Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Here's a real medical scandal for What Doctors Don't Tell You

If the scandalous rag What Doctors Don't Tell You had any real pretentions to bringing to light the abominable things that some people within the medical profession do, they should consider plastering this story over their front cover.  It is worthy of an expose

A doctor, a surgeon no less, has been found to be receiving cash from a solicitor working on a case against the manufacturers of a vaccine.  The doctor is being paid to provide evidence for a disease that doesn't actually exist to help a possible court case.  Over several years, the doctor nets £440,000. At the same time, the doctor is developing a vaccine that, he hopes, will be used in place of the currently used one, thereby making him a fortune from the patent. 

In the course of preparing to publish on the fictitious disease, the doctor carries out some tests that are not ethically acceptable, on children.  Some are done at a children's party. Records are ignored or changed.  Results that contradict the fictitious disease are not used. The paper that is finally published is not in line with the original research proposal. 

Isn't this the sort of story that WDDTY should be highlighting?

Well, in a way they do.

The latest issue of the frankly irresponsible monthly, What Doctors Don't Tell You has expanded its letters page, possibly because there is less advertising, possibly because some of the unthinking readers have actually put a finger to the keyboard and sent something in.  One thing for certain, the right to reply won't extend to letters that contradict their party line.  And that party line is that the doctor whose story I have outlined above, is not a fraud who treated children despicably but has been responsible for one of the most egregious of scientific frauds of recent times but is actually a hero.

Because on the letters page is this:
Dear WDDTY, further to the autism article (April 2014), I sat through some of the GMC [General Medical Council] hearings on Dr Andrew Wakefield, and it's difficult after speaking to the parents of the autistic children in his study not to draw some parallels with the MMR vaccine.
In each case, the child was progressing normally and then began to show autistic tendencies within days of having the vaccination.  I really can't see how it could be a coincidence in every single case.
I very much got the impression that Dr Wakefield and his colleagues were being 'hung out to dry' by the GMC for even suggesting a problem with medicine's Holy Grail of vaccinations. The fact that the GMC allowed mass murderer Dr Harold Shipman to keep his licence probably tells us everything we need to know!
Gary Long, Devon
If What Doctors Don't Tell You really were interested in living up to their title, they would have consigned Andrew Wakefield (note, he's not a doctor any more) to the file labelled fraud.  He's not a fraud like the imaginary frauds of the climate science deniers.  He is one whose fraud has been well documented, tested in tribunal and shown to be real. 

Wakefield and Shipman show two sides of the same coin of evilness.  Who knows how many people have died at their hands?  Remember, deaths from measles in the UK were unknown for many years until 2006.  Shipman killed deliberately, in cold blood. Wakefield has not directly killed anyone but his efforts to taint a perfectly good vaccine has resulted in may unnecessary cases of measles, mumps and rubella over the last sixteen years.  Have any died as a result?  We cannot tell for certain but if the man could show a conscience, it might help.

It is National Infant Vaccination Week in the States.  Vaccinate your children.  My granddaughter is up to date on hers because her mother has the sense to plan for the future and not trust to luck.

Gary Long of Devon, you are so wrong.




Saturday, 26 April 2014

Revealed - Anthony Watts Stealth Plan to Make Us Accept Climate Change Science

Today I can exclusively reveal that Anthony Watts is in thrall to evil climate change scientists and runs his site WattsUpWithThat to push their agenda of mitigation and Agenda 21 and world government and everything the right wing nutters don't want. 

How do I know?  I'd like to say I have hacked his email account, but that hasn't happened.  Instead, like trying to read the vacuous but dangerous mind of Vladimir Putin, I have to examine his every utterance, dissect his behaviour and try to discern his motives.

And having spent many a spare minute looking deeply (as deeply as his followers examine things) at the posts on his site, I can only assume that he is working assiduously to support the science behind climate change - that's the real, consensus, 97%, science - by humiliating the deniers by showing up how stupid they really are.

