On the referendum #29: Genetics, genomics, predictions & ‘the Gretzky game’ — a chance for Britain to help the world

On the referendum #29: Genetics, genomics, predictions & ‘the Gretzky game’ — a chance for Britain to help the world

Britain could contribute huge value to the world by leveraging existing assets, including scientific talent and how the NHS is structured, to push the frontiers of a rapidly evolving scientific field — genomic prediction — that is revolutionising healthcare in ways that give Britain some natural advantages over Europe and America. We should plan for free universal ‘SNP’ genetic sequencing as part of a shift to genuinely preventive medicine — a shift that will lessen suffering, save money, help British advanced technology companies in genomics and data science/AI, make Britain more attractive for scientists and global investment, and extend human knowledge in a crucial field to the benefit of the whole world.

‘SNP’ sequencing means, crudely, looking at the million or so most informative markers or genetic variants without sequencing every base pair in the genome. SNP sequencing costs ~$50 per person (less at scale), whole genome sequencing costs ~$1,000 per person (less at scale). The former captures most of the predictive power now possibly at 1/20th of the cost of the latter.

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Background: what seemed ‘sci fi’ ~2010-13 is now reality

In my 2013 essay on education and politics, I summarised the view of expert scientists on genetics (HERE between pages 49-51, 72-74, 194-203). Although this was only a small part of the essay most of the media coverage focused on this, particularly controversies about IQ.

Regardless of political affiliation most of the policy/media world, as a subset of ‘the educated classes’ in general, tended to hold a broadly ‘blank slate’ view of the world mostly uninformed by decades of scientific progress. Technical terms like ‘heritability’, which refers to the variance in populations, caused a lot of confusion.

When my essay hit the media, fortunately for me the world’s leading expert, Robert Plomin, told hacks that I had summarised the state of the science accurately. (I never tried to ‘give my views on the science’ as I don’t have ‘views’ — all people like me can try to do with science is summarise the state of knowledge in good faith.) Quite a lot of hacks then spent some time talking to Plomin and some even wrote about how they came to realise that their assumptions about the science had been wrong (e.g Gaby Hinsliff).

Many findings are counterintuitive to say the least. Almost everybody naturally thinks that ‘the shared environment’ in the form of parental influence ‘obviously’ has a big impact on things like cognitive development. The science says this intuition is false. The shared environment is much less important than we assume and has very little measurable effect on cognitive development: e.g an adopted child who does an IQ test in middle age will show on average almost no correlation with the parents who brought them up (genes become more influential as you age). People in the political world assumed a story of causation in which, crudely, wealthy people buy better education and this translates into better exam and IQ scores. The science says this story is false. Environmental effects on things like cognitive ability and education achievement are almost all from what is known as the ‘non-shared environment’ which has proved very hard to pin down (environmental effects that differ for children, like random exposure to chemicals in utero). Further, ‘The case for substantial genetic influence on g [g = general intelligence ≈ IQ] is stronger than for any other human characteristic’ (Plomin) and g/IQ has far more predictive power for future education than class does. All this has been known for years, sometimes decades, by expert scientists but is so contrary to what well-educated people want to believe that it was hardly known at all in ‘educated’ circles that make and report on policy.

Another big problem is that widespread ignorance about genetics extends to social scientists/economists, who are much more influential in politics/government than physical scientists. A useful heuristic is to throw ~100% of what you read from social scientists about ‘social mobility’ in the bin. Report after report repeats the same clichés, repeats factual errors about genetics, and is turned into talking points for MPs as justification for pet projects. ‘Kids who can read well come from homes with lots of books so let’s give families with kids struggling to read more books’ is the sort of argument you read in such reports without any mention of the truth: children and parents share genes that make them good at and enjoy reading, so causation is operating completely differently to the assumptions. It is hard to overstate the extent of this problem. (There are things we can do about ‘social mobility’, my point is Insider debate is awful.)

A related issue is that really understanding the science requires serious understanding of statistics and, now, AI/machine learning (ML). Many social scientists do not have this training. This problem will get worse as data science/AI invades the field. 

A good example is ‘early years’ and James Heckman. The political world is obsessed with ‘early years’ such as Sure Start (UK) and Head Start (US). Politicians latch onto any ‘studies’ that seem to justify it and few have any idea about the shocking state of the studies usually quoted to justify spending decisions. Heckman has published many papers on early years and they are understandably widely quoted by politicians and the media. Heckman is a ‘Nobel Prize’ winner in economics. One of the world’s leading applied mathematicians, Professor Andrew Gelman, has explained how Heckman has repeatedly made statistical errors in his papers but does not correct them: cf. How does a Nobel-prize-winning economist become a victim of bog-standard selection bias?  This really shows the scale of the problem: if a Nobel-winning economist makes ‘bog standard’ statistical errors that confuse him about studies on pre-school, what chance do the rest of us in the political/media world have?

Consider further that genomics now sometimes applies very advanced mathematical ideas such as ‘compressed sensing’. Inevitably few social scientists can judge such papers but they are overwhelmingly responsible for interpreting such things for ministers and senior officials. This is compounded by the dominance of social scientists in Whitehall units responsible for data and evidence. Many of these units are unable to provide proper scientific advice to ministers (I have had personal experience of this in the Department for Education). Two excellent articles by Duncan Watts recently explained fundamental problems with social science and what could be done (e.g a much greater focus on successful prediction) but as far as I can tell they have had no impact on economists and sociologists who do not want to face their lack of credibility and whose incentives in many ways push them towards continued failure (Nature paper HEREScience paper HERE — NB. the Department for Education did not even subscribe to the world’s leading science journals until I insisted in 2011).

1) The problem that the evidence for early years is not what ministers and officials think it is is not a reason to stop funding but I won’t go into this now. 2) This problem is incontrovertible evidence, I think, of the value of an alpha data science unit in Downing Street, able to plug into the best researchers around the world, and ensure that policy decisions are taken on the basis of rational thinking and good good science or, just as important, everybody is aware that they have to make decisions in the absence of this. This unit would pay for itself in weeks by identifying flawed reasoning and stopping bad projects, gimmicks etc. Of course, this idea has no chance with those now at the top of Government and the Cabinet Office would crush such a unit as it would threaten the traditional hierarchy. One of the  arguments I made in my essay was that we should try to discover useful and reliable benchmarks for what children of different abilities are really capable of learning and build on things like the landmark Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth. This obvious idea is anathema to the education policy world where there is almost no interest in things like SMPY and almost everybody supports the terrible idea that ‘all children must do the same exams’ (guaranteeing misery for some and boredom/time wasting for others). NB. Most rigorous large-scale educational RCTs are uninformative. Education research, like psychology, produces a lot of what Feynman called ‘cargo cult science’.

Since 2013, genomics has moved fast and understanding in the UK media has changed probably faster in five years than over the previous 35 years. As with the complexities of Brexit, journalists have caught up with reality much better than MPs. It’s still true that almost everything written by MPs about ‘social mobility’ is junk but you could see from the reviews of Plomin’s recent book, Blueprint, that many journalists have a much better sense of the science than they did in 2013. Rare good news, though much more progress is needed…

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What’s happening now?

