What a great Skeptic the winter edition is, thorough forethought all around, with even a hint of hope about the clairvoyant decision. Which is good because although I enjoy reading the magazine its often quite depressing.Continue reading
Efficacy of Prayer – an update
Since I wrote my piece (NZ Skeptic 75) based on Bruce Flamm’s article in Skeptical Inquirer concerning a research paper on the efficacy of prayer, Dr Flamm has reported ‘significant development’. Lest you jump to the conclusion that the authors, journal and university have acknowledged their serious error and have retracted the paper, be at once disabused. The significance of these developments, to my mind, is their minuscule and peripheral nature; nothing has really changed. One could reasonably grant a significant development to Wirth; he pleaded guilty to a 46-page indictment and is in jail for five years. Concerning the ‘lead’ author, Lobo, the journal later printed, at the bottom of the back page, an Erratum, that this name had been included ‘in error’. Young researchers often complain that senior colleagues insist on their names appearing on papers unjustifiably. In the topsy-turvy world of this journal, people find their names put unknowingly on papers they have had nothing to do with!
Despite never acknowledging any enquiries about this paper, and printing no comments, the author Cha was eventually given space for an extended, and misleading, response to the criticisms (which the readers knew of only from other sources).
The university set up a committee to investigate the research, but, on Dr Lobo withdrawing his name from the paper, disbanded the committee, saying it was no longer needed. So, despite all the unsavoury aspects of this matter, no one is admitting their mistake, and this nonsensical paper remains in the medical literature as ‘evidence’ of the efficacy of prayer.
Colour therapy – ’tis no puzzlement
Some weeks ago I met up with an old golfing friend I hadn’t seen in years. He was fit and well and is one of the few men I’ve ever met ageing better than I am. He is a retired mathematician with very good UK degrees, a solid skeptic, a fine golfer (handicap 8), down-to-earth and fun company. Another fellow, a man clearly unwell, whom I had also known as a professional colleague, accompanied us for the round. Afterwards, Roy and I caught up on the 28 years since we had worked in the same organisation and the topic of health arose. Our mutual friend, said Roy, had been given remission of his prostate cancer through colour therapy.
“Rubbish!” I responded. “Furthermore,” Roy continued, “I’ve used the process myself to alleviate the continuing effects of a bout of flu or bronchitis which I couldn’t shake off for months.” I demanded more information.
Roy then explained how, with some cynicism, he had been connected electrically to the colour-therapist’s machine for about six hours while the device operated with a strand of red-dyed material (wool?) in an electrically-charged stainless-steel cup. Afterwards, said Roy, his symptoms were gone and have not recurred. He roundly denied the placebo effect… A short while later, on another golf course, I met an old man practising chipping. After we got talking we discovered that we were both of a mind about the game, so played together a couple of times. Bob told me that he had recently recovered from a debilitating and life-threatening illness he’d contracted due to varnishing his house floor with a modern two-pot mixture. For two years he’d been in and out of hospital, talked to endless specialists and finally had begun to recover bodyweight when certain (unspecified) aspects of his diet were changed. I was invited to his home a little later and to my surprise discovered his wife is a colour therapist with a roomfull of equipment and walls covered with charts. At no time did Bob suggest his wife ever was able to give him relief using her machine or techniques.
What do I take from these admittedly flimsy accounts? The overwhelming thing I see is that alternate techniques are generally tried when all else has failed, by which time it is very likely that orthodox treatment is at last working in conjunction with that great healer, time.
Greenhouse Skeptics and Creationists no comparison
I am aware that the global warming subject has been ‘done to death’. However, the Keith Garratt item on skeptical environmentalism included several criticisms of my work which must be answered. In the interests of brevity, I will respond only to the most insulting (insulting to me as a skeptic).
He compares global warming skeptics to evolution skeptics. This is utter balderdash. Deniers of evolution are led by religious nutters. Global warming skepticism is led by climate scientists, and there are literally hundreds of professional climate researchers who have expressed their disquiet at the current paradigm.
(And that really is the last word! -ed.)
Darwin and religion
Following the article by Alison Campbell in the Autumn 2005 Skeptic I got on to the Waikato University website and clicked ‘Darwin and Religion’ and was surprised to find a long article which completely failed to mention Darwin’s attitude to religion, or the difficulty in reconciling evolution with religious belief.
Darwin was an unusually honest scientist. He came to realise that human evolution was not essentially different from the evolution of any other creature, and that humans could not therefore claim the exclusive privilege of a supervising deity or of an afterlife. Only one of his scientific colleagues, Joseph Hooker, was prepared to support this view, and it was opposed by his wife and family. In Charles Darwin’s autobiography, published posthumously, his son Francis deleted the section on religion with the excuse:
“It will be easily understood that in a narrative of a personal and intimate kind written for his wife and children, passages should occur which must here be omitted; and I have not thought it necessary to indicate where such omissions are made.”
It was only in 1958 in the uncensored edition published by his granddaughter, Nora, Lady Barlow, that we were allowed to read Darwin’s true opinions on religion, which were as follows:
“I was very unwilling to give up my belief… But I found it more and more difficult to invent evidence to convince me. Thus disbelief crept over me at a very slow rate, but was at last complete.”
“…the constant inculcation in a belief in God on the minds of children producing so strong and perhaps an inherited effect on their brains not yet fully developed, that it would be as difficult for them to throw off their belief in God as for a monkey to throw off its instinctive fear and hatred of a snake.”
“I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic.”
In an interview with Edward Aveling in September 1881, the following retort took place:
Aveling: “‘Agnostic’ is but ‘Atheist’ writ respectable.”
Darwin: “‘Atheist’ is but ‘Agnostic’ writ aggressive.”
Many people have sought to distort Darwinism to remove Darwin’s insistence that man is just another animal. The most influential was Julian Huxley in his Evolution: The Modern Synthesis (1942) who claimed that humans were ‘different’ and ‘unique’; so, presumably, qualifying them for divine guidance, life after death, and dominion over all other organisms.
It is with sadness that I see that the Skeptic is still accepting articles and letters with political bias. I would like to spend much of this letter countering some of Owen McShane’s arguments from his article “Why are we crying into our beer?”, but I see we are still arguing in the pages of our magazine about science. It would be really nice if Jim Ring or C Morris could explain to me and I’m sure others who are puzzled by this whole affair, as to what legitimate arguments between legitimate scientists have to do with scepticism.Continue reading
SCIENCE has not “progressed only by slow cautious steps” as Piers McLaren claims (Forum, Spring 2004), but by great bold ones. Scientists should resist new ideas but it is a myth that they do so irrationally. Contrary to Maclarens letter, quantum theory rapidly won the day. Planck published in 1900, Einstein in 1905, in 1913 Bohr produced a quantum structure for an atom. By 1922 all three had won Nobel prizes for work on quantum theory.Continue reading
Ancient Celtic New Zealand – More Reasons Not To Believe
In connection with David Riddell’s article about “Ancient Celtic New Zealand” (Skeptic, Winter 2004) your readers may be interested in my more detailed examination of the twaddle in Martin Doutré’s book in two articles published in the Auckland Astronomical Society Journal last year.
