A net gain
Sir: Jamie Bartlett tries to balance plus and minus, and ends with zero (‘Little Brothers are watching you’, 7 December). But I wonder: why lead with the negative? Yes, data can be misused, marketers and government can misbehave (no — they will). But what are we to do? Block progress? Why don’t we write the rules instead? A billion-plus people are sharing their observations, questions, answers and lives online because they — we — find benefit in connecting with each other: offering services, gathering information and knowledge, and finding efficiencies. I engage in willing transactions with Google (though not the NSA) to deliver greater relevance with less noise. I celebrate the redistribution of power and challenge to institutions. Let’s consider the net not merely as a threat to privacy but also as a boon to public-ness.
Author of What would Google do? New York, USA
Sir: I enjoyed Mr Bartlett’s frightening piece about the internet, but may I share one of its upsides? Those of us spending Christmas with relatives can now shop online and have our presents sent straight there. No more lugging leaden suitcases on packed trains. Bliss! But do send your hosts a bottle of wine, to thank them in advance for the trouble of collecting your post.
A high old time
Sir: Neither of your contributors on addiction mentioned that drugs which are now illicit were mostly legally and cheaply available to citizens of Victorian and Edwardian Britain without causing the collapse of civilisation (‘Is addiction a disease?’, 30 November).
America’s prohibition of alcohol was called ‘the noble experiment’. It was repealed because the costs far outweighed the benefits. The prohibition of other drugs has been even more disastrous, partly because they are much easier to smuggle than whisky. Opium, methadone and heroin are cheap. Addicts could buy their own and pay tax, as with alcohol and tobacco. Decriminalisation might increase use, but not necessarily serious abuse.
Sir: With regard to your article ‘Is addiction a disease?’, may I bring to the attention of any of your readers who feel the onset of addiction F. Scott Fitzgerald’s observation: ‘First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.’
Peter J. Andrews
Sir: We were present at the recent and regrettably private meeting between a group of climate scientists nominated by the President of the Royal Society and a team assembled by Lord Lawson.
In their letter about the meeting (7 December) the Royal Society team state that: ‘The science summarised by the climate scientists was generally agreed by all present.’ This is a half-truth. There was indeed a wide measure of agreement over some basic aspects of science; but there were also some significant differences. In particular, the scientists on our side of the table placed more emphasis on empirical observations, while the team led by Sir Brian Hoskins appeared to have more confidence in climate models and future projections generated by such models. So far as policy is concerned, Sir Brian and his colleagues agree that this is important, and indeed the connection between science and policy was part of our meeting’s agreed agenda. The Royal Society team claimed to know little about the economic costs and benefits of climate change and climate policy. We find it therefore inconsistent that Sir Brian suggests the impacts of climate change to be far graver than the impacts of rapid decarbonisation.
We certainly reject Sir Brian’s implied contention that scientists should take very seriously the highly conjectural future costs of climate change, while wholly disregarding the much more certain human and economic costs of the policies he advocates.
Professor David Henderson,
Chairman of the GWPF’s Academic Advisory Council
Nicholas Lewis, independent climate scientist
Professor Richard S. Lindzen, MIT
Professor Anthony Kelly FRS,
University of Cambridge
Professor Michael Kelly FRS,
University of Cambridge
Matt Ridley, House of Lords
Sir Alan Rudge FRS
Professor Richard Tol,
University of Sussex
How to drink champagne
Sir: As a corollary of Simon Berry’s advocacy of drinking champagne by the imperial pint (Drink, 7 December), I was reminded of my Irish hunting days. Staying with friends to hunt with the Westmeath, my wife, who prefers whisky, declined the champagne offered before dinner, saying ‘I only like it in a pewter mug at 11 in the morning.’ Next day we set off for the meet, crammed in the cab of our host’s horse box. Along the way he suddenly announced that it was 11 o’clock and his wife produced a cold bag with the champagne and a pewter mug. We continued on, passing the mug between us and, as far as I remember, had an excellent day.
Sir George Earle Bt
Sir: If David Shrigley keeps being called a cartoonist, I’m going to call myself an artist!
The Spectator, London SW1
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 14 December 2013Tags: champagne, Climate change, data, Drugs, legalisation, Privacy, Royal Society