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Archive for June 2009

Refreshing bluntness from a UK political journalist

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From Fraser Nelson in The Spectator

If you’re reading this, Ed (and I suspect you will be) then we have a serious point to make. Five years ago, you could lie like this on the radio and get away with it. Space is tight in newspapers, no one would devote hundreds of words and graphs – as we did – to expose a lie for what is. But the world has changed now. Blogging has brought new, hyper scrutiny. Blogs have infinite space, and people with endless energy, to expose political lying – no matter how small. Your claims can be instantly counter-checked, by anyone. If you stretch the truth, you can be exposed – by anyone. And if you plan to base a whole election campaign on a lie, as you apparently intend to do, then you’re in for a rude awakening.

Written by Richard Wilson

June 30, 2009 at 10:35 pm

Goddess wanted – must have own hair

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wigThis is quite possibly the funniest thing I’ve seen all week, and proof positive that ‘doing what feels right to you’ can sometimes be a really, really bad idea.

See also: “Am I the goddess you’re looking for?”

Written by Richard Wilson

June 28, 2009 at 7:57 am

Poll: Should the BNP be forced to wear burkhas?

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Written by Richard Wilson

June 27, 2009 at 12:05 pm

Tory MP claims £510 of public money for astrology software

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Lib Dem Voice reports that David Tredinnick MP (Bosworth, Majority 5,139), a longtime advocate of pseudo-medicine (sorry, “complementary and alternative medicine”), claimed £510 on Parliamentary expenses for a piece of astrology software – £210 for the CD and £300 for a training course in how to use it.

Tredinnick argues that this was essential preparation for a Parliamentary debate on alt-med, and that the fees office approved it (now there’s a surprise). He is also keen to emphasise that he supports the publication of expense claims, saying that “People expect transparency and we should have recognised that some time ago.”

Interestingly, according to Theyworkforyou.com, while Tredinnick is keen to push the boundaries of science when it comes to unproven and untested quack cures, he has never cast a vote one way or the other on climate change. He did, however, manage to turn up to vote in favour of the Iraq war, and against efforts to introduce a more transparent Parliament.

Tredinnick was also one of 20 Tories among the 98 MPs who famously attempted to exempt their expense claims from scrutiny under the Freedom of Information Act.

Written by Richard Wilson

June 24, 2009 at 7:54 am

The moment that Speaker-elect John Bercow got fooled by corporate pseudo-science

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17 minutes 20 into this BBC exposé

Written by Richard Wilson

June 22, 2009 at 7:43 pm

Spiked Online – The rohypnol of web-based news and comment

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*See also my response to Rob Lyons: Climate change “scepticism” and Spiked Online*

Naomi and Gimpy have written a couple of good things today about the arch-libertarians over at Spiked Online. Spiked is an odd phenomenon, founded a few years ago by a group of ex-members of the “Revolutionary Communist Party”. Despite adopting many of the trappings of the left, Spiked takes a staunchly pro-corporate/pro-authoritarian-government line on a wide range of issues, including climate change, breastfeeding, smoking, obesity, gun control, human rights in China, corruption in Africa, and international justice.

On climate change, the position seems to swing between a) the standard denialist belief that global warming is a self-hating, anti-working-class, group fantasy (or perhaps even a conspiracy) among lefty bourgeois enviro-scientists and b) the slightly more nuanced, if no less bewildering, line that yes, maybe something is happening to the climate, and yes, maybe scientists are predicting that millions of people will die because of it, but science alone cannot tell us whether or not this is a bad thing.

As seems pretty clear in the two articles picked apart by Naomi and Gimpy, the arguments on Spiked are often so tortured that it’s difficult to believe that the author genuinely holds to what they’re saying.

Which of course begs the question why… Contrarianism clearly seems to be a part of it. As I learned at my sisters’ expense when I was growing up, disagreeing with other people for the sake of it can be both fun and entertaining, especially when you can see that people are getting really annoyed by it – and Spiked clearly do have a talent for winding everyone up.

But while Spiked’s editor, Brendan O’ Neill, often makes light of claims that he and his outfit take  ‘cash for copy’, it’s difficult to ignore the galaxy of corporates listed as associates on page 10 of the Spiked Online “Brand Manager’s pack”.These include Bloomberg, BT, Cadbury Schweppes, the PR firm Hill and Knowlton, IBM, INFORM (“INFORM is an IDFA initiative set up on behalf of UK infant formula manufacturers, namely SMA Nutrition, Cow & Gate, Milupa and Farley/Heinz…”), the International Policy Network (a corporate lobby group funded by the Exxon oil company among others), Luther Pendragon (another PR firm), the Mobile Operators Association, Orange, O2, Pfizer, and the Society of Chemical Industry.

