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Posts Tagged Ian Wishart

Wishart misrepresents fluoride science to advance his extreme ideology Ken Perrott May 08

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Seems if there is an anti-scientific bandwagon to climb on New Zealand’s own self-described “investigative journalist” just can’t help himself. Having self-published books on climate change (he denies the science) and evolution (he supports creationism) it shouldn’t be long before he will be producing a book on fluoridation. And, yes, he is agin it.

Investigate

Until then we will have to make do with an article by him, in the April/May 2014 issue of his self-published magazine “Investigate.”  It’s called “Brushing up on the science” (and no, it doesn’t contain any reliable science at all – what did you expect?). Bloody hell – he is going to have to find more material if he is to write a book. This is nothing more than extensive quotes from Paul Connett (remember him?), a Mickey Mouse alternative dentistry group  (the International academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology) and Justice Hansen’s judgement on the New Health NZ vs South Taranaki District Council High Court case (it’s worth downloading and reading this 43 page judgement).

Mind you, in the past I have found Wishart’s “investigative” journalism to rely heavily on quotes from newspapers and unreliable sources rather than any objective material or reasoning. In my review of his book on climate change Air Con, for example, I noted that 43% of the book was straight out quotes – with 75% of one chapter straight quotes (see Alarmist con)!

IAOMT – an authority??

The first of Wishart’s sole 2 authorities on fluoridation is the  International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology (IAOMT). Yes – they are also agin it – claiming in Wishart’s quote:

“There is no discernible health benefit derived from ingested fluoride and . . . the preponderance of evidence shows that ingested fluoride in dosages now prevalent in public exposures aggravates existing illnesses, and causes a greater incidence of adverse health effects.”

But IAOMT are neither authoritative or reliable.

Wishart describes them as “a major North American dental professional association.” Others are not as impressed (or as willing to pull the wool over readers’ eyes). RationalWiki informs us that the IAOMT:

“is a quack organization based in Canada that promotes dental woo. They were responsible for the “smoking tooth” video that frequently gets passed around in altie circles. Their main issue is mercury amalgam fillings, which they claim can cause all sorts of neurological illnesses such as Parkinson’s and autism. They sell filling removal kits for “dentists” along with various other nature woo, mostly vitamin supplements. The organization also opposes water fluoridation, claims to put out peer-reviewed “research,” and supports “health freedom.””

So, another “alternative” organisation one can sign up to and use for letters after your name. Hardly a mainstream or respected organisation – it has only 2 affiliated members in New Zealand! One of these is Lawrence Brett from Whangarei. Brett  often fronts for the anti-fluoride activist group Fluoride Action network of NZ (FANNZ). For example in his submission to the Hamilton City Council Fluoride Tribunal he gave his affiliation as the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology. I guess some councillors who knew no better thought this meant he was an internationally recognised expert – he isn’t. (In fact, according to FANNZ sopkesperson Mark Atkin, Brett was denied a graduate degree from Otago University because his thesis was unacceptable).

The Connett interview

Most of Wishart’s article is just extended quotes from an interview he had with Paul Connett (his second “authority,” during Paul’s last annual visit to New Zealand. Nothing new there at all. The same tired old arguments he used in our exchange (see the Fluoride debate). I’ll just deal here with the dishonest use of quotes by Connett and Wishart on “topical application” of fluoride  and the reduction of tooth decay.

Wishart misattributes this quote to the American Dental Association Journal:

“that the mechanism by which fluoride may have a meaningful impact on the reduction of dental caries is by topical application, not ingestion.”

Anti-fluoride activists are always misrepresenting this issue of topical mechanisms so I searched for the full quote. Only 2 hits – Wishart’s article and an anti-fluoridation site. Couldn’t help wondering if that is Wishart’s real source. Not very professional if it is.

Still, the anti-fluoridation site did attribute their claim (not a quote) to “the cover story of the July 2000 Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA).” And that cover story was a paper by J. D. Featherstone (2000) The science and practice of caries prevention, Journal of the American Dental Association, 131(7), 887–99.  You can get an idea of what Featherstone wrote from the paper’s abstract which reads in part:

Conclusions. Caries progression or reversal is determined by the balance between protective and pathological factors. Fluoride, the key agent in battling caries, works primarily via topical mechanisms: inhibition of demineralization, enhancement of remineralization and inhibition of bacterial enzymes.

Clinical Implications. Fluoride in drinking water and in fluoride-containing products reduces caries via these topical mechanisms.

So the old story of changing “topical mechanism” to “topical application” – hence implying fluoridated toothpaste and not fluoridated water. And removing the word “primarily.” A finer point is that Featherstone is referring to specific mechanisms involved in “caries progression or reversal” and “battling caries.” This does not negate an overall role for fluoride in strengthening the apatites in teeth and reducing wear which can contribute to oral health (see Ingested fluoride is beneficial to dental health).

The Hastings project

Wishart refers to the exchange I had with Connett but misrepresents me when he says:

“Perrott was forced to admit the New Zealand study was certainly “Bad science” but was offended by the allegation of fraud.”

