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Driverless cars, algorithms and the ethics of valuing of human life

Today, RDM Group have unveiled the Lutz Pathfinder, a prototype driverless car. This is to be the first driverless car tested on public roads in Britain, after legislation was passed a few months ago to allow their operation.

Yet there are unresolved questions about the ethics underlying the algorithms which direct driverless cars; and, in particular, how they weigh the value of human life. Despite what other sources might say, these are not really new problems—but they are, nonetheless, interesting.

In this post, I’ll draw on some historic examples of similar problems, and see if they help us to make sense of this 21st century quandary.

Back in 1948, the Cold War between the Eastern Bloc and the Western Bloc was beginning to heat up… or cool down, depending on how you look at it. Either way, the US Air Force wanted the capacity to blow the Soviet Union to smithereens, should it come to that. So the US Air Force asked mathematician Edwin Paxson to use mathematical modelling to work out how best to co-ordinate a first nuclear strike.

Paxson and his team set about their work, considering almost half a million configurations of bombs and bombers. They took into account dozens of variables including countermeasures that might be deployed, targets that could be selected, and routes the bombers should fly.

In 1950, after months of work and billions of calculations, Paxson delivered his verdict in a now-famous report called Strategic Bombing Systems Analysis. His solution: fly a nuclear device to Russia in a cheap propeller plane, surrounded by a large number of similar decoy planes. The huge swarm would overwhelm Russia’s defensive capabilities and, although planes would be lost, the likelihood that the armed plane would be destroyed would be exceptionally low. One of his team described the strategy as “filling the Russian skies with empty bombers of only minor usefulness”.

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The response to this recommendation was not positive: Paxson was vilified. The Air Force responded with a combination of bewilderment and indignation: how could Paxson possibly suggest sending Air Crews on a suicide mission in cheap rickety planes? After all, war surely meant doing everything possible to protect allied servicemen while killing enemy servicemen—preferably using the leanest and meanest cutting-edge technology available.

But Paxson was vilified not because he gave the wrong answer: rather, he gave the right answer to the wrong question. His method was the way to cause the greatest amount of damage to the enemy for the lowest system cost—but it didn’t consider the value of human life.

Or, rather, it didn’t consider the value of the lives of the American Air Crews. Nobody thought for a moment that it should consider the value of Soviet lives. Of course, had it considered all human life as equal, it seems hard to imagine how a nuclear strike could ever come to have been proposed at all.

There’s a scene in the fourth season of The West Wing in which President Bartlet is considering intervening against genocide in Aaron Sorkin’s favourite fictional country, Equatorial Kundu. In frustration at his limited power to right the wrongs of the world, he muses

Why is a Kundunese life worth less to me than an American life?

Will Bailey, working as a speechwriter and having been in the show for a handful of episodes, gives the ballsy response

I don’t know, sir, but it is.

What is the value of human life?

This is a deeply philosophical question, but it’s also one that needs answering for practical purposes: without a value, we can’t make cost-effectiveness calculations to answer all sorts of important questions.

The US Environmental Agency pegs the value of a life at about £6m. The airline industry uses a value of around £2m. The UK Department of Transport puts it around £1m.

Most Western medical organisations, NICE included, price a year of life lived in full health at about £20-30,000. That’s a little tricksy, because—based on life expectancy—that means the UK value of a 20 year-old woman’s life is about £1.5m, versus about £1.1m for a 30 year-old man. It also means that a baby girl in East Dorset is worth about £360,000 more than a baby boy in Glasgow. And if you’ve a disability, your life is worth less than someone of equal life expectancy without a disability.

Variation in the value of lives, whether by gender, age, or nationality feels inherently wrong… but is it actually wrong? Or is it the reality of the world we live in?

So what of driverless cars? Effectively, they can be considered as robots, and we have an established set of laws for robots: science fiction writer Isaac Asimov proposed three laws of robotics in 1942, the first of which is

A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

Like much political legislation, this robotic law is well-intentioned but functionally useless in the situation we’re considering.

