Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Toaster Timebomb
Will no-one think of the children?

From the Torygraph:

Nanoparticles can be one millionth the size of a grain of sand. They are used to build innovative materials currently used in 600 products worldwide, from socks to sunscreens and even food supplements.

However, little is known about the effects the tiny particles could have if they were to escape into the human body.

Now a powerful committee of experts is calling for more research into the health implications.

A two-year study by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution warned there is the possibility to damage human health but emphasised that not enough research had been done.

Some nanoparticles display similar characteristics to asbestos.

Professor Sir John Lawton, chairman of the commission, warned that nanotechnology is in danger of becoming like genetically modified crops (GM), with science forging ahead without public understanding or trust.

"It's clearly very early in the development of these technologies, and at this stage we've found no evidence of nanomaterials causing harm to human health or the environment," he said.

"However, would we know if nanomaterials were causing harm? No we wouldn't. There's no evidence of harm, but a lot of that is because of a lack of evidence."


And laboratory research into carbon nanofibres used in clothing suggested they were "not too different" from asbestos fibres that cause lung cancer.

Sir John said he would not wear clothes made of nanofibres, although he would wear sunscreen that uses nanoparticles.

I wonder if I can be a journalist too? Hmm...

Used in around 30 million households, on products from bread to bagels, they can be a million times more useful than the entire British press corps. Manufacturers say these "toasters" are safe, but what if they were to escape?   There is no evidence that they are dangerous, but according to the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, that may only be because very little research has been done into the subject. 
"Would we know if toasters were causing harm? No we wouldn't," said the commission's chair, Sir John Lawton. Happily, Sir John Lawton has agreed to chair another commission: this, too, will fail to establish if toasters are causing harm, but it will pay off the remainder of his mortgage. After all, laboratory research into toasters revealed they were "not too different" to assault rifles. 

Friday, November 21, 2008

In which I am Full Of Win

Passed my viva yesterday. All over but the shouting/corrections.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

This is lovely

[Non-soppy posting will resume soon.]

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Fun with telephones
In lieu of a grown-up post about memes, that is forthcoming, dead honest guv

Well, all the clever and sophisticated kids are rolling their eyes about just how provincial and boring it all is, but I'm afraid I'm one of those squares who thinks the crime of making obscene phone calls is.... a crime.

I also note that assuming that someone is a member of a burlesque group called the "Satanic Sluts" constitutes licence to broadcast their sexual history on the TV, is functionally equivalent to the saloon bar slogan "phoar, with those short skirts and make-up, they're just asking for it, aren't they?". 

I also note that to comment on the Brand/Ross affair on the BBC website, I must adhere to a comments policy that includes:

Keep your contributions civil, tasteful and relevant. Please:

  • No defamatory comments. A defamatory comment is one that is capable of damaging the reputation of a person or organisation. If successfully sued you could be held liable for considerable damages and costs.
  • Do not post messages that are unlawful, harassing, defamatory, abusive, threatening, harmful, obscene, profane, sexually oriented, homophobic or racially offensive.
  • No swearing. People of all ages read and contribute to Have Your Say. Please don't use profanities or other words which might offend them.
  • No inappropriate usernames (vulgar, offensive, etc).

It seems reasonable to expect those on the BBC to adhere to the same standard.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sodding 'memes'
A rant
Quick questions:

1) Are there any occasions when the word "meme" must be used, such that "idea", "model", "hope", "aspiration", "belief", "dream" and similar words cannot express the same notion,only  with greater precision?

2) "Meme" rhymes with "gene", which makes it sound almost scientific. If memes were referred to as "magic idea fairies" or "midichlorians", would this make them any less believable? 

and finally,
3) [The 'homeopathy' question] What evidence would lead you to reject the meme hypothesis?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Mash-up madness!
In which we muse on the implications of new copyright policy of the American Physical Society

Whilst trying to check the maximum article length for Applied Physics Letters, I stumbled across this:

When you submit an article to an APS journal, we ask you to sign our copyright form. It transfers copyright for the article to APS, but keeps certain rights for you, the author. We have recently changed the form to add the right to make ‘‘derivative works’’ that reuse parts of the article in a new work. 

This is rather exciting[1]: the APS has always given you the right to reprint figures for use in books, and for all co-authors to host a .pdf of papers on personal websites, this means you'll be able to use individual figures directly. [Also, it'll save the bother of clearing figures individually with APS, should you be writing a review chapter]

The editorial goes on to state that this will permit authors to create Wikipedia articles, which seems a bit passé, although I suppose it might raise the quality/quantity of the wikipedia physics articles.

[1] For a given value of "exciting", obviously...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

In honour of Paul Krugman

A fun paper for this years Nobel laureate in economics:

My favourite bit is "This paper is, then, a serious analysis of a ridiculous subject, which is of course the opposite of what is usual in economics", but figure II - a Minkowski diagram with really imaginary axes - is good, too.

[via John Band]

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Two more pieces of Joy

My job-hunting-derived blogging hiatus has come to an end due to these pieces of Joy:

Cross country running "Cross-country running at school could be a form of physical abuse" - [source] 

Feeding children (the Tam Fry edition) "Tam Fry, a member of the National Obesity Forum's board, will tell a conference that youngsters who are over-fed by their parents should be treated as victims of abuse, as happens with malnourished children." - [source]

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

And it's in

The printer has taken both my thesis -and a vast quantity of cold, hard, cash- and has undertaken to deliver final copies to the University next week.

I am off to bed.

Friday, July 25, 2008

A modest proposal

This is brilliant:

If you could choose anyone, from any walk of life, to be Prime Minister, who would you choose? > Bob Geldof. I would then make it my life's mission to hold a yearly concert in a field and denounce him as a 'typical politician' to a bunch of wristband wearing teenagers who have a vague idea that they are doing their bit for world peace/climate change/Make Poverty History by turning up to listen to Natasha Bedingfield and waving their lighters in the air. My version of 'Tell Me Why / I Don't Like Mondays' isn't bad either.

That's the normblog profile of Sadie Smith. It also contains some interesting Berlin-esque thoughts on negative liberty.

Her extremely funny blog is here.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Let me tell you a story
It has a Hero, an Adventure, and a surprising amount of Nuclear Waste

From CommentIsFree:

A couple of years ago the US Congress established an expert commission to develop a language or symbolism capable of warning against the threats posed by American nuclear waste dumps 10,000 years from now. The problem to be solved was: how must concepts and symbols be designed in order to convey a message to future generations, millennia from now? The commission included physicists, anthropologists, linguists, neuroscientists, psychologists, molecular biologists, classical scholars, artists, and so on.