The penny dropped a few weeks back.  Well, actually last year when Ronald Voisin made some claims about insect anal emissions about the same time that someone (I can't remember who but it might have been Willis Eschenbach) made some dumb comment about where all the bodies were for the animals that were going extinct.  Same place that all those road kill bodies end up going - decomposed and recycled.  Nothing mysterious, other than that someone claiming to be intelligent ends up looking stupid.
Roy Spencer holds up graph showing how well Anthony's strategy is working - note the sharp increase at the right hand end

Anthony's plan works like this.  Allow someone with a crackpot idea to post it on his site.  Voisin's series of articles on insects (archived) gives a classic example of this.  In it, clear as day, he suggested controlling climate by reducing the population of insects and microbes by 6%.  It would be patronising to say that he's an engineer, just like Manuel is from Barcelona, but no biologist would ever consider the possibility of controlling populations of microbes in the way that Voisin meant it.  When confronted on the stupidity of the idea, he ran so fast backwards that he encountered himself coming the other way in a parallel universe.  You'd think he would learn.

But he doesn't, apparently, because he has recently been thinking about what the centre of the Earth might be like.  Could the core act like a nuclear reactor (archived)?  I think we can answer that one - no would be quite likely.  There are plenty of unanswered questions about the Earth's core, but that's because we have to infer things about the core from the information we can deduce from indirect observations and, whisper this, models.  But as a nuclear reactor.  My first question is how does the fissible material get concentrated enough to allow fission but catastrophic fission, as in a bomb, not happen?  And I'm not an engineer or nuclear physicist.

But it's not Voisin's piece I am interested in so much as a few of the comments.  They provide me with evidence that Watts is running a stealth science site aimed at killing the denier memes by exposing their stupidity, and that of their proponents, to the light of reason. 

Let's look at this one:
David E. Slee says:
This is my very first venture into the blogosphere so I hope people will forgive me if I haven’t got “the hang of things yet”.
I have a basic difficulty with just about all the above posts in that they seem to assume the Earth has been for millions (if not billions) of years plodding around the Sun in its present orbit. Archeology in human recorded time shows that this cannot have been – changes in the direction of revolution (Sunrise in the West), and changes to the length of the year. Changes in the inclination of the Earth’s rotational axis w.r.t. the present are evident from Mesopotamian records, and from the limits of glaciation over the North American continent for the last glaciation which describe a circle about a Pole far displaced from its present position. We must be able to explain these facts in any construction of recent Earth events, let alone those further in the past.
Sunrise in the west!  This is pure Velikovsky.  For those who have never encountered Velikovsky, he was an early form of science denier nut (he's dead, I can libel him all I like) who was briefly popular in the 1950s in pre-Von Daniken days, for taking bits of archaeology and ancient literature and totally screwing around with it to produce a pile of drivel that looked somewhat convincing because it referenced piles of real research.  Real scientists, historians and archaeologists pointed out how ingloriously wrong Velikovsky was in choosing to alter planetary dynamics in order to preserve a "truth" inside ancient myths.
A second difficulty I have with the matters discussed above is that there seems to be an implicit assumption that Ice Age causation only needs the Earth to cool. If that were the case then after reducing the atmospheric water concentration by precipitation of some small amount of ice, the planet would then settle down to a new equilibrium regime, without a huge Icecap being formed. To produce the glaciation imagined in an Ice Age stupendous amounts of heat must be generated to cause the evaporation needed to deposit the mass of ice required – and do it quite rapidly. Oceans would need to boil to make that happen!
I'm not going to try to do any calculations to work out how much heat was needed to evaporate all that water but I am going to question the notion of how rapidly it happened.  I suspect, and I reckon all scientists who work in this field would agree, that you could outpace the growing ice sheets by standing still most of the time and taking a pace back every few days, if not weeks.
A third and final difficulty concerns the general acceptance of a Universe controlled by gravitation, mass, and chemical/physical reactions, and a reluctance to understand these Ice Age matters in the light of such phenomena as electric charge, electro-magnetism and plasma physics (all of which were either not understood or unknown to Newton or to present day Astronomers, or climate “scientists”).
The Sun, our solar system and our galaxy show all the signs of being electrical rather than mechanical, and I believe progress will only be made once we start looking seriously into the effects they have in our Universe.
Look, more Velikovsky.   And notice the dig about " such phenomena as electric charge, electro-magnetism and plasma physics" which are presumably known to armchair scientists like Slee.  Rather think not.  And it would be useful to have some idea of how plasma physics, for example, has anything to do with Ice Ages, but I suspect that is for a future comment.  Since science currently explains Ice Ages pretty well using the established physics, it doesn't need to include these other effects.  If it isn't necessary, use Ockham's Razor.