Screenshot 2019-02-19 15.35.49

In 2013 it was already the case that the numbers on heritability derived from twin and adoption studies were being confirmed by direct inspection of DNA — therefore many of the arguments about twin/adoption studies were redundant — but this fact was hardly known.

I pointed out that the field would change fast. Both Plomin and another expert, Steve Hsu, made many predictions around 2010-13 some of which I referred to in my 2013 essay. Hsu is a physics professor who is also one of the world’s leading researchers on genomics. 

Hsu predicted that very large samples of DNA would allow scientists over the next few years to start identifying the actual genes responsible for complex traits, such as diseases and intelligence, and make meaningful predictions about the fate of individuals. Hsu gave estimates of the sample sizes that would be needed. His 2011 talk contains some of these predictions and also provides a physicist’s explanation of ‘what is IQ measuring’. As he said at Google in 2011, the technology is ‘right on the cusp of being able to answer fundamental questions’ and ‘if in ten years we all meet again in this room there’s a very good chance that some of the key questions we’ll know the answers to’. His 2014 paper explains the science in detail. If you spend a little time looking at this, you will know more than 99% of high status economists gabbling on TV about ‘social mobility’ saying things like ‘doing well on IQ tests just proves you can do IQ tests’.

In 2013, the world of Westminster thought this all sounded like science fiction and many MP said I sounded like ‘a mad scientist’. Hsu’s predictions have come true and just five years later this is no longer ‘science fiction’. (Also NB. Hsu’s blog was one of the very few places where you would have seen discussion of CDOs and the 2008 financial crash long BEFORE it happened. I have followed his blog since ~2004 and this from 2005, two years before the crash started, was the first time I read about things like ‘synthetic CDOs’: ‘we have yet another ill-understood casino running, with trillions of dollars in play’. The quant-physics network had much better insight into the dynamics behind the 2008 Crash than high status mainstream economists like Larry Summers responsible for regulation.)

His group and others have applied machine learning to very large genetic samples and built predictors of complex traits. Complex traits like general intelligence and most diseases are ‘polygenic’ — they depend on many genes each of which contributes a little (unlike diseases caused by a single gene). 

‘There are now ~20 disease conditions for which we can identify, e.g, the top 1% outliers with 5-10x normal risk for the disease. The papers reporting these results have almost all appeared within the last year or so.’

Screenshot 2019-02-19 15.00.14

For example, the height predictor ‘captures nearly all of the predicted SNP heritability for this trait — actual heights of most individuals in validation tests are within a few cm of predicted heights.’ Height is similar to IQ — polygenic and similar heritability estimates.

Screenshot 2019-02-19 15.00.37

These predictors have been validated with out-of-sample tests. They will get better and better as more and more data is gathered about more and more traits. 

This enables us to take DNA from unborn embryos, do SNP genetic sequencing costing ~$50, and make useful predictions about the odds of the embryo being an outlier for diseases like atrial fibrillation, diabetes, breast cancer, or prostate cancer. NB. It is important that we do not need to sequence the whole genome to do this (see below). We will also be able to make predictions about outliers in cognitive abilities (the high and low ends). (My impression is that predicting Alzheimers is still hampered by a lack of data but this will improve as the data improves.)

There are many big implications. This will obviously revolutionise IVF. ~1 million IVF embryos per year are screened worldwide using less sophisticated tests. Instead of picking embryos at random, parents will start avoiding outliers for disease risks and cognitive problems. Rich people will fly to jurisdictions offering the best services.

Forensics is being revolutionised. First, DNA samples can be used to give useful physical descriptions of suspects because you can identify ethnic group, height, hair colour etc. Second, ‘cold cases’ are now routinely being solved because if a DNA sample exists, then the police can search for cousins of the perpetrator from public DNA databases, then use the cousins to identify suspects. Every month or so now in America a cold case murder is solved and many serial killers are being found using this approach — just this morning I saw what looks to be another example just announced, a murder of an 11 year-old in 1973. (Some companies are resisting this development but they will, I am very confident, be smashed in court and have their reputations trashed unless they change policy fast. The public will have no sympathy for those who stand in the way.)

Hsu recently attended a conference in the UK where he presented some of these ideas to UK policy makers. He wrote this blog about the great advantages the NHS has in developing this science. 

The UK could become the world leader in genomic research by combining population-level genotyping with NHS health records… The US private health insurance system produces the wrong incentives for this kind of innovation: payers are reluctant to fund prevention or early treatment because it is unclear who will capture the ROI [return on investment]… The NHS has the right incentives, the necessary scale, and access to a deep pool of scientific talent. The UK can lead the world into a new era of precision genomic medicine. 

‘NHS has already announced an out-of-pocket genotyping service which allows individuals to pay for their own genotyping and to contribute their health + DNA data to scientific research. In recent years NHS has built an impressive infrastructure for whole genome sequencing (cost ~$1k per individual) that is used to treat cancer and diagnose rare genetic diseases. The NHS subsidiary Genomics England recently announced they had reached the milestone of 100k whole genomes…

‘At the meeting, I emphasized the following:

1. NHS should offer both inexpensive (~$50) genotyping (sufficient for risk prediction of common diseases) along with the more expensive $1k whole genome sequencing. This will alleviate some of the negative reaction concerning a “two-tier” NHS, as many more people can afford the former.

2. An in-depth analysis of cost-benefit for population wide inexpensive genotyping would likely show a large net cost savings: the risk predictors are good enough already to guide early interventions that save lives and money. Recognition of this net benefit would allow NHS to replace the $50 out-of-pocket cost with free standard of care.’ (Emphasis added)

NB. In terms of the short-term practicalities it is important that whole genome sequencing costs ~$1,000 (and falling) but is not necessary: a version 1/20th of the cost, looking just at the most informative genetic variants, captures most of the predictive benefits. Some have incentives to distort this, such as companies like Illumina trying to sell expensive machines for whole genome sequencing, which can distort policy — let’s hope officials are watching carefully. These costs will, obviously, keep falling.

This connects to an interesting question… Why was the likely trend in genomics clear ~2010 to Plomin, Hsu and others but invisible to most? Obviously this involves lots of elements of expertise and feel for the field but also they identified FAVOURABLE EXPONENTIALS. Here is the fall in the cost of sequencing a genome compared to Moore’s Law, another famous exponential. The drop over ~18 years has been a factor of ~100,000. Hsu and Plomin could extrapolate that over a decade and figure out what would be possible when combined with other trends they could see. Researchers are already exploring what will be possible as this trend continues.

Screenshot 2019-02-20 10.32.37

Identifying favourable exponentials is extremely powerful. Back in the early 1970s, the greatest team of computer science researchers ever assembled (PARC) looked out into the future and tried to imagine what could be possible if they brought that future back to the present and built it. They were trying to ‘compute in the future’. They created personal computing. (Chart by Alan Kay, one of the key researchers — he called it ‘the Gretzky game’ because of Gretzky’s famous line ‘I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.’ The computer is the Alto, the first personal computer that stunned Steve Jobs when he saw a demo. The sketch on the right is of children using a tablet device that Kay drew decades before the iPad was launched.)

