On the referendum #34: BATSIGNAL!! DON’T LET CORBYN-STURGEON CHEAT A SECOND REFERENDUM WITH MILLIONS OF FOREIGN VOTES

Dear Vote Leave supporters

LET’S HONOUR THE REFERENDUM RESULT AND GET BREXIT DONE SO THE COUNTRY CAN MOVE ON

Summary: Tell your family and friends face-to-face: if Boris doesn’t get a majority, then Corbyn and Sturgeon will control the government, their official policy is to give the vote to millions of foreign citizens to cheat their second referendum, we’ll all get screwed on taxes, Parliament will drag the whole country into crisis, and immigration will return to being a central issue in politics instead of being marginalised by Brexit…

Days after the 2016 referendum, I emailed all of you to say thanks for your heroic efforts. 

I also said — keep an eye on my blog, if Brexit is in danger then I will send up a ‘bat signal’ here.

Here we go…

All of you who helped Vote Leave win should ask yourself: what should I do, and not do, to ensure we leave in the best way possible?

This is my answer to this question…

Boris fought for Leave in 2016. I worked with him closely in the referendum. I know how committed he was. I also know how angry he was that the government did not immediately put more money into the NHS, as should have happened and as we in Vote Leave campaigned for.  

On 21 July 2019, three days before becoming Prime Minister, he asked me to gather as many of the old Vote Leave team as possible and bring them to Downing Street to help deliver Brexit. He said he was determined to do everything he could to ensure the referendum result was respected.

I have never been a member of any party but I accepted his offer, we re-assembled many of the VL team and we went to No10. We wanted to ensure that the referendum is respected and that Westminster is fundamentally changed. 

I’ve been with him for the 100 days between 24 July and 31 October, often for many hours a day. I saw him in meeting after meeting. He threw everything he had at it. The forces against us were very powerful. Most of the powerful people in Westminster supported Remain. 

Before the referendum, MPs promised to respect the result. They explicitly ruled out a second referendum — David Cameron, John Major, Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson, Nick Clegg, Corbyn, McDonnell, Starmer, Swinson, Gordon Brown, Heseltine, and even the official Remain campaign — they all said: ‘No second referendum, one vote, it will hold for a generation and Leave means leaving the Single Market and Customs Union and everyone should realise that because there’s no going back after the 23 June 2016.’

Many MPs behaved honestly. They tried to respect the result. They deserve respect. 

But many MPs who promised to respect the result have done all they could to overturn it. The official Remain campaign’s central argument during the referendum was that ‘it’s all about leaving the Single Market and Customs Union’. They’ve spent the next four years saying ‘the referendum wasn’t about the Single Market and Customs Union’. Some like Dominic Grieve told voters at the last election that he would respect the referendum then did the opposite. MPs like him should be forced from public life in disgrace for their shameless dishonesty. 

A powerful network did all they could to stop Brexit and make a pro-Brexit government impossible. Billionaires hired lawyers — some of them the same charlatans who spread fake news about Vote Leave and Russia for three years — to write legislation and start legal cases to force delay, hoping that delay would bring the chance for another referendum. 

They succeeded. Unprecedented in modern British history and outside all normal civil service rules, a bunch of MPs, some of them working with foreign governments, wrote primary legislation — ‘the Surrender Act’ also known as the Benn Act — without any of the scrutiny of who influenced and who funded it that is normal for legislation. It was fitting that the law to scupper the biggest democratic exercise in British history was passed in this way. Corbyn, Sturgeon and co had a majority that forced the government to ask for another delay and accept any conditions Brussels demanded. Such is their loyalty to the EU they were happy to make Britain a laughing stock.

So, it’s clear that many of these powerful insiders who promised to respect the referendum will do absolutely anything to keep their grip on power and money. They will do anything to stop YOU, normal voters, from taking back control OF THEM

How far will they go?