If the stupid were not obvious enough from Slee's comment, let's briefly alight on a comment from someone called ladylifegrows.  The important point is this:
The theory was true before we had a mechanism for it. That is important, because the next breakthrough is mind-boggling: the diameter of the Earth is expanding. In the time of Pangea, it was around 70% of its current diameter. The Cambrian and Devotion life were sea-bottom and mid-ocean because there was no land. By the Permian, the first swampy land areas came to be and amphibia and certain plants colonized the land as soon as it thrust up above the waters.
Questions of ice ages and geological time will become easier to resolve when Earth scientists understand the real nature of the change from Pangea to several continents.
Difficult to know where to begin.  Devotion is, I assume Devonian.  No life on land in the Cambrian or the Devonian?  Not so fast.  There is compelling evidence for land plants in the Cambrian and even that some animals walked on land.  By the Devonian, which ended nearly 200 million years after the beginning of the Cambrian, we find a thriving terrestrial ecosystem, with well established plants and plenty of small arthropods scurrying around.  M'lady doesn't know what she's talking about.

And was the Earth at the time of Pangea (300 to 200 million years ago) a mere 70% its current diameter.  No.

With these levels of scientific ignorance and stupidity, we should be welcoming Watts's efforts at bringing them to light and allowing them to be ritually humiliated by those of us whose command of the Internet enables us to go to other sites and do something that is called "fact checking".  In so doing, and putting our results on that self-same Internet, we are adding to the sum of human knowledge, educating the majority of the science deniers and converting just a few at a time over to the world of reality.  For this, Anthony Watts is my hero.  I mean, a few weeks ago he even did the humiliation but himself.

And to make it even better, why not set up a club for the loony deniers, posing as a learned society to which, presumably you must at least register, therefore giving your personal details to the evil climate scientists because, as we now know, Anthony Watts is on their side.  Why else would Tosh draw that graphic and put Anthony on the scale close to the Michael Mann end of the scale? 
He's been warning us all along

Anthony - you've been found out.  Perhaps it would be best to admit that you have been fooling all these people all along.  By hosting the potty ideas of Christopher Monckton, allowing Roy Spencer to dribble any scientific reputation he had down the drain, enabling a whole series of engineers to show that engineering isn't science, and an entire busload of commenters, moderators and their socks drawers to out themselves as complete idiots, you have advanced the cause of climate science more than any other single person, and I include the sainted Al Gore in that. 

I think you deserve the Nobel Prize.  Since it can go to three people at a time, perhaps sharing it with Michael Mann and James Hansen would be a fair reflection of your accomplishment.

But I must admit that your strategy is probably too subtle for others to appreciate.  That's why I've written this piece.  You deserve the highest praise for allowing idiotic and ill-thought out ideas to be shown on the world's most popular climate science site(TM) so that anyone can see how  idiotic and ill-thought out they are.  But it just goes to show how wrong I've been all this time.

And that's satire, Chris.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Delingpole's insulted intelligence

I know, I know. You, like me, find it hard to believe that the intelligence of the eminence Gris of modern letters, James Delingpole, late of the increasingly science denying Daily Telegraph online blogs, can possibly be more insulted. But it is.

The cause of this insult. The current state of BBC science programmes. I guess he means the one that made him look idiotic, that famous Sir Paul Nurse (Nobel laureate) interview with English graduate and interpreter of interpretations, James Delingpole (still waiting for the Queen to recognise his talents).  But apparently he means pretty much all BBC science output, since he objects to the rather laddish Bang Goes The Theory, which is a BBC1 pop science show.

Delingpole uses his TV review column in the venerable but right wing The Spectator to open up his right wing prejudices about the BBC.  He claims that Bang Goes The Theory is a throwback to Tomorrow's World, which it isn't, and is therefore like the days when the BBC made science shows that "didn't insult your intelligence".

