Richard Littlejohn: Stupider Than You Thought

Just when you think Richard Littlejohn couldn’t possibly look more stupid than he normally does, he goes and does this:

Badly timed attack
The chief executive of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health has accused me of making up stories about elf’n’safety.

Never mind that he can point to only one example, a story which came not from my imagination, but from the Rotary Club of Stranraer, which was told that it would have to employ a lifeguard and a ‘trained outdoor specialist’ if it intended to use a footpath alongside Loch Ryan.

He also, rather unfortunately, chose the day on which we learned that the traditional cheese-rolling contest in Gloucestershire had been cancelled this year on grounds of elf’n’safety.

Sometimes, even I can’t make it up.

The sheer stupidity of Richard Littlejohn really does beggar belief. Firstly, the article written by the Chief Executive of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health – Rob Strange – for the media section of The Independent does only include one example:

Last year, the Daily Mail ran, on average, at least one negative health and safety story every week. The Richard Littlejohn column has been particularly acerbic…to the point of making it up. One column rolled its eyes at the news that a coastal footpath had “fallen foul of elf ‘n’ safety”, amid concerns that someone might fall in a loch and drown. Apparently, a lifeguard would need to be present at all times. A quick phone call to the local authority revealed that the walk, considered unsuitable for toddlers, had simply been left out of a local guide to family walks. The lifeguard was pure fiction.

However, this isn’t – as Littlejohn suggests – because he could only find one example, rather he only picks out one example for the sake of brevity. The Health and Safety Executive have made several responses to the Daily Mail regarding Littlejohn’s inaccuracies and ‘flippant approach to health and safety’. So, his argument that only one mistake has been found is about as accurate as his normal arguments.

However, this is a mere prelude to the very best part of the response from Littlejohn: his smug comment that it was a badly timed attack, as it was made on the day that ‘elf ‘n’ safety’ banned ‘traditional cheese-rolling’. This is of course, like so many of his ‘elf ‘n’ safety have banned…’ stories, absolute rubbish. He took the story from the Daily Mail (surprise, surprise, his idea of research is thumbing through the Mail or repeating stories that are emailed to him) and it was a typical Daily Mail story about health and safety: a complete lie.

As TabloidWatch points out:

Yes, this year’s race at Cooper’s Hill in Gloucester has been cancelled. But:

“The organisers of the Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling and Wake regret to announce that the 2010 event has been cancelled.,/p>

The attendance at the event has far outgrown the location where it has traditionally been held for several hundred years: last year more than 15,000 people tried to attend (according to official estimates) which is more than three times the capacity of the site.”

So the organisers cancelled it. Not ‘health and safety killjoys’ then?

And it’s nothing to do with the actual cheese-roll race itself, which the Mail seems to imply.

So, Richard Littlejohn argues that he doesn’t make up Health and Safety stories and that he has been unfairly criticised, by making up another health and safety myth in his column. You really couldn’t make that up. Richard Littlejohn instead of making Rob Strange look silly has actually validated Strange’s argument in the Independent:

This formula of exaggeration, half-truth, generalisation and myth-making has created a great British joke, the one about “elf n safety gone mad”. It’s entered our social fabric, something to be shared and tut-tutted at over breakfast tables, in bars and, worse, in workplaces across the country…

You wouldn’t know it from reading our newspapers but Britain has seen an 81 per cent fall in workplace deaths and a 72 per cent fall in other reported workplace injuries over the past 35 years. We benefit from having one of the best safety records in Europe…

Mark Twain once said that “a lie can travel halfway round the world while the truth is putting on its shoes”. It’s time to call in the big health and safety lie from its travels before it leads to tragedy and hurt. And it’s time to give truth a chance to put on its shoes.

Littlejohn, repeating a health and safety lie first published by the Daily Mail in the UK – whilst he lives in Florida – makes the Twain quotation highly appropriate in this instance.

Sick and Wrong

I think I should apply for a job as a Daily Mail writer. It seems so easy. In order to write a Daily Mail article one merely needs to follow this three step process:

1. Take a standard Daily Mail premise (i.e. “Asylum seekers are evil…)

2. Find a random statistic and throw it in.

3. Conclude that some part of the country in hideously broken.

This explains why the Daily Mail-o-matic is so astoundingly accurate.

