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Archive for May 2009

Nick Cohen on the Simon Singh Chiroquack libel farce…

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From The Observer:

This week, Simon Singh, one of Britain’s best science writers, will decide whether to carry on playing a devilish version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? He has already lost £100,000 defending his right to speak frankly. He could walk away. No one would think the worse of him if he did. Or he could go on and risk losing the full million by ensnaring himself in the rapacious world of an English judiciary that seems ever eager to bow to the demands of Saudi oil billionaires, Russian oligarchs and the friends of Saddam Hussein to censor critics and punish them with staggering damages and legal fees…

Reputable medical authorities could test the evidence and decide whether the treatments work or not. Instead of arguing before the court of informed opinion, however, the BCA went to the libel courts and secured a ruling from Mr Justice Eady that made Singh’s desire to test chiropractors’ claims next to impossible. Because Singh used the word “bogus”, the judge said he had to prove that chiropractors knew they were worthless but “dishonestly presented them to a trusting and, in some respects perhaps, vulnerable public”.

The learned judge did not seem to understand that the worst thing about the deluded is that they sincerely believe every word they say. On Eady’s logic, a writer who condemns as “bogus” a neo-Nazi’s claim that a conspiracy of Jews controls American foreign policy could be sued successfully if lawyers jumped up and said neo-Nazis sincerely believed their conspiracy theories to be true.

Written by Richard Wilson

May 31, 2009 at 6:14 pm

Over-used expressions part I – “Paradigm shift”…

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Written by Richard Wilson

May 30, 2009 at 10:11 pm

Andrew Armour reviews “Don’t Get Fooled Again”

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Andrew Armour’s very generous review picks up on some of the arguments I make in “Don’t Get Fooled Again” about marketing rhetoric – and in particular the seemingly ubiquitous idea that one new product or another constitutes a “new paradigm”. Armour has a professional marketing background, and witnessed first-hand the “dot com bubble” around the turn of the century:

From Andrew Armour’s Blog

I worked in e-commerce (print management and e-tail)… and remember well the presentations explaining how all retail was going to change, every shopping mall was going to die and banks would become mobile phone companies. I’m surprised we were not told that hover cars were to take us to the centre of the earth and the Mars colony would be open by 2012. Boo.com was going to be the biggest clothing retailer in the Universe, even though nobody really wanted to buy clothes on-line and it was making no money. The ‘old-rules’ did not apply. Marketing forces? Propositions? Mechanics? So, so passe. The smartest lesson I learned from all of this was that channels evolved and very seldom disappeared because alternatives come along. Radio and cinema did not replace theatre. TV did not replace movies and digital music will not replace the live concert. Printed media is the latest to be told it is going to die but I would bet that whilst it will evolve and change it will not go away. Then – Friends Reunited was going to change everything. Then Facebook. Then Twitter. And to be fair, maybe social media channels will change a lot, they will have a place in the mix and will evolve as another tool in the marketing box but let us not avoid critical thinking when listening to the high priests telling us social media will dominate the future…

Wilson points out that the ‘new paradigm’ has a strong cultural base that is often hard to counteract even with logic and evidence… to resist the notion that the new is always brilliant is to appear old, doomed, obsolete and conservative. But – how many new ideas that were championed and promoted passionately as the new paradigm were complete flops? Fascism or communism anyone? Boo.com? Friends Reunited? Balancing radical ideas with rational actions is the increasing challenge of marketers and with the proliferation of marketing channels and tools, it is the decision about what to communicate, to whom and how that will remain. As Kelly famously put it; ‘ In an endless world of abundance the only thing in short supply is human attention’.

Written by Richard Wilson

May 30, 2009 at 8:49 pm

For your listening pleasure: Anthony Steen MP vs The Fab Four

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Written by Richard Wilson

May 28, 2009 at 2:07 pm

Exclusive: Interview with Prof Seth Kalichman, author of “Denying Aids”

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Professor Seth Kalichman’s excellent new book, Denying AIDS, is the most comprehensive account yet of the origins and development of a toxic ideology – AIDS denialism. In this e-interview, Seth discusses the book, and the urgent issues that it seeks to address.

RW: Why does AIDS denialism matter?

AIDS denialism matters because it kills people. I know this sounds like drama and hyperbole, but it is true. AIDS denialism creates confusion about the cause of AIDS. when people who need accurate information about HIV/AIDS are exposed to AIDS denialism they might actually believe that there is a debate among doctors and scientists about the cause of HIV when there is no such debate. AIDS denialists tell people that they should avoid HIV tests because they are invalid. In fact, HIV tests are extremely accurate and only rarely misdiagnose people with HIV. Being HIV infected and not knowing your HIV status means that you may not take measures to keep from spreading the virus. In many countries the majority of HIV infected people do not know they are infected. Huge resources are dedicated to getting people at risk for HIV tested. AIDS denialists undermine these efforts. Finally, AIDS denialism matters because it persuades people who have tested HIV positive to refuse HIV treatments. Denialists say that HIV treatments are toxic poison. In fact, HIV treatments are responsible for extending the lives and improving the health of people living with HIV/AIDS. In the US and UK, entire hospital wards that were once for AIDS patients are no longer needed. People with HIV are returning to work and living healthier lives because of treatments. AIDS deniers are trying to reverse this trend and return to days when there were no treatments.