Screenshot 2019-02-15 12.42.47

Hopefully the NHS and Department for Health will play ‘the Gretzky game’, take expert advice from the likes of Plomin and Hsu and take this opportunity to make the UK a world leader in one of the most important frontiers in science.

  • We can imagine everybody in the UK being given valuable information about their health for free, truly preventive medicine where we target resources at those most at risk, and early (even in utero) identification of risks.
  • This would help bootstrap British science into a stronger position with greater resources to study things like CRISPR and the next phase of this revolution — editing genes to fix problems, where clinical trials are already showing success.
  • It would also give a boost to British AI/data science companies — the laws, rules on data etc should be carefully shaped to ensure that British companies (not Silicon Valley or China) capture most of the financial value (though everybody will gain from the basic science).
  • These gains would have positive feedback effects on each other, just as investment in basic AI/ML research will have positive feedback effects in many industries.
  • I have argued many times for the creation of a civilian UK ‘ARPA’ — a centre for high-risk-high-payoff research that has been consistently blocked in Whitehall (see HERE for an account of how ARPA-PARC created the internet and personal computing). This fits naturally with Britain seeking to lead in genomics/AI. Thinking about this is part of a desperately needed overall investigation into the productivity of the British economy and the ecosystem of universities, basic science, venture capital, startups, regulation (data, intellectual property etc) and so on.

There will also be many controversies and problems. The ability to edit genomes — and even edit the germline with ‘gene drives’ so all descendants have the same copy of the gene — is a Promethean power implying extreme responsibilities. On a mundane level, embracing new technology is clearly hard for the NHS with its data infrastructure. Almost everyone I speak to using the NHS has had similar problems that I have had — nightmares with GPs, hospitals, consultants et al being able to share data and records, things going missing, etc. The NHS will be crippled if it can’t fix this, but this is another reason to integrate data science as a core ‘utility’ for the NHS.

On a political note…

Few scientists and even fewer in the tech world are aware of the EU’s legal framework for regulating technology and the implications of the recent Charter of Fundamental Rights (the EU’s Charter, NOT the ECHR) which gives the Commission/ECJ the power to regulate any advanced technology, accelerate the EU’s irrelevance, and incentivise investors to invest outside the EU. In many areas, the EU regulates to help the worst sort of giant corporate looters defending their position against entrepreneurs. Post-Brexit Britain will be outside this jurisdiction and able to make faster and better decisions about regulating technology like genomics, AI and robotics. Prediction: just as Insiders now talk of how we ‘dodged a bullet’ in staying out of the euro, within ~10 years Insiders will talk about being outside the Charter/ECJ and the EU’s regulation of data/AI in similar terms (assuming Brexit happens and UK politicians even try to do something other than copy the EU’s rules).

China is pushing very hard on genomics/AI and regards such fields as crucial strategic ground for its struggle for supremacy with America. America has political and regulatory barriers holding it back on genomics that are much weaker here. Britain cannot stop the development of such science. Britain can choose to be a backwater, to ignore such things and listen to MPs telling fairy stories while the Chinese plough ahead, or it can try to lead. But there is no hiding from the truth and ‘for progress there is no cure’ (von Neumann). We will never be the most important manufacturing nation again but we could lead in crucial sub-fields of advanced technology. As ARPA-PARC showed, tiny investments can create entire new industries and trillions of dollars of value.

Sadly most politicians of Left and Right have little interest in science funding with tremendous implications for future growth, or the broader question of productivity and the ecosystem of science, entrepreneurs, universities, funding, regulation etc, and we desperately need institutions that incentivise politicians and senior officials to ‘play the Gretzky game’. The next few months will be dominated by Brexit and, hopefully, the replacement of the May/Hammond government. Those thinking about the post-May landscape and trying to figure out how to navigate in uncharted and turbulent waters should focus on one of the great lessons of politics that is weirdly hard for many MPs to internalise: the public rewards sustained focus on their priorities!

One of the lessons of the 2016 referendum (that many Conservative MPs remain desperate not to face) is the political significance of the NHS. The concept described above is one of those concepts in politics that maximises positive futures for the force that adopts it because it draws on multiple sources of strength. It combines, inter alia, all the political benefits of focus on the NHS, helping domestic technology companies, incentivising global investment, doing something that shows the world that Britain is (contra the May/Hammond outlook) open to science and high skilled immigrants, it is based on intrinsic advantages that Europe and America will find hard to overcome over a decade, it supplies (NB. MPs/spads) a never-ending string of heart-wrenching good news stories, and, very rarely in SW1, those pushing it would be seen as leading something of global importance. It will, therefore, obviously be rejected by a section of Conservative MPs who much prefer to live in a parallel world, who hate anything to do with science and who are ignorant about how new industries and wealth are really created. But for anybody trying to orient themselves to reality, connect themselves to sources of power, and thinking ‘how on earth could we clamber out of this horror show’, it is an obvious home run…

NB. It ought to go without saying that turning this idea into a political/government success requires focus on A) the NHS, health, science, NOT getting sidetracked into B) arguments about things like IQ and social mobility. Over time, the educated classes will continue to be dragged to more realistic views on (B) but this will be a complex process entangled with many hysterical episodes. (A) requires ruthless focus…

Please leave comments, fix errors below. I have not shown this blog in draft to Plomin or Hsu who obviously are not responsible for my errors.

Further reading

Plomin’s excellent new book, Blueprint. I would encourage journalists who want to understand this subject to speak to Plomin who works in London and is able to explain complex technical subjects to very confused arts graduates like me.

On the genetic architecture of intelligence and other quantitative traits, Hsu 2014.

Cf. this thread by researcher Paul Pharaoh on breast cancer.

Hsu blogs on genomics.

Some recent developments with AI/ML, links to papers.

On how ARPA-PARC created the modern computer industry and lessons for high-risk-high-payoff science research.

My 2013 essay.

#29 On the referendum & #4c on Expertise: On the ARPA/PARC ‘Dream Machine’, science funding, high performance, and UK national strategy

Post-Brexit Britain should be considering the intersection of 1) ARPA/PARC-style science research and ‘systems management’ for managing complex projects with 2) the reform of government institutions so that high performance teams — with different education/training (‘Tetlock processes’) and tools (including data science and visualisations of interactive models of complex systems) — can make ‘better decisions in a complex world’.  

This paper examines the ARPA/PARC vision for computing and the nature of the two organisations. In the 1960s visionaries such as Joseph Licklider, Robert Taylor and Doug Engelbart developed a vision of networked interactive computing that provided the foundation not just for new technologies but for whole new industries. Licklider, Sutherland, Taylor et al provided a model (ARPA) for how science funding can work. Taylor provided a model (PARC) of how to manage a team of extremely talented people who turned a profound vision into reality. The original motivation for the vision of networked interactive computing was to help humans make good decisions in a complex world.

This story suggests ideas about how to make big improvements in the world with very few resources if they are structured right. From a British perspective it also suggests ideas about what post-Brexit Britain should do to help itself and the world and how it might be possible to force some sort of ‘phase transition’ on the rotten Westminster/Whitehall system.

For the PDF of the paper click HERE. Please correct errors with page numbers below. I will update it after feedback.

