Author: Matthew Mott

Science, Sin, and Paternalism

A new study, published in July by University College London, has apparently revealed that men (but not women) who consume a large amount of sugar are at higher risk of long term mental illness. The scientists who carried out the study used their press release to support the British government’s so-called “sugar tax” — a special levy due to be imposed on certain soft drinks in 2018. One author expressed dismay that a similar policy was not enacted in other European countries, while another added a jab at the “commercial forces” that “exploit” the gullible, weak-willed populace by selling us sugary drinks. The message is loud and clear: sugar is bad, government regulation is good, and now we have the science to prove it. Although the study itself is available online, I am not qualified to provide a detailed critique of its methodology or conclusions. A cursory inspection suggests that it does at least look like science, and does not contain poetry, “performative autoethnography”, or any of the other gibberish that characterises the worthless vanity …

Censorship, the Authoritarian’s Snake Oil

Of all the many world-changing inventions that have come from the field of particle physics, few are more prominent than the World Wide Web. Invented in 1989 by Tim Berners-Lee as a tool for sharing data with other scientists at CERN, the Web was based on a simple yet powerful idea: that a single mouse click could take you from one page to another, anywhere else on the planet. Berners-Lee was remarkably forward-thinking, proposing not only rich content like images or video, but also that the Web should be an interactive and democratic medium, where every user has the power to speak as well as listen. The millennium gave us blogs, wikis, and social media, at which point Berners-Lee’s dream was (sort of) realised, and the internet grew from a toy for geeks into a public utility as ubiquitous as electricity or television. The rest, as they say, is history. But where science leads, lawyers and politicians inevitably follow. It didn’t take long for the self-appointed moral guardians to arrive on the scene, realise that …

Denying Encryption To Terrorists Is A Fantasy

The script for responding to Western terror attacks is now so predictable that they might as well publish a schedule in the TV listings. First we get the platitudes: “praying for” the affected city, liking Facebook statuses, and projecting flags onto buildings. Next there is the denial stage, where the commentariat implore us not to make assumptions about the attacker’s motives, because for all we know this was actually the work of Buddhist monks or the National Farmers’ Union. Then comes the hand-wringing over the potential racist backlash at the hands of the unstable, knuckle-dragging public, whose desire for an anti-Muslim pogrom can only be kept in check by loudly proclaiming that Islamic terrorists are not Real Muslims. Finally, once the emotion has died down, politicians can get on with doing what they do best — demanding more control over the internet. After Khalid Masood murdered four people in London last month, Home Secretary Amber Rudd wasted no time in laying the blame at the feet of WhatsApp, insisting that secure messaging apps must not …

Censorship-Free Social Media: the Next Big Thing, or Just Another Echo Chamber?

In July 2016, Breitbart Tech journalist and notorious right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos was permanently banned from Twitter. It wasn’t his first run-in with the Twitter authorities, but this time the ban was permanent. The justification was that he had allegedly encouraged his 300,000-odd followers to harass Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones. But his fans took the view that Yiannopoulos, like others before and since, had been kicked off Twitter because his conservative politics offended the sensibilities of its left-wing CEO, Jack Dorsey. Four months later, Donald Trump — candidate of choice for Yiannopoulos and his alt-right fellow travellers — achieved a surprise victory in the US presidential election; a seismic political upheaval that, like the similarly unexpected Brexit vote, seemed to put the impotence of the establishment media beyond any doubt. If Twitter and other Democrat-supporting behemoths thought that policing online speech was going to carry Hillary Clinton to victory, they were mistaken. Censorship, however, is like alternative medicine: if it doesn’t work, you just need to do more of it. Social media purges have only intensified since …