RW: What was the inspiration for “Denying AIDS”?

I have been conducting HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment research in the US since 1989 and in South Africa since 2001. I have known for years that AIDS denialists exist, but like most people I thought that ignoring them would make them just go away. I also thought that very few people were AIDS denialists and that no one would listen to them. I suppose you could say I was denial about AIDS denialism. Like many others, I was very wrong about AIDS denialism. While working in South Africa I became aware of the devastating effects that AIDS denial was having in that country. The former President Thabo Mbeki had enlisted AIDS denialists among his advisors and bought into the idea that scientists are debating the cause of AIDS. Mbeki’s misguided AIDS policies resulted in over 330,000 senseless deaths and 35,000 babies who were needlessly infected with HIV. I was aware of the failure to offer treatment for South Africans living with HIV/AIDS and I knew that AIDS denial was to blame. In 2006 I also became aware of AIDS denialists in the US and UK. I received an email correspondence from someone I knew to be a well trained social psychologist in a teaching position at a respected university. She had written a very positive review of an old AIDS denialist book by Professor Peter Duesberg in California, the most notorious AIDS denialist. This psychologist had posted the book review at the RethinkingAIDS.com website. I was absolutely dumbfounded to learn that someone who I knew to be educated and who I believed to be intelligent had not only bought into AIDS denial but was actively propagating the myths. I started to look at the AIDS denialist literature and found it disturbing and also fascinating. I wanted to learn more about how seemingly intelligent people would come to believe absolute rubbish. So I decided to write Denying AIDS.

RW: What kinds of people become AIDS denialists, and what motivates them?

All kinds of people become AIDS denialists. Most visible are the fringe scientists because they write books and have websites. They are following in the footsteps of Peter Duesberg. Still, AIDS denialists who have academic positions do considerable harm because they create an impression of credibility. There are also rogue journalists who write about conspiracy theories and other sensational pseudo-news. AIDS denialist journalists do considerable harm because they bring AIDS denialism into the public eye. AIDS denialism also has its activists, typically people who have tested HIV positive and buy into denialism as a maladaptive coping strategy. These denialists also have credibility because they appear to be living healthy with HIV and not taking medications. There are even celebrities who support AIDS denialist activism, including the popular rock band the Foo Fighters and comedian Bill Maher. Tragically, AIDS denialist activists have infected their children and others and they themselves die of AIDS earlier than they may have if they accepted treatment. Then there is a large group of people who are prone to conspiracy theorizing, anti-government sentiments, and simply wanting to make mischief. These people are typically Internet bloggers with way too much time on their hands. Many seem not to realize the harm they are causing and most others just do not seem to care.

RW: Who are the key figures in the AIDS denial movement, and what are their ideas?

In my opinion, the key figures include the following people:

Peter Duesberg is the single most important figure in HIV/AIDS denialism because he is the only credentialed scientist who has worked with retroviruses, although not having worked with HIV, to propose that HIV does not cause AIDS. The rock star of AIDS denialism, he holds fast to his flawed ideas. What makes him unique is that he was once a respected scientist and now shows utter disrespect for science by refuting facts in the service of self-promotion.

David Rasnick is Peter Duesberg’s right hand man. Quite literally, in public Rasnick appears to be Duesberg’s personal assistant. At one time, he had a visiting scholar appointment with the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at UC Berkeley (1996-2005), where he worked with Duesberg, although the university retracted his appointment. Rasnick is a conspiracy theorist, claiming that the US government propagates the ‘myth’ that HIV causes AIDS to allow the pharmaceutical industry. Rasnick served with Duesberg on the now infamous panel of AIDS experts and denialists convened by South African President Thabo Mbeki in 2000. In fact, Rasnick is credited, or blamed, with convincing Mbeki that there is a need for a scientific debate on the cause of AIDS. He also worked with Matthias Rath in conducting what are now ruled unlawful vitamin studies in South Africa.

Kary B. Mullis was a Nobel Laureate and is now among the who’s who of AIDS pseudoscientists. In 1994, Mullis co-authored the essay “What causes AIDS? It’s an open question” and he has appeared in several interviews in which he clearly questions whether HIV causes AIDS. Mullis said, “If there is evidence that HIV causes AIDS, there should be scientific documents which either singly or collectively demonstrate that fact, at least with a high probability. There is no such document.” Mullis is widely held as an eccentric who has shared his experiences, including his abduction by extraterrestrials.

Eleni Papadopulos-Eleopulos, a medical physicist based at the Royal Perth Hospital published a paper in 1988 declaring that HIV had never been correctly isolated as a distinct ‘pure’ virus. Along with Valendar Turner and John Papadimitriou, this group proclaims that HIV does not even exist! Like Duesberg, they say that drugs, poverty, and HIV medications cause AIDS. They also broaden their view by claiming other sources of immune suppression can lead to AIDS, such as repeated exposure to semen among gay men, although seemingly not women. They propose that an oxidation process occurs in response to HIV/AIDS risk factors, such as drug use, malnutrition, and exposure to semen that causes immune suppression and ultimately AIDS.

