Academic and journalistic Harlots

COVID-19 has underlined that with any set of complex social or political problems there will be a range of views – often diametrically opposed in nature – about how to resolve them. Broadly speaking, COVID has seen a triumvirate of parties claiming they are the best equipped, most knowledgeable and objective to address the challenges, namely politicians, academics and journalists. There are some sideline players with less of a voice; the general populace, who generally express their view by doing whatever suits them anyway, and big business, which tends to work behind the scenes and in the Pall Mall clubs. This is further compounded in that the three groupings all tend to be divided anyway, without any consensus even in the members of their set.

They can’t all be right, so who should drive the bus? In Grumpy’s opinion, there is only one rational answer, although it does not inspire confidence; it has to be the elected party in the Executive. Of course the ruling party should take input from all sides, but It was interesting to note two opposing headlines in the Daily Mail this week in which Boris was accused of ‘giving in to the scientific advisers’ and simultaneously ‘not following the science’. Not much consensus there, then.

The key essential, for Grumpy, is that when decisions of such magnitude are taken, it is essential that they are made in full knowledge that bad decisions – failure – will be subject to sanctions. It focuses the mind if an error means the gallows, so to speak. The problem listening to – or worse, adopting the solutions of – academics or journalists is that if they get it wrong they just shrug and carry on with their research (academics) or swear they never proposed it (journalists). Just like the harlots cited by Stanley Baldwin in 1931 (but selling brains rather than body) they are free from responsibility for any actions taken at the behest of their proposals.

The ideas of business can largely be disregarded as their criteria is solely about finance; merely looking back at the history of cigarette and drug industries shows that general social well being isn’t at the top of the list.

Professor Carl Heneghan, a perfectly respectable academic issued a lengthy document saying the government’s approach was wrong (in common with many others) and that he knew better. Grumpy view was that many of the proposals proposed were demonstrably not possible in any time frame needed for a solution. Grumpy also noted that all “men with answers” can’t resist veering off topic and picking on some favourite axe to grind at the same time (women’s rights / education / the NHS / TfL / BAME etc). In Heneghan’s case he repeated again the old trope about waiting a century for men and women to be paid equally. He is knowledgeable enough to know that for 50 years since the Equal Pay Act of 1970 and the subsequent Equality Act of 2010 it has been illegal to pay women differently for the same job. He thus wilfully deliberately conflates this with the gender pay gap (an entirely different issue) , which is pure and deliberate sophistry; this rather detracts from paying serious attention to any of the other points he made.