Category Archives: Rants&Rambles


Everyone warns you before travelling to Peru, sometimes a bit too enthusiastically, about altitude sickness. In fact our recent trip was quite well planned, skipping over Lima at sea level to the relatively low lying Machu Pichu (2430m) through the Sacred Valley around Ollantaytambo (2792m)  to Cuzco (3399m) and the heights of La Paz  (3640m) and Uyuni (3700m)

And once you arrive the advice is generally good and sensible stuff: take it easy, go slowly, drink lots of water, eat light foods only, don’t drink or smoke.

Even so, whilst walking along the flat becomes straightforward and downhill a breeze, even after two weeks anything more than a couple of steps up and we were all wiped out. Just rushing to get things ready in the morning could leave us panting for breath,

And they don’t warn you about the very basic impact of such dry air – your nose dries out making night time sleeping less pleasant than it could be. Your mouth and throat become very dry so you drink more and more. The UV light will burn easily and the bright light will persuade your brain that it should feel hot, whilst the wind actually keeps you quite cool. Vaseline on the nose and mouth isn’t a great look but was surprisingly practical.

But absolutely no one tells you about what it will feel like when you return to sea level, how wet the air will feel and how full of “stuff”

It was a good trip but I’m glad to be home, sleeping in my own bed. Mostly.


Why do people write into comments sections on the web? What are they trying to achieve?

Driving along listening to BBC Radio4, I was struck by the “Thought for the Day” speaker. Before speaking or writing, according to Hindu scripture, we obliged to consider:

  • are we being honest?
  • is what we are saying true?
  • is it necessary to say or write?
  • will someone be hurt or offended by what we are saying or writing? and.
  • can we be kinder, more respectful in what we say or write, if this is really something necessary and required?

Mostly when I look through the comments sections, I find comments that are dismissive, sometimes of the article, but often of the author just because…. Comments are often off topic, often abusive and unhelpful. They are very often rude.

Sometimes there seems to be an attempt to show off, to demonstrate a superiority of understanding or knowledge. It often falls apart if challenged and then the so-called “experts” often become rude and obnoxious when the absurdity of what they’re saying becomes clear.

The weirdest ones, are where misogynists start posting comments after a vaguely feminist article. The comments are short and dismissive, consistent and repetitive, building a steady rhythm, to a crescendo. Reading through them, it becomes very clear that they are groups totally committed to stroking each other’s egos more than anything else. It’s like one long mastubatory sequence, short key strokes, pressing each other’s favourite keys and buzzwords.

They need to get a room.

Very, very occasionally comments are positive. Even where people disagree, there are rare occasions where they do so politely and with respect.



On one day in June last year, just over half of the people who could be bothered to vote, voted to leave the EU. I voted the other way.

And people voted for all sorts of reasons, but people were not ignorant or stupid, unless they chose to be. There was plenty of information out there. Basically if you believed in the economic argument you voted remain and if anything else was important you voted leave, which essentially meant you voted to leave if “immigration” or “sovereignty” was the important issue.

& it is probably a step too far to say that those voting on the basis of immigration were out and out racists, though clearly a racist argument was made by the leave campaign and people voting for that reason have failed to distance themselves from that argument. But fear of immigrants, of the foreign, is xenophobic at the very least.

& sovereignty is a tricky topic because the word can mean so many different things to different people. At some level it’s tempting to view this as a cleaned up version of immigration ie. control over our borders and anxiety about foreigners. At another maybe it’s anxiety about the role of the EU in setting rules and regulations that apply to the UK, and the relatively low status and lack of respect paid to EU MEPs in this country, a lack of understanding about the UK’s ability to influence and effect change within the EU context and structure.

Either way, if you voted for leave because of immigration or sovereignty, you have been taken for fools. According to government ministers, immigration numbers post-brexit will increase. The government of the day has used the brexit process to attempt a power grab from parliament throughout and continues to undermine and diminish parliamentary sovereignty at every opportunity. The government plans to transfer all EU legislation onto the UK statute book where it will ossify. It takes cross-party support to change, amend or repeal statute and as a consequence the UK government structure is incredibly badly suited to deal with such a huge body of statute.

As time goes by, the EU will amend it’s own laws and the UK has no practical process to amend the legacy laws written onto its books.

No surprise – I believe that brexit will be a disaster for the UK.

But not every brexit platitude can or should be ignored. As the NYT wrote in a recent article, just because it’s something that Trump says, doesn’t mean it’s wrong or trivial.

What brexit issues need to be addressed? Here’s my list:

• immigration needs to be seen to be controlled. Freedom of movement in the EU was never meant or required to be without constraint or limit. People are allowed to move to find work, no more and no less. Foreigner in Belgium who fail to find a job after 3 months are deported. We should do the same. & that would require introducing an ID card and system. It would mean requiring people to register, to show their ID cards before claiming healthcare or welfare. All of this could have been done decades ago and wasn’t because it will inevitably cost more money than it’s worth, but it seems necessary to reassure people that someone somewhere is managing the process.

• The immigration argument is in part racist, in particular feeding off anxiety about uncontrolled immigration from muslim countries such as Turkey, and refugees naturalised elsewhere in the EU making their way to the UK. it’s important to recognise that parts of the Muslim world have a problem with pluralism — gender pluralism, religious pluralism and intellectual pluralism — and suggesting that terrorism has nothing to do with that fact is naïve; countering violent extremism means constructively engaging with Muslim leaders on this issue. It means visible active engagement with everyday Muslim citizens

• The British people want a government focused on growing the economic pie, not just redistributing it. We have a problem with globalisation,  with automation wiping out middle-skilled work and we need to generate more working class jobs to anchor communities. We have a problem with the rise of precarious, short term, high risk employment and the resulting financial insecurity. We have a problem with the concentration of wealth in London and other metropolitan areas, within the Service sector.