Etienne de Harven retired from the University of Toronto and having been a Professor of Cell Biology at Sloan Kettering Institute New York from 1956 to 1981. de Harven isolated and conducted electron microscopic studies of the murine (mouse) friend leukemia virus. He was also a member of the 2000 South Africa’s Presidential AIDS Advisory Panel and is a recognized leader among AIDS Rethinkers. He worked as a scientist in his field from the 1950’s until he retired. He challenged the proof that HIV has been isolated, according to the standards laid down by him. de Harven has said, “Dominated by the media, by special pressure groups and by the interests of several pharmaceutical companies, the AIDS establishment efforts to control the disease lost contact with open-minded, peer-reviewed medical science since the unproven HIV/AIDS hypothesis received 100% of the research funds while all other hypotheses were ignored.”

Christine Maggiore was the founder of Alive & Well, and was perhaps the most visible and visited HIV/AIDS denialist website. She tested HIV positive and remained untreated. Her three-year-old daughter Eliza Jane Scovill died of complications of AIDS whereas second opinions state that the death was the result of an adverse reaction to antibiotics. Maggiore founded Alive & Well in 1995 and wrote What If Everything You Thought You Knew about AIDS Was Wrong? Her story was portrayed on the popular US television show “Law & Order SVU” in October 2008. Christine Maggiore died of AIDS just a couple months later in December 2008. She is no longer with us, but her harmful legacy lives on.

Celia Farber is a journalist who has chronicled the Peter Duesberg phenomenon since the late 1980s. She has a personal relationship with Bob Guccione the founder of Penthouse Magazine and owner of Penthouse Media Group, Inc. affording Farber considerable access to the publishing world. In 1987, Farber began writing and editing a monthly investigative feature column “Words from the Front” in SPIN Magazine, owned by Guccione. She has been featured in Discover Magazine, also owned by Guccione. These articles focused on the critiques of HIV/AIDS science. In 2006 she published an article “Out of control: AIDS and the corruption of medical science” in Harper’s magazine which stirred interest as the article represented a breakthrough of HIV/AIDS denialism into mainstream media. The article is also a chapter in her book, Serious Adverse Events: An Uncensored History of AIDS, a collection of her magazine articles, mostly from the 1980s and 1990s. Farber has taken Duesberg on as a cause and in so doing has engaged in several rather nasty exchanges with AIDS scientists, most notably Robert Gallo. Along with Duesberg, Farber received a 2008 Clean Hands Award from the Semmelweis Society for her speaking out about the truth in AIDS. She has most recently filed a libel lawsuit against an HIV treatment advocacy group in New York City.

RW: Some people say that AIDS denial is a fringe ideology, that only affects a tiny group of people. What would you say to that?

I would say that it is true that AIDS denialism is a fringe ideology and that a fairly small group of people are actively involved in propagating AIDS denial. However, there is considerable evidence that that significant numbers of people are affected by AIDS denial. We know that in the US over 40% of Gay men question whether HIV is the cause of AIDS. We know that a majority of people who should be tested for HIV refuse. We know that people turn to the Internet for AIDS information and find AIDS denialism on numerous websites. We know that people are vulnerable to confusing information, especially when it is something that anyone would want to hear, such as HIV is not the cause of AIDS. There is no telling how many people have been harmed by AIDS denialism or how many listen to them. Whether it be thousands or hundreds of thousands who listen to AIDS denialists, we know from the South African experience that if just one person with power to make decisions listens the results can be devastating.

RW: In “Denying AIDS” you make comparisons between AIDS denial and other fringe ideologies – could you tell us a bit more about that?

The similarities between AIDS denialism and cancer denialism, Holocaust Denial, 9/11 Truth Seeking, and Global Warming Denial are striking. All of these groups use the same tactics to create the impression that experts disagree and that the historical record is in dispute. They all use selective information taken out of context that supports their viewpoint. They ignore facts and propel myths. They include pseudo-experts. They rely on conspiracy theories to gain attention. They are persuasive in their rhetoric. They use books to circumvent peer-review, they create their own periodicals, and they produce documentary looking films. They also effectively use the Internet and have manipulated their way into mainstream media. In some cases, they are even the same people! I believe that there is a denialism prone personality that I discuss in Denying AIDS. People who approach the world from a suspicious stance, are anti-establishment, and somewhat grandiose are among those who are prone to denialism.

RW: What is the relationship between AIDS denial and alternative medicine?

Not all AIDS denialists sell alternative treatments, but some do. However, all AIDS denialists pave the path for fraudulent cures and snake oil treatments. AIDS denialist say that HIV does not cause AIDS, leaving open the question of what should be done to treat AIDS? Among the most notorious AIDS denialists are those who sell remedies, such as Matthias Rath and Gary Null who sell vitamins and nutritional supplements they have proclaimed treat HIV/AIDS. Ben Goldacre has written about Matthias Rath’s destructive profiteering in his book Bad Science. AIDS denialists have on occasion worked closely with these vitamin entrepreneurs, as was the case when American David Rasnick and South African Anthony Brink teamed up with Matthias Rath. Of course, many people make well informed decisions and choose to complementary treatments such as nutritional supplements and vitamins as part of their HIV-related health care. Indeed, people may even make informed decisions to forego anti-HIV mediations. I believe we should respect these decisions when they are well-informed. HIV treatments are not for everyone. The problem we have with AIDS denialism is that it misinforms people and steers them away from HIV treatments. People are therefore being deceived by denialism to make misinformed decisions, and that of course is not okay.

RW: What did you come across in the course of your research that especially surprised you?

