Wednesday 17 June 2020

It shouldn't be about nationalism

The study by a team of scientists at Oxford University which led to the discovery that a cheap and commonly available drug can significantly reduce the risk of death in patients suffering a serious case of Covid-19 is good news. Not as good as discovering a cure or a vaccine, but nevertheless a major step forward in reducing the mortality rate from the virus. Whether it’s entirely accurate for the PM to describe it as a “great British scientific achievement” is a slightly different question; the team which organised the trials might be based in the UK, but like all such teams, the members of the team at the Nuffield Department of Population Health come from a range of nationalities, and had the current government’s approach to immigration been in force for some years it’s more than a possibility that some of the team wouldn’t even be here. And whilst I don’t want to take anything away from the success of the team, which will have done a great deal of desk-based research before deciding which existing drugs were worth trialling, there is inevitably at least an element of luck involved in finding that one of those worked as early as this in the trial process.
Continuing the nationalistic drum-beating theme, the English Health Secretary claimed, on the basis of little more than assertion, that “… the UK is leading the way in the global fight against coronavirus – with the best clinical trials, the best vaccine development and the best immunology research in the world”. The demand that we all accept that anything the UK does is ‘world-leading’ or ‘the best’ tells us more about the mindset of the politicians making such statements than about the true state of British science, which is facing a loss of talent, funding and collaborative opportunities as a direct result of decisions taken by those same politicians. And to make it worse, whilst one of the leading investigators is proudly and correctly noting that “…it is fantastic that the first treatment demonstrated to reduce mortality is one that is instantly available and affordable worldwide”, the UK Government, as of yesterday, quietly added the drug to the list of those which are banned for export from the UK. Given that the drug is, apparently, already widely available, that decision looks not just petty but unnecessary – but imagine the outrage which government ministers (to say nothing of the tabloids) would express if any other country banned the export of a drug which could save lives here.
There’s nothing wrong with taking pride in the success of talented people in tackling global problems but finding solutions to the pandemic isn’t some sort of international competition with winners and losers, especially if the ‘losers’ are then potentially denied access to the drugs or treatments discovered. Scientific advance depends more on co-operation and collaboration, both of which seem to be alien concepts to the Anglo-British nationalists now running the UK.

1 comment:

dafis said...

The ability and willingness to parrot shallow supremacist mantras seems to be a primary requirement for ministerial office. Listening to Boris and most of his lackeys is like tuning in to the exaggerations of small children. Unless something radical changes we're stuck with these jerks for another 4 and 1/2 years !