Macron’s vaccine ‘citizen panel’ is doomed to fail

A column by Keith Sutherland and Alex Kovner in the The Spectator:

France has a problem when it comes to the coronavirus vaccine. Emmanuel Macron’s administration has so far only given out around 5,000 vaccines, and France has one of the lowest levels of trust in the coronavirus vaccine in the world, with only 40 per cent of the public saying they want to be inoculated. Faced with this trust deficit, Macron has proposed a 35-member ‘citizen panel’ to oversee France’s vaccination programme. The body, made up of a random selection of French citizens, will be responsible for monitoring and advising the government when it comes to the vaccine roll-out.

21 Responses

  1. Good blog, fully agreed. A tip: Personally I’d have ended with a few idiot-proof recommendations, e.g. “must be 577 citizens”….

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  2. Unfortunately there was a strict word limit. On the positive side it was an invited contribution, so another indication that sortition is going mainstream!

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  3. Congratulations on getting the platform – a pity it was in the Spectator, but still!

    I can sort of see the logic behind Macron’s move – staffing an impartial, non-elite oversight committee is a reasonable use of sortition in theory. But if, as you suggest, people don’t trust the mode of selection, I can’t see it succeeding.

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  4. I’d love to hear from Andre why he thinks the French have an antipathy to vaccines.

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  5. As always, the amount of unsubstantiated assumptions and claims – if not outright falsehoods – that Sutherland is able to squeeze into a limited number of words is rather impressive.

    Skipping over Sutherland’s oft-repeated piece of pretentious meaningless nonsense about the size of body needed for “statistical significance”, here is an arbitrary example of an unsubstantiated claim:

    These assemblies are, in effect, populated by volunteers, providing a strong bias towards activists and enthusiasts – as was the case with the Citizens Convention on Climate Change.

    Maybe Sutherland could present his evidence for this very specific claim about the CCC? (And please, spare us the long winded smoke screen – just the evidence please.)

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  6. Evidence (in the sense of something that is admissible in court) is not available, so my claim is based on media reports on this and similar voluntary projects along with the tautology that people with a particular interest in a topic (climate change or whatever) are more likely to give up their time to debate the topic. Bear in mind the average 96% refusal rate for citizen assemblies (quoted by the Sortition Foundation). This is from the comments on the Spectator article:

    This is another predictable move by self-styled ‘anti-populist’ metropolitans and their annoying activist children (i.e. anti-democrats).

    On the general principle it’s worth noting that out of the 996 followers of this blog only twenty or so have volunteered their view as to an appropriate subtitle, even though all they need to do is glance down a short list of options, choose one (or more) and then hit “enter”. Yet we are assuming that whatever option is chosen by this tiny group of volunteers represents the silent majority.

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  7. > media reports

    Which ones? Let’s have a list, with the specific information from each upon which you base your specific claim regarding the CCC.

    > on this and similar voluntary projects

    “Similar voluntary projects” are irrelevant, since you made a specific claim with regard to the CCC. Again – show your specific evidence for your specific claim. In absence of such specific evidence, your specific claim regarding the CCC is a lie.

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  8. You have posted a number of pieces on the reaction to the CCC on EbL. As for the appointment process for the CCC it was remarked on this blog that it was “opaque”; hence my reliance on average ratios. The voluntarism ratio on the vote on this blog (.02%) makes citizen assemblies look positively oversubscribed. I’m astonished that you can even combine “statistical representation” and voluntarism in the same sentence. In the case of this blog, around half of the tiny number of votes are from oddballs and sortition anoraks like Simon, Terry, Hubertus, you and me. And how can you claim that a group of 35 is an accurate portrait in miniature of the citizens of a modern multicultural state? John Garry’s figure of 1,000 (minimum) is a lot closer to the numbers used by the polling industry.

    As for your repeated use of the word “specific”, why do you claim that the CCC is the exception that proves the rule?

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  9. Once again, Sutherland, you are clearly exposed as a liar. You made a specific claim about a specific case – namely, that the CCC had a “strong bias towards activists and enthusiasts” – implying that you have evidence for that claim. You have no such evidence. You lied.