It surprised me that the AIDS denialists truly believe what they are saying. I had thought that they must be blatant liars and scam artists. Perhaps some are. But I have come to realize that most AIDS denialists really believe that HIV does not cause AIDS. They tend to be paranoid and their suspicious cognitive style bends facts to fit their preconceived notions. I will never forget when Peter Duesberg looked me dead in the eyes and said “You know, there is no vaccine for this; it is not an infectious disease.” I have no question that he believes what he says, as mad as it is.

Seth C. Kalichman is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Connecticut, and the Editor of the journal AIDS and Behavior. His new book is “Denying AIDS: Conspiracy Theories, Pseudoscience, and Human Tragedy”; royalties are donated to buy HIV meds in Africa. http://denyingaids.blogspot.com

Written by Richard Wilson

May 26, 2009 at 7:32 pm

“Don’t Get Fooled Again” reaches Belgium…

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kid fear

Written by Richard Wilson

May 22, 2009 at 9:20 pm

Scandal-hit Nick Brown was among the 98 who voted to cover up expenses by exempting MPs from Freedom of Information Act

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The latest revelation on MPs expenses is that Labour chief whip Nick Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne East and Wallsend – majority 7,565), was allowed to claim over £18,000, without having to present any receipts, for “food” at his second home. Predictably, Nick Brown was among the 98 MPs who voted to exempt themselves from the Freedom of Information Act, in an apparent attempt to prevent public scrutiny of their expense claims.

Compromised MP Jim Sheridan wades in to support Michael Martin

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As pressure grows on the discredited House of Commons Speaker Michael Martin to resign over the ongoing corruption scandal over MPs’ expenses, a handful of Labour MPs continue to speak in his favour. Yesterday Stephen Pound and Sir Stuart Bell were trying in vain to stem the flow of criticism. Today it was the turn of Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, majority 11,001). Strikingly, all three are among those implicated in the abortive attempt by a group  of MPs, two years ago, to exempt themselves from the Freedom of Information Act.

Written by Richard Wilson

May 18, 2009 at 9:01 pm

Conservative MP Tim Boswell seeks to award himself immunity from prosecution

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Needless to say, the initiator of this bill, Tim Boswell MP (Daventry, majority 14,686) was also among the 98 MPs who voted to exempt themselves from the Freedom of Information Act in an attempt to cover up their expense claims.

From Power to the People

If evidence was needed that members of parliament fear a public backlash, here it is, in the form of a new Bill, Exercise of Reasonable Discretion Bill 2008-09, which is due to get a second reading on the 24th April 2009. Below is a summary of what the Bill sets out to achieve;

The Bill aims to ensure that public authorities and public servants would not be subject to any criminal or civil penalty as a result of the exercise of reasonable discretion in the performance of their functions. Its provisions would cover public authorities, public servants and contracts for public services. The term public authority is defined by the Bill and includes the NHS, the police, local and central and devolved Government and non-departmental public bodies. The formal intent of the Bill is to indemnify public servants, central government, local government and other public agencies from legal action if they take decisions in good faith, as a result of the exercise of reasonable discretion, in the public interest.

In other words, MP’s amongst other public servants which include the Police, local officials and even the NHS, will be able to claim that in effect they acted in good faith, or in the words of the Bill, exercised ‘reasonable discretion’. Any lawyer will tell you that such a defence is subjective, therefore it offer enormous scope for any public servant (including, of course, MP’s) seeking to defend their actions.

So, hypothetically, any Minister taking this country to war on dubious grounds could claim that they had exercised ‘reasonable discretion’ by, for example, commissioning a security assessment of the threat to this country. The information they act on does not have to be factually correct, so long as the Ministers can claim that they acted in good faith. The public would have no right of criminal or civil recourse. No longer will public servants be accountable to the public…and this is a democracy?

Reasonable discretion is defined as being either, in the public interest or in the performance of their functions, in other words, it covers everything. The Bill seeks to include cover for all civil servants (and of course Ministers), for any mistakes they have made related to contracts for public services. Therefore, the civil servants responsible for ordering the new NHS database, which was originally budgeted to cost £2.3bn, has now spiralled to £12bn and is expected to result in a total bill of £32bn, will be able to claim that they exercised reasonable discretion.

What about the Department of Work and Pensions where officials wasted £300m on two cancelled IT projects In 5 years the DWP managed to spend £2.14bn on IT projects, both ongoing and cancelled, with over £500m going to consultants alone. Was reasonable discretion exercised? You decide, because it is unlikely the courts could do anything about it.

Would a Police officer be able to argue that he or she exercised reasonable discretion when they shoot an innocent bystander? Or could a Doctor claim that he or she exercised reasonable discretion when they removed the kidneys of a patient because they pick-up the wrong patients notes? Remember, there is no right of criminal OR civil recourse. Will this prevent people from suing the NHS and/or Doctors for criminal negligence?

This legislation is a danger to all of us, given it is a Rogues Charter that seeks to protect all public servants from accountability to the people they are supposed to serve or represent. It is, perhaps, the most draconian and self-serving legislation ever devised by our parliament. Worst of all, it prevents the public from taking any action (civil or criminal) against MP’s or Ministers, because in virtually every instance, other than a direct and proven lie, they will be able to claim they had exercised reasonable discretion. In fact, even in their lied, they could claim that they did so ‘in the public interest’.