You may already be familiar with the “trolley problem”: a runaway train is heading down tracks towards a group of five people. A woman is stood next to a lever. Pulling the lever will shift the points in the track and send the train barrelling instead towards a single person. Should the woman pull the lever?

Some ethicists would say the woman should pull the lever: from a utilitarian viewpoint, she is obliged to reduce the number of people who come to harm. Others would say that the woman should not pull the lever: a deontological view might hold that the act of pulling the lever would make her complicit in the killing of another human being.

Replace the woman with a robot, and the robot is forced to break Asimov’s First Law of Robotics no matter what action it takes (or doesn’t take). We’re effectively entrapping the robot.

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Perhaps it isn’t surprising that we haven’t “solved” an ethical problem for robots given that we haven’t “solved” it for humans. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a problem. In humans, we can rely on the free agency of the individual and judge them post hoc.

Robots, at least for the time being, are not sentient. They do our bidding, and we must decide our bidding in advance. There is no ‘in the moment’ free agency to rely upon—we will know (or at least will be able to know) with certainty the action that will be taken in advance.

So what are driverless cars to do? If a driverless car finds itself in a situation where it must choose between a high speed collision with a pedestrian or with a wall, which should it choose? From the point of view of the car, should the lives of the pedestrian and the car’s occupant be of equal value? Or should the car prioritise the life of the owner? And what if the individual pedestrian is replaced by a group of pedestrians? Or a group of children?

It could be argued that the car should prioritise the lives of its driver, since that it what humans tend to do in practice. Or it could be argued that the car should value everyone equally, and protect the greatest possible number of lives possible, since that utilitarian view is how we might want humans to act. Or it could be argued that the risk should be borne entirely by the person choosing to operate the vehicle, and so the car should act to prioritise those outside of it.

Some writers have suggested that driverless cars will be forced to prioritise the life of the driver due to market forces—no-one will buy a car which might decide to kill them. Yet, of course, there is also society and legislature to consider—and it seems unlikely that cars which did not give due weight to the life of pedestrians and others outside the car would ever gain societal acceptance.

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And so, driverless cars look like they’re stuck in an ethical rut: they can neither prioritise the life of the driver nor prioritise the life of the pedestrian. So what can it do in the “wall or pedestrian” situation? Choose randomly? That also seems… unethical.

We’ve reach an impasse.

Much is written about the ethics of self-driving cars in these extreme situations, and they are interesting philosophical and ethical questions to ponder. But they aren’t particularly helpful in a practical sense. Much like Edwin Paxson, we being compelled to consider the wrong question.

One of the flaws in the trolley problem is that humans are rarely in a situation with two clear, diametrically opposed options. We have a range of choices available to us, not just pulling or not pulling the lever that controls the points. Maybe we could shout a warning to the people in the path of the train; maybe we could signal to the driver to stop; maybe we somehow derail the train.

And this is the first reason why the question is wrong: the car can take more than two actions. It can sound its horn; it can perform an emergency stop; it can can deploy an airbag; it can hand control back to a human. The dichotomous choice is unrealistic.

In addition, the technology isn’t at the standard required to assess a situation in the detail the problem describes—and the programming in the car will probably never consider the situation. It is unlikely that any self-driving car will be programmed with a “crash self” option. It will have a number of reactions to stimuli, including “do not crash into pedestrians” and “do not crash into walls”, and will respond in the event of a conflict probably by avoiding the pedestrians rather than the wall: just like a human, it would not know at the decision point what the outcome would be for the human driver, but there would no doubt be advanced protective mechanisms in place just as in non-driverless cars. In fact, by allowing the car to crash in a predictable way, the safety of the occupants can probably be increased even in the event of a crash.

Your washing machine at home is pretty much autonomous in operation. Does it prioritise preventing fire or preventing flood in the event of a malfunction? I have no idea what mine does, but I suspect that the situation is so far out of normal operating limits that it isn’t specifically programmed to do either. Perhaps the same is true of driverless cars.