    As usual, you dismiss this issue nonchalantly. This is your standard MO. Facts simply do not matter to you. Your conclusions are preconceived and you will off-handedly lie in an attempt to justify these conclusions. You are a habitual liar.

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  10. Gentlemen, please. Yoram, your request for evidence is reasonable – your aggressive namecalling is not. Let’s not put off new visitors to this blog with unnecessary vitriol.

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  11. Pointing out that Sutherland is a liar is not name calling and is not vitriol. It is simply describing the facts, as the exchange above demonstrates very clearly.

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  12. Gentlemen, public name calling like „liar“ will damage this blog‘s reputation far more than a change of its subtitle can ever help it.

    Also ad personam attacks are entirely unproductive, it is fully sufficient to find out facts in the matter. I cite the following worrying source which states that „most of 250.000 contacted refused“ which makes it highly plausible that activists and climate militants were overrepresented, just as the source (and Keith) claims. I never saw a transparent report in reply to contradict this report of such serious mishandling of sortition procedure. Maybe one of our group has direct access to facts? https://www.fr24news.com/a/2020/04/rando-democracy-bites-france-electric-line.html

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  13. It seems that Citizens Assemblies are now finding the same resistance level from ordinary folks as professional pollsters are finding. Is this high percentage of refusal consistent with refusals to serve on juries in criminal trials? I doubt it. My guess is that most people accept the public invitation to be jurors in criminal trials. Why? Because they know that if selected, they have the power to decide guilt or innocence and either punish a criminal or set an innocent person free. What is the result of the randomly selected panels in France or anywhere? Usually, it is just “consultative” or “non-binding.” So why waste your time? Also in the U.S., jury duty is paid for by the state. Is there compensation for participating in Citizens Assemblies? If not, there should be…and should be much more than a mere “honorarium”. It needs to pay for the time a citizen uses for such public duty. Legislators and judges get decent pay. So should those who participate in sortition projects. From my decades of experience in recruiting citizens to participate in scientific deliberative polls and electronic town meetings, we found that a personal touch from some publicly respected source, i.e., a university or widely known non-profit gets a much higher rate of positive response than one coming from anonymous government bureaucracies or private for private telemarketer types. I hope this helps in your discussion…and helps improve the rate of public participation in these important events.

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  14. Reading Keith and Alex’s piece I came onto comments to say that I think it’s ungenerous to Macron. By that I don’t mean to reference any unfairness to Macron personally. It pays to be cynical of the motives of politicians, if for no other reason than the manipulative environment they inhabit. But it seems to me that the attitude of people on this blog should be one of gratitude to Macron for reaching in the direction of sortition.

    That it will be sortition of a kind that suits Macron should surprise no-one, nor disappoint them. If sortition is to grow it will need to have some use to those in the system so as to establish some foothold within it, whereupon we all hope that it will grow according to its own logic.

    It seems to me that the value judgements necessary to rolling out a vaccine are an excellent substrate for sortition to prove its chops, though it’s also easy to see how the way this has been configured could not work particularly well.

    Anyway, having read the article, on making my way to comments, I then run into Yoram hurling abuse around as his first response.

    I have stumbled upon a bunch of political neophytes

    Can’t even be civil to each other. This is the kind of thing sent up in Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

    Hard to believe such people care about the common good when they can’t behave with the minimum of generosity towards each other. And hard to believe they’ll achieve much good with such purist aspirations – they’ll divide into splinter groups at the first whiff of intellectual or political grapeshot.

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  15. Hubertus: Thanks for the link. If there’s a grain of truth in the news report then the CCC was a democratic abomination.

    Ted: Jury service in the UK is compulsory and quite hard to get out of (the best you can generally do is to postpone). That’s why most people who get the jury summons attend (the honorarium is derisory). There’s no reason why participation in political juries should not be a civic obligation, and that’s the only way to make them truly representative (assuming that voluntarism is a significant population parameter).

    Nick: I agree that politicians will use sortition if it suits their purposes. However if the purpose is anti-democratic (see Hubertus’s news report) then it brings sortition into disrepute. This is particularly problematic for assemblies designed to implement a pre-ordained target (rather than deciding what that target should be).