I would urge all fellow bloggers with an interest in justice to use their blogs to publicise this outrageous attempt provide public servants, especially MP’s with a ‘get out of jail free’ card. If this legislation gets through, as it undoubtedly will, then no public servant can truly be held accountable to the public, because a ‘good faith’ defence will always be available!

Written by Richard Wilson

May 18, 2009 at 6:00 am

Compromised MPs spring to defence of discredited Speaker Michael Martin

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As Parliamentarians grow increasingly vocal in demanding that the discredited Speaker of the House, Michael Martin, steps down from his post, it’s interesting to see which MPs are now stepping forward to defend him.

The BBC quotes “Sir” Stuart Bell – who it describes as an ally of Mr. Martin – as insisting that the majority of MPs still wanted to the Speaker to remain in his post. Stephen Pound MP, meanwhile, has said that he supports Michael Martin and dismisses calls for what he describes as a “blood sacrifice”.

Both these MPs have a track record in attempting to block public scrutiny of how taxpayers’ money is being spent. Both were among the 98 who, in May 2007, attempted to pass a law exempting themselves from scrutiny under the Freedom of Information Act.

More recently, Stuart Bell MP proposed that the processing of MPs expenses should be outsourced to a private company, apparently in the belief that this would place the claims beyond the reach of Freedom of Information requests.

Stuart Bell is Labour MP for Middlesbrough, and currently enjoys a thumping majority of 12,567 votes. It will be interesting to see how well that holds up at the next election.

Stephen Pound is Labour MP for Ealing North, and is in a somewhat more precarious position, with a majority of 7,059. Given Labour’s current electoral woes, this would already have put him in some jeopardy ahead of next year’s vote – it’s difficult to see how his track record on expenses will do him any additional favours when the time comes.

The 98 MPs who tried to cover up their expense claims by exempting themselves from the Freedom of Information Act

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In May 2007, 98 MPs voted to exempt themselves from the Freedom of Information Act, with the apparent aim of stopping the public from finding out the details of their Parliamentary expense claims.

The measure was ultimately defeated, and after a long legal battle, the courts last year ordered the publication of the expense claims made by MPs. The government, however, continued to drag its feet until the information was finally (and now famously) leaked to the Telegraph newspaper, amid much wailing and gnashing of teeth from the Parliamentary authorities.

Amid the uproar that the last week of revelations has caused among the wider public, attention has understandably focussed on the worst excesses of the worst offenders – the claims for non-existent mortgages, exorbitant gardening bills, and the famous “moat-cleaning” expense.

But alongside this, it now seems worth taking a closer look at the people who helped create the environment in which this behaviour was able to flourish – and who fought so hard to stop the truth from being exposed.

Interestingly, several of the MPs – such as Elliot Morley, Julie Kirkbride and Tony McNulty – who have now been identified as serial abusers of the Parliamentary expenses system, were also among the 98 MPs who, in May 2007, voted to exempt themselves from the Freedom of Information Act. But there are also many others who, to date, seem to have largely escaped public scrutiny. There’s a detailed summary here by the Campaign for Freedom of Information of the bill in its various stages. From this we can see that:

78 of those who supported the bill are Labour MPs:

Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich West)
Alan Campbell (Tynemouth)
Alun Michael (Cardiff South and Penarth)
Andrew Dismore (Hendon)
Angela C. Smith (Sheffield Hillsborough)
Angela Eagle (Wallasey)
Anne Snelgrove (South Swindon)
Bob Ainsworth (Coventry North East)
Bob Laxton (Derby North)
Brian H. Donohoe (Ayrshire Central)
Caroline Flint (Don Valley)
Claire Ward (Watford)
Clive Betts (Sheffield Attercliffe)
Clive Efford (Eltham)
Colin Burgon (Elmet)
Dari Taylor (Stockton South)
Dave Watts (St Helens North)
David Cairns (Inverclyde)
David Clelland (Tyne Bridge)
David Lammy (Tottenham)
David Marshall (Glasgow East)
David Wright (Telford)
Denis Murphy (Wansbeck)
Desmond Turner (Brighton Kemptown)
Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne North)
Elliot Morley (Scunthorpe)
Frank Doran (Aberdeen North)

Frank Roy (Motherwell and Wishaw)
Fraser Kemp (Houghton and Washington East)
Gareth Thomas (Harrow West)
George Mudie (Leeds East)
Gillian Merron (Lincoln)
Graham Allen (Nottingham North)
Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead)
Huw Irranca-Davies
Ian McCartney (Makerfield)
Ian Stewart (Eccles)
Ivan Lewis (Bury South)
James Plaskitt (Warwick and Leamington)
Janet Anderson (Rossendale and Darwen)
Jim Dowd (Lewisham West)
Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Canning Town)
Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire North)
Joan Ryan (Enfield North)
John Heppell (Nottingham East)
John McFall (West Dunbartonshire)
John Robertson (Glasgow North West)
John Spellar (Warley)
Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford)
Keith Hill (Streatham)
Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton North East)
Kevan Jones (North Durham)
Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham Perry Barr)
Laura Moffatt (Crawley)
Liz Blackman (Erewash)
Malcolm Wicks (Croydon North)
Maria Eagle (Liverpool Garston)
Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside)
Martin Salter (Reading West)
Martyn Jones (Clwyd South)
Meg Munn (Sheffield Heeley)
Michael Foster (Worcester)
Mike Hall (Weaver Vale)
Nick Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne East and Wallsend)
Parmjit Dhanda (Gloucester)
Phil Woolas (Oldham East and Saddleworth)
Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley)
Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes)
Siôn Simon (Birmingham Erdington)
Stephen Pound (Ealing North)
Steve McCabe (Birmingham Hall Green)
Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)
Thomas McAvoy (Rutherglen and Hamilton West)
Tom Harris (Glasgow South)
Tom Levitt (High Peak)
Tom Watson (West Bromwich East)
Tony Lloyd (Manchester Central)
Tony McNulty (Harrow East)
Wayne David (Caerphilly)