It’s also worth considering that this sort of problem isn’t as new as it appears. Cars are not the first autonomous vehicles: aeroplanes have used autopilot for decades. Self-parking cars have been around for years. Both of these hand control back to the driver when the situation becomes difficult; perhaps that will turn out to be the solution for driverless cars, too.

I argue that we simply don’t need to worry too much about the ethics of driverless cars. They present an interesting philosophical discussion, but it isn’t a practical consideration at the moment, and nor will it be for a long time to come. By the time it does become an issue, incremental development which have occurred in the meantime will likely point us in the right direction.

For now, I’m just looking forward to sitting back and enjoying the ride!



Many thanks to Amrit Tigga for the wonderful cartoons he's drawn to illustrate this blog post.

This 2,298th post was filed under: News and Comment, , .

News organisations are wrong about A&E waiting times

Hospital surgery corridor

Answer me this: what happened to waiting times in A&Es in England last week? To help you answer, here are some tweets published by reputable news organisations today:

You would be forgiven for thinking that waiting times had reduced. You would be… possibly right, possibly wrong. The correct answer is that we don’t know. Performance against the weekly A&E waiting time targets—which is what all of the above are actually reporting—tells us nothing about the waiting time in A&E.

As an aside, before we get into this properly, I should clarify that “waiting time” doesn’t mean what most people think it means. The “waiting time” referred to in these statistics is the total time a patient spends in A&E, from the moment they walk in the door, to the moment they walk out again (whether that is to go home, to go to a ward, to go to the pub, or wherever). That’s not what we think of as “waiting” in common parlance: while you’re with the doctor, you are—in statistical terms—still “waiting”.

The NHS doesn’t report on waiting times, only on the proportion of patients seen in less than four hours. When the reporters wrongly say that A&E waiting times have improved, what they actually mean is that a greater proportion of people entering A&E are leaving again in less than four hours. This tells nothing about the amount of time people wait on average.

Imagine an A&E department that sees only five patients: A and B have minor injuries, and are seen and treated within 30 minutes. C and D need a more complex set of investigations, so end up being in the A&E department for 3 hours. E needs a very full assessment and ultimately admission; as a result, E ends up being in the department for a total of 5 hours before a bed can be found. The average time these patients spend in A&E is 2 hours and 24 minutes; 80% of them were discharged in 4 hours.

Now let’s say that someone puts a laser-focus on that 80% and says it’s unacceptable: whatever the cost, it must be brought down. So the department tells the nurse that used to do the “see and treat” job (which served patients A and B so well) that she must help with only the most complex patients, because they are breaching the target.

The same five people with the same five injuries now come into the revamped A&E. A and B have minor injuries, but now must wait alongside everyone else. They hang around for 3 hours. C and D need complex investigations, but these are slower to start because of people with minor injuries clogging up the queue. They are discharged after 4 hours. The new complex patient team deals with patient E slightly faster, getting her up to the ward with seconds to spare before the four-hour deadline.

100% of patients were seen within 4 hours. The hospital’s management is overjoyed! The BBC tweets that A&E waiting times have decreased: 100% of patients are seen within four hours instead of 80%. Politicians become a little self-congratulatory.

Yet… what has actually happened? The average waiting time has increased from 2 hours and 24 minutes to 3 hours and 36 minutes. 80% of patients are waiting longer than they did before.

And that is why—whatever the news tells you—we have no idea what happened to A&E waiting times last week. The average time could have doubled; it could have halved; it could have stayed precisely the same. We simply do not know.

This 2,294th post was filed under: Health, News and Comment, Politics.

So far, Cameron is winning the TV debates debate

In the game of poker that is the planning process for General Election TV debates, Cameron—the player with most to lose—is currently playing best. The broadcasters have played worst, totally fumbling their hand.

exposure of a product

Cameron patently has the most to lose from taking part in the debates. Unlike Miliband and Clegg, he’s not all that unpopular as a leader. He has little to gain and much to lose from sharing a platform with Farage, and further legitimising UKIP’s candidacy.

