What is Conservatism? The Kronenbourg Question

Shortly after the 2016 Brexit Referendum, we were accosted in our local pub by an acquaintance who testily demanded “why are you drinking that [foreign beer] Kronenbourg now we’ve had Brexit? You should be drinking [British] Fullers!” A trivial question? Mistaken? We don’t think so. Because we think it goes to the very heart of what it means to be a Conservative, and to the present troubles of our Prime Minister.

One honourable tradition in Conservatism is that the greatest good lies in belonging, usually to a nation and its particular culture. Symbols are indeed important. In England these include the Monarchy, Cricket, village greens-and what the English call Real Ale, such as Fullers. All are admirable, and all contribute to that sense of continuity which is such a vital national cement. [Overseas readers will be able to think of their own immediately] You tamper with these things at your peril, as Edmund Burke so rightly knew.

The other, equally honourable, is free markets. Low taxes and individual freedom are its nirvana. So trading goods and services freely across the widest area is the surest way to achieve general advance and prosperity. It’s been pretty well proved to work in practice. The alternatives have been truly cruel and inefficient. But of course it tends to wash away all that is local and particular, replacing them with a crude meritocracy of world brands. Like Kronenbourg. Microsoft. And McDonalds.

Which brings us back to that night in the pub. Should I be free to choose Kronenbourg? Or will its existence threaten the livelihood and traditions of thousands of British workers? Will choosing Fullers make me more British, or just more English? And anyway, it’s now owned by a Japanese company. As for Kronenbourg, some of it is brewed in the UK- but where do all those hops and barley come from? You could Google the answer on your I-phone, but where was that made-and who wrote the programmes that run it? Where? If we start restricting the movement of goods and people for the National Good, have we not opened the door to other interventions like raising taxes to the same end?

Boris Johnson’s real sorrows stem from the fact that he is presiding over a party and a country which has not truly answered these two questions. Nor have the Right and Conservatives in general. Until they do, the outcome will be incoherence and confusion on all sides, and an open goal to the Left. If they are clever enough to see it.

#boris johnson #free markets #conservatism #hayek # margaret thatcher #edmund burke #tradition #tax cuts #keir starmer #labour party #conservative party

A Big Thank you, and apologies for a temporary Silence

Thanks to all readers and contributors home and abroad, who are now becoming too numerous to mention by name. Starting from today the Editorial Board will be entering into an intense period of work which will carry us far from the old computer. We’ll be passing briefly through Washington*, engaged in extensive horticulture and participating in retail business at the highest level. Meanwhile all our staff-transport, HR, finance, security, IT, engineering, catering, cleaning and property services, and all the others whose names and roles we have forgotten, but you see them in the lifts and that, have been granted the weekend off to celebrate Her Majesty’s Jubilee in the proper feudal spirit. Which means no Cocktail Night, no Round-Up and no other posts and blogs and links which you have all come to love so much

So whatever you are doing and wheresoever you may be enjoy a happy weekend and we look forward to being back next week


*and many other places on the A24 such as Horsham and Dorking

The Dunning-Kruger Effect, or why you’re not so clever as you think you are

Around 1999 two psychologists called David Dunning and Justin Kruger did some pretty solid empirical studies. They found that people in the early stages of learning things quickly acquired a massive over-confidence. They rapidly overestimated their performance, hopelessly exaggerated their knowledge and proceeded to all all kinds of blunders in both fact and reason. Only by long dedication to a discipline did the provisional nature of their learning become apparent, and the humility to distinguish between conjecture and fact.

All pretty human, you might say. We’ve known about it for centuries. “if you want to know the answer to anything, ask a teenager” as the wise adage goes. You have to be really immature to possess cocksure certainty, and that over a wide range of subjects. So why does the Dunning Kruger effect[1] matter? Firstly because it is the beginning of good empirical evidence for what was previously supposition. And secondly because of journalists.

