Archive for January 2009
Poll: Is it right for the Sunday Telegraph to mislead the public about the health risks of asbestos?
The Sunday Telegraph columnist Christopher Booker has now written at least 41 different articles in which he repeatedly denies, downplays or misrepresents the scientific evidence around the health risks of white asbestos, often echoing the PR messages of the industry-funded “Chrysotile Institute”.
But is it fair for us to expect newspapers and newspaper columnists to tell the truth? YOU DECIDE:
From The Spectator:
The greatest stumbling block to [Darwin's] argument was that evolution has repeatedly taken place in leaps forward so sudden and so complex that they could not possibly have been accounted for by the gradual process he suggested — the ‘Cambrian explosion’ of new life forms, the complexities of the eye, the post-Cretaceous explosion of mammals. Again and again some new development emerged which required a whole mass of interdependent changes to take place simultaneously, such as the transformation of reptiles into feathered, hollow-boned and warm-blooded birds.
As even Darwin himself acknowledged, these jumps in the story might have seemed to render his thesis ‘absurd’. He might therefore have hypothesised that some other critically important factor seemed to be at work, some ‘organising power’ which had allowed these otherwise inexplicable leaps to take place. But so possessed was he by the elegant simplicity of his theory that, waving such thoughts aside, he made a leap of faith that it must be right, regardless of the evidence — and in the increasingly materialistic mid-19th century, his thesis was an idea whose time had come. Thus has his belief that life evolved solely through a material process continued to possess the minds of scientists to this day.
…and now here’s Robin Ince with an alternative take:
The UK government currently publishes a list of declared interests by members of the House of Lords, but it’s divided into 24 parts, and this means that it’s very difficult to search the entire register all at once.
Privacy International gave Experian its “Big Brother” award for the company’s intense lobbying campaign to preserve its access to electoral roll data. Last year agencies such as Experian were banned from taking details off the electoral roll after a High Court judge ruled that a council taxpayer in Wakefield would have had his human rights violated if the register was passed on to organisations for commercial gain. But the ban was lifted after the agencies protested that the fight against terrorism and money laundering would be hampered if banks and the police were not able to verify the addressess of customers opening accounts.
From The Telegraph:
Lord Taylor: “Experian are the company. They have a terrific amount of intelligence and information. They are the people who advise banks on your credit worthiness and so on. For example I’ve been working with them on amending a statute that’s coming out, or was coming out, because I’ve got it delayed now, whereby it was going to be difficult for them to get certain information and so on. So I’ve got that amended and you do it quietly behind the scenes you see.”
Join the Facebook group
“I’ll pledge £5 to bribe a peer to table a rule-change outlawing corruption in the House of Lords, but only if 24,000 other people do the same.”
The Sunday Times this week revealed that members of the UK House of Lords are available for hire behind closed doors to help get our laws changed. Prices range from £24,000 to £120,000, depending on seniority, and proximity to government ministers.
The good news for those seeking to buy their own little piece of democracy is that there seems to be little in the rules to stop this from happening. The bad news for everyone else is that this means that arms dealers and corporate snoops are free to use hard cash to go behind the backs of our elected representatives, and buy themselves special favours from our government.
It’s time that this process – previously available only to the rich and cash-happy – was opened up so that ordinary people can participate. By banding together to hire our very own “consultant” in the House of Lords, we can seek to get the law changed in ways that benefit all of us.
For just £120,000 a year, we can buy ourselves a top-quality Lord with a direct line to government ministers, and a proven track record of getting legal changes fast-tracked on the quiet. But the evidence suggests that even as little as £24,000 could make a huge difference. The work can already begin in earnest if just 4,800 people join this pledge – but the more people join, the more we can achieve!
In “Don’t Get Fooled Again”, I highlight Sunday Telegraph columnist Christopher Booker’s ongoing campaign to downplay the health risks of white asbestos. Both Booker and his main scientific source, John Bridle, have been linked to the industry-run “Chrysotile Institute”, whose claims about asbestos Booker’s columns often echo.
Now a group of health experts in Canada, one of the world’s largest exporters of white (chrysotile) asbestos, have called on the Canadian government to stop subsidising the Chrysotile Institute and it’s “nonsensical claims”:
The Canadian government is funding censorship and perversion of scientific information, charge a number of health experts in a strongly worded letter sent today to Prime Minister Harper.