Cameron’s demand for inclusion of the Green Party will not be met by the broadcasters. If it were, it would look like the participants had been chosen on Cameron’s recommendation alone—hardly a fair and impartial source—opening them to justifiable legal challenge from the other parties who want to take part.

So Cameron is faced with two possible outcomes: the broadcasters do not go ahead, in which case he comfortably sidesteps the problem; or—more likely in my view—the broadcasters go ahead and “empty chair” him.

In the latter case, all options remain open to Cameron. Changing his mind, if that’s the way the wind is blowing, is a one-day story at most. He could even duck the first debate, with Farage, on the grounds that he objects to UKIP’s inclusion without the Greens, take or leave the second (3-way) debate for much the same reason, and still face down Miliband in his preferred (and accepted) one-on-one format.

The debate including Farage will doubtless be a fiery occasion which will probably do damage on all fronts—but it’s likely to do more damage to those present than to an absent Cameron. Speeches criticising an absent leader don’t make for nearly such good TV as people yelling at each other. Clegg and Miliband’s commitments to “anyone, anytime” debates means that they can’t duck Farage; it might make sense for Cameron to let them demolish each other one-on-one in the second debate, too.

Cameron’s other advantage, which Miliband seems insistent on handing to him gift-wrapped, is that opponents are now calling for Cameron to debate in airtime they could be using to build a message or attack Cameron’s record. The media’s own obsession with the debates will likely trap them in this neutralised position until there is movement—which, clearly, Cameron will prefer to leave until the last moment. Cameron calculates—I guess accurately—that his apparent prevarication over taking part in TV debates damages him less than full-frontal attacks from his opponents.

The broadcasters bungled this process by announcing a plan rather than debates. The announcement of a plan implied room for negotiation and manoeuvre. Had they had the common sense to announce the invitees, the format, and the dates, making them fixed events to which leaders were invited, the landscape would now look very different—and I’d wager that all four leaders would be signed up.

The spanner in Cameron’s works could come from the “digital debate” proposed by The Guardian, The Telegraph and YouTube, and confirmed last week to include Cameron’s five preferred participants. Yet, despite being proposed a consortium which buys ink by the barrel, nobody seems to have noticed. If the two papers were to announce a date and invitation list on their front pages, along with assurance that they would “empty chair” those who didn’t turn up, all of those invited might find it difficult to graciously decline… and even more so if they could get a broadcaster to commit to covering (but, to ease the legal challenge, not producing) the event.

Unless the digital debate consortium make a move, it seems unlikely that anything will move in this story for a few weeks at least… but it will be fascinating to see how it plays out.

This 2,292nd post was filed under: Election 2015, News and Comment, Politics, , , , , , , .

The private sector will always be involved in the NHS

A number of politicians have recently made absurd statements about the role of the market and profit in healthcare, and specifically in the NHS. In political terms, the two worst culprits are the Labour Party and the National Health Action Party.

When the Labour Party left office in 2010, data1 showed that roughly 5% of NHS procedures were carried out in the private sector. Under the current Government, as of the most recent set of statistics, this is roughly 6%. It’s just worth bearing those proportions in mind whenever you hear Labour pontificate on the role of the private sector in the NHS. But I digress.

In his Party Conference speech, Andy Burnham asked:

And for how much longer, in this the century of the ageing society, will we allow a care system in England to be run as a race to the bottom, making profits off the backs of our most vulnerable?

I’ll answer that question in a moment. But to illustrate that Burnham is not alone, let us turn to the National Health Action Party.

You may not have heard of the National Health Action Party: it is a well-meaning but misguided Party whose platform—to defend and improve the NHS—is as vague as it is logically flawed. Dr Richard Taylor, co-leader of the party, was previously an MP; he signed an Early Day Motion in support of homeopathy, and praised the use of acupuncture and reflexology in cancer treatment. To date, the party has contested and lost nine elections2 with their best result being a 9.9% share of the vote for a single council seat in Liverpool. Again, I digress.