    Thank you to everyone who has called for an end to ad hominem attacks. Personally I don’t care what Yoram thinks of me (water off a duck’s back), but it undermines the dignity (and effectiveness) of this forum in the public eye.

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  16. Nicholas,

    Two points that are not really related:

    1. I don’t believe there is really much common ground between people who see sortition as a way to buttress the existing oligarchical power structure and those who see it as a tool for democratization. I don’t believe there is any use to pretend there is. The conflict between these two groups may very well be the shape of the intellectual and political struggle to come.

    2. I am disappointed (but not surprised at this point) that the issue of intellectual honesty is considered secondary to some superficial notion of civility. Even if there was some common normative ground with the likes of Sutherland, tolerating intellectual dishonesty within your camp is a sure way to weaken it and discredit yourself. There is a lot that is being written here that I disagree with (you and I often have disagreements, for example). I am happy to discuss those disagreements substantively in good faith. Sutherland has no such good faith. Bad faith should not be tolerated.

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  17. >I don’t believe there is really much common ground between people who see sortition as a way to buttress the existing oligarchical power structure and those who see it as a tool for democratization.

    I see sortition as a tool for democratization. I just don’t want to blow it up and start again from ground zero (the confrontation is between reformists and revolutionaries). If I wanted to buttress the existing oligarchy I would be heaping praise on M. Macron, but my criticism is that he is sortition for flagrantly undemocratic purposes.

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  18. Yoram>> “I am disappointed (but not surprised at this point) that the issue of intellectual honesty is considered secondary”

    That’s not it, “intellectual honesty” is not secondary, Yoram. In fact, best accuracy of observation is crucial for good method in decision making. That said, it is well known that that two individuals may look at the very same facts and interpret them quite differently. Human cognition is subject to a plethora of biases.

    Fortunately, there is what I call our third mode of thinking (“Thinking together”), collective intelligence, as a higher authority. For collective intelligence to emerge, the possibility, method and quality of conversation of two opposing sides is of crucial importance, key to get to good predictions (and falsifiability). Thus, we should never stop to show respect, assume goodwill, and apply best effort to understand the other side. Especially us here.

    Back on topic
    Regarding a possible sense of gratitude to Macron as suggested by Nicholas: My issue is, I personally cannot feel grateful at all when I see such an obviously botched citizen jury design (for Keith’s reasons and more). Only from a few highly knowledgeable people would see the predictable failure of this latest CJ as a problem of insufficient know-how. In this times of constant indignation and outrage, politicians and the 99% will wrongly blame the institution, the What, CJs instead of very bad method (non-random sampling, bad stratification, biased witness selection, overly primitive conversation and debating tools, distorting voting mechanisms, … ).

    The devil with our mission, gentlemen, is unfortunately in the detail.

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  19. What HH said. There are a thousand ways two people who disagree with each other can interpret the other’s arguments for their own perspective as dishonest. It happens even in mathematics. It happens all the time when people are discussing social and political matters.

    I suggest a full course of RG Collingwood. (Read the story of the Albert Memorial.)

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  20. Agreed, especially when it comes to absolute presuppositions (note: we publish the Collingwood Studies journal and a load of monographs on his work: http://books.imprint.co.uk/collection/?collection_id=1)

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  21. A note on the subject of intellectual honesty – Hubertus, the article you linked displayed none. It’s a classic case of climate denialism, couched in the most inflammatory terms. If the author is intellectually dishonest enough to claim that the emissions reduction targets required to prevent apocalyptic climate change would be more damaging than that climate change itself, they are certainly not to be trusted on the subject of the alleged biases of the CCC.

    That said, I am cautiously with you and Keith on the likely effects of Macron’s bastardised uses of sortition. It seems more likely to give it a bad name than to promote its use. But if a bright line can be drawn between ‘corrupt politicians’ pet assemblies’ and true sortitional democracy in the minds of some public, it might still be a step in the right direction. It likely depends whether Macron is getting out ahead of the populist curve or lagging behind it. We shall have to see.

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