Marina Hyde on Dominic Cummings
Marina is always good value, but this piece on Cummings is positively Swiftian in its targeted contempt. Here’s how it begins:
Perhaps on Sunday you watched the entire nation being lectured on what constitutes fatherly responsibility by Boris Johnson, a man who won’t even say how many children he has, and leaves women to bring up an unspecified number of them. Perhaps on Monday you watched the Guardian’s Rowena Mason being lectured in journalism by Johnson, a man sacked from a newspaper for fabricating quotes from his own godfather, and who blithely discussed helping a friend to have another journalist beaten up. Perhaps today, you heard Michael Gove tell LBC he has “on occasion” driven a car to check his eyesight.
If you did see these things, I can only direct you to the slogan flyposted all over Paris during the 1968 civil unrest. “DO NOT ADJUST YOUR MIND – THERE IS A FAULT WITH REALITY.” The term “gaslighting” is much overused, but let’s break the glass on it for the events of the past few days. As for “indefensible”… well, I don’t think that word means what you thought it meant.
Anyway. I see the latest science Dominic Cummings knows more about than you is optometry. Half an hour late on Monday afternoon – like he’s Mariah Carey and not some spad in inside-out pants – the Islington-dwelling humanities graduate took to Downing Street’s rose garden. There, he delivered the most preposterous address to a nation since Tiger Woods stood in front of an audience, including his mother, and apologised to his wife and sponsors. The difference is that Woods had a problem with cocktail waitresses, while Cummings fucks entire public health messages in the middle of a deadly pandemic. Also, he’s not remotely sorry.
It gets better. And it’s both funny and serious.
We need writers like this.
MOOCs: the greatest comeback since Lazarus
Remember MOOCs (Massive Online Courses) — the new thing that was going to change Higher Education and make it affordable for all. They were the coming thing for a while, and then reality intervened. It turned out that learning remotely on your own was hard. Although many of the courses were good — some even world-beating — the dropout rates were high, especially on the ‘free’ ones. (Paid-for ones did better in that respect). So it looked as though the fizz had gone out of the industry. Students (or their parents) continued to pay absurd fees for the privilege of being with lots of other peers on campuses.
And then came the Coronavirus, and all those kids were sent home and told that they would have to study and be taught online. (No mention was made about reducing fees, though.)
So, suddenly, the idea of MOOCs doesn’t look so daft. Most universities are struggling with going online, which is hardly surprising, since they weren’t set up to do this kind of thing. According to a Guardian report, in the UK
Only around 20 universities are in a good position to provide a range of high-quality online courses by the start of the new academic year in September, according to Prof Sir Tim O’Shea, the former vice-chancellor of Edinburgh University. Some of the country’s top-ranked Russell Group institutions, including Oxford and Cambridge, were not in that category, he added.
The warning comes as the sector seeks to expand online education in a bid to offset huge losses from tens of thousands of international students cancelling their studies due to Covid-19. Prolonged social distancing also mean freshers could face a radically different university experience, with no lectures on campus and bars closed.
Most universities would face costs of at least £10m to create five or six new online degrees in different faculties, said O’Shea, a leading expert on computer-based learning. This would total well over £1bn across the sector.
The costs will add to the financial pressures facing universities, with a report from the University and College Union (UCU) forecasting that the sector could lose around £2.5bn next year in tuition fees alone if the pandemic continues.
But now the MOOC-providers like Coursera, Udacity and edX have a new spring in their step, according to the New York Times. Partly that’s due to the shock of the virus and the fear that people returning to work may need to acquire a new skillset to be employable in a post-pandemic world. And it’s partly due to the fact that the companies have pivoted towards skills-focused courses that match student demand and recruitment trends. “Our main goal is to solve learning, not the skills problem,” said the CEO of edX. “Though frankly, that’s where the money is.”
So they’re following the money. And learning as they go. The MOOC is dead, long live the MOOC.
Turns out Cummings believes in retrospective forecasting only
Wonderful Wired report.
At the press conference he was forced to give in order to try and defuse the public controversy over his violations of lockdown regulations, Cummings said: “Last year I wrote — i.e. blogged — about the possible threat of coronaviruses and the urgent need for planning.”
For a supposedly intelligent guy, this was a very stupid thing to claim. It was quickly disproven by evidence showing he added sections on this to his blog just last month, straight after leaving his illegal Durham retreat. What he omitted to notice was that the Internet never forgets. Probably he’d never heard of the Wayback Machine, a wonderful Internet utility that happens to archive his blog.
The Wayback Machine shows that Cummings added two paragraphs about Ebola and SARS to a post on his blog between April 9 and May 3.
However, another open source intelligence (OSINT) tool – and a tantalising trail of digital breadcrumbs – narrows down the data even further. XML data, generated when a page is changed, indicates that the change was made on 14 April, the day Cummings returned to London from Durham. Presented with the evidence, Downing Street sources have been forced to partially backtrack on Cummings’ claims about the blog posts, saying that, while the post did not directly mention coronaviruses, it linked to an article that did.
What’s particularly delicious about this revelation is that Cummings is forever going on about his admiration for so-called “superforecasters” like Philip Tetlock. It’s now clear that the only way Cummings can join this elite band is by adjusting the record to make himself look smarter than he is.
(Interestingly, the new edit was made at 20:55 on the 14th.)
There’s only one word for this: pathetic.
And that’s enough Cummings for one day — except perhaps in the Diary.
Quarantine diary — Day 67
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