In The BMJ, in reaction to the news that Circle Health plans to withdraw from its contract to run the Hitchingbrooke Hospital in Cambridgeshire, a National Health Action Party representative said:

This perfectly illustrates the difference between the private sector, which seeks profits, and public NHS Trusts … This shows exactly why the market has no place in healthcare.

So, you ask me, what’s wrong with those quotes? They seem like perfectly sensible sentiments to me!

Both of these quotes are simply nonsense. Neither the Labour Party nor the National Health Action Party are campaigning for the removal of profits and the market from the NHS—and nor is anyone else.

health care industry

Any modern business, be it a hospital or fishmonger, is reliant on suppliers who will draw a profit. The NHS doesn’t manufacture its own light bulbs and baths, nor generate it’s own electricity,3 so people will draw profit from supplying them.

Alright, you might be saying, but that’s not really medicine, is it?

But of course, profits are made on medicine too. Sure, the NHS could manufacture all the medicines it needs—it already manufactures some.4 But many medications are under patent. Are NHS patients to be prevented from accessing patented drugs? Of course not: so companies will draw a profit. And the more sick people there are, the bigger the profit there is to draw.

OK, you say, but medicines are a special case.

Except they’re not. Almost every product used to deliver healthcare—from syringes to catheters to implants to surgical tools—will generate a profit, as it is almost all bought in from commercial manufacturers.

Come now, you say, supplies are a red herring. I’m interested in healthcare—a human caring for another human. There’s no profit to be made there!

Oh, but there is. Management of human resources is a tricky business. Often, Trusts will hire in external experts to help with training, planning or management, many of whom will work for consultancies which make a tidy profit.

Everyone knows human resources officers aren’t human, you intone—though I couldn’t possibly comment, I’m talking about a nurse looking after a patient at the bedside. Where’s the profit in that?

The scenario you describe is just dripping with profit—from the agency that recruited the nurse, to the profit on the manufacture of his uniform, to the cut of his pay which goes to the nursing agency he’s working for, to the cut of his car parking fee which is given to the private company managing the facility.

Ugh. You do go on a bit. What’s your point?

Suggesting that the NHS be removed from the commercial market and freed from the pursuit of profit is nonsense. Of course, the internal market in which NHS providers compete with one another could be reformed or removed, but the NHS is involved in a wider external market which is here to stay. The NHS is one of the country’s biggest purchases of goods and services, and each supplier will be doing the best they can to—effectively—profit from the sick.

Even if, for the sake of a thought experiment, we say that the NHS could be isolated totally from the battle for private profit, the end result in terms of the health service alone might not be that different: there would be continual pressure to reduce costs to the taxpayer, which is effectively the same financial pressure as increasing profits to shareholders.

The true argument is about the extent of involvement of the private sector.

Consider privately-employed doctors. Would we trust doctors to the same extent if we knew their interests balanced our interests with profit potential? This isn’t something we have to treat as a thought experiment: most GPs are small businesses and work on exactly this principal with little discernable effect on levels of trust. But, again, it feels icky.

Consider private sector management of whole NHS hospitals. This might look like a step too far: it takes a layer of previously publicly-funded management, who perhaps tried to balance the drive for profits with the best interests of patients, and moves them to the profit-hungry private sector. Yet, the management would always be accountable to commissioners, who would be looking out for the patients: so does it really matter? Perhaps not from the conceptual standpoint—but I’ll admit that it makes me more than a bit uncomfortable. And while a sample size of 1 makes for a poor trial, the fact that the first hospital so-run has become the first hospital to be rated as “inadequate” on patient care does not feel reassuring.

Consider public health campaigns teaming up with well-known brands. Is it okay if public healthcare money inflates Aardman Animations’s bottom line, if using Aardman characters is a good way to get health messages to children? I’m not sure: evidence about cost-effectiveness could sway me one way or the other.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could have a debate on these issues that’s based in the real world, rather than the five-word soundbite world? Wouldn’t it be great if politicians would describe the extent of private involvement in the NHS that they believe to be appropriate, and we could then vote for the Party whose ideas most closely align with our own? Wouldn’t it be peachy if our politicians would stop patronising us all and treat us like adults?