The remaining 20 are all Conservative:

Andrew Pelling (Croydon Central)
Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and the Weald)
Ann Winterton (Congleton)
David Maclean (Penrith and the Border)
David Ruffley (Bury St Edmunds)
David Tredinnick (Bosworth)
Greg Knight (East Yorkshire)
James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend East)
John Butterfill (Bournemouth West)
John Randall (Uxbridge)
Julian Lewis (New Forest East)
Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove)
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin)
Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
Peter Atkinson (Hexham)
Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst)
Simon Burns (West Chelmsford)
Tim Boswell (Daventry)
Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East)

Strikingly, only 26 of Parliament’s 650 MPs turned up to oppose the bill – 5 Conservatives, 9 Labour, 9 Liberal Democrats, 1 Plaid Cymru MP and the Respect MP George Galloway.

Within days of taking office, Zuma sacks Health Minister who restored sanity to AIDS policy after Mbeki

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From The Guardian

Jacob Zuma, the new South African president, today sacked the health minister praised by campaigners for turning around the country’s disastrous policy on Aids.

Announcing his first cabinet, Zuma moved Barbara Hogan from the health ministry to the less influential public enterprises portfolio.

Hogan is replaced by Aaron Motsoaledi, a provincial education minister who is a medical doctor.

Some analysts had predicted Hogan would be ousted after she publicly criticised the leadership of the African National Congress (ANC) earlier this year for barring the Dalai Lama from a conference on peace and reconciliation.

Written by Richard Wilson

May 12, 2009 at 8:17 pm

Robert Maxwell – a warning from history…

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From the New York Times, December 1991

How could he get away with it for so long? That is the question posed by the collapse of Robert Maxwell’s empire so quickly after his death.

For years he ran what amounted to an international confidence game, borrowing more and more, covering up his accounts. An official British inquiry in 1971 found him unfit to be in charge of a public company. Yet politicians honored him; and newspapers printed his boasts, hollow though most of them turned out to be.

The Financial Times of London said last week that Mr. Maxwell was not some unimportant figure; his operations affected large interests and many people. “How was it,” the paper asked, “that he was able to play such a role, for so many years, with such apparently cavalier disregard for the normal standards of probity? How could some of the world’s leading banks lend so much money to him?”

It was British corporate regulatory law that failed, The Financial Times said. Yes, it did. But there was another reason why Mr. Maxwell escaped proper scrutiny for so long: Britain’s stringent libel law, which makes it dangerous to write critically about a scoundrel like Mr. Maxwell.

Whenever anyone suggested wrongdoing by Mr. Maxwell, he sued. He brought 21 libel actions against the authors and others connected with two biographies of him. He sued the BBC, Rupert Murdoch, the editors of half a dozen British newspapers.

The threat of a libel suit is so potent in silencing critics in Britain because the law is so favorable to libel plaintiffs. Nearly everyone who sues the press gets a cash settlement or wins a jury verdict at trial — and keeps it on appeal.

Two points of law are critical. When a plaintiff claims that a newspaper has published a false statement about him, the paper has the burden of proving it true. And there is no need for the plaintiff to prove fault, such as negligence, on the publisher’s part; if he made a mistake, however innocent, he pays damages.

American law is to the contrary. The burden is on the plaintiff to prove that a statement about him was false. And he must show that there was some fault on the paper’s part in publishing it…

One lesson of the Maxwell affair, therefore, is that Americans can be grateful for the constitutional rights that prevent suppression of probing journalism. The system is far from perfect. Powerful individuals and companies still use libel as a repressive weapon. But criticism is much freer than in Britain.

The difference in the two countries’ law has lately led a number of libel plaintiffs to sue American publications in Britain. Mr. Maxwell sued The New Republic in England this year over an article about him, although the magazine has only 135 subscribers there…

Written by Richard Wilson

May 8, 2009 at 8:00 am

British Chiropractic Association follows in the footsteps of David Irving, Robert Maxwell and Matthias Rath

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UK author Simon Singh is being sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association. Singh had written an article suggesting that the BCA claimed, without evidence, that chiropractic (aka chiropracty) was effective in treating children for “colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying”.

I haven’t yet read Simon Singh’s acclaimed book, “Trick or Treatment”, in which he looks in detail at the scientific evidence behind chiropractic. Nor, until recently, did I know very much about this particular branch of pseudo-medicine. But by bringing this case, the BCA has ensured that thousands of people now know that this is an organisation whose response to public criticism is to seek to prosecute a well-respected writer under the UK’s notoriously one-sided libel laws. And I suspect that a great many observers will, like me, draw their own conclusions as to what this says about the BCA’s confidence in the evidence for their methods.