The experts looked for models among the oldest symbols of humanity. They studied the construction of Stonehenge and the pyramids and examined the historical reception of Homer and the Bible. But these reached back at most a couple of thousand years, not 10,000. The anthropologists recommended the symbol of the skull and crossbones.

The date normally given for Stonehenge is 3100 BC (5000 years ago), the pyramid of Khufu was finished in 2560BC (over 4500 years ago)[1], and even if we accept the controversial belief that there were "many Homers" Iliad and Odyssey were composed in the 9th century BC [2]. To be fair, the age she gives for surviving written documents of Biblical texts is reasonably accurate (some portions of the Qumran scrolls date to 200BC, although clearly the words, like those of Homer, are much older. I would be surprised if the oldest Homer manuscript isn't AD).

This shouldn't annoy me. But it does.

In any case, here's a picture of some older writing:
This is tablet from 7th century BC. [Epic of Gilgamesh, tablet IX] recording the flood narritive.

Which brings me to my point. There are basically two ways of passing on information over vast streches of time:

(a) Cultivating a tradition in which information is passed on, with strict injunctions that it should remain unchanged. There are plenty of examples of this in religious and secular literature.

(b) Create an oral story, which, although it may receive embelishments, will be passed down in peopular memory. Even though the language itself changes, the story remains the same.

Or, to put it another way, the nuclear industry needs to hire either Talmudic Scholars, or Steven Moffat.

[1] Herodotus discusses his visit to the Giza pyramid complex in his Histories (Book II,124). He was writing in around 440BC - so the construction of Great pyramid was almost as distant from Herodotus as he is from us.

[2] Herodotus' Histories (Book II, 54) places Homer 400 years before Herodotus, although modern scholarship disagrees.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

No Scientific Method in his Madness
In which we discover that Feyerabend has much to answer for

I am a Very Silly Man. Here I am, trying to finish up my PhD, all set to spend my career toiling in the vineyards of condensed matter physics, and what do those clever so-and-so's at the Googleplex go and do? Only go and render "the Scientific Method obsolete", that's what. This is quite a striking claim, and one that merits examining in some detail: after all, if true, it will have serious consequences, not least of which is that I shall abandon my work and seek alternative employment, possibly with a travelling circus.

The structure of Chris Anderson's argument in "wired" is as follows:
He quotes the statistician George Box: "All Models are wrong, but some are useful", and proclaims the truth of this sentiment. "Only models, from cosmological equations to theories of human behavior, seemed to be able to consistently, if imperfectly, explain the world around us. Until now." Because now, we "don't have to settle for models at all." There follows a panegyric on computers in general and the "Pentabyte age" in particular. "Google conquered the advertising world with nothing more than applied mathematics. It didn't pretend to know anything about the culture and conventions of advertising — it just assumed that better data, with better analytical tools, would win the day. And Google was right." And not just about advertising: "Google can translate languages without actually "knowing" them". What fields will Google be overthrowing next?: "linguistics to sociology. Forget taxonomy, ontology, and psychology." He offers two examples - one from physics, one from biology - and argues that "Correlation supersedes causation, and science can advance even without coherent models, unified theories, or really any mechanistic explanation at all."

Oh dear.

We shall briefly note that the statement "All models are wrong, but some are useful" is itself a model (of an epistemological system, with many competing models) and thus is paradoxical, being true only if it isn't. Moreover, although it asserts directly that some models are useful and indirectly that others are not, the statement tells us nothing as to which is which, so it is not, itself, useful.

Scientists are trained to recognize that correlation is not causation, that no conclusions should be drawn simply on the basis of correlation between X and Y (it could just be a coincidence). Instead, you must understand the underlying mechanisms that connect the two. Once you have a model, you can connect the data sets with confidence. Data without a model is just noise.

But faced with massive data, this approach to science — hypothesize, model, test — is becoming obsolete.

Whilst if everyone knew one things about stats, it would be "correlation is not causation", it would be nice if everyone knew two things about stats: specifically WHY "correlation is not causation": are there confounding factors? Could the result have arisen by chance? If you have twenty variables even if there is no causal relationship, one will be significant at the 5% level, and if you have "penta"scale quantities of variables, chance correlations are far more likely. [It would, of course, be nicer still if everyone knew three things about stats:that chanting "correlation is not causation", or putting it in a comment box, is not a devastating critique of a report of a correlation.]

But faced with massive data, this approach to science — hypothesize, model, test — is becoming obsolete. Consider physics: Newtonian models were crude approximations of the truth (wrong at the atomic level, but still useful). A hundred years ago, statistically based quantum mechanics offered a better picture — but quantum mechanics is yet another model, and as such it, too, is flawed, no doubt a caricature of a more complex underlying reality. The reason physics has drifted into theoretical speculation about n-dimensional grand unified models over the past few decades (the "beautiful story" phase of a discipline starved of data) is that we don't know how to run the experiments that would falsify the hypotheses — the energies are too high, the accelerators too expensive, and so on.

Quite apart from the phenomenally irritating assumption that all or most physicists are engaged in "theoretical speculation" or in high energy physics - a popular assumption pandered to by the press, which seldom reports on the majority of physics research which is not "fundamental" - describing "quantum mechanics" as a "caricature of a more complex underlying reality" is a bit peculiar, and in any case does not tell us how "Google searches","throw[ing] the numbers into the biggest computing clusters the world has ever seen" and "statistical algorithms" will replace quantum mechanics.

The second example is likewise flawed:

The best practical example of this is the shotgun gene sequencing by J. Craig Venter. Enabled by high-speed sequencers and supercomputers that statistically analyze the data they produce, Venter went from sequencing individual organisms to sequencing entire ecosystems. In 2003, he started sequencing much of the ocean, retracing the voyage of Captain Cook. And in 2005 he started sequencing the air. In the process, he discovered thousands of previously unknown species of bacteria and other life-forms.

If the words "discover a new species" call to mind Darwin and drawings of finches, you may be stuck in the old way of doing science. Venter can tell you almost nothing about the species he found. He doesn't know what they look like, how they live, or much of anything else about their morphology. He doesn't even have their entire genome. All he has is a statistical blip — a unique sequence that, being unlike any other sequence in the database, must represent a new species.

