Dr Sinead Murphy

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Let Our Children Face the World

by Dr. Sinéad Murphy On Monday January 3rd, the Guardian featured an opinion piece by Zoe Williams on the U.K. Government’s recommendation, announced the day before, that all students in Year 7 and above should wear a facemask during the whole of the school day, including in classrooms. The stated aim of Williams’s piece was to honour the “endless adaptability” of young people as revealed for her in their stoical refusal to “bellyache” and “moan” about mask requirements. Whatever Williams’ intention with this piece, the effect was to further dehumanize young people and encourage them not to complain in the face of draconian Covid restrictions. In my view, she exhibited a lack of human feeling and the specific brand of callous indifference that defines the Left’s way of thinking about Covid. ——— Williams opens her article on the subject of bouncing. She recalls her first trip as a professional journalist to interview a talented young skateboarder who was preparing to enter a competition. As she watched his practice session, during which he “smashed” to the ground many times, Williams reports that his mother observed, “He’s 14. They bounce at that age.” And so Williams establishes her basic position – that young people bounce back, that young people are “resilient”. It is not an original position: in April 2021, when schools...

Why it’s a Mistake to Ask Academics For Advice on How to Manage the Pandemic

by Dr. Sinead Murphy On August 26th, Professor Devi Sridhar, Chair of Global Public Health at University of Edinburgh and Covid advisor to the Scottish Government, tweeted this: https://twitter.com/devisridhar/status/1430905196075311106 Sridhar has been a high-profile contributor of allegedly scientific expertise throughout the Covid months; recently, she has featured in the Telegraph in support of the roll-out of the Covid vaccination programme to children of 12 years and above, as well as on the BBC’s Newsround, when she assured her school-aged audience of the ‘100%’ safety of the Covid injections when administered to children. Notwithstanding her tweet that her interventions in the Covid debate have been nothing more than simple explanations of what’s happening, many of Sridhar’s claims during the past year-and-a-half have been contestable at best, plain false at worst. The BBC quietly retracted Sridhar’s '100%’ safety statement, although not before it was broadcast in thousands of schools across the U.K., complete with that air of implicit authority that the BBC continues to confer on its content and contributors. In response to this, and possibly other ‘bumps', Sridhar is now running for cover. But it is a curious kind of cover, worthy of our consideration. "I’m just an academic," she is pleading, as if that condition comes with a great exemption, with indemnity for all fallout from inaccurate forecasts and implausible...

If You’re not one of the few Experts, Then You’re one of the many Functionaries

by Sinéad Murphy Hans-Georg Gadamer In another instalment of the Covid assault on the vulnerable, my little autistic boy has been sent home from school, to compound his already profound remove from social life by going into ‘isolation’ once again. To have asked for details as to why this decision was made would have been to dignify it with the appearance of reason, but, given that the corridors of school chat are not resounding with news of the serious illness of a teacher or a child, it is sure to have been in response to another positive result from the lateral flow test, the Covid gift that keeps on giving – it is reported that, on June 24th, 5% of English schoolchildren were not in class because of it. Joseph, who has an ‘Education, Health and Care Plan’ that legally obliges the city’s council to provide for his needs until he reaches the age of 25, has hardly been at school since the end of March 2020, on account of combinations and permutations of distancing, masking, and quarantining. And now he is at home again. If Covid does not strike again, by the time he is allowed to return to school Joseph will have nine days left before the summer holidays begin. That is what a council’s legal obligation to...

The Covid Aesthetic

by Sinéad Murphy In his AIER article published on June 1st, David McGrogan describes support for Western governments’ Covid measures as attributable, not only to fear of a deadly virus or to care for those who are vulnerable to it, but to the pleasurable add-on awareness that Covid fear and Covid care are felt by everyone else around. Insofar as it is comprised primarily of this sense that everyone shares in the Covid experience, the Covid experience, David observed, is kitsch. David’s original analysis throws up the intriguing possibility that what we are dealing with in the satisfaction of so many in the Covid regime, and their palpable distaste for those who do not share their satisfaction, is neither a flawed Covid reasoning nor a distorted Covid morality but a new Covid aesthetic. In a comprehensive account of the conditions for the possibility of human experience, Immanuel Kant drew clear lines between objective knowledge, moral judgement and aesthetic feeling. His account of aesthetic feeling tallies well with the consensus experience of Covid and explains why it is that any attempt to intervene in this consensus experience with personal, factual, practical or moral arguments is a category mistake and unlikely to produce much effect. Kant’s classic example of an aesthetic experience is the one occasioned by a beautiful sunset, an example...

