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Monday 23 November 2009
Letters: Politics and science
Mandelson fails to understand how science is done
In responding to Johann Hari's important and perceptive article, Peter Mandelson ("Company money for universities", Letters, 18 November) avoids the key issues raised by Hari in favour of trotting out the usual platitudes. Mandelson argues that a greater focus on the economic relevance of the science base "does not in any way detract from our insistence on the importance of fundamental, curiosity-driven research".
This statement is self-evidently wrong. Curiosity-driven research – which has been responsible for staggering societal, cultural, and economic advances far outweighing the socioeconomic impact of the near-market R&D Mandelson prefers – cannot be concerned with, nor constrained by, economic relevance. To suggest that fundamental research, a process of exploration and discovery, can be driven by a consideration of short-term economic impact entirely misunderstands how knowledge and science progress. A Universities and Colleges Union petition pointing out this simple fact, and set up in protest against the Higher Education Funding Council of England (HEFCE)'s plans to incorporate near-term economic impact as a key element of future research assessment, has been signed by more than 12,000 academics (including six Nobel laureates) at the time of writing.
While it is perhaps not so surprising that Cabinet ministers cannot grasp the scientific arguments – our Science Minister, after all, is lauded not for his scientific achievements but for his business acumen – it is frustrating that Mandelson, as a Philosophy, Politics, and Economics graduate, apparently does not appreciate the fundamental economic principles underpinning state support of curiosity-driven research. Might I suggest that he read the work of the highly respected economist Richard R Nelson – or, indeed, look to the Obama administration's research funding policies – to appreciate the damage he will ultimately do to the UK science base and economy if he insists on pursuing his market-led approach to university research and education.
School of Physics & Astronomy
University of Nottingham
EU picks the right man for the job
An American colleague said of Tony Blair a few years ago: "Lots of sizzle, no steak!"
After so many years in the UK of sound-bites, spin doctors, faux emotion and empty promises made for short-term appeal, how refreshing and encouraging that EU leaders have chosen two intelligent and competent consensus-builders who work effectively behind the scenes, rather than another dose of self-serving self-publicists.
If democracy has led the world to George W Bush, Tony Blair and Nicolas Sarkozy then three cheers for the less democratic but far more effective process followed in Brussels. I believe that we will all benefit from this very civilised, modern (and healthy) version of a good decision made in a smoke-filled room.
We learn that the newly nominated President of the EU is an enthusiastic writer of haiku. He adopts the Japanese style, which does not require rhyme, whereas haiku written in English often sound better with rhyme. Perhaps he should try some. Under his august leadership this could give rise to a new poetic genre – the Eurohaiku. Here is an example to illustrate the idea.
Has nothing much else to do
Than to write haiku
We already have the Eurovision Song Contest. What better way of drawing the disparate peoples of Europe together than a Eurohaiku competition, in up to 20 different languages.
F G Maunder
Torre, Ticino, Switzerland
I am so pleased the Belgian got the job. How could we expect someone like Tony Blair who cosied up to George Bush and got us all into the Iraq war to be a popular choice?
Maybe Mr Van Rompuy is simply a nice man and people trust him. His love of haiku, by the way, is a great pull. Who ever heard of a politician interested in poetry?
June Helen Rogers
The rejection of Tony Blair as candidate for the EU presidency must be a source of great rejoicing throughout the world. Reading recently of medieval people's relief when the Black Death passed them by, I have decided to make a thank-offering. This will take the form of a special donation to a Palestinian charity, the Welfare Association, which does sterling work (more than Mr Blair ever did) supporting humanitarian and development projects in Palestine.
Colin V Smith
St Helens, Merseyside
Now that, thank God, Tony Blair will not be getting European diplomatic immunity, can we put him on trial for war crimes?
To Sarah Pegg in East Sussex (letter, 21 November): I've heard of you! You had a letter published in The Independent. Surely that now makes you over-qualified for EU President.
Waking up to climate peril
Sleepless, I lay listening to the radio. There was a programme about global warming, and two men seemed to be shaking their wise old heads and telling us it was too late. We should, they said, have started wind and wave energy programmes long ago. They implied we are doomed. There is nothing we can do.
Then I finally got to sleep and woke up to hear that the worst ever flooding had happened in Cumbria. Could the gloom and doom merchants be right?
Professor Corinne le Quéré and her team on the Global Carbon Project say that we are on course for the top end of the worst-case scenario of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (report, 18 November).
Mark Lynas affirms that this would mean a mass extinction of life and probably reduce humanity to a few struggling groups of embattled survivors clinging to life near the poles. Your correspondent observes that almost all of the increase in CO2 emissions this decade resulted from the boom in the Chinese economy.