Journalists? The trouble is that journalists, and the proprietors they obey, are responsible for about 90% of the information we use, particularly in rather important areas like health and public affairs. In a typical day, a working journalist may have to master two or three new things, and then try to explain them to the public. And at the same time accede in all respects to the political and personal belief systems of the editors and newspaper owners who pay their salaries. The potential damage which this can afford was nowhere more clearly shown than in the MMR controversy of the 2000s when large sections of the UK press completely misunderstood and misrepresented scientific and medical findings to the immense detriment of all,

We leave the details to Dr Ben Goldacre who in his masterful Bad Science [1] describes the whole sorry affair, from his point of view in the epicentre. He is surprisingly fair, seeing poor Dr Wakefield more as victim and fall guy as much as anything else. His real ire is reserved for journalists who decided that they knew more about science than the scientists, journalists who believed they (or their owners) were the keepers of the flame of public morality. The Dunning Kruger effect indeed. MMR has passed now. But the same people and papers have gone on to mislead on many weightier matters. They have a right to speak of course; but we have a duty to make sure they speak responsibly from now on. The margin for error has almost disappeared.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect

[2] Ben Goldacre Bad Science Harper Collins 2008 see especially chapter 15

#mmr #dr andrew wakefield #media ownership #press bias

Real Hope on Fusion

We break our Tuesday silence to offer our readers genuine hope. One of the best ways to finally deal with global warming would be to finally develop nuclear fusion. That crashing-together of protons which could unleash unlimited cheap, clean energy. So for all you parents and grandparents, today is a simple showcase from Bostam Videmsjek of CNN.[1] It’s not just because it sums up the latest progress rather well. There’s also an easy to read guide as to what nuclear fusion is, and how it differs from the rather dangerous fission reactors which we have been using up until now. If it works, your kids will have a great future.

Once again it illustrates a deeper point. Real hope, real progress comes when educated intelligent people solve technical problems. You can wave all the flags and sing all the songs you like. But only Science is the Real Deal.

we thank Mr Gary Herbert of Buckinghamshire for this story


#fusion #fission #global warming #energy #climate change

Platinum Jubilee: Should the UK Abolish its Monarchy?

Foreign readers may be less aware, but this weekend, the UK will be devoting a great deal of time and energy to celebrating a Platinum Jubilee-a series of ceremonies designed to commemorate 70 years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. Amid the lavish pomp and parties, there will be calls for the abolition of this institution, and its replacement with a Republic. Are these calls justified?

On the face of it, the case for a Republic is a slam dunk. You don’t get hereditary airline pilots, doctors, garage hands, Prime Ministers, Chief Executives or any other job. So why have a hereditary head of state? The unique selling point of Capitalism was its meritocratic promise-anyone could rise to the very top. It’s hard to reconcile that with hereditary monarchy.

At this point our old friend Dave Watford from the Dog and Duck always pops up to say “The Monarchy is what makes us what we are, dunnit ?” But that is only like football teams, and their supporters using the colours of their shirts to say who they are, and not. A simple colour can say nothing about the better governance of the state, or what constitutes the good life.

But think more carefully about Dave, for he has a right to be heard. Dave is English. And, as most English people see it, England suffers from two deep and abiding traumas. The first is loss of status. Within living memory (certainly that of Queen Elizabeth) England was the epicentre of a world Empire of unparalleled size and power. Now it struggles to keep the allegiance of even its most local possessions such as Scotland. The second is a terror of immigration, which has been far larger than in the other countries of the union. Clever people may seek to explain and dismiss both. But to live among the English is to know these feelings are primal, and cannot be lightly dismissed.

To kind souls who seek to lower the temperature and reassure the nervous and the elderly, the Monarchy is a godsend. Particularly in the hands of an exemplary figure such as Elizabeth II, it states, loudly and clearly “we are what our parents were, and we will be always, whatever changes in the world.” A beautiful opportunity for rancorous and divisive quarrels has been removed at once, leaving space for more urgent issues. And the human need for huge common rituals and hierarchies is satisfied. Actually,it is a little bit like football, isn’t it?

Looking abroad, we can see several successful and stable constitutional monarchies even in advanced European countries such as the Netherlands-to say nothing of Japan. As for republics-well even the United States is now locked in a bitter constitutional and cultural impasse where a brutal and selfish minority is holding the rest almost literally at gunpoint. No advert there.

We at LSS think that the British Monarchy may soon be less relevant in Canada and Australia, and even possibly parts of the UK. But in England, its home turf and fons et origio, its role as stabiliser is irreplaceable. And so we support the continued rule of Elizabeth II and her heirs. There is no practicable alternative.

#queen elizabeth #uk monarchy #platinum jubilee #republic #captitalism #meritocracy hereditary #british empire #immigration

To let you read both sides further here are links to a couple of websites.one staunchly monarchist, the other Republican.



Weekly Round up: Brains, guns, Romans and Progress

intriguing issues from the last week

What makes human brains special? Obviously they are; or your cat would be reading this as well as you. We like the way Emmanuel Stamatakis and his team have borrowed from information science to try to answer this intriguing question. In the Conversation-where else?