The experts, from the Université de Laval and other universities across Canada, ask the Prime Minister to stop funding the Chrysotile Institute (formerly the Asbestos Institute) in his government’s January 27 budget.
“The Institute censors information from the world’s leading health authorities, distorts their views and puts forward nonsensical claims, for example that chrysotile asbestos disappears when it is mixed with cement and becomes harmless,” says Dr Colin Soskolne, Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Alberta. “This is not science; this is dangerous nonsense.”
“It is a slur on the reputation of the scientific community and people of Canada for the government to be funding such distortion of scientific information,” says Dr Tim Takaro, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences, SFU. “But, more importantly, this misinformation puts people’s lives at risk. This is completely unethical and must stop.”
“Over the past 25 years, the government has given more than $20 million to support the dying asbestos industry in Quebec. Over 90% of the workers have lost their jobs; the remaining approximately 550 workers have had their wages slashed and work part-time; and in 2007, the asbestos mining company filed for bankruptcy protection,” said Kathleen Ruff, senior human rights advisor to the Rideau Institute. “It is time to stop this wasteful and unethical use of government funds. Instead, the government should help the remaining asbestos workers and the community with just transition assistance.”
Sunday Times exposes UK government corruption: Labour members of the House of Lords agree to take cash for backing legislation changes
From the Sunday Times
When the Labour peer Lord Taylor of Blackburn was forced to apologise last year for improperly asking a question in the House of Lords on behalf of a paying client, the Sunday Times Insight team decided to investigate further. Undercover reporters posing as lobbyists contacted 10 peers; five Labour, three Conservative, one Liberal Democrat and an Ulster Unionist, to seek help in amending legislation on behalf of a client.
The results reflect badly not only on the House of Lords but also on the Labour party. Of the 10, four were prepared to do business with our “lobbyists” for fees of up to £120,000 a year. All four were Labour and two were former ministers.
Lord Taylor boasted that he could pick up the telephone and arrange meetings with Lord Mandelson, the business secretary, and that he had succeeded in changing legislation on behalf of Experian, the credit reference company. Lord Truscott, a former energy minister, said he had helped to change the energy bill on behalf of a company selling so-called “smart” electricity meters.
All four Labour peers – the others were Lord Snape, a former Labour whip, and Lord Moonie, another former minister – offered to help secure legislative changes by putting in a word with ministers, civil servants, or with the relevant members of parliamentary committees. One boasted of the huge amount of such business done in the Lords.
From the Taxpayer’s Alliance, April 2008
The Noble Lord Snape, former railwayman and MP, has rushed to the defence of speaker Michael Martin, calling the inquiry into his wife’s £4,000 taxi bill a “load of fuss and nonsense about nothing”.
From The Guardian, May 2005
Two former ministers, Alan Milburn and Lewis Moonie, were fast-tracked by a government appointments watchdog to take up work with a Labour donating lobbying company which ignores a voluntary code of conduct not to pay or employ politicians. Lord Moonie became an associate director and consultant for the lobbying company, Sovereign Strategy, last December, having stood down as defence minister in July 2003. He said yesterday: “My job will be to teach clients how to lobby government, not to lobby government for clients.”
From Craig Murray, April 2007
Straw’s links with BAE are partly conducted through Lord Taylor of Blackburn, the former leader of the Blackburn with Darwen Council that includes Straw’s Blackburn constituency. Lord Taylor, an archetypal New Labour apparatchik from Straw’s constituency machine, has lived off the taxpayer in Labour Party appointed posts all his life. He is now chiefly known as the second highest claimer of expenses in the House of Lords. In 2005 Lord Taylor claimed over £57,000 of tax-free expenses, over three times the average claim of under £19,000. he spoke 15 times in the year.
But he doesn’t really need that public money anymore, as the grasping creep Taylor is the primary conduit between the defence industry and New Labour. He has been a highly paid “Consultant” to BAE for over a decade. He also has used some of that money to make major contributions to Jack Straw’s election expenses in his Blackburn constituency, declared by Straw in the Register of Member’s interests. Lord Taylor also regularly makes large contributions to fund Blackburn New Labour. When I stood against Straw in Blackburn at the last election, Taylor was present with Straw at a black tie event hosted by BAE in the constituency said to be “unrelated to the election”.
