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S: Is for Science, scrutiny and snooping

We are living in a state of semi-controlled anarchy and it is only our parents, or the memory of them, that stops us from sinking our teeth into our neighbours’ trachea.

So, let’s have a calming look at some science, to see if that can offer some solace in fractured times.

Science:

During a pandemic, it seems that people look to science for certainty, but unfortunately science doesn’t work like that. Scientists raise hypotheses, then they test them, refine them, and then they repeat the process. This takes a lot of time, and although progress is made, there is always much uncertainty. Facts are just things that have yet to be proven untrue, and people who say they know the answers, but can’t provide evidence should be treated with scepticism.

There is a data scientist, called Ivor Cummins, who blogs on health and now COVID-19, who certainly provides evidence and he describes our current situation as ‘casedemic hysteria’.

Cummins looks at countries across Europe and, in them all, the death rate is down to almost zero, but as they keep testing, the number of cases rises, looking like a spike and potentially causing panic. In Sweden, despite no lockdown, ICU capacity never exceeded 60%. What is now being discovered, he says, is people who are asymptomatic and ‘viral fragments’.

In Spain, there have been practically no deaths since May, but the number of cases, as testing is increased, is going up. This is the spike an excited media talks about. When you go looking for cases you will always find them. With increased PCR testing, cases go up, but not deaths. This was true for swine flu in 2008/2009 and also with annual cases of flu. The hyper-testing phase can lead to panic at the time of the lowest number of deaths.  

Increased testing when people are not dying, is a great tool for any government that wants to switch lockdown on or off at any particular time for any particular reason. A sudden spike in cases can be an excuse for the lockdown of a town or a complete country. They are scaring us with a casedemic, not what we should be afraid of, which would be increased mortality and intensive care loading.

At the moment, COVID-19 is nothing worse than a relatively bad flu season, yet our lives, our education and our economy have been twisted out of all recognisable shape. 

The media calling an increase in cases a ‘second spike’ is disingenuous and demonstrates why we really need scientists to explain this stuff, rather than a tame media. It’s not just the government who are not being held to account, it’s the scientists too.

Traditionally, the medical profession (like the airline industry) is expected to be open about mistakes and show they have learnt from them, and the example from ministers in the UK, is “never accept you have got it wrong, never apologise and just blame others”. The errors of Boris Johnson’s government have cost lives; England has the highest number of excess deaths in Europe. 

So they have scrapped Public Health England (PHE) and will probably do the same to Ofqual, The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation, because of the current examinations’ fiasco. 

Srutiny:

At this time we are blessed to have Mr Johnson as our leader, who, once again is on holiday and under, as usual, zero scrutiny.

The UK government once did Daily Media Briefings, but simply don’t bother anymore. 

I thought we had a proud history of political scrutiny, yet now, during this pandemic, the government is on holiday, their opposition is on holiday and at 7.55pm tonight, on C4 we have a programme called The Political Slot. It is the only programme which might feasibly question the government and it lasts five minutes. 

The government now comes under five minutes possible scrutiny. I really don’t think an ex- weather girl on GMB or Louise (LMFAO) Minchin count as proper political scrutiny. This is quite literally unbelievable and makes me stare longingly at my neighbour’s throat.

Where is Andrew Neil, where is Question Time, the Andrew Marr Show, anything that questions the government? They’re on summer holiday; brilliant. There’s a global pandemic and what does everyone do? Buggers off on summer holiday, the same as every year.

And what else happens the same as every year? Exam results, even when no-one takes any fucking exams. A level results come round at the same time every year, and are a set-piece for the media, even when students don’t take them. Fair enough, if the kids don’t take exams, why should anyone bother marking them properly? 

Apparently these kids care. But Johnson and Gavin Williamson didn’t, so they applied an algorithm, which penalised underprivileged children. It didn’t work and a bunch of 18-year-olds were left to protest about the unfair treatment.

That is the extent of our current scrutiny.

Thatcher stole my milk, Johnson stole a load of university places. These kids will not forgive him.

You can, however, be fairly sure you are under more scrutiny from your employer.

Snooping:

People who can work from home are now very much used to it. Before lockdown, a boss had to trust you to let you work from home, then they forced you to, and how lovely it was. No more daily commute, no more pointless meetings and what a joy to be working in the garden with a glass of something cold. Your boss trusts you because we are all grown ups now. 

For some, it probably wasn’t all beer and skittles; schools were shut and children had to stay at home and be taught Maths and English, by their parents. How inconvenient.

And the internet doesn’t always work and maybe your kitchen doesn’t make for the best Zoom background, but on the whole, it’s got to be better than being in an office. Hasn’t it?

Possibly, and possibly not. The government might want us to stay working at home for the long haul and that raises all sorts of interesting questions, not least the possibility of outsourcing.

Apparently, a coder called Bob, insisted he work from home and his bosses, a blue-chip firm, were happy for him to do so. Bob outsourced his work to China and treated the working week as a paid holiday. What is to stop your boss doing the same to you?

That potential horror aside, many people think they actually have to work harder when they are at home, than in the office. A lot of people actually find that during an online meeting they have to concentrate more, meetings are scheduled back to back and that their home has been invaded by the office.

A large study (3 million people) in the US, by the National Bureau for Economic Research, says that the number of meetings per person has gone up 13% since lockdown, as had the number of attendees, with the average working day increasing in length by about an hour (your daily commute?).

In 2017, Barclays Bank installed heat and motion sensors at the desks of their London headquarters, to log how long their employees spent at their station.

Now, similar sensors are installed on employees’ laptops, both in the office and at home.

The increase in working from home has led to a commensurate increase in the installation of employee monitoring software, programs like Teramind, ActivTrak, Time Doctor and StaffCop. These can scan your screenshots, your login times, keystrokes etc. to ensure you are keeping up productivity.

You can install your own software to circumvent these prying eyes, but it seems presenteeism in the home is going to be as much of an issue as it was once in the office. 

The only useful currency left between employer and employee, when working from home, remains the one of trust.  

Trust is important.

 

 

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