Monday 1 June, 2020

Lighting-up time

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Let’s get rid of peer-review

Radical proposal  by Alex Danco.

Several months ago I wrote a post called Can Twitter save science? which tackled what I see is the heart of the problem: the interconnected relationship between scientific publishing and academic career advancement. If you never read that post, read it first – it’s important context for how I feel about this issue generally, and what I see are the big issues we need to fix.

Since then, something really big happened! Covid happened. And it matters to this issue for two reasons. First, universities everywhere are going to face an enormous budget crunch, all at the same time, and that could provide the coordinated crisis that prompts university libraries to all capitulate on paying expensive journal subscription fees that they can no longer afford. Capitulation like this works best when everyone stops paying all at once, but prior to Covid, it was hard to imagine what single event could possibly coordinate everyone together like this. Well, we found one.

This is a long piece about a complex topic, but it’s important. The academic journal publishing racket is just that — a racket. And peer-reviewing, is an overly-worshipped quality-control mechanism. The extraordinary torrent of Coronavirus-related research now being published and pre-published has overwhelmed the system. Maybe this crisis will lead to structural change.

The Coronavirus War Economy Will Change the World

Nick Mulder’s Foreign Policy article.

When societies shift their economies to a war footing, it doesn’t just help them survive a crisis—it alters them forever.

The resourcefulness of wartime economies offers a useful template for thinking about the broader context of the coronavirus crisis. Mounting a serious campaign to mitigate climate change demands a response so large that many of the virus response measures are just a start. Despite calls for a return to normality, it is difficult to imagine the post-pandemic world economy, whatever it looks like, as a restoration of any sort. Even if the virus subsides in several months or years from now, the larger state of exception in policymaking and collective action to which it already belongs is unlikely to end.

Twentieth-century war economies played an important role in allowing the peacetime economies that followed them to flourish. The key now will be to draw on their lessons of solidarity and inventiveness as the coronavirus confronts the 21st-century world economy with a new kind of warlike hazard.

Maureen Dowd: Think Outside the Box, Jack

Advice to the Twitter boss: throw Ttump off the platform.

You could answer the existential question of whether @realDonaldTrump even exists if he doesn’t exist on Twitter. I tweet, therefore I am. Dorsey meets Descartes.

All it would take is one sweet click to force the greatest troll in the history of the internet to meet his maker. Maybe he just disappears in an orange cloud of smoke, screaming, “I’m melllllllting.”

Do Trump — and the world — a favor and send him back into the void whence he came. And then go have some fun: Meditate and fast for days on end!

But first hire some ex-Navy Seals. And buy a bullet-proof limo. There are a lot of armed Trump-supporting nutters out there.

Sars, Ebola and Mers were near misses that led us to believe Covid-19 would pass us by too

Terrific New Statesman piece by Ian Leslie. Points out the difference between industries like airlines and nuclear power that have to take near-misses seriously.

In industries that have to be vigilant for risks of disaster, such as aviation or nuclear energy, “near misses” are treated as flashing red lights. When a plane almost misses its landing or a factory explosion is narrowly averted, investigations are made, processes revised: just because the disaster did not occur it does not mean it won’t next time.

But near misses can also breed complacency.

To learn from a near miss, Leslie says, you first have to recognise it as one. In the past 20 years,

there have been a series of viral outbreaks: Sars in 2002-03, H5N1 (bird flu) in 2006, H1N1 (swine flu) in 2009, Ebola in 2013, Mers in 2015. Each briefly threatened to become a pandemic, before subsiding. Western governments took this to mean that Covid-19 would go the same way. If Singapore, China and Taiwan were better prepared for this virus than the UK, it’s because officials there knew, in their bones, that those outbreaks might have wreaked far greater damage.

The mistake was that Western governments thought that these near-misses were because the epidemics died out. They didn’t: they were stopped by rapid and effective action.

Reading his piece, I fell to wondering if the early ‘herd immunity’ fantasies of Whitehall were based on this radical misunderstanding of these near-misses in the Far East.

Quarantine diary — Day 72


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