RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under, a local spin-off of the reality TV series, is coming to Stan

Start your engines — one of the world’s best-loved reality TV shows is getting a local edition.

Australian streaming service Stan has announced RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under, a spin-off of the Emmy-winning drag queen competition series, will air this year.

An Australian version was supposed to happen in 2020 but, like many productions, it was postponed due to the pandemic.

Stan said filming was now underway in New Zealand, with contestants hailing from Australia and New Zealand.

Both RuPaul, who was recently reported to be in hotel quarantine in New Zealand, and fellow judge Michelle Visage will appear in this new version from Stan.

That is somewhat of a coup for Australian fans, given most international spin-offs feature local hosts.

The Emmy-winning show is currently in its 13th season.(Reuters: Eduardo Munoz)

Stan said fans could expect all the usual challenges in the eight-part series, including the lip-sync-for-your-life battle between each episode’s two lowest-ranked contestants.

“I cannot wait for everyone to see that Down Under queens have some of the biggest charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talents in the world,” Ru Paul said in a media announcement.

Stan said more information on competing queens and guest judges would be announced later this year.

For now, we can only speculate on what local flavour the world’s most famous drag queen — whose husband is Australian — might give the show.



RuPaul’s Drag Race is currently in its 13th season.

It has won the Emmy for Outstanding Reality Competition Program each of the past three years, while RuPaul himself is a five-time winner of the Emmy for Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality Competition Program.

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US Declassifies Strategy, Revealing Yawning Gap Between Rhetoric and Reality – The Diplomat

Just eight days before Joe Biden is inaugurated as president of the United States, the Trump administration declassified the strategy it purports to have followed in its policies towards Asia.

Called the “U.S. Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific,” the President’s National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien said that the “the document is being released to communicate to the American people and to our allies and partners, the enduring commitment of the United States to keeping the Indo-Pacific region free and open long into the future.”

The timing of the release seems more likely to be intended to pressure the in-coming Biden administration to perpetuate some of the Trump White House’s policies, or to burnish the professional reputations of national security officials tainted by Trump’s behavior and scandal.

Deputy National Security Advisor Matthew Pottinger, who oversaw much of the strategy’s development as the National Security Council’s senior director for Asia, resigned from the White House last week after a deadly pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol.

The framework lists three overarching challenges in the Pacific: maintaining the United States’ strategic primacy in the region and promoting a liberal economic order against China’s illiberalism; ensuring that North Korea does not threaten the United States; and promoting the United States’ global economic leadership and fair trade.

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Separate from the merits of these objectives, the Trump administration made little progress towards achieving any of them and made some situations much worse.

Trump’s often capriciously pursued trade war against China broadly failed and likely cost the United States economically far more than it did China, and for marginal, if any, strategic benefit.

The world is broadly much more skeptical of China’s global objectives and concerned about its illiberal and unchecked influence. However, this awareness and concern has been driven far more by China’s own behavior, such as its treatment of the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang, the political repression of Hong Kong, its economic punishment of Australia, and its abrasive “wolf warrior” diplomacy, than by U.S. leadership or policy.

The Trump administration’s legacy on the Korean Peninsula is much worse. After coming close to sparking a war with North Korea over the reclusive state’s nuclear weapons program in 2017, Trump engaged Kim Jong Un in a series of not very serious diplomatic summits that failed to produce any agreements. North Korea meanwhile unveiled a number of advanced new nuclear-capable missiles, including a giant intercontinental ballistic missile likely capable of hitting anywhere in the continental United States. Instead of bolstering its relationship with South Korea, the Trump administration repeatedly antagonized it with demands to pay the United States more money to support American troops stationed there, while also threatening to bring many of those forces back home and threatening South Korean car manufacturers with trade tariffs.

Instead of bolstering the United States’ economic leadership, the Trump administration presided over its retreat from the global economic order. In spite of China’s widespread economic coercion and disturbing violations of human rights, it has succeeded in leveraging international disappointment and skepticism of the United States from Trump’s policies to cement itself more securely into the global economy. Since Trump withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, Southeast Asia assembled a new regional trade partnership with China, and the European Union concluded a new investment agreement with China over objections from incoming Biden officials.

The Biden administration now faces an even more fractured world from which it might try to assemble an international block against coercive Chinese policies.

The strategy’s goal of maintaining “primacy” in Asia is consistent with Trump’s own sometimes cartoonish military boasts – like the “super duper missile” – and the Pentagon’s goal of maintaining military “overmatch” against any potential adversary. But this overarching goal is not quite aligned with the strategy’s military tasks.

The strategy names two military goals for deterring or prevailing against China in a conflict: to deny China air and sea dominance within the first island chain in a conflict, and for the U.S. military to dominate outside of the first island chain itself. Successful denial does not require military primacy or overmatch and the Pentagon’s own plans suggest that the primacy and overmatch rhetoric belie its more modest approach.

Contesting Chinese dominance inside the first island chain is why the U.S. Army is pursuing new long-range rockets and artillery and is behind the Marine Corps’ expeditionary island base strategy and purchase of mobile missile systems.

But even though these efforts align with the White House strategy, it is questionable whether the strategy is responsible for them. Most of those new weapons systems and warfighting concepts began being developed during the Obama administration and reflect geographic reality more than the Trump team’s strategic innovation.