So this story and editorial comment has a simple point to make: life-saving cancer drugs are being denied by NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence), whilst at the same time the NHS wastes £21billion (yes billion) on ‘failed schemes to tackle inequality.’

The headlines are great aren’t they: Betrayal of 20,000 cancer patients… and NHS waste betrays our cancer patients.

I’m a huge fan of Warner Brother’s Looney Tunes Cartoons (Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Road Runner etc.) and it’s a intriguing fact that they employed joke writers who got paid $50 for each gag that was then included in a cartoon. I’m beginning to wonder if the Mail employs headline writers on a similar basis; £1000 for ‘NHS Waste’ – £2000 for “cancer” etc. If so, they’re really earned their money. As usual, the article is almost entirely untrue. I think what depresses me most is the comments section of Mail articles. People actually believe this stuff. This is the main reason why I am very grateful to angrymob for allowing me to contribute articles. It’s extremely therapeutic to me to be able to respond – it is a shame that the angrymob readership is not as wide as the Wail, but it is a start. “You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free” as a wise man once said.

£21 Billion

I read this article because of the reporting on the workings of NICE but what really caught my eye was the £21billion claim. It’s classic Mail really; billions of pounds wasted on tackling inequality. Because we (Mail Readers) all know that tackling inequality is part of the evil-socialist-not-really-British-human-rights-nu-labor-agenda. It’s almost like subliminal messaging only with the subtlety of a bulldozer. The reason this line caught my eye so much is that there is no way it could possibly be true. And the writer must have know this – this can’t just be an error or a misunderstanding – it’s so off-the scale wrong that it’s obvious after about 2 seconds of thought.

Last week it emerged that £21billion – a fifth of the entire annual budget – was spent on failed schemes to tackle inequality.

It took a little bit of research to work out what on earth this referred to and having found the answer, I have to admit I am impressed by their creativity. This figure is derived from a National Audit Commission report entitled “Healthy Balance” which looked at public health spending in England. As an aside, this is the short summary of the report:

The health of people in England has improved over the past ten years. Life expectancy has increased, infant mortality has fallen. Government targets to cut death from heart disease and stroke by 2010 have already been met. But if the big picture is positive, stark problems remain. Inequalities in the health of people from certain areas and social backgrounds has stubbornly resisted improvement, and has even increased in some cases.

So, public health programs from the government have been very successful but health inequalities remain a challenge. This is how they get to say that schemes to tackle inequality have ‘failed.’ So what of this £21 billion spent – from the article is seems this is a specific budget on schemes to tackle inequality – bureaucracy and PR are the sorts of things this statement conjures in my mind, certainly no actual healthcare. The reason I knew this was a lie, is the simple fact that this is impossible – there is no way the NHS could spend a fifth of its budget this way – it’s just untenable and hence the writers must have know it was false. So I found the figure of £21 billion buried in the article. What it comes down to is this; The government provides funding for the NHS in England by providing funds to PCT (Primary Care Trusts) who then control the money and ‘buy’ services from GPs and Hospitals (and other providers). The money is allocated on the basis of population size. However it is not distributed evenly as social deprivation has a strong correlation to healthcare needs and hence healthcare spending. How money is allocated is complicated – much of it is targeted or ring-fenced by the government and some of it is determined on a formula to allow for variations in need. Of the English NHS budget (around ~£70 billion) £21 billion is allocated according to this formula. What that means is this is not money spent on inequality measures but allocated on the basis of differing needs. And what’s it spent on? Well, everything the NHS does – hospital beds, operations, GP service, prescriptions etc.

As I said, it is impressively creative. A blatant lie, but a creative one.

NICE

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has a very difficult brief. They are charged with creating clinical guidelines based on the best available evidence in order to improve healthcare across the board and also to assess new therapies to see if they are both Clinically effective and Cost effective.

There are a lot of new cancer therapies that the drug companies keep bringing out. These drugs are often very clever and stem from a much better understanding of cancer biology at the molecular level. All of these drugs are very expensive.

