From a small corner of Cambridge, 4

Chez Logic Matters, we are fine: the wider world, not so much. It is becoming clear that the early days of the pandemic in the UK were mismanaged, not listening to the scientists, with unconscionable delays in reaching lockdown that will have cost many lives. It could well be that this becomes the worst affected country in Europe. Then who  knows how things will go from here, except that it will surely be a very long haul. Afterwards — and what will “afterwards” mean? — the world is going to be a different place in lots of foreseeable and no doubt even more unforeseeable ways.

Meanwhile, however, another two weeks have rattled by in this small corner of Cambridge. We are no longer completely housebound, as we have just started walking out on Midsummer Common (very quiet). And we are more than comfortable at home, finding plenty to do. FaceTime and Zoom keep us connected with friends and family, who all seem safe and well. Compared with so many, we are extremely lucky, and we are very conscious of that.


And there has been much to divert us — a nice mix of the occasional streamed High Culture and fun (the Così from the Royal Opera House, still available, scored very well on both counts!). Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light arrived a couple of weeks ago, but we haven’t yet tackled that, because we both decided we wanted to re-read from the beginning of the trilogy. So Mrs Logic Matters has been diving back into Wolf Hall with great enjoyment. And I’ve just finished re-reading another weighty book — Arnold Bennett’s The Old Wives Tale. Is Bennett much regarded these days? But he writes so well — with irony yes, but insight — about ordinary lives, the way our upbringings so constrain us, about the passing of the years, the compromises we make. He creates a very human world that you find yourself swept up in.  This week’s warm recommendation, then.

7 thoughts on “From a small corner of Cambridge, 4”

  1. How did you get the picture to appear upside down?

    (The picture itself, if you look at it separately, is right side up.)

      1. Let us know what caused it, so I can start doing it deliberately.

        BTW, saying the government did not listen to the scientists seems a bit misleading to me. Even that Guardian article doesn’t claim the government ignored what its own scientific advisors were saying, just that the government didn’t follow the advice the article’s author thought was best.

        1. A mystery about why Firefox and Opera didn’t like the orientation– hopefully now OK (if you clear the browser cache, of course).

          As to the science advice, I wasn’t going solely on that quick Guardian piece. But there will be the mother of all enquiries one day, and we shall see … should we live that long!

          1. Agree on the inquiry, and of course that Guardian article is not the only place where such things are said. I don’t think I’ve seen anything that shows the government is ignoring its own scientific advisors, though. Have you?

            1. I didn’t say “is” ignoring. And actually, I wasn’t thinking specifically about the government’s in-house scientific advisers, either. True, it could have been that, back in those crucial days in March, the particular scientists the government was then taking direct advice from were being heard, but they were using bad models, were not really on top of the already available data, were not themselves consulting widely enough etc., had cumbersome procedures that meant they were always playing catch-up, and/or were reluctant to push advice hard enough — and that that failure was critical. But wherever the fault in transmission, it does rather seem that in those crucial ten days or so the messages (inevitably mixed of course, but with daily-growing evidence) that were coming through from the wider community of relevant scientists, that had already been informing actions by other governments, were not being heard loud and clear at the very centre of UK government. Maybe one day we’ll find out. But if, as seems likely, we end up with one of the very worst fatality rates in Europe we’ll need to learn from the mistakes, including crucially the handling of inputs from the wider scientific community, that must have been made.

  2. If the UK government has been listening to the advice of its own scientific advisors — and I haven’t seen anything that shows otherwise — then saying they should have listened instead to scientists with different views is in effect saying they should have gone against their own scientific advice. Describing it as “not listening to the scientists” obscures that.

    The Guardian article you linked makes it sound like the government “refused to listen to and act on (scientific) advice” and did that because the politicians “decided they knew better”. It provides no evidence for that claim. It concludes with a clearly false “I am not looking to blame”.

    I think serious mistakes were made. I don’t think it’s already clear which actions, non-actions, or decisions constitute the mistakes or why those things were done or left undone. For instance, one of the things blamed in the Guardian article — the shift away from case-finding and contact-tracing — might have been the right move given the number of cases and limited testing capacity, in which case the mistake might be whatever led to the limited capacity. That’s why an inquiry is needed.

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