If Boris doesn’t get a majority, then Corbyn will take control of No10 on Friday 13th in alliance with Sturgeon plus the Liberal Democrats. And if this Corbyn-Sturgeon alliance takes control, their official policy is to give millions of EU citizens the vote in the second referendum. They don’t plan to lose again and they’ve literally written into their manifesto that they will cheat the second referendum — apart from giving millions of foreign citizens the vote, they will rig the question so the ‘choice’ is effectively ‘Remain or Remain’, they will cheat the rules, they will do anything, supported by the likes of Goldman Sachs writing the cheques like they did in 2016, to ensure Remain win. 

As you know, VL said that the rights of EU citizens living here should be respected — and the previous government made a big mistake by doing the opposite of what VL said should happen on this — but giving millions of foreign citizens a vote on membership of the EU is a bad joke. 

If MPs get away with cheating the biggest democratic vote in our history, why should they ever respect democratic votes? It’s already hard enough to make them stick to promises without letting them get away with this.

I know why many are tempted to vote for Corbyn. Under Cameron and May, there were some big decisions about priorities that were wrong. Most importantly, from summer 2016 Hammond repeatedly blocked cash for the NHS and other services. In 2016 people voted for change — the Conservative Party didn’t hear that properly before the referendum and they didn’t hear it properly after the referendum.

But Boris did hear the demand for change and he will deliver it.

Those of us from the Vote Leave team would never have gone to No10 to help if Boris hadn’t told us that he is determined to change the Conservative Party — change its priorities and change its focus so it really serves the whole country. Most of us were not ‘party people’. For us, parties are a means to an end — a means to improve lives. 

If we win a majority, we will do all we can to improve this country — and especially for those who don’t have lots of money, who are surrounded by bad choices of school, who can’t afford a private doctor if their family is sick. Westminster has let the whole country down for many years. As VL said during the referendum — it’s time for change.

If we get a working majority, the Conservative Party will be very different. Grieve and similar characters will be gone. We will have seats in the Midlands and North that have been neglected by all parties. The party and the government will have to change radically.

HOW CAN YOU HELP?

The VL team explored thousands of scientific papers during the referendum to figure out the most effective tactics and the best use of money. 

All the science boils down to a simple answer: the most useful thing most people can do is make the time to speak to friends and family and explain why you will vote for Boris and why you think any other move means a Corbyn-Sturgeon alliance controlling Downing Street which would be a disaster. Face-to-face is more effective than other communication, direct messages (text, Facebook) are more effective than emails — the more personal, the better (the less spam on the channel, the more powerful it is).

For most persuadable voters, the strongest argument will be something like this: 

You’ve seen the shambles MPs have made of everything since the referendum, how it has distracted everybody from other important issues and how it has made Britain a laughing stock. If Boris gets a Conservative majority he’ll get his deal through by 31 January. All that babble in Parliament with the MPs spinning their wheels will largely vanish from the news. 

If Corbyn and Sturgeon walk into Downing Street on Friday 13th, Corbyn will spend half next year negotiating some new deal he can’t explain then the second half of the year will be a cheated referendum in which millions of foreign citizens will be allowed to vote. It’s guaranteed chaos. And there’ll be another Scottish referendum. Politics will never be off the TV. The shambles of the past three years will go on. Meanwhile he and Sturgeon will be banging up your taxes and the NHS will have his four-day week plus unlimited immigration from the whole world not just Europe.

Boris can make decisions. He’s hiring thousands more police and nurses. With him the country can move on. He’ll invest in the NHS, he’ll invest in science and he’ll really shake up Westminster. Whether you voted Leave or Remain, and I respect those who voted Remain, the politicians promised ‘one vote and we’ll respect it’. Respecting democracy is even more important than Leave or Remain. A cheated second referendum will be a disaster. 