In order to determine whether these drugs should be available on the NHS, NICE asks too questions; Does it work? (Clinical effectiveness) and Should we spend money on it? (Cost effectiveness). The second question is often the problem and as a clinician I have an instinctive distaste for the concept; my patient is ill, I want to make them better, this works and I don’t care how much it costs… However, whichever healthcare system you work in there are limited resources and hence the need to ask if therapies are cost effective. This is done using a methodology called QALYs (http://www.medicine.ox.ac.uk/bandolier/booth/glossary/QALY.html)

The concept is that a year of life lived at 100% health equals one QALY, whilst a year lived at 20% health equals 0.2 QALYs. The advantage of this approach is that is enables very unlike things to be compared such as therapies that treat disabling conditions against life-saving procedures. Ultimately it is impossible to put a value on human life. It is truly absurd. However in clinical practise where there is a limited pot of money – as there inevitably is, somehow we have to decide which treatments to use.

The interesting question is how much should the NHS spend per QALY gain?

To try and give some meaning to that here are a few examples (caution: the figures are made up by me to provide context)

Hip replacement
Patient aged 65
Life expectancy 15 years
QALY score without treatment; 0.4 x 15 years (i.e. an arthritic hip seriously decreases the individuals quality of life)
QALY score after hip replacement; 0.8 x 15 years
(Quality of life increased from 0.4 to 0.8)
QALY gain (0.8 x 15) – (0.4 x 15) = 6
Cost of Hip replacement £3000

Cost per QALY gain: £500

Neonatal care
Premature babies are extremely expensive…
28 week premature baby (born 3 months early)
Life expectancy without treatment: 0
Life expectancy with treatment: 70 years
QALY score with treatment: 0.8 (some prem babies achieve approximately full health, some never do, the range is massive)
A ’28-weeker’ would typically be in a NICU unit for 12 weeks at a cost of around £10,000 / week
QALY gain: 0.8 x 70 – 0 = 56
Total Cost: £120,000
Cost per QALY gain: £2150

Monoclonal antibody based chemotherapy for kidney cancer

Patient aged 38
Life expectancy without treatment: 3 months
QALY score 0.7
Life expectancy with treatment: 27 months
QALY score 0.5

QALY gain: (2.25 yrs x 0.5 QALY/yr) – (0.25 x 0.7 QALY.yr) = 1.125 – 0.175 = 0.95
Cost of treatment: £40,000 / year – total of £90,000

Cost per QALY gain: £95,000

[As I said, the figures are used purely to give context and I made them up myself. They are approximately accurate and there are studies out there that formally perform these calculations and then NICE makes a recommendation based on them.]

So what threshold would you put for deciding whether a treatment is cost-effective?

NICE typically works to a threshold of £20,000 – £30,000.

Ultimately we have to have a way of decided what to fund and what not to. Whilst the QALY method is undoubtedly crude, I don’t think there is a better one.

So let’s look at the NICE decisions, The Mail is complaining about – I looked up the NICE rulings on two of them:

Sorafenib

This is a drug for advanced HCC (a type of primary liver cancer). NICE concluded that the drug does improve life expectancy – the median survival advantage is 2 ½ months. So patients given this drug improve their prognosis from 14 months to 16 ½ months. At a cost of £51,900 per QALY gained.

Lepatinib

Lepatinib is used for advanced breast cancer. However it is only suitable for a minority of patients with this disease. The conclusion was that Lepatinib is clinically effective and improves mean survival from 17.6 weeks to 27.1 weeks. At a cost of £67,847 per QALY gained.

Why this article makes me so angry.

There is a vitally important debate underlying all of this. The question of what we as a nation and a society are prepared to spend on healthcare resources is vitally important. It is very difficult to decide whether end-of-life drugs are useful or not and there is no doubt that an extra few months spend with loved ones is extremely valuable.

However every £1 spent on one of these massively expensive drugs which have very limited benefits is money that cannot be spent on other healthcare spending. I think that part of the answer is that we should, as a nation, be prepared to spend more than we do but that’s my personal view. I also think that whilst drug companies are entirely legitimate in seeking to make a profit, some of the mark-up on medical products is simply immoral. What angers me is that this kind of article with all its inaccuracies has two effects; firstly it makes proper debate much more difficult and secondly it induces significant (and usually misplaced) anxiety in cancer patients and their families. And that to me, as a simple clinician is evil.