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If anything, primacy is even further out of reach after Trump’s four years in office than it was at the beginning. Despite coming in with promises of building a 350-ship fleet and successive plans for a 400 or even a 500-ship navy, the Trump administration never submitted a budget proposal to match its sound bites.

Incoming Biden administration officials appear skeptical that these more grandiose military goals are either affordable or necessary to balance China and protect U.S. interests in Asia.

At its best, the “Framework” reads as a collection of the United States’ enduring interests and policies in Asia grafted onto the outgoing President’s bombastic rhetoric and transactional worldview. The result was a strategy that could not achieve Trump’s own idiosyncratic goals and struggled to maintain the geopolitical position he inherited.

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NBA star Patty Mills making Indigenous hoop dreams a reality

NBA star Patty Mills has unveiled the opening rounds of a new Indigenous basketball competition, which he believes will make Australian history.

The San Antonio Spurs and Boomers guard has been in hot form in the NBA this season while also keeping an eye on one of his other passions, providing pathways for young Indigenous talent as a way to give back to the game in Australia.

Patty Mills wants to promote healthy lifestyles, cultural awareness and find new basketball stars with the IBA.Credit:Team Mills Foundation

He helped found Indigenous Basketball Australia (IBA), a not-for-profit organisation that aims to deliver community and grassroots hoops programs for Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander players.

Now his vision is about to come to life, with the first steps en route to a national tournament on the Gold Coast in April. From February 7, Indigenous Community Basketball League (ICBL) tournaments for 14-year-olds will be held in Perth, Darwin, Thursday Island, Alice Springs, Adelaide, Dubbo, Logan and Cairns.

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Beware the gap between the grim reality of COVID and market optimism

Given the social, political and economic strife ushered in by the pandemic, it seems like quite the disjuncture. So why are traders not slumping into their Bloomberg terminals clutching their brows as markets rise and fall?

A few reasons, really.

The markets are positive a worldwide rollout of COVID-19 vaccines will be in full swing by mid-year. So much so that Qantas has started selling international tickets for flights in July. But given the warning WHO scientists issued last week that even with a vaccine, hotel quarantine will be a fixture for years to come, demand for the carrier’s flights could be crimped.

Another key reason is that central banks around the world including the US Fed and the Reserve Bank of Australia have been hard at work undertaking a mammoth quantitative easing (QE) program. Quantitative easing involves central banks buying large amounts of government bonds or other investments from banks to inject more cash into markets.

With more cash, banks can then loan more to businesses which in turn can expand their operations, increase sales and hopefully employ more staff.

RBA governor Phil Lowe and his deputy Guy Debelle. Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

QE also drives down interest rates and in an already low interest rate environment, investors are finding that one of the few places where they can bank on respectable returns are stock markets.
Given markets are forward looking generally, the impact of QE has been priced into the value of many companies even if they are yet to report increased output as a result of the program.

There are some nascent signs QE and other stimulus measures are working. Fresh data out over the weekend shows global manufacturing improved in December with factories in Asia and Europe increasing their output as 2020 drew to a close, according to surveys of purchasing managers.

But QE doesn’t work if banks stop lending. And with the UK entering lockdown, Germany extending its pandemic-related restrictions and Japan about to declare a state of emergency, there is plenty out there to worry the international banks.

In Australia, the impact of the end of bank and landlord forgiveness periods in March and the phasing out of JobKeeper could crimp the recovery and make banks more risk adverse in their lending practices. While the surge in COVID-19 cases in Sydney and Melbourne appears to be losing force, it is a reminder that an economy-crippling return of the virus is always possible.

But there’s a new, unexpected element that could have a major impact on markets in the coming days. Once again, and indeed not for the first time this week, all eyes are on the US state of Georgia.

Georgia’s Senate runoff elections were expected by pundits and traders to provide a result where the Republican Party retained control of the US Senate. The markets usually prefer Republican-controlled senates that pass stimulus bills quickly and don’t introduce new regulation. The final composition of the senate will have a big say in just how the Biden administration wields its power.


And as it was with the US elections last November, Georgia may yet throw up some unexpected results.

The Republicans candidates –party stalwart Senator David Perdue and relative newcomer Senator Kelly Loeffler –were expected to snatch at least one of the two available seats, securing a Republican majority. Market watchers believe some traders are so convinced of a Republic victory it has added between 6 per cent 10 per cent to the market.

However, an increasing number in the market believe Democrat candidates Reverend Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff could take both seats, a sentiment that was reflected in Wall Street’s slip at the start of the week. Experts suggest the US market could suffer a downdraft of as much as 10 per cent if the Democrats pull off an unlikely win.

Like us all, traders are vulnerable to becoming armchair epidemiologists and armchair psephologists. It doesn’t mean they’re right. But given the gulf between market expectations and the grim reality of the coronavirus, and 2020’s ability to produce out of the blue results, it really is anyone’s guess.

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The Dark Reality of Betting Against QAnon

QAnon—the conspiracy theory that elite Democrats, government officials, and celebrities are part of a cannibalistic, child-sex-trafficking cult, and Donald Trump is the hero destined to stop them—has allegedly inspired kidnappings, car chases, and a murder. It has also made 28-year-old Patrick Cage a lot of money.

