Am I the only Londoner who wants a Tube Chat badge?


“Don’t talk to strangers!” I was always cautioned as a child. Which, to be fair, most youngsters are told. But I was terrible. I’d chat up anyone. Whether they were snorting drugs on the street, or trying to read the newspaper, no one was immune to my four-year-old banter.

“It’s dangerous,” said my teacher eventually. I’d asked a hairy man on Goswell Road how his day was going (fine, incidentally), putting the safety of Rainbow Class at risk. ‘Stranger danger’ was always the excuse for why we didn’t talk to big, bad people out in public. And throughout childhood, I thought this explained all of society – and why no one chatted.

But then I grew old, and wise (sort of), and realised that I was being indoctrinated with a terrible social etiquette rife in this country – where talking is perceived as a sort of sneeze, that could harm others. This problem is perhaps the worst in London, where the prevalence of Tinder, Bumble and other dating or friend applications say it all about our ability to interact with others.

Luckily, some sociable soul has distributed a badge on the underground today, similar to the “Baby on Board” one, that simply reads: “Tube chat?” Meaning that anyone who fancies a discussion on their commute can now let it be known. I can’t wait to pick up my own “Tube chat?” badge, so that I might find a northern line companion who shares a love for hula hoops, dogs and – who even knows – Riverdance.

I thought everyone would be equally excited, but the internet is awash with killjoys scoffing at the badge and calling it a “weirdo magnet”. But maybe that’s because they know deep down that they are the true weirdos, or that the current situation is quite weird – that friendliness levels have come to such a standstill in our society.

Whether it’s the cold winter weather, or laziness fuelled by technology, everyone’s gone quiet on each other. Shyness is epidemic, so much so that it has become destructive. In January this year, the BBC streamed a documentary on loneliness, which hit home what a huge impact non-communication has. Statistics for single people in London seem to rise all the time. The truth is: they could start falling if we learnt how to start simple conversations.

That’s what they seem to do in the countryside, at least, where I feel like Amal Clooney when I go home to visit my parents. Everyone wants to know how me and my grey hairy friend are doing. Sidney the border terrier, that is.

Of course for many, this sort of lifestyle doesn’t appeal. “It’s too quiet; there aren’t enough people!” Some say of the countryside. But in the capital, there is such little engagement, it’s as if you’re alone anyway.

So I’m not sniffy about the new badge. It’s actually quite a constructive invention, that acknowledges that there is a real need for more sociability in our society. Strangers can be dangerous, but as a general rule – it’s more dangerous never to speak to one.


The Science Museum is right, feminists are wrong


The Science Museum has taken a royal bashing after gender campaigners discovered its Who Am I? exhibition, which suggests there is such a thing as cognitive sexual differentiation.

They’re particularly affronted by one part of the showcase, which invites beady-eyed science enthusiasts to find out how female or male their brain is, on a ‘sex-o-meter’ coloured pink and blue. Twitter has been awash with fuming messages from people rejecting the notion of gendered thinking.

Interestingly enough, the exhibition has been about for six years, so I’m not sure why everyone’s het up now – especially as, if they cared about science so much, you might have expected them to spot the offence in that time.

Responding to the Twitter tantrums, the Science Museum has issued an apologetic statement, that says things like: “Creating exhibitions about cutting-edge science is a hard task for museums”. It is now made even harder thanks to sensitive sorts.

What vexes me about the backlash is that there are genetic differences between males and female brains, which the Science Museum was right to convey. Perhaps the biggest evidence of this comes from psychological disorders, which offer insights into which parts of the brain are most active in men and women. Females generally suffer from more emotional illnesses, like anxiety and depression. In males, ADHD and autistic spectrum disorders are more prevalent. Some suggest that these statistics are gleaned from crude diagnostic tools, that mean certain disorders are not recognised as much in one sex. But Tourette Syndrome is one very clear affliction that cannot be missed – three to five times more common in boys.

It’s not just psychological disorders that highlight variations, many studies do too, even if they simply point out brain size. One of the bizarre things I find about conventional feminism is that it denies male and female cognitive differences on the basis that these must be bad. Actually, differences can be a great thing! And don’t necessarily signal doom and gloom for the female species. One McMaster University professor has found that women’s brains have more generalised interconnectivity and plasticity than the male brain. Another scientist has found that women use less of their brain to complete cognitive tasks. See? Not all bad.

Differences also help males and females complement each other’s skills. Scientists scanning 1,000 brains in 2013 found that women had much more connectivity between the brain’s left and right hemisphere, compared to men, where connections were better between the front and back regions. Clearly this divergence breeds harmony, meaning that men and women can work in conjunction.