Perhaps Delingpole should stay in more. In the last few years, presenters like Brian Cox, Iain Stewart, Alice Roberts, Jim Al-Khalili and Michael Moseley have featured in a range of superbly filmed and superbly scripted science programmes. Did Delingpole miss the episode of Wonders Of Life which discussed energy, or the one that discussed light? Did he miss the series on chemistry, electricity, the history of medicine, the evolution of humans, plate tectonics, the atom, the cell.

Or does Delingpole sit all day watching his DVD box set of The Ascent Of Man?  I doubt it.

Delingpole isn't bothered about science really. If he were, he would educate himself better. He is interested in the politics and running down the BBC.  "...I still believe the BBC should be broken up and sold to the commercial all intents and purposes it remains just another arm of the state."  Delingpole is annoyed that Bang Goes The Theory had a programme on flooding and didn't mention the EU, did include Julia Sligo of the Met Office ("it's hardly the BBC's fault that it didn't question how politicised and unreliable a witness she might be"), blah, blah.

Was the programme any good? I don't know. I didn't see it and Delingpole doesn't really say. His interest is to make a political point. Or was it to have his intelligence insulted after all. Someone who doesn't know of the superb science programmes the BBC has put out in the last half dozen years doesn't really qualify as someone who can comment on whether they do insult your intelligence or not. But then science denying James Delingpole insults my intelligence every time he pontificates on climate change. And I think I am qualified to say that he repeats that for most people.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

The Booker Prize for Idiocy

I wrote about Christopher Booker a few days ago so I apologise for going back to him but, really, the man is missing something.  Today's misleading nonsense has the headline No A-level for climate change denier.  Booker aims to tell us about an injustice. What he hides is what, perhaps, he doesn't understand himself. 

Anyway, the story:
In 2012, I described an A-level general studies paper set by our leading exam board, AQA, asking for comment on 11 pages of propagandist “source materials”, riddled with basic errors. A mother wrote to tell me how her intelligent son, after getting straight As on all his science papers, used his extensive knowledge of climate science to point out all their absurd distortions.  
He was given the lowest possible mark, a fail. When his mother paid to have his paper independently assessed, the new examiner conceded that it was “articulate, well-structured” and well-informed. But because it did not parrot the party line, it was still given a fail. I fear this corruption of everything that education and science should stand for has become a much more serious scandal than Mr Gove yet realises. 
Sadly, Mr Booker has told but half the story, the half that is buried in the openly accessible past papers.  The student in question was sitting paper 4 of the June 2012 series in the General Studies syllabus.  Anyone can download the documents you need here.  I suspect Booker couldn't read them from up on his high horse.

More than half the marks are for questions relating to information on climate change given in advance, and another source included with the question paper.  I give those questions below:
01 Assess the importance of the data and other information in Source A (Figures 1 - 7) for current and future generations.     (11 marks)
02 Using evidence from Source B and Source C, consider how far the climate change summits in Copenhagen and Cancun can be considered a success.       (12 marks)
03 Using information from Source D, and your own knowledge, examine the reasons why many people do not do enough, individually, to take action which might help to ‘fight against climate change’.                                  (11 marks)
04 Using information from Sources E and F, discuss the claim made by the Prince of Wales in the two sources that the climate sceptics are ‘peddling pseudo science’. (11 marks)
Booker's student used their own knowledge, according to Booker,  to point out the absurd distortions (sic). In doing so, they failed actually to answer the questions. And that is my point. The structure of the exam is clear and the way of scoring points is straightforward and easily available. The forum to get the bee out of this student's bonnet was not in the middle of an exam. Indeed, there was opportunity to make some of the denier points in question 3.

But you know how little you can trust Booker on this issue because he claims there were 11 pages of 'propagandist' material. There were 15 and propaganda is in the eye of the beholder.

So there's no mystery here. The system required a student to analyse the sources for information, not criticise it. Had this student read the instructions, listened to their teacher and done as they were told, they might have scored a grade. But they didn't and some might argue they got the grade they deserved. And it is possible that their U (ungraded) was the result of poor scores elsewhere in their General Studies results.