What I wrote is easy enough to check. Referring to possible influence of changes in dental practice Connett relied on for his charge of “fraud” I wrote:

Akers (2008) agrees these changes confounded the experiment:

“The changing of NZSDS [NZ School Dental Service] diagnostic criteria for caries and the cessation of the NZSDS nurses’ practice of prophylactic restoration of fissures further confused interpretations. While later antifluoridationists justifiably claimed that the changed diagnostic criteria contributed to the fall in caries (Colquhoun, 1999), their “science or swindle” questioning of methodology and findings (Colquhoun and Mann, 1986; Colquhoun, 1998; Colquhoun and Wilson, 1999) simplified confounding variables and dismissed international evidence supporting community water fluoridation as one factor in declining community caries incidence (de Liefde, 1998).”

So science, probably bad science, but not the “swindle” Paul wants to believe – and wants us to accept. As an aside, I think changes in dental practice like this will have also contributed to the graphs Paul and other anti-fluoride activists love to use to prove improvement of oral health in the absence of fluoridation – yet they never discuss that sort of detail. It is a potential problem with any longitudinal study and Colquhon was criticised for ignoring it in his own presentation of New Zealand data.

The dotted line in the RH figure is effectively what Cheng et al (2007) used for Ireland in the LH figure. Just because oral health has improved in countries without water fluoridation does not “prove” fluoride is ineffective.

Wishart misquotes my “probably”   as “certainly”. Actually, on reflection it should have been “possibly” as I was really referring to the problems one sees in long-term experiments of this nature when observed in hindsight. I did refer to this later saying:

“I know from experience the complexity of long term trials involving many people doing different jobs. It is easy to take a bureaucratic letter out of context, oversimply or misinterpret problems of personal approaches to methodology and ignore the fact that managers of such trials inevitably face difficulties from factors outside their control. As for reporting findings, the data amassed and details of methodology and their changes can be mind-boggling for an outsider who attempts an understanding.”

As for being “offended” by Connett’s unwarranted allegations of fraud (Connett did not bother checking out the published reports from the project relying only on an out of context bureaucratic letter) – yes I guess I do find that sort of dishonesty offensive. Worse I think it is professionally irresponsible as I wrote:

“I think Paul is irresponsible to make such damning charges of “fraud” without considering all the material. He actually has no evidence at all the project was a “fraud” or that the reasons for dropping Napier as a control were “bogus.” His behaviour is unprofessional.”

The Napier “control”

Wishart’s extensive quote of Connett refers to the dropping of Napier as a “control” region “for reasons that may not have been legitimate.” In our exchange Connett said:

“after about two years the control city of Napier was dropped for bogus reasons.” 

So “bogus” or “not legitimate” – but what reason does he give? – None! I asked him for a justification and his response was simple – avoidance:

“However, whether the control city was dropped for bogus or legitimate reasons the central charge remains the same.”

Again I just think that is professionally irresponsible. Connett makes charges of scientific fraud and illegitimate behaviour by the scientists without any justification at all.

Incidentally, this is how Akers refers to the problem of using Napier as a control city:

“The abandonment of the control city (Napier) because it had a lower initial caries rate than that of Hastings (Ludwig, 1958) implicated soil science as a confounding factor in New Zealand cariology (Ludwig and Healey, 1962; Ludwig, 1963).”

It would have been irresponsible to pretend that Napier was a proper control in these circumstances).

The “Nanny State”

Wishart’s last words are “Roll on Nanny State”. These show his motivations – not only on fluoridation but also his attacks on climate change science. This is his starting and finishing point. His whole reason for distorting the science. A blatant example of what Professor Gluckman described as using science as a proxy for values or political views.

It’s the old “freedom of personal choice” argument in this case Justice Hansen represents the state so anything he decides or recommends becomes simply an expression of “state interests” – “nanny state interests” at that, and should not be considered as a result of evidence or reason.

Well,  everyone is entitled to their own ideology and its political manifestations – we do still live in a free country. Fortunately, because we are a democracy the extremist positions Wishart arrives at from his ideology have very little support. Even if all the Hamilton citizens who voted against fluoridation in the referendum had personal choice as their sole motive (and they certainly didn’t) they amounted to only 30% of the voters. (Or, if I resorted to the silly arguments anti-fluoridation activists have used to explain away the referendum result –  to only 30% of 34% (the proportion who voted – about 10% of the population.)

It is one-sided to see fluoridation as merely a “freedom of choice” issue. It is really an issue of balancing freedom of choice against social good. We often have these discussions in our society because social organisation involves balancing these two apparent extremes. In practice we usually find some procedure enabling a working balance on issues – often in ways that allow actions producing social good while still maintaining a high degree of personal choice.

Consider “social goods” like free secular education and public hospitals. Our society supports these (or something close to them) while at the same time not denying freedom of choice to those members of society who refuse to use them. The fact individuals making that choice to avoid the social good incurs costs to them, sometimes substantial costs like medical insurance and school fees, does not deny the fact they are taking advantage of their freedom of choice. The social goods have not caused a loss of freedom of choice.