Interestingly, this year in the House of Lords’ Register of Members’ interests, BAE has disappeared from Taylor’s list of eleven paid consultancies and two paid directorships. It might be interesting to dig for links between these companies and BAE. Some are certainly arms firms – including the highly sinister Electronic Data Systems.
EDS is another of the arms companies that has made many billions from the Iraq war. Among their many current defence contracts is a $12 billion project on electronic systems for the US armed forces. Presumably a well-plugged in New Labour apparatchik like Lord Taylor was of no hindrance to EDS in March 2005 when they landed a �2.5 billion contract from the UK MOD for a similar project. Indeed, if Lord Taylor cannot help swing that kind of contract, why are EDS paying him?
I do not have power of words sufficiently to condemn the institutional sleaze of a system where a scumbag like Lord Taylor can be put, unelected, by Blair into a seat for life in the national legislature. There, while a legislator, he can act as a well paid and highly connected lobbyist for the arms industry.
Earlier this week, members of the Burundian diaspora and their supporters demonstrated in Brussels, calling on the European Union – a major aid donor to Burundi’s government - to help secure the release of Alexis Sinduhije.
Alexis, who as an award-winning journalist helped a great deal over the years with efforts to secure justice over the massacre in which my sister was killed, was arrested on November 3rd and charged with “contempt for the President” after seeking to establish a new, multi-ethnic political party.
The vote on concealing MPs’ expenses has been cancelled by the government!
…This is a huge victory not just for transparency, it’s a bellwether for a change in the way politics works. There’s no such thing as a good day to bury bad news any more, the Internet has seen to that.
Over 7000 people joined a Facebook group, they sent thousands of emails to over 90% of all MPs. Hundreds of thousands of people found out about the story by visiting TheyWorkForYou to find something they wanted to know, reading an email alert, or simply discovered what was going on whilst checking their Facebook or Twitter pages. Almost all of this happened, from nowhere, within 48 hours, putting enough pressure on Parliament to force change.
…This is new, and it reflects the fact that the Internet generation expects information to be made available, and they expect to be able to make up their own minds, not be spoon fed the views of others. This campaign was always about more than receipts, it was about changing the direction of travel, away from secrecy and towards openness.
People commonly referred to as “AIDS denialists” tend to prefer the description “AIDS sceptics”, “AIDS rethinkers” or “AIDS dissidents”, with some regarding “AIDS denialism” as a pejorative term, on a par with racial slurs.
Chris and Mark Hoofnagle define denialism as:
the employment of rhetorical tactics to give the appearance of argument or legitimate debate, when in actuality there is none. These false arguments are used when one has few or no facts to support one’s viewpoint against a scientific consensus or against overwhelming evidence to the contrary. They are effective in distracting from actual useful debate using emotionally appealing, but ultimately empty and illogical assertions.
If “pejorative” is defined as “having a disparaging, derogatory, or belittling effect or force”, then “AIDS denialist” would certainly seem to fit the bill – but does that mean that it’s wrong to use the term?
It seems to me that this really depends on whether or not “denialism” is an accurate description of the behaviour of the people-commonly-known-as-AIDS-denialists. There are plenty of terms in our language that have a disparaging meaning – “liar”, “alarmist”, “criminal”, “conspiracy theorist”, “bigot”, “crank” etc. – but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s always wrong to use them. It would clearly be unfair to describe as a”liar” someone who had lived a life of impeccable honesty. But where a person appears knowingly to have engaged in a systematic campaign of deception, an insistence on the use of a neutral, non-perjorative, term to describe them and their behaviour would actually be a watering down of the truth, and may even be seized on as a validation of their actions.
This is really the problem I have with labels like “AIDS sceptic” (or “AIDS skeptic”). The website “UK-skeptics” defines “skepticism” as “an honest search for knowledge”. To describe those who deny the evidence linking HIV and AIDS as “sceptics” seems therefore to presuppose that they are both honest, and genuinely searching for knowledge (rather than seeking to defend a particular ideological position), which many would dispute.
The term “AIDS dissident” is arguably even worse, conjuring, as it does, images of Soviet-era democracy campaigners being rounded up and imprisoned for speaking the truth to a dogmatic, authoritarian establishment. Those battling to convince the world that HIV is not the cause of AIDS may well see themselves in a similar light, but in reality there have been no jailings or show trials – and 101 badly-formatted websites testify to the unfettered freedom with which the self-described “dissidents” have been able to make their case.