American Guns Talking of making neural connections-what would it take to make Ted Cruz and his little friends see the connection between tighter gun controls and less massacres? Nature Briefings showcases heartfelt pleas from two of America’s finest publications-but we bet they fall on deaf ears:

Leading journal Science and magazine Scientific American have simultaneously published impassioned editorials calling for changes to gun laws in the United States.

“The science is abundantly clear,” write the editors of Scientific American. “More guns do not stop crime. Guns kill more children each year than auto accidents. More children die by gunfire in a year than on-duty police officers and active military members. Guns are a public health crisis, just like COVID, and in this, we are failing our children, over and over again.”

“Scientists should not sit on the sidelines and watch others fight this out,” argues Science editor-in-chief H. Holder Thorp. “If children do not feel safe, they cannot learn. And a country that cannot learn cannot thrive. A nation of children threatened by gun violence does not have a future.
Science | 5 min read Scientific American | 6 min read

DNA Archaeology One of the most thrilling advances of the last few decades has been molecular archaeology. The way the study of proteins and nucleic acids have given us new insights which would would have been impossible from just bones and bits of pottery. One recent example is extracting DNA from the famous Pompeii eruption in 79 AD. Here’s the BBC


Advance Australia fair Recent developments in Australia are a rare win for rational science and a rare defeat for the Murdoch Media, as Michael Mann and Malcolm Turnbull explain for the Guardian. But its got to happen in a lot of other places, and soon, if there is to be any chance of stopping climate change.


We’ll leave you with A book tip: Bad Science by Ben Goldacre. Published in 2009, its’ still a great and readable way of getting a toolkit to help you sift bad ideas from good ones.

#climate science #rupert murdoch #gun control #massacres #human evolution #dna #neurology

Friday Night Cocktails: spare a thought for the mixers

Even as we write these words, UK time, a warm Friday night is already melding into evening. And many of you will already be mixing your favourite cocktail. But before you lose yourself in all that gin, vodka or Pimms, spare a thought for a humble but vital factor which rounds off so many drinks deliciously. The mixer. And when it comes to mixers, we at LSS swear by Monin[1] the way makers of genetically engineered replicants swear by the Tyrell Corporation*

Even if you have never drunk a cocktail, you will see their range of mixers and flavourers in any good coffee shop. Here, we would never be without a bottle their cassis, sugar syrup, and grenadine. But that is just the tip of the cocktail iceberg. Get this state of the art information from our correspondent who spent hours meticulously researching Monin Key Facts:

  • 5 production facilities worldwide : France, USA, Malaysia and China.
  • 8 State-of-the-Art MONIN studios (innovation and formation centers) : Bourges, Paris, Dubai, Sao Paulo, Clearwater, Dallas, Shanghai, Kuala Lumpur and 123 Local Studio Workshops
  • 6 ranges and 19 formats
  • 150 flavours spread across 150 countries
  • 690 employees worldwide, including 300 in France

Each day, 8 millions drinks are made with MONIN products around the world !

So go on, what are you waiting for? Why not make it 8000 001?


*it was in Blade Runner

Tribes, biases and media

One of the most depressing features of our current zeitgeist is the inability to find an objective discussion about anything. It’s like London’s Soho in the 1970s: those “massage parlours” were not for sports injuries, nor were the “models” real models. So it is with the overwhelming concentration of media power in right-wing hands in both the UK and the USA. No calm and reasoned discussion of important issues, such as Prime Ministerial integrity, or gun control is possible. Discourse degenerates rapidly into partisan excitement, and all hope of progress disappears.

It’s not as if we don’t value Conservative opinions, or think they should not be heard. The works of writers like Burke and Hobbes should be among the most treasured possessions in any library. And our experience of certain clod-witted censorious elements of the Left convinced us early that they deserve no exclusive voice. Yet the balance is currently all to one side. And in places like Hungary and Russia it has already tipped fatally against the free circulation of ideas.

Both sides cry for absolute freedom of speech. But do we give freedom of speech to a criminal, who actively talks to procure a murder, or other type of crime? Society very properly regards this as the offence of Conspiracy, and sanctions accordingly. Should absolute freedom of speech carry the right to advertise and promote brands of food that contain dangerous chemicals? In which case-why should we permit the advocacy of dangerous firearms as if they were consumer accessories? Yet try getting such lines of thought on certain media channels and see the kind of emotions that are unleashed.