Yes, people who wish avoid the advantage of a public health measure like community water fluoridation may incur some costs in purchasing other sources of drinking water or kitchen filters (at far less cost than private education and medical insurance fees). But this does not mean their freedom of choice is being denied. These people may complain about these costs but should remember that freedom of personal choice also involves personal responsibility for the consequences.

There is also the point that the exercise of personal freedom of choice should not take away the freedom of choice of many others who benefit from a public health measure. Justice Hansen made this argument in his  judgment on the fluoridation issue (Hansen 2014);

“Provided it does not have consequences for public health a person has the right to make even the poorest decisions in respect of their own health. But where the state, either directly or through local government, employs public health interventions, the right is not engaged. Were it otherwise, the individual’s right to refuse would become the individual’s right to decide outcomes for others. It would give any person a right of veto over public health measures which it is not only the right but often the responsibility of local authorities to deliver.”

Dr. John Harris of the Department of Ethics and Social Policy at the University of Manchester, UK, made the same point in his article The Ethics of fluoridation:

“We should ask not are we entitled to impose fluoridation on unwilling people, but are the unwilling people entitled to impose the risks, damage & costs of the failure to fluoridate on the community at large? When we compare the freedoms at stake, the most crucial is surely the one which involves liberation from pain and disease.”

Conclusion

Ian Wishart has relied on two bogus authorities to supported his distortion of the science. But at least he has been honest enough to show his extremist ideological reasons for this by attacking the “Nanny State.”.

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New “Hockey Stick” but same tired old denial Ken Perrott Apr 03

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Ian Wishart is on his climate change conspiracy high horse again (see New global warming scandal hits climate science). His fevered imagination has managed to produce a “scandal” out of the publication of a scientific paper. Of course the scandal is based entirely on his climate change denial echo chamber. His denier mates have ripped into this paper. They are obviously very upset by it – more so than normal. It’s worth asking why?

I think the simplest answer lies with the word “Hockey Stick!” This phrase, together with reference to Dr Michael Mann, usually gets them foaming at the mouth. And it’s amazing what rubbish they can spout once so provoked.

This time they are reacting to a new “Hockey Stick” presented in a recent Science paper by Shaun A. Marcott, Jeremy D. Shakun, Peter U. Clark and Alan C. Mix. (see “A Reconstruction of Regional and Global Temperature for the Past 11,300 Years.”) The earlier research had extended back roughly 1,500 years, and suggested that the rapid temperature spike of the past century, believed to be a consequence of human activity, exceeded any warming episode during those years. This new work confirms that result while suggesting the modern warming is unique over a longer period.

The new work compiled the most meticulous reconstruction yet of global temperatures over the past 11,300 years, almost the entire Holocene. They used indicators like the distribution of microscopic, temperature-sensitive ocean creatures to determine past climate. The plots below compare these new results with those found by previous workers

Hockeystick-Marcott_Mann2008

The temperature reconstruction of Marcott 2013 (past 11,000 years) and a collection of reconstructions (past 1800 years) as presented by Mann 2008. (Credit: The two epochs of Marcott and the Wheelchair).

Wishart says the new paper “claimed to have validated the discredited “hockey stick” graph and proven that modern temperatures were the highest in four millennia.” He then goes on to use the authors’ simple acknowledgement that “The 20th century portion of our paleotemperature stack is not statistically robust” to claim their “story is rapidly unravelling” and that this is a “new global warming scandal.”

Bloody hell – is that all it takes to produce a scandal? For a scientist to point out limitations in part of their data (an area already extensively covered by other work)? What does Ian think – that every piece of scientific work must repeat in depth all the previous work? That no existing information can be used?

No of course not. He is just being dishonest. Using anything he can get hold of to weave a story discrediting honest science – and honest scientists. We have seen it all before in the lies he and his climate change denial mates promoted about Dr Michael Mann’s work – the work producing the original “Hockey Stick.”

For example, Wishart’s reference to “the discredited “hockey stick” graph” is a lie he promotes in his book “Con Air” (see  Alarmist con for my review) and is repeated ad nauseum in the climate denial echo chamber. But it is just not true. Far from being discredited this work has been validated again and again. It’s the critics of this work who have been discredited. Been caught lying.

I summarised this several years ago in my article Climate change deniers’ tawdry manipulation of “hockey sticks”. Have a look at that if you want details.

The climate change denial movement worked extremely hard to discredit the work of Michael Mann which produced the original “Hockey Stick.” Mann has described this campaign in his book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines (see The truth about the hockey stick for my review of the book). Their campaign failed. This work has been discredited in one place only – the  biased mind of the committed climate change denier like Ian Wishart.