Further Reading

The Dream Machine.

Dealers of Lightning.

‘Sketchpad: A man-machine graphical communication system’, Ivan Sutherland 1963.

Oral history interview with Sutherland, head of ARPA’s IPTO division 1963-5.

This link has these seminal papers:

  • Man-Computer Symbiosis, Licklider (1960)
  • The computer as a communications device, Licklider & Taylor (1968)

Watch Alan Kay explain how to invent the future to YCombinator classes HERE and HERE.  

HERE for Kay quotes from emails with Bret Victor.

HERE for Kay’s paper on PARC, The Power of the Context.

Kay’s Early History of Smalltalk.

HERE for a conversation between Kay and Engelbart.

Alan Kay’s tribute to Ted Nelson at “Intertwingled” Fest (an Alto using Smalltalk).

Personal Distributed Computing: The Alto and Ethernet Software1, Butler Lampson. 

You and Your Research, Richard Hamming.

AI nationalism, essay by Ian Hogarth. This concerns implications of AI for geopolitics.

Drones go to work, Chris Anderson (one of the pioneers of commercial drones). This explains the economics of the drone industry.

Meditations on Moloch, Scott Alexander. This is an extremely good essay in general about deep problems with our institutions.

Intelligence Explosion Microeconomics, Yudkowsky.

Autonomous technology and the greater human good. Omohundro.

Can intelligence explode? Hutter.

For the issue of IQ, genetics and the distribution of talent (and much much more), cf. Steve Hsu’s brilliant blog.

Bret Victor.

Michael Nielsen.

For some pre-history on computers, cf. The birth of computational thinking (some of the history of computing devices before the Turing/von Neumann revolution) and The crisis of mathematical paradoxes, Gödel, Turing and the basis of computing (some of the history of ideas about mathematical foundations and logic such as the famous papers by Gödel and Turing in the 1930s)

Part I of this series of blogs is HERE.

Part II on the emergence of ‘systems management’, how George Mueller used it to put man on the moon, and a checklist of how successful management of complex projects is systematically different to how Whitehall works is HERE.

On the referendum #28: Some interesting stuff on AI/ML with, hopefully, implications for post-May/Hammond decisions

Here are a few interesting recent papers I’ve read over the past few months.

Bear in mind that Shane Legg, co-founder and chief scientist of Deep Mind, said publicly a few years ago that there’s a 50% probability that we will achieve human level AI by 2028 and a 90% probability by 2050. Given all that has happened since, including at Deep Mind, it’s surely unlikely he now thinks this forecast is too optimistic. Also bear in mind that the US-China AI arms race is already underway, the UK lost its main asset before almost any MPs even knew its name, and the EU in general (outside London) is decreasingly relevant as progress at the edge of the field is driven by coastal America and coastal China, spurred by commercial and national security dynamics. This will get worse as the EU Commission and the ECJ use the Charter of Fundamental Rights to grab the power to regulate all high technology fields from AI to genomics — a legal/power dynamic still greatly under-appreciated in London’s technology world. If you think GDPR is a mess, wait for the ECJ to spend three years deciding crucial cases on autonomous drones and genetic engineering before upending research in the field…

Vote Leave argued during the referendum that a Leave victory should deliver the huge changes that the public wanted and the UK should make science and technology the focus of a profound process of national renewal. On this as on everything else, from Article 50 to how to conduct the negotiations to budget priorities to immigration policy, SW1 in general and the Conservative Party in particular did the opposite of what Vote Leave said. They have driven the country into the ditch and the only upside is they have exposed the rottenness of Westminster and Whitehall and forced many who wanted to keep the duvet over their eyes to face reality — the first step in improvement.

After the abysmal May/Hammond interlude is over, hopefully some time between October 2018 — July 2019, its replacement will need to change course on almost every front from the NHS to how SW1 pours billions into the greedy paws of corporate looters via its appallingly managed >£200 BILLION annual contracting/procurement budget — ‘there’s no money’ bleats most of SW1 as it unthinkingly shovels it at the demimonde of Carillion/BaE-like companies that prop up its MPs with donations.

May’s replacement could decide to take seriously the economic and technological forces changing the world. The UK could, with a very different vision of the future to anything now proposed in Whitehall, improve its own security and prosperity and help the world but this will require 1) substantially changing the wiring of power in Whitehall so decisions are better (new people, training, ideas, tools, and institutions), and 2) making scientific research and technology projects important at the apex of power. We could build real assets with much greater real influence than the chimerical ‘influence’ in Brussels meeting rooms that SW1 has used as an excuse to give away power to Brussels where thinking is much closer to the 1970s than to today’s coastal China or Silicon Valley. Brushing aside Corbyn would be child’s play for a government that could focus on important questions and took project management — an undiscussable subject in SW1 — seriously.

The whole country — the whole world — can see our rotten parties have failed us. The parties ally with the civil service to keep new ideas and people excluded. SW1 has tried to resist the revolutionary implications of the referendum but this resistance has to crack: one way or the other the old ways are doomed. The country voted for profound change in 2016. The Tories didn’t understand this hence, partly, the worst campaign in modern history. This dire Cabinet, doomed to merciless judgement in the history books, is visibly falling: let’s ‘push what is falling’…

For specific proposals on improving the appalling science funding system, see below.

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The Sam Altman co-founded non-profit, OpenAI, made major progress with its Dota-playing AI last week: follow @gdb for updates. Deep Mind is similarly working on Starcraft. It is a major advance to shift from perfect information games like GO to imperfect strategic games like Dota and Starcraft. If AIs shortly beat the best humans at full versions of such games, then it means they can outperform at least parts of human reasoning in ways that have been assumed to be many years away. As OpenAI says, it is a major step ‘towards advanced AI systems which can handle the complexity and uncertainty of the real world.’

https://blog.openai.com/openai-five-benchmark-results/

RAND paper on how AI affects the chances of nuclear catastrophe:

https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/perspectives/PE200/PE296/RAND_PE296.pdf

The Malicious Use of Artificial Intelligence:

https://img1.wsimg.com/blobby/go/3d82daa4-97fe-4096-9c6b-376b92c619de/downloads/1c6q2kc4v_50335.pdf

Defense Science Board: ‘Summer Study on Autonomy’ (2016):

http://www.acq.osd.mil/dsb/reports/2010s/DSBSS15.pdf

JASON: ‘Perspectives on Research in Artificial Intelligence and Artificial General Intelligence Relevant to DoD’ (2017)

https://fas.org/irp/agency/dod/jason/ai-dod.pdf

Artificial Intelligence and National Security, Greg Allen Taniel Chan (for IARPA):

Artificial Intelligence and National Security – The Belfer Center for …

Some predictions on driverless cars and other automation milestones: http://rodneybrooks.com/my-dated-predictions/

Project Maven (very relevant to politicians/procurement): https://thebulletin.org/project-maven-brings-ai-fight-against-isis11374

Chris Anderson on drones changing business sectors:

https://hbr.org/cover-story/2017/05/drones-go-to-work

On the trend in AI compute and economic sustainability (NB. I think the author is wrong on the Manhattan Project being a good upper bound for what a country will spend in an arms race, US GDP spent on DoD at the height of the Cold War would be a better metric): https://aiimpacts.org/interpreting-ai-compute-trends/

Read this excellent essay on ‘AI Nationalism’ by Ian Hogarth, directly relevant to arms race arguments and UK policy.