Hill and Knowlton in particular stand out because of their unparalleled, 50-year track record in creating and disseminating pro-corporate disinformation using cutting-edge PR techniques. During the 1950s, as recounted in “Don’t Get Fooled Again”, H&K pioneered the concept of “manufactured controversy” to defend the tobacco industry, muddying the water around the link between smoking and cancer, and successfully staving off regulation, long after a clear consensus had emerged among scientists.

During the 1990s, H&K cleverly exploited the technique of “Astroturfing” – creating a fake ‘grassroots’ organisation – to set up “Citizens for a Free Kuwait”, a group covertly funded by the Kuwaiti government, to campaign for US intervention following the Iraqi invasion in 1990. H&K famously coached a 14-year-old Kuwaiti girl, “Nurse Nayirah”, before an appearance in Congress in which she claimed to have seen Iraqi soldiers looting incubators from a Kuwaiti hospital, and leaving babies “to die on the cold stone floor”. It only emerged later that Nayirah was the daughter of Kuwait’s Ambassador to the United States, and that she had never worked at the hospital. The incident she described was never substantiated – but her testimony has been credited with swinging Congressional support in favour of war at a time when opinion was still wavering.

H&K also represented the Chinese authorities after the Tiananmen Square massacre, and the Indonesian government during their notorious occupation of East Timor. In the early 1990s, an un-named H&K executive was quoted as saying that “we’d represent Satan if he paid”.

Sourcewatch report that over half of Spiked Online’s public events in recent years have been held at H&K’s London offices.

Written by Richard Wilson

June 21, 2009 at 4:58 pm

Irony levels around UK government secrecy policies now dangerously high, warn scientists…

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Judge rules that judges who get sacked or reprimanded should enjoy anonymity…

From The Guardian

The government and the judiciary can continue to conceal the names of more than 170 misbehaving judges, a freedom of information tribunal has ruled.

The judge heading the tribunal decided that some members of the judiciary who have been sacked or reprimanded for misconduct would suffer “great distress” if details of their misdemeanours were made public.

Written by Richard Wilson

June 18, 2009 at 8:47 am

Chiropractic treatment found to be ineffective against panic and jitteriness

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Following the British Chiropractic Association’s ill-advised attempt to use the UK’s notoriously dysfunctional libel laws against the writer Simon Singh, pro-science campaigners have been taking a close look at the online claims  made by the hundreds of BCA members listed by the organisation on its website.

The response to what’s become known as the “quacklash” from one chiropractic group has been particularly amusing. Courtesy of Chiropracticlive and Quackometer, comes a leaked email from The McTimoney Chiropractic Association:

Date: 8 June 2009 09:12:18 BDT

Subject: FURTHER URGENT ACTION REQUIRED!

Dear Member

If you are reading this, we assume you have also read the urgent email we sent you last Friday. If you did not read it, READ IT VERY CAREFULLY NOW and – this is most important – ACT ON IT. This is not scaremongering. We judge this to be a real threat to you and your practice.

Because of what we consider to be a witch hunt against chiropractors, we are now issuing the following advice:

The target of the campaigners is now any claims for treatment that cannot be substantiated with chiropractic research. The safest thing for everyone to do is as follows.

  1. If you have a website, take it down NOW.

When you have done that, please let us know preferably by email or by phone. This will save our valuable time chasing you to see whether it has been done.

  1. REMOVE all the blue MCA patient information leaflets, or any patient information leaflets of your own that state you treat whiplash, colic or other childhood problems in your clinic or at any other site where they might be displayed with your contact details on them. DO NOT USE them until further notice. The MCA are working on an interim replacement leaflet which will be sent to you shortly.
  1. If you have not done so already, enter your name followed by the word ‘chiropractor’ into a search engine such as Google (e.g. Joe Bloggs chiropractor) and you will be able to ascertain what information about you is in the public domain e.g. where you might be listed using the Doctor title or where you might be linked with a website which might implicate you. We have found that even if you do not have a website yourself you may still have been linked inadvertently to a website listing you or your services.

CHECK ALL ENTRIES CAREFULLY AND IF IN DOUBT, CONTACT THE RELEVANT PROVIDER TO REMOVE YOUR INFORMATION.

CHECK OUR PREVIOUS EMAILS FOR SPECIFIC ADVICE AND KEY WORDS TO AVOID.

KEEP A LOG OF YOUR ACTIONS.