People say all sorts of things about all sorts of scientific claims all the time. AIDS denialists, for example, will routinely assert that anti-retroviral drugs are not effective against HIV. Sometimes these claims have even made it into the mainstream media. But I’ve yet to come across a case of a pharmaceutical company responding to such claims by suing an AIDS denialist for libel. Why would you need to sue anyone when the evidence speaks for itself?

The BCA, frankly, is not in good company. During the 1980s, the millionaire tycoon Robert Maxwell famously used UK libel law to suppress media coverage of his dubious business practices. At the beginning of this decade, pseudo-historian David Irving, perhaps even more famously, brought a case against the writer Deborah Lipstadt after she had accused him of denying the holocaust and falsifying history. Last year, the AIDS denialist vitamin salesman Matthias Rath sued the Guardian and Ben Goldacre over two articles which exposed his nefarious activities in South Africa.

But even under UK libel law – which is so draconian that a number of US states have passed statutes protecting their citizens from malicious suits initiated in this country – the bad guys can still sometimes lose. David Irving lost his case against Lipstadt, and was bankrupted as a result. Matthias Rath was forced to drop his case after the Guardian produced overwhelming evidence to back their story – and is now in the process of paying back half a million pounds worth of costs.

Libel suits are a messy and expensive way of settling simple matters of fact and evidence. Those who react to criticism by seeking to suppress freedom of speech surely risk tainting their reputations even further. I’ve joined the Facebook group in support of Simon Singh (2,500 members and counting) and am now very much looking forward to reading his book.

Time to start calling “alternative medicine” by its proper name?

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Via Ben Goldacre’s Twitter feed comes this story from the Sydney Morning Herald:

THE parents of a nine-month-old girl who died from septicemia were responsible for their baby’s death because they shunned conventional medical treatment for her eczema in favour of homeopathic remedies, a court heard yesterday.

A homeopath, Thomas Sam, 42, and his wife, Manju Sam, 36, are standing trial in the NSW Supreme Court charged with manslaughter by gross criminal negligence after they allegedly resisted the advice of nurses and a doctor to send her to a skin specialist.

Instead Gloria Thomas, who was born in perfect health in July 2001, allegedly died with malnutrition and eczema so severe that her skin broke every time her parents removed her clothes and nappy.

It strikes me that “alternative medicine” is a rather generous term for practices, like homeopathy, which, despite the claims of adherents, have no sound basis in science and no proven benefit beyond the placebo effect.

My dictionary defines medicine as “the science of treating illness”. Dictionary.com gives us “any substance or substances used in treating disease or illness…” and “the art or science of restoring or preserving health or due physical condition, as by means of drugs, surgical operations or appliances, or manipulations”. To apply the term “medicine” to practices such as homeopathy which are neither scientific nor have any impact on illness,  therefore seems both inaccurate and misleading.

Within the natural sciences more widely, ideas which claim to be scientific but which rest on deception, dodgy methodology and exaggerated claims, are typically described not as “alternative science” but as “pseudo-science”. In referring to such ideas within medicine, it seems to me that a more useful and descriptive phrase than “alternative medicine” would simply be “pseudo-medicine”

“Alternative medicine” may sound like a neutral term, but implicit within it are a set of assumptions which skew the argument in favour of quackery from the outset. The very use of the term “medicine” lends credence to the notion that practices such as homeopathy are a) scientific and b) effective. By describing homeopathy as “alternative medicine” we are helping to couch the discussion in terms of either/or, and with it the idea that to accept an unproven quack remedy over the entire canon of evidence-based-medicine is simply another consumer choice, like selecting a different brand of breakfast cereal.

The supposed dichotomy between “alternative” and “mainstream” medicine can skew the debate even further. For many people – perhaps especially those on the left-wing of politics – these are anything but neutral terms. The term “mainstream” carries very negative connotations, suggesting conformity, mediocrity, and compliance with authority, while the term “alternative” represents the polar opposite. Thus we have the contrast between “alternative” and “mainstream” music (eg. Nirvana vs Britney Spears), “alternative” and “mainstream” media (Indymedia vs the Daily Mail), and “alternative” and “mainstream” politics (eg. Greens vs Conservatives).

Anecdotal evidence can obviously only get you so far, but among the people I know who embrace “alternative medicine” and take it seriously, I’ve been struck by the extent to which they see it as a lifestyle choice, fitting in seamlessly with their political views, musical tastes, and media preferences.  It seems to me that one way to tackle this problem at its root would be to start challenging the very terms on which the debate is  being conducted, and stop accepting “alternative medicine” as a valid description of toxic, pseudo-medicinal ideas like homeopathy.

Written by Richard Wilson

May 5, 2009 at 10:44 am

Steve Salerno on the perils of “positive thinking”

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From The Skeptic

Like many of the touchy-feely messages that flood modern America, The Secret is about the rejection of the “inconvenient” truths of the physical world. In the broad culture, science and logic have fallen out of fashion. We are, after all, a people who increasingly abandon orthodox medicine for mind-body regimens whose own advocates not only refuse to cite clinical proof, but dismiss science itself as “disempowering.” (The rallying cry that “you have within you the energies you need to heal” is one reason why visits to practitioners of all forms of alternative medicine now outnumber visits to traditional family doctors by a margin approaching two-to-one.) What I find most remarkable about The Secret, however, is that it somehow mainstreamed the solipsistic “life is whatever you think it is” mindset that once was associated with mental illnesses like schizophrenia. The Secret was (and remains) the perfect totem for its time, uniquely captivating two polar generations: Baby Boomers reaching midlife en masse and desperate to unshackle themselves from everything they’ve been until now; and young adults weaned on indulgent parenting and — especially — indulgent schooling.