“AIDS rethinker” is perhaps the least objectionable term – but again its accuracy seems questionable, as it suggests a willingness to rethink one’s ideas which many would argue is precisely what is lacking in those who deny the link between AIDS and HIV. It also seems rather broad. AIDS scientists are continually rethinking and redeveloping their ideas about the disease as new data comes along, and could therefore quite reasonably be described as “AIDS rethinkers” too. If we’re looking for an alternative term that uniquely identifies those commonly referred to as “AIDS denialists”, then “AIDS rethinker” seems to obfuscate matters rather than clarify them.
None of the commonly-used terms for describing those who deny the link between HIV and AIDS seem to me to be value-neutral. “AIDS denialist” is a term with negative connotations – but I’m not sure that this matters. If those negative connotations are justified, then the term is accurate. And when we’re dealing with a problem as serious as HIV and AIDS, accuracy is arguably more important than sparing the feelings of a group of dangerous and misguided people.
Is it wrong to highlight the deaths of HIV-positive AIDS denialists who reject medications and urge others to do the same?
In “Don’t Get Fooled Again”, I look at the role played by the media in promoting dangerous pseudo-scientific ideas under the guise of “balance” in reporting. From the mid-1950s onwards, there was a clear consensus among scientists, based on very strong epidemiological evidence, that smoking caused lung cancer. Yet for several decades, many journalists insisted on “balancing” their reports on each new piece of research with a quote from an industry-funded scientist insisting that the case remained “unproven”.
The tobacco industry’s strategy from an early stage was not to deny outright that smoking was harmful, but to maintain that there were “two sides to the story”. In January 1954, the industry issued its now-famous “Frank Statement to Cigarette Smokers” – a full-page advertisement published in 50 major newspapers across the US.
“Recent reports on experiments with mice have given wide publicity to a theory that cigarette smoking is in some way linked with lung cancer in human beings”
the industry noted.
“Although conducted by doctors of professional standing, these experiments are not regarded as conclusive in the field of cancer research… we feel it is in the public interest to call attention to the fact that eminent doctors and research scientists have publicly questioned the claimed significance of these experiments.”
The strategy played cleverly to the media’s penchant for “controversy”, and proved remarkably successful. Long after the matter had been decisively settled among scientists, public uncertainty around the effects of smoking endured.
US cigarette sales continued rising until the mid-1970s – and it was only in the 1990s – four decades after the scientific case had been clearly established – that lung cancer rates began to tail off. Harvard Medical Historian Allan M Brandt has described the tobacco industry’s public deception – in which many mainstream journalists were complicit – as “the crime of the century”:
It is now estimated that more that 100 million people worldwide died of tobacco-related diseases over the last hundred years. Although it could be argued that for the first half of the century the industry was not fully aware of the health effects of cigarettes, by the 1950s there was categorical scientific evidence of the harms of smoking.
The motivations of the AIDS denialists may be very different, but their rhetoric and tactics are strikingly similar. During the early 1990s, Sunday Times medical correspondent Neville Hodgkinson was bamboozled into running a series of articles – over a period of two years – claiming that:
“a growing number of senior scientists are challenging the idea that the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causes AIDS”…
“This sensational possibility, now being contemplated by numerous doctors, scientists and others intimately concerned with the fight against the disease, deserves the widest possible examination and debate.”
Hodgkinson declared in December 1993.
“Yet it has been largely ignored by the British media and suppressed almost entirely in the United States… The science establishment considers itself on high moral ground, defending a theory that has enormous public health implications against the ‘irresponsible’ questioning of a handful of journalists. Their concern is human and understandable, even if we might expect our leading scientists to retain more concern for the truth while pursuing public health objectives.”
As with the tobacco industry’s “scepticism” over the link between smoking and cancer, the views promoted by Hodgkinson tended to focus on gaps in the established explanation (many of which have since been filled) rather than on any empirical research showing an alternative cause. But he did use one of the recurrent rhetorical motifs of the AIDS denial movement – highlighting the case of an HIV-positive “AIDS dissident” who refused to take anti-retroviral drugs but remained healthy.