  1. If you use business cards or other stationery using the ‘doctor’ title and it does not clearly state that you are a doctor of chiropractic or that you are not a registered medical practitioner, STOP USING THEM immediately.

5. Be wary of ‘mystery shopper’ phone calls and ‘drop ins’ to your practice, especially if they start asking about your care of children, or whiplash, or your evidence base for practice.

IF YOU DO NOT FOLLOW THIS ADVICE, YOU MAY BE AT RISK FROM PROSECUTION.

IF YOU DO NOT FOLLOW THIS ADVICE, THE MCA MAY NOT BE ABLE TO ASSIST YOU WITH ANY PROCEEDINGS.

Although this advice may seem extreme or alarmist, its purpose is to protect you. The campaigners have a target of making a complaint against every chiropractor in the UK who they perceive to be in breach of the GCC’s CoP, the Advertising Standards Code and/or Trading Standards. We have discovered that complaints against more than 500 individual chiropractors have been sent to the GCC in the last 24 hours.

Whatever you do, do not ignore this email and make yourself one of the victims. Some of our members have not followed our earlier advice and now have complaints made against them. We do not want that to happen to you.

Even if you do not have a website, you are still at risk. Our latest information suggests that this group are now going through Yellow Pages entries. Be in no doubt, their intention is to scrutinise every single chiropractor in the UK…

Written by Richard Wilson

June 14, 2009 at 5:47 pm

When techies attack! Chiroquacks feel the heat after BCA’s attempt to stifle freedom of speech

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From Adventures in Nonsense

With the BCA attempting to stifle debate over the bogus* claims made by Simon Singh, I was determined to do something.

The BCA web site lists all it’s 1029 members online, including for many of them, about 400 web site URLs. I wrote a quick computer program to download the member details, record them in a database and then download the individual web sites. I then searched the data for the word “colic” and then manually checked each site to verify that the chiropractors were either claiming to treat colic, or implying that chiropractic was an efficacious treatment for it. I found 174 practices in total, with around 500 individual chiropractors.

Using their postcodes, I then found their local Trading Standards office using the Trading Standards web site.
The final piece in the puzzle was a simple mail-merge. Not wanting to simultaneously report several quacks to the same Trading Standards office, I limited the mail-merge to one per authority and sent out 84 letters. I told a couple of friends about what I was doing and they asked to write letters too. In total, we sent out around 240 complaints. The first batch went out on the 25th May. I don’t think there could be a better use of £75 worth of stamps.

Written by Richard Wilson

June 13, 2009 at 11:08 am

Tory poster-boy Dan Hannan MEP voted to cover-up Europarliament expenses scandal

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Tory MEP Dan Hannan (representing Southeast England) has become something of a media poster-boy for honest government in recent months. So it was a surprise to discover that he was among the 47 British MEPs who voted, earlier this year, to cover up details of MEPs expense claims.

The “Open Europe” rankings listed here take a bit of explaining, but the basic idea is that MEPs get 3 points for each pro-transparency vote they cast in the Parliament, and zero for any effort to obstruct reform.

Column I refers to the March 2009 vote to exempt from public information requests any documents relating to how much MEPs are claiming in expenses, and what they are claiming for. “Open Europe” gives Hannan a zero score for that vote, indicating that he supported the cover-up.

It seems that Hannan can talk the talk on transparency and accountability, but his voting record tells a rather different story.

Written by Richard Wilson

June 3, 2009 at 10:31 pm

London’s sleaze-tainted Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat MEPs

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NB – post updated – the Open Europe rankings in fact identify the MEPs who voted in 2009 to keep expense details secret, as distinct from those who voted to cover up the results of an internal inquiry in 2008.

London is represented in the European Parliament by 9 MEPs – 3 Labour, 3 Conservative, 1 Liberal Democrat, 1 Green and 1 UK Independence Party.

Of these, only the Green Party (Jean Lambert) and UKIP (Gerard Batten) voted earlier this year against moves to keep MEPs expenses secret.

Conservative MEPs Charles Tannock and John Bowis voted in favour of the cover-up. Syed Kamall failed to turn up for the vote.

Labour MEPs Mary Honeyball, Robert Evans and Claude Moraes also all voted to cover up the expense details.

Liberal Democrat MEP Baroness Sarah Ludford was one of only two Lib Dem MEPs who voted to cover up the expenses. Interestingly, the only other Lib Dem MEP who did so, Emma Nicholson (who represents SE England), is, like Ludford, also a member of the UK’s scandal-stricken second chamber, the House of Lords. Other Liberal Democrats had spoken out strongly against the move.