As I said in my last post, the current model of delivery for the NHS is unsustainable. This is a problem that needs statesmanship, cross-party exploration, and—most importantly—tackling by adults.


  1. Hospital Episode Statistics: the set of data that describes what happens in hospitals across the NHS in England. They’re not perfect by any means, and lag quite a way behind real time, but they’re the best we’ve got. 
  2. The Eastleigh by-election, the London region in the European Parliament election, and seven local election seats. 
  3. Actually, I have worked in a hospital that generated a lot of its own heat and power. They had pages and pages of information about it on the hospital intranet. As a junior doctor, I never got time to read it.  
  4. The NHS manufacturers relatively tiny amounts of “special order” medication that isn’t available commercially. One of the units that does this work is based here in Newcastle, a stone’s throw from the site where William Owen first produced Glucozade as a special pharmaceutical product to aid recovery from common illnesses some 88 years ago. It was later sold to Beecham’s, renamed Lucozade, and is now everywhere, despite the fact that—to this blogger at least—it tastes vile. 

This 2,290th post was filed under: Health, News and Comment, Politics, , , , .

Politicians talk nonsense about NHS funding

We’re 120 days from the UK General Election, and I’m already truly fed up with hearing absurd nonsense about NHS spending from politicians of all colours.

Society is ageing. There are 3 people of working age for every person of pensionable age in the UK.1 A little over two-thirds of working age people work, so there are, roughly, 2 working people for every person of pensionable age in the UK. By 2050—within my working lifetime—this ratio will approach or exceed 1:1.

Mean health spending per annum for a person of pensionable age is currently circa £5,000. That’s exclusively health spending; it doesn’t include social care costs, pensions,2 or anything else the Government spends to support the elderly. That £5,000 estimate is rising fast, and will continue to do so.

As the proportion of the population which is of pensionable age increases, and the costs per person of pensionable age increase, this model quickly becomes unsustainable. You reach a point, within decades, when the total tax burden becomes untenable. And before anyone says “but what about corporate taxes?”: these are, of course, paid by people, be they customers, workers or shareholders (which are mostly ordinary people via pension holdings).

Of course, it’s not all about the elderly—the young are getting sicker for longer too. As one of many examples: it’s been postulated that fully 10% of the current NHS budget is spent on diabetes-related care, and the prevalence of diabetes is rising by the month.

I believe passionately in the provision of healthcare free at the point of use. But I also believe that our current model for delivering this is broken. I don’t know how to fix it. This is where I’d like politicians to put forward bold and coherent visions of alternative ways of making this work.

What do we get instead? Monkeys arguing over peanuts. Even the National Health Action Party, whose raison d’étre should be to put this on the agenda, fail to articulate anything resembling an alternative.

Over the course of her term in office, Margaret Thatcher increased NHS spending by an average of 3% a year above inflation. These years are recalled as some of the darkest in the history of the NHS due to the perception of cuts—cuts which were, in reality, simply a level of investment which did not keep up with the rise in demand. The current budget of the NHS in England is £100m:1 a 3% per year above-inflation rise is £16bn extra funding per year by 2020.

Over the course of the next five years, the NHS estimates a £30bn per year budgetary shortfall if funding rises only in line with inflation.

Consider those two figures. £16bn per year on a Thatcherite scale of investment, £30bn per year needed according to the NHS itself. How do our political parties compare?