In these I analysed the garbled astronomy and contrived mathematics with some rigour. I did my own survey of the Maunganui Bluff site on the ground, identifying clear examples of misrepresentation and deception, leaving me in no doubt that the Waitapu “stone observatory” and “survey network” are pure invention. More recently I have found other examples of deception on Doutré’s website. No doubt this is not deliberate deception – I’m sure these people believe their own fabrications – but it is dangerous because many gullible people are sucked in by it.
This grossly misleading material is widely available in bookshops, libraries and websites, giving it an air of respectability. But there is no widely available corpus of published work to counter it. May I suggest that NZCSICOP find some way to commission investigators to research, publish and disseminate definitive books to expose and correct these deceptions case by case. We are dealing here with a growing trend. Crackpots are exploiting modern information and publishing technology, and freedom-of-speech principles, to spread fabrication posing as fact. We cherish freedom of speech ourselves, so we can’t suppress this material, and it won’t go away if we ignore it. Our only option is to match it punch-for-punch.
My articles are:
- An Ancient Megalithic Observatory Near Dargaville? I Don’t Think So! AAS Journal, July 2003.
- Secret Astronomical Number Codes? Bunkum! AAS Journal, August 2003.
- These can be read at the Auckland Astronomical Society website (www.astronomy.org.nz). On the home page select Journal, then select the issue.
Greenhouse Effect: What would it take?
In this magazine, and at conferences, a number of skeptics seem to have classified the belief in anthropogenic climate change as nonsense, together with spoon-bending and astrology. I wonder if the opposition to a radical new scientific idea is not just a symptom of conservatism – resistance to change – as demonstrated by the historical reluctance of scientists to accept other iconoclastic beliefs such as tectonic plate movement or quantum theory. If so, this is a desirable characteristic (in moderation), because science has progressed only by slow, cautious steps.
Regrettably, the debate has remained at the level of vikings and grapevines, rather than (say) discussion as to whether increasing cloud cover constitutes a negative or a positive feedback loop. Remember that the theory of the enhanced Greenhouse Effect was well established long before any warming was actually observed (in the 1990s). I first became aware of it in 1970, but Sven Arrhenius published a paper on it back in 1896.
The letter is an open challenge to all Greenhouse skeptics, including Vincent Gray, Chris de Freitas, Owen McShane, Denis Dutton and Jim Ring. What empirical evidence would it require, over and above that which has been published in the first, second and third IPCC reports, for these people to publicly declare in these pages that they were wrong? I assume that (being good scientists) skeptics would be quite willing to change their beliefs when confronted with compelling evidence. That being the case, there would be no loss of face if that eventuality should arise. What would it take?
Vincent Gray asks which combination of moral values I support. My values are irrelevant to the topic of this discussion, which concerns the efforts by Bruce Taylor to find a consensus on environmental policy. Gray leaves us in little doubt as to his own values – like the Model T Ford, they come in one colour only! He doesn’t believe in consensus; in fact he opposes any environmental policy other than the continuing insanity of placing scientific “progress” before any other consideration. I am, it seems, “one of the few people who believes what comes out of the Pentagon”. Well, not exactly. Others include the ex-CEO of the UK Met Office and the Chief scientist at the World Bank. The Pentagon warns of chaos as global warming continues. I am also “a sucker for disaster scenarios” because I quoted from a report in Nature which estimated that a quarter of all species will become extinct by 2050. His scorn is misplaced. I never suggested that global warming would be the sole cause of this. The shift in climate zones is too rapid for ecosystems to make corresponding shifts in location. He quotes from an unnamed reference which estimates three to five extinctions per year. This was indeed worth citing in more detail, since the best estimates of the “background” extinction rate are much higher than this!
His references to Darwinism and to evolution derive from Herbert Spencer’s 19th century concept of Social Darwinism, which was an attempt to apply Darwinist ideas to politics. The fallacy is, of course, that “survival of the fittest” in a socioeconomic context has nothing to do with biological fitness. Over a century later, Gray perpetuates this fallacy. Like it or not, Homo “sapiens” is part of nature, and not separate from it.
Finally, environmentalism does not “fundamentally oppose modern technology, such as GE and nuclear energy”. It does, however, advise the proper use of the precautionary principle.
Alan P Ryan
It is good to see Forum getting letters but the tone of some recent ones is disturbing. It should be possible to challenge somebody’s views without resorting to personal attack; a little more politeness would help. In the last issue Vincent Gray found it necessary to defend his moral values; this should not be necessary.
I am not asking for editorial censorship, just personal restraint. Argue the case, do not attack the person, such attacks are somewhat self defeating. I may well believe that my intellectual opponents are blithering idiots but saying so in print merely gets them sympathy.
I am finding it difficult to respond to Alan P Ryan’s diatribe (Skeptic Autumn 2004) as it borders on the incoherent and self-contradictory. I wonder if it will help if I summarise my views on moral values, about which he seems confused.
Moral values vary between individuals, groups, societies, nations, and time periods. They consist of a complex mixture of conventional wisdom, prejudice, religious dogma, superstition and fantasy, plus a dose of community spirit, experience, facts, evidence, common sense, and scientific and technical knowledge. The question is, which particular combination does Mr Ryan support, and what proportion of it emphasises the earlier items?
Genocide, murder of unbelievers, opponents and minorities; discrimination against women, homosexuals and “inferior” races, and slavery exploitation and oppression of the weak figured large in the “moral values” of many of our ancestors, and these precepts are unfortunately still widespread. They were often successful, on a Darwinian basis, in securing survival of dominant groups or nations.
If we wish to promote world peace, human rights, freedom of thought and expression, democratic institutions and equality before the law, we have to state our views plainly, and we have to give reasons why such values are consistent with human survival and progress.
Science and technology have a major influence on moral values. Copernicus, Newton and Darwin caused profound changes in moral behaviour, as did the factory system, electricity, the motor car, the computer and the contraceptive pill.
Attempts are made to impose, or promote moral values. Those emanating from ancient books, such as the Bible, or the Koran, are not always as rigid as they pretend to be. Christians no longer burn heretics or witches, although some feel justified in assassinating legally authorised abortion doctors. Most Muslims disapprove of stoning rape victims or cutting off the hands of thieves. Gandhi was killed because he advocated tolerance for Muslims and the abolition of Hindu castes. Skeptics and atheists have a responsibility to promote humanist values, free from ancient dogma.
There is one unfailing recipe for extinction: a resistance to change.This principle can be found as a factor in the downfall of all the great empires of the past. It is perhaps a matter of faith in the future, that if we are to survive we must find means of preventing wars and other violent behaviour, encourage individual and social development, freedom of conscience and criticism, and the embracing of new ideas and technology.