Jody Wells has been HIV-positive since 1984. He was diagnosed as having AIDS in 1986. Today, seven years on, he says he feels fine with energy levels that belie his 52 years. He does not take the anti-HIV drug AZT…
He feels so strongly about the issue that he works up to 18 hours a day establishing a fledgling charity called Continuum, “an organisation for long-term survivors of HIV and AIDS and people who want to be”. Founded late last year, the group already has 600 members.
Continuum emphasises nutritional and lifestyle approaches to combating AIDS, arguing that these factors have been grossly neglected in the 10 years since Dr. Robert Gallo declared HIV to be the cause of AIDS.
Tragically – if predictably – Jody Wells was dead within three years of the article being written.
Although Hodgkinson left the Sunday Times in 1994, his articles on the “AIDS controversy” continued to be disseminated online, lending valuable credibility to the denialist cause – and have been credited with influencing Thabo Mbeki’s embrace of AIDS denial in the early part of this decade.
When, in 2000, President Mbeki invited several leading denialists to join his advisory panel on HIV and AIDS, Hodgkinson was one among a number who published articles in the South African media praising the decision. Writing in the New African, Hodgkinson called for “a humble, open, inquiring approach on all sides of this debate” – whilst simultaneously declaring that “AZT is a poison” and denouncing “the bankruptcy of AIDS science”.
Hodgkinson also wrote for Continuum’s magazine, which, following Jody Wells’ death was edited by HIV-positive medication refusnik Huw Christie. Christie defiantly launched the “Jody Wells Memorial Prize” (recently satirised here by Seth Kalichman) offering £1,000 to anyone who could prove to his satisfaction that HIV was real.
The magazine finally folded in 2001, with the Jody Wells Memorial Prize still on offer, after Huw Christie died from a disease which fellow denialists insisted was not AIDS-related. “Neither of your illnesses would have brought you down, Huw”, wrote Christie’s friend Michael Baumgartner in 2001. “You simply ran out of time to change gear. We both knew it did not need some ill-identified virus to explain your several symptoms”.
“Huw’s devotion to life has no doubt contributed to a better understanding of AIDS and he saved many who, without hearing a skeptical voice, would have been stampeded down the path of pharmaceutical destruction”
wrote HIV-positive San Francisco AIDS “dissident” David Pasquarelli.
“I readily acknowledge that if it wasn’t for the work of Huw and handful of other AIDS dissidents, I would not be alive today”.
Pasquarelli died at the age of 36 three years later.
The same document includes a tribute from Christine Maggiore, another HIV-positive AIDS “sceptic” who famously rejected medication, and publicly urged others to do the same. As has been widely reported, Maggiore died last month of an illness commonly associated with AIDS.
Connie Howard, writing in today’s edition of VUE Weekly, finds the reaction to Maggiore’s passing distasteful, claiming that: “some AIDS activists are celebrating—not her death exactly, but celebrating a point for their team nonetheless”.
Howard suggests, echoing Hodgkinson, that “Many HIV-positive people who choose an alternative holistic health route defy all odds and stay well and symptom-free for decades”, and that she has “talked to HIV-positive people living well—really well—without drugs.”
According to Howard:
“it’s time that choice and discussion become possible without hate instantly becoming the most potent ingredient in the mix… The vitriol delivered the way of both dissidents and the reporters telling the stories of the dissidents is a crime… Christine Maggiore deserves to have chosen her own path and to be respected for it.”
AIDS denialists and their sympathisers often accuse mainstream AIDS researchers of not being open to “discussion” or “debate”. Yet meaningful discussion is only possible when both sides are operating in good faith. The problem with AIDS and HIV is that the evidence linking the two is so overwhelmingly strong that the only way to maintain a consistently denialist position is to engage in “bogus scepticism” – arbitrarily dismissing good evidence that undermines one’s favoured viewpoint, misrepresenting genuine research in order to create the appearance of controversy where there is none, seeking to give unpublished amateur research equal status with peer-reviewed studies by professional scientists, and treating minor uncertainties in the established theory as if they were knock-down refutations. In such circumstances, reasoned debate simply becomes impossible.
Howard doesn’t specify which AIDS activists she believes “view the death of an AIDS dissident as a victory” or have celebrated Maggiore’s passing, so it’s difficult to evaluate the truth of that particular claim.
But the notion that everyone is duty bound to “respect” Christine Maggiore’s decision to embrace AIDS denial – and counsel others to do the same – does seem a tad problematic.