  • The Conservative Party claimed to be increasing the budget by £2bn in 2015/16 as a “down-payment” on £8bn per year future investment. However, it emerged that only £1.3bn of this was actually new money, and was for the whole of the UK, with Scotland and Wales taking £300m between them. So it’s a £1bn increase. Whether or not the rest of the £8bn will be made from smoke and mirrors—it’s way below what’s needed.
  • Labour want to invest an extra £2.5bn per year, which—depending on the announcement—they want to spend on one of myriad things, with seemingly no understanding that money can only be spent once. Not to mention that it’s far, far below the level of investment required to maintain the NHS in any case.
  • The Lib Dems have the most generous offer: £8bn per year. Half of what Thatcher would invest, a quarter of what’s needed. They expect NHS ‘efficiency savings’ to make up the shortfall. Where do they think the NHS is “wasting” £22bn at the moment? Perhaps I’ve too simplistic a mind, but it’s hard to see how a reduction in spending of £22bn isn’t a “cut”.

All three parties appear to have reached the same conclusion as me: it is unfeasible to continue to fund the NHS under the current model. Yet instead of tackling this head on, they are arguing over whose inadequate increase is biggest. Each party is complicit in maintaining a veil over the true scale of the problem, and bereft of anything approaching a plan to address it.

I appreciate that saying the current model of delivery for the NHS is unsustainable is a great way to lose an election. It’s a problem that needs statesmanship. It’s a problem that needs cross-party exploration. It’s a problem that needs tackling by adults.


  1. The figures used in this post are intentionally rough and ready. They’re based on national statistics, but aren’t exact for a whole variety of reasons to do with stuff like rounding and comparability. I promise it doesn’t matter – the thrust is the same even if the figures are a bit out. 
  2. Talking of pensions, the entire £100bn budget of the NHS—for people of all ages—is currently matched almost pound-for-pound in state pensions. This surely cannot be sustainable. 

This 2,289th post was filed under: Health, News and Comment, Politics.

Ten statistics for International Men’s Day

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19th November is International Men’s Day. The politics of International Men’s Day are often portrayed as complex, and many people seem to be of the opinion that it’s little more than a “me too” event to match International Women’s Day, or – at worst – some sort of anti-feminist fest.

But, for a moment, put the baggage to one side. It isn’t reasonable to argue that either men’s or women’s issues are more important – both are humanity’s issues, after all. But perhaps this is a good day to reflect on some of the challenges which are, in today’s society, more greatly burdensome for men than for women – just as we do the converse on International Women’s Day.

In that spirit, and without further comment, allow me to share ten statistics on which we can all reflect today.

  1. A man ends his own life every two hours in the UK; three-quarters of those who kill themselves are men.
  2. Men are 35% more likely to die of cancer than women – and if diagnosed with a non-gender-specific cancer, are 67% more likely to die from it.
  3. 90% of homeless people in the UK are men.
  4. 95% of the UK prison population is male.
  5. Girls consistently outperform boys in education, and young men are 25% less likely than young women to get into university in the UK.
  6. Young men are more than twice as likely as young women to be unemployed in the UK.
  7. Men account for 96% of work-related deaths in the UK.
  8. In England and Wales, men are twice as likely as women to be victims of violent crime, and twice as likely to be murdered.
  9. In the UK, 40% of victims of reported domestic violence are men, yet there are few services and little funding to support male victims. As a result, male victims are substantially less likely to access professional support.
  10. On average, men die four years earlier than women in the UK.

Male generations

This 2,284th post was filed under: News and Comment, Politics.

Ebola and big data: Call for help

This Economist article on the potential use of mobile phone tracking data in the West African Ebola outbreak us quite interesting. I’m not nearly expert enough to make any meaningful commentary on how useful or otherwise such data would be, but it seems unhelpful for networks to block data sharing.

But – and here’s the rub – there’s a really distracting logical flaw in the middle of the article. The Leader claims that tracking based on incomplete mobile phone data is “better than simulations based on unreliable statistics”.  Yet the Leader also describes the mobile phone data as incomplete and imperfect, which means it, too, will be a simulation based on unreliable statistics. And, besides, if they’re bemoaning the lack of availability of the data in the first place, how do they have the foggiest clue as to whether it will be better or worse?

I expect better from Economist Leaders!

This 2,280th post was filed under: News and Comment, Rants, , .

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