All of them had better be right in view of what must be done if the Chinese won't agree to dismantle their coal-fired power stations instead of commissioning them. If they won't take them down, then nations that have an air force will have to do it for them. And everyone with a nuclear arsenal will have to be prepared to deploy it if necessary.
After that, God help the scientists if they're wrong.
Dementia carers must go to court
Your report "Victory for The Independent as secret court opens its doors" (13 November) is very welcome but at one point slightly misleading. It is not just people who "do not leave a 'living will', or lasting power of attorney" who are subject to the Court of Protection.
The power of attorney form states that "If your attorney(s) have reason to believe you have become or are becoming mentally incapable of managing your affairs, your attorney(s) will have to apply to the Court of Protection for registration of this power." This means that the majority of patients with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia will eventually be under the Court of Protection.
I have heard many stories similar to those in your article. I am in the process of registering my wife with the Court of Protection. When I told one retired solicitor, his very slow response was "Oh dear." The process takes about three months, during which I am not allowed access to her National Savings investment bond to pay her care home fees. The general impression is that, even at its best, the system is very expensive, very bureaucratic and very slow.
From many contacts I have with other carers of patients with dementia, I am aware of patients who, I feel, ought to be under the Court of Protection. They are not because their carers already have a very difficult, 24/7 task and feel they cannot face the extra work and anxiety of dealing with another bureaucratic organisation.
Name and Address Supplied
Cheating rife in the 'beautiful' game
Thierry Henry's handball has produced a torrent of bluster, confused thinking and nonsense journalism.
My occasional viewing of football on television has led me to believe that footballers regularly resort to cheating. They often engage in unsportsmanlike or violent behaviour when the ref isn't looking, such as stamping on each other, kicking other players in the shins, grabbing the opposition by the gonads and theatrically rolling around in pretend agony. Surely all of these actions count as cheating.
If cheating were to become the basis for replaying games then I suspect most competitions would not get beyond the first round, as teams would endlessly replay each other.
Football in the modern age is corrupted by cheating. Until all football authorities embrace 21st-century and not 19th-century technology, these cheats will continue to ruin the "beautiful" game. Start the revolution by installing 21st-century technology in our own domestic game.
Blatter and Platini are absolutely right to resist the call to introduce video technology into the beautiful game. Football has always been played to the whistle and, if the referee and the two linesmen do not see any foul or other offence, play continues. To introduce a fourth, "virtual" referee not only undermines the independence and skill of the real referee but also disrupts the dynamics and flow of the game. That is what makes football so passionate and exciting and gives the fans something to talk about.
Professor Ian Blackshaw
International Sports Law Centre
The Hague, The Netherlands
A new ideology of hatred
In my very short comment piece (18 November) on the Despatches programme criticising Jews who support Israel, I did not, as Peter Oborne and James Jones write, make any charge that they were making "common cause with Nazis" (Eagle Eye 19 November).
I do believe on the basis of evidence from what many European politicians say and write, that anti-Semitic politics is back. Criticism of Israel is legitimate, but those who dismiss the return of anti-Semitism, failing to see its significance as part of a new ideology of hate, intolerance and xenophobia, are wrong.
Denis MacShane MP
House of Commons
Flying a kite
While I whole-heartedly agree with what Richard Ingrams said in his column on 21 November about the global warming deniers, this seems a bit rich coming from someone who spouts off about red kites, when obviously knowing nothing about ecology. Perhaps he should indeed have followed the advice from William Cobbett.
Rule of the pavement
It is possible to cycle safely (but not legally) on the pavement (letter, 20 November). For vehicles on the road there are offences such as "dangerous driving" and "driving without due care and attention". Why not make pavement cycling legal but subject to the same laws as road users?
I most remember Edward Woodward (Obituary, 17 november) for 1990, his 1977-78 series about a totalitarian Britain ruled by an all-powerful, overbearing bureaucracy behind a democratic facade. May I suggest repeating it, both as a tribute to the late Mr Woodward and because it now seems highly topical?
Good of you to tell us that Tony Blair is "entirely happy" with "lucrative public speaking engagements, working as the international Middle East peace envoy, bringing democracy to Africa, tackling climate change, and heading an inter-faith foundation and sports charity" ("Blair 'happy to be out of race for Europe job", 21 November). What, I wonder, does he do in his spare time?
What's in a name?
Jodie Martini (letter, 11 November) should relax. My surname is regularly misspelt, usually with an extra "e" at the end. Travelling in Europe, I find that Germans just don't get "–ook"; so they call me Hambrock. My favourite, from a Walloon, was a letter addressed to Monsieur Ambroucq.
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