Over the years we have learned to clean up the excesses of pollution in our common spaces. To regulate contaminated or dangerous foods. To release humans from the bondage of being someone else’s property. And each advance was presented as an intolerable threat to the Liberty of the companies and owners involved. The Left made the fatal mistake of abolishing free speech altogether. The question form progressives is therefore different. How do you ensure a supply of clean unpolluted information, in which an ecology of ideas form all sides may flourish?

#media control #bias #gun control #boris johnson #partygate #pollution

Ants, Antibiotics, Antiseptics

Antibiotics in ants? You’re kidding, right? But according to some ground-breaking research by German researchers, the little creatures may yet hold an ace card in our desperate search for ways to counter the spread of antibiotic resistant superkillers.

Erik Frank and his team at the University of Würzburg have been studying the Matabele Ant (Megaponera analis) which lives in the warmer parts of sub-Saharan Africa. It gets involved in major battles in termite mounds, and the ant soldiers take heavy casualties, often losing entire legs. Incredibly, they get dragged back to their nests by their comrades, where special nurse ants treat them. The nurses apply a potent compound comprising proteins which seem to have both antibiotic and antifungal properties. There seems to be a high cure rate. We got this story from the excellent Alice Klein of the even more excellent New Scientist.[1] But as some readers sometimes get paywall problems with them, we’re putting up the preprint report as well.[2]

And the moral in the story? There’s always a moral, gentle readers. That the relentless destruction of forests, oceans and wild places in general may be a seriously major mistake. We’ve already written about how the Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis) could be a valuable source of antibiotics(see LSS 27 10 20) Who knows what may be waiting to be tapped, to our benefit, in the last unspoiled areas? The frantic, almost neurotic, search for short term profit puts all of this at risk. Time for a different model, we think.

[1] https://www.newscientist.com/article/2319163-ants-treat-infected-wounds-of-nestmates-with-medicine-from-their-back/

[2] https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2022.04.26.489514v1

#habitat destruction #antibiotics #antifungals #ants #health #medicine

Weekly Round up: Statistics, magic mushrooms, China, Egg-free statues and sports

stories which we suspect may be of more than passing significance

A hundred years ago the most exciting work being done-where the future was being shaped, if you like-was in quantum mechanics. Nowadays, we think the future is being shaped by those researching things like Artificial Intelligence, Complexity Theory, and the general need to cope with the huge quantities of data which we now possess. Nowhere is this clearer than in the world of Meta-science; that exciting world where researchers look at results across many studies, scaping out new significances and the precious gold of new knowledge. And one real opportunity from the new technologies is the potential for multiple statistical analyses of data sets. About time too, as this study in Nature makes clear (“one-note analysis can give false confidence”)

Restricting analyses to a single technique can blind researchers to an important aspect of uncertainty, making results seem more precise than they really are. For example, in 2020, the UK Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling asked nine teams to calculate the reproduction number R for COVID-19 infections. The uncertainty across all the teams was considerably larger than the uncertainty within any one team — important knowledge for decision-makers. Meta-science researcher Balazs Aczel and statisticians Eric-Jan Wagenmakers and Alexandra Sarafoglou argue that data should be subject to multiple analyses, ideally by multiple teams — and that the extra work is worth it.Nature | 10 min read

Magic Mushrooms and depression The relentless persecution of recreational drug users may have led to a missed trick- a cure for the terrible affliction of depression. A more relaxed attitude could lead to some fruitful research into cures. Here’s Claire Tweedy for The Conversation:


China Crisis We have always profoundly admired Chinese Civilisation. It seemed only fair that they should take a rightful place in the world, although in recent decades their rise has been vertiginous-and slightly scary. Yet all is not necessarily well for this Asian Colossus as this piece by Nectar Gan for CNN, suggests we thank Peter Seymour for this link


Homage to a pioneer It wasn’t easy to be a woman in the nineteenth century and to be a woman scientist was many orders of magnitude more difficult. So we were heartened to see that a statue of paleontology pioneer Mary Anning is to be raised in her native Dorset. Surely no dinosaur eggs will be hurled at this one? Esther Addley for the Guardian:


Sports Algorithm Finally, as Saturday is a big sports day, here’s another use of new algorithmic techniques to predict sports injuries, says Sam Tonkin for the Mail


If we cleave to the exciting possibilities offered by new technologies, and have the courage to use our brains, the future can be better indeed. Drifting into boozy, nostalgic fantasies of lost national greatness offers no real future indeed. As more than one country is currently finding out.

#metascience #algorithms #AI #mental illness