Read ‘Intelligence Explosion Microeconomics’ by Yudkowsky.

Read ‘Autonomous technology and the greater human good’ by Omohundro — one of the best things about the dangers of AGI and ideas about safety I’ve seen by one of the most respected academics working in this field.

Existential Risk: Diplomacy and Governance (Future of Humanity Institute, 2017).

If you haven’t you should also read this 1955 essay by von Neumann ‘Can we survive technology?’. It is relevant beyond any specific technology. VN was regarded by the likes of Einstein and Dirac as the smartest person they’d ever met. He was involved in the Manhattan Project, inventing computer science, game theory and much more. This essay explored the essential problem that the scale and speed of technological change suddenly blew up assumptions about political institutions’ ability to cope. Much reads as if it were written yesterday.  ‘For progress there is no cure…’

I blogged on a paper by Judea Pearl a few months ago HERE. He is the leading scholar of causation. He argues that current ML approaches are inherently limited and advance requires giving machines causal reasoning:

‘If we want machines to reason about interventions (“What if we ban cigarettes?”) and introspection (“What if I had finished high school?”), we must invoke causal models. Associations are not enough — and this is a mathematical fact, not opinion.’

I also wrote this recently on science funding which links to a great piece by two young neuroscientists about how post-Brexit Britain should improve science and is also relevant to how the UK could set up an ARPA-like entity to fund AI/ML and other fields:

https://dominiccummings.com/2018/06/08/on-the-referendum-25-how-to-change-science-funding-post-brexit/

 

On the referendum #24M: Carole asks me questions, I answer — can MPs handle the truth?

After I published the DCMS report on fake news which itself spreads fake news, misunderstandings, wrong ideas about GDPR and the law etc, Carole commented on my blog. I replied. Both are below unedited for those following the twists of this farcical story…

Remember, the Electoral Commission REFUSED to interview me or any of the 7 Vote Leave staff over 2 years and 3 inquiries. I offered to give evidence to Collins’ committee. He refused to negotiate over dates and demanded a date he knew weeks earlier I could not do. I have made an open offer to MPs to give evidence to any other committee they want on condition only that all of us are under oath. They can make the whole committee Remainers, that’s OK with me, but they have to promise not to lie. Everybody interviewing Collins should ask him — ‘Why don’t MPs call Cummings’ bluff and get him in and all of you do it under oath to get to the bottom of all this once and for all? Wouldn’t it be good for once for MPs to promise not to lie?’

As Jack Nicholson said, ‘The truth? You can’t handle the truth!’

And everybody who interviews Wylie should ask him:

‘You tried to sell Cummings the exact same stuff you now claim is a threat to democracy and he turned you down, YOU admit YOU had access to the notorious Facebook data but Facebook has confirmed that Vote Leave COULD NOT HAVE used that data in their advertising, contrary to what you explicitly claimed, so why should anyone believe a word you say and whom did you flog all that to after Cummings told you to get lost in November 2015?’

FACT: Wylie is a liar, a fantasist and he presented himself to the media as a ‘whistleblower’ without disclosing he tried to sell me his snake oil and assured me he would keep it all ‘secret’. It’s all in writing if a proper court or the MPs ever fancy finally doing a proper investigation of all this…

I see Lionel Barber, editor of the FT which told us repeatedly that our economy would collapse unless we joined the euro, is also yapping about lies and facts. FACT: Barber is happy to publish lies when they’re his lies — I’ve seen him do it many times including about me. During the referendum when an FT’ hack was criticised by a Cabinet Minister for a lack of integrity in the FT’s coverage, his response was a shrug and ‘we’re in campaign mode’. Barber like many mentalist Remainers (and Leavers) lives in a fantasy world where his side are LIGHT AND TRUTH and the other side are DARK AND LIES. Unlike them, I’ve always thought it reasonable to support Remain. I don’t make the mistake of thinking those who disagree with me are evil morons. This is one of the reasons Vote Leave made more rational decisions than the other side which fooled themselves about their environment. These guys are used to getting their own way. They got screwed on the biggest issue in politics when they thought they couldn’t lose. They’re mad partly because they’re rightly embarrassed. And they keep fooling themselves every day…

I see Best for Britain is fundraising for a judicial review demanding a second referendum. This has no prospect of success because the relevant provisions of the EU Act 2011 have been repealed. Raising money for it is arguably fraudulent and criminal behaviour. A hack should investigate…

(For those REALLY interested in this story… There is some comment and I’ve got some emails about why there seem to be VL Facebook ads placed in India/Sri Lanka in June. I haven’t looked at the FB data dump but it’s very likely these were part of the testing for our football contest where we offered a real prize of £50 million if you could predict the Euro football tournament — £50 million a day, you see, because we couldn’t persuade an insurance company to insure us for £350 million prize which is what I wanted to do (we even got in touch with Warren Buffett’s office given he self-insured a  similar prize for his own PR stunt which had given us this idea, but being Buffett’s office they made the smart decision not to get involved damn it). We had to test the infrastructure live without the media seeing so we advertised in Asia including on Asian porn sites to see if the website worked properly, gambling that the British media would probably not see such carefully targeted ads in the middle of the night. This is probably why these otherwise odd looking ads have turned up in the FB data.)

CAROLE COMMENT

Dom. Great to have your input. If only you could have given that in person to MPs as they repeatedly asked you to. You still have not provided any cogent or reasonable answer about why you refuse to answer parliament’s questions. You campaigned for parliament’s sovereignty and yet you do not respect British laws and you deliberately seek to undermine its authority. Can you explain why?

I was posting on Twitter as I looked through those files last night It would have been great to have had yours or Matthew Elliott’s input at any stage. He was online – smearing Damian Collins – why didn’t he chip in? I knew that the law required imprints on political advertisements. I went and read the guidelines to referendum campaigners and that included digital adverts too…but as others pointed out this morning – and as I updated to make clear – the ones for digital ads are different. They *do not have the force of law*. So, you’re quite correct. There is a loophole.

A loophole that you knew about and exploited because you make no mention of the framing of the 50 million ads. They didn’t have any mention of Vote Leave, did they? Or at least from the information released by Facebook, there was nothing to say who the advert was on behalf of or what it was for? (Anonymously harvesting people’s data.) Can you please display how these were seen on Facebook and explain your rationale for apparently not disclosing who was placing the advertisement or how it was intended to be used?

You mention nothing about the toxic nature of these adverts. Their overt racism. The scaremongering. The blatant lies. Would you like to comment on those?

And can you comment too on the adverts that were shown after Jo Cox was murdered and campaigning was suspended. It appears that some of these ads – including one labeled “Breaking News” – were scheduled during that period. Certainly they reached millions of people. Can you clarify: were you campaigning during that period? Or is there another explanation?

Which of these ads were posted publicly to Vote Leave’s Facebook page? And which were dark? The majority of these have never been seen publicly before so it seems at least some are the latter. Could you clarify? And specify which.