Meanwhile, if you wish to learn more about the Marcott (2013) paper and their work here are some links:

A Reconstruction of Regional and Global Temperature for the Past 11,300 Years.
Global Temperatures Highest in 4,000 Years
Response by Marcott et al.
Recent Warming Is Still Unprecedented In Speed, Scale And Cause: A Marcott Et Al. FAQ
Fresh Thoughts from Authors of a Paper on 11,300 Years of Global Temperature Changes

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Creationists prefer numerology to real scientific research Ken Perrott Mar 17

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Ian Wishart is a local “investigative’ journalist and well-known conspiracy theorist from way back. He’s dabbled in climate change, creationism, health, political, crime, and other issues. He’s a firm creationist and so it’s no surprise he has picked up on a recently published paper Scientists dumbstruck: signs of intelligent design in DNA code. No surprise because it’s currently being promoted by creationists and the Discovery Institute as some sort of proof of intelligent design. And Wishart is part of that echo chamber.

The paper itself is extremely dense – probably only fully intelligible to computational biologists and similar specialists. Fortunately, local science blogger Grant Jacobs, who has skills in this area,  has been through the paper and explains it in an article that is accessible to most people – see Investigate magazine struck dumb by numerology of genetic code. Have a read, you can see what the paper really says, what the problems are with it and make up your own mind about the degree to which Ian Wishart, and other creationists, have been fooled by it.

“Design inference” and “reinterpretation research”

I think there is a bit of a lesson here. Grant describes a basic problem with the paper.

“it rests on a false comparison of two options:

  1. Created by random chance
  2. Created by space aliens

This is set up so that if the first is unlikely, the second “must” be right.

The setting is rigged because these two aren’t all the possibilities. There is at least one more:

  1. Created by a non-random natural process (e.g. evolved)

To declare any one the ‘preferred’ choice they’d have to investigate all three possibilities, then compare what was found. But they don’t: they only look at the first then declare the second as the ‘winner’ without ever looking at the third.”

Anyone who has followed the so-called research carried out by intelligent design proponents may recognise this pattern. Discovery Institute senior fellow William A. Dembski even formulates the pattern as a basic way of detecting intelligent design. Creationists often call it the Design Filter. (He describes it in his book  The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities).

Usually the “design inference” boils down to:

  1. Reject chance – easy to set up statistics to show probabilities are extremely low. (For example, the chance of all atoms randomly combining to form a molecule of DNA at one instant is remote);
  2. Analyse any existing scientific explanation or mechanism to show it is wrong. (Easy to do by misrepresentation, choosing old research, ignoring alternatives, etc.);
  3. Accept design as the only, default, alternative. Therefore claim design has been “proved.”

Now, combine that approach with the other leg of intelligent design research – reinterpretation research.” This has extremely low overheads as it only involves taking published work, rubbishing it by misinterpretation, etc., and inventing a different interpretation of the facts to “prove” design.

In essence this is what all intelligent design “research” boils down to. At best it can only find possible problems in current understanding (which is surely the purpose of all research). It cannot support an alternative hypothesis.

So you can see the basic character of all the intelligent design publications they claim. Work which investigates possible problems with existing ideas in evolutionary science without offering, or even considering,  alternative hypotheses. Plenty of that around – put it on the list.

But they ignore the normal honest research approach. They never advance a structured hypothesis, one that is consistent with intelligent design. They therefore never submit such hypothesis to any testing or validation.

Yet they want to claim their ideas as science – and want to teach it to children in science classes!

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The silliness of a self-proclaimed ’investigative journalist’ Ken Perrott Apr 15

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Just imagine it. You call on your car mechanic when you have a serious health problem. Or ask your oncologist to service your car.

Who would be so stupid?

Ian Wishart‘s "investigative journalism"

Well its amazing the lengths some people go to when they are in denial. New Zealand’s self-described leading “investigative journalist,” Ian Wishart, seems to be advocating doing just that with his article NASA rocked by climate change revolt.

NASA rocked by a revolt – my arse!

Ian is referring to the latest little “scandal” occupying the climate denial echo chamber. The letter from 49 retired or former NASA engineers and astronauts asking NASA to refrain from making statements on the findings of their climate scientists.  Skeptical Science points out that the 49 signatories  “include 23 administrators, 8 astronauts, 7 engineers, 5 technicians, and 4 scientists/mathematicians of one sort or another (none of those sorts having the slightest relation to climate science).”

So these guys want the public statements of NASA on climate science to be determined by anyone but the climate scientists! And local climate change deniers are delusional, (or dishonest) enough to describe these signatories as “specialists with intimate knowledge of the nature of atmosphere and space. “

This letters supported by lists of inappropriate non-experts on the subject are a common tactic of climate (evolutionary science, tobacco harm, etc.) deniers. They are not news. And Wishart’s promotion of this one just shows the pathetic levels of his “investigation” skills.

I like this comment made at Think Progress post about this “news:” – NASA Climate ‘Skeptics’ Respond With Science! Just Kidding:

Let’s put the astronauts in this group in a press conference and ask for volunteers from among them to serve as crew members on the maiden flight to Mars onboard a spacecraft designed, engineered, and built by 49 climate scientists.”

Make that retired climate scientists! And perhaps throw in a few self-described “investigative journalists.”

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Breivik’s terrorism and science Ken Perrott Jul 26

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People gather around a makeshift memorial outside the Domkirken church in Oslo on July 25, 2011 where a minute of silence was observed. Photographer: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP

OK, the connection between the Norwegian terrorism and science may not be immediately obvious. And I don’t refer here to the chemistry of his bomb manufacture (which he relates at length in his compendium).