In 2018, Cage, a Californian who works in international environmental policy, discovered a gambling platform called PredictIt. It was an unusual betting site: Its users didn’t wager on card games or horse racing. Instead, they made predictions about politics. People put money on questions like “Will Kanye run in 2020?” and “How many times will Trump tweet this week?” Its tag line: “Let’s Play Politics.”

“You can sort of think about it like a political stock market,” Cage told me.

Cage had been following politics obsessively since the 2016 election, and he thought PredictIt would be a good way to test his newfound political acumen. So he bet that Kanye would run for president.

“That’s probably my proudest moment,” he said. “I dumped 20 cents in November 2018 and netted a dollar off that investment.”

In general, Cage’s predictions weren’t much better than if he had chosen at random. “It was a useful ego check, as, for the most part, I wasn’t very good,” he told me. But as he kept betting, he noticed bet after bet with odds that seemed completely off. According to Cage, in the spring of 2019, for example, the PredictIt market gave former FBI Director James Comey a 1-in-4 chance of being indicted in the next six months. Cage had never heard anything about a Comey indictment on the news.

“My first assumption was I must have missed something,” he said. Cage searched but couldn’t find any legitimate articles or even Google groups talking about Comey committing federal crimes. Then he checked Breitbart and other far-right sites. Still nothing. So he made a bet that Comey would not be indicted. And he kept seeing these strange bets: Would a federal charge against Hillary Clinton come by a certain date? What about one against Barack Obama?

The curious thing was that these bets were so consistent. It’s not unusual for an article or tweet to come out and temporarily create unexpected wagers. But day after day, month after month, people were betting on these weird theories. Every six months, a new version of the Clinton-indictment bet came up, and every six months, people bet that she would be charged.

That’s when Cage started paying attention to the PredictIt comments sections, where people were posting snippets of what looked like nonsense to him. And that’s how, years before most people had heard of QAnon, Cage learned that Q is an anonymous figure who claims to have a high-level security clearance and access to inside information about a devil-worshipping deep state.

All of a sudden, the bets made sense: QAnon followers believed that Q had special inside information about the future, and they bet accordingly.

“There were people who were so convicted in these beliefs that they were willing to put hundreds or thousands on the line,” Cage said. “So I started shoveling more and more money in.”

Cage began scanning PredictIt for QAnon theories and betting against them. He’d look for anything weird—usually something like suspiciously high odds that a Democrat would be indicted. Then he researched to make sure he hadn’t missed something in the news cycle. “If I saw conspiracy-theory chatter in the comments section of Google News articles, that was a plus for me,” Cage said.

When he couldn’t find any legitimate news on the bet, he’d dive into QAnon YouTube channels or message boards. If he determined that people were following a QAnon theory, he’d bet against them. Cage has made money every time QAnon has been wrong—which they have been on every bet he’s made so far, he told me. He’s put about $800 in and made around $400 in profit.

When Cage discovered what was going on, he suddenly had information most Americans didn’t have, a sort of real-time look at just how popular QAnon was becoming, down to the dollar. And now, the theory has expanded to a worldview: “It’s beyond Q at this point,” Cage said. QAnon believers swap conspiracy theories back and forth, welcoming people who are against vaccinations, people who believe the moon landing was faked, and people who follow just about every other conspiracy theory into their community.

Trump’s embrace of bizarre conspiracy theories about voter fraud have had similar effects. “It’s actually kind of alarming how delusional prediction markets are,” Nate Silver, founder of FiveThirtyEight, tweeted right after the election. “They give Trump a 12% chance of winning Nevada, a state that has been called for Biden and where he has a fairly large lead, and where there is no coup possibility since it’s run by Democrats.”

As of mid November, PredictIt still gave Trump about a 15 percent chance of winning the presidential election, even though major networks had already declared Biden the president-elect days before. These bets might be related to QAnon, too: Believers were convinced that Trump would win the election and start making mass arrests of Democrats. Some QAnon believers might still be betting as though that were the case.

Cage said people become wrapped up in conspiracy theories slowly, then all at once. A lot of people get involved with QAnon through another, more palatable conspiracy theory. A mother might join a Facebook parenting group and get drawn in by an anti-vaxxer post. Then she finds her way to other, weirder ideas.

That’s ultimately what’s so tricky about QAnon and its related world: It’s not one clearly defined group of people screaming insane theories into a dark corner of the Internet. It’s a mist quietly settling over society, and people often don’t realize they’re breathing it in. But somewhere, on the other side of Cage’s PredictIt bets, real people are losing money because they believe fervently in the predictive powers of an anonymous message-board poster.

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Your views: on bikeways, and the reality and stigma of Centrelink welfare

Today, readers comment on city council obstructionism over bike lanes, and living with dignity within a rigid, increasingly outsourced welfare system.

Commenting on the opinion piece: Our city must serve people who don’t drive cars

I went to the City of Adelaide Council meeting last night (15/12/20) in the (optimistic and ultimately misguided) hope that the saga of the east-west bikeway would finally come to a positive end and Adelaide would see it built over the next six months or so. 

What I witnessed was a sickening abrogation of the council’s responsibility for the safety of cyclists and to making Adelaide a greener city. I saw up close Councillors Hyde and Khera laughing when it was suggested that they did not want to see any bikeway realised.

I also had the dubious pleasure of watching Deputy Lord Mayor Couros and Councillor Hyde working in tandem to introduce amendments to deliberately defer and likely kill off the bikeway.