Mr Ryan is a sucker for disaster scenarios. The “Species Extinction” scam was based on the absurd assumption that climate is the only influence on biological success. Estimates of “extinctions” are notoriously unreliable. A recent estimate I have seen has been unable to justify more than three to five per year. Also, Ryan must be one of the few people who can believe what comes out of the Pentagon.
Vincent Gray, Wellington
Global Warming Mechanisms — Room For Debate
When I sent my letter to the NZ Skeptic (Spring 2003), I did not expect vehement denials in the next issue. Such debate is, of course, healthy and occasionally useful. My letter, though, was not intended to cover the whole subject; merely to offer some points to ponder. The responses have been rather more thorough, and I feel I must defend my position.
I must also defend Bjorn Lomborg from Alan Ryan’s critical comments. Sadly, he fell foul of an attack instigated by the most recent editor of Scientific American. The prejudiced intent of this was shown by the choice of authors, who included Stephen Schneider (who has made a fortune writing books promoting AGG global warming), and E Wilson, who has been pushing an eco-catastrophe barrow for years. This was followed by a kangaroo court called the Danish Committee for Scientific Dishonesty — which had among its members not one scientist — and which severely criticized Lomborg, apparently purely on the basis of the Scientific American article. The Danish Ministry of Science later declared Lomborg not guilty of either bias or dishonesty.
Next, I must agree with Kerry Wood that the world is warming; that CO2 is a true greenhouse gas and is increasing in the atmosphere, and that (in theory) this should be a powerful mechanism for retaining atmospheric heat. However:
- AGGs are only one variable — and not necessarily the dominant one.
- When the AGG hypothesis is used as the basis for climate models, the calculations don’t make sense. For example, by their reckoning, the 20th Century should have warmed by well over 2°C. The actual warming was 0.6°C.
- Other observations do not support the idea that AGGs dominate global temperature change. The current bout of global warming began around 1700 to 1720. In NZ, coastal glaciers like the Franz Josef began retreating about 1750. Greenhouse gases didn’t increase at all till 1850, and only to a negligible degree until about 1920. From 1940 to 1976, global temperatures fell, to the extent that Time published a special edition on “The Forthcoming Ice Age.”
Three main systems are used to measure global temperature: averaging meteorological station results; averaging weather balloon readings; and averaging satellite temperature measures (available since 1979). The latter two methods agree with each other startlingly, and show very little global temperature rise since 1979. The first method shows clear, linear temperature increases from 1920 to 1940, and then from 1976 to the present. Most measurements are taken in cities or airports, which have been growing larger for many decades, hence increasing the local warming effect of tar and cement.
AGGs contribute only 0.3% to the greenhouse effect. By far the greatest impact comes from water vapour, which averages about 300 times the insulating effect. Yet in conventional global warming models, variations in water vapour are considered unimportant.
The major alternative hypothesis to AGGs is increasing solar output. While direct (and very recent) measurements of this show too small an increase to explain global warming, it is also true that the sun does not change by small increments. Instead it is characterised by occasional spectacular changes — sunspots, flares etc. The sudden temperature increase in 1976 is better explained in this way.
During the “Little Ice Age” of 1600 to 1700, the sun experienced the “Maunder Minimum” in which almost no sunspots were seen. In 1998, which was hailed as the hottest year for many centuries, there was also increased sunspot activity. New Scientist (December 20, 2003) reports that high sunspot activity correlates with a drop in the price of English wheat, and this has been true over many centuries. This makes sense if sunspots coincide with warmer periods.
I do not want to appear to be offering a “proven” mechanism for global warming. Instead, please read my comments as simply a reminder that there is much, much more that we do not know about climate change than that which we do. Global warming — yes. Mechanism? We still do not know. (Abridged)
Lance Kennedy, Tantec
Greenhouse Gas/Climate Link Unproven
The consensus “Summaries for Policymakers” adopted line-by-line by Governments, which appear at the beginning of the various reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have never stated that there is a proven relationship between emissions of greenhouse gases and any harmful climate trend.
Instead they have resorted to ambiguous, non-committal statements like “The balance of the evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate”, which does not mention greenhouse gases as part of the “human influence”, and is merely a “suggestion”.
You have to go to Chapter 1 of the 2001 IPCC report to find the real truth, which is:
“The fact that the global mean temperature has increased since the late 19th century, and that other trends have been observed, does not necessarily mean that an anthropogenic effect on the climate has been identified. Climate has always varied on all time-scales, so the observed change may be natural.”
Recent reported temperatures are less than recent estimates for the “Medieval Warm Period” 1000 years ago, so they could be due to natural variability. At least part of recent “warming” has been attributed to the unusual El Niño ocean patterns.
Computer-based climate models, based on the absurd assumption that greenhouse gases are the only influence on the climate, have very limited predictive value, a point that is admitted by Kerry Wood, who mentions the IPCC projected range of 1.4 to 5.8 degrees mean temperature increase for the year 2100. He should know that this range could easily be extended further by choosing slightly different values for the many uncertain parameters in the models. The IPCC, actually, discourages the use of the word “prediction”, and prefers “projection”, which is based only on a particular set of assumptions, some of which can be absurdly exaggerated.
Emissions of greenhouse gases must have some effect on the climate, together with changes in the sun, cosmic rays, volcanoes, ocean circulation, and other human effects such as land-use changes and urban development. Without a greater knowledge of all these factors it is foolish to believe that restricting greenhouse gas emissions is likely to have any worthwhile positive change to our climate.
Vincent Gray , Wellington
Bjorn Lomborg – Misunderstood?
Bjorn Lomborg certainly touched off a powder-keg when he implied that the environmental movement could do with a session in the sweat lodge and a little critical self-assessment, and the very title of the book neatly co-opts our organisation into the debate whether we like it or not, and we probably do. The letter from Alan P Ryan directly criticises Lomborg and that by Kerry Wood indirectly. (1318, NZ Skeptic 70).
I am somewhat at a disadvantage as I have lent my copy of The Skeptical Environmentalist to a statistician friend who, before reading the book, was also of a critical inclination towards Lomborg’s arguments, along with a lot of the scientific community. But if my memory serves me well vis a vis climate change, Lomborg was not making the claims attributed to him. The criticism solely relates to the statistics but no one that I have read addresses the at least equally important aspect of the book, that of social policy. This book is about who will serve and who will eat, a very proper point of enquiry for a politics department of any university. Lomborg’s thesis, common throughout the book, is: before we go and spend a king’s ransom on Kyoto et al, let us make sure we are getting value for money. There is no end of good causes to spend public money on: glue ear operations, PKU tests for newborn children, vaccinations or even a campaign to stamp out religious stupidity — all cheap and effective in improving the general lot of mankind, but unfortunately not sexy. Saving the Earth of course is sexy, as are international conferences to discuss same. The social effects of a focus on such lovely big problems, where it is not possible to falsify assertions in any meaningful time frame, while fun, are most damaging. Smaller but nonetheless significant matters like income distribution, social justice etc, all fall beneath the pall of climate change and saving whales et al, in the same manner that Aids activists usurp R&D money at the expense of other perhaps more pressing epidemics.