For many, it’s also worth pointing this out on immigration:

Before the 23 June 2016, many such as the Economist and FT predicted a Leave win would boost extremists and make immigration the central issue in politics. VL said the opposite would happen: that once people know there’ll be democratic control, it will quickly fade as an issue and attitudes towards immigrants will improve. VL was right, the FT was wrong — as all academic research shows. If you want immigration to fade from politics, then democratic control is the answer. If you go with Corbyn and free movement for the whole world, then immigration will be all over the news and extremism will grow. A system like Australia’s will be fairer, good for the economy and take the heat out of the issue. 

And for those of you who read this blog and are most concerned about climate change and AI, a new high-risk high-payoff research agency, modelled on ARPA and funded by an unprecedented DOUBLING of the basic science budget, is in the Conservative manifesto!

What about the Brexit Party?

Some of you might be thinking — should I vote for the Brexit Party (BP) in my seat or help them in another seat? 

No. 

Why? The odds are OVERWHELMINGLY likely that a vote for the BP is effectively a vote for Corbyn-Sturgeon. 

Why? We need to win seats in the Midlands and North from Labour. Many of these seats voted Leave but have Labour MPs. The BP often scores around 10% in some of these seats while the Conservatives and Labour are neck-and-neck. If Leave supporters vote for the BP, then many of these seats will go to Corbyn, maybe by just a few hundred votes. There are practically no seats where the Brexit Party has a realistic chance of winning — at most I think there are one or two, certainly less than five. 

I’ve looked VERY carefully at the numbers. The claim that ‘a seat is Labour and leave so a Brexit Party candidate doing well will help the Conservative Party win the seat’ does not fit with the facts and the numbers.

Imagine how cross you will be if you vote BP then see the results and realise that the BP has simply split the Leave vote and you’ve helped put a pro-EU Corbyn supporter in Parliament. 

CONCLUSION

You will see many polls in the coming days. Some will say Boris will win. Trust me, as someone who has worked on lots of campaigns, things are MUCH tighter than they seem and there is a very real possibility of a hung parliament. 

Without a majority, the nightmare continues. ALL other MPs will gang together to stop Brexit and give EU citizens the vote. It’s that simple.

So — please get out your address book and phone and make a plan to talk to family and friends between now and 12 December. If you want to volunteer to do more — for example to drive old people to the polling station — click HERE.

And if we win, and we get Brexit done by 31 January, then you’re invited to the Vote Leave party in No10! 

And, of course, THE NHS WILL GET MORE THAN £350 MILLION PER WEEK EXTRA IF WE WIN, JUST AS WE PROMISED — imagine how cross Tony Blair will be when this happens…

Best wishes

Dominic

Ps. If you’re interested in ideas about how the new government could really change our economy for the better, making it more productive and fairer, you’ll find this paper interesting. It has many ideas about long-term productivity, science, technology, how to help regions outside the south-east and so on, by a professor of physics in Sheffield: A Resurgence of the Regions: rebuilding innovation capacity across the whole UK. 

PPS. The foundation problem with the EU was best summarised by the brilliant physicist David Deutsch, the man who extended Alan Turing’s 1936 paper on computation into the realm of quantum mechanics. Deutsch said:

‘The EU is incompatible with Britain’s more advanced political culture. I’m voting Leave… [E]rror correction is the basic issue, and I can’t foresee the EU improving much in this respect… [P]reserving the institutions of error correction is more important than any policy… Whether errors can be corrected without violence is not a “concern” but a condition for successfully addressing concerns.’

On the referendum #32: Science/productivity — a) small teams are more disruptive, b) ‘science is becoming far less efficient’

This blog considers two recent papers on the dynamics of scientific research: one in Nature and one by the brilliant physicist, Michael Nielsen, and the brilliant founder of Stripe, Patrick Collison, who is a very unusual CEO. These findings are very important to the question: how can we make economies more productive and what is the relationship between basic science and productivity? The papers are also interesting for those interested in the general question of high performance teams.