The Lord Mayor is keen to market Adelaide as a green city, but this is laughable. Adelaide is the city of the motor car and if you don’t like it, you can lump it.

We should name those who are obstructing a rather prosaic, single, protected east-west bikeway which might get more kids and inexperienced cyclists riding into the city: Deputy Lord Mayor Couros, Councillors Hyde, Hou, Knoll, Abrahimzadeh, and Khera.

If you want a better Adelaide, these people need to be voted out as soon as possible. – Ben Smith

Well said, Stephen. – Tom Melville

Thank you Stephen for saying what needs to be said about the dominance of cars in Adelaide.

I have lived in many cities in Australia and around the world, including Copenhagen. Adelaide is by far one of the deficient cities I have lived in when it comes to transport for people who do not own or drive a car.

As a cyclist, I use the Frome St bike lane each time I go to the city. I always wish there were more bike lanes like this in Adelaide, especially for safety. The Frome St bike lane even has a bicycle counter, showing the number of bikes crossing, just like in Copenhagen.

The difference in numbers of people commuting by bike however, is vast. Adelaide is so very far behind for cycling and public transport options for people. – Maureen Boyle

I’m a middle aged woman new to cycling. I ride from Linden Park through the back streets until I get to Victoria Park.

The Frome Bikeway is my favourite part of the ride to work because I am protected. My least favourite ride is Pirie Street to Gawler Place. On my first ride along Pirie Street I had to contend with a garbage truck stopping in the cycling lane.

I look forward to a proper East/West Bikeway. – Tracy Adams

We are creating a city that serves neither car drivers, cyclist not pedestrians.

Pedestrians are the biggest losers since the invasion of the footpaths by cyclists, scooters and other hurtling metal projectiles. Car drivers, albeit from a privileged position, are losing parking and driving spaces. Cyclists are losing the unqualified support of pedestrians along with the support of at least some car drivers and not getting what they need.

All this since the bike lobby traded off the safety and serenity of the pedestrian of their access to the footpaths in return for limited improvements in bike lanes and aspects of safety.

It is all a classic example of yet another policy that is destined to fail because it is inadequate in its vision, scale and resourcing. – Stewart Sweeney

Hear hear, Stephen.Lets follow the science, as they say – in this case lets move towards best practice  contemporary urban planning.

The east-west safe bike lane is a simple GO! Heaven’s sake! Dark Ages Adelaide? – Di Sullivan  

Commenting on the opinion piece: Crunching the numbers of who’s claiming Centrelink unemployment benefits

Interesting study. What I would find interesting is how many of the long term unemployed should actually be in receipt of Disability Support Pension, instead of being consigned to NewStart/JobSeeker due to stricter eligibility requirements for DSP.

We currently have a labour market that doesn’t provide for all Australians. This is not a uniquely Australian situation  – it exists worldwide. And currently people with disabilities (including “psychiatric” disability like significant mental health issues and “cognitive” disabilities like autism & ADD/ADHD – with the latter not even recognised as a disability to begin with) are not catered to within the employment market. Period.

This is the next great frontier we face as a society. We must meet this challenge head on, and we’re not currently. At all. Beth Dumont 

I was brought up to believe the purpose of the unemployment benefit was to give a safety net when work was unavailable. The changes that have happened over the last 20 or so years with how people employed means this safety net is more necessary than anything.

I knew the first thing this government had to do when Covid hit was increase the amount received. There is no safety net in a $500 a fortnight payment. People don’t have savings.  

I have volunteered extensively in the area of crisis care. Too many people still believe it’s those who can’t get their act together who have to lean on other assistance. Assistance which plugs the hole of depleted finances, that over-enforcement creates.

Many recipients have to lean on friends and family for extended periods of time.

Those with loud voices who knock our welfare recipients, who pull out people who may spend money on drugs or something else to paint a one-dimensional picture, have to be shouted down. An increase in the amount has to be fair. Recognition that these are our friends neighbours and other community members without mass stigma is a good first step. 

Pieces like this need to be front of mind. Thank god for the advocates who use the data to showcase the other side. Keep pushing for those who can’t. – Christine Freeman

One point missed in this article is underemployment.

I work in this industry and there is a higher number of underemployed females (still receiving partial benefits as they don’t work enough hours to meet the minimum Centrelink threshold) which accounts for the higher number of suspensions as they work more hours, therefore having to juggle work, usually family, and their mutual obligations. – Lisandra Purton

Centrelink has also switched those on sickness benefits to JobSeeker, like me (fighting cancer).

The numbers who are truly unemployed are not accurate, you simply don’t know how many got switched over from sickness to JobSeeker. – John Corcoran

Many job seekers are passed onto employment agencies who get paid by the government but give no true active assistance. – Karen Zuccato

I am a 60-year-old female with a few medical issues, so have to work at least 15 hours per week.

I understand that receiving an income from the Government requires all participants to do something in return, and I was volunteering pre-Covid.

My role was a teachers assistant for people with disabilities attending face to face classes, and of course at the moment that is not an option.

Because of my health issues, standing or sitting for long periods causes me significant pain, to the point that many nights I would end up crying in pain and getting very little sleep. I also suffer from hearing loss in one ear and also tinnitus.

