breaking news from the world of ideas

by James Billot
Tuesday, 21
March 2023

How Nature journal hurt Trump supporters’ trust in science

A new study shows that endorsing Biden had a polarising effect on its readership

A leading science journal’s endorsement of Joe Biden in 2020 resulted in a significant reduction in trust among Donald Trump-supporting readers, a new paper has found. At the same time, trust among Biden supporters rose only slightly.

Performed in late July and early August 2021, the experiment randomly assigned participants to receive information about Nature’s endorsement, while the control group were given irrelevant information about the journal’s new website design. Both Trump and Biden supporters were presented with the author’s summary of the messages conveyed in Nature’s 2020 editorial.  ...  Continue reading

by James Billot
Friday, 17
March 2023

Alastair Campbell: I wish Iraq had never happened

Tony Blair's former press secretary came close to expressing regret

Speaking to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Iraq invasion, Alastair Campbell has indicated that he wished the whole sequence of events had never happened. The former press secretary to Tony Blair said on the Rest is Politics podcast that the invasion was one of those things that “you wish it never happened”.

“It’s one of those things that you just put into the category that you just wish it had never happened,” he said. “You wish that you knew that Tony Blair and the government had never been put in that position.”

The comments struck a different note from Campbell’s previously defiant statements. Seven years after the invasion, he said that he stood by “every word” of the Iraq War dossier, insisting that Britain ought to be “proud” of the country’s role in the war. Bedevilled by claims that the war was illegal, he then gave an Oxford Union speech explaining why the government had chosen to invade.  ...  Continue reading

by James Billot
Thursday, 16
March 2023

Norway’s top epidemiologist: Sweden handled Covid well

Preben Aavitsland says its response was unfairly demonised

One of Norway’s leading epidemiologists has claimed that criticism of Sweden’s Covid strategy was excessive. Preben Aavitsland, who served as Director for Surveillance at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, argued that other countries “hid their own insecurities by scolding Sweden” because the country “undermined their mantra that we had no choice”.

In comments made to Swedish paper SvD, Aavitsland explained that while Norway’s “harder line” may have prolonged the lives of old people, he added that the model of “long, hard lockdowns” that was inspired by Italy and China made Sweden “the contrast they did not want”. Sweden “forced them to explain to their citizens why they acted as they did,” the epidemiologist explained. “For these people, it would have been better if everyone had done the same”. ...  Continue reading

by James Billot
Tuesday, 14
March 2023

Ron DeSantis’s mysterious position on Ukraine

Is the Florida Governor a hawk in dove's clothing?

Yesterday Florida Governor Ron DeSantis provided a statement to Tucker Carlson, saying that protecting Ukraine’s borders is not a vital American interest. “While the US has many vital national interests — securing our borders, addressing the crisis of readiness with our military, achieving energy security and independence, and checking the economic, cultural and military power of the Chinese Communist Party,” it read, “becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not one of them.”

Anti-interventionist attitudes are now a common feature of the populist Right, particularly on the issue of Ukraine. Prior to the midterm elections, then-House minority leader Kevin McCarthy asserted that there would be “no blank cheque” for Ukraine, while other MAGA Republicans like Marjorie Taylor Greene argued that America had “done enough”. Last night Donald Trump, with typical understatement, claimed that he was the only person who could prevent World War III. “With this administration, we could end up in World War III, because they don’t speak right,” said Trump. “They act tough when they should act nice, they act nice when they should act tough,” he added. ...  Continue reading

by James Billot
Friday, 3
March 2023

The anti-ESG backlash has begun

The campaign is gathering momentum in Republican states

Over the last year, Republican criticisms of the ESG (environmental, social and corporate governance) movement have grown fiercer. Deriding it as “woke, a “scam and even “a worldwide human satanic organised effort”, GOP figures have attacked ESG over what they perceive is a front for an increasingly political — namely Left-wing — agenda. 

Now Republicans are waging their anti-ESG offensive at a legislative level — and with some success. As of January 2023, nearly half of all US states either have some kind of anti-ESG restriction or have blacklisted ESG actions, according to an Energy Monitor analysis. In fact, anti-ESG “developments” have rapidly outpaced pro-ESG measures over the past three years, illustrating how this once relatively anonymous campaign is going mainstream. ...  Continue reading

by James Billot
Wednesday, 1
March 2023

Bank of England Deputy Governor: digital pound is ‘likely’

Sir Jon Cunliffe told MPs that Britcoin could be on the way

A central bank digital currency (CBDC) in the UK is “likely to be needed,” the Bank of England’s Deputy Governor for financial stability has claimed. During a Treasury select committee hearing this week, Sir Jon Cunliffe was asked to rank the likelihood of a digital pound coming to the UK on a scale of one to 10. The Deputy Governor answered that it was “more than five” before later saying that his “private” view was 7 “and maybe higher”.

“The difficulty is if we just wait until it’s 9 out of 10, then we are five years away at least,” he said. “This would be a very serious thing that would be resilient, fraud-proof and secure. If we just wait until we say ‘okay, now we think it’s needed’, we will be five years behind.” Cunliffe added that the Bank of England currently does not have the technical skills to create a CBDC, but he “hoped” to develop them in the next phase. ...  Continue reading

by James Billot
Friday, 24
February 2023

Tony Blair calls for new front against Russia in Africa

The former Prime Minister points to Wagner Group activities in the Sahel

Tony Blair has called on the West to take the fight against Russia to Africa. Writing for the Telegraph, the former Prime Minister argued that the West needs a “broader strategy” to resist Russian aggression by providing support to the continent. “Watch the Sahel,” Blair writes. “It will be the source of the next wave of extremism and migration to Europe if we do not coordinate and focus Western policy.”

Until now, the former Labour leader’s interventions on Ukraine had been relatively limited, with calls for a “dual strategy” in which the West should provide as much military support (short of fighting directly) combined with tough sanctions, so that Ukraine would have “leverage” for a negotiated solution. Blair re-asserts his case in today’s column, arguing that “there is too big a lag between realising what weapons and munitions the Ukrainians need and our supply of them.” But his desire to open up a new front in Africa marks a change in his thinking. ...  Continue reading

by James Billot
Monday, 20
February 2023

Western public support for Ukraine is falling

New polls show that war fatigue may be setting in

On the eve of the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion, Western leaders have been working to demonstrate their unwavering commitment to the Ukrainian cause. As part of a surprise visit to Kyiv today, US President Joe Biden announced new military assistance and further sanctions on Moscow, while in Munich, European allies promised more military and financial support to Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Yet for all the solidarity on show among the leadership, cracks may be starting to emerge back home. In America, a new AP poll has found that less than half of Americans (48%) are in favour of providing weapons to Ukraine, down from 60% in May 2022. Separately, a Pew poll from this year revealed that the share of Americans who say the US is providing too much support to Ukraine has grown from 7% in March 2022 to 26% in January 2023. What’s more, the share of Americans who said that the US is not providing enough support has dropped from 42% to 20% in the same period. ...  Continue reading

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