It is really helpful and important to have input – that’s why I’ve repeatedly sent you questions to which I’ve never had any proper replies. I anticipate your fullest response so that we can be sure to get this right.

Thanks, Carole

MY REPLY

1/ I’ve never ‘refused to answer’ questions as you know. I offered to negotiate a date with Collins and he refused the offer. I’ve also offered to give evidence to a different committee — though I’ve suggested we ALL should do it UNDER OATH. Wouldn’t that be a good way to set an example to the nation — political discussions with everyone forced to be careful about the truth?!

2/ ‘I was posting on Twitter as I looked through those files last night It would have been great to have had yours or Matthew Elliott’s input at any stage.’ That’s not how journalism works. You don’t babble nonsense on Twitter accusing people of being racist criminals and expect that they’re monitoring you 24/7 and leap in to fix your repeated errors. It is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO FACT CHECK BEFORE MAKING CLAIMS.

As you know, the Observer and you have had to delete many defamatory claims you’ve made (about others) based on fantasies. Remember how you made claims about ‘deleting the google drive’ that I told you were lies, and you’ve had to delete all that from the Guardian website and your twitter feed AND PAY LEGAL COSTS TO THOSE YOU DEFAMED?

3/ ‘So, you’re quite correct. There is a loophole.’ Glad to see this but how about deleting all your tweets that call us criminals — or do you think it’s OK to accuse people of being ‘criminals’ on the basis of errors and leave the errors spreading across the world?

4/ I don’t remember exactly how the 50m ads were done. I remember there was a separate website. But all Facebook ads have to have a frame so they will have been identified. And remember the POINT of it was to collect data! There HAD to be an identifiable click through for the ads or the whole exercise would have been pointless. So though I can’t remember the detail I know for sure there was a clear identification and a website with a proper legal privacy policy and connection to Vote Leave etc.

5/ ‘can you comment too on the adverts that were shown after Jo Cox was murdered and campaigning was suspended. It appears that some of these ads – including one labeled “Breaking News” – were scheduled during that period. Certainly they reached millions of people.’ Wrong. As I’ve explained on my blog. Ads were not shown in that time. You think it is ‘certain’ — your certainty is unfounded.

6/ Lies? Cameron wanted to ‘pave the road from Ankara’, it’s on film. Fact!

7/ We ran no ‘dark’ posts despite repeated claims to the contrary. Everything you see in the FB data dump was a normal FB ad. Remember, I asked FB to release everything weeks ago. Are you asking Remain to do the same or are you happy for what they did to stay ‘dark’?

If you really care about facts and truth you will stop spreading fake news across the internet time after time.

Although lots of people call you a liar I don’t agree with them. The whistleblowers lied and have given multiple versions of the same events that would be shredded in open court under oath — e.g Sanni claiming he saw me have meetings with Grimes and AIQ (total invention, no such meetings happened but of course the EC never asked me or Grimes about this or anything else). But I think you just want to believe we’re baddies, you trust the wrong people, and you don’t check stuff properly. If you’re going to write about fake news on a website that reaches millions, you have a particularly strong responsibility to stop spreading misinformation about this story. If you want to be treated like Bob Woodward, you should be careful about facts. If you’d done Watergate, Nixon would have been able to trash the story and get away with it.

In the autumn, you and I should do an interview. You interview me for 90 minutes and ask whatever you want. But then I’ll interview you for 90 minutes about your reporting. All on film so no fancy editing.

And in the meantime you should ask the MPs — why not call Cummings’ bluff and accept his offer for a multi-hour session, no questions banned, with all of you under oath so you can finally nail him?

Best wishes
D

On referendum #24L: Fake news from the fake news committee, Carole, and a rematch against the public

[Update. More fake news — claims we kept advertising during the ‘pause’ after Jo Cox’s murder. Wrong. The spreadsheet data from Facebook reflects when the ads were created, not when they were shown. AIQ was putting stuff into the system during the pause, not running ads. Again this false meme is already around the world. Alistair 45 minutes Campbell is ranting about moral cesspits. But yet again it’s fake news.

Incidentally, I opposed any pause at the time. I think the right way to deal with terrorism is to carry on with normal life, like Britain used to when it was a more serious country. (I hated the way Cameron would tweet in response to ISIS, giving them just what they want. I hated the way Cameron and Blair read out in Parliament names of people killed which had the same effect. I thought it also reflected SW1’s basic ignorance about how to deal with information operations against terrorist groups in many ways more sophisticated about communication than traditional institutions — eg. Hezbollah often does TV better than the Tory Party.) But I was outvoted by MPs who downed tools and headed back to London, giving Osborne/Dre the chance to use the news as they wished. But they botched it — in a classic case study of people fooling themselves, they thought that the country reflected the mood of Inner London. They started tweeting broken hearts and ‘we love our MP’ at each other. They therefore blew their last chance to recover from strategic misjudgements. Those who would run Remain in a second referendum remain disconnected from reality and on current form would botch a second referendum which anyway would be held in circumstances much more favourable to Leave on almost every dimension.

Also NB. Carole Cadwalladr has commented below and I will answer shortly.

Also NB. contra some reports, I was not sent the report by the Committee. I’m told they did send it to ‘witnesses’ but that did not include me. I was sent it by someone in Parliament fed up with Collins’ dishonesty and blatant use of Carole’s conspiracies for his own end of overturning the referendum result.]

A few thoughts on the last 24 hours of conspiracy theories plus a copy of the DCMS Select Committee report on fake news. They gave it to Carole for Sunday, obviously, but someone appalled at their dishonesty leaked it to me so I publish it below. It is, in keeping with their general behaviour, itself fake news.

Most of SW1 has suffered a psychological and operational implosion because of the referendum. 

Many MPs, hacks and chalatan-pundits on both sides have responded to the result by retreating to psychologically appealing parallel worlds rather than face reality — ‘the frogs before the storm’ prefer the comforting Oblonsky mental fug of groupthink.

A subset of the ERG, for example, welcomed the December agreement on the Irish backstop that actually spelled doom for their central ideas about how the negotiations were being conducted. Bernard Jenkin was so confident that he and Cash understood what was happening he cheerfully wrote that he had not needed to read it before welcoming it. This is the same group now ranting about Chequers — which was programmed by the December agreement, as are the imminent further surrenders in the autumn on Free Movement and everything else! This is the same group that tells everyone that people like me who say that serious preparations are needed to leave the EU are ‘like those peddling the Millennium Bug’. Their ideas on preparations are as accurate as their ideas on the December agreement were and of course in order to avoid facing their tragi-comic blunders of judgement over two years they are constructing parallel worlds for their minds to live in.

Hardcore Remainers are similar. They want a second referendum and this requires de-legitimising the first. They therefore hysterically spread false memes while shouting ‘liars’ at Leavers. Cash and Carole have a lot in common.

The last 24 hours has illustrated again how the entire story about Vote Leave / data / digital communications has become a great case study in contemporary politics: ubiquitous accusations of lying by people who either lie or are entirely reckless about the truth, almost nobody figuring out reality before babbling all over social media setting off cascades of false information, MPs clueless about basic legal issues also spreading false memes and so on. 

