The paranoid style in IT journalism

There’s a type of technology journalism which is the non-fiction equivalent of a horror story, the opposite of uncritical technophilia. Scaring readers is a pretty good way to hold their attention, but it doesn’t necessarily get to the heart of the story. Continue reading

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Oxford vaccine test volunteers infected with typhoid

Volunteers in Oxford agreed to infect themselves with typhoid, as part of a recently-completed trial of a vaccination that could save the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

The Oxford Vaccine Group, part of University of Oxford, gave 99 volunteers a drink laced with live Salmonella Typhi bacteria a month after vaccinating them. A third had been vaccinated with Typbar-TCV, a new conjugate typhoid vaccine, a third with established vaccine Typhim Vi and the rest with meningitis vaccine Menveo, which does not protect against typhoid. Neither the volunteers nor the doctors carrying out the injections knew who was getting which vaccine. Continue reading

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For organisations, Brexit means deal with it

Britain is a world-leader in genomics. When I heard George Freeman MP, the chair of the prime minister’s policy board, tell a conference that despite having voted Remain he thought Brexit could lead to a better regulatory framework for genomics, it sounded like a story. Computer Weekly published the resulting article last week. Continue reading

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It’s Facebook wot wins votes

The Facebook fake news fuss is a distraction compared with the company’s bigger impact on politics: its ability to micro-target advertising based on its detailed knowledge of its users. As I wrote earlier this month for The Register, Facebook has helped the Conservatives to win the 2015 general election, pro-Brexit campaigners to win the referendum and Donald Trump the US presidency.

Facebook uses the Tory victory in its marketing to other political campaigners. As far as I can see it isn’t yet boasting about its role in Brexit, which included Leave.EU using Facebook to target racists until it got caught out by the Remain campaign. Continue reading

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This England: a gaunt view from Ghent

This sceptred isle, this other Eden, this England and all that. I like to imagine this speech from Richard II spoken in a Flemish accent, given it is delivered by John of Gaunt – or as we now call it, Ghent.

Ghent is a great place to spend a few days, something like a combination of Oxford and Newcastle with an ancient, well-preserved city centre, a major port and lots of students. But going round its excellent museums you get a sense of departed glory. STAM, the city history museum, uses graphics to show how Ghent’s population was comparable to Paris and Brussels in the 16th century. But Ghent is now a city of just quarter of a million people. Continue reading

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