Dud Debate

The issue was concerning antibiotics and their degradation in useful value because of bacterial resistances and immunities.  BBC Radio 4 Saturday 1st June 2019.

Such simple things like the presenter at first assuming that ‘everyone knows’ antibiotics treat only bacterial infections; and that there is an ‘issue’ with bacterial resistances growing toward them.  These views were corrected quickly by the participants.

Yet the issue of adequate education; by which I mean not merely a few ads on TV and in doctors’ surgeries explaining the case with these treatments; I mean a school and college exposure to children on these issues; on the whole issue of degradations in efficacy and on the concomitant cyclical chasing of tails which we call scientific researches, made everywhere today so as to keep the evil hour at bay.

The presenter gave supersonic passenger flight as an example (along with antibiotics) of an issue which was a scientific advance which foundered nonetheless. He was referring to Concorde. He said he ‘could think of few other’ examples.

The truth is rather, and this is not merely my opinion, but it is empirically demonstrable, that many, I would say by far the most, scientific advances, if that term is not a misnomer, are actually more like what the software world terms patches and service packs.  What I am saying is that much, most of ‘new’ technology and innovation, science overall, done today, falls into two categories; the chief category being that which attempts to alleviate or to correct those bad effects and consequences made and caused by previous applied scientific research and technology.

The push for electric cars for instance is in large part a push to avoid air pollution and the other unwanted effects of burning fossil fuels to travel by.  Much of what is done by the giants of the Internet: Google: Microsoft: Facebook: is response work; response to threats and security issues, to previous feedback on faults and gaffs, and so on; thus aiming to put former houses in order.  These giants call it all ‘innovation’ and ‘improvement’ but that is mere marketing talk; the big corporation never admits to its mistakes unless a bigger shark makes it do so.

The push for more economic use of fuels and conservation of the world’s resources in general are in large part a response to the issues arisen from their pollutative properties and/or to  their increasing scarcity and so their higher cost to manufacturers. Recycling falls largely into this category – still it is the case that only what is of economic value is recycled.  Still the oceans are filled with plastics islands. Still the piles of first world waste are shipped out to the poor nations of Africa and of South East Asia so as to pollute their shores and pass the problem on to ‘foreigners’ to deal with or to suffer. This is happening with Britain and The Philippines right now.

The whole merry-go-round of what is miscalled economic and social ‘progress’ is mostly attempts to resolve problems cause by earlier attempts at economic and social ‘progress’. The French sociologist and theologian Jacques Ellul noted, in parallel to this situation, how our efforts to ‘progress’ comprise us making items which are able to free up time for us to go and make further items which free up our time. The world, as we have used it, is a joke, and a disaster, and a tragedy.

The situation with antibiotics and bacterial immunity being ever growing; this is rather the paradigm for science than it being the exception which proves the rule.

I want to say something about a second undeniable fact concerning science and technology, as we do these today; and this is to say that nearly all science being done, including that which is chasing its own tails as I described above, is science which is luxurious, and takes place beyond the proper requirement able to meet the states of things in the world in fact.  In large part this luxuriousness of science as it is presently being done exacerbates greatly the need for a circular race which is mopping up, as far as it is able, the previous messes and spills made historically by science and its applications in the human and natural worlds.

This idea of luxuriousness in science may sound strange when set beside the fact of and the actions being taken in this circular race to mop up past consequences. It might sound contradictory, but it is not, rather it is complementary. Scientists and their science aim high every time in our days; theirs is always a ‘ground-breaking advance’ or else a ‘unique solution’ – the marketing talk again but yet this is the goal – to shine in the eye of the world, to attract kudos, to gain reputation and status and of course to be rich.

Hence instead of saving water by dropping a house-brick in your toilet cistern, one gets ‘technological’ reduced-water flushing-systems; at twenty times the cost and to the same effect. This example is not merely an example it is the paradigm again.  The CERN hadron collider is the biggest Big Boys’ Toy in the world – with the biggest price ticket – I myself have heard zero – not even non-stick frying pans – practicable of use to come from CERN to date?

One hears arguments how archaeology and what is marketed as ‘heritage’ and ‘culture’ is invested in so ridiculously heavily here in Britain because ‘it helps the tourist trade’ so greatly – a sort of reason for killing the poor to make the country richer argument.  These are indeed luxuries: ‘culture’ archaeology, and ‘heritage’; not only for those who have so few worries about getting the necessities of life together as to be able to feel passionate about the ‘survival’ against ‘decay and degradation’ of culture and heritage – of which decay and degradation in fact their attitudes are symptoms – but also these pursuits are luxuries for those people, the scientists, who do these activities, who tread their labs having huge amounts of colossally expensive ‘equipment’, and take home their not inconsiderable fat salaries, when the problem of the elderly or the disabled person along the way remains untackled, unattacked, unattractive, and not tourist material whatsoever.

High-end science is by default desirable science – first for the scientists themselves, then for their commercial sponsors, and lastly, we are sold the pitch all the time – it is desirable for us, because like big kids we have been offered new and catchy things for our prams – almost an inundation – and let the needy and suffering go hang.

There’s an old, probably not known widely here anymore – saying what tells you to “Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves.”  Another is that: “God is in the small things”.

