#DrowningInPlastic fails to address economics or human needs

I watched Liz Bonnin’s Drowning in Plastic documentary as I have heard plenty, through headlines and punditry, about how evil and disgusting plastic is and how it must be banned. I was sceptical that plastic could be as bad as depicted and wanted to listen in a bit more depth.

Like most I found the various depictions the impact to sea life disgusting and saddening. One bird, for example, had eaten its weight in plastic which had become stuck in its stomach and it was unable to fly to hunt. Seals had vicious cuts to their necks and majestic whales were entangled with an ungainly mess of ropes.

Consistently, however, the economics of the situation for humans were missed. The most thorough coverage of the impact on humans came very late in the program where organised fishermen from Cape Code were permitted a voice but only alongside coverage of their own efforts to solve the problem themselves. This was all very thin and was arranged very late into the program. This was not a a case of plastic being put on trial, it was an emotional and largely one-sided tirade.

There was nodding coverage of the fact that plastic sachets in the remote Philippines had enabled a dramatic improvement in the local people’s way of life. Later in the program Bonnin emerged from the sea frustrated holding a clutch of the sachets in hand. That fact the sachets were revolutionary for humans was not reintroduced. Nor was it noted that the sachets, a very irksome part of the problem for Bonnin, seemed to be a problem exclusively in non-western non capitalist societies where, as a consequence, dirt and flies were prolific. In fact, of the problems discussed, only that of lobster fishing was associated with a developed western economy.

When Bonnin did try to describe the arrangements in depth she failed to pick up on interesting questions.  In one broad stretch of river floating plastic had formed a dirty boom across its width. We were shown how locals in long shallow boats bent on their knees to pick valuable plastic from the water for recycling. We were also shown that the plastic came from impoverished rural communities who were throwing plastic in heaps down river banks. What was not explained is why the two groups had not managed to connect themselves together. If plastic is so valuable that people will bend over the side of a boat to filter it out, then why can they not organise themselves to do that on land? What barriers exist between these peoples?

When Bonnin went to visit entrepreneurs working to solve the various problems she was similarly shallow in her economic questioning. For example, she showed a frankly amazing floating device in a Canadian harbour. It was powered by the flow of water, supplemented by solar energy. It was able to pick tons of plastic from the water in a day. It was, apparently, far too expensive for many “local authorities” to afford. You won’t be surprised to learn that there was no mention of tax payers at this point or their competing needs, but there was also zero discussion of whether this plastic recovery could actually be profitable.

Likewise, the amazing edible sea weed packaging material was described as having great potential with great interest from corporations. You would not catch me eating it, but it was still an impressive product. Bonnin omitted any discussion about the challenges the seaweed entrepreneur faced commercially, therefore stifling any efforts her impassioned audience might exert to solve those specific problems. Instead, we were told there was some lingering concern about the impact of seaweed farming. Facepalm!

There was some other discussion, finally, very late in the program of an island community organising to profit from sea borne plastics. But the fact is that Bonnin consistently failed to pick up on interesting economic questions, failed to interview entrepreneurs in any real depth on economic issues and in doing so offered little to support the audience in coming to a balanced view.

Predictably the #DrowningInPlastic hashtag is drowning in emotive calls to action to ban plastic and save the cute animals. It is as if we have forgotten what it is that makes our lives possible, and the role of plastic products in making human beings comfortable.

It Is Up To Libertarians To Make the Case for Freedom

Last week we have seen the true scale of Labour’s left wing agenda. If you take a step outside of your front door and listen carefully, you can almost hear the sound of the Overton window shifting in an alarming direction. For good reason news pundits have started talking about a ‘battle of ideas.’ Just some of the policies that Jeremy Corbyn and his allies seek to impose include; renationalising the railways, creating thousands of ‘green’ jobs and thirty hours of free childcare for struggling families.