I digress. Lomborg, I believe, simply states that climate change, global warming even, is happening and that the relevant question is how much and what does this mean. Your correspondent Wood states the problem fairly: “Beyond the basics, climate change is hellishly complex and far from fully understood”. No one disagrees, not even The Skeptical Environmentalist. Vladimir Putin nailed his colours to the mast recently, claiming that a bit of global warming would be a good thing for Russia. If the matter is so little understood and the modelling so variable, why not save our money so that we might spend it on problems in the here and now, not in 2100. When we have fixed the problems right in front of our faces we can proceed to the new and improved problems that will no doubt appear in the years to come. Reading the book might be a good skeptical start.
Alastair Sims, Hahei
Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment on the Right Track
Poor Bruce Taylor! You can’t please everyone, but the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE) does make an honest effort to please most of them. Certainly, nothing in his reasoned article in the Spring, 2003 Skeptic warranted Vincent Gray’s diatribe in the summer 1318, which reads like a potpourri culled from the Old Testament, Mein Kampf and the worst of that archpriest of greenwashers, Bjorn Lomborg.
His anthropocentrism stems from the anti-Darwinian notion that evolution is teleological; that man is the apotheosis of an imaginary Grand Design. Worse still, he seems to envisage (Gaia forbid!) a future superman spawned solely by his limited notion of ‘science’. His rejection of pluralism and the social contract is pure Fascism.
Analogy is at best a metaphor for an underlying reality; it may be useful for simplifying a difficult concept, but it can never stand on its own as an explanation: the more so in Dr Gray’s case where the analogy is itself false. The only self-aware species is the misnamed Homo “sapiens”; we alone can invent ‘moral values’ from abstract concepts. So the first part of his letter is merely so much Social Darwinism and anthropomorphising sociobabble.
He believes that moral values have no place in modern society. Let’s indulge in a little thought experiment. Suppose a mad scientist has succeeded in cloning a human-machine hybrid to use as an Asimov-style robot. Would Gray be happy with this, or would he suddenly discover that he has values?
His second section begins: “Progress … depends on improved emphasis on human moral values … human rights … and a continued advance of science and technology”. Well, just so and who could argue with that? Certainly the PCE doesn’t so argue, other than in Gray’s imagination. Or does he really believe that possum dust proposals would influence their decisions?
I am a scientist and a dedicated atheist but I know that religious beliefs, socioeconomic considerations and cultural sensitivities should be considered, though they should not be allowed to predominate over the scientific evidence where this is strongly at variance with them. Fortunately, there is no evidence to suggest that this is happening. Vicki Hyde’s excellent editorial in the spring ‘Skeptic’ provides a balanced view on this topic.
A recent report in Nature predicts that a quarter of all species will become extinct by 2050 because of global warming. This estimate doesn’t include the effect of habitat loss, increased pollution and downstream ecological disturbance on an already over-stressed biosphere. Even the Pentagon has now released a report expressing doubt that the USA could survive the consequences of global warming. What Gray and his like ignore at the peril of the majority is that humans are not separate from the rest of “creation” but a part of it.
Alan P Ryan, Kaiapoi
Did the convenors of the first Annual Meeting of the German Skeptics (GWUP) know that they were setting themselves up to hold their 13th Conference on Friday, 13 June, 2003?
Bernard Howard, Christchurch
Global Warming — Where Should Skeptics Stand?
Although I have been receiving free email alerts for a long time, I am a (very) new member. Among the goodies which I received a couple of days ago was the Spring, 2003 newsletter, number 69. Obviously, free speech is the first requisite of such an organ, but I was rather taken aback by contribution in Forum from Lance Kennedy of Tantec, an organisation in the biocide industry, on the subject of global warming. Its content is highly selective, and it contravenes all the principles outlined in the Skeptics Guide to Critical Thinking. He writes of a “sound and healthy reluctance to subscribe to anthropogenic greenhouse… warming”. He says that the Scientific American is committed to “greenie (a pejorative term which has no place in a serious discussion) nonsense”.
He believes that criticism of Bjorn Lomborg, author of “The Skeptical Environmentalist” comes into this category. Perhaps it is time to look more carefully at Lomborg. Until recently, this very personable young man held a rather lowly position on the staff of the political “science” department at Aarhus University, Denmark, and since his book was published, he has become the archpriest of the multi-billion dollar greenwashing industry. Although the greenwashers’ hype portrays him as a “brilliant statistician”, the Statistics Department of his own university has publicly disowned (on the university website) his methods as flawed and unacceptable. He writes of many disciplines, but he has never published a peer-reviewed paper in any of them. In every discipline, his methods, data, and conclusions have been roundly repudiated by a large majority of the scientific establishment of that discipline. Who then is right? — a lonely Don Quixote, tilting at imaginary windmills, or the scientific establishment?
Kennedy deals with three issues; these are:
- “Glacial extensions of the polar icecap on Mars are now in retreat. Peninsulas and islands of ice disappearing”. This he naively takes as evidence that solar output must be increasing. However, this is in fact evidence of precisely the opposite! Atmospheric cooling on Mars locks water vapour up as ice in the icecaps, and causes the lower latitude extensions to disappear rapidly. Own goal!
- “Meteorologists are adopting a new stance… many want to move away from ‘anthropogenicity’ and accept that warming happens.” This rather vague statement falls into the category of a paper tiger or, as the “Skeptics Guide to Creation “Science” puts it, a straw man. I am not aware that meteorologists “want” to believe in anthropogenic warming. It is put forward as the most probable explanation of the observed facts. Indeed, most would be delighted to be proved wrong. This is where real science differs from junk science. Greenwashers “know” they are right; scientists try to preserve open minds. Another example of naivety is to suggest that meteorologists have a vested interest in “preserving the myth”, for fear of losing their research grants. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are a thousand reasons for wishing to learn more about our climate and global warming research is a by-product rather than the primary object. If all such research were to cease immediately, it would make little or no difference to climate research as a whole. What meteorologists and others recommend is the exercise of prudence in the light of current theory. This is opposed both by greenwashers and by many in the pseudoscience of economics as advocated by those of the Friedman school, in whose eyes “sustainable development” is never an oxymoron.