These issues are also crucial to the debate about what on earth Britain focuses on now the 2016 referendum has destroyed the Insiders’ preferred national strategy of ‘influencing the EU project’.

For as long as I have watched British politics carefully (sporadically since about 1998) these issues about science, technology and productivity have been almost totally ignored in the Insider debate because the incentives + culture of Westminster programs this behaviour: people with power are not incentivised to optimise for ‘improve science research and productivity’. E.g Everything Vote Leave said about funding science research during the referendum (including cooperation with EU programs) was treated as somewhere between eccentric, irrelevant and pointless by Insiders.

This recent Nature paper gives evidence that a) small teams are more disruptive in science research and b) solo researchers/small teams are significantly underfunded.

‘One of the most universal trends in science and technology today is the growth of large teams in all areas, as solitary researchers and small teams diminish in prevalence . Increases in team size have been attributed to the specialization of scientific activities, improvements in communication technology, or the complexity of modern problems that require interdisciplinary solutions. This shift in team size raises the question of whether and how the character of the science and technology produced by large teams differs from that of small teams. Here we analyse more than 65 million papers, patents and software products that span the period 1954–2014, and demonstrate that across this period smaller teams have tended to disrupt science and technology with new ideas and opportunities, whereas larger teams have tended to develop existing ones. Work from larger teams builds on more recent and popular developments, and attention to their work comes immediately. By contrast, contributions by smaller teams search more deeply into the past, are viewed as disruptive to science and technology and succeed further into the future — if at all. Observed differences between small and large teams are magnified for higher impact work, with small teams known for disruptive work and large teams for developing work. Differences in topic and research design account for a small part of the relationship between team size and disruption; most of the effect occurs at the level of the individual, as people move between smaller and larger teams. These results demonstrate that both small and large teams are essential to a flourishing ecology of science and technology, and suggest that, to achieve this, science policies should aim to support a diversity of team sizes

‘Although much has been demonstrated about the professional and career benefits of team size for team members, there is little evidence that supports the notion that larger teams are optimized for knowledge discovery and technological invention. Experimental and observational research on groups reveals that individuals in large groups … generate fewer ideas, recall less learned information, reject external perspectives more often and tend to neutralize each other’s viewpoints

‘Small teams disrupt science and technology by exploring and amplifying promising ideas from older and less-popular work. Large teams develop recent successes, by solving acknowledged problems and refining common designs. Some of this difference results from the substance of science and technology that small versus large teams tackle, but the larger part appears to emerge as a consequence of team size itself. Certain types of research require the resources of large teams, but large teams demand an ongoing stream of funding and success to ‘pay the bills’, which makes them more sensitive to the loss of reputation and support that comes from failure. Our findings are consistent with field research on teams in other domains, which demonstrate that small groups with more to gain and less to lose are more likely to undertake new and untested opportunities that have the potential for high growth and failure

‘In contrast to Nobel Prize papers, which have an average disruption among the top 2% of all contemporary papers, funded papers rank near the bottom 31%. This could result from a conservative review process, proposals designed to anticipate such a process or a planning effect whereby small teams lock themselves into large-team inertia by remaining accountable to a funded proposal. When we compare two major policy incentives for science (funding versus awards), we find that Nobel-prize-winning articles significantly oversample small disruptive teams, whereas those that acknowledge US National Science Foundation funding oversample large developmental teams. Regardless of the dominant driver, these results paint a unified portrait of underfunded solo investigators and small teams who disrupt science and technology by generating new directions on the basis of deeper and wider information search. These results suggest the need for government, industry and non-profit funders of science and technology to investigate the critical role that small teams appear to have in expanding the frontiers of knowledge, even as large teams rapidly develop them.’

Recently Michael Nielsen and Patrick Collison published some research on the question:

‘are we getting a proportional increase in our scientific understanding [for increased investment]?  Or are we investing vastly more merely to sustain (or even see a decline in) the rate of scientific progress?