This sequence may correlate with other sequences that resemble those of species we do know more about. In that case, Venter can make some guesses about the animals — that they convert sunlight into energy in a particular way, or that they descended from a common ancestor. But besides that, he has no better model of this species than Google has of your MySpace page. It's just data. By analyzing it with Google-quality computing resources, though, Venter has advanced biology more than anyone else of his generation.

No, this exactly like "Darwin and the drawing of finches". What Venter has done is gather together vast amounts of data - just as natural historians, biologists and so forth used to make collections and draw connections between them. The theory came later - but still it came. Also, from theories we derive testable hypotheses, and then test them. Here lies the difference between the science and advertising algorithms, however successful they may be. Mr. Anderson concludes:

"There's no reason to cling to our old ways. It's time to ask: What can science learn from Google?"

No, it's time to ask what this scientist can learn from Google. And what he learns is:

Chris Anderson, Wired's waggle-eared rock-star editor, has been dropping hints left and right about the relaunch of HotWired, a faded Web property Conde Nast picked up along with Webmonkey last month. The rumor we've heard: That Wired is relaunching the site as a news-focused social network like Digg.

Hmmm. Mr. Anderson is "dropping hints ... about the relaunch of HotWired", and Mr. Anderson writes an article almost designed to get up the noses of scientists, science bloggers, and science fetishists alike. "Correlation is enough.", Mr. Anderson?

[via The Register ]

[Edited fur spolling]

Sunday, July 06, 2008

I love Sheffield!

I have just returned from a conference there: it is a fantastic city.

That is all

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The annotated Briffa
In which I discover a New Toy

Via JDC, a fabulous new toy: it lets you annotate a web-page that has vexed you.

Here is the annotated version of the Briffa's post on MMR (you can read my original take here).

Caroline Collins (via comments at Dr Crippen's) has annotated the notorious diabetes post with some comments that apparently did not appear when posted at Dr. Briffa's blog.
Both PJ ("Briffa Demented Loon: Official") and Dr. Crippen ("Has Dr. John Briffa taken leave of his senses?") have eviscerated Dr. Briffa's most recent post.

I came across this at JDC's place (see parts 1, 2, and 3) for those extraordinary and unwise remarks of Dr. Briffa about defamation.

Dr. Aust follows Briffa on tap-water and cancer, with a follow up post here, more PJ on Briffa and skin cancer here, and HolfordWatch on Briffa and applied kinesiology (!)

Dr Crippen is worried about Briffa. I am, too.

Ben Goldacre, "The Lobby" and the Bilderberg Conspiracy
In which Patrick Holford introduces us to Martin Walker

Patrick Holford, whose exploits are chronicled by the marvelous HolfordWatch site, has a page of extracts from Martin Walker's new book. You can download that here for free: I have done so, and hope to review it next month.

In the meantime, I think it's worth looking at the noteworthy claims made by Mr. Walker, with the apparent approval of Mr. Holford. In the piece, Mr. Walker self-identifies as "a competent and experienced journalist."
According to his own biographical allusions [sic], almost ten years ago, while Goldacre was training to be a doctor, he was already a convinced skeptic, a person familiar with the Lobby’s institutions, their motives and designs, and someone who adhered to a set and unquestioning ideology of science. It could be, of course, that Goldacre has been ‘given’ a background retrospectively. Nevertheless, we are expected to believe that he was a convinced skeptic in his mid-twenties.
"Given" a background? Is Dr. Goldacre a spy? Who might have given him a "background"?
[Martin] Taylor and Dick Taverne are both Bilderberg attenders.
The Bilderberg group is a world government in waiting, which organises the future global economy at its restricted but increasingly less than secret meetings.
I see.
Goldacre has absolutely no sense of fair play or democratic rights.
Unless Dr. Goldacre has been going round shredding ballot papers or murdering voters Zimbabwe-style, the second half of this remark in completely nonsensical.
Very few of those who are attacked by him is [sic] allowed access to the pages of the Guardian to refute the attacks, or Goldacre’s transient grasp of science…On his website, he publishes only sycophantic crap from apparently illiterate followers.
I'm not sure that someone with Mr. Walker grasp of grammar is in a position to critique other people's literacy, or indeed to accuse anyone of a "transient grasp of science" given Mr. Walker's rather idiosyncratic views on Cold Fusion [as expressed on page 170 of his book]. Further, a quick perusal of the comments at BadScience [especially the MMR treads] reveal plenty of comments critical of Dr. Goldacre, the MMR vaccine, and the Big Farmer. Some of these comments are literate.

The entire piece is studded with gems like this.
Footnote 7, regarding "Roger Hole Essay Prize in Medical Scepticism’" notes that "R.C. Hole's full name, when pronounced with two of his first names in initials, sounds like ‘arsehole.’". This information was sourced from a "Grand Theft Auto" site - I am unsure as to what end.
A particular highlight is footnote 2, which devotes over 200 words to the definitions of the word "geek", before leaving it to the reader "to decide what Ben means by being a Geek". This attite of it's-not-for-me-to-decide-it's-up-to-the-reader is a varient of the I'm-not-saying-you're-a-Nazi-I'm-just- asking-questions gambit, and pervades the extract. A final example of this is this paragraph:
"Goldacre won a British Science Writers (BSW) award, in 2003, the very year that he began working for the Guardian. At this time, the BSW was funded by MMR manufacturers Glaxo Wellcome and called the Glaxo Wellcome BSW Award – perhaps there is something in this for these corporations, or am I just a conspiracy theorist?"
Well, I leave that to the reader to decide, but I recall Mr. Walker's statement earlier:
"Anyway, I have always had a relatively common-sense approach to these matters: if it cocks its leg against a tree to piss, barks and sniffs round bitches, it’s probably a dog."

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The "dark matter" flowchart

Whilst doing research for a dark matter blog post, I came across this Divine thing of manifest beauty.

It made me (a) laugh and (b) feel less bad about the ambiguities in aspects of my field of condensed matter.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Soixante-neuf: "only in exceptional circumstances"

No, I haven't taken up sex blogging, this is more on the 42 days detention without trial.

Via Rachel and thence Kate, I found the poll that everyone is taking about and no-one is providing a reference to.

Currently, the police may hold suspected terrorists for up to 28 days before having to charge or release them. The Government wishes to extend this time limit in exceptional circumstances to 42 days.Do you support or oppose extending the time limit to 42 days?
Agree 69%; oppose 24%; dunno 7%

How "exceptional" are those circumstances?
Did all 69% of respondents agree how "exceptional" they are?