Let’s Not Be Sensible, Folks

by Sinéad Murphy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GN5B27zT29Y My little boy with autism is back at school, for three days in the week. His support teacher is at last unmasked. On the seventh day of his return, there was an unheralded change. Instead of Joseph being accompanied by his support teacher at pick-up time so that she and I might have a quick chat, he was sent out alone along with his classmates. Inside his bag was a new small notebook, with “Communication Log” written on the cover, in which there were phrases describing aspects of Joseph’s day. Joseph’s communication is profoundly restricted. He is unable to report any aspect of his physical experience; he cannot tell of anything that has happened to him, no matter how recently. A short exchange, before and after school, with the person responsible for him during the day is essential. At drop-off time the following morning, Joseph’s support teacher watched helplessly from behind the classroom’s glass door while I held Joseph’s hand at the gate – another of the pathetic scenes that have been a feature of our Covid incarceration. “Mummy’s going to drop you here”, said one of Joseph’s year’s teachers, to me via him. When I objected, she told me, in a rush of what seemed like resentment, that the ‘Communication Log’ was to substitute for...

Measure, Case, Health

by Sinéad Murphy Hans-Georg Gadamer One year later, and the Coronavirus Act that has enabled much of the UK Government’s lockdown has just been renewed for another six months. Debate in the lead-up to its renewal has included admissions from the Prime Minister of his failure last year to introduce measures early enough and ‘hard’ enough, submissions from Tory opponents of the Act showing that cases of COVID-19 are now so low as to make continued measures unnecessary, and ongoing concern by the bravest Tory of them all, Charles Walker, about the health of the population when measures continue in defiance of falling cases. All of these aspects of the debate are important. But it is well past time for scientific analyses and disagreements in respect of measures, cases and health to be supplemented, perhaps even undercut, by a philosophical perspective. These concepts – measure, case, health – have this year been our bread and butter. We have bandied them endlessly, sometimes desperately. But are we fully aware of what they mean? In a short essay from 1990, entitled "Philosophy and Practical Medicine", the German philosopher, Hans-Georg Gadamer, provides us with just what we need: a philosophical account of the concepts of measure, case, and health, which reveals just how truncated has been the understanding and application of them during...

What’s the Differend?

by Sinéad Murphy Over a week ago, the journalist Owen Jones posted a video on his YouTube channel. Its title: “The Deniers.” I have not been a reader of Jones’s writings nor a viewer of his videos, but I have been aware of his relatively high profile as an opinion columnist and an interviewer. Nothing could have prepared me for his performance in “The Deniers”. Jones’s demeanour in this video is that of a bad-tempered child who, from the safety of his mother’s skirts, entertains himself by taunting his chosen targets – he pulls faces, he calls names, and he mocks the objects of his petulance with hand gestures and sarcasm of the most puerile variety. Jones’s victims are professional people – just like him. Among them: Professor Karol Sikora, former Chief of the Cancer Programme of the World Health Organisation; Professor Sunetra Gupta, Chair of Theoretical Epidemiology at University of Oxford; Professor Carl Heneghan, Director of University of Oxford’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine and Editor-in-Chief of the British Medical Journal’s Evidence-Based Medicine provision; and Dr Michael Yeadon, former Head of Allergy and Respiratory Research at Pfizer Global. These are the people – the ‘Deniers’ – at whom Jones makes his faces and levels his taunts. More than once, he uses his hands to place notional quotation marks around Karol...

