Author Archives: Rob Davidson

Algorithms don’t fail people, people do

The inequality in this year’s A-level results has been strongly linked to the performance of an algorithm – the statistical model that the government used to ‘automatically’ upgrade or downgrade results for pupils. While ministers will be called to question, for many it will be the cold, faceless, automated algorithm that is seen as the problem. We, as liberals, must be clear: the A-level disaster is not a programming error; algorithms merely reflect or even enhance the bias of their designers.

The Labour Party has said the A-level algorithm was ‘unlawful’, the FT has described how ‘the algorithm went wrong’ and clearly the process had massively unfair outcomes. Yet, this wasn’t data science gone rogue like Terminator’s Skynet or the ineffable AI in Ex Machina: this was a political choice reflecting political biases.

When the government’s advisory body got their Covid19 models ‘wrong’, it wasn’t because of algorithms but rather a lack of diversity  – both in thought and in demographics – within the advisory team. The algorithms and models weren’t ‘wrong’ and they certainly weren’t the reason for e.g. people of Bangladeshi origin being disproportionately affected by the disease – instead, the problem was in the inherent bias of a skewed group of designers.

In the case of this A-level algorithm, it made good statistical sense to include the historical performance of schools in the prediction model because that minimises the total error across all results – intuitively we know that pupils at exclusively funded Eton get more A* results than pupils at woefully under-resourced Scumbag College. And yet, it goes against every British and liberal value of fairness and equality of opportunity to downgrade the brightest lights from a poorer performing school as part of a mathematical rounding exercise.

Posted in Op-eds | 13 Comments

Liberation inc. – a freedom incubator

This week, a new incubator for liberal startups has launched Liberation inc.  Liberation inc. will provide support for a new eco-system of think tanks, new media sites, campaign organisations and other groups that share the goal of defining and promoting liberalism as both a means and an end for the world’s crises and challenges.

If a liberal message is a breakthrough in the nation’s conversation, and even form a popular movement then, in this anti-establishment world, liberals start from a decent ‘outsider’ position. But it will not be enough to have truth and real-facts on the side. Liberals have always had those and yet rarely seen the government in a hundred years in the UK. It will also be necessary to promote that truth and those facts, in a way that engages and persuades the modern public.

In this day and age, after decades of scandals and crises in banks, newspapers and political parties, it’s not the age and grandiosity of the institution that is important but the number of voices and variety of messengers that builds trust in a message.

Posted in News | 7 Comments

Further reflections on the English Party

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Recently, as a new member, I became flummoxed when trying to work out what the English Party is, does and who makes up its committees. I wrote up my frustrations here at Lib Dem Voice. Having started with no axe to grind, I have become near axe-wielding now that responses have come in from that article. Members of as long as thirty-five years have admitted not knowing anything about the English Party and others have pointed out how it resists change or even blocks progress. Yet, there is an alternative and one that may help kick-start the reform that our recent Election Review has called for.

My main gripe with the English Party had been that they didn’t appear to have a website (it turns out that they do but it says so little about what the English Party is and does that in Google rankings terms, it’s basically on the ‘dark web.’) And they didn’t have social media or the other indicators of transparency and openness one might expect from a liberal, political institution.

Posted in Op-eds and Party policy and internal matters | Tagged | 23 Comments

What is the English Party?

If you’ve seen the recent Election Review, you’ll have read that the Lib Dems have obscure processes and committees that seem to get in the way of democracy and/or effectiveness. In this, we’re probably not much different to many other parties and groups but if we want liberalism to flourish we should probably aim to liberate our party from such things where possible. As a new member, I thought I’d try to work out the makeup of the party and hit a wall: the English Party. What is it? Who runs it? What do they do?

Google indicates that the …

Posted in Op-eds and Party policy and internal matters | Tagged and | 20 Comments

From progress to freedom – the need for liberation politics

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Liberals around the world need to define our cause. In the absence of a clear vision of liberation politics, we are left in the vacuous, uninspiring ‘middle.’ Worse, liberalism is under open attack globally and without a clear message and strong network of messengers, it’s losing. Liberals must move away from nebulous phrases like ‘progressive’ and finally make the case for freedom.

The Conservatives are known as ‘the party of business’ and that holds up even as Johnson says “F*** business.”  Labour are known as the party of public services, of human rights and equality – even as Labour staggers through an anti-Semitism scandal.

But what does the public associate with the Liberal Democrats? More importantly, what does liberal democracy mean to people of Britain and the world?

Without a clear vision of liberation politics, our opponents on all sides have laid waste to liberalism.

Putin has declared liberalism, “obsolete” Orbán proclaims ‘illiberal democracy’ as his goal and Trump and Bolsonaro follow suit. In Britain, it is no wonder that Brexit leaders were so easily able to promote their populism as an attack on the “liberal elite.”

As I described recently, they do this with the support of a network of thinktanks, new media, pundits and bots that have normalized and promoted their agenda – including their unchallenged attacks on liberalism.

Posted in Op-eds | 10 Comments

Liberalism has almost lost – we must act before it’s too late

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Today I learned about the ‘anti-Greta’, a 19 year old climate change denier that is being promoted by right-wing think tanks in an attempt to diffuse, equivocate and derail the traction that Greta Thunberg and her message has gained in the global press. This is a proven tactic and there is a right-wing network that is engaged in this strategy all the time. There isn’t anyone doing it on behalf of liberalism and that’s a major reason behind why we’re losing.

The recent Australia bushfire crisis is a case in point. There have been several reports that show mainstream actors like Rupert Murdoch deliberately equivocate and obfuscate the strong, science-backed narratives about how climate change increases the bushfire intensity.

I’ve been researching these campaigns too.

Within days of the first major climate-change news stories breaking, armies of Twitter bots and fake agents had coordinated behind an #ArsonEmergency counter-narrative, supported by Murdoch and the unchecked proclamations of right-wing politicians, as well as a network of spurious ‘news’ websites, supposed ‘think-tanks’ and well-nurtured right-wing pundits and commentators.

The DeSmog website shows several articles highlighting the networks of ‘think tanks’ and ‘institutes’ on the right that promote climate-change-denial and, often, Brexit and other right-wing agendas. Take, for example, 55 Tufton Street – a Westminster office address that on its own hosts a network of right-wing influencers from the Tax Payers Alliance to the Global Warming Policy Foundation and which once hosted Vote Leave and Leave Means Leave.

The process is simple: what pseudo-legitimate ‘think tanks’ say, teams of ‘news sites’ report which armies of bots and pundits then promote, amplify and normalise – then significant percentages of voters trust.

Posted in Op-eds | 66 Comments

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