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Sensemaker: No one’s safe until everyone is safe

Wednesday 25 November 2020

What just happened

Long stories short

  • US stocks surged to an all-time high after Trump allowed a transition to begin.
  • Rishi Sunak earmarked £4.3 billion to help the UK’s long-term unemployed (more below).
  • Armenia accused Azerbaijan of using banned cluster bombs and white phosphorus in Nagorno-Karabakh.
  • Wildlife rangers found a mysterious metal monolith in the Utah desert that reminded them of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

No one’s safe until everyone is safe

The world is much closer to the mass roll-out of Covid vaccines than it could have expected at the start of the pandemic, but unequal access will keep the virus raging and poorer countries suffering. “It’s going to create the most terrible schism in society,” WHO special envoy David Nabarro told an OECD briefing yesterday. 

There is an alternative:

  • The 30-60 choice. Two billion vaccine doses distributed to 50 rich countries would reduce global deaths by a little over 30 per cent, according to Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, which funds vaccines for low-income countries. But if distributed to all countries in proportion to population, those same two billion doses would reduce deaths by more than 60 per cent. You can’t end the acute phase of the pandemic anywhere unless you protect people everywhere.
  • The plan. For a genuinely global solution all eyes are on Covax, which aims to distribute two billion doses to 92 low- and middle-income countries by the end of 2021. It’s supported by more than 75 wealthier countries, including the UK and China but not the US. And it has been boosted by the success of the phase 3 trials for the AstraZeneca jab, which Oxford scientists this week called “a vaccine for all the world”. The vaccine is available at cost indefinitely to low- and middle-income countries and Covax has access to half the doses produced. 
  • But the picture remains unequal. By August, the EU, the UK and the US had already pre-ordered enough doses of vaccine candidates in phase 3 trials to vaccinate their population several times over. (There are bilateral benefits from the US, for example, spending $10 billion on Operation Warp Speed.) Meanwhile Covax, which represents almost half of the world population, has been able to pre-order just 500 million doses (200 million of which are still in the early stages of clinical testing), or fewer than one for every seven people it seeks to help.
  • For want of a few billion. Covax faces a $4.5 billion funding shortfall, which WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus last week begged the G20 to plug. “It is like we have created a big feast, and low- and middle-income countries are sitting at the kids’ table,” said Joanne Liu, former international president of Médecins Sans Frontières.

Meanwhile the pandemic continues. Nabarro warned that the constant yo-yoing between restriction and movement – next up, the Christmas release – means western Europe will face a third wave of the coronavirus by February. “The only way you deal with it is by containment, containment, containment. Early, rapid, robust, rigorous.” 

Countries like South Korea and Vietnam have shown that this works, but what does it look like somewhere like the UK? “Well-integrated local-level data-supported capacity to empower and trust people to do the right stuff,” said Nabarro. “Stop all this central government posturing and make Covid more of a local issue.” 

Someone tell that to Messrs Johnson and Hancock.

Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Rishi’s rescue
Jobs for some. Help for others. That’s the headline before the UK chancellor’s spending review today. There may be the odd surprise at the dispatch box but it’s clear that while Sunak would love to avoid a surge in long-term unemployment he doesn’t want big Keynesian job creation schemes or anything that looks like a universal basic income. Job seekers will get guidance, interview coaching and maybe some re-training instead.

The numbers: the £4.3 billion Sunak has earmarked is split between £2.9 billion for a new Restart programme and £1.4 to expand capacity of the existing Jobcentre Plus network. There will be 250,000 state-subsidised jobs for younger people, and an extension till March of the £2,000 payment to employers for each apprentice they take on. But the outlook for most of the million or so people expected to be made redundant by this time next year will depend overwhelmingly on their local job market.

In the optimistic column, the Office for Budget Responsibility’s updated GDP forecasts point to a V-shaped recovery next year with the fastest growth since 1941.

In the miserable column: that will follow the deepest recession in three centuries. And the end of the Brexit transition. The OBR, the governor of the Bank of England and the Resolution Foundation all agree a no-deal Brexit would deliver a long-term hit to the UK economy even more profound than Covid.

New things technology, science, engineering

Poor Charli D’Amelio
Charli D’Amelio is a 16 year-old from Norwalk, Connecticut who enjoys using her smartphone to film herself dancing. Last week she lost a million Instagram followers for bad manners in a YouTube video in which, for a new series, she was filmed dining with her family and a friend. She has since apologised but after receiving death threats as part of the backlash she also implored her followers to “just be nice”. This is no small ask, because on TikTok she has since reached 100 million of them. We’ve followed the story of TikTok’s run-in with the Trump administration quite closely. The theory is that TikTok could pose a security risk to the West because it’s Chinese owned. 16 year-old D’Amelio (net worth about $4 million) is the reality. Theory and reality are not mutually exclusive, but in some respects they seem quite far apart. 

The 100-year life health, education, living, public policy

Putin unvaccinated
Russia’s Sputnik V Covid vaccine has already been given to healthcare workers, teachers and President Putin’s daughter, but not to Putin himself. It’s not clear whether this is because he’s over 65, the vaccine hasn’t been formally approved for use, or none of the research on which it’s based has yet been peer reviewed. His spokesman said simply that “the president can’t use an uncertified vaccine”. Sputnik V is an odd case. It could be a Potemkin vaccine, rushed into service for presentational purposes and later found to underperform (at best). Or, if the Kremlin’s claim that it’s safe and 91.4 per cent effective proves true, it could become a major plank of global immunisation efforts. We’ll find out soon enough.

Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Money rebellion
Extinction Rebellion’s latest campaign involves – it hopes – mass financial disobedience. Quite a lot of clicking through its FAQs is required to find out what this means, and the answer seems to be a mixture of disputing debts, slow-rolling bill payments and protesting against Barclays’ (and others’) investments in fossil fuels. In fairness to XR the risks to “money rebels” are laid out pretty clearly in this toolkit, and it was always going to be hard to follow the big street protests of the pre-Covid era in terms of visibility and impact. But we can’t help worrying about good intentions getting mired in debt.

Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

0.7 v 0.5 per cent
The £13 billion a year that the UK distributes in overseas aid is meant to help the vulnerable, but it was always meant to set an example and say something about the country that it comes from, too. A substantial number of Tory MPs – never mind Labour ones – support it for all three reasons and are vexed that Sunak may seek to cut the statutory amount earmarked for aid from 0.7 to 0.5 per cent of gross national income. 0.7 per cent projects soft power, says Tom Tugendhat. “The Britain I know and love does not turn its back on such people – whatever our challenges at home,” tweets Jeremy Hunt. Is the Britain he knows and loves the one he lives in now?

opinion: Bee Boileau

A scoop! But no credit…

The author wrote a story for her student newspaper about men speaking over women. Then it appeared in national newspapers – but in a way that just repeated the problem

Last week the Sun published a story under the headline ‘More men named Greg than women in total will give talk to Oxford Uni Society’. It was written by a journalist named Greg, but it wasn’t his story. It was a lightly rewritten version of a story I’d written for my student paper the week before, and it was published without credit or acknowledgement.

My piece was prompted by a list of events for the Oxford PPE Society (politics, philosophy, and economics), which included a single woman and thirteen men. The name of the single female speaker, Bonnie Honig, was spelled wrong on the announcement, and there were more Gregs (and more Marks) than there were women. 

The PPE Society wasn’t alone; the Economics Society had an entirely male set of events this term. Both societies’ committees were predominantly male. Women are under-represented in the field at almost all other levels: there are disproportionately few female PPE students, tutors, lecturers, and authors on PPE reading lists. And men have outperformed women in finals for nine of the last ten years for which data is available. 

After finding this, I spent a couple of weeks talking to women studying PPE about their experiences. One of the most common things I heard about was women’s frustration at being spoken over by men. Millie Prince-Hodges, a third-year female PPE-ist I spoke to, expressed this well: “Often I’ve said things, and my [male] tutorial partners have rephrased them, more loudly, and been praised.” I included her quote in my original article, discussing the male-dominated atmosphere that often pervades PPE tutorials and lectures.

So it was surprising to find, the day after my article was published, that three male journalists – at the SunMetro, and a website called the London Economic – had nicked the first part, on the Oxford PPE Society, without linking to the original piece. The article discussed the problem of men speaking over women and taking credit for their ideas, and yet the journalists reading it repeated the pattern. 

All three pieces used my analysis and phrasing. Each pointed out that more men named Greg were set to give talks than women in total. Each pointed out the spelling mistake in the society’s term-card, made in the sole woman speaker’s name. Each lifted the Millie Prince-Hodges quote. Beyond the irony of the case, the similarity of the articles surprised me. Had I done something similar in one of my university history essays, I would have been in trouble for plagiarism.

When tweeting about the incident, I found that it was common practice within journalism: other students, as well as journalists for local papers, told me they’d also had their stories lightly rewritten by national outlets without credit.

Eve Webster told me that, in her time at Cherwell, her pieces had been picked up by multiple different outlets – the Times, the Telegraph, and the BBC – and that, in one instance, her photos had been used without credit. “I always took it as a bit of a compliment at the time,” she said, “but in hindsight it was quite bold of them.” Re-using her photos, unlike re-wording her writing, was an infringement of copyright: when challenged, rather than include an acknowledgement, or pay for her work, the Times simply deleted them. 

In an age of internet aggregation, it can be hard to draw the line between plagiarising and adding genuine value to a piece. It’s also increasingly tempting to trawl other news sources for stories, as the number of articles journalists are expected to publish per day increases. 

But the internet has also made it easy to credit writers by including a hyperlink to their initial reporting. Established papers don’t need to take stories without acknowledgement from student journalists: at the very least, they should put a link in their stories, or acknowledge by name the original author of the analysis they’re using. With these things, it’s a compliment – as Eve said – to have your work used. Without them, it just feels rude. Significant time and effort goes into writing articles, and it’s discouraging when something that’s taken a lot of work is ripped off without acknowledgement. 

Traffic makes a real difference to student papers, many of which have very small budgets. Durham’s Palatinate almost could not afford to go to print this November, and was forced to rely on a fund-raiser and open letter from alumni. Cherwell itself primarily relies on ads to pay its printing costs. If national papers provided links to the student stories they aggregated, student papers would better be able to afford website hosting, camera equipment, and graphic design software they have to pay for before they even go to print. 

After I’d tweeted about all this, I emailed the publications, as many suggested, and asked them to include an acknowledgement and link. Metro said that they were “happy to give credit where due”, although did not apologise for the initial omission of credit; the London Economic apologised, including a link back to my piece (although four days after the story’s publication). Greg at the Sun has not yet responded.

Thanks for reading, and do share this around. 

Xavier Greenwood 

Giles Whittell