But Kate has tracked down another survey by Yougov: the results are rather different.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

HOWTO: Overthrow the government - armed only with a ZX Spectrum and radio-astronomers

In the late 80's, I used my Spectrum to sum series and make silly animations.

In the early 80's, these guys used one for something more important:

On September 14, 1985, residents of the Polish city of Toruń watching the popular James Bond ripoff 07, Call In (in which a blond and ideologically correct Citizen's Militia officer fights crime from within a series of tight sweaters) were surprised to see the show briefly overlaid with block white letters reading "Solidarity Toruń: Boycotting the election is our duty," and "Solidarity Toruń: Enough price hikes, lies, repression". Twelve days later, the same slogans appeared superimposed on the hated evening news. The dissident radio astronomers had struck again.

Read about how they did it

Friday, June 13, 2008


I've never really objected much to Steve Bell. I don't understand the appeal, but as a right-wing nutter I'm not exactly the target audience for a Guardian political cartoonist. Although I can see how "Let's draw George Dubya Bush as a chimp who says "YURP" a lot, because that'll be Droll " might be funny for the twelfth or even fifteenth time, I don't think it really works as a running joke over 8 years.

He has diversified his routine today, by drawing David Davis as a suicide bomber.

How delightful.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

From the silly, to the ridiculous

This is quite, quite bizarre. There are more interesting things to blog about that the MMR vaccine, but I feel this little gem deserves a wider audience (scroll down to comment 68):

Dr John Briffa writes:

Time is a factor, but the other thing that will hold this up is the belief I have that the arguments put forward by people who assert MMR is vindicated with regard to autism need further unpicking. It’s partly the unscientific intransigence of individuals just like you that makes this necessary, I think.

I suppose I should thank you for your persistence: it has certainly helped highlight for me just how spurious the ‘MMR is safe with respect to autism’ arguments are.

So, with regard to the question of the sort of evidence that would prove beyond reasonable doubt that MMR does not cause autism, I say all in good time. There’s plenty more that needs to come out before I move on to this.

June 12, 2008 @ 12:51 pm
"There’s plenty more that needs to come out before I move on to this". I can practically hear the sinister music inside my head. What is it that needs to "come out"? Is it a secret?

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Legal Lacunae...
...or why it is Best not to use words you don't understand, lest you look Very Silly

Dr. John Briffa has opened a can of worms over the MMR debate. You can find some comments on his novel use of statistics here. But this is not the subject of this post, which was prompted by some rather bizarre comments posted by Dr. Briffa at JDC's place . They relate to an allegation by a previous commenter relating to Dr. Briffa's comments policy. Dr. B writes:
May I also suggest that the comments you’ve made might be viewed as defamatory in a court of law. And that there has been an instance of a judge in the UK forcing a site to reveal the identity of ‘libellous’ posters. So, while you post anonymously, this may not be as much of a protection as you might imagine. - posted at 10:18am
Oooooooooooooooooooh, that "might be viewed" as a threat. In "view" of this, it's time to look at Dr. Briffa's understanding of the law in general.
He posts about MMR here. I invite you to read the whole thing.

Thinking about this yesterday reminded me of how the whole MMR/autism debacle got underway. And anyone who knows anything about this subject at all will be familiar with the name Dr Andrew Wakefield. For he is the doctor often ‘blamed’ for any mistrust in MMR as a result of his study, published a decade ago, which suggested that their might be link between vaccination (the measles component of the MMR vaccine) and bowel disease/autism. Some of you may know that on and off now for about the last year Andrew Wakefield has been answering charges put to him by the General Medical Council in the UK (this is the body that regulates medical practice in the UK, and it has the power to strike individuals off the medical register). Dr Wakefield stands accused of a variety of charges including conflict of interest (it is alleged he received money from legal sources that he did not declare when he published his paper). He also is accused of subjecting children in his research to unnecessary tests, and not having ethical approval for the research in the first place. Now, most of us will be aware of the big brouhaha regarding Wakefield’s research, but the reporting on his case with the GMC has been scant to say the least. There are no restrictions on the reporting of this case, so why the near ‘radio silence’? In a quiet and undisturbed couple of hours yesterday I thought I’d find out what I could about the Wakefield case, and report it here.

Sadly, the "couple of hours" research didn't extend to the GMC website, where he could have found the dates of the Fitness To Practice panel here: The matter of Wakefield,Walker-Smith and Murch was adjourned on 15th May until the 14th July 2008. The fact the panel is not sitting may explain why the media is not reporting.
Dr. Briffa has a more sinister explaination:

Since then, from what I can make out, we’ve had no stories in the mainstream press regarding how the case is going. I did find this radio broadcast/podcast though on a site dedicated to autism issues ( It features the accounts of the Dr Wakefield/GMC trial from Dr Carol Stott (a psychologist and friend of Andrew Wakefield) and Jim Moody (a lawyer with a special interest in the area). This piece is hosted by someone called Polly Tommey. The first quarter or so of the piece focuses on the alleged misdemeanours of the journalist Brian Deer, who had investigated Dr Wakefield for the Sunday Times and Channel 4 in the UK, and who some believe instigated the GMC case against Dr Wakefield. This section of the recording is all a bit melodramatic and cloak and dagger for my liking, and its true relevance to the case is somewhat tenuous, I believe. However, I reckon it’s worth sitting through, though, if only to get to the interviews with Dr Carol Stott and Jim Moody.

Trial? When did a "Fitness to Practice" hearing become a "trial"? It is no doubt terribly exciting to imagine a government/GMC conspiracy to silence the Trooth by putting its advocates on "trial", but the reality is rather more prosaic: it is a "Fitness to Practice" hearing, about which the GMC states in the very first sentence of the case summary "The GMC does not regard its remit as extending to arbitrating between competing scientific theories generated in the course of medical research."

You may recall Dr Carol Stott from such emails as "Try me shithead", "so go fuck yourself" and "twathead": you can find her uncensored correspondence with Brian Deer here, together with the British Psychological Society ruling against her that followed. Brian Deer, for those who haven't come across his work, is probably the finest medical investigative journalist in the UK. He discovered that she received £100,000 to testify in an MMR lawsuit that burnt through nearly £15 million in legal aid expenses, before it collapsed.

It appears from their accounts that Dr Andrew Wakefield has put up a very robust defense with regard to all the allegations he faces. From what I could glean here, there really is no case to answer. If you listen to Jim Moody’s interview, he suggests that the prosecution team have made deliberately false allegations concerning Dr Wakefield, or at the very least did not do their due diligence with regard to the case or were just extremely careless.

