Richard Murgatroyd

A web site for the baffled

Some ideas and thoughts

  1. Science.  Prompted by listening to a Radio 4 (OK that's stretching "popular" a bit) drama series called Bitter Pill I'm struck by the sad but hliarious inattention to any of the reality of drug development.  Partly excused by being set 10 years in the future but it's hard to know where to start: what's the objective of a Phase 1 trial?; ever heard of blinding (OK not in Phase 1), informed consent, doctor-patient confidentiality, controlled experimentation, regulatory approvals...?  But the main point is this: if you''re going to try to tackle a subject like this, why not spend a couple of hours talking to someone who actually knows about it first?
  2. Tribalism.  Alluded to in one of Laurie Taylor’s podcasts (Ignorance, 15/7/20) where a Michael Klinsmann talks about the Apollonian (more or less rational, individual) way of thinking & deciding vs the Dionysian (group belief or tribalism). V interesting. I disagreed completely with the American Woman Lindsay though, who says a problem (more with corporations than politicians though) is deliberate affectation of ignorance e.g. over drug side effects. The problem is more as the GBS quotation at the end, with politicians affecting knowledge and certainty because of their learned self-confidence. This interestingly can be based on a strong but irrelevant education (public school e.g. Johnson) or just stupidity (Trump). The Joe Strummer quotation is relevant here. Also in Guardian book review the phenomenon is called Motivated Reasoning: How to Make the World Add Up by Tim Harford, published by Little, Brown on 17 September

    Update to this from December 2023: blimey, I can be prescient some times!   Just listen to the Today Podcast, particularly episode 13 ("Guided by the science").  This reveals how the humanities-educated, over-confident but scientific illiterates were more like Dunning-Kruger sufferers.  Johnson not being able to understand exponential growth or a graph, Hancock sacking the deputy medical adviser because she told the truth about the virus' potential infectiousness without going through the government PR (=paid lying) system.  If I'm not careful I'll end up sounding like that Dom...
  3. Lack of a God
    Religion is a largely destructive force, used as a cover for tribalism
    Religion perpetuates itself through dependence on a lack of evidence i.e. faith and on belief in purely received knowledge - neither of which may be challenged thus absenting itself from the possibility of disproof
  4. UK constitution:
    Make the House of Lords elected by proportional representation
    There are too many UK constituencies; their number should be rationalised to about a third of current
    Written  constitution. Interesting 2019 Reith lectures ( in which Jonathan Sumption refutes this but does think the party duopolies need to be broken to help increase political engagement.
  5. Gun control
    Ban guns, decriminalise drugs
    Gun control - a good idea to reduce the amount of gun crime is to have fewer guns
  6. Recreational drug use
    Prohibition of and war on recreational drug use is driven by ideology not sense, as decriminalisation and licensed medical use would remove most of the problems they cause.  See Guardian article about experience of this in Portugal:
    And some Baslers are ahead of the game on this too:
    Drug Consumption Rooms as a pragmatic measure to reduce drug deaths through overdose & sepsis:
  7. Sex education and reproduction
    Educating people about sex is more effective than trying to stop them having it i.e. catholicism has a corrosive influence - not just on this issue, of course
  8. Consensus:something which all parties accept, but which no individual does OR something to which everyone agrees but with which no-one does
  9. Inability (or refusal) to understand a cumulative probability distribution. See also Dawkins on The Tyranny of The Discontinuous Mind. Further example: the (terrible) Peter Fleming book, The Death Of Homo Economicus ("capitalism is dead")
  10. Refer also to much-attributed aphorism (mostly to Voltaire): The Perfect Is The Enemy Of The Good.
  11. Most economics is complete bollocks. See article in Wired (The dismal science is still dismal):
  12. Donald Trump is an evil, selfish, greedy, narcissistic monster who would  plunge the US and the world into conflict given half the chance. But he and his followers are too stupid or narrowly self-interested to have the insight to realise this. 
         Excerpt from a NYT article on how right-wingers justify      political violence:
    Nonetheless, it is exceptionally rare for most adults to wilfully inflict harm on other people, especially for political reasons, said Rachel Kleinfeld, a senior fellow in the democracy, conflict and governance program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
    Still, Ms. Kleinfeld said, there are ways of encouraging the average person to accept violence.
    If political aggression is set in the context of a war, she suggested, ordinary people with no prior history of violence are more likely to accept it. Political violence can also be made more palatable by couching it as defensive action against a belligerent enemy. That is particularly true if an adversary is persistently described as irredeemably evil or less than human.
    “The right, at this point, is doing all three of these things at once,” Ms. Kleinfeld said.

