Winnowing, 12 April 2021

by reestheskin on 12/04/2021

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Not exactly a bad idea

Steven Johnson &Evgeny Morozov Debate Social Media | The New Republic

Where good ideas come from still remains a mystery; where lucrative ideas come from everybody knows. It’s surprising that it has taken Johnson so long to discover one such lucrative idea in “the Internet.”

Evgeny Morozov (note: this quote is not a fair summary of the exchange).

On too much lurning

I find the concept of over-education repellent and was disappointed the Office for National Statistics used the word in the title of one of its reports. My starting point is that we are all under-educated. There is always more to learn and more to try to understand. The value of education goes beyond economic returns — though there are legitimate questions about the best use of public money. Moreover, it matters whether graduates and indeed non-graduates are unhappy in their work, something that touches on deeper issues of human fulfilment and flourishing.

David Willetts.Link

Same old NHS

Underfunded but ‘fabulously well organised’: a hospital trust chief on the NHS

An interview with Prof Marcel Levi, who is returning to the Netherlands. He doesn’t like the PFI swindle either.

Given this failure to give the NHS the money it needs, does he think successive governments, despite professing endless gratitude and appreciation of the service, have not valued it highly enough? He nods. “Politicians feel very positively about the NHS and speak very highly about what it’s doing. But then the Treasury comes in and looks at it from another angle.”

While the NHS is a beacon of universal access to healthcare and widespread public support, it has its flaws, Levi adds. “The NHS is a bit inward-looking. If I say to people ‘have you seen what’s happening [in health] in France or Germany?’ they say ‘we have no idea’. Also, if you meet an NHS executive they usually start the conversation by saying, ‘I’ve been in the NHS for 30 years or 40 years.’ But I think to myself silently, well maybe it’s time to move on then. There is not a lot of influx from new people with fresh ideas into the NHS.”

Scotland is even worse. His comments remind me of what Henry Miller wrote about NHS hospitals half a century ago.

The internet as a distributed con-artist

Liars, by Cass Sunstein, published by OUP was reviewed in the Economist. Some quotes below.

The remedy for false speech is not a ban, but promoting more speech—“counterspeech” as Mr Sunstein puts it—in the confidence that the truth will win out.

That principle is no longer as convincing as it once seemed. Mr Sunstein summarises decades of psychological research showing that people embrace congenial lies rather than difficult truths, and cling to them more firmly when confronted with contradictory evidence. Flashy whoppers spread faster than complex facts, and are remembered even after being debunked.

But what never ceases to amaze me is how others got there first using language that elevates my spirit (quoted in the article).

“Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it; so that when Men come to be undeceiv’d, it is too late,” as Jonathan Swift concluded three centuries ago, even without double-blind experiments.

We learn that

America’s courts maintain that the First Amendment gives citizens a right to lie—unless they are speaking to those same courts. Then it is a felony punishable by up to five years in jail.

Not just fit for falling down wells

If universities sacrifice philosophy on the altar of profit>f universities sacrifice philosophy on the altar of profit, what’s next? | Julian Baggini | Opinion | The Guardian

I knew the antique mockery that had it that Thales fell down a well because he was too busy staring at the stars and predicting eclipses, but this anecdote was new to me.

Fed up of being told that he was poor and therefore his learning was useless, he applied his analytical skills to the climate and the economy and then (bought up every olive press) in town. When the bumper olive harvest came, as he had foreseen, the presses were in huge demand, he had a monopoly and made a killing. Thales pulled off this stunt not to earn money but to prove a point. Someone of his intellect and ability could devote themselves to getting rich if they wanted. But he valued wisdom and learning more. His lack of wealth did not reveal a personal flaw but a justified choice about what he held most dear.

Well, I guess if not enterable for the REF at least he could tick the impact box.

 The audit society

Onora O’Neill

“What we have tended to do in the last 40 years is to build up accountability and regulation regimes,” O’Neill tells Times Higher Education, “and we haven’t always done it very intelligently. I would say that’s particularly evident in higher education. We thought it was a terrible thing that universities spent a lot of public money and maybe were not doing it well enough, so let’s hold them to account more, and equally individual academics. And then in many fields we went for metrics, which sound wonderful but create perverse incentives… I think it is problematic when all universities are looking over their shoulders at their scores on [various] metrics.”

A charnel house

Pluralistic: 23 Mar 2021 – Pluralistic: Daily links from Cory Doctorow

In 2017, at 72 people were burned alive when London’s Grenfell Tower went up in flames. It had been skinned in highly flammable “decorative cladding” to make it less of an eyesore for rich people in nearby blocks of luxury flats.

That charnel house was the opening act on a years-long odyssey of cruelty that just reached a new climax in Parliament, as Tory MPs ensured that working people – not landlords, developers or manufacturers – would fit the bill for removing cladding from their homes.

Kensington Council found a way to realise its twin goals of discouraging poor people from living in the borough and doing the absolute least to satisfy its legal obligations: it had the Grenfell survivors bid against their neighbours for homes.