The brexit vote was significantly different to the election of Trump in many ways yet similar in one striking fashion: people voted with their emotions in large numbers. Brexit gave many people an opportunity to say loud and clear that they were unhappy with the status quo, whether that meant poverty, the haves and have-nots, or the scale and speed of change within an ever more diverse society.

The UK government needs to re-connect with the electorate. And when you connect with voters, they feel respected, and when they feel respected, they will listen to anything — including big issues that are true even if socialists believe them. Such as the fact that a majority of their children and grandchildren like being Europeans as well as British.



Hundreds of children, including some as young as five, are being expelled or temporarily excluded from school for sexual misconduct including abuse, assault, harassment and watching pornography, according to new figures.

The research reveals that pupils are being disciplined for a wide range of incidents described as sexual misconduct, including bullying and “lewd” behaviour, as well as sharing indecent images on social media.

Figures obtained via a freedom of information request by the Press Association from 15 local authorities found 754 children had been expelled or temporarily excluded from school as a result of sexual misconduct in the past four years.

And this is after a damning report produced for parliament on sexual harassment and violence in schools last year.

& whilst no doubt there are many downsides to sending my kids to single sex schools, I am very glad to have missed this shit.

UK Government report Conclusions:

1.Sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools is a significant issue which affects a large number of children and young people, particularly girls, across the country. Evidence shows that the majority of perpetrators of this abuse are boys, and the majority of victims are girls. However it is essential that the negative impact on both boys and girls is recognised and addressed.

2.There is insufficient data to conclusively demonstrate that sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools is a growing problem. It is true that such behaviour has occurred in schools for many years, as in wider society. However, significant qualitative evidence suggests that increasing access to pornography and technological advances, including online platforms, can facilitate harassment and violence and thus exacerbate the problem.

3.Teachers, parents, young people and third sector organisations are telling us that sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools is having an impact on young people and school life. Consequences include: physical and emotional harm, including teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases; girls feeling unable to fully participate in educational and extra-curricular opportunities; teachers spending valuable time dealing with incidents of sexual harassment and bullying; and young people developing a sense that sexual harassment and sexual violence are acceptable behaviours and learning social norms that are carried through to adult life.

4.The Government and schools must make tackling sexual harassment and sexual violence an immediate policy priority.

5.Schools lack the guidance, training and structures to deal with incidents of sexual harassment and sexual violence. Too often such incidents are brushed aside by staff and not taken sufficiently seriously by school leaders.

6.We welcome the new sexting guidance for schools. However, guidance on specific areas of harassment is not sufficient to deal with sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools.

7.We welcome the fact that the Government has committed to further amending Keeping Children Safe in Education guidance. We are also encouraged that the Government has said the Committee may be able to feed into this. However, it is disappointing that it has taken this inquiry for the Government to address sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools within this key piece of statutory guidance.

8.We recommend that Keeping Children Safe in Education should directly reference sexual harassment and sexual violence. It should refer schools to a whole school approach as the most effective means of tackling this problem. Specialists working in the field of sexual harassment and violence against women and girls should be consulted on the best ways to draft these revisions to KCSIE.

9.There is no reason why sexual harassment should not be included alongside racist, homophobic and disability-based bullying in Ofsted or Government guidance. We welcome the Minister’s commitment to raising this issue with Ofsted and look forward to both Ofsted and the Government’s guidance being amended urgently.

10.Ofsted and Government guidance on bullying should be amended immediately to include direct reference to sexual harassment and resources for how to deal with it. 

11.There is overwhelming evidence that schools want, and need, clear national guidance on how to tackle sexual harassment and sexual violence. We agree that different schools may wish to tackle the problem of sexual harassment and sexual violence in different ways. It is also important that, whilst all schools must meet national standards, they should be encouraged to surpass these expectations whenever possible.

12.Sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools will only be reduced through a whole school approach. This must involve all staff, students, governors and parents, in addition to local child safeguarding bodies, police and specialist third sector organisations. Schools need guidance on how to implement this approach effectively. The Welsh Government offers a useful model for how this can be achieved.

13.The Department for Education should develop, publish and publicise national guidance on adopting a whole school approach to reducing and preventing sexual harassment and sexual violence in all primary and secondary schools. This guidance should be published so schools can implement it in September 2017.

14.It is clear that, in addition to amending current guidance, new legislation is needed to ensure tackling sexual harassment and sexual violence becomes a priority for all schools.

15.The Government should create a statutory obligation in the forthcoming Education Bill for all schools, primary and secondary, to develop a whole school approach to preventing and tackling sexual harassment and sexual violence. We also recommend that the Department for Education remind all school Governors of their legal obligations to address sexual harassment and sexual violence in school. Guidance and support on how to achieve this most effectively should be provided to Governing Bodies.

16.We recommend that police data record the incidence of sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools specifically. This would allow forbetter analysis of the prevalence and increase/decrease of this problem.

17.Understanding the scale, location and relative incidence of sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools is key to addressing it. However, current data collection has been shown to be inadequate. Schools need better guidance on what constitutes sexual harassment and sexual violence; and how incidents should be recorded and reported. There is scope for improved cooperation between schools and other agencies, like the police, working in this area.

18.As part of the whole school approach guidance we have recommended, the Government should ensure all schools receive clear definitions of what constitutes sexual harassment and sexual violence. Schools also need information on how to record, monitor and respond to incidents, including when to report them to the police. All schools should collect this data. It should be collated nationally and published annually.

19.We agree with the majority of experts we heard from that Ofsted should be monitoring State-funded schools’ actions in preventing and tackling sexual harassment and sexual violence and supporting survivors. It is already tasked with inspecting how adequately schools are safeguarding pupils and has a well-established school inspection regime in place.

20.In order for Ofsted to successfully monitor schools’ progress in this area, it must update its training and guidance by September 2017 so all schools are inspected on how effectively they are preventing and dealing with sexual harassment and sexual violence.

21.We welcome the new standards the Government has implemented for safeguarding children’s welfare in independent schools. However, these changes do not directly address the continuum of sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools.

