Posts Tagged ‘Bogus experts’
Interestingly, Christopher Booker’s latest article downplaying the health risks of white asbestos comes just before the week in which the UN will debate whether to place further restrictions on international trade in the material. The 120 member Rotterdam Convention is “aimed at helping developing countries more effectively manage potentially harmful imported substances”. If state parties agree to place chrysotile on the treaty’s “watch list” of hazardous materials, then any country exporting it will be obliged to ensure that the recipient country has given its explicit consent to receive it.
Russia and Canada, both major exporters of chrysotile asbestos, are strongly opposed to any such moves, but a debate is raging in Canada over the government’s longstanding efforts to block restrictions on the asbestos industry – including its multi-million dollar subsidy to the industry lobby group, the Chrysotile Institute, to which both “Professor” John Bridle and Christopher Booker have been linked.
In his many Sunday Telegraph articles downplaying or denying the health risks of white asbestos (this latest gem now brings the total to at least 40), Christopher Booker has endorsed the bogus expert John Bridle on at least 13 separate occasions, describing him variously as “UK scientific spokesman for the Asbestos Cement Product Producers Association”, “an experienced South Wales surveyor and qualified chemist”, “a scientifically trained surveyor”, “a fully-qualified expert”, “our expert John Bridle”, “the asbestos expert John Bridle”, “one of the country’s leading asbestos experts”, “a genuine asbestos expert”…
…an “honorary professor” of the “Russian Occupational Health Institute, part of the Russian Academy of Sciences”, “John Bridle of Asbestos Watchdog, the firm launched through this column to fight the nationwide racket”, “Professor John Bridle of Asbestos Watchdog, the firm set up with the aid of this column to puncture the bubble of hysteria surrounding asbestos”, and “Professor John Bridle, Britain’s leading practical asbestos expert”, (see also here and here for more references).
Booker has also stated, falsely, that the UK government’s Health and Safety Executive “fully supports what Asbestos Watchdog is doing”, that the HSE is “closely collaborating” with John Bridle, and that the agency has given Bridle its “official support”.
When, in 2006, the BBC’s You and Yours programme ran an investigation exposing John Bridle’s bogus claims, highlighting his 2005 trades descriptions conviction for making false assertions about his qualifications, and accusing him of “lies”,”self-aggrandizement” and running “unaccredited tests”, Christopher Booker was outraged – and perhaps also a little embarrassed.
Before the programme had even been broadcast, Booker was denouncing the BBC through his Sunday Telegraph column, accusing them of falling for “distortions and untruths”, and being part of a “concerted move by the powerful ‘anti-asbestos lobby’ to silence Bridle”.
According to Booker:
Some charges are laughable, such as that Bridle falsely claims to have been made in 2005 an honorary professor of the prestigious Russian Academy of Medical Sciences. Confirmed by the academy’s official certificate, this was widely reported in Russia at the time as the first occasion on which anyone had been so honoured.
In reality, the BBC made no such allegation. The programme-makers in fact noted that Bridle had produced a certificate from an institution calling itself the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences which named him an “honorary professor”. What they took issue with was Bridle’s claim that this little-known organisation was in any way connected to the internationally-renowned Russian Academy of Sciences – and with Bridle’s repeated assertions that his honorary professorship was from this similarly-named yet wholly separate body.
Booker also claimed that:
The BBC charges [Bridle] with falsely claiming to have advised the Conservative Party leadership.
Yet in 2002 when, after a briefing from Bridle, Iain Duncan Smith, then the party’s leader, wrote to the Government asking for the regulations to be delayed until they could be debated by Parliament, Bridle (and I) gave extensive written and verbal briefings to John Bercow, the front-bench Tory spokesman who led the debate, as You and Yours could have confirmed by consulting Hansard.
In reality, again, the BBC did not actually say this. The programme-makers not only made it clear that Bridle had briefed John Bercow – they carried an interview with Bercow in which he made it clear that he now believed that Bridle had seriously misled him. What Bercow himself took issue with in the programme was the claim that the Conservative front bench was, or had ever been, a “client” of John Bridle. Bercow described this claim as “wrong, far-fetched and misleading”.