No, I refer to his attitude towards science as demonstrated by the little tirade in the compendium about climate change (see Chapter 2.72: Green is the new red – Stop Enviro-communism.)

Here he presents climate science as having an agenda “to contribute to create as world government lead by the UN or in other ways increase the transfer of resources (redistribute resources) from the developed Western world to the third world.” He calls it the “Anthropogenic Global Warming scam.” He recommends a video starring our old friend Christopher Monckton. And presents the classical denier rave about “climategate.”

It’s all stuff we had heard before – and actually local climate change denier Ian Wishart presents this very same conspiracy in his book Air Con (which I reviewed in Alarmist con).

And that is the thing about his compendium. it mostly reads like a cut-and-paste from conservative websites, blogs and forums. Sure, he may have added a little in terms of a programme to assassinate many people throughout Europe, listing organisations and political parties he targets. And the explicit threat or programme of violence is not usually articulated in those conservative sources. But his whole justification is based on that conservatism and the conservative issues like anti-communism, climate change denial, promotion of patriarchy and theocracy and opposition to liberalism and feminism. These conservative issues have fed his hatred, advocacy of violence and assassination programme.

I am actually intrigued that almost all the local blogs who have in the past promoted the ideas covered by this compendium have been strangely silent on the terror in Norway. There hasn’t (so far) been a squeak of condemnation or comment from the usual list of climate change denier and conservative Christian blogs. It must be embarrassing for them to see such an inhuman terrorist advocating for the same issues they have in the past.

Conservative “catalysts”

But there have been commentators who have argued in support of Breivik’s ideas. Usually they start by clarifying that they are opposed to the murder and terrorism, “, but . . . .!.” As a mate of mine used to say you can usually ignore everything that comes before the word “but.”

For example, a commenter here claims “the ’multi-cultural’ issue has provided the catalyst for this act.’  I bet conservatives throughout Europe are doing the same thing – opportunistically using this dreadful event to argue their extreme approach to the cultural problems in Europe. Fortunately the Norwegians have adopted a far more adult and humane response – and most people admire them for it.

This “catalyst” argument can, and probably will, be used on all these issues – feminism, religion, climate change, immigration, religious privilege, etc., – to divert the discussion onto conservative hobby horses. And away from the immense and real problem of hatred and terrorism.

And if we want to look for real catalysts none of these issues really qualify. The real catalyst for Breivik’s terror is the climate of conservative hatred that is so often promoted on these issues. The “them vs us” mentality promoted on issues like feminism, politics, reproductive rights, family, climate change, etc.

It’s not a terrifically big step to go from Christopher Monckton’s advocacy of prosecuting climate scientists and imprisoning the to the final solution – assassination of one’s political foes, even those with the same ethnicity and religion. Even children or teenagers (as in the Labour Party camp on Utøya).

So you don’t have to

Breivik has been very clever in preparing and making his compendium freely available before his acts of terror. He obviously fantasised that these ideas could lead to popular support for a patriotic, conservative, European revolution.

I certainly hope it has the opposite reaction. Once people see these relatively populist conservative issues connected with sich inhumane terror, surely this will help discredit those ideas? (Perhaps that’s why the local conservative bloggers are so quiet). So in a sense I think it is worth becoming familiar with his programme.

Few people will bother reading this tedious 1500 page document but much of it will be repeated on the internet and in newspapers. I recommend anyone interested to follow JeffSharlet (@JeffSharlet) on twitter. he is currently reading, and briefly reporting on, that document. Follow the tag  #ReadingBreivik. Sharlet is a published author – I recommend his books C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy and The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power.  Jeff will probably be writing some in-depth articles on Breivik and there is rumour of a Blogging Heads interview.

Breivik has made problems of “multi-culturalism” worse

Finally, Sam Harris makes some valid points in his blog post Christian Terrorism and Islamophobia. He is critical of the presentation of  as a “Christian fundamentalist.” He is clearly a cultural Christian and advocates elements of theocracy and religious discrimination. But his writing don’t across as that of a fundamentalist. Clearly conservative and anti-Islam.

But that introduces another problem. There are religious and cultural problems in Europe. There is a lot of Islamophobia. The later makes proper discussion of these problems difficult. A simple discussion of religious privilege, problems of Sharia law, tax exemptions, faith schools, etc., can cause a naive liberal response involving charges of islamophobia.

So the diversionist tactic promoting the idea that the cause of this terrorism is the “catalyst” of Islam or “multi-culturalism” will only increase the reluctance to sensibly discuss these issues.

As Sam says: “the final irony of Breivik’s despicable life is that he has made that truth even more difficult to speak about.”

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The chances of Royal Weddings arising randomly… Ken Perrott May 12

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Royal Wedding – no chance – "not in a billion universes."

Now, I am not a Royalist. The whole subject bores me and I profess ignorance about the intricacies and origins of the institution. But I couldn’t help notice there was a Royal Wedding recently.  And having just read the blog post The chances of life arising randomly…., by New Zealand’s leading village creationist Ian Wishart, I thought I would apply his reasoning to help me understand the event.

