Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Dominic Cummings

Dominic Cummings is a stupid person's clever person.

That's it. That's the tweet.

The long version is, he's a stupid person's clever person because he has read some popular science and juvenile edgy libertarian blogs and can regurgitate great soundbites that impress people who have no clue what he is talking about, nor how science or technology works. 

Unfortunately, such people are in positions of power, meaning that they listen to him and think he's really great. Your average senior civil servant is also probably quite clever, but a history or PPE degree doesn't equip them to deal with him. I know he's a history graduate himself, and that makes his interests unusual. But there's no evidence that he understands enough about what he speaks (and blogs, at length) to really make use of it. His wish for more technical ability in government is quite possibly correct, but weirdos and misfits aren't the best choices here. These people would need the ability to interface with politicians and the real world beyond the wild imagination of their (typically wrong or impractical) theories. There are very many talented scientist with great technical skills, creativity, originality of thought and social skills to inform, explain, and persuade. I think that most of them would run a mile from the prospect of working in a policy unit in Whitehall. Though there are of course channels for scientific advice to inform on policy.

Actually, I really can't be bothered writing any more about this. Tedious, tedious, tedious. But I wanted to get it out there. If Cummings is the answer, then someone asked the wrong question.

I know I haven't backed up any of this with references. So sue me.


William M. Connolley said...

> I know I haven't backed up any of this with references

I haven't seen him saying / writing anything recently. Were you thinking of anything in particular?

James Annan said...

In a I was prompted to write this by listening to a Guardian Long Read podcast, but the thoughts had been in my mind for a while. I have no idea what role if any he played in the covid debacle in particular, stories seem to put him on both sides...

William M. Connolley said...

I don't think you can trust the Graun on the subject of DC.

James Annan said...

I try not to trust anyone on anything too much, some are better than others though. It wasn't particularly the content of the long read, just its assault on my ears while out jogging, that prompted the post :-)

William M. Connolley said...

A sample of his evil:

Richard Erskine said...

Well this is pretty stupid and weird:

How did Cummings ever imagine no one would spot the changes?

The way Cummings' Brexit campaign promoted the idea that UK's border would essentially be at Turkey (read also Syrian refugees) was reprehensible, and helped stoke fears. Maybe a little subtler than Farage's xenophobic poster, but not much.

Does that merit the epithet 'evil'? I don't know, but the substance matters. It does seem to demonstrate a character that believes that ends (his ends) justify means. His blog edit as further evidence and his extruciating eye test excuse, add to an impression of someone who cannot be trusted.

Add to that the sheer lack of any emotional intelligence in his handling of 'that' press conference, where there was absolutely no sign he understood the upset this has caused.

And apparently, Boris Johnson believes him to be indispensible to the country (judging from communications being sent to Tory MPs)? Firstly, no one is or should be indispensible, and secondly, anyone can see that Johnson is deeply damaged by keeping him on, and if he really cannot imagine having a different team around him, sans Cummings, that is bizarre and worrying in itself.

No wonder David Cameron reportedly described Cummings as a "career psychopath".

William M. Connolley said...

OK, so in a desperate attempt to make people read things I'll actually quote from the article I linked to: "Boris Johnson’s most powerful political aide pressed the U.K.’s independent scientific advisers to recommend lockdown measures in an effort to stop the spread of coronavirus, according to people familiar with the matter... According to two people involved, Cummings played far more than a bystander’s role at a crucial SAGE meeting on March 18, as the panel discussed social distancing options to tackle the Covid-19 outbreak. Speaking on condition of anonymity because the meetings are private, the people said Cummings asked why a lockdown was not being imposed sooner, swayed the discussion toward faster action, and made clear he thought pubs and restaurants should be closed within two days. They then were."

So, all anon and so on, but if true... then he saved thousands of lives, etc etc. Not something you want to hear, I'd guess.

Yes the eye-test stuff is pathetic. The blog-editing looks incompetent. The best defence I can come up with is something like: thinking it over (while quiet in Durham?), he realised he wanted to add that bit (I think it comes from text from an article linked from that post, anyway). Somewhat later - this weekend - he then forgot he'd updated it, and referred to it as a prediction. There's weeks in between, so it's not utterly implausible.

> the sheer lack of any emotional intelligence in

Pillorying people for lacking EI is silly.

James Annan said...

"forgot he updated it"

Don't be so silly. That statement was carefully designed, every word was crafted for specific purpose. The idea that he went back to add stuff in to an old blog post just a month ago, and then it didn't occur to him while checking the statement over in fine detail with his lawyer that he had done that, is about as credible as his "eye test".

The story that he supported the lockdown - doesn't that just make him more hypocritical that he only wanted it to apply to the little people?

William M. Connolley said...

> Don't be so silly

Well, it was only my best guess. But if we're on being silly, I'm doubtful he doesn't know about the Internet Archive. OTOH, when I poked around, I did notice that some other posts have explicit "UPDATED" notes on them.

As to hypocrisy: it's unattractive but I can't bring myself to care about it greatly (FWIW, if he edited the blog without realising that people would notice, I find that incompetence more worrying). At least in part because I don't think the blanket simple rules made much sense. As I said on fb a moment ago