Well, this is remarkable: are we going to be told anything about this "evidence"? It seems far too important not to share it with us. Yet this "evidence" never appears.

Other revelations even more significant revelations followed. Dr Wakefield’s research was published in the Lancet medical journal, edited by Dr Richard Horton. Ever since the MMR/autism storm started Dr Horton has been trying doing his level best to distance himself from Wakefield’s research (although, it should be pointed out that the Lancet organised a press conference to trumpet Wakefield’s findings).

Yes, that's how I try my best to distance myself from things - by organizing a press conference to "trumpet" them.

Perhaps as part of this effort, Dr Horton has said that if he knew about Dr Wakefield’s alleged financial conflict of interest prior to publication, he would not have sanctioned its publication. Dr Horton testified to this effect in front of the GMC last year. However, listening to the autismone podcast I discovered that evidence has come to light which appears to prove that Dr Horton was aware of the alleged conflict of interest well before the study was published. In other words, it appears Richard Horton is lying (or has a very bad memory indeed). Jim Moody suggests there’s a case for Richard Horton himself to be up in front of the GMC, on a charge of giving false testimony.

Wow- that must be incredible evidence. Can we know what it is?

To me, this really is news, and of an order of magnitude far, far greater than the fact the Andrew Wakefield has no specific expertise in paediatric ethics. Hands up now, how many of you out there knew about the fact that the editor of the Lancet medical journal (one of the most ‘respected’ medical journals in the World) appears to have committed perjury? I’d be surprised if many of you do, because I can’t find a single reference about this in the mainstream press. Remember, there are no restrictions on the reporting of this trial.

Well, it still is not a "trial", so of course there are no "reporting restrictions" [the matter, after all, is not sub judice]. However, in the absence of the evidence - that Dr. Briffa does not provide or describe - it strikes me as a remarkably brave claim to state that the editor in question "appears to have committed perjury", even concealed behind an axillary verb.
I also happen to think that unethical conduct is big news.

So, while this week I had no intention to write about MMR, I now feel compelled to do so as a result of what I found when I looked: It seems to me that some distinctly shoddy science and no small amount of bullying has been used in an attempt to ‘silence’ those who dare suggest there is a link between MMR vaccination and autism, including countless parents who believe they witnessed the regression into autism of their children after MMR vaccination before their very eyes. And of course someone’s head had to roll, and Dr Wakefield’s was the obvious one to lop off. Yet, it seems that there really was never any case to answer. And now we find it looks as though the editor of the medical journal who published Dr Wakefield’s research is prepared to lie through his teeth to save his skin and ensure that any fingers of accusation point elsewhere. And the press, for some reason, is keen to have Dr Wakefield the pariah, and is not interested in reporting honestly and openly about the case brought against him by the GMC. [emphasis mine]

Crikey! And he's accusing other people of defamation?

[For the avoidance of doubt: this constitutes fair comment on a matter of public interest. Legal threats may be sent to a.political.scientist - at -gmail dot com. I can always do with a laugh.]

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

AC Grayling supports extraordinary rendition...

as long as it's for the right people.

Sunday, June 01, 2008


So, you're launching a brand spanking new military satellite network, and what do you call it?

The answer is to be found here.

Will no-one learn from history?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Yes, indeed, if by "widespread" you mean "rather narrow"

Via the excellent blogs of Dr. Goldacre and The Heresiarch , I read about a new poll by the Rowntree foundation of blessed memory : apparently, religion has become the "new social evil [sic]". How very exciting.

The Times reported the matter (article here) which makes the claims that there was a "widespread belief that faith - not just in its extreme form - was intolerant, irrational and used to justify persecution."

and that

"The researchers found that the "dominant opinion" was that religion was a "social evil"."

Actually, the poll shows nothing of the sort. You can read the study website here, the executive summary here, the complete results here and the "Voices of unheard groups" section here. [The latter is an attempt to compensate for the vast over-representation of white, middle class respondents to the Internet survey, by creating focus groups (with people with LDs, ex-offenders and others). This is discussed in the methodology section.]

The main survey first: there were ~3,500 respondents, with views falling into twelve broad categories, the first 6 described as "dominant", the remainder described as "not dominant but important" . "Religion" comes in at 9, less important than gender equality but more important than immigration (!). However, as is clear from both the summary and the discussion on the main report (pages 30-31), this actually covers both "religion" and "the decline of religion".

Although the "decline of religion" is the smaller category, the "religion" category covers four areas: "erosion of secularism", "the most divisive agent in our society", "undermining rationalism", and "religious extremism". As the quoted responses show, only the middle two categories exemplify the "religion poisons everything" attitude which the Times article implies is so prevalent. I simply don't think the data justify the statements that "widespread belief that faith - not just in its extreme form - was intolerant, irrational and used to justify persecution.", "Britain has had it with religion", or even that ' "dominant opinion" was that religion was a "social evil".' I also think the Times article would be of more practical value if the word "many" were quantified. Anywhere. The "unheard groups" section told a rather different story*: criticisms of religion were not directed at religious faith, but at "the ways in which religion was organised and practices were felt to be problematic". Unfortunately, this fascinating statement was not quantified nor supported with quotes, so we cannot know which aspects of organisation and practice were so problematic. "Religious extremism" [page 19] predictably comes in for criticism **, but more surprisingly so does "an absence of religious guidance in relation to the challenges of contemporary society". Further, "it was felt that religious leaders across faiths should provide some moral leadership, but that this wasn't happening". In both the studies, it's worth noting that government, the media, and big business come in for criticism as well as religion, but the Times chooses not to mention them. Britons are rather less sceptical about the Great Sky Fairy who Intelligently Designed the World than they are about the Great Socialist Fairy who Intelligently Designed the Economy.

And finally, what article about religion would be complete without a quote from Terry Sanderson of the National Secular Society, who was:
"...extremely pleased.Britain has had it with religion"

I don't understand why someone in favour of a secular society would try alienate people like me, who are religious and support a secular society - but then again, we theists are notoriously stupid.


* It is also desperately sad: I defy anyone to read the whole "Voices of unheard groups" report and not be moved. ** Voices Of Unheard Groups, page 19. Hands up anyone who is in favour of "religious extremism"?

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Guess who's finished the first draft of his thesis?

And what better way to celebrate that, than with "The Star Wars Holiday Special"?

It is every bit as awful as it is supposed to be. And I'm glad.