It appears that only 2 of the 9 MEPs on the London list – Jean Lambert (Green) and Gerrard Batten (UKIP) – believe that the public has a right to know about the financial abuses being committed by their fellow politicians.

More details of the voting record of MEPs across the European Union can be found at the website of the Open Europe campaign.

Written by Richard Wilson

June 3, 2009 at 7:37 pm

Is your MEP among the 47 who voted to keep their expense claims secret?

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*You can get the full list of your local MEPs by entering your postcode at www.writethem.com*

The website “Open Europe” has done an excellent league table of MEP’s voting record on accountability and transparency ahead of tomorrow’s election. The list shows clearly that it is not just in the UK Parliament that elected representatives have been working hard to cover up their exorbitant expense claims. If anything, the situation appears to be even worse in the European Parliament, where the MEPs’ useage of public money has been a closely-guarded secret.

The following list, extrapolated from the “Open Europe” league table, identifies the UK MEPs who voted to cover up their expense claims.

Mr Sajjad Karim MEP Conservative Party

Mr Richard Ashworth MEP Conservative Party
Mr Struan Stevenson MEP Conservative Party
Mr Malcolm Harbour MEP Conservative Party
Mr Chris Heaton-Harris MEP Conservative Party
Mr Charles Tannock MEP Conservative Party
Mr Philip Bushill-Matthews MEP Conservative Party
Mr Martin Callanan MEP Conservative Party
Mr Neil Parish MEP Conservative Party
Mr Timothy Kirkhope MEP Conservative Party
Mr John Purvis MEP Conservative Party
Mr Philip Bradbourn MEP Conservative Party
Mr John Bowis MEP Conservative Party
Mr Daniel Hannan MEP Conservative Party
Mr Robert Sturdy MEP Conservative Party
Mr James Elles MEP Conservative Party
Mr Christopher Beazley MEP Conservative Party
Sir Robert Atkins MEP Conservative Party
Dr Caroline Jackson MEP Conservative Party
Mr Densmore Dover MEP Conservative Party
Mr Nirj Deva MEP Conservative Party
Mr Giles Chichester MEP Conservative Party
Mr Jonathan Evans MEP Conservative Party
Mr Jim Allister MEP QC Independent
Mr Tom Wise MEP Independent
Mr Robert Kilroy-Silk MEP Independent (elected as UK Independence Party; resigned party whip October 2004)
Ms Glenis Willmott MEP Labour Party
Mrs Catherine Stihler MEP Labour Party
Ms Neena Gill MEP Labour Party
Mr David Martin MEP Labour Party
Ms Mary Honeyball MEP Labour Party
Mr Robert Evans MEP Labour Party
Mr Gary Titley MEP Labour Party
Mr Claude Moraes MEP Labour Party
Mr Richard Howitt MEP Labour Party
Mr Stephen Hughes MEP Labour Party
Mr Brian Simpson MEP Labour Party
Mr Glyn Ford MEP Labour Party
Mr Richard Corbett MEP Labour Party
Ms Eluned Morgan MEP Labour Party
Mr Peter Skinner MEP Labour Party
Mr Michael Cashman MEP Labour Party
The Baroness Ludford MEP Liberal Democrats
The Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne MEP Liberal Democrats
Ms Baibre de Brún MEP MLA Sinn Fein

Mr Roger Knapman MEP UK Independence Party
Mr James Nicholson MEP Ulster Unionist Party

Written by Richard Wilson

June 3, 2009 at 1:19 pm

Posted in Don't Get Fooled Again

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Telegraph resumes its role as Britain’s leading pseudo-science journal…

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From The Daily Telegraph:

What is it? Magic? Witchcraft? A load of twaddle? No, it’s radionics, the largely unexplained art of healing someone you’ve never met, who is hundreds, even thousands of miles away.

There are only 80 or so practitioners of radionics in Britain and Rebecka Blenntoft is one of them. She’s also the secretary of the UK Radionic Association and, like her colleagues, she gets to the root of her patients’ problems by holding a pendulum over their hair sample (or “witness”, as it’s called), and seeing what happens…

You don’t believe it? Neither did Blenntoft, until she saw the effect a radionic diagnosis had on a dog in her local village (the treatment can be used not just on humans, but on animals and even crops and soil).

“This dog was in a terrible state, itching and scratching its skin red raw,” she recalls. “A radionics practitioner discovered it was allergic to everything that came out of cows. And within a few days the dog was fine and running around.”

Written by Richard Wilson

June 2, 2009 at 6:18 am