I remember reading through the Labour party manifesto for the 2016 general election and thinking to myself “this isn’t really that radical.” But this time is different. At the heart of the Labour party’s new approach is the understanding that capitalism has failed and it’s time for something new.

The 2010s have been a decade of important political landmarks. The 2018 Labour conference could well be one of them. We must not forget that unlike many previous Labour party leaders Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnel are committed socialists. Although I enjoy reading his articles, I disagree with journalist Paul Mason when he says “this is probably the furthest left Labour will go.” In my view we will not really see the Corbyn-McDonnel axis go full radical until their second term.

If there is one thing you can count on in these turbulent times it is that the Conservative party will offer absolutely nothing to stem the tide of big statist politics. As will be amply displayed at the Conservative party conference this week the Tories will be discussing little else besides Brexit. To be fair to Theresa May, like David Cameron before her she has never really been a ‘big vision’ kind of politician. So it is rather silly of us to expect her to come out with some inspiring raise on detra at this stage.

It would appear that the real battle of ideas then is taking place between the socialist left and a chauvinist populist right. To address this there have been frantic calls on the Conservative fringes for some kind of unifying message. But here is an inherent weakness for the Tories.  Unlike the Labour party which has a large activist membership that can inject some life into party policy. The Conservative party is a slick election winning machine. It is run in a very top down way and is almost engineered to stop party radicals from rising up through the ranks. This is great in times when the status quo prevails. Yet, when demand for radical change begins bubbling the Conservatives struggle to adapt. Harold Macmillain’s government in the 1950s springs to mind.

It is clear (at least to me anyway) that one of the real casualties of this new political alignment will be liberalism. There is little evidence to suggest that the Conservative party will remain the supposed party of free enterprise. In fact, any inclination Conservative firebrands have to champion individual freedom will be diluted by their need to placate the chauvinist current that has gripped most western democracies  even if the UK doesn’t go full Donald Trump.

We must also remember that age has become a defining feature of our political landscape. The Tories are increasingly the party of the old, and Labour the party of the young.  This drastically limits any room the Conservatives may have to experiment with ideas because they will always need to bear in mind that their core voters are almost all over 50.

One thing that I genuinely believe political commentators have gotten wrong recently is the emphasis they place on capitalism being out of fashion. On the face of it this makes sense. The radical left and the alt-right share much common ground here. However, I feel that it would be more accurate to say that a large numbers of people are frustrated at the twin pressures of being torn apart by cultural and economic whirlwind while the political system remains in a grim stasis.

The challenges that we currently face as a society are substantial and they are getting worse. Wages have remained stagnant in Britain since the 2008 financial crash while inflation quietly bites,  getting on in life an moving up the career ladder have become extremely difficult and we are currently living through a cultural maelstrom (for the better in my opinion…mostly). If we consider that these are the challenges we face now seem insurmountable, there will be scant little political bandwidth to deal with the immense tests the next few decades will introduce.

To my mind capitalism is not the common denominator here. The overriding theme is control. I don’t think that handing powers over to an enormous interventionist state project will help alleviate these tensions. In fact I think such an endeavor will make social tensions more acute. If we want to remedy these issues in the long run it makes sense to give people the means to confidently run their own lives.

We saw a brief glimpse of this (believe it or not) at the Labour party conference. One of their most popular policy areas has been the promise to give more powers to local authorities to solve issues that really matter to local people. Even right wing pundits were impressed by this initiative.

One thing I have observed since I became a libertarian several years ago is the varying degrees to which people are happy to let others fly the freedom flag for them. I have come across many individuals who are happy to vote for the Conservative party in the hope they somehow remember that they are supposed to be a pro-capitalist party. Thankfully seem to have rejected the notion that somehow UKIP and the far-right are allies to the libertarian cause.

But one thing that I hope freedom lovers across the country realize this week it is that if we want to stand for free enterprise and individualism, we will have to do it alone. Nobody else can be bothered to make a coherent argument for individual liberty. The battle of ideas is here and we are going to have to stick up for ourselves.