I used to work as a receptionist a few years ago now and have considered looking for part-time work in a similar field. My hearing loss however does cause many problems. Can you imagine walking into an office and the person who is supposed to direct your enquiry constantly replies with ‘Sorry can you repeat that!’. Very annoying. I have been told by my doctor that it is not possible to get hearing aid for my problem, I don’t quite understand why. Of course I cannot afford a cochlear implant and imagine even if it was a funded procedure the waiting lists would be significant.

I feel very depressed most days just worrying about not being able to fulfil my obligations with my Job Network. I get it that many people my age are quite happy to continue working, and that’s great, but for people like myself who have had a lifetime of very physical work our bodies have become somewhat tired and worn out.

Like others have stated, no one wants to spend money or time on training someone of my age as we are perceived as being just too old. I have successfully completed two Certificate 4 courses so I have been trying.

The stresses involved, for me anyway, with having to look for work, not to mention the constant failures, wear you down. I honestly just feel useless and wonder if it’s all worth it any more. On top of everything the retirement age keeps going up and I truly believe I will not live long enough to reach it, yet some of our politicians can retire at 55.

So for me every day I sit at my computer looking for work, getting excited sometimes reading the job requirements, only to then be disappointed when I realise I don’t quite have all the necessary qualifications so the search continues. It is truly a futile experience and one that gets me further down as each day passes.

I often just wonder: Why and how long do I have to continue with this farce another seven years or another 10? I also struggle with applying online for work trying to understand how to address the Key Selection Criteria. This won’t be taken very well but I feel like I am pimping myself out, giving a stranger information about myself talking myself up in the hope that they will choose me without even seeing me. Sorry if that offends you but that’s just how it makes me feel.

So I will continue to look for more volunteer work, people are happy to accept you if they don’t have to pay for your services. I actually applied for paid employment with the same place I have been volunteering for three years. A job that I just knew I could do, and do very well (I would never apply for a job I could not do). 

I never even heard back from them, but I’m sure they will want me to continue volunteering.

Employment rejection, on a daily basis, is not something limited to younger people and the older you get it becomes a fact of life that you have to live with. Let me tell you that it never becomes any easier. – Jan Devenyns

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Science and reality in 2020

We will die of Science

Modern science, born as a reaction from below to the unquestionable truths of the Scriptures, is now removed from the doubts that come precisely from below; raised to the rank of untouchable faith by a tireless army of televised priests. For this reason today it is necessary to defend science from itself, from the tendency to transform itself into a congregation of theologians, extraneous to society and intolerant of democratic control.

by Claudio Chianese

Omar Bradley was one of the great American generals of the last century, and perhaps the longest-lived: he died, almost ninety, in April 1981. In a speech given in 1948, Bradley says:

     “We have many men of science, but few men of God. We have understood the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount. The world developed genius without consciousness.”

It is easy to see in such words the specter of that technological massacre that was the Second World War, the atomic light that shook even Oppenheimer deep down in his heart – “I have become death, the destroyer of worlds” the physicist says in front of the Trinity nuclear test, the first in history. However, there is, in Bradley’s speech, something that goes beyond pacifism and that makes the concept impossible, almost heretical today: a direct accusation to science as institution. Not generic obscurantism, but the warning that science is not enough in itself – without a faith, an ethics, a social structure to be accountable to, it represents a danger for humanity.

Other times

Other times: it is unthinkable that, today, a national authority would say in public that there are too many scientists. Funds for research can only be said to be insufficient, even if the one who says so is a ruler who would have the possibility, but not the intention, to intervene in this regard: a toll to be paid to the politically correct, insignificant without an analysis of public spending tout court. The thirst for technocracy of our late modernity – typical, in particular, of those who lost the elections – reaches paroxysmal peaks when it comes to science, to the point that only two categories are left to problematize the question: one, that is increasingly marginal of the philosophers curled up in the ruins of the Frankfurt School, among the shreds of twentieth-century reflection on technique and biopolitics; the second, the carnival of conspiracy theorists, no-vaxes and inhabitants of a Flat Earth. For all the others, the good people, “the bourgeois blind by honesty”, science is a mysterium fidei that cannot be discussed outside the laboratory.

But right in the middle of the great epidemic, the event that will mark, culturally even more than biologically, our lives, we must strive to desecrate science, to save it from the delusion of omnipotence towards which a desperate population and a politics without answers risk pushing it – just as liberal Catholics wanted to free the ultra-worldly Church from the lure of temporal power. Let’s start, by way of example, from the petty media duels between virologists we have witnessed – Burioni against Gismondo, Burioni against Tarro – and from the most significant international clash between Nobel laureate Luc Montagnier and a large part of the scientific community. Montagnier claims that the Sars-CoV-2 virus was artificially created: a very weak hypothesis, based as it is on undisclosed personal research and on a study published by a group of Indian researchers, which was then withdrawn. Beyond the fact that Montagnier is right or wrong, however, the huge mobilization of scientific associations and the general press against the French doctor brings out a particular attitude of journalism (and of society as a whole) in the face of science, already stigmatized by seven years ago by paleontologist – and editor of Nature – Henry Gee in the Guardian [1]:

   “Science programs on television take an annoyingly reverential line. […] Debate and dissent are not only forbidden, but inconceivable. […] We can only sit and look without understanding. […] Scientists, or those who pass themselves off as scientists, claim an almost religious authority. And, as anyone who has dealt with religion knows, in this area there is no criticism, there is only blasphemy.”