    Update on this:
    And now I believe it’s happening. My musings about why Trump succeeds (also fuelled by similar bemusement at these motivations in a R4 programme the following morning about The New Gurus) led me to conclude that he is a messianic figure who somehow commands belief from an aggrieved group in the US who need to believe in a saviour, regardless or even because of his outrageous lies and misdemeanours. Article in today’s Grauniad confirms my idea, also mentioning Trump’s brand of national socialism (no capitals, yet) that is also obvious to us frightened liberals.  And yesterday’s article by Simon Jenkins also contains a chilling paragraph. This is how Hitler came to power and it’s only we liberals who can see it:
    The one salutary message to liberals of all stripes is that it is dangerous in any democracy to dismiss out of hand large numbers of those with whom they disagree. They will nurse their grievances unheard in provincial haunts far from the capital until, sooner or later, they find someone to sympathise with them, someone to listen.
    I thinking if Trump wins he’ll try to seize absolute power and start a US civil war. If he loses, his supporters may start one anyway.  In essence, he's a gangster mob boss.

  13. Paul Krugman in the NYT thinks the KKK was the precursor of the currently rabid Republican Party.
  14. Teleological thinking
    Found while searching for articles on correlation between theism & belief in conspiracy theories was this obliquely related but nevertheless interesting one  on teleological thinking as part of an explanation for why some people support ludicrous beliefs. And theism is just one of them. Here’s the original research article which is really a psychological one although oddly published in a biology journal.
  15. The corrosive effect of libertarian thinking. Example from Martin Kettle in      the Grauniad 16/12/2021:
    In today’s libertarianism, Thatcher’s economic individualism has spilled over into every other form of life. In this view of the world, every power given to every public official is a step towards tyranny, all departments of the state are malign empire builders whose existence threatens fundamental liberty, and all the checks and balances of liberal democracy, such as parliament and the law, are attempts to disarm the sovereign individual. It is a view that is both paranoid, massively overstating the threat from government action while largely ignoring the benefits, and politically self-destructive, since it is almost wholly at odds with the more balanced and pragmatic way that the public sees the same issues.

    Nevertheless, this new ideological variant is proving highly transmissible on the backbenches. It is extremely infectious, and there have been several recent disturbing outbreaks. Graham Brady himself has described the UK government’s earlier lockdown measures as going “full eastern bloc”, and warned against being “pinged into the gulag”. Backbench rebel Marcus Fysh told a BBC interviewer that he opposes the requirement to wear a mask and show a Covid pass because “this is not Nazi Germany” and Britain is not “a ‘papers, please’ society”. And another rebel, Desmond Swayne, said the government’s proposals were the work of an Orwellian Ministry of Fear and claimed that the Health Protection Agency was the creation of “Stalinist minds”.

    Where does this all come from? Paranoia over Covid regulations should perhaps be seen as first cousin to the intemperate exaggerations about British victimhood – made in some cases by the same people – that were part of the Brexit arguments. Leavers claimed that membership of the European Union destroyed all national sovereignty, and reduced a free people to vassal status from which Brexit would liberate and then empower us. The reality has been more modest. Today’s claim that to show evidence of a negative lateral flow test somehow makes Britain a police state is equally removed from reality.
  16. And building on the Brexit theme here’s an article from John Harris in the Grauniad      listing 10 problems caused by it. So it’s obvious to a few more people than just me.