Indeed, if there was a watershed moment in modern positive thinking, it would have to be the 1970s advent of self-esteem-based education: a broad-scale social experiment that made lab rats out of millions of American children. At the time, it was theorized that a healthy ego would help students achieve greatness (even if the mechanisms required to instill self-worth “temporarily” undercut traditional scholarship). Though back then no one really knew what self-esteem did or didn’t do, the nation’s educational brain trust nonetheless assumed that the more kids had of it, the better.

It followed that almost everything about the scholastic experience was reconfigured to support ego development and positivity about learning and life. To protect students from the ignominy of failure, schools softened criteria so that far fewer children could fail. Grading on a curve became more commonplace, even at the lowest levels; community-based standards replaced national benchmarks. Red ink began disappearing from students’ papers as administrators mandated that teachers make corrections in less “stigmatizing” colors. Guidance counselors championed the cause of “social promotion,” wherein underperforming grade-schoolers — instead of being left back — are passed along to the next level anyway, to keep them with their friends of like age.

There ensued a wholesale celebration of mediocrity: Schools abandoned their honor rolls, lest they bruise the feelings of students who failed to make the cut. Jean Twenge, author of Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled … and More Miserable Than Ever Before, tells of pizza parties that “used to be only for children who made A’s, but in recent years the school has invited every child who simply passed.” (Twenge also writes of teachers who were discouraged from making corrections that might rob a student of his pride as an “individual speller.”) Banned were schoolyard games that inherently produced winners and losers; there could be no losers in this brave new world of positive vibes.

Amid all this, kids’ shirts and blouses effectively became bulletin boards for a hodge-podge of ribbons, pins and awards that commemorated everything but real achievement. Sometimes, the worse the grades, the more awards a student got, under the theory that in order to make at-risk kids excel, you first had to make them feel optimistic and empowered.

…Tellingly, when psychologists Harold Stevenson and James Stigler compared the academic skills of grade-school students in three Asian nations to those of their U.S. peers, the Asians easily outdid the Americans — but when the same students then were asked to rate their academic prowess, the American kids expressed much higher self-appraisals than their foreign counterparts. In other words, U.S. students gave themselves high marks for lousy work. Stevenson and Stigler saw this skew as the fallout from the backwards emphasis in American classrooms; the Brookings Institution 2006 Brown Center Report on Education also found that nations in which families and schools emphasize self-esteem cannot compete academically with cultures where the emphasis is on learning, period.

Written by Richard Wilson

May 3, 2009 at 3:00 pm

Pocket journalism: Telegraph hack Con Coughlin goes into bat for torture

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In the early days of the Iraq war, Telegraph columnist Con Coughlin was famously obliging in disseminating the bogus claims of the US and UK governments about Weapons of Mass Destruction and a supposed link between Iraq and Al Qaeda.

When the focus of US “public diplomacy” switched towards the clamour for military action in Iran, Coughlin was equally helpful in promoting unsubstantiated claims about a link between Al Qaeda and the Iranian government.

Amid growing evidence that many of the false (yet politically useful) intelligence claims used to justify the Iraq war came from confessions extracted through torture, one might think that Coughlin, and the Telegraph, would now treat the assertions of the security services with a little more scepticism.

Instead, Coughlin seems to have gone the other way, cautioning Barack Obama not to “pick a fight with Dick Cheney”, asserting, without offering any evidence, that “We know that at least two major terrorist attacks against the UK were avoided thanks to vital intelligence provided to MI6 and MI5 by the CIA”, and suggesting that “There are always two sides to a story”.

“Are interrogation methods like waterboarding justified if they save lives”, Coughlin asks, “or should we respect the detainees’ human rights, thereby enabling the terror attacks to take place and claim innocent lives? I know which option I’d go for.”

Booker in shock admission of less-than-wholly-accurate reporting on climate change…

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From Christopher Booker in the Sunday Telegraph:

I owe readers a correction of one or two points in my item last week criticising Lord Stern as one of our “scaremongers in chief” over global warming. When I claimed that Lord Stern was wrong in the figure he gave for the level of CO2 in the atmosphere, I was relying on a newspaper article… From his new book, A Blueprint for a Safer Planet, it appears that he does indeed mean “430 ppm of CO2e” but this was not apparent in either of the articles I cited…

The first step is always the hardest. All we need now is an apology and long series of corrections over Booker’s Sunday Telegraph articles on evolution, passive smoking, BSE, speed cameras and white asbestos

Daily Mail gets fooled again by Booker’s quack-journalism

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Another corking piece of journo-quackery from Christopher Booker, this time in the Daily Mail. All the usual elements are there, including Booker’s oft-repeated claims about Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease not being linked to BSE, and about a supposed scientific “confusion” about the health risks of asbestos “costing literally hundreds of billions of pounds”. Sam Wong on “Just a Theory” does an excellent debunking of the rest.

Written by Richard Wilson

May 2, 2009 at 11:16 am