22.The obligation on schools to prevent and address sexual harassment and sexual violence that we called for must include independent schools. 

23.Good quality SRE is shown to have a positive impact, helping to reduce sexual harassment and sexual violence. The evidence clearly shows that current provision of education in this area is patchy and largely inadequate.

24.By the time they reach secondary school children often have entrenched views about gender norms. It is therefore important that children are educated about gender equality, consent, relationships and sex in an age appropriate way starting in primary school.

25.Excellent resources to teach children and young people about gender equality, relationships, sex and consent, in age appropriate ways, already exist. But at the moment only a minority of schools are delivering good teaching in this area. The Government must take a lead in ensuring that all children have access to high quality SRE and it does not remain the privilege of a few. Making SRE a statutory subject is the first step towards achieving this. The vast majority of parents, pupils and teachers support statutory PSHE/SRE, as do health professionals, the police and other experts working in the field.

26.We welcome the Government’s response that the status of PSHE and SRE is currently under review.

27.We recommend that PSHE and SRE are made statutory subjects as part of the new Education Bill. 

28.There is a clear need and desire for better training to support teachers, other school staff and Governors to address the issue of sexual harassment and sexual violence, both in SRE and through a whole school approach.

29.As part of its ongoing review of Initial Teacher Training, we recommend that the Government assess the most effective ways to ensure all school staff are well trained to deal with and prevent sexual harassment and sexual violence. The Government should report back to us with their findings and plan of action by March 2017.

30.Too often, SRE ignores the position of boys and young men. It must be broadened to challenge harmful notions of masculinity and reflect boys’ experiences. It should also support boys to challenge and reduce sexual harassment and sexual violence.

31.We welcome the Government’s interest in supporting boys and young men to be part of the solution to the problem of sexual harassment and sexual violence. We recommend that the Government fund research to establish the most effective ways to achieve this.

32.Parents have an important role to play in reducing levels of sexual harassment and sexual violence. Taking a whole school approach to this problem will mean parents are fully engaged and supported to address the issue with their children.

33.Specialist sector organisations play an important role in delivering high quality SRE, as well as supporting schools and pupils when disclosures about sexual harassment and sexual violence are made. It is essential that these organisations are able access adequate resources so they can continue to support schools and young people.

34.The Government should create a fund to support specialist sector organisations to use their expertise to help schools tackle sexual harassment and sexual violence.

35.Widespread access to pornography appears to be having a negative impact on children and young people’s perceptions of sex, relationships and consent. There is evidence of a correlation between children’s regular viewing of pornography and harmful behaviours. The type of pornography many children are exposed to is often more extreme than adults realise.

36.Current Government guidance on teaching SRE was last updated 16 years ago and has no reference to pornography. There is a clear need for better guidance to schools on how to approach this sensitive topic in an age appropriate manner.

37.The Government should immediately update its guidance on SRE to include teaching about pornography. The new guidance should offeradvice to schools about how to approach this topic in an age appropriate way. It should also include suggestions of how schools can work in partnership with parents to address the impact of pornography on children’s perceptions of sex, relationships and consent. 

38.We welcome the Government’s forthcoming legislation for age verification of pornographic websites. However, age verification legislation will only contribute to reducing sexual harassment and sexual violence in conjunction with the other recommendations made throughout this report.


The heartbreaking story of an 11-month-old baby boy, Charlie Gard, has dominated newspaper headlines in the UK, and more widely. In th last few weeks, Charlie’s parents, Connie Yates and Chris Gard, ended their legal fight to transfer their son to the USA for experimental treatment. After further court hearings to decide where Charlie should die, he was transferred to a children’s hospice. On July 28, Charlie died.

Reflections on why decisions about Charlie’s care ended up being made in court are important. Fundamentally, it was because no agreement could be reached between his parents and his clinical team. Charlie had a rare form of encephalomyopathic mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome and was a patient in Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH).

There is no proven treatment for his disorder.

For most of his short life, Charlie was ventilated in the intensive care unit and in December, he began to have severe seizures. The GOSH team concluded that his brain damage was severe, and that his life support should be switched off. But Charlie’s parents disagreed, saying that he did not have irreversible brain damage and that he was able to respond to their touch.

With no agreement between his parents and his clinicians, GOSH applied to the High Court, and, on April 11, Mr Justice Francis ruled that it was in Charlie’s best interests to stop life support. Charlie’s parents then lost their appeal against the judgment, and pursued their fight in the Supreme Court, then in the European Court of Human Rights, to no avail.

In July, Pope Francis and President Trump offered support to Charlie’s parents. The doctor who had offered to give nucleoside treatment to Charlie in New York reviewed the case details and retracted his offer.

Meanwhile, staff at GOSH, their families, and Charlie’s parents all received abuse and threats.

At the heart of this sad story is a breakdown of trust and communication between Charlie’s parents and the clinical team at GOSH, but also fundamental disagreement over the extent of Charlie’s brain damage, and about who has the right to make decisions about his care. Since February, GOSH‘s position has been that every day that passed was a day that was not in Charlie’s best interests.

For Charlie’s parents, however, hope (perhaps given in vain) and love sustained their fight for their son. They believe that had their son received the experimental treatment sooner, he would have had a chance.

Overseas, the Gard case has been portrayed as a fight between parental rights and the State, yet that is to fundamentally misunderstand the legal argument. In the UK, parent’s don’t have rights, so much as they have responsibilities. The rights of the child must always come first and foremost. GOSH, the UK courts and the European Courts had all decided it was in the child’s best interest to allow him to die.

When the limits of medicine are reached, communicating those limits to parents falls to paediatricians or intensivists, and is undeniably difficult to do. Clinical decisions are rarely black or white, and communicating the shades of grey can be extraordinarily difficult, especially when a baby is involved. Finding the right time and place, allowing time to reflect, ask questions, and revisit the conversation are all essential, and it is a hard skill to learn. The level of pain and suffering, and whether any treatment can prolong life, has to be taken into account.