The following week, Booker wrote that:
As a vicious hatchet job, the BBC did everything that the “anti-asbestos lobby” could have wanted. With a fine array of selective evidence, distortion and misquotation, it chose all the right interviewees to blacken Bridle’s character unmercifully.
In his 2007 book “Scared to Death” (co-authored with Richard North), Booker devotes a whole chapter to asbestos, and continues his attack on the BBC over its exposé of John Bridle, describing the programme as a “farrago of make believe”, and a “carefully-planned operation to discredit him” based on “hearsay evidence given by Bridle’s enemies”.
While Booker makes the most of John Bercow’s “trenchant speech” in Parliament in 2002 (following a briefing from John Bridle), he chooses not to tell his readers that, by 2006, Bercow had come to a very different view, and had actually been one of the BBC’s key sources in its exposé of Bridle’s bogus claims.
According to Booker:
Bridle was legally advised that, although the programme was blatantly defamatory, to sue the BBC for libel would be a gamble. With a bottomless purse of licence-payers’ money, its lawyers could afford to run up the costs to such an astronomic level that, on a limited budget, he would find it hard to stay in the game. More effective, he was advised, would be first to mount a complaint to the broadcasting regulator Ofcom, on the grounds that the BBC had broken pretty well every professional rule in the book…
A formal complaint was duly lodged. For months, the BBC continued to spin out the resulting exchanges. By the time this book went to press, Ofcom had not yet given its verdict.
According to John Bridle, the Chrysotile Institute, an asbestos industry funded lobby group, was so pleased with this particular chapter of “Scared to Death” that it “arranged with the book’s publishers for the right to reprint the section of the book covering the asbestos story”.
Earlier this year, Ofcom gave its verdict on the BBC’s investigation:
This edition of “You and Yours” included a report on Professor John Bridle, who it introduced with the words: “the man behind Asbestos Watchdog who claims to have saved people millions of pounds, but the claims about himself are littered with lies”. The programme stated that Professor Bridle, an asbestos surveyor, portrayed himself as “the world’s foremost authority on asbestos science”. The programme claimed that Professor Bridle’s views on the safety of one type of asbestos were contrary to those held by the British Government, the Health and Safety Executive and the World Health Organisation, among others. The programme also questioned Professor Bridle’s credentials and expertise in testing for the presence of asbestos.
Professor Bridle complained to Ofcom that he was treated unfairly in the programme as broadcast in that he was unfairly portrayed as a liar and charlatan; his expertise and qualifications were questioned along with his business credentials; it alleged, wrongly, that he carried out unauthorised white asbestos “testing” and that he had claimed that asbestos posed no measurable risk to health; and, it failed to include “evidence” provided by him that offset the criticisms made in the programme.
Ofcom found as follows:
Ofcom considered that the programme makers took reasonable care to satisfy themselves that the information presented in the programme relating to Professor Bridle’s expertise, qualifications, business practices and his claims about testing asbestos had not been presented in a way that was unfair to Professor Bridle. Nor had relevant information been omitted or ignored. Professor Bridle had been offered an opportunity to contribute. Ofcom therefore found no unfairness to Professor Bridle in the programme as broadcast.
There’s always somebody trying to pull a fast one, but we can help ourselves. “The antidotes to delusion are logic and evidence, preferably from multiple sources.” The author hopes to give us the tools to avoid being fooled by “pseudo-news”, as well as pseudo-experts, and pseudo-conspiracy theories. Confusingly, many of the people we ought to be sceptical of pretend to be sceptics themselves. The giveaway, as Wilson nicely shows, is that their scepticism is asymmetrical: no evidence is ever enough for someone “sceptical” about anthropogenic global warming (an example not included in this book), and yet they are remarkably credulous about any alternative factoids that might seem to support their own view.
Wilson ranges somewhat loosely over examples contemporary and historical: anti-Aids science in South Africa, Lysenko’s pseudo-agriculture, David Irving’s Holocaust denial, Richard Dawkins’s atheism, and torture at Abu Ghraib, explaining psychological ideas of selection bias and groupthink along the way. He alludes to the X-Files slogan “I want to believe” as an example of dangerous thinking, but to be fair they also say “Trust no one.”