They explored, inter alia, ‘how scientists think the quality of Nobel Prize–winning discoveries has changed over the decades.’

They conclude:

‘The picture this survey paints is bleak: Over the past century, we’ve vastly increased the time and money invested in science, but in scientists’ own judgement, we’re producing the most important breakthroughs at a near-constant rate. On a per-dollar or per-person basis, this suggests that science is becoming far less efficient.’

It’s also interesting that:

‘In fact, just three [physics] discoveries made since 1990 have been awarded Nobel Prizes. This is too few to get a good quality estimate for the 1990s, and so we didn’t survey those prizes. However, the paucity of prizes since 1990 is itself suggestive. The 1990s and 2000s have the dubious distinction of being the decades over which the Nobel Committee has most strongly preferred to skip, and instead award prizes for earlier work. Given that the 1980s and 1970s themselves don’t look so good, that’s bad news for physics.’

There is a similar story in chemistry.

Why has science got so much more expensive without commensurate gains in understanding?

‘A partial answer to this question is suggested by work done by the economists Benjamin Jones and Bruce Weinberg. They’ve studied how old scientists are when they make their great discoveries. They found that in the early days of the Nobel Prize, future Nobel scientists were 37 years old, on average, when they made their prizewinning discovery. But in recent times that has risen to an average of 47 years, an increase of about a quarter of a scientist’s working career.

‘Perhaps scientists today need to know far more to make important discoveries. As a result, they need to study longer, and so are older, before they can do their most important work. That is, great discoveries are simply getting harder to make. And if they’re harder to make, that suggests there will be fewer of them, or they will require much more effort.

‘In a similar vein, scientific collaborations now often involve far more people than they did a century ago. When Ernest Rutherford discovered the nucleus of the atom in 1911, he published it in a paper with just a single author: himself. By contrast, the two 2012 papers announcing the discovery of the Higgs particle had roughly a thousand authors each. On average, research teams nearly quadrupled in size over the 20th century, and that increase continues today. For many research questions, it requires far more skills, expensive equipment, and a large team to make progress today.

They suggest that ‘the optimistic view is that science is an endless frontier, and we will continue to discover and even create entirely new fields, with their own fundamental questions’. If science is slowing now, then perhaps it ‘is because science has remained too focused on established fields, where it’s becoming ever harder to make progress. We hope the future will see a more rapid proliferation of new fields, giving rise to major new questions. This is an opportunity for science to accelerate.’ They give the example of the birth of computer science after Gödel’s and Turing’s papers in the 1930s.

They also consider the arguments among economists concerning productivity slowdown. Tyler Cowen and others have argued that the breakthroughs in the 19th and early 20th centuries were more significant than recent discoveries: e.g the large-scale deployment of powerful general-purpose technologies such as electricity, the internal-combustion engine, radio, telephones, air travel, the assembly line, fertiliser and so on. Productivity growth in the 1950s was ‘roughly six times higher than today. That means we see about as much change over a decade today as we saw in 18 months in the 1950s.’ Yes the computer and internet have been fantastic but they haven’t, so far, contributed as much as all those powerful technologies like electricity.

They also argue ‘there has been little institutional response’ either among the scientific community or government.

‘Perhaps this lack of response is in part because some scientists see acknowledging diminishing returns as betraying scientists’ collective self-interest. Most scientists strongly favor more research funding. They like to portray science in a positive light, emphasizing benefits and minimizing negatives. While understandable, the evidence is that science has slowed enormously per dollar or hour spent. That evidence demands a large-scale institutional response. It should be a major subject in public policy, and at grant agencies and universities. Better understanding the cause of this phenomenon is important, and identifying ways to reverse it is one of the greatest opportunities to improve our future.’