Faith-based considerations might be important to discuss, especially if either parent holds a strong religious point of view. Usually, agreement can be reached, and it is rare that lack of consensus ends with a court application.

Mediation between all parties might be valuable to consider as a step before coming to court, and the Judge in Charlie’s case suggested it should be compulsory, although at times it too may fail. The overriding principle in UK law is to consider what is in the best interests of the baby; this is not the case in all countries.

When no treatment for a disease exists, Dominic Wilkinson and Julian Savulescu in a Comment in this issue propose an ethical framework for deciding on access to experimental treatment. However, clinicians should avoid giving false hope. “The child first and always”, GOSH’s slogan, has to be at the heart of clinical decision making.

Amid the grief and sadness, there is, however, a value, indeed a need, to stand back and think about what we can learn. Consider a slightly different case:

A boy had suffered a catastrophic injury while being operated on: his neck had been broken. Though alert and talkative, he was paralysed. His parents had told his doctors that they wanted care to be withdrawn (he was on a ventilator) so that he could die peacefully. He wasn’t terminally ill, but they thought it best given what the future would hold.

Assume no precedent. What would your advice be? It seems clear that as a minimum, the parents’ views should not be the last word; the lawyers should go to court, ensure that the child was separately represented by a lawyer, and that the only question for the court was what was in the child’s best interests. The advice was followed in a NZ case. The child was made a ward of court, was cared for and lived on.

I’m sure that those who have involved themselves in the case of Charlie Gardwould applaud what happened in Auckland. But if they do, they would also have to acknowledge a number of things that have been part of our approach to the care of children since the 19th century. The first is the most fundamental: as a society, we must choose how to decide such heartbreaking cases. Of course each child is different, but do we accept that there should be principles and rules, whatever the circumstances, that guide us as we try to work out what’s best?

We can, of course, reject such a view and choose to go with the heart and emotions. But if we do, whose heart should prevail when there are conflicting views? Where there is conflict, how do you resolve it? Alternatively, we can reason our way through, cold as this may appear. We can accept the idea of principles and rules. And, if reason is to prevail, you need to analyse how to proceed.

These are the steps. The first is to recognise that children do not belong to their parents. Second, when a claim is made that parents have rights over their children, it is important to step back and examine the language used. We need to remind ourselves that parents do not have rights regarding their children, they only have duties, the principle duty being to act in their children’s best interests. This has been part of the fabric of UK law and society for a long time. Third, if we are concerned with the language of rights, it is, of course, children who have rights; any rights that parents have exist only to protect their children’s rights.

Now, in giving effect to a child’s rights, the parents’ views as to their children’s interests should usually be respected. But parents cannot always be the ultimate arbiters of their children’s interests. If parents, for example, insist on subjecting their child to a particular diet that, in the view of others with acknowledged expertise in the subject, will cause the child harm, we do not stand by. We intervene to safeguard the child.

When such concerns arise, there has to be a mechanism to decide the circumstances in which parents’ views should not prevail. That mechanism has to be a trustworthy and independent source of authority, sometimes a local authority, but ultimately, as ever in a civic society, a court. The court’s sole concern must be, can only be, for the child and the child’s interests. Evidence and views, particularly those of the parents, must be listened to. The court must then decide and, crucially, make its decision and reasoning public, exposing it to scrutiny and holding it to account. The court is not infallible. That’s why we allow for appeals; a kind of second thought. But, ultimately, we are not in the realm of there being a right answer. We are in the realm of judgment, reasoned judgment, and we look to the courts to provide this.

This process depends of course on acceptance of the supremacy of reasoned argument over passion and the acceptance of the independence and authority of the courts. Campaigns against the courts, whether led by tabloid newspapers, organised through social media or exploited by sectional and religious groups, are increasingly a feature of modern discourse. It is one thing to comment on or criticise a particular decision. It is a very different thing to attack the institution of the courts.

Here, in Charlie Gard’s case, the call has been to keep the courts out; they don’t understand. Only the parents should decide: let passion prevail. Those behind such calls should reflect on what they wish for in case they get it. A whole system designed to address dispassionately the rights and interests of children would be pushed aside. And perhaps they should think of that little boy in NZ.


Scientists have, for the first time, corrected a disease-causing mutation in early stage human embryos with gene editing. The technique, which uses the CRISPR-Cas9 system, corrected the mutation for a heart condition at the earliest stage of embryonic development so that the defect would not be passed on to future generations.

The work, which is described in Nature on August 2, 2017, is a collaboration between the Salk Institute, Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) and Korea’s Institute for Basic Science and could pave the way for improved in vitro fertilization (IVF) outcomes as well as eventual cures for some of the thousands of diseases caused by mutations in single genes.

Though gene-editing tools have the power to potentially cure a number of diseases, scientists have proceeded cautiously, in part to avoid introducing unintended mutations into the germ line (cells that become eggs or sperm). The research in the current study adheres closely to guidelines established by OHSU’s Institutional Review Board and additional ad-hoc committees set up for scientific and ethical review.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is the most common cause of sudden death in otherwise healthy young athletes, and affects approximately 1 in 500 people overall. It is caused by a dominant mutation in the MYBPC3 gene, but often goes undetected until it is too late. Since people with a mutant copy of the MYBPC3 gene have a 50 percent chance of passing it on to their own children, having two genetic strands one faulty one not, being able to correct the mutation in embryos would prevent the disease not only in affected children, but also in their descendants.

The researchers generated induced pluripotent stem cells from a skin biopsy donated by a male with HCM and developed a gene-editing strategy based on CRISPR-Cas9 that would specifically target the mutated copy of the MYBPC3 gene for repair. The targeted mutated MYBPC3 gene was cut by the Cas9 enzyme, allowing the donor’s cells’ own DNA-repair mechanisms to fix the mutation during the next round of cell division by using either a synthetic DNA sequence or the non-mutated copy of MYBPC3 gene as a template.