“To punish me for my contempt for authority” – Einstein says – “they made me an authority”: it is ironic that modern science, born as a reaction from below to the unquestionable truths of the Scriptures, is now removed from the doubts that arise right from below. To understand where the mistake lies, you need a good guide on how science works, so the reader will forgive a bit of pedantry.

Experimental research

An experimental research, on any hypothesis and in any discipline, produces a statistical value, traditionally indicated with the letter P; the number simply indicates the probability that the result happened by chance. For example, that a pathology regressed by itself and not due to the drug: the larger the experiment and the more times it is replicated, the more unlikely it becomes that it is a coincidence. The P value will never be reset, therefore on a theoretical level our entire knowledge from Galileo to today could be wrong: it is immensely unlikely, but it is enough to make the term “scientific truth” absurd, so often invoked to extinguish the debate. Niceties on the end of a pin, you will say and it would be so if we did not have every reason to believe that the peer review process, at the basis of scientific publications, gets stuck often and willingly.

In 2005, physician John Ioannidis published a now classic study, with a shattering title: “Why Most Published Research Is Fake” [2]. Ioannidis’s analysis makes explicit a problem that all scientists are aware of – and that, instead, our opinion-groupies of science tend not to tell: the so-called reproducibility crisis. If such a large percentage of the studies in circulation is not replicable – therefore it lies outside the scientific method – the reasons are systemic: above all, the catastrophic paradigm of publish or perish, for which researchers keep themselves in the running by producing results all the time. With bad consequences on quality, the low credibility of many scientific journals; in some cases straight-up scams, scientists at the service of economic or political interests, as was the case with the tobacco industry.

Another element

There is, however, another, more evanescent element, for which journalism and scientific dissemination are directly responsible: the tendency to uncritically confirm the current academic consensus. Montagnier, Wakefield, anyone who proposes heterodox ideas is – understandably – pursued with an almost inquisitive air, subjected to the highest degree of suspicion; if we apply a fraction of this rigor to less controversial research, however, we realize that they are equally watery. Psychology professor, and professional debunker, Richard Wiseman found himself stating [3], a decade ago, that parapsychological research has reached the qualitative standards of all other areas of science but, given the revolutionary potential of the subject, the results remain insufficient. A position of common sense, based on Carl Sagan “extraordinary hypotheses require extraordinary evidence” but which can be overturned in a disturbing way: indeed studies that have the same technical solidity as those on telepathy and horoscope are told to the public as truth revealed, just because closer to the mainstream?

As ridiculous as it may seem, the alarm raised by Ioannidis suggests that this is the case. And this is so because, with all due respect to our warlike Burioni, science is not only democratic, but shares the worst characteristic with democracy: it tends to measure the value of an idea with the volume of applause, as Nicolás Gómez Dávila says. The audience is small, but the mechanism is identical: a plethora of historical examples testify to this, from the universal opposition of the academy to the idea of ​​continental drift proposed by Alfred Wegener, to the editorial with which John Maddox, in Nature [4], declared the Big Bang theory philosophically unacceptable because it is too similar to biblical creation. And it is obvious that this is so: science progresses, as Thomas Kuhn points out, when the volume of accumulated evidence is sufficient to drive the older generation of scientists out of the trenches, with their preconceptions and their careers based on a specific world view – “From funeral to funeral“, to paraphrase Max Planck. At a time when journalists, popularizers and scientists intoxicated with prestige claim unquestionable authority for science, they are denying it its great gnoseological advantage: the ability to perceive itself as provisional and self-correcting.

The real tragedy, especially in a country [Italy] that often slips into Manichaeism like ours, is that the scientific discourse addressed to the public has become a fight in the mud in which appear media characters who are completely ignorant of epistemology. The usual [professor] Burioni [5], which is spreading a crude nineteenth-century positivism, is valid as an emblem when Paul Feyerabend wrote these lines in 1975:

  “Without chaos there is no knowledge. Without frequent renunciation of reason there is no progress. […] We must therefore conclude that, within science, reason cannot and should not dominate everything and that it must often be defeated, or eliminated, in favor of other instances. There is not even a rule that remains valid in all circumstances and there is nothing to which one can always appeal.”

There is a complexity, in knowledge, which is regularly lost in the hateful practice of blasting, in a contempt addressed not only to the other as an interlocutor, but to the very idea that there is an Other than the norm. Thus one expires in the slothful cult of experts, which absolves the duty of thought and therefore becomes disabling, in the terms of Ivan Illich; on the other hand, blind faith corresponds to gangrenous rejection, and the public to whom listening and dialogue are denied ends up at the mercy of any charlatan who lives on the margins of the scientific community. More than from no-vax, however, today it is necessary to defend science from itself, from the tendency to transform itself into a congregation of theologians, extraneous to society and intolerant of democratic control. We can do this by claiming the power to generate error, which is the womb of what we will know tomorrow, without fearing the heresy of Tolstoy’s Konstantin Levin:

   “My main sin is doubt. I doubt everything and I always find myself in doubt.”







Original column by Claudio Chianese:

Translation by Costantino Ceoldo


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Former youth worker explores reality of child exploitation in debut film County Lines – Channel 4 News

They are children drawn into a dangerous, sometimes deadly world of drugs, crime and violence. County Lines is a new film which explores the reality of child criminal exploitation in all its grimness.