The Home-School Curriculum

by Sinéad Murphy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kHOOV83j7bo PLZ I DONT LIKE THIS – This message was typed by a nine-year-old child, over and over again. In capitals and with relentless economy. An unmistakable SOS. Where was this child and what was happening to her? She was at home. In her Geography class. On Microsoft Teams. I saw her cry for help in an article published by Conservative Woman on February 5th. The article outlined what a day at school is now like for a nine year-old boy called Simon, who lives with his mother on the 12th floor of a council tower block. Simon’s day is a cruel one – on that, most of us would agree. But do we see just how cruel? With neither video nor audio available for the Geography lesson, PLZ I DONT LIKE THIS, typed repeatedly into the chatbox by one of Simon’s classmates, is as close to a scream as this child had the tools for. Members of our Government thoughtlessly describe the ‘challenges’ of remote learning: the difficulties of keeping children interested and active. But in this child’s scream, there is not the disengagement and inertia presumed by their careless acknowledgements. In this child’s scream, there is actual DISTRESS. So-called ‘home-schooling,’ for many if not most of our children, is not a less effective version of...

Playing With our Theory of Mind

by Sinéad Murphy In an article on February 4th, Unherd’s Freddie Sayers reported on his attendance at an international conference that was held over three days during the previous week. Running under the title ‘Covid Community Action Summit‘, it was a forum for those interested in pursuing what is called ‘Zero Covid’. Sayers was taken aback at the conference’s emphasis on communication strategies; it is as if they are planning a military campaign, he wrote, and this conference was their war room. In illustration, Sayers quoted Tomás Ryan, an Irish neuroscientist employed by Trinity College Dublin. Ryan is a co-founder of Ireland’s ‘Independent Scientific Advocacy Group’, which aims to persuade the Irish Government to adopt a Zero Covid policy. Reflecting on the limited success so far of the Zero Covid campaign, Ryan told the conference: “You have to be playing with the theory of mind of your audience.” This idea – that our "theory of mind" is to be "played with" – struck me as it might strike many who live with someone diagnosed with autism; a seminal experiment conducted by Simon Baron-Cohen over 30 years ago established that those diagnosed with autism lack a "theory of mind". For some time now, I have been suspicious of the extent to which this lack of a "theory of mind" is really...

Preliminary Materials for a Theory of Devi Sridhar

by Sinéad Murphy Devi Sridhar Following her appearance on Newsnight on Friday January 22nd, Devi Sridhar, Professor of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh, tweeted this: https://twitter.com/devisridhar/status/1353002258779299845?s=20 During the past year, those of us opposed to Government lockdowns have repeatedly asked this question: What has disarmed the populations of apparently democratic societies that they have so quietly accepted the suspension of their freedoms? Devi Sridhar’s tweet – banal as it is – contains all the ingredients for an answer to this question. 2020 did seem, as it unfolded, to impose a sudden reversal of established freedoms. But the surreptitious erosion of those freedoms had, in fact, long been observed. In 1999, for example, the French magazine, Tiqqun, published a short text entitled Preliminary Materials For A Theory Of The Young-Girl, which sketched an outline of the emergent citizen of Western democratic societies, who willingly participates in and perpetuates their own oppression at the hands of global corporate governance, actively consenting to “the molecular diffusion of constraint into everyday life” and to the “immuno-disarmament of bodies”. The Tiqqun text summarized this acquiescent citizen as the “Young-Girl”. The descriptor has met with objections for its alleged misogyny. But it applies to men as well as to women, and to the old as well as to the young, only seeking to...

Requiem For Universities

by Sinéad Murphy Giorgio Agamben Universities have been dying for some time. As their prospectuses have grown glossier, their gateway buildings more spectacular and their accommodation for students more stunningly luxurious, the Humanities subjects have been gradually hollowed out. Academics’ intellectual work has been streamlined by the auditing procedures of the ‘Research Excellence Framework’ and by growing pressure to bid for outside funding, which is distributed to projects that address a narrow range of approved themes – Sustainability, Ageing, Energy, Inequality… Student achievement has been dumbed down by the inculcation of a thoughtless relativism – Everybody’s different; That’s just my interpretation – and by the annual inflation of grades. The curriculum has begun to be tamed by continual revision – never broad enough, never representative enough – and by the drive for ‘equality and diversity’. And teaching has been marginalized by the heavy requirements that it represent itself on ever proliferating platforms and review itself in endless feedback loops. Universities, in short, have been gradually transforming into what they proudly trumpet as a Safe Space, a space that has been cleared at greatest expense to Humanities subjects, a space in which the slightest risk – that a thought might lead nowhere, that a student might be uninterested, that an idea might offend or that a teacher might really persuade –...

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July 2024
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