Both these sayings are apposite, appropriate, true and good.  Our ambitions are too heady, like strong drink gone to our heads, and we cannot stomach anything a little less potent of valour and prowess.  Were we to aim for less maybe we should all enjoy more?  That is, metaphorically speaking, were we to settle for a house-brick in the cistern and desire no high-flying water saving flush system, things I believe would be more tolerable for many whose lives are not satisfactory at present, and probably we ourselves to would feel rather better for it?

Today was a sunny clear warm day here. There had been arranged by The City Council in a local park a “Rock n Roll day”, and double-decker busses were ferrying people from all over into the locality, people were wearing all sorts of glad rags and paraphernalia in great numbers. The cost was on the local government budget.

The aim perhaps was to please, to win over the local people, by providing out of public funds free-of-charge entertainments?  It has become a thing here in recent years, many areas and cities do this kind of thing.

My home city is a place where a person can take a bus ride over any of several bridges which crisscross the city  (because the winding river which runs through it is so sprawling) and see on the backs of the river ‘cities of tents’ or what might be called roughly made shanty towns where homeless people live.  Homeless people are not vote winners; nor is any spending funds on them. Just as the science we do aims to be all top–end and so ‘earth-shattering’ so too we have local governments doing similar antics – squandering whilst people whom it is here to serve live in filth and misery on the riversides.

Antibiotics then – what of them?

The radio debate on them circled around certain areas of argument which involved a lot of use of the phrase “so and so is broken, we know….” as if to say that saying something is not working were saying anything sufficient.  What was broken then?  The funding model for drug research; The ability to harness researchers; The model for producing drugs, and so on – Handy bite-sized platitudes.

Simply put, the debate pointed out that there are not enough incentives to business, to companies and to researcher scientists, for their entities to be aiming at creating new antibiotics. A medication such as a mouth inhaler is used daily by large numbers of people for years on end – worth researching new ‘better’ inhalers to grab a market share. A new antibiotic, apparently, is harboured by the health people sparingly and given only sporadically in a last ditch to patients when all other care has failed.  Besides a course of antibiotics is eight or ten days, then it’s finished – not like inhalers – so not worth investing in.

Lots of things did not come out of such observations. Like firstly, why new antibiotics?  Why not some alternative approaches?  Why go on reinventing a faster more streamlined wheel?  Are these people like rabbits in headlamps? Did they ditch their imaginations when they were awarded their doctorates?  (I know for a fact that a) since we have all become so advanced recently we don’t need any longer to take note or cognisance of our history anymore – it can teach us nothing; and b) I know that there were going on fairly promising experiments and researches into other forms of combating bacterial infections at the time in the 1930s that Alexander Fleming stumbled upon penicillin – the first antibiotic to be discovered. I know that hardly anything is heard today of persons, scientists, looking back at their benighted forefathers and taking up such promising lost trails)

The general laissez faire competitive model for pharmaceutical invention, production, distribution, is wholly unsuitable – as it is in general for most economic activity. I would uphold.

(In much of Africa, the debaters admitted, the problem is not so much bacterial resistance to antibiotics; it is rather unavailability of antibiotics altogether – and how long – nearly a century – have ‘we’, the rich world, had these lifesavers? How come many Africans don’t, can’t get them?  Answer: the private enterprise laissez faire model is broken – was it ever in one piece?  No money in saving African lives alas.  The bitterest thing is that this same scenario was going on exactly as it is now when I was a lad 50 or more years ago, and still the hard-heartedness of ‘we’ men and women towards our own needy is our greatest most virulent malaise!)

There was in the radio debate some talk of nationalisation – having the State take charge of pharmaceutical industry and costs and distribution – as a special case of course and not by any means as a paradigm to other industries – which I think is indeed not the answer also. 

There was never, never, broached at all the size of the human catastrophe that these people were trying to alleviate, as if it were merely incidental to the problems raised by the logistics of antibiotics research and  production.

Now getting on to the issue of over-prescription of antibiotics – said by these debating people to be at a rate of 20% of all dispensing of antibiotics in UK and up to 40% in USA.  No attempt was made by the debaters to explain clearly how a doctor dispensing an antibiotic course to a patient who did not need antibiotics, how this was able to add to the problem of bacterial resistance growing?

Over-prescription, then, remained just a problem – of sorts.  I thought to myself that when a patient gets antibiotics and s/he doesn’t need then no bacteria which that antibiotic aims to target is present in the patient’s body? So how do the target bacteria which are not there become more resistant?  This made me ask – is over-prescription a real problem for the growth of bacterial resistance?

Or is it just a bludgeon to hammer over the head the public with?  Not my fault – but yours – you did it – not me – I’m just trying to fix the mess you’ve made.

Had our society been careful enough to teach – to take out to the hospitals and show our children the great potential of antibiotics and maybe the tragedy and disaster of their not being available, or else being ineffective – instead of filling heads with schemes and hypotheses – going out and giving children eyewitness practical guidance instead of offering them stupid ‘fitness for employment’ aka making them ‘commercial fodder’  – then yes, as adults there might be half a chance that these kids would respond sensibly to the world and not by default think: ‘If I do care, if I do help, what’s in it for me?’

Furthermore and nonetheless, The Great Healer needs to be called in and invited to be on the case, and so given a free airing in the classroom and also before the ragged and destitute in the streets and on the highways; The Great Healer who calls in and welcomes stragglers by force so that his House is filled, and so that all those who arrive there are those who have no means of repaying Him for their Place at The Feast.  Amen. Amen.

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