You see. Something really strange happened. Hundreds of people spontaneously appeared at Westminster Abbey. Not only that. Half of them were adorned with strange contraptions on their heads and the other half dressed like penguins. But the coincidences extended even further. At the same time hundreds of thousands of people congregated in surrounding streets in London. But that’s not all. The coincidences were even more amazing. It’s estimated 2 billion (2,000,000) people watched the events on TV.

A statistical estimation?

Now what are the chances of that happening? If you took all those 2 billion or more people, removed them from the event and their TVs, removed their funny clothes and dispersed them, and their apparel,  around the world what are the odds of that Royal Wedding happening? I reckon the chances are extremely remote. A bit like the example Wishart gives:

“if you broke open the simplest living cell known to exist today, and broke every chemical bond within it so that you were left with its individual ingredients, the odds in favour of that cell putting itself back together again would be only one chance in 10100,000,000,000. To put that figure in perspective, there haven’t even been that many nano-seconds on the clock since the dawn of time nearly 14 billion years ago.

With odds this remote, explains Hugh Ross,[6] ’the time scale issue becomes completely irrelevant. What does it matter if the earth has been around for 10 seconds, 10 thousand years or 10 billion years? The size of the universe is of no consequence either. If all the matter in the visible universe were converted into the building blocks of life, and if assembly of these building blocks was attempted once every microsecond (1 millionth of a second) for the entire age of the universe, then instead of the odds being 1 in 10100,000,000,000 they would be 1 in 1099,999,999,916.’ [my emphasis]

Now for the sake of scientific accuracy, that’s not an estimation about the spontaneous generation of life randomly, but it is an estimation of whether the known chemical ingredients of a living cell — every ingredient needed — could re-combine from scratch. Clearly the answer is an emphatic no, never, not in a billion universes.”

A cell – as likely as a Royal Wedding

I reckon the number of components in this Royal Wedding may not be as large, so perhaps we can leave a few zeros off the end of the figures Wishart and Ross quote.  But clearly that Royal Wedding had no real chance of happening “not even in a billion universes.”

But, perhaps if we took our decomposition of the wedding as far as Wishart has, breaking into component atoms, the calculation would show even less chance of a Royal Wedding than a living cell.

Yet, like the cell, it did happen. So surely we are justified in drawing the conclusion Wishart’s statistical expertise has lead him to:

“On the basis of the evidence in front of scientists at present, the chances of [a Royal Wedding]* arising naturally anywhere in the universe, without divine intervention of some kind, are currently statistically classed as ’impossible’.”

Here I have just substituted “life” with “Royal Wedding.”

Not overnight, but it will happen

I know, I know! Someone’s going to tell me such a statistical analysis is inappropriate. That there were clear mechanisms involved in the lead up to the Royal Wedding. But what is good for the goose is good for the gander.

If Ian can take the liberty of ignoring mechanisms, and the physical and chemical process, involved in the transformation or evolution of chemicals into more complex forms I can do the same with the Royal Wedding.

My conclusions about the Royal Wedding are just as legitimate (or not) as Ian’s conclusions about life.

Ian’s quoting fetish

By the way, Ian’s post is basically just a reproduction of a chapter from one of his books. If you have read the post you will have noticed that it is heavy with quoted material.

Ian seems to make a habit of this. I reviewed his book AIR CON: The Seriously Inconvenient Truth About Global Warming. One of my comments appears relevant here:

“My first impression when I opened Air Con was the number of quotes. So I decided to analyse the proportion of space devoted to quotations.  Seventy % of one chapter (’Unsettled Scientists’) are quotes! The book as a whole is about 43% quotes. I can understand why authors must use quotes — but why so many? To my mind excessive quoting undermines credibility.”

In this case I have taken the post – basically the chapter from Divine Code plus an introductory 4 lines.

Fourty eight percent (48%) of this is quotes!

Perhaps extensive quoting helps Ian to assume he must be an expert in whatever subject he tackles. Religion, science, evolution, creationism, intelligent design, climate change, political conspiracy. He tackles them all.

Mind you when we come across extensive quoting in scientific articles a warning sign lights up. We tend to suspect plagiarism.

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Scientific misconduct and skepticgate Ken Perrott Oct 11

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I have been interested in scientific misconduct recently – partly as a result of the Hauser scandal. Consequently I was reading about a recent conference on the subject. The documents included plagiarism right up there with the more commonly accepted forms of misconduct like falsification of evidence.

Plagiarism is the use of text from others’ writing without attribution. Now I realised that this was a big issue for student assessment at universities but apparently it is also an issue for scientific journals. Many journals now use a computer programme to check out submitted papers for plagiarized content.

Just imagine, though, there is a whole field of scientific publishing where such things would not be routinely checked. I am referring to popular science articles, newspaper articles – and reports to clients, including governments.

Well, the proverbial seems to be hitting the fan for one such report – the Wegman report. Gareth at Hot Topic briefly reports this in his article Wegman investigated for plagiarism, ’skepticgate’ looms.