- He refers to a paper on the influence of cosmic rays on the atmosphere, though not to the original paper by Fangqun Yu of the State University of New York. It was put forward as a mere hypothesis at this stage, and if subsequent work provides confirmation it will be a useful explanation for the anomalous discrepancy between surface temperatures and those in the atmosphere just above, which will be welcomed by all meteorologists. Kennedy doesn’t mention that Yu also suggests that interaction between greenhouse gases and the ionisation caused by cosmic rays may also be a contributing factor to greenhouse warming. Yu also points out that his hypothesis does not in any way rule out anthropogenic contributions to gobal warming.
Alan P Ryan, Retired meteorologist
In contrast to Lance Kennedy (Forum 69), I regret the failure of The Skeptics to recognise the reality of anthropogenic climate change.
The basics are undeniable:
- Atmospheric carbon dioxide warms the atmosphere by blocking outgoing radiation.
- Anthropogenic emissions of CO2 have been growing for two centuries, and especially in the last half century. Atmospheric CO2 is now a third higher than pre-industrial levels.
- Radiation from the earth into space has been measured directly. A comparison of data for 1990 and 1997 showed the expected fall, with the largest reductions at the predicted wavelengths.
Beyond the basics, climate change is hellishly complex and far from fully understood, but enough is known to show a clear anthropogenic effect. The UN’s IPCC have taken a consensus overview of the work being done in a very wide range of fields. Their third assessment report, issued just three years ago, estimated that average temperatures would rise another 1.4-5.8°C between 1990 and 2100. That range looks very uncertain, but about half the uncertainty is in the human response: we can still limit the maximum rise to around 2.5°C if we get our act together. However, global warming will continue for centuries, no matter how quickly we reduce emissions.
Problems with CO2 and temperature are be expected, and the details will be debated and cross-checked for many years to come. However, the data is already good enough to identify minor effects. One such effect was a mysterious warming and cooling over a 1000 year cycle, traceable over 10,000 years. It turned out to be the moon, changing its orbit and hence the strength of the tides and the extent of vertical mixing of the ocean. Higher tides create more mixing, bring up more cold water and cool the atmosphere.
Of course, it is possible that new evidence will show that global warming will soon go away — good science has to be falsifiable. But the evidence produced by Kennedy is not it, and the precautionary principle tells us not to put our shirts on him. There is now enough evidence to allow a great deal of cross-checking: the Greenland ice cores tell the same story as the Atlantic silt cores; the effects of varying solar radiation and changes in the earth’s and moon’s orbits have been factored in; the cooling caused by the Mt Pinatubo eruption improved understanding of some minor effects; and so on. And on.
With so much evidence already gathered, it is not enough for the global warming contrarians to point to isolated studies; that is like pointing to a back eddy as evidence that the stream is flowing uphill. If there is a serious case against global warming let us hear it — but it will need to be good.
Kerry Wood, Wanganui
Science and Morality
Bruce Taylor is a high priest of the anti-human, anti-science, anti-Darwinist religion of Environmentalism. He has no use for science unless it can be used to support his dogmatic opinions and the “policies” based on them.
On the other hand he is much more tolerant of religion, myth, prejudice, suspicion, custom, fantasy, and old wives’ tales.
Alan Hart is quite wrong to claim that “science doesn’t necessarily say anything about moral values”. Moral values, which may be defined as the rules which govern societies, are essential for evolutionary survival and progress of every society.
Most societies possess rigidly tyrannical “moral values” .We are, each of us, a society composed of genetically and chemically controlled specialised cells, each derived from a single embryo, only one kind of which participates in reproduction. Any dissident cell becomes a cancer and causes death of the whole organism.
Ants, bees, and termites, are also genetically and chemically controlled fascist dictatorships, and their evolutionary success depends on it. Most animal societies such as monkeys and seals have equally ruthless “moral values”.
Early human societies had similar “moral values” to monkeys, and some, such as approval of murder, rape and slavery, survive today in primitive tribes. “Moral values” of human societies have included wholesale genocide, the burning of heretics and witches, slavery and cannibalism. Torture and slavery are common today, and even genocide is a “moral value” recently practised in several societies.
Progress of human society depends on an improved emphasis on human moral values and a priority for human rights, a reduction of war, violence, hunger, disease, prejudice, suspicion and irrationalism, and a continued advance of science and technology.
Environmentalism is opposed to human “moral values” because it
- Regards animals and other organisms as more important than humans.
- Considers evolution to be always harmful, exclusively caused by humans, and capable of being prevented.
- Fundamentally opposes modern technology, such as genetic engineering and nuclear energy.
- Regards science only as a support mechanism for these views.
Our society cannot progress unless we can restore genuine human moral values.
Vincent Gray, Wellington
Socialism and Starvation
So, I again find myself in an argument with Jim Ring. I think I preferred it when we were all united against the purveyors of quack medicines and fundamentalist religions.
Jim Ring rightly claims that few people have read the literature on famine. I’m not surprised, it is vast. But I can quote 33 peer reviewed works on the subject, ranging from some by a Nobel laureate economist, to Cambridge historians. When I did a quick Google on those sources that Ring provided for his evidence I found for one no match, and for the other an ideologically driven American so-called think tank. I must admit that I have read nothing of this type of literature, but then neither do I read the stuff by UFO “researchers”.
Ring is right about one thing, his original letter confused me. If the Oxus Research foundation, whoever they are, suggest you can use the words socialism and starvation without further clarification, they are wrong. It is necessary to know what is meant by socialism because definitions depend more on one’s own position on the political spectrum than any objective criteria. I also think it’s necessary to know what Ring meant by people starved under socialism, because by itself it’s a meaningless statement which requires the qualification that people have also starved under capitalism, feudalism and any other -ism you care to name. Although to be honest I could probably make out quite a good case for no famines in Germany under Nazism — does this make them good?
Famine, or starvation if Ring insists on the word, occurs for any number of reasons rather than simple socialism — or capitalism for that matter. Again Ring has jumped into an area where he is out of his depth, to make a political point. For every famine he can quote me under a Socialist government I can quote him at least one under a capitalist regime. The Indian state with the highest literacy rate and life expectancy has been run by socialists in various coalitions for years. Ring is oversimplifying to make a political point.
Ring also makes generalisations about the anti-globalisation movement. As far as I can see they are not some sort of monolithic anti-capitalist group but consist of a number of quite disparate groupings including trade unions in developed countries who resent exporting jobs, and farmers’ groups in underdeveloped countries who quite like globalisation but resent the fact that the developed countries such as the United States and the European Union don’t apply it to themselves.
I also think that Ring has misunderstood the term green revolution. Perhaps he is confusing it with more recent genetic modification of crops. I can’t see why the green revolution, which largely consisted of improvements in irrigation, fertilization and the development of new strains of rice, should be against socialist principles. For one thing some of the new strains of rice were developed in government laboratories in India under so-called socialist governments. And if the idea was against socialist principles why did Stalin spend so long trying to create a green revolution of his own? In fact many of the new strains of rice were rejected by the very people they were meant to benefit, because they require large amounts of fertiliser and extra water which they could not afford. The earlier strains also tasted bad and were therefore rejected by the market.