What Howard chooses not to tell her readers is that Maggiore’s denial extended not only to refusing medical treatment for herself – she also declined to take measures to mitigate the risk of transmission to her young daughter, Eliza Jane, and refused to have her tested or treated for HIV. When Eliza Jane died in 2005 of what a public coroner concluded was AIDS-related pneumonia, Maggiore refused to accept the result, attacked the coroner’s credibility, and claimed that the verdict was biased.
Missing too, is any reference to South Africa, where Maggiore travelled in 2000 to promote her ideas on AIDS and HIV. Maggiore is said to have personally influenced Thabo Mbeki’s decision to block the provision of anti-retroviral drugs to HIV-positive pregnant women. A Harvard study recently concluded that this decision alone resulted in 35,000 more babies being infected with HIV than would otherwise have been the case. Overall, the study concluded, Mbeki’s denialist policies had led to more than 300,000 preventable deaths.
If the Harvard researchers are correct, then AIDS denialism – of which Christine Maggiore was a vocal proponent – has already caused many more deaths than did the war in Bosnia during the early 1990s. Yet the only “crime” that Connie Howard seems prepared to acknowledge in relation to AIDS and HIV is the ill-feeling directed towards Christine Maggiore, her fellow “dissidents”, and the journalists who give space to their denialist views – views which have repeatedly been shown to be based not on science, but on “selective reading of the scientific literature, dismissing evidence… requiring impossibly definitive proof, and dismissing outright studies marked by inconsequential weaknesses”.
Should we “respect” a person’s decision to refuse medical treatment, even if that leads to their own premature death? Arguably we should. But should we also respect that same person’s decision, on ideological grounds, to deny medical treatment to a young child, with fatal consequences? Should we respect their decision to support a pseudo-scientific campaign denying the established facts about a serious public health issue, when that campaign results in hundreds of thousands of deaths?
It is surely possible to agree that Christine Maggiore’s premature death was an appalling human tragedy, whilst pointing out that she was nonetheless dangerously misguided – and that the manner of her passing makes the tragedy all the more poignant.
Christine Maggiore, Jody Wells, Huw Christie, and David Pasquarelli form part of a grim roll-call of HIV-positive medication refusniks who chose to argue publicly that the state of their health cast doubt on the established science around AIDS and HIV, and then went on to die from the disease. For AIDS activists to remain silent in such circumstances would be a dereliction of duty. Publicly highlighting the human cost of AIDS denial, so that similar deaths may be prevented in future, must surely take precedence over showing “respect” to dangerously misguided people, however tragic the circumstances of their demise.
The lawyers’ warning came after a senior member of the Bush administration, Susan Crawford, admitted for the first time that torture had been carried out. Until now, the Bush administration, in particular the vice-president, Dick Cheney, had denied the interrogation techniques at Guantánamo constituted torture.
Crawford’s admission of torture is in relation to the case of a Saudi national, Mohammed al-Qahtani, 30, accused of involvement in the 9/11 attack. He is often referred to by US authorities as the “20th hijacker”. He was denied entry to the US in August 2001 and captured in Afghanistan in 2002. He was tortured for a month and then kept in isolation.
Crawford, a Pentagon official who last year was put in charge of military commissions that decide whether detainees should be tried, told the Washington Post: “We tortured Qahtani. His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that’s why I did not refer the case [for prosecution].” She added: “The techniques they used were all authorised, but the manner in which they applied them was overly aggressive and too persistent.”
The foreign secretary, David Miliband, today declared that the use of the phrase “war on terror” as a western rallying cry since the September 11 attacks had been a mistake that may have caused “more harm than good”.
In an article in today’s Guardian, five days before the Bush administration leaves the White House, Miliband delivered a comprehensive critique of its defining mission, saying that the war on terror was misconceived and that the west cannot “kill its way” out of the threats it faces.
After just two days, a Google search on the precise phrase “The Catholic Orangemen of Togo“ brings up 1,810 hits. A great many of these lead to a free download of the book. 23,000 copies of Murder in Samarkand have been sold so far, and most of those have been read by more than one person. But readership of The Catholic Orangemen looks likely to overtake in two weeks the readership that Murder in Samarkand achieved in two years…
Now what of Tim Spicer? Having put the very expensive Schillings on to me, he has either discovered a new commitment to free speech, or he was bluffing. No injunctions have appeared at my home in Sinclair Gardens. So now Spicer has either to sue, or stand revealed to the World as a man who tried to bully the truth out of print.
