Fifth Column

In which Dr Aust does his own little bit for “Spoof Jenkins” day.

You know, there’s so much opinionated waffle on TV and in the papers these days.

I mean, I love reading predictable off-the-cuff grumbling penned by overpaid middle-aged metropolitan arts grads. After all, I‘m one myself. Well, except for being an arts graduate. And metropolitan.  And one can’t be overpaid these days unless one’s on at least £ 200K, like all those whining scientists with their Chelsea townhouses and Porsches.

But let’s not get into that.

Where was I?

Oh yes – columnists, of course.

As I say, I love a good splenetic column. After a four course lunch at the Garrick, finished by a few excellent brandies – sixty year old, naturally, anything good is always old and beautiful, far better than all this new rubbish – there’s nothing that rounds things off better than perusing the thoughts of some well-read chap of my own vintage… …putting a judicious boot into the backside of those jumped-up little technocrats over at the Royal Society.

But this time, Simon Jenkins may – just may – have gone a bit too far.

Not in giving the scientists some stick, of course. Richly deserved. Did you see all that nonsense they pumped out about swine flu?  Utter rubbish – it was no worse that the common cold, naturellement. Just like that ridiculous song and dance they made over foot and mouth. And as for grounding all the planes because some unpronounceable volcano erupted and stuck a bit of ash in the air – quite preposterous. Do you know, I would have missed my cultural tour of the best vineyards of Jerez if Binky – wonderful chap, he’s in banking, I was at Oxford with his brother – hadn’t lent me the company jet to get there.

Anyway, anyone listening to the scientists would think that that “HIV was the cause of AIDS”, or that “vaccines were good things”. And of course, it’s all just about money – they get paid to say that stuff, and they’re just touting for more business. Quite unlike columnists, who are ferociously independent and simply write from a sense of duty. We don’t make a penny. Well, except for trousering the weekly cheque, which frankly is hardly enough to be worth bothering about.

But anyway, Simon has perhaps slightly overdone it, and this time rather a lot of people seem to have noticed. Which is a worry. After all, we don’t want people getting the idea that columnists are behaving like the New Priesthood. It was bad enough the bloody Scientists giving themselves quasi-religious airs – like little Rees, and that tiresome Dawkins chap, and the rest of the Scientific “Bishops”. Who are just like the real C of E, by the way – no sense of history. The useless C of E can’t even look after its own historic buildings, and that ineffectual beardie Archbishop is too busy turning up on Melvyn Bragg’s show with the scientists to do anything useful. They’d rather have new Church Halls for coffee mornings than proper old buildings. The scientists are always moaning about “needing new buildings” too, of course. Did Galileo need a state-of-the-art Mammoth of Research to discover gravity? Of course he didn’t – all he needed was a tower and some balls.

And as to where science ends up if you let the pointy-headed little blighters have their way – well, there was a person who tried to harness technology for state ends, and got all the scientists with their hands out for research grant money to sign up. His name was Adolf Hitler. And he had his Gestapo to go around locking up anyone who disagreed, just like the Catholic Church had the Spanish Inquisition. Which is just like the scientists coming after Simon Jenkins now. I wouldn’t be the least surprised to see a crack Royal Society snatch squad of men in white lab coats bundling poor Simon into a strait-jacket and hauling him off to Porton Down for “compulsory science re-education classes”. After all, they have them for MPs now, so I’m sure columnists will be next.

And that’s why I think Simon has been a touch unwise. He’s simply drawing a little too much attention to us. If he goes on like this, people will start to turn on the columnists.

And, frankly, strictly entre nous, there are too many columnists about these days. A bit like scientists. Or Badgers.

I can see it now. They’ll say:

“For too long these opinionated arts, politics, and economics graduates, with their Notting Hill addresses and children at St Pauls and Westminster school, have been allowed to agitate for a privileged position in the national newspapers and the BBC”.

Then they’ll start saying that we just endlessly re-cycle the same old tired schtick, so that we can dash off a column that gets up peoples’ noses in the two hours between the after-lunch nap and dinner and collect our wages.

I’ve even heard some people asking what it is columnists actually do to help. One or two of the scientists have had the cheek to say that science was at least “trying to move the world forward” and address some of humanity’s pressing problems, like global warming, or famine, or disease.

Which is utter self-serving balderdash, of course. Columnists do their bit, too. Think of the work creation. All those people writing in via the internet – which was probably invented by an arts graduate [Note to Ed - please check] – to complain about Simon. That’s obviously creating wealth, surely? And look at how newspaper sales are rising.

And as for the problems of the wider world, I personally think a lot of it could be solved if we simply had more newspaper columnists. Imagine: a newspaper read by almost no-one in every impoverished sub-Saharan hamlet, complete with highly paid weekly “opinion formers” with Glyndebourne season tickets.

In other words – a columnist in every kraal.

Now there’s a vision to give the world hope.

16 Responses to “Fifth Column”

  1. Tweets that mention Fifth Column « Dr Aust’s Spleen -- Topsy.com Says:

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Andrew Maynard, Stephen Curry, Alan Henness, Alan Henness, Sylvia McLain and others. Sylvia McLain said: RT @Dr_Aust_PhD: Fifth Column: http://wp.me/p7r3S-iF #SpoofJenks day > made me laugh [...]

  2. chall Says:

    here here. lovely written.

    (although, what do I know, I’m just a scientist….)

  3. Martin Searle Says:

    Splendid stuff (however, I feel bound to declare a competing interest – I am also of the scientific persuasion).