I stand by my statement that Ring provides little other than glib generalisations and inaccurate case studies. One thing I have found by reading articles from the new right is that they tend to leave out economic case studies that don’t fit the ideological bent. I think Ring does the same. However I will make this offer — I don’t think that the pages of the New Zealand Skeptic the correct forum for publishing political tracts, so if he gives up writing them I’ll give up criticising them.
Yes, enough politics already! This correspondence is now closed -ed.
Dr. Welch’s Hokum Locum column in NZ Skeptic 69 contains the words “pseudoscience known as kinesiology”. This is incorrect. Kinesiology is a respected, science-based, study of human movement dynamics. Several universities offer degrees in this field — eg University of Waterloo, in Canada. See http://www.ahs.uwaterloo.ca/admissions/whykin.html. Perhaps Dr. Welch is thinking of “Applied Kinesiology” which is indeed crackpot stuff.
Vaso Bovan, P.E., Canada
Skeptics Blown It?
Prior to attending the NZ Skeptics conference in Wellington this year, I read the discussion paper on the role of science in environmental policy and decision making, Illuminated or Blinded by Science, prepared by the Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. It seemed to me to be a reasonable document. It included a discussion of some of the issues which have to be considered by policy makers in the environmental area and pointed to some of the difficulties, institutional and procedural, in using science to form environmental policy. Following on from the request in the paper for comments from the public on how science could be better incorporated into environmental policy, the team leader for the discussion paper, Mr Bruce Taylor, gave a presentation to the Skeptics conference in which he introduced the paper and asked for views on it.
I was dismayed by the vehemence of the criticisms of the paper expressed by members of the audience (I regret not being fast enough on my mental feet to contest them at the time). The nature of the criticisms wasn’t entirely clear to me. They seemed to be based principally on the fact that science was not the only instrument of environmental policy formation and that the discussion paper had considered other issues such as the role of social values in setting policy.
Science may well be the best system we have developed to describe and understand the physical world but it is naive to think that governments will use it to the exclusion of other issues to form policy in the environmental area. For instance, it’s worth remembering that science doesn’t necessarily say anything about moral values. The formation of policy is a political process, and if we want science to be part of it, we have to understand how to bring science into the political system.
Mr Taylor asked the Skeptics for help in making science a more effective part of policy formation. He didn’t get it. I think the Skeptics blew it. I doubt very much whether the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment will see the Skeptics as a source of rational comment on the effective use of science in the public arena in the future.
The Skeptics have expressed a sound and healthy reluctance to subscribe to anthropogenic greenhouse gas theories of global warming, for the last several years. There now appears to be a growing amount of evidence proving just how right we were. As a regular subscriber and reader of New Scientist and Scientific American, I have been following this with interest. While SA has an editor fully committed to “greenie” nonsense (as witness his attack on Bjorn Lomborg), New Scientist is more open to new ideas. NZ Skeptic readers may find the following of interest.
- 23 August 2003: Glacial extensions of the polar ice caps on Mars are now in retreat. Peninsulas and islands of ice disappearing. A little hard to explain in terms of anthropogenic greenhouse gases, but (Occam’s Razor) easy in terms of astronomic phenomena such as solar output or cosmic rays. Scientific American, while not admitting to be at all wrong, reports in June 2003 that satellite measures of solar output show it is increasing, albeit very slightly.
- 13 September 2003: Under the title of Global Warming: the New Battle, it appears that meteorologists are adopting a new stance. “The priority now is to start preparing for its consequences…” While none of the global warming gurus have admitted fault in describing mechanisms, it appears that many want to move away from anthropogenic greenhouse gases and simply accept that the temperature increase happens. Maybe they are starting to realise they may not have been correct.
- 20 September 2003: Professor Philip Scott (Biogeography) describes recent research (also published in GSA Today 13, p 4) describing ancient records in rocks that suggest 75% of changes in global temperature were caused by changes in cosmic ray density. Also a paper (Nature 408, p 698) showing real problems trying to relate CO2 levels with ancient temperatures. Scott also points out that current computer models do not predict why it is that, while surface temperatures rise, the atmosphere just above remains cold.
If these revelations continue, I suspect that the greenhouse gas theories will soon be quietly dropped.
Lance Kennedy, Tantec
Bob Metcalfe (Forum #68) is confused. My letter (Forum #67) drew attention to the opinions of others on the antiglobalisation movement. The Oxus Research Foundation, New Delhi seems to think that the terms “socialism” and “starvation” can be used without further definition and I would agree.
Why “Socialism” rather than “Communism” or “Marxism”is interesting; perhaps because it seems a more neutral term. But the early Congress party was proud of its Marxist roots, and in the early years of independence India received a large amount of aid from Stalinist Russia.
True, India has not had a nationwide famine since British rule ceased. The terrible event in 1943 caused enormous suffering because during the war, aid was unavailable from outside. The comrades of the Congress party blamed lack of planning — the socialist solution. But once in power they never had to face the same conditions that produced the earlier event. Planning did not prevent frequent local famines in newly independent India. The authorities alleviated suffering with the same measures used in capitalist societies’ relief efforts.
True, “people have starved in America”; Bhalla himself points out the coincidence that India and the US launched a “war on poverty” at about the same time, the early 1960s. But then the US had a food surplus and India a food deficit. India now has a food surplus. My opinion is that this owes more to the “Green Revolution”, than to political policies.
However the Indian government of the time is to be commended for welcoming the Green Revolution even though it offended socialist ideology. Socialists were generally of the opinion that it would do nothing for the World’s poor.
Indeed poor Indian farmers were thought to be those who would suffer most under the new type of agriculture that would benefit only the “big corporations”. Fortunately this prediction turned out to be untrue.
Of course the anti-globalisation people are the intellectual heirs of those who opposed the Green revolution (this is where this correspondence started). Their arguments are nearly identical and their ideology indistinguishable. The failure of those earlier predictions is forgotten or ignored.
Bob Metcalfe quotes Sen to the effect that democracy or dictatorship is a better indicator of possible famine than socialism or capitalism. China, which has adopted capitalism without renouncing dictatorship would seem to provide a counter-example.
This debate has received “something other than glib generalisations and inaccurate case studies”. The problem is that few people have bothered to read the literature. My earlier contribution was an attempt to draw peoples attention to an unpopular side of this controversy. I doubt one can do better in a letter.
True Home of Father Christmas Discovered!
I am always astonished that famous mystical persons, such as the Virgin Mary (who was transubstantiated into an Australian fencepost in February) reveal themselves to us mere mortals. I once had an experience like that.
Four years ago I was on a German research ship in the Southern Ocean taking sediment cores from the sea bottom. The cores were cut in half lengthwise to expose sedimentary structures. In one of the cores was a clear image of Father Christmas.
