Tuesday 9 June, 2020

The bee-loud glade

In our garden, this afternoon.

The inside story of the Dyson electric car that wasn’t

This detailed account in Autocar of James Dyson’s project (eventually abandoned) to design and build an electric car is riveting. He allegedly blew £2.5B of his own money on it. The project was abandoned when he concluded it would be impossible to make money, even on a car costing £150,000. But it had a 600-mile range, which meant that for their £150k owners wouldn’t be much bothered by battery range. And it was clearly aimed at the top end of the Chinese market. Lots of fascinating detail in the piece if — like me — you are interested in design, including the case for very large-diameter wheels. But the bit I like best comes at the end:

When a billionaire builds a car that carries his own name, one question rises above all others: what cars do you already own? It turns out that, following “a Ferrari period which I greatly enjoyed” and aside from “a small collection of Land Rovers”, Sir James Dyson’s favourite car is his 1970s Citroën SM – which, interestingly, is a long car with long-wheelbase, interconnected suspension that rides on big wheels, rather like his Hullavington creations.

“It was designed in the late 1960s,” Dyson says, “and what with the wonderful shape, the suspension and the swivelling headlights, it was incredibly futuristic. We have sleeping policemen to slow the traffic on several of our roads at Hullavington but you can take them at 50mph in the Citroën and hardly feel a thing. Mind you, there are some things about it that are very old-fashioned indeed. One is that its V6 engine produces a really wonderful throaty roar. Another is that it hardly ever starts first time…”

Full disclosure: I was a petrolhead once. And I thought the Citroen DS19 (an earlier model than the SM) was one of the most beautiful cars ever made.

Contact-tracing apps: the current list

Useful list and summary by Techcrunch.

Intellectual sectarianism within epidemiology

In his discussion of the science of COVID-19, the philosopher of medicine Jonathan Fuller recently wrote of two sects within epidemiology: public health epidemiologists who use diverse sources of data, and more skeptical clinical epidemiologists who privilege “gold standard” evidence. If we are to be successful in treating COVID-19, Fuller argued, then we need to blend the insights of each camp.

But for leading epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch, this “bothsidesism” misdiagnoses the debate, which is more about the philosophy of action than the philosophy of evidence. The field is at its best when it synthesizes diverse methods, approaches, and forms of evidence from many branches of science—not when it believes that no evidence is not quite good enough. “Of course more data the better,” he writes. But the coronavirus pandemic requires urgent decisions “that must be made with the evidence we’ve got.”

I particularly like this passage in Lipsitch’s essay:

Fuller sees in the contrast two “competing philosophies” of scientific practice. One, he says, is characteristic of public health epidemiologists like me, who are “methodologically liberal and pragmatic” and use models and diverse sources of data. The other, he explains, is characteristic of clinical epidemiologists like Stanford’s John Ioannidis, who draw on a tradition of skepticism about medical interventions in the literature of what has been known since the 1980s as “evidence-based medicine,” privilege “gold standard” evidence from randomized controlled trials (as opposed to mere “data”), and counsel inaction until a certain ideal form of evidence—Evidence with a capital E—justifies intervening.

I keep coming back to the BS about the inefficacy of face masks allegedly justified by the absence of ‘gold-standard’ evidence with which we were routinely regaled to in the early months of the Covid outbreak in the UK.

Quarantine diary — Day 80


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