Slate Star Codex also discussed these issues recently. We often look at charts of exponential progress like Moore’s Law but:

‘There are eighteen times more people involved in transistor-related research today than in 1971. So if in 1971 it took 1000 scientists to increase transistor density 35% per year, today it takes 18,000 scientists to do the same task. So apparently the average transistor scientist is eighteen times less productive today than fifty years ago. That should be surprising and scary.’

Similar arguments seem to apply in many areas.

‘All of these lines of evidence lead me to the same conclusion: constant growth rates in response to exponentially increasing inputs is the null hypothesis. If it wasn’t, we should be expecting 50% year-on-year GDP growth, easily-discovered-immortality, and the like.’

SSC also argues that the explanation for this phenomenon is the ‘low hanging fruit argument’:

‘For example, element 117 was discovered by an international collaboration who got an unstable isotope of berkelium from the single accelerator in Tennessee capable of synthesizing it, shipped it to a nuclear reactor in Russia where it was attached to a titanium film, brought it to a particle accelerator in a different Russian city where it was bombarded with a custom-made exotic isotope of calcium, sent the resulting data to a global team of theorists, and eventually found a signature indicating that element 117 had existed for a few milliseconds. Meanwhile, the first modern element discovery, that of phosphorous in the 1670s, came from a guy looking at his own piss. We should not be surprised that discovering element 117 needed more people than discovering phosphorous

‘I worry even this isn’t dismissive enough. My real objection is that constant progress in science in response to exponential increases in inputs ought to be our null hypothesis, and that it’s almost inconceivable that it could ever be otherwise.

How likely is it that this will change radically?

‘At the end of the conference, the moderator asked how many people thought that it was possible for a concerted effort by ourselves and our institutions to “fix” the “problem”… Almost the entire room raised their hands. Everyone there was smarter and more prestigious than I was (also richer, and in many cases way more attractive), but with all due respect I worry they are insane. This is kind of how I imagine their worldview looking:

Screenshot 2019-03-10 18.07.52.png

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I don’t know what the answers are to the tricky questions explored above. I do know that the existing systems for funding science are bad and we already have great ideas about how to improve our chances of making dramatic breakthroughs, even if we cannot escape the general problem that a lot of low-hanging fruit in traditional subjects like high energy physics is gone.

I have repeated this theme ad nauseam on this blog:

1) We KNOW how effective the very unusual funding for computer science was in the 1960s/1970s — ARPA-PARC created the internet and personal computing — and there are other similar case studies but

2) almost no science is funded in this way and

3) there is practically no debate about this even among scientists, many of whom are wholly ignorant about this. As Alan Kay has observed, there is an amazing contrast between the huge amount of interest in the internet/PC revolution and the near-zero interest in what created the super-productive processes that sparked this revolution.

One of the reasons is the usual problem of bad incentives reinforcing a dysfunctional equilibrium: successful scientists have a lot of power and have a strong personal interest in preserving current funding systems that let them build empires. These empires include often bad treatment of young postdocs who are abused as cheap labour. This is connected to the point above about the average age of Nobel-winners growing. Much of the 1930s quantum revolution was done by people aged ~20-35 and so was the internet/PC revolution in the 1960s/1970s. The latter was deliberate: Licklider et al deliberately funded not short-term projects but creating whole new departments and institutions for young people. They funded a healthy ecosystem: people not projects was one of the core principles. People in their twenties now have very little power or money in the research ecosystem. Further, they have to operate in an appalling time-wasting-grant-writing bureaucracy that Heisenberg, Dirac et al did not face in the 1920s/30s. The politicians and officials don’t care so there is no force to push sensible experiments with new ideas. Almost all ‘reform’ from the central bureaucracy pushes in the direction of more power for the central bureaucracy, not fixing problems.

For example, for an amount of money that the Department for Education loses every week without ministers/officials even noticing it’s lost — I know from experience this is single figure millions — we could transform the funding of masters and PhDs in maths, physics, chemistry, biology, and computer science. There is so much good that could be done for trivial money that isn’t even wasted in the normal sense of ‘spent on rubbish gimmicks and procurement disasters’, it just disappears into the aether without anybody noticing.

