Tamiflu, Bad Pharma, and the UK Public Accounts Committee

The conclusion that millions of people have been exposed to a treatment, at enormous cost to the public purse, despite the fact that independent researchers have been unable to verify it as being effective or safe, should trouble us all.

Dr David Tovey writes about the lack of transparency in clinical trials, with specific reference to Tamiflu, and the ongoing public campaign after the publication of Ben Goldacre’s book Bad Pharma.

TRiG.

Austerity and hope in South Shields

I’ve never been to South Shields. In fact, I’ve never been to the north of England at all. Well, Manchester and Hull for h2g2 meets, and Marsden in Yorkshire, where I have family history. But South Shields is much further north than these.

It is a town with a mining history. It is a town with a union history. It is a town with high unemployment. And, according to a lovely profile in the New Statesman, it’s doing pretty well, thank you.

South Shields remains the only parliamentary constituency since the Great Reform Act of 1832 … never to have elected a Conservative MP.

TRiG.

Eurostar and the “Lille Loophole”

  1. The Eurostar travells from Brussels-Midi to London St Pancras via the French station Lille Europe.
  2. The Eurostar has an unusual border-control arrangement, whereby passport control is done while boarding the train.
  3. France and Belgium are both in the Schengen Area, which means that people can pass freely between them. The UK is not.

The practical upshot of all this is that UK border control agents in Brussels check the passports of only some of the people getting on the train. Those who have tickets only as far as Lille are not checked by UK border control. It is then fairly easy for them to use standard fare-dodging tactics, stay on the train beyond the station where they should have alighted, and get through to Britain without going through any border control.

The simple and obvious solution would be to change Point 2 above, and do the border control in London, at least for the Brussels trains (this problem doesn’t apply to the Paris trains: they also pass through Lille Europe, and many of them stop there, but for pick-up only, not set-down).

That’s the simple and obvious solution. The solution the UK Border Agency actually tried was to attempt to profile “Lille loopholers” and interview them. The Belgian police soon put a stop to that: The UKBA has no legal authority to interview people travelling between Belgium and France. In at least one case, Belgian police actually threatened to arrest UKBA staff.

TRiG.

“my rights end where yours begin”

That’s the whole conundrum of invoking God as the singular rationale for or against public policy—God says lots of different things to lots of different people, and all of them think that they’re right.
Melissa McEwan, “MREWYB“, Shakesville.

Yup. Melissa McEwan is there talking specifically about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, but her point is broadly applicable.

TRiG.

How May Day became a workers’ holiday

May Day is celebrated around the world as a labour holiday. One of the few countries that doesn’t celebrate it is the one where it all began, the USA. The origins of May Day as a workers’ holiday go back to strikes, police brutality, and a miscarriage of justice in the USA of the 1880s.

Interesting reading.

TRiG.

NOM: Willing, deliberate liars

The National Organization for Marriage has been spreading a host of falsehoods about research into same-sex parenting. Every so I often I lob a tweet about this to Thomas Peters, NOM’s Communications Director. He never replies, which is a shame, because I’ve always wanted to know what he’d say when confronted with these blatant…inaccuracies.

Well, Rob Tisinai finally managed to get through to Thomas Peters. Anyone want three guesses on how he reacted? Well, here’s the answer:

So now I know what Thomas Peters will do when confronted with NOM’s falsehoods: He’ll act like facts don’t matter.

My my, what a surprise!

Peters’s response isn’t surprising either.

TRiG.

Google Glass: Privacy, Surveillance, Technology, Data

Google’s new product, Glass, will enable secret video recording.

Now pretend you don’t know a single person who wears Google Glass… and take a walk outside. Anywhere you go in public – any store, any sidewalk, any bus or subway – you’re liable to be recorded: audio and video. Fifty people on the bus might be Glassless, but if a single person wearing Glass gets on, you – and all 49 other passengers – could be recorded. Not just for a temporary throwaway video buffer, like a security camera, but recorded, stored permanently, and shared to the world.

Recorded video will be stored not on users’ own computers, but in Google’s data-centres. With Google’s excellent technology, indexing such videos using face recognition and voice transcription many not be too far behind. And who will have access to that data?

This is, of course, one of those things that, in general, matters far more to the margenilised  (who are often poor) than it does to the early adopters (who, in the case of this expensive product, must be rich). And so, as ever, the concerns of the margenalised are not heard in the public debate.

Someone in Seattle has been deliberately annoying people by videoing them in an intrusive fashion. His actual purpose is unknown (he’s anonymous), but it seems he’s trying to make a point:

In most cases, people become agitated and tell him to stop. That’s when the cameraman makes his point: Cameras are everywhere already. This one just happens to be held by a person instead of mounted on a wall or traffic light.

That said, surveillance cameras are often not reviewed, and the footage is usually deleted unless there’s a crime to investigate. What will happen with Google Glass footage is anyone’s guess: it probably won’t follow existing proven solutions.

One possiblitity, of course, is strong social shaming of people who use such technology. Physical assault is probably going a bit too far, though it has been attempted.

I mentioned recently that I am mystified by right-wingers. One of our many points of difference is that they’re more scared of powerful government, and I’m more scared of powerful corporations. Governments are scary too, but at least we get a chance to vote on them. Monopolies, less so.

And monopolies really are a problem. Putting all surveillance into the hands of the “authorities” (be they the police, transport authorities, or simply business owners) isn’t safe either. Citizen recording of police action has helped out in more than one incident of violent assault by police officers, and CCTV footage does have a tendency to go missing when it shows police in a bad light. Steve Mann refers to this citizen check on authorities’ actions as sousveillance, and he does have a point. So where does, and where should, the power ballance lie?

TRiG.