Using IVF techniques, the researchers injected the best-performing gene-editing components into healthy donor eggs newly fertilized with the donor’s sperm. They also tried a second method, introducing the gene editing components along with sperm into the egg prior to fertilisation.Then they analyzed all the cells in the early embryos at single-cell resolution to see how effectively the mutation was repaired.

The scientists were surprised by just how safe and efficient the method was using the second method ie. introducing the gene editor and the sperm prior to fertilisation and allowing the embryonic repair and replication process to identify the faulty gene as early as possible.

Not only did a high percentage of embryonic cells get repaired, but also gene correction didn’t induce any detectable off-target mutations and genome instability — major concerns for gene editing. In addition, the researchers developed a robust strategy to ensure the repair occurred consistently in all the cells of the embryo. (Spotty repairs can lead to some cells continuing to carry the mutation.)

“Even though the success rate in patient cells cultured in a dish was low, we saw that the gene correction seems to be very robust in embryos of which one copy of the MYBPC3 gene is mutated,” says Jun Wu, a Salk staff scientist and one of the paper’s first authors. This was in part because, after CRISPR-Cas9 mediated enzymatic cutting of the mutated gene copy, the embryo initiated its own repairs. Instead of using the provided synthetic DNA template, the team found, surprisingly, that the embryo preferentially used the available healthy copy of the gene to repair the mutated part. “Our technology successfully repairs the disease-causing gene mutation by taking advantage of a DNA repair response unique to early embryos” says Wu.

Izpisua Belmonte and Wu emphasize that, although promising, these are very preliminary results and more research will need to be done to ensure no unintended effects occur.

“Our results demonstrate the great potential of embryonic gene editing, but we must continue to realistically assess the risks as well as the benefits,” adds Izpisua Belmonte.

Future work will continue to assess the safety and effectiveness of the procedure and efficacy of the technique with other mutations.

And reactions to the story in various newspaper seem to split into two basic camps: “this is brilliant, science at it’s best, leading us towards a glorious future that only primitives could disagree with” versus “this is satan’s work”.

It seems to me that the people so quick to condemn the doubters, are actually a bit naive about science and its often flawed nature. We are a long way away from any tangible good coming from this experiment and the ethical and moral questions it raises are considerable; something pointedly acknowledged by the scientists involved. An easier and quicker way to screen for this genetic disease would be to scan the sperm and filter out the faulty before using the healthy sperm to fertilise healthy eggs. Being able to cut and paste sperm in a petri dish, as opposed to sifting them to exclude the damaged,is an interesting intellectual exercise rather than a practical one.

The success rate when editing the faulty sperm prior to fertilisation was low. The scientists involved do not understand why or how the embryonic repair function works the way it does or indeed why it was so successful in choosing a healthy non-mutated copy of the gene as a template in replication.It may simply be that the genetic scissors attaches itself to the faulty gene and renders it somehow visible (and undesirable) to the embryonic replication system ie. the process was identifying and rejecting artificial intervention anywhere rather than anything more positive.

A surprising number of positive comments failed to distinguish between normal medical intervention, antibiotics, surgery, vaccination etc and genetic alteration that changes subsequent generations. A number seemed entirely content to compare gene editing with dog breeding, seemingly unaware of the obvious unintended yet damaging health implications in any number of dog breeds. The most fervent of supporters for the new research seemed surprisingly religious in their beliefs, with really a minimum of understanding and an awful lot of faith on display.

I have no patience with the idea that new scientific research is the work of the devil but I feel a bit uneasy about this messing about with our genetic heritage. We still know so very very little about how our genetic material interacts and operates that it seems inevitable that there will be some unintended consequences once we start messing about. I’m not so much fearful of deliberate malicious intervention, as I am of accidents where a scientist manages to fix problem (A) and three generations later we find that the IQ of a population drops 10 points, or that problem (A) also switched on some reaction in the immune system that would have allowed us to live an extra ten years without dementia.

It’s the unintended accident that worries me rather than the happy accident that this experiment seems to have discovered.

Inconvenient truths

A recent piece of research has broken down the expected impact of brexit by industry sector and by political constituency ( Not surprisingly the economic impact is negative, no matter where you live and no matter what type of brexit. The economic argument has always been clear.

People who voted ‘leave” voted for other reasons.

And yet whatever those reasons were, they seem doomed to disappointment. We were told that the main reasons given for voting leave were “immigration” and “sovereignty” with a vague suggestion of “control” coming in as well.

Let’s assume that immigration may or may not be related to dog-whistle racism. Let’s assume that “control” means control over the numbers of immigrants entering the country or control over the laws enacted within the UK. Will this brexit deliver what these voters have asked for?

Start with the basic fact that most immigrants to the UK are not from the EU. Most immigrants enter on visas from outside of the EU, either work visas or student visas. This matters because research has shown that in fact the voters of the UK vastly prefer EU ie. white immigrants to non-EU immigrants, though ‘leave” campaigners vigorously deny racism (

The long term net migration for non-EU migrants is around  175,000 according to the ONS ( which makes a mockery of the Tory “target to reduce all net migration to the tens of thousands.

Any proposed immigration controls currently being suggested by the government, were ones available within the EU anyway. EU freedom of movement has always been in service of work and industry. An example might be Belgium’s immigration practice of deporting any EU citizen who hasn’t found a job within three months – all perfectly consistent with the EU rules.

The ONS figures see a fall in the rate of immigration, largely because EU nationals have started returning to their country of origin and fewer are arriving in the UK to take up jobs. It seems likely that a reduction in the increase of immigrants will continue, but that the overall number of immigrants here will still increase i.e. if people voted leave to reduce the number of immigrants they will be disappointed. They have been taken for fools.