 Notice that the second marker is quoted directly but also that "well informed" isn't a direct quote. Why not? Because that wasn't said. Why not? Because it is not the marker's job to decide that but also were it actually true, the first mark would have been over-ridden. That it wasn't speaks volumes.

So Booker's own propaganda doesn't stand up to scrutiny. He has form on that.

A wider point on climate change denier. They look for slights and actively pursue them. Perhaps they would be better spending their time reading up on the subject and learning why climate scientists ignore their ramblings.

Perhaps the time has come for Christopher Booker to spend more time reading up on science in general.

Parroting the party line, my ass.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Why public confidence in science is eroded? Or not.

Christopher Booker once edited Private Eye.  In a palace coup, he was ousted by Richard Ingrams and the Eye went in the direction it did, creating the magazine as it stands today. Who knows where Booker might have taken it.

Not in a pro-science one. Booker, like his chum Delingpole, is a Hums graduate with a disdainful eye for science. Booker doesn't think asbestos is particularly dangerous, stating that white asbestos is chemically identical to talcum powder. He doesn't agree on the consensus line on BSE or passive smoking.  He is in intelligent design creationist and, to complete the trinity, is wrong on climate change too. To show how wrong, he has spoken at one the the Heartland Institute's denier conventions.

So it is no big surprise that Booker is a serial denier on the subject of the IPCC. He doesn't like the,, with the same venom that he reserves for the EU. And he's done it again.

Since the IPCC published its latest report last week, all sorts of deniers have lined up to say it is alarming or actually it agrees with us on adaptation. Well, not really the latter because the report on mitigation is stilly come and not really the former because scientists and governments are quite conservative.  Things actually could be very very bad indeed.

Booker, on the other hand, peruses the report and proclaims that the scales have fallen from all our eyes in his latest pile of stinking rubbish at the Sunday Telegraph: How did the IPCC's alarmism take everyone in for so long?  (Archived). Answer: because it is using the best established scientific research to come to this conclusion. It not the result of a bunch of mates having an argument down the pub, which is presumably how Booker thinks we can arrive at these things.

That was yesterday.  Today in the Daily Telegraph, former editor Charles Moore uses his Monday book review slot to give a personal and wrong view of climate change.  The game is up for climate change believers (archived) reviews a book by Rupert Darwall that is a year old and written by a man who, let's face it, hasn't the scientific capacity to understand the scientific argument.  So the book isn't about the science but is a history of the argument, told from a not entirely denier point of view but not one that would get him invited to a Met Office Christmas party.

Moore, like Booker, hasn't had it particularly hard. Public school, Oxbridge, early success, degree in English.   Hmm, degree in English (and history in Moore's case).  Haven't we seen that sort of CV somewhere before.  What is it about English graduates in the UK that makes them so eminently qualified to comment on science?  The answer is, of course, nothing, but there seems a boil to lance and I aim to do a bit of pricking.

You know how out of his depth Moore is when he says:
The theory of global warming is a gigantic weather forecast for a century or more
Of course, it isn't, but let's not let a good sentence get in the way of the truth.  The theory of global warming is physics pure and simple, what happens to the energy of the Sun that the Earth intercepts.  It is experimentally verified that carbon dioxide and other gases interfere with the energy balance.  Not, I think, that Moore knows that:
Proper science studies what is – which is, in principle, knowable – and is consequently very cautious about the future – which isn’t.  
 Oh, dear.  The effects of climate change are knowable, not just in principle and I would hope that Moore has a better feeling for the future because science can tell you to within extremely tiny levels of uncertainty lots of things about the future.  It can, for instance, tell you how to land a car sized robot on the surface of Mars, or how much fuel you need to put in a plane to fly across the Atlantic.  Those are predictions about the future made on the basis of science.  You won't get that level of confidence reading Darwall's book.

Moore betrays something stunningly ignorant:
Like most of those on both sides of the debate, Rupert Darwall is not a scientist.
He's just plain wrong there.  Most of the people on the climate change is caused by the effect of human activity side are scientists.  There is an undisputable (at least amongst people who actually think) consensus that says approximately 97% of peer reviewed published research on climate change says humans are causing it.  And that work is done, almost entirely, by scientists.  So, guess what, Charles Moore?  You're wrong.  But of course it helps your case to state, however falsely, that actually this isn't an argument involving scientists because it makes you sound more valid.  Nope, you don't get an opinion on this.  You only get to make conclusions based on the evidence.  I don't see you, or Darwall, doing this.  Or Booker.  Or Delingpole (interpreter of others' interpretations).