I shall submit at the beginning of next month.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Physicist humour

I can only describe this as a work of sheer genius.
I am the first to accept that this may say more about me than the picture.

via Mr Eugenidies and Mr Worstall

Sunday, April 20, 2008

"In the future, everything will be child abuse for 15 minutes" - UPDATED 

[With a respectful nod to the wonderful Beautiful Atrocities: "In the future, everyone will be Hitler for 15 minutes", which is alas now defunct]

Cross country running "Cross-country running at school could be a form of physical abuse" - [source] 

"Is cycling with children a form of child abuse?" - [source]

Education (Religious)
"Inculcating...falsehoods of the major faiths into small children is a form of child abuse" - [source]

Education (Secular)
"This deprivation of the spiritual is a form of child abuse." - [source]

Education (Home schooling)
Home schooling parents, he said, “participate in what can be perceived as a form of child abuse.” - [source]

Education (American Public Schools)
"Is American public education a form of child abuse?" - [source]

Education (British Boarding Schools)
"Sending young children to boarding school may be considered a particularly British form of child abuse" - [source]

Education (Pretty much all of it, really)
"Education today is a form of child abuse " - [source]

"A Halifax teacher, Rosemary Wright, proposed that the conference view exams as 'another form of child abuse'." - [source]

Feeding children (too much)
"OVERFEEDING youngsters should be seen as a form of child abuse" - [source]

Feeding children (not enough)
"Should the involvement of children in a hunger strike be regarded as a legitimate form of political protest or does it constitute a form of child abuse?...Definitely not legitimate protest, but probably not child abuse either" - [source]

Feeding children (Fish)
"Feeding fish, whale and seal to children is a form of child abuse" - [source]

Feeding children (vegetables)
"Vegetarianism – a form of child abuse" - [source]

Feeding children (junk food)
"I believe that it is a form of child abuse to feed children junk food, where the adult offering it knows it to be so." - [source]

Feeding children (the Tam Fry edition) "Tam Fry, a member of the National Obesity Forum's board, will tell a conference that youngsters who are over-fed by their parents should be treated as victims of abuse, as happens with malnourished children." - [source]

Ignoring the Bishop of Stafford "People who fail to tackle climate change are acting like an Austrian man who locked his daughter in a cellar for 24 years, an Anglican bishop has said." - [source] [via Oliver Kamm]

Immigration Law
"deportations are a form of child abuse" - [source]

Raising children in suburbia
"Is raising children in suburbia a form of child abuse?" - [source]

Reality TV
"constitutes nothing less than child abuse" - [source]

SATs (UK) - The union's outgoing president, Bill Greenshields, said he was confident a boycott would be successful."We will end this child abuse," he said. [source]

"Cigarette smoking is a form of child abuse" - [source]

The policies of John McCain
"a colossal from [sic] of child abuse." - [source]

Vaccination (Not using) - People who do not have their children vaccinated should be prosecuted for domestic terrorism and child abuse. - [source]

"Oh, yes, I think that yelling is a form of child abuse." - [source]

Zoos (taking children to Chinese zoos)
"It's almost a form of child abuse" - [source]

It's a substantial list, for which additional contributions are solicited, either by the comments section or by email to a.political.scientist - at - gmail dot com.

However, it seems that child abuse will NOT be a "form of child abuse": it appears that watching children being abused on the internet will be "nothing to be ashamed of" and "courageous".

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A defeat for common sense

and a victory for everyone who's ever been Oppressed by not checking swimming pool opening times! Well done, team!

Reminiscent of this:

Monday, April 14, 2008

Are single sex changing rooms "Gender Apartheid"?

As a member of the Indecent Right, I have a surprising amount of time for the Decent Left.

Harry's Place in particular is always worth reading, but I found these articles a bit strange:

This morning, my wife, five year old son and I thought it might be nice to go swimming in the newly re-opened local swimming pool, Clissold Leisure Centre. We got to the pool at 10.30, to be told that:

- the main pool was too deep to be safe for a five year old;
- the "training" pool was women only between 10.45 and 12.30 every Sunday;

I got angry. I nearly swore. I rarely get angry at people who are doing no more than implementing a policy, because it isn't fair on them. I apologised.

Not to worry, we thought. I'll go in the main pool. My wife and son will go to the training pool. However, that was not permitted. My son, being of the male gender, was not allowed in a women-only swimming session.


Fine, I said. And what would the policy be if a group of racists decided that "sensitivity" to their cultural preferences resulted in a whites only swimming session? Why should a public institution subsidise the expression, in a public place, of the gender apartheid practice mandated by a small religious minority at all?

Some of the comments underneath the posts are, to put in mildly, a trifle hyperbolic.
The logical conclusion of this, of course, is that single sex changing rooms are a "form of gender apartheid".

Don't get me wrong: I am a great fan of secularism, I have recently been pursuaded of the merits of disestablishment, and I seriously don't want to live in any sort of theocracy.

However, I honestly don't think having a couple of women-only swimming sessions in a week is going to usher in theocracy. No, really, it isn't.

It reminds me of the eccentric enthusiasm for opposing Nativity scenes on public land in the United States: tilting at windmills, whilst there are ogres on the horizon.

[Disclaimer 1: When I was an undergrad, the College gym had a couple of sessions a week that were women only. The sky failed to fall in.
Disclaimer 2: When I first moved to London, I lived in Dalston. I wouldn't trust Hackney Council to run a bath, let alone a swimming pool.]

Friday, April 11, 2008

Economist survey - An important caveat

We'll revisit the the Economist survey over the weekend: this time it's the turn of the "religion" questions. However in the mean time...

PJ, guru in all matters statistical, adds an important caveat:

"The errors on that survey must be pretty large - and splitting by political affiliation will end up nigh on meaningless. Not to mention the myriad other limitations of survey data. But at least they do the very minimum necessary to take a survey seriously - i.e. provide full questions and answers, and details of the sample. Didn't see a response rate though - but that is widely seen as the Achilles heel of survey data (making, for instance, the published confidence intervals meaningless)."

[Incidentally, if you haven't read PJ's brilliant series of blogs about the controversial Kirsch et al. meta-analysis on antidepressants, why on earth are you wasting time reading my blog? - go on, it's much more interesting, and much more important, than anything you'll find here.]
Feline Mystery - Solved!