The government spends about 250 billion pounds a year with extreme systematic incompetence. If we ‘just’ applied what we know about high performance project management and procurement we could take savings from this budget and put it into ARPA-PARC style high-risk-high-payoff visions including creating whole new fields. This would create powerful self-reinforcing dynamics that would give Britain real assets of far, far greater value than the chimerical ‘influence’ in Brussels meeting rooms where ‘economic and monetary union’ is the real focus.

A serious government or a serious new party (not TIG obviously which is business as usual with the usual suspects) would focus on these things. Under Major, Blair, Brown, Cameron and May these issues have been neglected for quarter of a century. The Conservative Party now has almost no intellectual connection to crucial debates about the ecosystem of science, productivity, universities, funding, startups and so on. I know from personal experience that even billionaire entrepreneurs whose donations are vital to the survival of CCHQ cannot get people like Hammond to listen to anything about all this — Hammond’s focus is obeying his orders from Goldman Sachs. Downing Street is much more interested in protecting corporate looting by large banks and companies and protecting rent-seekers than they are in productivity and entrepreneurs. Having an interest in this subject is seen as a sign of eccentricity to say the least while the ambitious people focus on ‘strategy’, speeches, interviews and all the other parts of their useless implicit ‘model for effective action’. The Tories are reduced to slogans about ‘freedom’, ‘deregulation’ and so on which provide no answers to our productivity problem and, ironically, lie between pointless and self-destructive for them politically but, crucially, play in the self-referential world of Parliament, ‘think tanks’, and pundit-world who debate ‘the next leader’ and which provides the real incentives that drive behaviour.

There is no force in British politics that prioritises science and productivity. Hopefully soon someone will say ‘there is such a party’…

Further reading

If interested in practical ideas for changing science funding in the UK, read my paper last year, which has a lot of links to important papers, or this by two brilliant young neuroscientists who have experienced the funding system’s problems.

For example:

  • Remove bureaucracy like the multi-stage procurement processes for buying a lightbulb. ‘Rather than invigilate every single decision, we should do spot checks retrospectively, as is done with tax returns.’
  • ‘We should return to funding university departments more directly, allowing more rapid, situation-aware decision-making of the kind present in start-ups, and create a diversity of funding systems.’
  • There are many simple steps like guaranteed work visas for spouses that could make the UK a magnet for talented young scientists.

On the referendum #30: Genetics, genomics, predictions & ‘the Gretzky game’ — a chance for Britain to help the world

On the referendum #30: 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 possible 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 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…

*

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.

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.

On the referendum #27: Banks, Russia, conspiracies and Vote Leave

Dear Tory MPs, ministers, donors and peers who supported the January 2016 coup against Vote Leave…

Remember how I and Victoria Woodcock told you repeatedly Banks was not someone who should play a significant role, that his conduct would destroy the credibility of an official campaign, and a ‘unified campaign’ with him would be a ‘total disaster’?

Remember how I and Victoria Woodcock told you repeatedly that he could not be trusted?

Remember how in horrific meeting after horrific meeting you said that we didn’t understand politics and we needed to ‘unite’ and ‘use his social media operation cos he’s got hundreds of thousands of Likes’?

Remember how we clutched our heads and said ‘Facebook doesn’t work like that, he’s spinning you all bullshit, the media will sink the whole campaign if Banks is involved and we refuse to contemplate it’?

Remember how you then tried to engineer the coup, partly also because Banks had told so many of you (cunningly) that the most important factor in winning was ‘you must represent us in the debates on stage with Nigel in front of millions’ and ‘we need your experience, not all these kids Cummings has hired’?