Another evidence of male and female brain differences is career choice, which is often used to highlight gender inequality – as the under- or over-representation of one sex in a profession may be seen as unjust. But more often than not it probably reveals individual preferences and abilities. One psychologist recently got into trouble for suggesting schemes to get more girls into science are pointless and ignore their innate learning inclinations. His name is Gijsbert Stoet and he used to once teach me! (Ironically enough, I absolutely hated his science classes). His crime is challenging the common nurturist consensus that girls don’t pursue scientific careers because of social barriers – despite the fact we’re more educated and autonomous than ever. The selection of careers is not necessarily the result of environmental oppression, but a window into the brain and its persuasions.

Generally I find myself to be quite Kinseyan about all aspects of psychological life, and accept that the notion of a “male” and “female” brain is quite rigid. Like sexuality, I suspect that everything about being male or female lies on a spectrum. Not even a spectrum, but a melting pot of biological and environmental factors that produce a masculine, feminine or in between sort of person.

But it’s not wrong to suggest that there are male and female brain differences. Even intuition suggests this; the films people watch, the books they read, the sports they go to see – which, of course, many will say is the result of societal stereotypes. Let me tell you, when I avoid football, it is the result of pure, inherent revulsion to a ball going up and down a field.

Feminists should back off the Science Museum. Especially as, if they want to prove they can be good at science, they must acknowledge the biological substrates of cognition. These sort of attacks damage academia, as professionals shouldn’t bend their research to suit socially acceptable narratives – or conceal findings to protect the easily offended.

I suspect what many have been cross about was the Science Museum’s crude representation of men (blue) and women (pink), but curators were clearly trying to engage the masses. And that’s not such a bad thing; with more people in science, we’ll understand even more about our sex.

Yesterday’s reaction to coughing Clinton was quite unjust


I’m not sure I entirely empathise with the attacks on coughing Clinton yesterday. After she collapsed at a 9/11 ceremony, Democrat detonators leapt on the news that the presidential hopeful had pneumonia. Across the media, the general agreement has been that Clinton’s secrecy over her medical status shows a lack of trustworthiness.

“Clinton’s pneumonia cover story proves her instinct is to lie”, read the New York Daily News. “Why did Hillary Clinton lie?” pondered The Week. Piers Morgan suggested that Coughmageddon had destroyed her credibility and proved a tendency for deception.

Interestingly, Trump hasn’t exploited Clinton’s bout of sickness, wishing her a speedy recovery. (Maybe because he’s no spring chicken; probably because of his new campaign manager, who’s clearly trying to bring out his sweet side). But he hasn’t needed to take a pop. A large collective of people are extremely angry about Clinton’s infection.

In these times I find myself unexpectedly sympathetic towards the Democrat candidate, for – contagiousness aside – I don’t understand what’s so terrible about soldiering on with the sniffles. Particularly as her medical records now show that her general health remains in tact.

Pneumonia, itself, doesn’t spell disaster; it affects 8 in 1,000 adults each year and is treatable through antibiotics and fluids. Though more prevalent in the elderly, it can strike people of any age, and therefore shouldn’t be used as evidence of why geriatrics shouldn’t rule the world.

Besides, Clinton is hardly the first to conceal illness. History is littered with political figures who’ve hidden far worse conditions. During his presidency, John F Kennedy kept schtum that he had Addison’s disease – which causes fatigue, difficulty standing and and much more cognitive impairment than pneumonia. Francois Mitterand never revealed the prostate cancer that haunted his 1981-95 presidency and killed him the next year. Even celebrities such as David Bowie and Nora Ephron kept private that they were dying.

None of them hid their illness to deceive people, but to show strength, which inevitably gets called into question when you start spluttering over everyone. Physical afflictions torment powerful individuals, robbing them of the energy that propelled them to the top. They loathe to rest in bed; denial becomes their means of survival.

Clinton’s determination to continue her campaign does not make her a liar, but shows a Spartan quality that’s actually rather desirable in a leader. With 55 days to go before the presidential election, who can blame her for braving sore bronchioles. Either way, she was never going to win having pneumonia. Had she confessed to being ill, the media would have used it to fuel ageist narratives; now they’ve found out she’s sickly, they’ve done that anyway – albeit sooner than she might have been prepared for.

Whatever your opinion of Clinton, she – like Trump – inspires people not only because of her views, but because of her tremendous stamina and ability to forget her age. She makes others forget her age, too. For her time in politics, she has shown immense mental and physical toughness. Whatever may be used to demolish her tactics, let it not be pneumonia.