A few simple points about the new wave of fake news.

Carole has spread countless factual errors for over a year. When I explained how we had followed best practice to safeguard personal data by quickly deleting the VL electoral database containing tens of millions after the referendum, she turned this professional and ethical behaviour (not copied by the Remain campaign which kept it all) into accusations of me ‘destroying evidence’ and perverting the course of justice. This sort of thing has happened repeatedly.

Over the past 24 hours she has constructed new fake memes now spreading across the world. 

1. The latest astonishing ‘crimes’ according to Carole et al is that the VL ads did not have ‘imprints’, were ‘dark’, unethical and illegal. She has tweeted dozens of times along the lines of:

‘[Vote Leave] DELIBERATELY BROKE THE LAW by leaving off who paid for it… No wonder Dominic Cummings wouldn’t come to parliament. No wonder @facebook didn’t want to release this shit. This is truly toxic, dark, absolutely undemocratic shit at the heart of the biggest election we’ll ever see… Look at this stuff. Fake fake fake news. It’s not an ad. It’s not labelled as an ad. It doesn’t say who placed it or who paid for it or who it was targeted at or way. This is the fakiest of fake news. And until today we had no idea about any of this’. 

This is totally wrong and reflects deep misunderstandings. 

a. The campaigns were NOT legally required to carry imprints in the same way as printed  material. Carole is factually wrong about the law again. 

b. This is actually irrelevant because the VL ads that Carole claims were ‘dark’ and criminal because ‘no imprint’ actually were clearly labelled as VL. The images she is pulling from the FB data dump are raw images — they are not images of the actual ads themselves. The images sat within a ‘frame’ which everyone seeing them on Facebook would see. This included ‘Vote Leave’ and other text and also had a weblink. 

E.g Carole posts this as new evidence that I should be locked up — an image ‘without imprint’:

Screenshot 2018-07-27 11.55.21

 

(By the way, you CANNOT trust David ‘pave the road from Ankara’ Cameron on Turkey! Don’t believe me? Watch this!)

 

This is how ads actually appear on Facebook:

Screenshot 2018-07-27 11.57.39

Thousands of people are now spreading Carole’s memes across the internet. They are shocked and appalled — surely the criminal Cummings will finally be jailed etc. 

2. Amid the data dump of Facebook ads, there are claims that VL promoted BeLeave ads. This is a misunderstanding and the BBC has corrected their story. These ads appear in the 0-999 impressions box in the FB spreadsheet because the actual number of impressions was ZERO. They never ran. This issue is related to AIQ’s recent explanation of an error they made with loading audiences for BeLeave. It is detailed and technical and I won’t go into it here but in a nutshell: VL did not promote BeLeave ads. Remain, however, did do this but of course nobody cares. (It is more forgivable to make mistakes about this as it is a tricky niche issue.)

3. Another criminal conspiracy Carole is spreading across the internet concerns Brexit Central. This was set up after the vote (not by me). Grimes went to work on it and merged the BeLeave page into the BC page hence FB labels them confusingly as ‘Brexit Central/BeLeave’. Without asking anybody what it means, Carole and others have screamed ‘aha this organisation secretly existed before the vote and was illegally advertising, LOCK UP CRIMINAL CUMMINGS.’ Wrong again.

There are many other false memes spreading but there’s no point going into all of them.

Also NB. I asked months ago for Facebook to publish everything in the interests of transparency. Will Will Straw do as I did and ask Facebook to publish EVERYTHING they have about the Remain campaign? I’m not holding my breath.

HERE IS THE DCMS REPORT ON FAKE NEWS. IT IS… FAKE NEWS

The report knowingly/incompetently makes false claims regarding Vote Leave, AIQ and BeLeave. Despite nobody ever producing any evidence for Carole’s original loony conspiracy theory that I was secretly coordinating with Arron Banks, Bannon and Robert Mercer, the Committee also asks for yet another inquiry of this and of course they want the police involved to give credibility to their fantasies and legitimise their campaign for a second referendum. The MPs know Facebook has explained to them that VL COULD NOT HAVE used the notorious Facebook data acquired by Cambridge Analytica but they try to provide credibility to these conspiracy theories.

Further, these MPs have littered their report with errors and misunderstandings about the legal framework for elections, thus spreading further confusion. They haven’t even bothered to understand GDPR, which they mis-explain badly. Collins et al have shown no interest in the truth. Now MPs publish a document after months of supposed work that makes basic errors about electoral law which will debase public debate even further.

NB. I HAVE SUGGESTED TO MPS THAT I COME AND GIVE EVIDENCE AND WE ALL OPERATE UNDER OATH. NOT A SQUEAK FROM THEM.

JUST LIKE THE ELECTORAL COMMISSION REFUSED TO SPEAK TO ME OR ANYBODY ELSE FROM VOTE LEAVE OVER TWO YEARS AND THREE INQUIRIES.

WHY?

AS JACK NICHOLSON SAYS, ‘THE TRUTH? YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!’

If the MPs really want to get to the bottom of this, all they have to do is promise to tell the truth. Come on guys, step up to the plate…

If SW1 put 1% of the effort it’s put into spreading fake news about Vote Leave into FIXING THE LAWS as I suggested BEFORE Carole’s conspiracy theories got traction, we would be in a much healthier state. But SW1 is rotten…

Hugo Rifkind says ‘Whatever you think of the referendum result, we can’t ever let there be a campaign like this again.’

Tough luck Hugo — if your side gets its way and there is another referendum, Vote Leave 2 will be much much worse for your side than VL1 was. VL2 will win by more than VL1 and the logical corollary will be to morph into a new party and fight the next election ‘to implement the promises we made in the referendum because the MPs have proved they can’t be trusted’. At a minimum VL2 will win the referendum and destroy the strategic foundations of both main parties. The Tories will be destroyed and maybe Labour too. The rotten civil service system will be replaced and the performance of government will be transformed for the better. Investment in basic science research will flow. Long-term funding for the NHS guaranteed by law. MORE high skilled immigrants, FEWER low-skilled. An agenda that could not be described as Left or Right. The public will love it. Insiders will hate it but they will have slit their own throats and have no moral credibility. Few careers will survive.

Is there enough self-awareness and self-interest among MPs to realise the consequences? Hard to say. I’m more critical of SW1 than almost any Insider and even I have been surprised by the rottenness. It will be no surprise if they slit their own throats.

So far the MPs have botched things on an epic scale but it’s hard to break into the Westminster system — they rig the rules to stop competition. Vote Leave 1 needed Cameron’s help to hack the system. If you guys want to run with Adonis and create another wave, be careful what you wish for. ‘Unda fert nec regitur’ and VL2 will ride that wave right at — and through — the gates of Parliament.

Ps. One hack who does actually pay attention to facts on this subject is Jim Waterson. It can’t be comfortable pointing out facts at the Guardian on this story so double credit to him.

[Pps. Sorry for mis-remembering Tom Cruise/Jack Nicholson to those who messaged.]

On the referendum #24K: Observer fake news and a suggestion — I and the MPs discuss this with all of us under oath

Very short blog re the Observer story…

As usual the news these days is very confusing.