  4. Fifth Column (via Dr Aust’s Spleen) « Northern Doctor's Antidote Says:

    [...] In which Dr Aust does his own little bit for "Spoof Jenkins" day. You know, there’s so much opinionated waffle on TV and in the papers these days. I mean, I love reading predictable off-the-cuff grumbling penned by overpaid middle-aged metropolitan arts grads. After all, I‘m one myself. Well, except for being an arts graduate. And metropolitan.  And one can’t be overpaid these days unless one’s on at least £ 200K, like all those whining scientist … Read More [...]

  5. Mike from Ottawa Says:

    Well, I for one applaud that nice Mr Jenkins for standing up for bankers and financiers, who are beset on all sides these days for having tanked the economies of the world just by a bit of friendly gambling on inscrutable instruments and have nothing now to comfort them but their 7 figure salaries, Mercedes and yachts.

    Reading Mr Jenkins’ column, I’m reminded of a bit from American writer Damon Runyon “Always rub up against money. Some of it may rub off on you.” Perhaps Mr Jenkins is hoping some money will note his sympathies and let him rub up against it.

    Would it be rude to say he’s a twat? I’m not saying he is, mind, just asking if it would be rude.

  6. Neuroskeptic Says:

    Simon who?

    I don’t think I’ve heard of him. Is he new?

    Oh, right he’s one of those holdovers from the days when you just needed to be able to translate whatever random stuff came into your head into nice sounding prose to get a column in the newspaper.

    Sorry, I was trying to think of a Simon Jenkins who knows interesting stuff and writes about it. They’re the only people I read nowadays. Some call them “bloggers”, I call them “worth reading”.

  7. draust Says:

    @Mike from Ottawa:

    It would probably be rude in many peoples’ eyes, even though it would strike me (and a lot of scientists) as a pithy and accurate description.

    In many ways Jenkins’ incessant harrumphing at scientists – in which there is a definite sense of a chip/shoulder scenario – reminds me eerily of CP Snow’s “Two Cultures” lecture more than half a century ago, and before even I was born. Plus ca change, and all that.

    @Neuroskeptic:

    Like you I tend to just ignore Jenkins on any issue that bears on the factual (and especially anything bearing on science) as his line is so boringly predictable. However, he clearly worries some people. At a conference I was at the other day a very senior British scientist actually mentioned, while introducing a talk, the worry that “one of Britain’s most important journalists” had been taking a pop at Royal Society President Martin Rees. Of course, Jenkins would no doubt be delighted to be described in those terms, which I imagine is how he thinks of himself. Which is another reason I would rather respond by ridiculing him.

  8. Cybertiger Says:

    @Neuroskeptic:

    “Which is another reason I would rather respond by ridiculing him.”

    There are obviously many good reasons for ridiculing that Neuroseptic fella, no least the randomly asynaptic level of commentary conducted. Twat!

    PS. That’s the rude sort of twat, mind.

  9. Cybertiger Says:

    “I am walking down the street when out of a sewer swirls a giant black tentacle, waving in my face. It is the ancient Britain lurking beneath the pavement, a place of primitive prejudice which nobody has the guts to reform. It keeps trying to claw the 21st century back to a foetid swamp of cruelty and unfairness. Along its ghastly surface are rows of suckers, called lawyers.”

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article1141629.ece

    Of course, Simon Jenkins is perceptively referring to the state we’re in and the stinking rotteness of the British legal system … and of British science and medicine … and of primitive British scientists and those elite British doctors who live at the bottom of foetid British swamps.

  10. draust Says:

    Certainly that is another choice example of Jenkins’ gift for rhetorical flourishes, as also seen in his regular tirades against science.

    Given your obsession with Roy Meadow, I can see why you would like that one, Shabby. I don’t see, though, what it is supposed to demonstrate – except that Jenkins likes to rail about lawyers, doctors and scientists. Indeed, he seems to intrinsically distrust anyone in anything that is, or resembles, a profession.

  11. Cybertiger Says:

    “… except that Jenkins likes to rail about lawyers, doctors and scientists …”

    … and the silly tossers give Jenkins so much to rail about.

    “Indeed, he seems to intrinsically distrust anyone in anything that is, or resembles, a profession.”

    What is there to trust about the professional misdemeanours of Meadow and his professional partners … in their fiendish crimes against truth, justice and fairness.

    PS. Try putting yourself in the shoes of Steven Clark: how would you have felt? In the lottery of life, you could have been Steven Clark. What would you have done?

  12. Neuroskeptic Says:

    “I am walking down the street when out of a sewer swirls a giant black tentacle, waving in my face.”

    Isn’t that Jenkins’ account of when he met you, Cybertiger?

  13. draust Says:

    Would that be the Giant Black Tentacle of Idiocy?

  14. More Jenkins Junk « Dr Aust’s Spleen Says:

    [...] Dr Aust’s Spleen A grumpy scientist writes « Fifth Column [...]

  15. Helen Says:

    As long as the House is full of business people then the business/legal/PR worlds will get what they want.

    What I reckon is all this nonsense about getting scientists to communicate with the public is to distract scientists. I reckon scientists should communicate with the public – from the floor of the House, and by establishing science friendly policies.

    Loads of scientists will be looking for work (if they aren’t already) and many will be considering a career change. Look to politics for a four-year contract and a chance to really take a grip of public service.

    And of course, you could apply for an interdisciplinary research grant in preparation for a new career…

  16. draust Says:

    Thanks Helen

    It seems there are others that agree with you: see this comment piece just out in the New Scientist.

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