So what about those people voting to ‘leave” the EU on the basis of sovereignty? Interestingly the recent Conservative White Paper makes clear that sovereign power has always resided within the UK. The arguments over exercising Article 50, have largely been one of sovereignty, where the government has sought to undermine parliament and grab power for the executive, suggesting that if anything the brexit process could have led to a reduction in parliamentary sovereignty without the intervention of the judicial system. That argument continues with the parliamentary tussle over executive powers when drafting the upcoming Repeal Bill.

Aside from being an incredible example of double-speak (what kind of repeal involves taking each and every part of EU legislation onto British statute books?) there is considerable anxiety within parliament at the scope of cut and paste required to complete the stated objective of this piece of legislation, plus a real sense of distrust that maybe, the government will take this opportunity to change the law rather than just transfer it by perhaps deliberately forgetting to transfer key pieces of protective legislation around workers rights, environmental protections etc.

Let us assume that the government sets out to do exactly what has been described. No one actually knows the extent of legislation that the EU has passed and it’s implications for the UK statute book, because no one has ket a record, There was never thought to be a need. So there is a very real risk that pieces will be left out by accident, and will only be identified when something goes wrong down the line, requiring the attention of the courts and possibly parliament to rectify.

Let’s assume that the UK government, despite the logistical hurdles, manages to transfer each and every piece of EU law onto our own statute book. Does that give us sovereignty in any meaningful sense?

In order to change statute, there must be cross-party support, unless the government of the day has a stunningly large majority and consensus on the topic. The chances of this happening on significant EU legislation are vanishingly small. The UK has always been and will always be, really really bad at revising statute. So actually taking this law onto our own statute book makes it practically impossible to change any of it.

Furthermore if we want to continue to trade with the EU, and as our single largest trading partner we’d be stupid not to, then each and every piece of ew legislation relating to trade etc. will have to be implemented on our own statute book. Leaving the EU has gained us nothing in terms of EU law and regulation so anyone voting “leave” for those reasons should be gutted. They have been taken for fools.

But what about non-EU trade? Well, the Foreign Office are currently looking at our independent WTO trade schedule which will need to be ratified by all members of the WTO once we formally cut our ties to the EU. In order to make this work practically, the FO have decided to copy the EU trade schedule that we currently use, word for word, clause for clause. This is the only practical way to ensure that the other countries sign-off without dispute. So no change, no sovereign gain to be made there.

What about post-brexit, surely we will be able to change our trading schedule as we like? Well, maybe. We’ll be able to try to change the schedule, but each change will need to be signed off by all of the other members including the EU, and to be frank, there are political limitations to what can be achieved without trade-offs. Argentina might decide to cut-up rough about the Falkland island. Spain and the EU might decide to cut up rough about Gibraltar etc. All the practical reasons for adopting the EU trade schedule initially will remain in place making any changes difficult.

But surely we will be able to negotiate trade deals with other countries more easily? Maybe. But the first priority will have to be renegotiating the 50 or so trade deals that the EU has negotiated already with countries such as S Korea, Canada, Japan etc. and that we will no longer benefit from. Any suggestions that brexit might benefit UK trade with the developing world, Africa etc. failed to take into account the damage done by the UK stepping outside of EFTA when it leaves the EU.  Any benefit from a US deal, a newly protectionist US under Trump,  is likely to be offset with damaging concessions within the UK agricultural sector and health sector.

The political reality of becoming a small country once more, one trying to negotiate with much larger countries, is likely to be sobering politically. We may be more noble politically speaking but we will be playing catch up. At a basic level we will be trying to rebuild a negotiating team that we have long outsourced to the EU. We will be trying to catch-up with new deal with those countries whose trade deals we have lost with our EU membership. We be trying not to be pushed around by the sharks, despite our new status as a minnow.

Anyone voting “leave” for reasons of non-EU trading relationships is going to be facing some stark realities for the next decade or so.

Yet when engaging in conversations around brexit, there are plenty of “leave” voters still cheering. When faced with the argument that their reason for voting just isn’t going to be realised, most fall silent. Some retreat to other reasons such as “yes, but … fishing”

The problem is there is an obvious economic rebuttal to be made for each and every alternative (including Fisheries: 80% of the UK catch is sold into the EU and will be subject to tariffs).

But obviously people din’t vote leave because of the economy, they voted leave despite it, partly maybe because they didn’t believe in the predictions but also maybe because they didn’t believe that their local economy could get any worse.

As the regional breakdown of the expected impact of brexit shows, they’re about to find out how wrong that could turn out for them. The greatest impact of brexit will be felt in areas that voted remain, but in many ways those areas are also the wealthiest and also therefore best placed to cope with the downturn. Those areas voting “leave” will be impacted less, but will still lose 1-2% of their economy as a result of brexit. Since the UK as a whole will lose out more, the chances of regional or trade sector grants and allowances being maintained seem slim, so poorer areas dependent on regional regeneration grants, or subsidised sectors such as agriculture, fisheries etc. will be hit hard.

Ho hum. However you voted in the brexit referendum, you are not getting what you voted for. People who voted remain are just the ones who found out first.


It’s amazing what happens when you meet the right person. All of a sudden lifestyle and family choices that seemed totally daft become a possibility.

So like lots of women, but certainly not according to the plans of my younger self, I had children, and having had the children when the work became less fun and the kids became more (basically toddler+ for me but everyone has their own ideas) I stopped working and stayed home to look after the kids. Well, look after the kids, play lots of tennis, have a good time and manage an investment portfolio.

It wasn’t quite the stereotype I had in mind as a kid, but close enough for strangers making deliveries to feel entitled to query my title and expect me to wait in on them.

Ho hum.

In the UK we have a system whereby you pay tax known as national insurance which entitles you to amongst other things, a state pension.

The UK state pension is amongst the most miserly in Europe, at just £6,200 per annum, but it’s index-linked and to buy a comparable annuity would cost me something more than £250,000. An asset worth quarter of a million pounds is worth having.