End public funding of science

There are probably few careers which have been so romanticised by the entertainment industry as that of scientists. Wild haired avuncular lunatics in white coats work ceaselessly to prevent the destruction of the earth by asteroids, virii or the occasional zombie outbreak, or tirelessly spend long hours in spotless labs finding cures for every disease imaginable. They all have one thing in common; an altruistic and self-sacrificing drive for solving problems for the collective good. Their results are their own rewards.

Many postgraduate students experience a similar feeling of moral purpose. After all, it is a field where hard work returns results, and there is satisfaction in understanding how the world around us works in every minute detail. An advancement in a field, if strictly verified and repeated by the shared language of the scientific method, is a permanent achievement even if not entirely correct.

Now, if you were in Darwin’s shoes, backed by an ample family fortune and a very patient wife, you would be free to pursue your passion for science over the course of decades before finally publishing the Origin of Species. The immediate economic benefits of his work can be argued, but at the time there were few applications which would result in tangible financial gain compared to the work of Edison and Tesla, whose work was driven directly by investors who expected real products in return for their support. For Darwin, the fruits of his labour was more on a personal satisfaction level rather than financial gain.

The main problem with academia today is the primary goal of scientific investigation is something different from the Teslas and Darwins of previous years. The central theme of modern science is funding. Without it, nothing can or will be done. A researcher will receive funding by convincing a board of more senior scientists that her work is important. The primary way to prove your value is through your publications. Essentially, a project is started with a publication in mind. Often, this is already drafted out before experiments even begin, and as results come in, conclusions are updated and a target journal is decided. The choice of journal is also critical; a publication in a journal which is by consensus deemed to be high level, for instance Nature or Science, is considered to have higher impact than articles in other journals. You would maybe need several articles in lower impact journals to equal one article in Nature. When a journal is agreed on, then the authors must carefully select reviewers from their peers. The combined impact of all your publications will then strongly influence your ability to draw in funding from the granting authority.

Academic institutes will be more inclined to host scientists who receive ample funding, thereby improving their standing and also getting a substantial cut of the grant money. Successful researchers will be able to hire more PhD students to labor nights and weekends in order to produce more publications, and the carousel spins on. The science Ponzi scheme rolls on until all funds are spent.

It should come as no great surprise that this system of artificial success and consensus policy creates plenty of opportunities for abuse. Since the most important goal of a publication is to be published, there is a temptation for researchers to exaggerate their findings and downplay drawbacks of their methodology. After all, if their professional career relies on their work being recognised, who can blame them? Even worse, data is sometimes found to be false and unrepeatable, figures manipulated and conclusions misleading. In 2016, over 650 published articles were retracted either due to sloppiness or fraud. It is, for obvious reasons, difficult to estimate the degree of fraud in publications, and even more difficult to distinguish human error from a conscious attempt to mislead. However, a recent study of roughly 20,000 papers revealed that 3.8% of them contain images that were either duplicated or manipulated. Since these cases only comprise a small subset of the information contained in a publication, it is fairly safe to assume that the actual degree of error is much higher.

Another way to improve the chances of publication is to choose reviewers carefully based on their attitude towards you and your work. Benevolent reviewers can fast-track you to a successful publication, while reviewers who compete with you are given the power to delay, derail or even in some cases steal your work. The potential for political cabals of researchers reviewing each other is immense. Again, the currency of publications corrupts the end goal, which is to judge science solely by its end result, and not who the researcher happens to socialise at conferences with.

Alternatively, if you are not lucky enough to be involved in a network of allies, you can always create your own. In 2015, 64 papers were retracted when it was discovered that one researcher had created fake reviewers, along with emails, and in effect reviewed their own papers. At least no one can claim that intense pressure to publish stifles creativity. The discovery of similar schemes resulted  in 250 retractions in 2015, and has been been described as a trend.