Luckily we were thousands of kilometres away from human habitation; otherwise the ship would have been overrun by thousands of children wanting to see this apparition. The consensus of people on board was that, being so close to Antarctica, the message was obvious. Father Christmas does not live at the North Pole, but at the South Pole.
Gerrit van der Lingen
Originally published in the Christchurch Press, February 14, 2003
I possibly shouldn’t come into a debate that seems to be going on for some time which I haven’t actually followed, but a couple of the statements that Jim Ring makes in his letter (Autumn 2003) need at least some clarification.
He maintains that “under socialism India was a poor country, people starved”. This is a very vague statement. What does Ring mean by socialism? It has been a pluralist secular democracy since independence, albeit with a fairly controlled economy. More importantly, what is meant by people starved? I doubt if there is a country in the world, socialist or capitalist, where you couldn’t say in the past people starved. People have starved in America, the world’s capitalist icon.
The suggestion to me is that India suffered famines. Perhaps this is not meant but it should be noted India has not had a famine since 1943 when it was under British rule. It has been exporting food on and off for years, even under so-called socialism. The deciding factor for famines according to Sen is not so much whether a country is socialist or capitalist, but whether it is a democracy or dictatorship.
Lastly India has been manufacturing if not exporting (I have little information about exports) much more complicated goods than textiles for years, such as cars and motorbikes. Admittedly these were not particularly modern models, but anyone who has driven in an underdeveloped country would know that once outside the main cities anything that can be repaired by a local blacksmith is a much better bet than the more complicated modern stuff.
Leaving aside the figures on the increase or decline in world poverty for which both sides claim sound evidence, this debate deserves something other than glib generalizations and inaccurate case studies.
I am surprised that the Skeptics have chosen to support this environmentalist campaign (Family Obligations, Skeptic 67). Evolution implies no “family obligations” to our fellow creatures, but a relatively utilitarian attitude. We support cows, wheat, kiwifruit, roses and brewer’s yeast. We discourage possums, rats, the painted apple moth and the Sars virus.
Chimps are cute, but so are rabbits, possums and stoats.They have a lot of our DNA, but the people of Ethiopia, Chechnya, Congo, Bosnia have even more and they need our help.
Chimps would survive longer if they went back to work instead of becoming permanent social welfare beneficiaries. Revive the “chimpanzee’s tea-party” at the zoo. Put them back in the circus. Recruit them for advertising tea, or appearing in movies with US presidential hopefuls. And what is wrong with being an experimental animal?
Sources of Poverty
Peter Hansen is confident that, “blame for the world’s starving millions belongs [to] greedy corporate giants, environmental exploiters, warmongers and corrupt officials”. He quotes no evidence.But consider Surjit Bhalla’s opinion (he does produce evidence):
- Estimates of world poverty are grossly exaggerated
- Globalisation has been the golden age of development
- Poverty in developing countries declined from 37 per cent to 13 per cent of the population between 1985 and 2000 with the biggest advances in India and China
- Inequality of income is at its lowest level in 50 years
All this is totally opposed to Green dogma but those who have contrary evidence (not just opinion) should produce it if they wish to convince skeptics.
Anti-globalisation protesters were in Sydney last May to oppose an international conference. The Australian Financial Review asked an interesting question.The international protest movement was obviously well funded.From where did the money come? Some Asian delegates had an answer. From World Aid organisations.According to them (and I lack the resources to investigate) much aid money never gets to those in need but goes to corrupt governments and officials. “Trade not Aid” threatens the gravy train, so these corrupt people are funding those who help to maintain the status quo. One could call it recycling.
Under socialism India was a poor country, people starved. The import of luxury goods (including colour TVs) was forbidden. Good comrades watched TV on black and white sets, if they could afford them. The idea that India could manufacture and export anything more complicated than cotton goods was laughable. (According to Gandhi only hand spinning and weaving are ethical. Under capitalism many peasants are still desperately poor, but they are not starving. India exports its food surpluses. Even better it manufactures and exports luxury goods (including colour TVs) to Europe. Most people are much more wealthy. It is claimed that:
- There are more US$ millionaires in India than there are people in NZ and Australia combined.
- There are more US$ millionaires in India than in the US.
The second proposition has been challenged, the first seems to have been accepted.
Craig Young writes “there is a wide ranging debate over questions of “false” and “recovered” memories within the mental health professions”. While many clinicians may still be “debating” this, the scientific evidence is clear: belief in the theory of “memory repression” and the “memory recovery” techniques in wide-spread use in the 1990s resulted in thousands of tragic cases of false allegations of childhood incest made against bewildered parents.
Certainly some clinicians still believe in the validity of recovered memories, however the scientific community and the clinical professional bodies have clearly indicated that the complete repression of memory childhood sexual abuse subsequently “recovered” as an adult, usual in the context of psychotherapy, is a phenomenon not supported by scientific evidence.
In 1997 a Working Group on Reported Recovered Memories of Child Sexual Abuse of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in England issued a report including the following:
- “We can find no evidence that apparent memories of long forgotten and repeated child abuse have ever been proven to be true.”
- “There is a good deal of evidence that patients will produce the material the therapist seeks, but it is often a product of fantasy.”
- “We must conclude that, like abduction by space travelers, accounts of satanic abuse are false.”
- “There is evidence that memory enhancement techniques are powerful and dangerous methods of persuasion.”
- “Many of the memories relate to events in the early years which is incompatible with present knowledge of infantile amnesia.”
- “The damage done to families is immense.”
In 1998 the Canadian Psychological Association passed the following resolution: The Canadian Psychological Association recognises the very serious concern of child abuse and child sexual abuse in our society. The Canadian Psychological Association also recognizes that justice may not have been served in cases where people have been convicted of offences based solely upon “repressed” or “recovered” memories of abuse, without further corroborative evidence that the abuse in fact occurred…”
In 2000, the American Psychiatric Association made a statement including:
- “Some therapeutic approaches attempt specially to elicit memories of childhood abuse … The validity of such therapies has been challenged.Some patients … have later recanted their claims of recovered mem-ories of abuse and accused their therapists of leading or pressuring them into such ideas.”
- “No specific unique symptom profile has been identified that necessarily correlates with abuse experiences.”
In 2001, the American Psychological Society awarded the William James Fellow Award to Elizabeth Loftus, who holds the title of Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Irvine. In 2002, the Review of General Psychology ranked her 58th among the top 100 psychologists of the 20th century. She also ranked among the 25 psychologists most frequently cited in introductory psychology textbooks. The award citation said, in part:
“Over the past 15 years, Dr Loftus’s attention has turned to a related but considerably more controversial issue, that of the validity of “recovered memories” of childhood abuse. As a result of her pioneering scientific work as well as her activity within the legal system, society is gradually coming to realise that such memories, compelling though they may seem when related by a witness, are often a product of recent reconstructive memory processes rather than of past objective reality.”