Whilst working, I was obviously contributing. Whilst looking after the kids, I acquired credits towards my state pension up until the youngest became sixteen and then, not unreasonably, they assumed I could go back out to work and start paying again.

Around the same time, 2016,  they also changed the number of years a person has to work from 30 to 35 in order to accrue the full state pension.

Long story. Short conclusion: I have a shortfall, a gap in my contribution schedule that can be made by making a voluntary contribution.

Each year that I failed to pay is priced slightly differently for no obvious reason but most seem to end up costing around £700. For that £700 I will be entitled to an extra £4 a week, index linked on my pension i.e. an extra £208 a year. To be worthwhile, I would need to survive 4 years post pension age, which in the UK , has also been moving ever further away.

All of this was determined after many phone calls to HMRC and to the pensions help line department. In order to determine my shortfall I had to ask for and receive an NIC statement. Before allowing me to pay any shortfall, HMRC insisted that I ask for and receive a state pension statement which predicts what my pension would be with a full contribution record, and with what I’ve already paid in. Interestingly they’re predicting the state pension will be worth around £8,500 when I retire, assuming they don’t push back the date even further.

At some stage in the telephone tree there’s a really annoying attempt to move you onto voice recognition software for security, without offering you a choice, just an assumption. If you want to refuse the option, your only choice is to stay silent when asked to repeat the stock phrase.

Ho hum.

For a woman of my generation, I can claim state pension from the age of 67. Average life expectancy in the UK for women is around 83 years old though there are huge local variations. As a white, middle class woman with no obvious health problems and no really bad habits (smoking, drinking regularly to excess etc) I could quite plausibly last to 90, but let’s assume the average age.

I will have a shortfall in my contributions for 12 years, which will cost me around £8,400 to make up, and gain me an extra £2,496 each and every year I survive past 67. If I make it to 70 then I’m making a profit. If I reach the average life expectancy, I’ve gained £14,976 at a cost of £8,400.

But of course most women aren’t in anything like as good a financial position. Most will have neither the cash set aside in their own name to pay this, nor the skills to go back into employment to a job that pays them a good salary. They may not have a clue as to how their state pension is calculated, how much they will be entitled to and whether it’s a good investment. They may be relying on their partner to provide for them in their old age, unaware of the rise in late life divorce, the impact of bereavement etc.

The UK state pension is arguably a pitiful amount, yet as a couple, it starts you off with a combined income of £ 12,400. Assuming that you’ve paid off your mortgage, it means you are unlikely to starve. You should be able to heat the house. Add into the mix a defined benefit pension from your employer, and maybe a defined contribution pensioner two from your partner to top up, and it should (fingers crossed) provide a good standard of living.

There are apparently three stages of retirement: Saga, named for the retiree travel company, when you basically live the dream of active retirement, travelling and having all of those adventures that you’ve promised yourself; AGA where you start to feel your age, still in good health but living life closer to home and less adventurous;and, gaga, when dementia sets in for at least one third of us, and your savings are used up paying for care in an often inadequate care home.

Back to that investment management…


My teenage daughter told me she’d been thinking about the purpose of life. Cue internal recoil and “Oh no, where is this going? Are we going to have the God talk?”

Don’t get me wrong, I am as interested in the next person in the question, but I’ve never found an answer; I’ve never found a useful answer. Instead we went down a rabbit hole conversation best described as “all about me”.

My youngest is not traditionally big into introspection, and at times I’ve definitely worried that she understands herself so little, that she sees to be so out of control of her own reactions. But as she’s grown out of her toddler tantrums, and into a lovely young woman, kind and quick, with her own moral compass.

Still, should she be thinking more about who she is, why she reacts the way she does and whether those reactions are useful to her and to those around her.

Turns out introspection of that kind is counterproductive.

There have been a number of  studies looking at the relationship between self-reflection and outcomes like happiness, stress and job satisfaction. The people who scored high on self-reflection were more stressed, depressed and anxious, less satisfied with their jobs and relationships, more self-absorbed, and they felt less in control of their lives. What’s more, these negative consequences seemed to increase the more they reflected.

We can spend endless amounts of time in self-reflection but emerge with no more self-insight than when we started.

University of Sydney psychologist Anthony M. Grant discovered that people who possess greater insight — which he defines as an intuitive understanding of ourselves — enjoy stronger relationships, a clearer sense of purpose and greater well-being, self-acceptance and happiness. Similar studies have shown that people high in insight feel more in control of their lives, show more dramatic personal growth, enjoy better relationships and feel calmer and more content.

However, Grant and others have also come to realize there’s no relationship between introspection and insight.

This means that the act of thinking about ourselves isn’t necessarily correlated with knowing ourselves. And, in a few cases, they’ve even found the opposite: the more time the participants spend in introspection, the less self-knowledge they have. In other words, we can spend endless amounts of time in self-reflection but emerge with no more self-insight than when we started.

Why does this matter? After so many years of researching the subject of insight, it seems that the qualities most critical for success in today’s world — including emotional intelligence, empathy, influence, persuasion, communication and collaboration — all stem from self-awareness (TEDxMileHigh talk: Learning to be awesome at everything you do). If we’re not self-aware, it’s almost impossible to master the skills that make us stronger team players, superior leaders and better relationship builders, either at work or in the rest of our lives.

Introspection is arguably the most universally hailed path to internal self-awareness. After all, what better way is there to increase our self-knowledge than to look inward, to delve deeply into our experiences and emotions, and to understand why we are the way we are? When we reflect, we might be trying to understand our feelings (“Why am I so upset after that meeting?”), questioning our beliefs (“Do I really believe what I think I believe?”), figuring out our future (“What career would make me truly happy?”) or trying to explain a negative outcome or pattern (“Why do I beat myself up so much for minor mistakes?”).

Introspection can cloud and confuse our self-perceptions, unleashing a host of unintended consequences.

