research and director of vaccine research in the infectious diseases division.

Some have pointed out that Karikó was working on risky or unconventional scientific themes, and that the usual funding agencies and senior academics were unable to see the promise in her work until recently, when she and her colleague Weissman have been recipients of multiple prizes. The fact that she received her doctorate from the University of Szeged in Hungary and not a prestigious institution in a major country may not have helped.

None of this story is surprising nor strange.

Robert Conquest’s third law of politics

The simplest way to explain the behaviour of any bureaucratic organisation is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies. (Robert Conquest’s third law of politics)

I tend to think the NHS is directed by people who don’t like it.

SLS: things that don’t appear in medic final’s

Which goes with that other common disease christened by the late Sydney Brenner (yes, the same Brenner): MDD or spelled out, money deficiency disease)

The Enlightened Economist | Economics and business books

The over-burdened welfare state is not quite coping with people suffering from what (I learned here) doctors describe as “Shit Life Syndrome” when they go to their GPs for help with depression or other mental ill-health conditions. And there will not be enough money to fix any of this unless growth picks up. But that would require a competent, effective government able to take clear decisions, build cross-party consensus, devolve money and powers, and stick with the plan without changing ministers and policies every 18 months.

All is power and all is politics

Daniel Trilling · Not Much like Consent: Crisis at the Met · LRB 30 March 2023

In the​ 1980s, the Met was a key part of the coalition of interests that underpinned the Thatcher government. Together, the Conservative Party, the police and the right-wing press successfully undermined the power of the unions, by legislating against them, physically attacking their members (as officers from the Met and other forces did at Orgreave and elsewhere during the miners’ strike) and persuading just enough people that this was necessary to maintain law and order. Not every officer approved of the role the police played: Dick wrote an essay during her training arguing that the Thatcher years created ‘the impression that the police had been reduced to the status of political tools’. But the Tories bought goodwill among the rank and file – and boosted recruitment – by implementing a 45 per cent pay rise soon after taking office in 1979. ‘Most of us in the police thought [Thatcher] was simply magnificent,’ Ron Evans, a former Met protection officer, told Harper.

Late night thoughts on listening to Mahler’s ninth

My main theme in the book, which is something I’ve discussed for a number of years in other fora, is that we are in a state where science has greater potential benefits, but greater potential downsides. And indeed, in our evermore interconnected world, there’s a genuine risk of global catastrophes, which could arise through our collective actions, as we’re seeing in the concerns about climate change and loss of biodiversity. But it could also arise from an engineered pandemic, for instance, which could be generated by ill-intended applications of biology.

I’m talking really here in the book about what I’m trying to do, that is to measure up how much progress we have made with how much progress could be made or is ever likely to be made

Martin Rees explains how science might save us – Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists


I want to end by reading something Bertolt Brecht wrote that I stumbled across in my twenties:

Nowadays, anyone who wishes to combat lies and ignorance and to write the truth must overcome at least five difficulties. He must have the courage to write the truth when truth is everywhere opposed; the keenness to recognize it, although it is everywhere concealed; the skill to manipulate it as a weapon; the judgement to select in whose hands it will be effective, and the cunning to spread the truth among such persons.

Great piece about John Markoff by Steven Levy

Training? What training

Training is in tatters as doctors prioritise urgent care and discharges | The BMJ

“During my last job on an acute medical unit, one of the FY1s would sit in a box room separate from the doctor’s office for three days a week and write up to 15 discharge letters a day. It’s farcical to suggest that’s rounded training.”

“Prioritising training for juniors isn’t just about having competent and confident doctors in the NHS but actually having them at all. It’s hard to feel compelled to pursue a career in the NHS after a week in which your sole learning point was how to make the ward photocopier work,” she said.

Not enough saints to go around

British politics needs more money | The Economist

Plumbers are paid well because they wade through effluent. In their own way, so do those in politics (indeed, one parliamentary candidate recalled being sent a photo of her election leaflet covered in a large human turd). Relying on public spiritedness alone to guide people into politics is as foolish as hoping goodwill will be enough to persuade someone to spend a life unblocking toilets.

In a previous paragraph

A lack of money also dilutes the quality of the politicians tasked with putting those ideas into practice. When salaries were first introduced for MPs in 1911, they amounted to £400 per year or roughly six times the average wage of the time. Now an mp earns around £84,000, just over double the average full-time wage. (The days of being able to boost pay via dodgy expense claims are long gone, too.) Meanwhile, incomes for high-flyers in professional services have exploded in the past few decades. Lawyers, bankers and even accountants now command large salaries, pulling well ahead of former fiscal peers such as doctors and politicians. The opportunity cost of a career in politics is huge for the most able.

