Science and Technology

From scoffing to persuading

The conspiracies and misinformation associated with Covid-19 have shifted within my workplace on the Tube as the pandemic and the measures to combat it have changed. I hear less about 5G and the disease being fake or the same as flu, and more about fear of the vaccine and myths surrounding the “Great Reset”, the World Economic Forum’s plan for economic revival after the pandemic. Misinformation around the vaccine is what dominates now. There is really only a handful of people who are passionately convinced by the anti-vaccine theories. They have gone out of their way to read up and listen to...

Spread vaccines world-wide

First figures from Scotland and Israel show vaccination working well. It is urgent to spread it to the world’s poorest countries. Africa has had only 2 vaccinations per 1000 people, and many countries have no vaccine supplies at all any time soon. Money from the rich countries into the World Health Organisation Covax project, much less than spent on bailing out businesses, and requisitioning of Big Pharma to get maximum spread of technology and maximum production, can fix that. Saving lives should be the driver, not just the current anxiety of France, for example, that China and Russia will...

Letter: When we don't know

As the World Health Organisation puts it, “No substantive data are available related to impact of [the AstraZeneca vaccine] on transmission or viral shedding”. Or other vaccines. There are theoretical reasons to hope that the vaccines reduce transmission a fair bit. Getting to know definitely will be difficult. Solid studies of transmission require good knowledge about where each new infected person got the virus. That’s why we still don’t know how much less never-symptomatic people transmit than eventually-symptomatic ones, and how small a factor transmission via surfaces is, rather than...

Covid: the science and social context of testing

Testing, especially rapid testing, was the subject of the third of the “Covid: known unknowns” webinars, held on 11 February 2021. These webinars are organised by the British Medical Journal in cooperation with George Davey Smith at Bristol University and the Integrative Epidemiology Unit there. George Davey Smith has also discussed the pandemic a couple of times directly with Solidarity, in July and in November 2020. The first webinar was a broad survey of “known unknowns”; the second was on Covid and schools; the next two, on 25 February and 11 March, will be about vaccines and “Zero Covid”...

"Pre-bunking" and debunking conspiracy theories

Readers of the “Diary of a Tube Worker” in Solidarity will have noticed that since the beginning of the pandemic I have spent a lot of my time arguing against Covid-19 conspiracy theories in my workplace. More recently the shift is to anti-vaxx conspiracies and vaccine-hesitancy. I don’t think I have been entirely successful in my endeavour. I have been a known sceptic about “nonsense” since I started on the job, being the first to say vocally, I don’t believe in any God, I don’t take notice of any horoscopes, I don’t believe in juju or ghosts, etc. I don’t think I am wrong in being strident...

Vaccinations and transmission

Overall arguments made in “Requisition Big Pharma!” (Solidarity 580) are important and good. The implicit rejoinder to demands to bump school workers up the queue is apt. Yet the article imbalances further than justifiable, or necessary. It notes “[t]he carefully-reasoned elderly-first vaccination schedule designed by scientists. (They explain its advantages over “no, vaccinate me first” cries from rival younger groups). “The vaccines probably reduce transmission to some degree; maybe a lot, but we don’t know. It will be difficult finding out. (If transmission drops in Britain now, is that...

Requisition Big Pharma!

Governments have financed the Covid-19 vaccines, by subsidies for research and trials and preparing production facilities, by advance orders before it was even known whether the vaccines would work, and by exempting the pharmaceutical firms from risks of court cases if something goes wrong. The labour movement should demand that governments now requisition the “intellectual property” produced with that finance — i.e. make the patents available to any competent producer. There is already a mechanism for that, set up by the World Health Organisation eight months ago, the Covid-19 Technology...

Free the science to enable vaccines for all

Private companies benefiting from billions in public money and political goodwill stand to profit heavily from selling vaccines to the Global South. Higher income countries, including Canada, Switzerland and the EU states, have even blocked efforts by the World Health Organisation to force companies to release the information needed to make the vaccines freely available to the world, which would have allowed other drug makers to manufacture them. This refusal of access comes even as states such as the US and the UK hoard vaccine orders far larger than needed for their entire populations...

The fight on climate adaptation

Fish returning to ponds not spotted in in decades, birdsong becoming more audible, goats invading Welsh towns, and pterodactyl spotted flying above the river Tyne. Such were the reports of the ecological bounce back in the first UK lockdown of 2020. Indeed, the most featured climate paper of the year in mainstream and social media was on reduced global CO2 emissions, globally, due to lockdowns. Nonetheless, emissions were still vast, and built on years and decades of ever-accelerating greenhouse gas emissions, to deliver the joint-highest global surface temperatures on record — alongside 2016...

Carbon capture and storage? Not a help yet

A debate has been smouldering on about what role, if any, “Carbon Capture and Storage” (CCS) technologies should play in ecological transition. CCS denotes chains of technology for capturing carbon from the chimneys of factories and power plants. The chimney is fitted with solvent filters, which much of the CO2 dissolves into — CCS’s coal industry proponents claim up to 90%. For storage, the solvent is then pumped to somewhere where it is heated up, forcing the CO2 out again, where it is stored, perhaps underground. A small amount may be used for fizzy drinks, in greenhouses for plants, and...

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