These are just a few examples of how the academic system is fundamentally broken. There are without a doubt still scientists who, as Tesla did, work diligently towards advancements that would result in concrete rewards in a market economy, and there are assuredly still the Darwins who dedicate their life to their passion to understand nature and the universe. It is unlikely however that either would thrive in the academic environment of today. Darwin would not see much funding, based on his rather terse publication record, and Tesla would not have the political skill to survive in the modern cutthroat publication industry that public science has become.

Let’s do ourselves a favour and end this charade. It is a waste of both financial and human resources. It has even claimed lives, and shortened many others, all under the grand deception of ‘altruism’. In the next article, I will explain what we must do to once again shape a new golden era of science from the ashes of corruption and fraud.

Note. See Retraction Watch for continuous updates of academic fraud.

Sean Hooper

BookMarks store invasion was a gross failure of character

I was shocked to hear via Guy Herbert and Sky News that there had been an attack by right-wing thugs on a socialist bookshop in London. Socialism is an inaccurate world view and unethical political policy which promises economic utopia without an algorithm for allocating resources. When it is proceeding tolerably it undermines individual autonomy and crushes free expression, when proceeding along it’s inevitable decline it is associated with mass murder, starvation, preventable deaths, and economic collapse.

The fact that socialists advocate such destructive policies does not remove their rights. The books they are selling do not advocate for the terrible consequences of socialism, but for the unobtainable dreams they intend. They are fools, dangerous fools, but not devils.

Socialists are blind advocates of destruction on a scale I find unimaginable, despite several historical and current examples to look to. I cannot think of a worse political policy to advocate, but I still respect the rights of the bookshop owners to trade freely and exercise their free speech. In fact, as a literal marketplace of literary content book shops are places worthy of deep respect.

Who was it that organised this store invasion? Who could go that low? What is a devil, or a fool?

I know that the person leading the group that day was Luke Nash-Jones. I do not yet know if he is a devil, I trust he is a fool.

After a morning defending the free speech rights of Alex Jones, conspiracy theorist, Luke Nash-Jones lead, or perhaps followed, his protest group into the BookMarks bookshop. He says on a video that he met a bloke in a Trump mask in a pub. The guy was refused service. Other “third parties” suggested pranking the nearby book store instead. He says he went in first with a cameraman to challenge the store owner on his political views, already a confrontational course of action. He says that others followed him in and caused the trouble. He does not mention in the video that the people who entered were waving his Foundation’s placards and wearing his Foundation’s hats. The most charitable interpretation here is that he inflamed a store-invasion by mistake, while attempting to act like a prat.

Nash-Jones is leader of a group formerly known as Young Britons for Liberty. I spoke at a Young Britons for Liberty event on the topic of Marketable Ethical Libertarian Policies (an early warning sign was that at that Q&A I was upstaged by excited chatter about Trump) and again under the Young Chartists name at a pro-Brexit rally where I told them Brexit would be defeated, based on electoral arithmetic if they promoted a nasty, racist post-Brexit outcome – because there is no support for that outcome. I went back to tell them again, and warned them that nasty rhetoric would easily drown out voices helping to build a positive Brexit.  At the latter of these events I noticed the shift towards Trump related imagery and populism. I have not been back.

Luke Nash-Jones’ video has condemned the things that left-wing media have read from the store invasion – that the right is on the rise and they hate free speech and that they are violent thugs. There is undoubtedly exaggeration of the events in the media (the managers account ring’s truest) but Luke’s error was to imagine himself able to control not-only the mob he gathered, but the way their ignorant impromptu actions are interpreted. Luke must apologise for taking his protest group to BookMarks.

LATER: Luke Nash-Jones apparently uttered the words “The Jihadi Has the Machete Hand Over the Englishman” to a stonily silent audience on 28th July. Devil or Fool? Hmnn…