But other study results, along with Grant’s and others, appear to show this kind of self-reflection doesn’t necessarily help people become more self-aware. One study examined the coping style and subsequent adjustment of men who had just lost a partner to AIDS. Although those who engaged in introspection — such as reflecting on how they would deal with life without their partner — had higher morale in the month following their loss, they were more depressed one year later. Another study of more than 14,000 university students showed that introspection was associated with poorer well-being. Other research suggests that self-analyzers tend to have more anxiety, less positive social experiences and more negative attitudes about themselves.

In truth, introspection can cloud our self-perceptions and unleash a host of unintended consequences. Sometimes it may surface unproductive and upsetting emotions that can swamp us and impede positive action. Introspection might also lull us into a false sense of certainty that we’ve identified the real issue. Buddhist scholar Tarthang Tulku uses an apt analogy: when we introspect, our response is similar to a hungry cat watching mice. We eagerly pounce on whatever “insights” we find without questioning their validity or value.

The problem with introspection isn’t that it’s categorically ineffective, but that we don’t always do it right. When we examine the causes of our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors — which we often do by asking ourselves Why?questions — we tend to search for the easiest and most plausible answers. Generally, once we’ve found one or two, we stop looking. This can be the result of our innate confirmation bias, which prompts us to lean towards reasons that confirm our existing beliefs.

Asking “why?” in one study appeared to cause the participants to fixate on their problems instead of moving forward.

Another reason that asking why is not always so beneficial is the negative impactit can have on our overall mental health. In one study, after British university students failed what they were told was an intelligence test, they were asked to write about why they felt the way they did. Compared to a control group, they were more depressed immediately afterward, and these negative effects persisted 12 hours later. Asking why appeared to cause the participants to fixate on their problems and place blame instead of moving forward in a healthy and productive way.

So if asking why isn’t so helpful, what should we ask? A study by psychologists J. Gregory Hixon and William Swann arrived at a simple answer. The researchers told a group of undergraduates that two raters would evaluate their personality based on a test of “sociability, likeability and interestingness” they’d taken earlier in the semester, then they asked the students to judge the accuracy of their results. What the students didn’t know was that everyone’s results were the same: one rater gave a positive evaluation, while the other gave a negative one.

But before making their accuracy judgments, some of the participants were given time to think about why they were the kind of person they were, and others were asked to think about what kind of person they were.

The why students, it turned out, were resistant to the negative evaluation. As the paper’s authors muse: “Presumably, participants who focused on why used their reflection time to rationalize, justify and explain away the negative information.” The whatstudents, on the other hand, were more receptive to the same data and to the notion that it could help them understand themselves. The lesson here: Asking what could keep us open to discovering new information about ourselves, even if that information is negative or in conflict with our existing beliefs. Asking whymight have the opposite effect.

In the course of one research project,  a group of 50 self-awareness unicorns were identified: people we found who were rated high in self-awareness (both by themselves and by others) but who had started out with only low to moderate self-awareness. When we looked at their speech patterns, our unicorns reported asking what often and why rarely. In fact, when we analyzed the transcripts of our interviews, the word why appeared less than 150 times, but the word what appeared more than 1,000 times.

One unicorn, a 42-year-old mother who had walked away from a career as a lawyer when she finally realized that there was no joy for her in that path, explained it this way: “If you ask why, [I think] you’re putting yourself into a victim mentality …. When I feel anything other than peace, I say ‘What’s going on?’; ‘What am I feeling?’; ‘What is the dialogue inside my head?’; ‘What’s another way to see this situation?’ or ‘What can I do to respond better?’”

So when it comes to developing internal self-awareness, we should use a simple tool: What Not Why. Why questions can draw us to our limitations;what questions help us see our potential. Why questions stir up negative emotions; what questions keep us curious. Why questions trap us in our past;what questions help us create a better future.

In addition to helping us gain insight, asking what instead of why can be used to help us better understand and manage our emotions. Let’s say you’re in a terrible mood after work one day. Asking “Why do I feel this way?” might elicit such unhelpful answers as “Because I hate Mondays!” or “Because I’m just a negative person!” Instead, if you ask “What am I feeling right now?” you could realize you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, exhausted and hungry. Armed with that knowledge, you might decide to fix yourself dinner, call a friend or commit to an early bedtime.

However, there is one important exception to What Not Why.

When you’re navigating business challenges or solving problems in your team or organization, asking why can be critical. For example, if a member of your team drops the ball on an important client project, not exploring why it happened means you risk recurrences of the problem. Or if a new product fails, you need to know the reason to ensure that your products are better in the future.

A good rule of thumb, then, is that why questions are generally better to help us understand events in our environment and what questions are generally better to help us understand ourselves.

Liar Liar

President Trump, arguably the most powerful man in the world, the leader the free democratic world etc told public lies or falsehoods every day for his first 40 days

By the conservative standard of demonstrably false statement, Trump told a public lie on at least 20 of his first 40 days as president. But based on a broader standard — one that includes his many misleading statements (like exaggerating military spending in the Middle East) — Trump achieved something remarkable: He said something untrue, in public, every day for the first 40 days of his presidency. The streak didn’t end until March 1.

Since then, he has said something untrue on at least 74 of 113 days. On days without an untrue statement, he is often absent from Twitter, vacationing at Mar-a-Lago in Florida, or busy golfing.

The end of May was another period of relative public veracity — or at least public quiet — for the president. He seems to have been otherwise occupied, dealing with internal discussions about the Russia investigation and then embarking on a trip through the Middle East and Europe.

Sometimes, Trump can’t even keep his untruths straight. After he reversed a campaign pledge and declined to label China a currency manipulator, he kept changing his description of when China had stopped the bad behavior. Initially, he said it stopped once he took office. He then changed the turning point to the election, then to since he started talking about it, and then to some uncertain point in the distant past.

Trump has retained the support of most of his voters as well as the Republican leadership in Congress. But he has still paid some price for his lies. Nearly 60% of Americans say the president is not honest, polls show, up from about 53%t when he took office.