Ends with

A lack of money leaves much of politics the preserve of those who are rich, mad, thick or saintly. Sadly for Britain’s body politic, the saints are outnumbered by the rest.

Parallels between Argentina and Britain’s inept political class

The parallels between Argentina and Britain’s inept political class – New Statesman

John Gray in the New Statesman.

The catastrophic meltdown in public finances that very nearly happened during Liz Truss’s short spell as prime minister was not the result of a one-off act of political folly. Her madcap dash for deficit-financed growth revealed Britain’s heavy dependency on global capital flows and acute vulnerability if they come to a sudden stop. Since then, UK government borrowing costs have risen. Quantitative easing after the financial crisis of 2007-08, the costs of lockdown, and energy subsidies have left colossal levels of public debt.

In effect, the British state is operating as a highly leveraged hedge fund.

It won’t end well.

This is a new civilization…

Vaclav Smil on the Need to Abandon Growth

Speaking as an old-fashioned scientist, I think the message is kind of a primitive and, again, old-fashioned message. This is a finite planet. There is a finite amount of energy. There is finite efficiency of converting it by animals and crops. And there are certain sensitivities in terms of biogeochemical cycles, which will tolerate only that much. I mean, that should be obvious to anybody who’s ever taken some kind of kindergarten biology.

Unfortunately, this is a society where nobody’s taking kindergarten biology because everybody’s studying what’s communications, writing in code, economics, business administration, liaising the state office, and things like that. This is a new civilization we have. People are totally detached from reality. If you are attached, at least a bit, to reality, all of this is common sense.

Shopping for money

What supermarkets reveal about Britain’s economy

Last year a boss in the social-care sector told a parliamentary committee that he dreads hearing that an Aldi is opening nearby, as “I know I will lose staff.”

Conspicuous Destruction

Conspicuous Destruction | Kim Phillips-Fein | The New York Review of Books

Private equity has become such a force in dermatology that job postings now emphasize when the business is “NOT private equity.”

Just like the buses

John Lanchester · Get a rabbit: Don’t trust the numbers · LRB 21 September 2023

One way of explaining how Britain got to this place is to say that we waited all this time for the worst prime minister in history, and then four came along at once.

On building for our children’s future

Arianne Shahvisi | Liable to Collapse · LRB 12 September 2023

The education secretary, Gillian Keegan, seemed both surprised and peeved that the prospect of concrete falling on children’s heads would cause so much bother. She observed that ‘schools can collapse for many reasons,’ mithered that no one had told her ‘you’ve done a fucking good job,’ and breezily tweeted: ‘most schools unaffected’. (Keir Starmer’s press team live for this kind of low hanging fruit, and were quick with the obvious riposte: ‘most beachgoers not eaten by big shark’.)

While in Susa, de Morgan oversaw the excavation of a seven-foot basalt stele inscribed with the Code of Hammurabi, the best-preserved copy of one of the world’s oldest legal texts, drawn up by the sixth Amorite king of the Old Babylonian Empire. It is now on display in the Louvre, five thousand miles (and a great many political barriers) away from the sight of modern Iranians. The code, which lists 282 provisions and their punishments, is the first recorded example of the lex talionis principle, predating the Torah’s ‘eye for an eye’. It also lays out the earliest written building regulations:

  1. If a builder build a house for someone, and does not construct it properly, and the house which he built fall in and kill its owner, then that builder shall be put to death.
  2. If it ruin goods, he shall make compensation for all that has been ruined, and inasmuch as he did not construct properly this house which he built and it fell, he shall re-erect the house from his own means.
  3. If a builder build a house for someone, even though he has not yet completed it; if then the walls seem toppling, the builder must make the walls solid from his own means.


Rishi Sunak used helicopter for trip from London to Norwich | Rishi Sunak | The Guardian

Rishi Sunak has used a helicopter to travel to and from an engagement in Norwich, a trip of little more than 100 miles, Downing Street has confirmed, in another example of the prime minister’s fondness for flying brief distances.

UWE Bristol rugby player waited five hours for ambulance, inquest hears | Bristol | The Guardian

A 20-year-old university student who died after being injured in a rugby match and acquiring an infection in hospital lay in agony on the pitch for more than five hours while she waited for an ambulance, an inquest has heard.[she had a dislocated hip]

Patients in England will be first to access seven-minute cancer treatment jab | Cancer | The Guardian

Patients in England will become the first in the world to benefit from a jab that treats cancer in seven minutes.

It is expected that the majority of these people will now get the drug via a seven-minute injection instead of intravenously, which usually takes 30 minutes to an hour.

How many months they wait to be seen, scanned or started off on treatment is not mentioned.