Why I didn’t — and Nir Eyal thought I should — sign the open letter calling for this

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Yesterday, 1 Day Sooner posted this Open Letter calling for human challenge vaccine trials for Covid-19. As they describe such trials:

Human challenge trials deliberately expose participants to infection, in order to study diseases and test vaccines or treatments. They have been used for influenza, malaria, typhoid, dengue fever, and cholera. Researchers are exploring whether human challenge trials could speed up the development of a vaccine for COVID-19, saving thousands or even millions of lives.

Below is an email in which I explain why I declined to sign this letter. Further below is an exchange with Nir Eyal, who is…

A study just published in Nature reveals the following: even for someone with no underlying health conditions, the increased risk associated with being 45 years of age, rather than 30, is greater than the increased risk associated with various health conditions the NHS deems sufficient to render a person clinically vulnerable to serious illness from Covid-19.

I. Quantifying the risks to the clinically vulnerable

“Coronavirus (COVID-19) can make anyone seriously ill. But for some people, the risk is higher”, according to an NHS webpage entitled “Who’s at higher risk from coronavirus”. The NHS lists the following people as at “moderate risk (clinically vulnerable)”:

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“Who’s at higher risk from coronavirus”

The aforementioned study in Nature

UCU Left has issued this linked statement strongly condemning the £15 levy to replenish the strike fund. As I shall demonstrate below, it turns out, however, that a majority of UCU Left members on NEC voted for the levy they now condemn.

According to the minutes, the levy was agreed by a vote of 38–8 (46 votes total). The minutes also record the presence of the following 45 members:

Sue Abbott, Mark Abel, Paul Anderson, Pura Ariza, Bruce Baker, Vicky Blake, Cecily Blyther, Philipa Browning, Lucy Burke, Carolyn Campbell, Michael Carley, Douglas Chalmers (chair), Dima Chami, Alison Chapman, Maria Chondrogianni

A response to USS’s claim that it is

As discussed in a previous blog post, UCU and UUK have asked USS to model “an option involving a higher-return (and higher-risk) investment strategy”, in which the scheme would remain continually invested for the long run in a portfolio which is weighted roughly 65% in “growth assets” (equities and property). In that earlier post, I responded to USS’s objection that the “short-term risk” of such an approach was too high.

In this post, I respond to USS’s distinct objection that such an approach is intergenerationally unfair:

We believe that this option does not align well with Principle 3 [regarding intergenerational…

[Update 9 September 2020: Here’s a brief Twitter thread in which I raise a similar, but simpler, objection to USS’s latest version of its short term risk metric.]

The joint UCU/UUK Valuation Methodology Discussion Forum has asked USS to model “an option involving a higher-return (and higher-risk) investment strategy”, in which the scheme would remain continually invested for the long run in a manner benchmarked against a “reference portfolio” weighted roughly 65% towards “growth assets” (equities and property). This is what is known as the “no de-risking” option, since it would involve no systematic shift of the portfolio over time…

Two questions to USS for their video on the 2020 valuation

In response to this invitation, I would like to submit two questions to which I hope USS will provide replies in a video they release on Thursday the 9th of April. The first question is about USS’s measure of short-term risk and the second about their measure of long-term risk:

Q1. Why should it matter how expensive it might become to purchase a self-sufficiency portfolio within a year, given that it would make no sense to purchase one so soon even if it were possible to shift the assets so swiftly?

Q2. What is USS’s justification for measuring the self-sufficiency…

Some recommendations

If you’re a UCU member, please have a look at the following thread on Twitter:

…and then click through to these recommendations for the NEC ballot:

No. This figure is based on an error in arithmetic.

According to the material accompanying UCU’s pay and equalities strike ballot, “The value of university salaries has fallen against inflation by over 20% since 2009”. The union’s General Secretary recently reiterated that “We believe the true decline over the past decade is over 20%….” The grounds for this claim are spelled out here:

The union says that staff pay has actually fallen by around 20% in the last decade as pay awards in higher education have resulted in a cumulative increase of 11%. In the same time period, the RPI index has increased by 31.8%. Meaning staff in higher education…

According to this UCU leaflet urging members to vote Yes to strike action over USS pensions:

It is vital that we get this issue sorted now. If we wait and hope for the best, the progress that we fought for and won in last year’s strikes may be lost. Failure to insist now that the scheme is properly valued or that the employers at least pay for any unjust increases in contributions could lead us back down a path towards the downgrading of benefits and even the reprise of proposals to end the guaranteed pension.

I am genuinely open to…

Michael Otsuka

Professor, Dept. of Philosophy, Logic & Scientific Method, LSE

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