Science and Technology

Covid lessons from Chile

So far the news in Britain from the vaccine roll-out and the gradual lockdown-easing is good. News from Chile reminds us that battles for isolation pay and for workers’ control of workplace safety (as in the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) remain urgent. Chile has done more vaccinations per population than Britain, 58 per 100 population vs 56 here. Yet on 25 March it imposed a new lockdown in its major population centre, around Santiago, because of soaring Covid infection and death figures. The new lockdown is stricter than anything we’ve had in Britain, with borders closed, a night-time...

Lessons of Fukushima

On 12 March 2011, an earthquake near Tōhoku, about 200 miles north of Tōkyō, caused a tsunami which killed up to 20,000 people in eastern Japan. One of its effects was to overtop the defensive walls and knock out the cooling systems of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant (NPP), resulting in three meltdowns, hydrogen explosions and releases of radioactivity. Those resulted in the death of… no one. As a safety precaution, 109,000 people were ordered to evacuate from within a 20 km radius of the NPP (while 45,000 others chose to evacuate from the wider surroundings). Among these, there were...

Agriculture and climate: it's all about the soil

The debate in the pages of Solidarity [on animal products and climate change, here] is, in my opinion, of profound importance. Not because of the influence of this paper but because it mirrors larger debates going on in the “climate change community”, and, more importantly in the agricultural communities. The intertwining of both the devastating effects of climate change and food security are obviously closely linked. For Marxists, it also raises the issue of what can be achieved under capitalism and what has to be put off until after a planetary seizure of power by the working class and true...

Was there life on Mars?

Is life on Earth unique in the universe? That is arguably the most exciting unsolved question in all of science, but the vastness of space and the technical limitations of interstellar travel significantly limit our ability to answer it. Fortunately, the answer may lie closer to Earth. Scientists hunt for signs of extraterrestrial life in many ways. But only by directly observing “biosignatures” (physical traces of life or life-induced processes) can its existence be confirmed. That requires landing instruments on planets and moons, and for now is only feasible in our Solar System. Where life...

Vaccines: requisition the patents

Producing vaccines fast and distributing them widely has become a top priority. India and South Africa have pushed for a world waiver on vaccine patents, a sharing of “intellectual property”, to maximise production. No rich country has supported them. The World Health Organisation has set up a Covid Technology Access Pool to share vaccine know-how. No big pharmaceutical company has supported it. Moderna and Pfizer expect huge profits from their vaccines. Many of the companies with big vaccine-production facilities are little involved in the vaccine roll-out, because they don’t have “their own”...

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...

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