Following George Monbiot’s damning exposé of Sunday Telegraph columnist Christopher Booker’s bogus claims about asbestos and global warming, Booker’s co-author Richard North has written a response on his “EU Referendum” blog – condemning Monbiot for what he calls “the devil’s techniques”.
North defends Booker’s use of a research paper from 2000 by two Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statisticians, Hodgson and Darnton to support his longstanding claim that white (chrysotile) asbestos poses no significant risk to human health.
According to North:
What the authors do write, in respect of the use of asbestos cement, is that the risk is so low as to be “probably insignificant”. The paper then assesses the risk of acquiring lung cancer from “cumulative exposure”, suggesting that “the case for a threshold – i.e., zero, or at least very low risk – is arguable.”
Booker, therefore, has paraphrased the quotes, conveying their general import, his mistake being to put own words in quotes. But is he wrong? Not at all. The sense of what Hodgson and Darton are writing is accurately conveyed.
North’s account of Hodgson and Darnton’s conclusions constrasts sharply with that of the HSE, who reported back in 2002 that:
Their paper stated that whilst the risks from chrysotile were significantly less than those from amosite or crocidolite, they were not negligible. Furthermore, they acknowledged the considerable degree of uncertainty in the quantification of these risks. This uncertainty would make any uncoupling of chysotile from asbestos legislation highly unwise.
North creates the impression that Hodgson and Darnton made a specific judgement about the risks posed by “asbestos cement” (as opposed to other asbestos products). But the paper appears to do nothing of the kind. According to Trevor Ogden, the editor of the journal in which the paper was published, who recently commented on the issue in a discussion on the New Statesman website:
The paper does not say that the risks from asbestos cement are probably insignificant – it uses this phrase for the chrysotile risks at the lowest exposures. At higher (but still low) exposures, the authors gave estimates of lung cancer risk about 30-40 times lower than those from crocidolite, and did not regard this as insignificant…
In seeking to defend Booker’s bogus claims, North has seized on Hodgson and Darnton’s statement of the risks from chrysotile at the lowest exposures, and sought to portray this as a general conclusion about the risk from “white asbestos cement” at any exposure.
In “Don’t Get Fooled Again” I highlight the case of Matthias Rath, the German vitamin salesman who has urged HIV sufferers, most notoriously in South Africa, to stop taking real medicines and use ‘nutritional supplements’ instead. Rath has faced increasing international criticism for his activities, including from the Guardian’s Ben Goldacre, who ran a series of articles discussing Rath’s extraordinary claims. In response, Rath launched a libel suit – but this has now backfired disastrously. The evidence against Rath is so clear that he had no real chance of success, even under the UK’s notoriously plaintiff-friendly libel laws. Yesterday it was announced that he had abandoned the suit, with costs awarded of at least £200,000.
Today’s Guardian gives wall-to-wall coverage to Rath and his nefarious activities, with a damning video which discusses several cases of people who have died after being taken in by his bogus claims.
I chanced happily on this industrial-strength brew last time I was in Belgium – presumably this is what’s on-tap when the “AIDS reappraisalists” get together and hold conferences. I particularly like the fact that you get to drink it out of something that looks like a piece of scientific equipment, but isn’t…
Jon Rappaport talks a good talk – he’s clear, coherent, charismatic, reasonable-sounding. He’s also catastrophically wrong, according to the overwhelming body of peer-reviewed scientific evidence around HIV and AIDS – and the ideology he disseminates has had deadly consequences worldwide.
In this talk, we see all the key elements of AIDS denialist ideology – the claim that the various symptoms associated with the disease couldn’t possibly all be caused by one virus; the claim that AIDS-related deaths are actually the result of the anti-retroviral drugs given to HIV patients to treat their condition; the claim that this is all a big conspiracy perpetrated against vulnerable groups within society, the claim that ‘alternative medicine’ offers a better way, and the flattering claim that those who don’t believe in the existence of AIDS are part of a courageous, besieged independently-minded group of sceptics who have managed to ‘unbrainwash’ themselves.