Mail Quiet over White Terror Plot

I read a brief story over at Pickled Politics today about a terrorist confessing to plotting acts of terrorism and manufacturing weapons to carry the plots out. The link was to an article in The Independent:

A white supremacist today admitted producing deadly ricin while preparing for acts of terrorism…

At Newcastle Crown Court he admitted producing a chemical weapon – ricin – and preparing for acts of terrorism.

He also admitted three charges of possessing a record containing information likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing acts of terrorism.

Perhaps because he is a white supremacist he didn’t get any coverage in the Daily Mail, who instead chose to report: ‘Seven Muslims arrested in Ireland over plot to kill Swedish cartoonist who drew Mohammed with the body of a dog‘ and ‘Pakistani men arrested ‘within days of massive Al Qaeda terror attack on Britain’‘. The Daily Mail did report the initial arrests back in June 2009, so why haven’t they reported on the confession? Maybe it just doesn’t fit into their worldview in which all terrorist plots are only planned by brown people.

Smearing the Dead with Richard Littlejohn

Today’s Littlejohn column – as pathetic as you might expect – responds to criticism over his smears about the late Michael Foot… with some more smears:

Comrade Foot: An apology

There’s been a huge response to my column on Michael Foot last Friday. Some people think I owe Wurzel an apology.

As you know, this column is always happy to correct any inaccuracies, so here goes.

On Friday, I wrote that at least Footy wasn’t a paid-up agent of the Soviet Union.

Now I learn that, according to former Russian spy Oleg Gordievsky, Foot was on the KGB payroll for 20 years.

He also published pro-Soviet articles in Tribune in exchange for Moscow gold.

Apologies for any embarrassment caused.

I’ll let the two worst rated comments save me the effort of drafting a response:

Classy. How do you follow up an innaccuracy-riddled hatchet job on a recently deceased, well regarded pensioner? By printing a follow-up lie the next week. Oleg Gordievsky’s claims were debunked over 10 years ago – Foot won a substantial libel case against another newspaper in court when they made them. So that’s pathetic research for one thing to only “learn” something over a decade later, and pathetic, cowardly behaviour to use it to further smear the recently deceased now he cannot sue you for libel.

What will you do for your next encore? Dig up Mr Foot and kick him in the face perhaps, while claiming his lack of retaliation proves he is a coward?

You really are the big, brave man, aren’t you. But no wonder you’ve decided it’s safest to only pick on the deceased – evidence suggests every time you face someone living who you disagree with, you come off looking like an ill-informed buffoon.

– Dave Crisps, Leicester, 9/3/2010 7:40 Click to rate Rating 66

Let’s see, Richard…

A misinformed stab at “global warming”, complete with tedious Brummie stereotyping.

A piece of cowardly self-exoneration for a book of rubbish jokes.

A bland piece of uninformed swiping at minorities.

A piece of blatant falsehood about a dead and decent man in an unsuccessful effort to make yourself look edgy and heroic.

A shame. Almost a full house there. Just a Dad’s Army reference and a “you couldn’t make it up”, and you’ve had had the Littlebrain Bingo Prize for sure.

– Ken, Bristol, England, 9/3/2010 0:36 Click to rate Rating 15

As readers point out: dead men cannot sue for libel and I don’t imagine the PCC will step in, do you?

Richard Littlejohn: Character Assassin

Former Labour leader Michael Foot, socialist and conscientious objector, died four days ago. Tributes abound, from figures such as Neil Kinnock and most of the newspapers as well.

Over at the Daily Mail, with the little obstacle of self-defence out of his way, everyone’s favourite criminal Floridian Richard Littlejohn leapt on the offensive in a truly bilious piece from March 5th. There are quite a few elements of Littlejohn’s vomitous article that I’d like to take issue with.

The first is the broad basis of Littlejohn’s vitriol: Michael Foot never fought in the Second World War. For over half the article Littlejohn is talking about military service almost as if he served. He cries that Foot should have joined the RAF, Army and Navy. He whines that Foot should have joined the home guard. He spouts that Foot should have become a medic on a flotilla at Dunkirk.

He even goes so far as to invoke other Left-Wing contemporaries for comparison, including Politician Tony Benn and Russian Spy Jack Jones, who both fought in one way or another. Littlejohn says:

“We still don’t know the real reason Michael Foot managed to avoid military service. Some put it down to his pious Quaker pacifism qualifying him for a free pass.”