He will not sue, no matter how much I goad him. Not even if I show him some of my own legal advice:
There is no doubt that Craig is telling the truth. I do not say this because on any question of fact I would believe Craig over Spicer, though that is the case. The simple fact is that Craig can corroborate his story whilst Spicer can’t… Since the comments Craig makes about Spicer are true I would have thought it most unlikely that Spicer would risk bringing a libel action against Craig. This is not just because in a situation where Craig can corroborate what he says whilst Spicer can’t the odds overwhelmingly point to Craig winning. It is because of the serious consequences for Spicer if he were to bring such a case and lost. These would go far beyond damage to reputation and financial loss. If a Court were to find that Craig had not libelled Spicer because Craig was telling the truth, Spicer could find himself once again facing criminal charges for illegal arms trading. His defence (that the the Foreign Office in the person of Craig had given him the green light) would be shot to pieces since it would already have been discredited in advance by the libel Court. The CPS would be looking at an open goal and this time it might be difficult to do what was done back in 1998 and simply close the prosecution down…
Wikipedia’s article on Christopher Booker is currently the top search result when you type type his name into Google. Alongside a rather impressive biography, the article references “Don’t Get Fooled Again”, and includes a list of Booker’s false statements on global warming and asbestos (including the notorious claim that white asbestos is “chemically identical to talcum powder“), with links to the various corrections issued over the years by the Health and Safety Executive.
Enter Richard North, Booker’s co-author for the surrealist masterpiece “Scared to Death” (which debunks the dangers of passive smoking, white asbestos, eating BSE-infected beef, CO2 emissions, leaded petrol, dioxins, and high-speed car driving), and erstwhile “chief researcher” of the UK Independence Party.
When The Guardian’s George Monbiot took issue with Booker over his pseudo-scientific claims, North mounted a spirited defence – albeit one that relied on further false claims about asbestos science. But it appears that he also went further. Last month, someone calling themselves “Defence of the realm” cut all critical references from Booker’s Wikipedia entry. The change was quickly reverted, so they did it again the next day, claiming that the criticisms were “libellous”. The edit was again reverted, only for “Defence of the realm” to try it one more time a few days later.
The identity of Booker’s pseudonymous champion would have remained a mystery but for the fact that Wikipedia allows us to browse through a user’s previous contributions to the website. These include an online discussion from November in which an anonymous user first identifies himself as Richard North, gives his email address as RAENORTH at aol.com, and then signs in as “Defence of the Realm”.
It might at least be plausible that an entirely different Richard North had chosen to spring to Booker’s defence, were it not for the fact that Booker himself gives the same email address for “my friend Richard North” in several of his Sunday Telegraph articles. Barring an improbably elaborate conspiracy to frame North as a serial wiki-whitewasher, it would appear that, for all his democratic rhetoric and iconoclastic posturing, Richard North is less than keen on the public knowing the full facts about his co-author’s track record…
Yesterday I listened, in growing disbelief, to the last episode of HIV-positive AIDS denialist Christine Maggiore’s regular podcast, “How Positive Are You?”. The programme is dated December 6th, just 3 weeks before Maggiore’s sudden death from pneumonia, although comments in the podcast itself suggest it was recorded the previous month.
The discussion is co-presented by David Crowe, who early in the programme recounts with pride some of the comments he has received via email. He’s particularly pleased about one from an HIV-positive listener who reads the “Alive and Well” website every day, and who has chosen to disregard his doctor’s advice, forgoing anti-retroviral drugs in favour of eating lots of nutritious food and breathing plenty of fresh air. “Wow, that’s beautiful”, Maggiore gushes.
Later on, Crowe and Maggiore conduct a phone interview with AIDS clinician Dr. Jocelyn Dee, who had (along with several colleagues) advised the makers of the TV drama “Law and Order SVU”. In October last year, the programme featured a fictional tragedy strikingly similar to that which hit Maggiore’s family in 2005, when her young daughter died suddenly from what a coroner later determined to be AIDS-related pneumonia. Maggiore, who was HIV positive, had refused to take medications that would have reduced the risk of transmission to her unborn child, and also declined to have her tested for HIV once she was born. Maggiore disputed the coroner’s report, and insisted that her daughter had in fact died from an allergic reaction to antibiotics. All of these details were echoed in the ostensibly-fictional TV show.