Fiction perhaps, but absolutely rooted in real life, as filmmaker Henry Blake draws on more than a decade’s experience on the frontline of youth work.

County Lines is released in cinemas and digitally on BFI Player and Curzon Home Cinema on 4 December.

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As Trump pushes ‘fraud,’ partisans pick their own reality


President Donald Trump’s false insistence that he is the rightful winner of the 2020 election has exposed like nothing else in his time in office the possibility that America is becoming a post-truth society, where political partisans can’t agree on a unifying framework of facts, and emotion and personal belief steer the winds of public opinion.

Since the vote, Democrats and Republicans seem to be living in different worlds. Supporters of President-elect Joe Biden point to his solid leads in a number of key battleground states and record-breaking overall vote total as evidence he won fair and square. Many supporters of President Trump have been convinced by right-wing media allegations, so far unsupported by evidence, that the election was rife with fraud – with dead people voting, ballots tossed, and corrupted election machines changing thousands of votes at a swipe.

Caught in between are state and national election officials of both parties who insist that the nation has managed the heroic act of holding a fair and free vote, with no more glitches than normal, despite a pandemic and historic turnout. They point out that the Trump campaign’s many lawsuits about the results have virtually all collapsed and are doing nothing but further documenting the solidity of Mr. Biden’s win.

Republican Al Schmidt, a Philadelphia city commissioner, perhaps spoke for many of these undersung election workers in a CNN interview last week. 

“I realize a lot of people are happy about this election and a lot of people are not happy about this election,” said Mr. Schmidt. “One thing I can’t comprehend is how hungry people are to consume lies.”

This divide over what constitutes truth and facts has been developing for some time, say experts. It’s not just the result of the rise of right-wing media outlets such as Fox News or the election of a president whom fact-checkers rate as an unparalleled source of political falsehoods. 

It’s also about the rise of social media, the blurring of lines between fact and opinion, and the decline in trust of many national institutions and even the nature of expertise.

“It’s a phenomenon that’s not tied to one party or administration. … It’s not only an information problem. It’s about the context in which information exists,” says Jennifer Kavanagh, a senior political scientist at Rand Corp. and co-author of “Truth Decay: An Initial Exploration of the Diminishing Role of Facts and Analysis in American Public Life.”

Unaddressed it could threaten democracy itself. As former President Barack Obama pointed out this week in an interview with the Atlantic, if we lose the ability to sort the true from the false, then by definition the marketplace of ideas does not work – and neither does democracy. Our whole theory of knowledge – epistemology – is threatened.

“We are entering an epistemological crisis,” President Obama told Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg.

Truth and politics

It may not have begun with him, but President Trump has proved that truth-bending politics has its advantages. A candidacy that began with Mr. Trump leveraging “birtherism” – the lie that Mr. Obama was not born in America – is ending with a president clinging to false stories about why he has won reelection, despite overwhelming evidence he has lost.

During the campaign, Mr. Trump insisted without evidence that mail-in ballots were rife with fraud. He cast doubt on ballots counted after Election Day, though lengthy ballot tallies and checks are routine. Since the vote he has seized on small discrepancies in county vote counts as reasons why the ballots of entire states should be invalidated and state legislatures should name him as the winner of their Electoral College votes.

John Beauge/The Patriot-News/AP

Approximately 100 Trump supporters stand across West Third Street from the Federal Building in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, for hours Nov. 17, 2020, while attorneys for the Trump campaign organization urged a federal judge not to certify the election results.

The president may sincerely believe these moves will keep him in the Oval Office. But in the past, he has used falsehoods and misdirection just to throw dust in the air, overwhelm the media, and create an appearance of scandal to delegitimize opposition. In his famous outreach to Ukraine – for which he was impeached – Mr. Trump only pushed for an investigation into Hunter Biden’s business deals to be announced, not completed or even begun. 

In his fight to stay in office, the president has often taken a bit of true information and presented it out of context. On Wednesday night, he tweeted that in Wisconsin, former Vice President Biden had received “a dump of 143,379 votes at 3:42 AM, when they learned he was losing badly.” What Mr. Trump did not mention was that the “dump” was a routine release of ballots by a number of counties and that not all of the ballots were for Mr. Biden, as a Reuters fact check clarifies.

While Rudy Giuliani gives press conferences like one on Thursday alleging widespread fraud, in court, under oath, he is far more measured: “This is not a fraud case,” he told a federal judge in Pennsylvania Tuesday.

This sort of activity could continue to cloud Mr. Biden’s presidency, says Whitney Phillips, a lecturer on media literacy and misinformation at Syracuse University.

“It is creating a permission structure to not accept Joe Biden as president,” Dr. Phillips says.

That may have real-world consequences, she adds. If a quarter of the population does not think Mr. Biden is a legitimate president, what does that mean for his coronavirus response plans? Will he face more entrenched opposition to masking recommendations or vaccine distribution?

“This is not just an abstract conversation about electoral consequences 10 years down the road,” she says.