What is the Wegman report?

This report is frequently quoted by climate change sceptics, contrarians and deniers. It is central to the “Hockey Stick Controversy” they promote*. This refers to climate change sceptics/deniers attempts to discredit the work of Michael Mann and his co-workers on historic trends in global temperature. In fact the claim that Mann’s work has been discredited is one of the central myths deniers use. See my post  Climate change deniers’ tawdry manipulation of ’hockey sticks’ which was a response to a local manifestation of this myth by blogger Poneke (13 years of Climategate emails show tawdry manipulation of science by a powerful cabal at the heart of the global warming campaign). Poneke even claimed, at the time, that the IPCC had dropped Mann’s work.

Climate change skeptics managed to get the US House of Representatives to hold Committee hearings on Mann’s ’hockey stick.’ As part of the political maneuvering some republicans formed the Wegman Committee to investigate and report on Mann’s work. Hence the Wegmann Report.

Incidentally around the same time other members of the House asked the authoritative  National Research Council to do their own investigation. This resulted in the report  Surface Temperature Reconstructions for the Last 2,000 Years. Its very thorough, authoritative and was itself thoroughly reviewed. It basically supported Mann et al’s findings (with some criticisms), so you don’t often find deniers mentioning it* (although they will sometimes selectively quote extracts in a distorting way).

I have read both reports, was impressed with the National Research Council report but found Wegman’s report biased, and actually disingenuous.

Plagiarism found

For a while now the Canadian blog Deep Climate has been uncovering aspects of the political maneuvering behind the Wegman Committee. It has also been reporting a very detailed analysis of the Wegman report which found extensive and crude plagiarism. One of the persons plagiarised, Raymond Bradley a co-author of Michael Mann’s,  formally complained to Wegman’s employer which began an investigation (see University investigating prominent climate science critic).

Deep Climate has also released an analysis by John Mashey which exposed extensive plagiarism by Wegman and his students in other publications. Including some Ph.D. theses by students. (See Strange Scholarship - pdf file).

The Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (a political climate change denier) is currently carrying out a witch hunt against Michael Mann and the University of Virginia (see Ken Cuccinelli seems determined to embarrass Virginia). Ironically, one of the documents he relies on is the Wegman Report. Perhaps he should be directing his legal attentions at Wegman and his employer George Mason University – which after all is in his state.

This story is going to be interesting so keep an eye open for the results of the investigation.

The story has been picked up by several blogs and newspapers (see below) – strangely most of the usual critics of climate change science are so far silent.

*In my review of Ian Wishart’s book AIR CON, for example, I noted that he quoted extensively from the Wegman report and ignored completely authoritative National Research Council report (see Alarmist con).

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Vandalizing bookstores and censoring Books! Ken Perrott Feb 15

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This headline brings up pictures of Nazis ransacking bookshops during the Third Reich and throwing books onto fires.

But, no, it was just a bit of fanciful hysteria in an email I received from the Discovery Institute, the creationist/intelligent design “think tank” in Seattle, USA. And of course they had to blame Darwin! The actual headline was “Vandalizing Bookstores and Censoring Books in the Name of Darwin.”

This was their unbalanced reaction to a blogger who reported re-shelving  creationist books he found in the science section of his local bookshop into the religion section. I guess there are also offended Christians who re-shelve Richard Dawkins book The God Delusion from the religion to science shelves as well. There are certainly some who place religious pamphlets in copies of atheist books.

What a lot of hysteria about nothing. Their claim is silly: “his actions constitute censorship, pure and simple. Barton is trying to hide books he doesn’t like in order to prevent others from being exposed to views with which he disagrees. Indeed, he is apparently so insecure about the ability of Darwinists like Dawkins to make their case that he thinks he has the duty to vandalize private bookstores in order to keep the books of Darwin’s critics away from the public. Barton’s activities are not only juvenile, they may well be illegal.”

Just imagine the poor policemen who has to listen to that complaint!

Personally, I find bookshops shelve their books haphazardly anyway. I always have difficulty finding the books I am looking for. As for voluntary re-shelving – I must admit to hiding Eve’s Bite whenever I see it no matter the shelf (sorry, Ian, just joking). But why bother re-shelving. This is the way I see it:

  1. If creationist books are wrongly placed in the science section this should reduce sales as creationists usually don’t visit that section. They would sell better in the religion section. Just imagine how uncomfortable it would be if you were forced into the religion section when looking for a science book. Many science people would give up looking before that resorted to that.
  2. It’s not as if a non-creationist is going to buy the book while perusing possible science purchases. Unless they really want to anyway to use as a reference.
  3. If creationists are forced unwittingly into looking at shelves of science books in their desire to find a specific creationist book that can be only a good thing, surely.

So I say live and let live. It will all work out well in the end.

Mind you, it is fun watching the Discovery Institute foam at the mouth.

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Journeys to the Ice — New SciBlogsNZ blogger Ken Perrott Jan 19

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Welcome to Matt Woods, who is now blogging at sciblogsNZ. Matt spent some time working in Antarctica on an ice coring reconnaissance expedition. His blog, Journeys to the Ice, will cover Antarctica and Antarctic science.