Nick and Nora Charles - the intrepid solvers of mysteries - have solved my feline mystery. To summarise, my cat Nimrod went through a phase of presenting me with headless mice, and later presenting me with the mice heads marinaded in a vomit sauce. This was less endearing than might be supposed, and contrasted sharply with her utter refusal to eat Mr. Whiskers Finest Rabbit and Beef chunks. The Charles' hypothesis is that:

"Puss is probably not eating the mouseheads for herself but as part of preparing a delicacy to deliver to you in return for your provision of food she likes. Chewing off the head is simply getting rid of the only bit of a (living) mouse that can do any harm - to her at least."

which I must say sounds very plausible. Further evidence to support it lies in her new habit of biting the heads off without eating them. This is a much preferable state of affairs, although now trails of blood festoon the living room carpet, so swings and roundabouts...

Cats rule.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

"SHOCK" - Polar bear behaves "like a wild animal"

I hesitate to accuse people of being beyond parody for fear of encouraging them to move even further beyond parody, but...

From the BBC environmental pages:

Germany's celebrity polar bear Knut has triggered a new controversy by fishing out 10 live carp from his moat and killing them in front of visitors.

Critics say Berlin Zoo should not have put live fish inside Knut's enclosure. But German media report that the carp were put there to eat up algae.

There is speculation that hand-reared Knut killed the carp just for fun.

There has been heated debate about whether cubs rejected by their mothers should be saved or whether nature should be allowed to run its course.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine news website reports that Knut "senselessly murdered [sic] the carp", fishing them out, playing with them and then leaving the remains.

Maintaining that a bear "murdered" the carp "just for fun", while suggesting "nature should... run its course" for the bear and algae, although not for the carp - what odd and mutually contradictory ideas people have about animals.

Via Tim Blair

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Economist Retracts

A correction in The Economist:
In our article on Anglo-Saxon attitudes (”Anglo-Saxon attitudes”, March 29th) we said that Americans and Britons felt much the same about the death penalty: they were broadly against it. They do feel strikingly similarly, but not as we said. Between a quarter and a fifth are opposed, the same proportion are in favour, and around half would support the death penalty in some circumstances. Apologies. The online version of the article has been corrected.
Thanks to Jim Manzi, who spotted it too, for passing this on.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Economist Survey - The Death Penalty UPDATED

This week I'll be blogging about The Economist's "Anglo-Saxon" attitudes survey. You can find the survey itself here. I was particularly struck by the throw-away comment:
[Americans and Britons] feel much the same about the death penalty: they are broadly against it. - [Source]
I thought this was surprising, as the survey appears to show nothing of the sort. From the survey itself (Question 4, page 9 of the pdf file):
Do you favour the death penalty for murder? (Yes, always; Yes, sometimes, depending on the circumstances; No, the death penalty is wrong; Don't know)

Britain USA
Yes, always 21 26
Yes, sometimes 53 50
No 24 20
Don't knows 2 5*
Now, it's clear that the respondents do feel broadly the same way about the death penalty: but they are in favour of it. 74% (UK) and 76% (US) favour it in some circumstances. Now, the survey only had just over 1000 respondents, and although there was a breakdown by political affiliation, income, and age, there was no breakdown by location etc, so one can argue about the significance and relevance of the survey: what one cannot argue is that this survey offers any evidence that American or Britons "are broadly against" the death penalty.

* NB: yes, the American data does add up to 101%: suspect either a rounding error or typo.

UPDATE: The Economist retracts; see next post.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Anglo-Saxon attitudes

Kudos to the Economist for actually publishing the raw data of their "Anglo-Saxon attitudes:
a survey of British and American views of the world"
survey on the Internet, rather than just cherry-picking random stats and hanging a story from them, as the rest of the British media does. You can read it here, and the article based on it here.

I'm going to blog about it this week, particularly regarding the questions on "crime and punishment" and "religion". I'm a bit puzzled by a couple of sentences in the article, that don't seem to be borne out by the data.

Newspapers and magazines definitely should do this more often.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Evidence based medicine?

From the BBC:
"Women should not drink any alcohol during pregnancy, NHS adviser the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has said.

It says if they must drink, they should not do so in the first three months and should limit consumption to one or two units once or twice a week afterwards.

It brings NICE in line with government advice and replaces previous guidance saying small daily amounts were fine.However, NICE concedes there is no evidence to support the change." [emphasis mine]

Have NICE employed "Doctor" Nick Fox of Capital Radio:
"Paedophiles have more genes in common with crabs than they do with you and me. It's a scientific fact - there no actual evidence for it - but it is a scientific fact"

Sunday, March 23, 2008

He is not here, he is Risen

"And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, he is Risen" Luke 24:5-6

He is Risen indeed. Alleluia.

Whether you are Christian or not, I hope you have a very happy easter.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

A couple of bits of pedantry

  1. "Frankenstein" is a reference to the Creator, Victor Frankenstein, not to the poor Creature, who - significantly - is unnamed. The Creature is the only really sympathetic character in the book, as Satan is the only really sympathetic character in Paradise Lost. This comparison become explicit is as the Creature[1] identifies with Satan after reading Milton's epic poem.
  2. "Fundamentalism" is term properly used to describe the sect of Protestants who, under Lyman and Milton Stewart, published the widely unread 12 volume work "The Fundamentals" during the second decade of the 20th century. The major concern of the Fundamentalists (note capitalization) was to preserve biblical inerrancy from the assaults of the higher criticism of the great 19th century German theologians. To call me a Fundamentalist is both Silly and Erroneous, but not prima facie Absurd. To speak of "Catholic Fundamentalists" is equivalent to speaking of a "square circle" and is prima facie Absurd.
Is this important, or am I on a pedantry crusade [2]? I would argue it is not merely important, but essential in order to marginalize Fundamentalism. You can't marginalize something if you don't know what it is, and someone who knows what she's talking about won't take you seriously. You'll alienate potential supporters: I'm not sure you can afford to do that.

[1] who taught himself to read, if I remember correctly, from Milton's Paradise Lost, the complete works of Petrarch, and Goethe's "The Sorrows of Young Werther"(!), which he found in an abandoned chest. "Frankenstein" is a fine book, but it cannot be accused of an over-reliance on Naturalism.

[2] To be fair, I am always on a pedantry crusade. But it's important, too.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Is placenta kosher?

Fascinating piece here from a midwife, who is trying to establish if placenta is kosher, and if its consumption is halachic [legal under Jewish law].

