Archive for Britain

Brexit as hypothesis testing

Posted in Kids, pictures, Statistics with tags , , , , , on June 26, 2016 by xi'an

last run on Clifton and Durdham Downs, Bristol, Jan. 27, 2012While I have no idea of how the results of the Brexit referendum of last Thursday will be interpreted, I am definitely worried by the possibility (and consequences) of an exit and wonder why those results should inevitably lead to Britain leaving the EU. Indeed, referenda are not legally binding in the UK and Parliament could choose to ignore the majority opinion expressed by this vote. For instance, because of the negative consequences of a withdrawal. Or because the differential is too little to justify such a dramatic change. In this, it relates to hypothesis testing in that only an overwhelming score can lead to the rejection of a natural null hypothesis corresponding to the status quo, rather than the posterior probability being above a mere ½. Which is the decision associated with a 0-1 loss function.  Of course, the analogy can be attacked from many sides, from a denial of democracy (simple majority being determined by a single extra vote) to a lack of randomness in the outcome of the referendum (since everyone in the population is supposed to have voted). But I still see some value in requiring major societal changes to be backed by more than a simple majority. All this musing is presumably wishful thinking since every side seems eager to move further (away from one another), but it would great if it could take place.

London calling….

Posted in pictures with tags , , , , , , on June 24, 2016 by xi'an

The Day After… Most sadly, England massively voted against remaining in the EU, while Scotland even more massively supported the Remain option.

better together!

Posted in pictures with tags , , , , , , on June 23, 2016 by xi'an

Britain, please stay!

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Running, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 7, 2016 by xi'an

A love letter from some Europeans against Brexit that appeared in the Times Literary Supplement a few days ago, and which message I definitely support:

All of us in Europe respect the right of the British people to decide whether they wish to remain with us in the European Union. It is your decision, and we will all accept it. Nevertheless, if it will help the undecided to make up their minds, we would like to express how very much we value having the United Kingdom in the European Union. It is not just treaties that join us to your country, but bonds of admiration and affection. All of us hope that you will vote to renew them. Britain, please stay.

hedgehog meets litter [hog of the ring]

Posted in Kids, pictures with tags , , , , on March 12, 2016 by xi'an

[(c.) Picture by Chris Packham for the Lidl campaign Keep Britain Tidy]

the buried giant [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 10, 2015 by xi'an

Last year, I posted a review of Ishiguro’s  “When we were orphans”, with the comment that, while I enjoyed the novel and appreciated its multiple layers, while missing a strong enough grasp on the characters… I brought back from New York Ishiguro’s latest novel, “The Buried Giant“, with high expectations, doubled by the location of the story in an Arthurian setting, at a time when Britons had not yet been subsumed into Anglo-Saxon culture or forced to migrate to little Britain (Brittany). Looking forward a re-creation of an Arthurian cycle, possibly with a post-modern twist. (Plus, the book as an object is quite nice, with a black slice.)

“I respect what I think he was trying to do, but for me it didn’t work. It couldn’t work. No writer can successfully use the ‘surface elements’ of a literary genre — far less its profound capacities — for a serious purpose, while despising it to the point of fearing identification with it. I found reading the book painful. It was like watching a man falling from a high wire while he shouts to the audience, “Are they going say I’m a tight-rope walker?”” Ursula Le Gun, March 2, 2015.

Alas, thrice alas, after reading it within a fortnight, I am quite disappointed by the book. Which, like the giant, would have better remained buried..  Ishiguro pursues his delving into the notion of memories and remembrances, with the twisted reality they convey. After the detective cum historical novel of “When we were orphans”, he moves to the allegory of the early medieval tale, where characters have to embark upon a quest and face supernatural dangers like pixies and ogres. But mostly suffer from a collective amnesia they cannot shake. The idea is quite clever and once again attractive, but the resulting story sounds too artificial and contrived to involve me into the devenir of its characters. As an aside, the two central characters, Beatrix and Axl, have hardly Briton names. Beatrix is of Latin origin and means traveller, while Axl is of Scandinavian origin and means father of peace. Appropriate symbols for their roles in the allegory, obviously. But this also makes me wonder how deep the allegory is, that is, how many levels of references and stories are hidden behind the bland trek of A & B through a fantasy Britain.

A book review in The Guardian links this book with Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. I fail to see the connection: Tolkien was immersed for his whole life into Norse sagas and Saxon tales, creating his own myth out of his studies without a thought for parody or allegory. Here, the whole universe is misty and vague, and characters act with no reason or rationale. The whole episode in the monastery and the subsequent tunnel exploration do not make sense in terms of the story, while I cannot fathom what they are supposed to stand for. The theme of the ferryman carrying couples to an island where they may rest, together or not, sounds too obvious to just mean this. What else does it stand for?! The encounters of the rag woman, first in the Roman ruins where she threatens to cut a rabbit’s neck, then in a boat where she acts as a decoy, are completely obscure as to what they are supposed to mean. Maybe this accumulation of senseless events is the whole point of the book, but such a degree of deconstruction does not make for a pleasant read. Eventually, I came to hope that the mists rise again and carry away all past memories of “The Buried Giant“!

ABC [almost] in the front news

Posted in pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 7, 2014 by xi'an

cow (with TB?) on one of the ghats, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, Jan. 6, 2013My friend and Warwick colleague Gareth Roberts just published a paper in Nature with Ellen Brooks-Pollock and Matt Keeling from the University of Warwick on the modelling of bovine tuberculosis dynamics in Britain and on the impact of control measures. The data comes from the Cattle Tracing System and the VetNet national testing database. The mathematical model is based on a stochastic process and its six parameters are estimated by sequential ABC (SMC-ABC). The summary statistics chosen in the model are the number of infected farms per county per year and the number of reactors (cattle failing a test) per county per year.

“Therefore, we predict that control of local badger populations and hence control of environmental transmission will have a relatively limited effect on all measures of bovine TB incidence.”

This advanced modelling of a comprehensive dataset on TB in Britain quickly got into a high profile as it addresses the highly controversial (not to say plain stupid) culling of badgers (who also carry TB) advocated by the government. The study concludes that “only generic measures such as more national testing, whole herd culling or vaccination that affect all routes of transmission are effective at controlling the spread of bovine TB.” While the elimination of badgers from the English countryside would have a limited effect.  Good news for badgers! And the Badger Trust. Unsurprisingly, the study was immediately rejected by the UK farming minister! Not only does he object to the herd culling solution for economic reasons, but he “cannot accept the paper’s findings”. Maybe he does not like ABC… More seriously, the media oversimplified the findings of the study, “as usual”, with e.g. The Guardian headline of “tuberculosis threat requires mass cull of cattle”.

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