Dr. Phillips says it is also important to place Mr. Trump’s current charges in context. The president began constructing a narrative about the “deep state” and shadowy enemies almost from the moment he entered office. It has been a thread linking the investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller, the impeachment effort, and more fervid false conspiracy theories such as those espoused by QAnon. This summer he began pushing a message that the Democrats would steal the election from him by any means necessary. This feeds a constant media diet by right-wing outlets that wraps around and encompasses many issues and “explains” confusing developments.

“It’s very hard to see outside the narrative. People are convinced of the underlying idea, and they’re going to seek that story out,” Dr. Phillips says.

“We wanted to support our president”

Many supporters of President Trump believe wholeheartedly that the vote was rife with wrongdoing, with dead people voting, ballots falsified, and corrupted election machines changing thousands of votes at a swipe. A recent Monmouth poll, for instance, found that 77% of Trump backers believed Mr. Biden’s victory was due to “fraud.” 

That’s in contrast to the 60% of Americans who believe Mr. Biden won the election fair and square, according to Monmouth.

Sign-waving fans of the president interviewed at Nov. 14’s “Million MAGA March” in Washington were certain there was no way he could have lost legitimately. They cited the size of Trump rallies, Mr. Biden’s flaws, and U.S. economic strength.

Janine Luzzi, a financial analyst from New Jersey, woke up at 5:15 a.m. to drive down to Washington with a friend.

“We wanted to support our president. We know he’s been cheated,” said Ms. Luzzi.

Terry and Kevin Roche drove up from their hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, the day before the rally. They felt it was important to attend because they don’t think the election process is over, and that courts and legislatures will discover there was fraud.

“Historically, the economy, scandals, all the measures that we use to judge a candidate – Joe Biden could not have done well. So it’s very inexplicable. Simply because people don’t like Donald Trump’s tweets he would lose an election?” said Mr. Roche, who works in computers. 

Cathy Boyd, a nurse from western Massachusetts, spent seven hours on a train to reach the rally. She says she felt she had to come and support the president because his opponents are simply stealing the election.

“I tell people that President Trump exposed the evil and corruption. He’s the only person who can do it. He’s got his own money,” said Ms. Boyd.

Why would Trump supporters be so sure about fraud in the election, when evidence to support that claim is lacking, more than two dozen court cases have gone against the president’s campaign or been withdrawn, and a majority of the country believes otherwise? Media silos may be one big reason. A quick glance at news headlines on Nov. 18 shows the split: The New York Times and other mainstream sources led with stories about the national coronavirus spike, with a smattering of pieces about the organization of the incoming Biden administration. Fox News, Breitbart, and OANN lead with Trump lawyer Mr. Giuliani laying out a “path to victory,” and the continuing struggle to certify vote results in Michigan’s Wayne County.

Many adults now get much of their news through Facebook and other social media sites, where it remains difficult to ascertain the validity of stories. At last weekend’s MAGA March, many participants repeated allegations that have been debunked by fact-checking, such as the false charge that Dominion Voting System machines were rigged to throw votes to Mr. Biden. As The Wall Street Journal pointed out in an editorial Thursday, if there had been a problem with Dominion machines, the hand recount Georgia just completed would have uncovered them. Dominion machines also were used in South Carolina and other states that voted for the president.

In his interview with The Atlantic, former President Obama criticized what he called the nation’s “new malevolent information structure.” America no longer has a trusted figure such as Walter Cronkite to bring us all together, he said. Locally owned and controlled TV stations are dwindling. Local newspapers run by experienced journalists are dying off.

“Maybe most importantly, and most disconcertingly, what we’ve seen is what some people call ‘truth decay,’ something that’s been accelerated by outgoing President Trump – the sense that not only do we not have to tell the truth, but the truth doesn’t even matter,” said the former president in a separate interview with “60 Minutes.”

Combating “truth decay”

“Truth decay” is a phrase Mr. Obama likely lifted from a lengthy 2018 Rand study of the same name. 

Since his interviews “we definitely have gotten renewed interest,” says Dr. Kavanagh, who co-wrote the book with Rand president and CEO Michael D. Rich.

Truth decay, as defined by Dr. Kavanagh, is a set of four interrelated trends: increasing disagreement about facts and interpretations of facts and data, more and more blurring of lines between opinions and facts, an increased volume of opinions, and lowered trust in formerly respected sources of factual information. 

Causes of these trends include changes in information providers, such as the rise in social media; an educational system that places less emphasis on media literacy and critical thinking; and political and demographic polarization.

Damaging consequences of this situation include the erosion of civil discourse, political paralysis, and uncertainty about national policy.

“We’re describing a situation in which people don’t know what’s true and what’s not – and they don’t know where to turn to find fact-based information,” says Dr. Kavanagh.

Solutions to truth decay could include more teaching about civic responsibilities and media literacy.

“Understanding the responsibility to become informed, and then having the tools to do it,” says Dr. Kavanagh.

There is also much that journalism can do to help overcome the challenge, according to Rand. A first step would be much clearer separation of fact and opinion articles and broadcasts. Consumers conflate the two much more than many journalists realize. A second step would be an increased attention to breaking up high-quality news in small, digestible chunks. That’s a market currently dominated by low-quality news providers. 

The online news environment is a big part of the problem. Right now, it’s a problem with more questions than answers. How to balance privacy and access against manipulation and hate speech? Are the companies themselves the right people to make those decisions?

Overall, with effort truth decay can be addressed, says Dr. Kavanagh.

“It’s not inevitable,” she says.

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