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?