It should be noted that since the professional bodies issued these statements; training for therapists mostly stopped teaching repression theory and memory recovery techniques and the numbers of people “recovering” such memories dropped from a torrent to trickle. This also supports the premise that the phenomenon was iatrogenic — a therapeutic artifact. (Abridged)
Senior Lecturer, Department of General Practice & Primary Health Care, University of Auckland
Alternative Child Healthcare
The following correspondence between nursing lecturer Sue Gasquoine and Skeptics’ chairentity Vicki Hyde is reproduced with the permission of the participants -ed.
I heard you talking to Wayne Mowat on National Radio yesterday. I have a theory for you to consider as you wonder why New Zealanders view with such skepticism “religious” reasons for denying children treatment (epitomised by the death of baby Caleb Moorhead) when there seemed to be significant support for Liam Williams-Holloway’s parents when they decided to “hide” him and seek “alternative” therapy.
There is a world of difference between diagnosis with and death from a vitamin deficiency and diagnosis with and death from cancer.
Vitamin deficiency is entirely avoidable even with very strict diets. Cancer in children is not. Treatment of vitamin deficiency is generally uncomplicated, entirely successful and has few side effects. Treatments for cancers such as radiotherapy and chemotherapy are by no means uncomplicated and are often associated with distressing side effects. They vary in their effectiveness depending on the type and location of the cancer and are by no means a guarantee that the child will survive.
There are few if any useful parallels that can be drawn between parents trying to act in the best interests of their child with cancer, who may in the process decline treatments offered by western medicine and parents who do not recognise the ‘necessaries of life’.
I think New Zealanders recognise this critical difference which has been absent in most media coverage of these tragic events. They do well to be skeptical of religious fanaticism, alternative therapy AND western medicine which also makes false claims – the “safety” of HRT and the rate of caesarian births being the most recent examples!
Sue Gasquoine, Lecturer – Nursing
School of Health Science, Unitech
Vicki responded with:
Thanks for the feedback — always appreciated.
I certainly agree there is a world of difference between diagnosis with and death from a vitamin deficiency and diagnosis with and death from cancer, and it may well have been a contributing factor though not, I would suggest, a major distinction made by people in looking at the various cases.
I say that because of the Tovia case just before Liam’s one, which also involved refusal of cancer treatment for a child (albeit a 14-year-old), but this time on religious grounds.
In that case, there was, as with the Moreheads, a much more critical view taken of the parents and their role in refusing treatement. They were also taken to court, at one stage facing manslaughter charges, and were generally condemned in the media.
I have had many discussions with legal, media and medical people about the differences between this case and that of Liam Williams-Holloway, and the treatment the two families got in the press and in the court of public opinion.
I think that it would be possible to argue that Peni and Faafetai Laufau, the parents of Tovia, deserved a more sympathetic treatment in some respects because (1) they were doing it on sincere religious beliefs, not based on a book which touts conspiracy theories and coffee enemas as cancer treatments and (2) their son was of an age to arguably be a part of the informed consent process, and expressed his own wish to refuse treatment.
Much in all as I hate to say it, the main points of difference can be attributed to a couple of factors I suspect — the Laufaus were Pacific Islanders, of lower socio-economic status, and religious. Treena and Brendan were white, middle-class, articulate and constantly described as making a “well-informed choice”.
It’s a most uncomfortable set of differences in its implications…
I do think that there is culpability in both the cases you cite and in that of the Laufaus. There is a great deal regarding the Liam Williams-Holloway case which was not adequately addressed by the media, and I can understand why those involved continue to feel a certain amount of despair and anger at what happened. (I’d be happy to discuss this further if you like, or if you have any questions about it.)
And you are so right that it is vital we cast a critical eye over any claims in all areas. What we have to do is to ensure that we have some way of helping us determine what claims there are, what the level of evidence is to support those claims, and what the risks are in accepting or rejecting that evidence.
All the best,
Ever felt queasy about the courses the New Zealand Qualifications Authority gives its approval to? Remember the fuss over the Indian government’s encouragement of university courses in astrology? The infection is spreading; some well-known British universities are also up to some curious activities. A recent correspondent to the science journal “Nature” reports on a charity called The Sophia Project, which has money to give away for work that sets out to establish that astrology is a genuine science. Four institutions are named as having accepted funds for this. Studies include: planetary influences on fertility and childbirth, and on alcoholics, and looking for correlations between birthdate and prostitution.
The correspondent is concerned that, despite the private funds provided, some taxpayers’ money is inevitably going to support this “bogus research”. Of perhaps greater concern is that these universities are giving undeserved respectability to this nonsense.
A Letter from the Skeptical Left
I admire your work against creationism, but I have to ask why it is that proponents of lesbian and gay rights and reproductive choice on abortion have to fight junk science from the Christian Right on our own.
I am concerned that you appear to have swallowed petrochemical industry propaganda against the Kyoto Treaty, surely akin to the tobacco industry’s pro-smoking agenda in motive, intent and overall poor empirical rigour. As well as that, there is a wide-ranging debate over questions of “false” and “recovered” memories within the mental health professions, yet your organisation seems to be listening to the male backlash lobby, quite capable of its own imaginary junk science when it comes to its own control freak agenda against victims of family violence.
Craig Young, Palmerston North
…And one from the Skeptical Greens
When I read Professor Dutton’s vitriolic attack on the Greens in the Weekend Herald of September 28/29, I immediately thought he must have been inspired by the frantic ravings of another American whom we’ve heard quite a bit from lately. However, to give Professor Dutton his due, he did stop short of suggesting we should wage a war of attrition upon Green subversives.
His passionate defence of science reminded me of the attitude adopted by devout religionists over the centuries. Professor Dutton accuses environmentalists of a similarly distorted mindset, but despite the fact that all movements have extremist factions, he is well off track with his generalisations, if for no other reason than that the Greens are concerned for the well-being of things that actually exist, and have been carefully examined. Religionists on the other hand operate for the most part on pure supposition.
Science is not a religion. However it would seem that there are several people involved in that noble art who regard it as such. That is indeed sad, and a reprehensible distortion of mankind’s only reliable method of inquiry into most subjects. The scientific method should be an intelligently used force that will tell us often bumbling humans how far in any direction we should attempt to go. Unfortunately, the caution factor is all but ignored these days in favour of the hedonistic delight of having found something new that works. Apart from the financial and economic benefits, the other outcomes of a new discovery are often made less transparent, until of course, somewhere down the track something highlights a hidden disaster factor that was not thought worthy of mention at the time of the discovery’s introduction.
My final word to Professor Dutton is that he should place the blame for the world’s starving millions exactly where it belongs. Greedy corporate giants, environmental exploiters, warmongers, and corrupt officials will do for a start. Compared with that lot, we greenies aren’t even in the picture. (Abridged)
Peter E Hansen, Auckland