The idea that conscientious objection can be compared to a “free pass” is odious in itself. The amazing bravery often required to be a conscientious objector is thankfully receiving more attention recently, though Littlejohn apparently regards military service as the only form courage can take. Brainless machismo is far from dead at the Daily Mail.

But Littlejohn’s all-time greatest line is the following:

“Foot preferred to sneer from the safety of the sidelines, even publishing a book attacking far better men than he”

…After reading this, I had to read it again to make sure Littlejohn had written what I thought he’d written. This can, quite obviously, be applied perfectly to the author himself!! It is at this point that I realised Littlejohn was engaging in some classic psychological projection, transferring his own insecurities onto others. Littlejohn is, after all, an expat who hates expats, a non-Brit who despises anything un-British.

Outside of the section on Michael Foot, Littlejohn talks about Ashcroft and Belize, as well as Ashley Cole. There are one or two more hateful humdingers before the writer hangs up his quick-quotes-quill, such as the following;

“He [Ashley Cole] should lose the beard he’s grown since his troubles with Cheryl began.

It makes him look as if he’s stepped straight out of an Alky Ada martyrdom video.”

That’s right. Littlejohn just went right ahead and admitted that short, stubbly beards, when combined with a dark complexion, make him think immediately of Al Qaida. How forward he is about this is astounding.

All in all, I feel that there’s some interesting psychological insight to be gained from Littlejohn’s most recent pile of bile. Perhaps writing such nonsense is Littlejohn’s own cry for help.

The New Vaccination and Autism Scare: Same Shit, Different Species

The Daily Mail doesn’t have a particularly good record when it comes to views on the causes of Autism. Melanie Phillips for example led the Mail crusade to link MMR jabs to the onset of Autism and although that has now been disproved in scientific terms the doubts still linger in the minds of many. This doubt has been helped by a media quick to look for health scare stories, and quick to place huge faith in barely credible sources.

Last night on Twitter @jameswales Tweeted that the Daily Mail had once again gone beyond parody to report that vaccines are giving autism to dogs. The story has all the hallmarks of a Bad Science classic: ‘Vaccines “are making our dogs sick as vets cash in”‘. Firstly, the classic inverted commas imply that there isn’t a huge amount of truth behind the story, because the Daily Mail is quick to show that the claim is not theirs. Secondly, it has the conspiracy element that appeals to tabloid readers. It isn’t just an accusation that vaccines have side-effects, it is actually implying that vets are making dogs ill just so that they can charge animal owners to make them better. And finally, when we get to the ‘organisation’ behind the ‘research’ or claim, we find out that it is ostensibly a lone woman making unsubstantiated claims.

The claims are made by the charity Canine Health Concern [CHC]. The claims are that vaccines given to puppies have led to conditions such as autism and epilepsy and quotes ‘latest scientific research’ that suggests immunisation after the initial jabs does not need to be repeated for ‘at least seven years, if not for life’.

I visited the website to find out more about the charity and discovered some interesting things. The charity was founded by Catherine O’Driscoll who had two Golden Retrievers die from conditions she believes to have been caused by vaccines. The latest research I could find under ‘Scientific Data‘ was published in 1997. The latest news section gives a link to a Vet Times article on the open letter sent by CHC to the Veterinary Medicines Directorate [VMD], the article is dated 8 March, so presumably CHC has been sent an advance copy to demonstrate how the issue has been written up.

With regards to the entire open letter, I cannot find it on the website, but a Google search found a full copy on Facebook – of all places. The letter argues that the VMD has not properly considered the current accepted immunisation schedule (yearly for the majority of injections) in light of scientific evidence that suggests immunisation should occur less frequently. This issue seems to be separate to the issue of whether such immunisations are making animals sick or not.

Not surprisingly the Daily Mail has muddied the waters by focusing on the accusation that animals are being made sick by vaccines, when the scientific focus of the open letter is on the frequency of the vaccinations, for which evidence is provided and footnoted. The letter ends with the claim that:

This letter is written on behalf of the hundreds of pet owners who have contacted Canine Health Concern after their dogs were made ill or died from unnecessary vaccine procedures, and whose illnesses and deaths remain unreported and unacknowledged. It is signed by veterinarians from around the world, and by some of the animal guardians who join us in calling for an end to a needless and potentially harmful veterinary practice.

