Here, then, is a story from Covid Britain. It will be a longish thread.

It starts with this story I wrote for The Guardian on the UK's readiness for the autumn/winter:…
My instinct screams that the answer to the title question is: "probably not much". But I'm determined to avoid kneejerk cynicism, and to listen to what I'm told by folks who know. And the answers are mixed, but one thing gives me a little bit of hope...
...which is that it sounds like the testing situation, while still having a way to go before being good, is at least not too bad. We have quite a lot of capacity, at that stage apparently exceeding the demand. So that's somewhat encouraging.
But even as schools and workers are returning, stories start coming in of people unable to get tests, or being asked to travel hundreds of miles to get one. Households are left in limbo, unable to get tested & not knowing what to do.
Then we hear about Operation Moonshot, the UK government's grand plan to establish a £100 bn mass testing regime perhaps handling up to 10m tests a day by early 2021, using technology still in development. And the general reaction from most experts is: you must be joking.
Much of today I have been completing an article on this for Prospect, to go live tomorrow morning. I haven't minced words (most of the critical ones being other people's who know more than I do). But I have again also wanted to be fair and to hear a range of views.
And again, it is possible to find a few reasons not to be simply reflexively cynical, at least about the principle. One wants, as a writer, at least to do better than say "This shower in charge have yet to demonstrate competence at anything" - even if there's some truth in that.
While I'm writing, I'm interrupted from time to time by a bored youngest daughter, at home from school because she clearly seems to have the cold that's already being going round her class. We are monitoring her state nervously. So far, all classic cold symptoms, not Covid...
But at one point in the early afternoon, she clearly has a bit of a temperature. 37 degrees... 37.5, thereabouts. Then at one point it hits 38 before going down to normal. So what now?
We agonize. The eldest has just been settling into her new year at secondary, and of course will have to stay home if we decide to give the youngest a test. But really, we realize it is the responsible thing to do - even though by now, this evening, she's right as rain.
Well, you know what's coming, don't you? So did I, really:
I see now too how crap the system is even if it was working. There seems to be no option right away to book a test for a child only. Do do we enter her name at the outset? Ours? Anyway, it's a moot point. There are no tests available.
We're very lucky. Having to stay at home is not a problem either for me or my partner. If someone in this position were faced with lost earnings, the need to cancel appointments, to keep large numbers of kids all at home again, and all because you're obeying...
... the letter of the "rules" because of a single temperature reading (no other "suspect" symptoms), I think you could be forgiven for saying, Sod it, she's fine.

Will we be able to get a test? I've no idea.
Should we be generous about the government's ability to deliver Operation Moonshot?

I leave you to decide.

But if anyone feels my article for Prospect tomorrow is unduly harsh, please don't bother telling me so.
And here's the final thing. The folks working to develop tests and ramp up capacity have been working their butts off, all in good faith. I completely respect them, and this situation traduces their efforts.

No, they are not the problem.
(I mean, not even Inverness now?)
Totally right that, amidst this shambles, priority goes to hospital & care workers and those in worst-hit areas. I suspect this means there is effectively very little testing going to happen outside of that.…
Yes, I'm very angry. Not for my family - we're not at risk, I'm quite sure of that. But for those who are.
And because those who should have seen this coming apparently did not.
(I don't mean Hancock. I expect nothing useful from him.)

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More from @philipcball

11 Aug
Starting in 5 minutes on @BBCRadio4: was the UK's Covid response really "led by the science" - and what could that really mean?…
Things we had to omit included:
Jonathan Van-Tam showing in a press briefing how questions about the Cummings affair *should* have been answered - that is, not with the pretence that they were "political".
The mysterious dropping of chief nurse Ruth May from a press briefing after she made it clear in a rehearsal that she did not intend to ignore questions about Cummings.
Read 11 tweets
14 Jul
Thomas Mann was fascinated by patterns and colours in nature. His "Doctor Faustus" has an astonishing chapter that describes several of them exquisitely. Here's a thread on this, starting with his description of structural colour in Morpho butterflies. (1/n)
Here he talks about camouflage patterns such as in the Dead Leaf Moth. (2/n)
And here, how butterflies and moths engage in Batesian mimicry. (3/n)
Read 8 tweets
19 May
Here's where I attempt to place some context around the Covid-19 misinformation epidemic. It is not just about conspiracy theorists and Russian agents, but about what kind of information ecosystem we have made, and what we can do about that.…
I've packed in as much as I could, but there is still much more to say. In short, the infodemic is acting as a lens that brings into focus sociopolitical issues that have been growing more dangerous for several years.
We have complicit media and politicians, some of who have been systematically undermining the basis on which we agree on what is real and true. This has always been a problem, of course - but the information ecosystem we have today makes it much worse.
Read 7 tweets
9 Jan
While it was still behind the paywall, I hadn't appreciated quite how bad this piece is. Now I do. (Thread)…
We're promised early on an exposé of the "disinformation" that is duping us all. But I guess the author forgot to include it. What she did include was a lone comment that the warming per decade used for projections in 2007 was 0.2C per decade. But it's only been 0.05, we're told!
Yet you can see from the graph alone that the 0.2C figure is about right. As NASA says, it's been around 0.15-0.2 C per decade since 1975.
The link in support of her false claim goes to a Telegraph piece saying that the 2007 IPCC projected 0.13C per dec, but in 2013...
Read 7 tweets
2 Jan
Before budding "data scientists" start getting all "hm, but look this surely deserves a chance" about this, let's get some things straight. For one, read carefully and you'll see how deeply politicized this proposal is...…
Two, if you think there is likely to be any hint of ethics in these activities, you probably should not be doing the job you do already...
Three, we know this man cares nothing for truth, facts and integrity unless it suits him. You going to bank on him changing his ways now?

In short, this initiative is likely to attract only the sort of person who shouldn't be allowed anywhere near it.
Read 4 tweets
18 Nov 19
Here's a pretty tale. During the mid 19th C vampire craze, Leo Tolstoy wrote a vampire story in 1841, which was poorly received. His cousin Alexei wrote one too: "The Family of the Vourdalak", that being a Slavic word for vampire. It wasn't published until 1884, but... (1/3)
... supplied the basis for Mario Bava's 1963 horror anthology movie Black Sabbath, one of the late-career appearances by Boris Karloff (who was born in the house that is now my local chippie). The Birmingham heavy-metal band Earth decided to change their name to that in 1969. 2/3
"What Mario Bava did with the horror film in Black Sabbath, I was gonna do with the crime film," said Quentin Tarantino. The result was Pulp Fiction. Who knew that movie was inspired by the Tolstoys? 3/3
Read 4 tweets

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