This is a lengthy preamble to my main point so perhaps I ought to come to it.  There has long been a science denial industry trying to undermine the conclusions that science arrives at.  Anyone can do it.  Just question any one of a number of things: the qualifications of the scientists, the quality of the data, the affiliations of the scientists or their institutions.  You can demand that the results are ever more precise, or accurate, or whatever. 

Or you can just ignore what the science says.

We know, and it is well documented by Naomi Oreskes, that scientific doubt has been the task of a number of individuals and organisations for more than half a century.  Such activity is likely to have cost lives, possibly millions of them, by denying firstly the link between smoking and cancer and then the link between passive smoking and cancer.  Many of the same names and organisations later moved into the climate change denial industry.  Using the same methods.

Unfortunately, newspapers don't sell on good news.  They sell on bad news.  They sell on conflict and journalists are sometimes lazy.  Newspapers that were once papers of record have increasingly found themselves having to compete with the entertainment heavy tabloids.  The London Daily Telegraph is no stranger to this. Not for nothing do many call it the Daily Mailograph or the Daily Hellograph.

But it also has a serious part to play in undermining science.  The Daily Telegraph played a role that it might regret in the MMR/autism (scroll down) scare that was entirely manufactured with the aim of screwing some money out of vaccine manufacturers.  When newspapers go after politicians with demands of resign, perhaps the despicable nature of some journalists themselves might require a closer examination in their own mirror.  A mirror held up by jdc.

Scientists work very hard for what are often pretty poor returns, in short term contracts and don't always get the rewards.  Few scientists reach a high position.  Very few become famous.  Very few indeed become household names.  There is only one Stephen Hawking, a handful more Neil DeGrasse Tysons, Brian Coxs, and a bunch of others.  But not many.  And science journalism itself is a shrinking profession, with fewer and fewer science stories being covered by journalists with a scientific training.  And many stories meet with vociferous criticism because the need to sow doubt in things like vaccination and climate change is an imperative.

Would straightforward reporting of science be helpful?  I believe so.  Many science journalists can make the science a human story, or transmit the import of the discovery, and there is a desire amongst the general public to have science stories in the news.  The discovery of the Higgs Boson or the confirmation of inflation in the extremely early universe are recent headliners.  Given the chance, good science journalism should trump the denial machine.  But it requires strong editors and ones with the scientific ability to see wheat and know it is wheat, and see chaff and chuck it away. 

And therein lies a problem.  Charles Moore, English and history graduate, was an editor of a major national newspaper and yet palpably hasn't the scientific skills to understand a complex scientific story.  He gets it wrong.  The lack of a proper scientific training for newspaper editors, for news in general, means that bad stories get through.  It is a common theme on the right of centre British newspapers.  Those think tanks and policy groups can feed stories to newspapers they know will give them a warm welcome.  Let's not forget that the Sunday Telegraph gave Lord Monckton acres of space to make a scientific idiot of himself.

Why should the public lose confidence in science?  Because they are told to.  They are told by people who they reckon are educated, that there is doubt, or something is wrong, or actually this isn't anything to do with scientists....  The answer to my question is because some people want them to.  Some people who have other agendas.  Some people who are just misguided.  Some people who are too ignorant to know the difference.  The public have a right to expect better.  Perhaps they should be better served.

Sometimes, of course, there is journalism worth its name.  Andrew Wakefield was uncovered for the person he was by the efforts of Brian Deer.  Deer was interested in the truth, smelled a rat and went looking.  He did what anyone else could have done but no one else seemed interested in doing.  Instead of buying the doubt, Deer checked.  It mattered because Wakefield and his supporters can be associated, even if not directly linked, to the illness and perhaps deaths, of hundreds, thousands.  By deliberately sowing the seed of doubt, Wakefield had created a non-issue for a sorry reason.  And some wonder why public confidence in science has diminished.  Because of people like that.