Immediately, we can see that this story bears a clear resemblance to the MMR scare, the letter is supported by dog owners who have linked a vaccination with an illness in their animal and have concluded that the vaccination was the cause of it. This is an accusation that does not appear to be grounded in science, the same as the claim about the MMR jabs. The letter only tries to support the claims for a reduction in the vaccinations given, it does not put forward a scientific case for the vaccinations causing sickness.

The Daily Mail has greatly exaggerated the claims made by the CHC in the letter, the letter is not accusing vets or vaccine manufacturers from cashing in on making our dogs sick, rather they are cashing in on giving too many vaccinations. The Daily Mail headline implies that money is being made by vets purposefully making dogs ill, whereas this claim simply isn’t supported in the open letter. The open letter is careful not to push the ‘vaccination makes animals sick’ argument too strongly, largely – I would suggest – to keep their credibility.

With regards to the claim that vaccinations are making dogs sick, Catherine O’Driscoll is the author of two books on the subject: ‘What Vets Don’t Tell You About Vaccines’ and ‘Shock to the System’. I managed to track down a review of the second edition of ‘What Vets Don’t Tell You About Vaccines’ by Nigel Gumley, DVM, and published in the Canadian Vetinary Journal. The review is interesting:

Founded on the belief that vaccination led to illness or the demise of all 6 of her pets, Ms. O’Driscoll’s book is a colorful, yet poor, attempt to devalue the importance of immunization. Convinced of the harmful and oft unreported side effects of vaccination, Ms. O’Driscoll formed the Canine Health Concern, a self-proclaimed pet advocacy group. Using surveys conducted under the auspices of this group, Ms. O’Driscoll leads the reader through liberal quotations, anecdotes, and research, including her own, to arrive at the apparently irrefutable position that vaccines are much more harmful than veterinarians are leading their clients to believe. Reactions, such as arthritis, diarrhea, allergies, ataxia, autoimmune disease, colitis, dry eye/conjunctivitis, epilepsy, loss of appetite, nasal discharges, nervous/worrying dispositions and other behavioral changes, skin problems, weight loss, various cancers, to name a few, are all, in her opinion, connected to immunization through a temporal association, giving a reaction rate of at least 3%.

Ms. O’Driscoll’s assertions, unfortunately, are difficult to substantiate. On one hand, her own retrospective study on a temporal relationship between vaccination and adverse effects, while summarized, is not published for scientific scrutiny. On the other, literature and opinions that are available are often misinterpreted or taken out of context. Despite various attempts to remain credible with references to figures of scientific respect, Ms. O’Driscoll loses the credibility in her dogmatic assertions or interpretations.

Furthermore, the reviewer goes onto add that:

With chapter titles like What vets should know about vaccines, Vaccine do not immunize, Vaccines are deadly poisons, and Vaccines can cause the disease they are designed to prevent, Ms. O’Driscoll leads the reader to the inevitable recommendation that homeopathy is a much safer and more efficacious method with which to protect dogs.

Homeopathy, the alternative to evil medicine that treats people ‘naturally’, but has been proven in repeated, peer-reviewed studies to not work, at all, ever. The CHC, however, are very clear to offer complete support for homeopathy for dogs:

Many dog lovers are moving away from annual vaccination towards the safer homoeopathic nosodes. Nosodes usually come in pill form, made from highly diluted preparations containing the disease-causing organisms or diseased tissue. This method of protection has been used for many years with a significant record of success. Published studies have shown the efficacy of nosodes in reducing the incidence of infection in outbreaks of mastitis in cow herds, kennel cough in dogs, distemper in dogs, meningitis in humans, and tularaemia in mice. As such, the principle of nosodes in disease prevention is well proven.