Of course it’s true that the Remain Establishment are doing whatever they can to discredit the referendum, the Observer has invented stuff for two years (including loony conspiracy theories about Banks, me, Mercer, AIQ, Russia etc), and Banks’s actual role in the 10 week campaign was trivial other than causing us embarrassment. Yes it’s true that Banks was a net drag on the result and we’d have won by more if he’d been dropped down one of his defunct mines in summer 2015 and the effort wasted dealing with him had been spent making Vote Leave much stronger earlier. From grassroots to digital, everything would have happened earlier, bigger and better but for that debilitating distraction which meant VL staff had to fight Banks and the entire Establishment simultaneously.

But all that does not change how close you all came to destroying our chance of winning by putting him in charge of the whole thing.

I know you’ll all be wanting to write to those Vote Leave staff who called your bluff and who, unlike you, displayed moral courage under pressure and made many personal sacrifices while you were on the beach or shooting, in order to apologise and thank them personally so here are some of the names of those who told you on 25 January 2016 they would all be out the door in 5 minutes if you persisted and handed power to Banks, and thereby nudged reality down a different branching history:

  • Richard Howell
  • Oliver Lewis
  • Rob Oxley
  • Stephen Parkinson
  • James Starkie
  • Paul Stephenson
  • Jonny Suart
  • Nick Varley
  • Cleo Watson
  • Victoria Woodcock

But for their actions that day, Vote Leave would have been destroyed, Farage and Banks would have run the official campaign with Bill Cash as legal adviser fighting with DD to be on the Today programme, Boris and Gove would have gone on a long holiday rather than flush their reputations down the toilet, Remain would have won 60-40 and Osborne would today be scanning the horizon for the right moment to take over before the 2020 election.

You’re welcome…

Dominic

Ps. Another branching history… If Cameron and Osborne had simply delayed the vote to 2017, Vote Leave would have ceased to exist in spring 2016, Banks and Farage would have been in charge with Cash/DD et al, and Remain would very likely have cruised to victory last year. Our extreme action on and after 25 January only worked because of the time pressure imposed by the Government. Without it, the consensus was, as people said at the time, ‘we’d have a year to rebuild without you and your crazy ideas’. In history books, luck is always underplayed and the talent of individuals is usually overplayed. As I’ve said many times, Vote Leave could only win because the Establishment’s OODA loops are broken — as the Brexit negotiations painfully demonstrate daily — and they are systematically bad at decisions, and this created just enough space for us to win.

Pps. Although Banks and Leave.EU HQ were hopeless, many of its volunteers did great work and ignored ‘the horror, the horror’ in London among the egomaniacs. Although Farage told them not to help VL post-designation, most of them ignored him and did help us (see comments below).

‘Politics is a job that can really only be compared with navigation in uncharted waters. One has no idea how the weather or the currents will be or what storms one is in for. In politics, there is the added fact that one is largely dependent on the decisions of others, decisions on which one was counting and which then do not materialise; one’s actions are never completely one’s own. And if the friends on whose support one is relying change their minds, which is something that one cannot vouch for, the whole plan miscarries… One’s enemies one can count on – but one’s friends!’ Otto von Bismarck.

‘Everything in war is very simple, but the simplest thing is difficult. The difficulties accumulate and end by producing a kind of friction that is inconceivable unless one has experienced war… Countless minor incidents – the kind you can never really foresee – combine to lower the general level of performance, so that one always falls short of the intended goal.  Iron will-power can overcome this friction … but of course it wears down the machine as well… Friction is the only concept that … corresponds to the factors that distinguish real war from war on paper.  The … army and everything else related to it is basically very simple and therefore seems easy to manage. But … each part is composed of individuals, every one of whom retains his potential of friction… This tremendous friction … is everywhere in contact with chance, and brings about effects that cannot be measured… Friction … is the force that makes the apparently easy so difficult… Finally … all action takes place … in a kind of twilight, which like fog or moonlight, often tends to make things seem grotesque and larger than they really are.  Whatever is hidden from full view in this feeble light has to be guessed at by talent, or simply left to chance.’ Clausewitz.