To vaccinate or not to vaccinate – or, when Uschi met Jezza

From our very own version of Numberwang, to utilitarianism, the precautionary principle, the Plague of Athens 430 BC, to Gartner’s latest tech trends, the SmallDataForum serves up another mixed bag of goodies and smarties.

I kick off by offering a selection of ciphers for our very own SmallDataForum Numberwang from:

We delve straight into the EU’s vaccination mess and while Sam doesn’t say whether “the EU lost its mind” (we know the answer to that), he explores the philosophical battle behind the politics and imagining himself as an agitated agitating mainland European, “waving a picture of Jeremy Bentham and ripping up the precautionary principle”.

Neville agrees and shares his frustration, as a Remainer, with the federalist club on the mainland, especially EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s “bureaucratic BS words” in defending the precautionary principle over a more pragmatic – and most likely live-saving – utilitarianism.

“This is not about the science, this is about perception, it’s about what people feel”, he reminds us, and refers to the excellent analysis in Slate Magazine by Professor of Public Policy and Women’s Studies,  Shobita Parthasarathy: “It’s about public trust, and scared citizens cannot be easily convinced by expertise that feels remote.”

At times it feels as if the pharma firms and the media are playing their own tone-deaf Numberwang, from Astra-Zeneca’s efficacy this, to Pfizer storage temperature that, and BioNTech adverse events the other. I assume we’ll be seeing Vaccine Top Trumps card sets soon, alongside Panini Vaccine sticker books perhaps.

Not to trivialise any of the medico-scientific aspects of this, but there is such a thing as counterproductivity of public health information, especially in our hyper-politicised spheres. Sam points to “the good Lord David Spiegelhalter”, who provides ever clear and sober advice to “resist drawing causal links between events where none may exist.”

There is a problem with ignorance, but not the politically loaded, culture war weaponised finger-pointing kind. It’s just that too many people “don’t understand the science” as Sam laments.

Add to that the growing distrust in institutions in our age of never-ending outrage, Neville says (and the good Lord Spiegelhalter concurs and points to consequences: “Confidence can shatter like glass and be hard to remake”). Sam is quick to add that “demagoguery was always there”, taking us all the way back to The Plague of Athens in 430BC. Trust our resident Classicist to never miss a chance to flaunt his Thucydides.

From Numberwang to BS bingo, we touch on Andrew Wakefield’s anti-vax infamy, the disproportionality between the rewiring and redecoration costs of Nos. 9 to 11 Downing Street, not to mention “Global Britain’s” boosted battle budget, and the risible real-term salary rise of 0.1% for NHS staff, all the way to Baroness Dido “nobody could have possibly predicted the virus mutate” Harding.

And that’s barely scratching the surface of a seemingly never-ending flow of British COVID grifter stories (here here and here). That and so much more: so maybe Adam Curtis has it all right with the dark forces after all.

It certainly seems as if competent, sensible leadership is in short supply on all levels, from Clapham Common vigil policing, all the way to global public health. Whatever happened to “the greatest happiness of the greatest number”?

Neville, forever the tech optimist, points to some of Gartner’s big tech trends, not least the “augmented consumer”. It’s all a matter of perspective as I see an optimisation of consuming, whereas Neville chooses to focus on data power for better consumer decision-making. For their part, Cision and Brandwatch won’t mind either way – just as long as their now combined analytics engine will power the process.  

And finally, just a couple of hours after recording, I got my first jab, and can happily report that Neville’s doom-mongering re needle size was just another case of out-of-control outrage (hehe): I could hardly feel a thing and am merely a little groggy the day after.

Bring on jab two, and – finally – that SDF outing to Spain!

Listen to Episode 45:

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