During the interview, Dr. Dee is initially unaware of Maggiore’s background, and of the final shape of the programme for which she had been an adviser; she explains that she found the show too difficult to watch because the subject matter was so close to the situations she saw every day through her work with HIV-positive people. When Maggiore finally reveals the full facts, Dee seems shocked yet sympathetic.
To hear Maggiore calmly recount the details of a programme so obviously based on her own life is chilling enough. But the most painful moment comes when she ridicules the fact that, in the fictionalised version of her life, the story ends with the denialist mother dying suddenly from an AIDS-related illness. Maggiore wonders aloud whether this might have been some kind of ‘wish fulfilment’ on the part of those who despise her refusal to accept the conventional view of HIV and AIDS.
Throughout the programme Maggiore seems lucid and eloquent. She was clearly a highly intelligent person who believed passionately that she was doing the right thing – which of course made her all the more dangerous. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a starker illustration of how far a well-structured, well-intentioned, well-expressed, and internally consistent argument can take you, even when your basic facts are nonetheless catastrophically flawed. Tragically there are some facts that no amount of nuanced, intelligent argument can refute, or psychoanalyse away.
I’ve just made a start on Craig Murray’s new book “The Catholic Orangemen of Togo” (which he is making available for free via this link), and it’s certainly a page-turner. I suspect that I’m slightly more obsessive than most about what makes for a really good first paragraph, but this certainly works for me:
I spent the eve of the Millennium in my garden, on the spacious lawns of Devonshire House in Accra, hosting a seven course meal for 120 people, with dancing, fireworks and unlimited champagne. Despite the hysterical rubbish with which the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had been bombarding me for weeks, the World’s computers didn’t crash, and the future looked bright.
Osama Bin Laden doesn’t use the Christian calendar so wasn’t celebrating that night. He had already accepted the idea – not originally his – of suicide attacks involving hijacked aircraft. His al-Qaida network had about 180 members. Al Gore looked pretty safe to win the democratic nomination and the Presidency. George Bush was a blip on the horizon whose record as a Vietnam draft-dodger would surely scupper his chances.
The World was on the brink of unhappier times. But we didn’t know it, and I was happily immersed in what remains my first and abiding concern…
Click here for more…
See also The Ex Labour Minister & the African Private Equity Firm for a further extract, in which Murray alleges dodgy dealings by former DFID minister Baroness Amos.
Diplomat at the centre of “Arms to Africa” affair braves libel threats to highlight unanswered questions about Tony Blair’s role
In “Don’t Get Fooled Again” I discuss Craig Murray’s exposure of UK government complicity in torture in Uzbekistan. Threatened with legal action in 2005 to block publication of confidential Foreign Office documents proving his case, Britain’s ex-Ambassador to the former Soviet republic arranged for the pdfs to be released simultaneously on dozens of websites around the world. The story spread quickly as hundreds answered Murray’s call to duplicate the information on their own blog. This in turn eventually became a news story in its own right. The UK government’s heavy-handedness had backfired badly.
Today Craig is seeking to repeat the same trick, following libel threats from the infamous law firm Schillings – acting for “security contractor” Tim Spicer, over Murray’s new book “The Catholic Orangemen of Togo”. The book raises new questions about both Tim Spicer and Tony Blair, in relation to the 1998 “Arms to Africa” scandal, in which Craig was a central figure.
After his original publisher pulled out of the deal, fearing a prohibitively expensive lawsuit under the UK’s rogue-state libel laws, Craig decided to publish the book himself, and then make the pdfs available online for free, on several different websites simultaneously.
Schillings have a track record of intimidating ISPs into taking down websites that paint their clients in a bad light, but by the time this post goes live, the entire book should be available via this link:
…and there’s a contents page here: http://www.upwingers.net/craigmurray/orangemen.pdf
It will be interesting to see how this story pans out over the next few days. Schillings are a clever bunch and I wouldn’t be surprised if they anticipate this move, given that it worked so well for Murray the first time around. If they have, then they may also have thought up something sneaky to try to counter it. What that something is, and whether or not it works, will remain to be seen…