Christians aren't bound by the food laws [Acts 10:9-15], so this is something I know very little about. Well worth reading in it's entirety.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Another one bites the dust

To delirious cries of "yay!" and "yippety-skip!", I have polished off another chapter.
Now, if I can finish another before Good Friday (it's almost there!), I shall be a happy man. Edging closer to submission.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

"Everyone who disagrees with me is a stupid bigot!!!"

is a superficially attractive but seriously flawed line of argument.

Look, I know I'm flogging a dead Archbishop here, but this is quite important: a number of his defenders are going with the line in the hope of deflecting attention from what he actually said. The current version boils down to "What's the problem with Shari'a,the Orthodox Jews do it, so you just hate Muslims, don't you?! Fascist" which demonstrates a unfortunate lack of familiarity with either English or Jewish law. Accordingly, I would like to illustrate that there are no privileges (a word which comes from prive lege, or "private law") that are available for Jews (orthodox or otherwise) that are not available to Muslims.

The various Beth Din courts have no status in English law.

I think there are two areas in which people have become confused (i) divorce and (ii) arbitration.

(i) Religious divorce clearly has nothing to do with civil divorce. However, there is a clause of the Divorce (Religious Marriage) Act 2002 which permits a husband/wife to obtain an order that the decree of divorce not be made absolute until

“[t]he parties to the marriage concerned (a) were married in accordance with (i) the usages of the Jews, or (ii) any other prescribed religious usages; and (b) must co-operate if the marriage is to be dissolved in accordance with those usages.” [1]

However, “(a) may be made only if the court is satisfied that in all the circumstances of the case it is just and reasonable to do so; and (b) may be revoked at any time. “.

As you can see, all though the law mentions “the Jews” specifically, it also extends to “other prescribed religious usages”. In this case it exists largely to protect a partner who gets a civil divorce but whose spouse refuses them a religious divorce [a Get in Jewish law], preventing their remarriage in an Orthodox, Conservative or Reform synagogue [rendering them an “Agunah” in Jewish law] [2]

The three important points to note are (i) English law [3] maintains supremacy (ii) the words “Get” and “Beth Din” do not appear (iii) the act AS IT STANDS contains reference to “other prescribed religious usage”. The issue is that that Shari’a courts haven’t been around as long as the Beth Din[4]. To some extent the problem will resolve itself in time, and could be hurried along much better by someone in a civil case using the Divorce act to stop a partner from getting his/her decree nisi made absolute: This would introduce into case law one recognized Shari’a court, and we could go from there with no need to primary legislation. Alternatively, we could amend the Divorce act to say “the usages of the Jews; the usages of the Muslims; or…” ,although it seems quite unnecessary.

(ii) Arbitration. The “binding” nature of arbitration is achieved through the “Arbitration Agreement” which all parties either sign or assent to [5]. The London Beth Din, for example, requires this, and I presume the other Beth Din do, too [6]. It is this Agreement that makes the result of the Beth Din judgement enforceable in the civil courts [7]. As this is a civil matter, judgements can only be pecuniary [8] in nature (an “Arbitration Award”). Now, this can be challenged in the courts (there is no parallel jurisdiction), and the process itself can be challenged on Natural Justice [9] grounds, but the assent of the parties (evidenced by the Arbitration Agreement) constitutes powerful evidence the parties were familiar with the arbitration procedures and aren’t really in a position to complain. The test, unsurprisingly given we’re talking about English Law, is that the procedure is “reasonable”.

ACAS is slightly different: set up, to provide mediation as well as arbitration, by statutory instrument (the most recent one here [10]). It is governed by the Arbitration Act 1996 [except a minor modification to 46(1)(b): see paragraph 5 of the SI].

As I think I’ve shown fairly conclusively, there are no special arrangements in English law that apply to Jews (Orthodox or otherwise), and not to Muslims.

Despite the best efforts of the Archbishop’s defenders, he was not calling for equality between Jews and Muslims (it clearly cannot be, as this is how the law stands at the moment). He is saying something much more dangerous.

From the speech:

I have been arguing that a defence of an unqualified secular legal monopoly in terms of the need for a universalist doctrine of human right or dignity is to misunderstand the circumstances in which that doctrine emerged, and that the essential liberating (and religiously informed) vision it represents is not imperilled by a loosening of the monopolistic framework.

He is disputing that the state has a monopoly on the law (as the defence is “not imperilled” by “loosening the monopolistic framework”), a bizarre concept: you can't really have parallel legal systems. The Political Umpire has made this point forcefully here. As PJ says in the comments:
...the really annoying thing about this whole debacle is the duplicitous pretence that he didn't say anything objectionable and controversial, and that anyone who says so has some sinister ulterior motive and/or is unable to parse such elegant and sophisticated prose.

I'm very happy to discuss the merits and demerits of having Shari'a civil courts. I'm not happy for people to tell porkies about what the ++Rowan said. God save the Archbishop from his defenders.

[1] Divorce (Religious Marriage) Act 2002

Inserted into the “Matrimonial Causes Act 2002” c.18

Implemented via the Family Proceeding (Amendment) Rules 2003

[2] Liberal and Progressive synagogues do have Beth Din, but as – I believe – they permit religious remarriage without religious divorce, the Beth Din do not issue Gets. It's also worth noting this is explicitly feminist law: it assists Agunah ("chained" women) from being screwed over by their husbands and being stopped from re-marrying.

[3] I can’t see any material differences between this and the amendments made to section 3A of the Divorce (Scotland) Act 1976 by the Family Law Act 2006, but as I know so little about Scottish law I’ll leave that to people who know more than I.

[4] However, the Beth Din have no recognition in English Law, not under these acts, nor under the Arbitration Act 1996.

[5] It is a requirement that the agreement be in writing, and the consent of the parties be evidenced in writing, but not actually that the parties sign it [Arbitration Act, section 5]


In the orgy of coverage that has accompanied the Archbishops speech, there has been an assumption that (i)there is only one Beth Din which (ii) constitutes some sort of monolithic institution for all Jews in the country. As I discussed in my comment above, this is false.

[7] Ibid., although note that the Award can only be enforced through the civil courts “with prior permission of the Beth Din”.

[8] Except, of course, those powers discussed in Arbitration Act 1996 paragraph 48(5) (a)-(c), but as these are in effect contact law, they need to be enforced by civil courts anyway.

[9] And these days, the Human Rights Act 1998, although I’m not familiar with any Human Rights case law on Beth Din.

[10] The Arbitration Act 1996, which you can find online at:

The ACAS Arbitration Scheme (Great Britain) Order 2004, a statutory instrument which replaced the earlier 2001 Order, which can be found at