I have never refused to give evidence to MPs.

I offered to give evidence to MPs in writing.

Collins refused to discuss a suitable date, insisted on a date he knew I could not do, and chose to issue a formal summons instead of figure out when I could come.

I therefore said that his Committee was plainly behaving unreasonably, that I would not attend it, but I would consider speaking to another Committee:

‘If another Committee behaves reasonably and I can give evidence without compromising various legal actions then I will consider it. Once these legal actions have finished, presumably this year, it will be easy to arrange if someone else wants to do it.’ HERE.

Since I wrote that, MPs have not taken me up on their offer. Collins’ Committee has continued to spread fake news across the internet. Collins has misled Parliament about Vote Leave.

If MPs want to hear what actually happened — from AIQ to Cambridge Analytica to BeLeave — all they have to do is ask and I will be VERY happy to talk to them. Surely there is a Committee there that can make time if MPs are really so desperate to know? The Collins Committee is only into ‘fake news’ and data whereas these issues in many ways are much more fundamental than that and touch on many committees. They could even form an ad hoc Special Committee — and I don’t mind if they stack it with all Remainers if they like, as they have with Collins’ Committee. Collins could be on it too.

There is only one complicating factor. The Electoral Commission told me last week that I have never been investigated by them. This will seem astonishing given their report essentially is a claim that although they cannot provide any evidence for it I somehow must have devised a ‘common plan’ with Grimes. They have concluded this without ever investigating me or interviewing me and after rejecting my offer to talk to them. Further, the EC says they have referred ‘others’ to the police as well as the VL ‘responsible person’. I am told this refers to me. But the EC is under legal obligations to investigate people before they refer them to the police and they have not investigated me, according to them. Baffling…

If the EC confirms that they have not referred me to the police, and my only future involvement is therefore as a witness in the VL/Grimes appeals and further investigations, then as far as I understand it there is no barrier to me giving evidence to Parliament.

I would also be happy to do this UNDER OATH which the whistleblowers have not done — and THE MPs SHOULD ALSO BE UNDER OATH and therefore obliged not to say things they know, or reasonably should know, are false. Collins could therefore be on this Committee but he could not repeat falsehoods. Ditto Bradshaw, Lammy, Grieve or any of the rest who tell all sorts of lies about the referendum. Wouldn’t it be an improvement over the usual Parliamentary process for everybody there to be under an obligation to tell the truth, particularly at a time when so many in public life lie as a matter of course?! We’d all be forced to up our game for many hours on end and avoid lots of the usual silliness in such events. This could only be a good thing.

Also note that the whistleblowers have provably lied — so much that the Observer has been forced to delete many of their original allegations from their website and forced Carole to delete many of her tweets and the Observer has coughed up substantial legal fees (not mine, I have not hired any lawyers or threatened any hacks with lawyers).

The normal pattern is for people to say ‘Cummings is bluffing’. When people say this it always turns out I wasn’t. Remember last year when I said the EC had written to VL saying we could make donations? Carole and @Jolyon said I was lying/bluffing for a year. What happened? The documents were produced in the High Court as part of the judicial review: I wasn’t lying and I wasn’t bluffing, though much of the media has not realised this fact and still reports fake news. I don’t bluff when my bluff will obviously be called.

If the EC confirms they have not referred me to the police — which logically they cannot have done given they have never investigated me (unless they are lying which surely is extremely improbable?) — and MPs get in touch to fix a date I will be more than happy to answer every question any of them have.

I will blog further about this weird affair this week.

Should we trust London police (and therefore the Mayor’s/Home Office’s) claims on crime stats?

I just read a report in the Islington newspaper about crime statistics.

Ten days ago I was sitting outside a cafe in Islington.

Thanks to a few years of working in a nightclub and a couple of years in Russia followed by episodes like the referendum, I have developed a greater than average degree of paranoia. This is almost always irritating but occasionally useful. 

Typing away on my computer, I sensed a scooter’s noise was too close.

I looked up and my eyes locked on those of someone driving their scooter into my table in about one second’s time.

Between a mask across his nose and a hat, all I could see was young black male eyes (~15-25). I think it extremely unlikely I could have identified him in a lineup.

A second later his bike hit my table and he grabbed my laptop.

I grabbed it back, we wrestled, he nearly fell off his bike and after a half second pause when I thought ‘fuckhesabouttogetoffhisbikehithimfirst’ he whizzed off down the pavement nearly smashing into someone on the pavement.

This was seen by half a dozen people. Two were calling the cops within seconds. 

I stood on the street and cursed my stupidity in fighting over a laptop (no Carole, no evidence of global conspiracies there).

The cops told both witnesses they would come.

I hung around for an hour or so. They never came despite having been told the whole scene was captured on CCTV.

A few days later, as I was typing on my laptop inside the same cafe, the same scene played out.

I saw it through the window as a guy grabbed a laptop from a girl and whizzed off. She was sitting between two parents each with a small child. Both parents were rightly worried about the potential for such attacks to lead to a collision between escaping bike and toddler. My wife and I often sit there with our toddler.

She called the cops and told them it would be on CCTV (I’d told her).

The cops said they’d come.

I hung around for an hour or so.

They never came.

These two incidents have happened after a spate of knife attacks in the half a square mile around this cafe and the colonisation of Rosemary Gardens by various gangs at various times of the day.

According to the Islington Gazette today (HERE), the local cops are claiming that moped crime is 60% down.

I know from my nightclub days that when local cops need to show a fall in crime for political reasons there are all sorts of ways in which they can easily cheat numbers.

As far as I understand it, neither of the two moped attacks above would be recorded in the stats. There was no attempt to watch CCTV footage or gather evidence once they knew the people concerned were not claiming injuries.

Should I trust official statistics such as those announced by Islington police today or am I right to be sceptical? Are there are any serious statistical papers estimating what sort of errors are likely in such statistics (NB. polling companies often misstate the definition of ‘margin of error’ in their own polls so it is common for fields to have ropey ideas about error rates)? 

Apart from whether there is a rigorous process for gathering such statistics locally, is there a Red Team that acts across London to review local processes?

Do Corbyn and Thornberry (local MPs) believe the official statistics? Does the Mayor? Do the Home Secretary and Prime Minister? (I imagine that the Mayor’s office has no real capacity to interrogate official figures and is more or less completely reliant on what he is told?)

Ps. Later that day I called 111 to see what would happen if I tried to report it. A recorded message said long delays, use the website. I went to the website, started to fill it in, the page crashed, and I abandoned ship. Doubtless I should have pursued harder to ensure it was recorded but I guess my behaviour is roughly typical so many similar incidents with other people are probably not being recorded, which is my main point.

Pps. At the least, saying ‘we will come’ then not coming leads local people to conclude a) you can’t rely on the police, b) they’re giving up. So if they are not going to come, it would be wiser to say so and explain why. It’s always interesting when such basic processes are wrong. E.g the way health systems kill thousands every year needlessly because they don’t use simple checklists to avoid central line infections. People in politics tend to spend far too much time on higher profile issues affecting few people and too little time on such basic processes that affect thousands or millions and which we know how to do much better… Cf. blog on expertise which is also relevant to the new money for the NHS.