Dominic Cummings: maverick or mishmash?
Stefan Collini’s trawl through Dominic Cummings’ writings (14 February) is a helpful insight into the mind of a maverick. However, in giving credence to Cummings’ enthusiastic embrace of (natural) science, Collini, as a literary critic and historian, risks falling victim to his own critique of those who speak outside their disciplinary comfort zone. Cummings’ understanding of modern genetics, IQ, evolutionary psychology, child development and neuroscience, as evidenced by his blog and advice to Michael Gove when education minister, is a mishmash of half-understood, controversial, and sometimes just plain wrong assertions.
As Cummings argues, politicians need advice from experts, but his deference to the physical and life sciences excludes evidence from the social sciences to its peril. Beware the autodidact bringing gifts; truly, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.
emeritus professor of neuroscience, Open University, UK
• Collini describes Cummings as “undeniably clever”. However, I must take issue with his observation that Cummings “quotes Nietzsche fairly often, but then who doesn’t?” This may be the case in Collini’s circle, and my friends and I speak of little else down the pub on a Tuesday evening, but I suspect Nietzsche (“There are no facts, only interpretations”) is a closed book to the general populace.
• I found Collini’s article insightful. However, his comment that Cummings’s world is populated, “metaphorically”, by “old ladies” is perturbing. The women in their 70s and 80s of my acquaintance cannot be characterised as either “timid” or “easily spooked”. I would also bet their reaction at being described as “old ladies” would elicit a response that might shock Cummings and many other men “of a certain age”.
Lisarow, NSW, Australia
The Tories won’t weep if the UK breaks apart
Martin Kettle (Opinion, 21 February) warns that Brexit combined with Sinn Féin’s success in the Irish election could lead to the breakup of the UK. This may well be true, but if so, where is the downside for this English nationalist Tory government? Northern Ireland is a historic, economic and political burden which few English Tories would really miss. Reunification of Ireland also removes a complex problem in England’s dealings with its neighbours.
Meanwhile, Scotland is probably lost for ever to the Tories but might return more Labour MPs in the future, putting Tory hegemony at risk. So Scottish independence would probably lock in a permanent Tory majority in the rump UK.
• Proper resource distribution
In the aftermath of the bushfires ravaging Australia (The summer of dread, 21 February), who else has been struck by the incongruity between the resources lavished by the federal government on border security to protect our “homeland” from terrorism and the dilatory response to climate emergency?
At ports of entry, Immigration and Customs has been replaced by Border Security’s hi-tech screening and multiple checkpoints – seemingly no expense spared. Yet many more people have died in this season’s bushfires than have died at the hands of terrorists, let alone putative “illegal” refugees.
• Self-worth cannot be pre-programmed
The suggestion that the state will have the responsibility and ability to smooth our transition into a world without work seems both horrifying and impossible (Out of office, 24 January). Consideration of many of Canada’s First Nation communities – where joblessness is almost total, and where alcoholism, drug abuse, and suicide is epidemic – indicates our inability to programme self-worth.
St John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada
• How do you like your cover in the morning?
The egg on Britannia’s face (Cover, 31 January) is sunny-side up. Surely it should be scrambled?
Wells, Maine, US