Matt has also started a podcast. So go to his blog and have a look. perhaps subscribe to the podcast.

SciblogsNZ must now have about 30 bloggers. Its launch a few months ago represented a big step in science communication in New Zealand. I have certainly noticed a large increase in the activity of local science bloggers – and this must be a good thing.

Inevitably it’s led to a few attacks on science blogging by local conspiracy theorists (eg. Poneke and Ian Wishart). Another sign of effective communication, I say.

And Sciblogs NZ is certainly getting attention from others on the internet. It is currently the 5th ranking blog on the NZ blog ranking survey based on sitemeter statistics (see NZ blogs sitemeter ranking — January ‘10).

Update: This post was interpreted by Poneke as another conspiracy (see Taxpayer-funded Science Media Centre gets a curious ratings boost from global warming). Interesting though there seems to be a bit of a battle between sciblogs and Poneke on the rankings. (At the moment Sciblogs is in 4th and Poneke 5th).

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Lynch mob mentality Ken Perrott Jan 14

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We have seen a wave of anti-climate change hysteria in the last few months – coinciding with the stealing of emails from the East Anglia Climate Centre  and the UN Copenhagen Conference. Posts and comments on internet blogs and forums have been particularly extreme. And for many scientists, who usually don’t have to involve themselves in such irrational debates, the hostility, even hatred, towards scientists and scientific finding has been somewhat of a shock.

We are so used to debating, even emotionally debating, evidence – not personalities. But in this global debate personalities have been demonised and defamed. Mud is being thrown – and of course mud has the problem that it sometimes sticks. While most of this hysteria has been coming from the usual conspiracy theorists and conservative political activists many of the non-aligned public may be left with the feeling that there is something wrong in the scientific community. Or that scientific findings should not be easily accepted, perhaps they should even be rejected because they are scientific. Science itself is being demonised.

It’s an ongoing battle, I guess. These sorts of conflicts are inevitable and just have to be fought out.

Local conspiracy theorists

Our local conspiracy theorist, conservative Christian activist Ian Wishart, is again promoting personal attacks on a New Zealand scientist. In his article NZ scientist at centre of Pachauri allegations refuses to talk, Wishart, together with a UK conspiracy theorist group, EU Referendum, is accusing Andy Reisinger* of involvement in money laundering (see Pachauri: money laundering? Part II – by Richard…). Wisharts links with overseas conservative groups are enabling this story to be spread more widely. For example American Thinker (sic) and UD/RK Samhälls Debatt are  repeating it in their posts When it comes to the IPCC, follow the money – if you can and Climate Gate — All the manipulations and lies revealed 219 . (For some strange reason EU Referendum and UD/RK Samhälls Debatt attribute an Open Parachute post to Andy Reisinger – I would love to get hold of the emails between Ian Wishart and these groups).

This, of course, parallels the articles Ian Wishart ran last November/December attacking our scientists at NIWA. This started with his peddling of the discredited (see New Zealand’s denier-gate and New Zealand’s climate change deniers’ distortions exposed) report (Are we feeling warmer yet?) written by Richard Treadgold for local climate change denial groups. Overseas conservative blogs and newspapers repeated Wishart’s biased reporting, further demonising our local scientists. Despite the basic flaws in the report Wishart and local conservative bloggers persisted with their attacks and displayed some of the lynch mob mentality towards science and scientists locally. See for example:

I confess I now believe in manmade Global Warming; Three Questions for NIWA; Auckland Public Meeting: Climategate, NIWA and the ETS; NIWA, Climategate and Evasive Fallacious Answers; The NIWA Emails; NIWA ClimateGate link hits MSM in NZ [Update 3]; Climategate — How the scientific community is responding; Climate scientists caught lying; New Zealand not warming?; CLIMATEGATE — A better study than NIWA, by an 11 year old! and Kid and his dad: 1, Global Warming: 0.

Fighting back

Micheal Mann

There have been a number of good blog articles internationally putting the whole UK email issue into its correct perspective. I think this does demonstrate the importance of science blogging because only good science communicators can really do this job. Particularly as science journalism is a dying profession.

Its worth reading a couple of articles written by scientists who have been targets for the internet lynch mob. Micheal Mann, particularly vilified for his working on global temperature changes over time, was one of the email writers. His article Climate expert in the eye of an integrity storm from the Philadelphia Inquirer explains the phrases used in the emails and his opinion of the attack. And another email author Kevin Trenberth makes some brief comments in The truth about carbon dioxide, climate and the weather.

Kevin Trenberth

*By the way Andy Reisinger is a senior research fellow with the New Zealand Climate Change Research Institute at Victoria University of Wellington. He has worked in climate change science and policy as a research scientist and senior policy adviser on climate change to the New Zealand government. From 2006 to 2008, he was responsible for managing the production of the Synthesis Report of the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He is author of  the book Climate Change 101 (see A good climate change book) and blogs at Sciblogs NZ (Degrees of Change).

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