Once again, the first questions that enter my mind are clear: what evidence? Where can I find it? Who published it? And so on. The CHC website provides no links and no evidence whatosever to back up these claims. The idea of animal homeopathy is the same as human homeopathy, reduce an ingredient until there is virtually no particles left at all in the final pill and have faith that this will somehow trigger an immunity in the animal. Does homeopathy work in animals? Err, no:

When considering specifically veterinary trials, results are even more disappointing than in man, with no controlled studies of any degree of credibility having demonstrated a significant effect. In one memorable paper Taylor et al. (1989) described seven calves treated with a commercially purchased homoeopathic nosode for Dictyocaulus viviparus and seven with a sham solution, both groups then being challenged with virulent larvae. No antibody could be demonstrated in either group, mortality in both groups was high, and there was no difference in the number or morphology of the worms recovered from the groups post mortem. The conclusion was that “There were no discernable differences between the treated and the control groups in their manifestations of resistance to D. viviparus or their clinical responses to the diseases produced.”…

More recently, other authors have reported similar findings. Scott et al. (2002) studied a commercial homoeopathic remedy for dermatitis in 18 dogs suffering from atopic dermatitis. One dog in each group (treated and control) showed a reduction in pruritus (to less than 50% of pre- treatment severity) after treatment. This study also generated much criticism from homoeopathy proponents, mainly on the grounds that as the treatment had not been administered by homoeopaths, the results were therefore invalid. The fact that the remedy used, like the nosode employed by Taylor et al. (1989), had been purchased from a commercial source advertising it as suitable for exactly that purpose, was not commented on by the critics. The following year de Verdier et al. (2003) treated 24 calves suffering from neonatal diarrhoea with a D30 preparation of Podophyllum, and compared them to a group of 20 similar calves given a sham solution, in a double-blind study. There was no significant difference between the groups with respect to depression, inappetance and fever, and the treated group actually had a slightly longer duration of diarrhoea than the control group. In the light of these findings, the authors expressed concern about the welfare implications of the fact that homoeopathic treatment is encouraged among “organic” farmers in the EU. Once again, the study was dismissed by homoeopaths on the grounds of lack of individualisation, ignoring the fact that this is exactly how homoeopathy is actually practised in farm animal medicine.

The author goes on to give some more recent studies (and unlike the CHC, he gives full references and links to the studies), but I think you get the idea by now. Homeopathy has never been proven to perform above placebo in any properly controlled, valid clinical trial. It is as simple as that. Yet, the CHC promote homeopathy for pets as the ‘safer’ alternative to injections. Exactly how safe a dog with no immunity to disease is compared to one that has had the relevant injections is a mystery to me.

Once agin the Daily Mail has stirred up a fear in its readership based on the ramblings of an organisation unfit to comment on the matter. Consider the complete lack of any scientific evidence for homeopathy and consider the following statements on the CHC website:

Although many homoeopathic vets refuse to vaccinate, being convinced of the high risks involved, others will suggest that you vaccinate but try to counteract the side-effects by also giving nosodes. CHC does not recommend this option, as dogs can still experience life- threatening side-effects from the vaccine, nosodes or not…

Please note that kennels are increasingly willing to accept nosode-protected dogs, and some training and ringcraft classes are also becoming more enlightened…

Also, as nosode-protected dogs are usually remarkably healthy, an annual visit to collect nosodes from your vet will probably represent the very worthwhile ‘annual check- up’.

Is this an organisation that demands any credibility whatsoever? Considering that their assertions for vaccines causing sickness in dogs is nothing more than anecdotal (same as MMR and Autism) and at no point is any scientific study actually linked to, it makes me sad that the Daily Mail has given such prominence to the story. Furthermore, the fact that they felt the need to change the angle to make it seem as if vaccinations were far more dangerous than they are, is an action I consider to be criminal. If a dog owner is convinced to not have their pet immunised as a result and that dog dies, then the blood will be on the hands of the Daily Mail.

Consider the impact of the story in terms of the comments, this is the second-highest negatively rated comment:

As a qualified vet nurse I cannot stress enough the importance of vaccinating your pets. Of you who have commented that your pet has never been vaccinated and are fine, you are very lucky. The thing people dont see are the pets that come into my practice in serious pain dying and its heartbreaking knowing that it could have been prevented. The annual vaccination does not just offer the opportunity to vaccinate them it gives them a general health check by a veterinary surgeon, vets are skilled clinicians and they can pick up of things at the earliest possible opportunity, lumps and bumps you may not have noticed etc. I urge you to consider the risk you are taking by not vaccinating your pets these diseases are painful and they are deadly!

– char, derby, 6/3/2010 12:26

Click to rate Rating 112

Compare this to the second-highest positively rated comment:

I was made aware of this ‘scam’ a couple of years ago and do not have my dog vaccinated every year as a result he is far to important a member of my family to take the risk. Trouble is, the pet insurance companies seem to be in on this ‘little number’ as one of the questions they always ask is ‘has your dog had his annual injections’ They need to keep up to date with research and be aware that this one question could be leading them to more insurance payouts than necessary!

