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:

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The SmallDataForum Interview, vol. 1: Darren Lilleker on politics and communication

After almost five years and 44 episodes of the SmallDataForum with the same old (though always fresh and sparkly) line-up of Neville, Sam and Thomas, we’re introducing one-on-one interviews as a new format, and an extension to the show.

In the first interview of this new series, Thomas talks with Darren Lilleker, professor of political communication at Bournemouth University (and Thomas’ patient, tolerant PhD supervisor).

Main themes include

  • the increasing professionalisation, personalisation and commercialisation of politics
  • the tension between “permanent campaigning” and governing in politics
  • the public’s dissatisfaction with traditional politicians
  • how charisma has replaced practical skills and competence (because legislation is boring and political entertainment is easier than day to day governance).

We weave a tangled web of themes from Thatcher to COVID and speculate that perhaps in the yin and yang of political leadership in the UK, the next Prime Minister will be rather less flamboyant.

However, Professor Lilleker is not optimistic when it comes to self-reflection in politics, and change from within: “what is needed for politics is never going to come from politicians.” The hope is that the public will demand from its political leaders the qualities required for good governance. So far, the signs are not altogether encouraging.

We offer you two ways to access the interview:

1: Watch the interview video on our new YouTube channel:

2: Listen to or download the audio podcast MP3 file:

The robber barons are at it again

Jump the shark

Thomas greets the first episode of the Small Data Forum to be “AT” – 1AT, indeed; the first recorded After Trump – with some cheer.

That said, this month’s often-passionate look at the uses and abuses of data big and small in politics, business, and public life doesn’t give us much cause for optimism that all that much has changed. In our VUCA world of multi-factorial problems, our Teutonic tipster bemoans the meaningless trend in which complexity is constantly reduced to in and out, black and white, this and that.

What is undoubtedly good news is a new format coming soon – perhaps even later this week – to @SDFPodcast: the first in a new series of interviews with interesting people.

First in the Nerf-Gun firing line is Professor Darren Lilleker from Bournemouth University, described by the BBC as “a man who watches Westminster” and by Thomas as “my doctoral supervisor”. His dissection of the state of permanent campaigning by the demagogues of modern politics will be well worth a listen.

Although it had been bubbling under for some weeks, breaking news on the morning we recorded this latest episode was that the fracas between the Australian Government and Big Tech has gotten serious.

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I predict a riot

“The masses have never thirsted after truth. They turn aside from evidence that is not to their taste, preferring to deify error, if error seduce them. Whoever can supply them with illusions is easily their master; whoever attempts to destroy their illusions is always their victim.” (Gustave Le Bon, The Crowd, p. 64)

What would Monsieur le Professeur Le Bon make of the fact that his 1895 masterpiece The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind is as timely and relevant today as it was then?

Written under the influence of his experience of the Paris Commune, the civil war between Paris and the rest of France which killed thousands and saw the burning of Tuileries Palace on 25th May 1871, some 150 years before the storming of the Capitol on 6th January 2021 (see this remarkable report from the Guardian archive), he was wary of “our savage destructive instincts” and the “cowardly ferocity” of crowds.

He should have come and watched a match at the New Den pre-lockdown.

Revolt in Paris

Of course, the first SDF convention of 2021 (the sixth year of our chatventure, no less) on Friday 15th – still a Zoom affair, plus ça change – had a lot to say about that Capitol offence from nine days earlier.

And about the latest zigzagging from the government of Plague Island (thanks Sam), about trust in general and the Trust Barometer in particular – with differing opinions, though less so than on the topic of whether and how, or not, The Platforms are publishers. More of that later.

On the matter of trust and the government, Sam sets the scene with a pop-cultural reference – though it’s neither The Kaiser Chiefs, nor The Communards, but rather his go-to repository for such matters, Marillion’s Fish, who in State of Mind proclaims “I don’t trust the government, I don’t trust alternatives. It’s not that I’m paranoid, it’s just that’s the way it is.”

Ah yes, fish. Happy fish. Again, more of that later.

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2020: Caught in the Gaslights

“Are you trying to tell me I’m insane?” asks Ingrid Bergman’s character Paula of her husband Gregory (Charles Boyer) in George Cukor’s 1944 film noir classic, Gaslight. To which he responds “Now, perhaps you will understand why I cannot let you meet people.”

An emotional manipulation which makes the target doubt their own memory, perception or judgment, gaslighting is a very real and serious form of domestic abuse – and as such has been exacerbated through the periods of lockdown, like all forms of abuse.

It has also become something of a media buzzword, so it is no surprise to see it being liberally appropriated (to avoid for once the martial imagery of ‘weaponized’) for political purpose on all our favourite fronts, from Brexit (for and against) to COVID and Trump (in liberal propaganda outlet Stylist(!), as well as The Independent, Forbes , Washington Post, to name but a few).

Gaslighting

The SmallDataForum’s fifth Xmas special was, of course, a socially responsible, zoomy affair – with the three of us in our respective WFH HQs, rather than sat around a table in our favourite Italian restaurant, Ristorante Olivelli by the Old Vic in South London, feasting on fine Italian foods and beverages, and recording to the clattering chattering sound of a busy lunchtime service (and afterwards testing Neville’s thankfully advanced audio editing skills).

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