– Tats, UK, 6/3/2010 9:38

Click to rate Rating 168

The failure of the Press Complaints Commission to regulate the news media is that the assumption that no-one really takes tabloid newspapers seriously, or that people are intelligent enough to not beleive everything they read, is badly mistaken. Newspapers have an huge influence on their readership – as evidenced during the MMR ‘scare’ when the media convinced a large amount of parents to put their children at risk by not having the vaccinations. The PCC has a responsibility not just to accuracy, but a responsibility for public health issues that are caused by woeful reporting such as this.

Sadly, there are a substantial number of people in society who need protection from organisations like the CHC and a media who are so quick to hype their claims into the next big scare story.

The PCC and why self-regulation does not work

The recent submissions made by myself and others to the governance review of the Press Complaints Commission are now available to view on the PCC website. It is interesting to note the relatively small amounts of public submissions to what was an important opportunity for the public to inform the PCC of any concerns. Perhaps the paucity of submissions demonstrates the poor public awareness of the PCC, and perhaps indicates a certain level of cynicism as to whether a submission would make any difference to such a powerless and ineffectual organisation.

Indeed, the submissions themselves are telling. Take, for example, the submission from the Society of editors [pdf]. In their submission the Society basically argue that they appreciate the PCC have to keep up the appearance of being a organisation responsive to change, they insist that ‘it must not change fundementally’. Considering the PCC has fundamental problems as a regulator, this seems like the Society of Editors want the PCC to remain fundamentally ineffective.

Certainly their arguments follow those put forward by Paul Dacre – the man who insists that self-regulation works through the general decency of editors and the shame that they feel if they are caught breaking the code:

“It is a matter of huge shame if an editor has an adjudication against him; it is a matter of shame for him and his paper. That is why self-regulation is the most potent form of regulation, and we buy into it. We do not want to be shamed.”

Considering that Paul Dacre is editor of the most complained about newspaper in the UK, I think we can all see that ‘shame’ is not an effective regulatory force. However, this does not stop Dacre and the Society of Editors from implying that journalists are their own fiercest critics:

There is no fiercer critic of a journalist than another journalist. The code is part of editors’ and journalists’ contracts of employment. There can be no more powerful final sanction than the loss of livelihood.

Considering that Paul Dacre has an annual salary of £1.13m (a salary that has been criticised by corporate governance watchdogs) and is editor of the most complained about newspaper, it seems that no-one is actually willing to impose economic sanctions, even if such sanctions are written into their contract of employment. Certainly the PCC is not the regulator to impose fines against individuals, and I’m not sure members of the public consider an eventual, forced apology after several months really constitutes the ‘free and instant justice’ that Paul Dacre actually states the PCC provides.

The Society of Editors submission demonstrates that self-regulation of the press with never be effective as long as editors and journalists have such an uncritical and frankly deluded opinion of the industry that they work in. The submission in simple terms argues that editors and journalists alike all obey the code out of professional pride, and that fundamental changes to the PCC must not happen. Furthermore, they also argue that:

It should respond to genuine complaints from the public rather than from those who may hold particular subjective views about the role and behaviour of the press generally or any part of it

I imagine they would consider my views on the ‘role and behaviour of the press’ to be subjective, when in reality they just reflect the fact that I spend a lot of my time sifting through the lies, distortions and outright hatred printed as a matter of course by the press on a daily basis. I think I have every reason to have formed strong views on the behaviour of the press, the Society of Editors seem to argue that I should be ignored for being ‘subjective’.

However, where is the real subjective analysis coming from? Surely, given the completely unrealistic views held by Paul Dacre and the Society of Editors, the real subjectivity problem is being caused by the role of self-regulation? If Paul Dacre really believes that the shame of doing wrong is the most powerful form of self-regulation, then clearly an independent regulator must be created.

Clearly, if the Society of Editors genuinely believes that journalists are the fiercest critics of other journalists – yet we face a deafening silence in the majority of all media outlets when any newspaper of journalist is found guilty of any journalistic misdemeanor – then they are not fit to play any part in the governance review or the self-regulation process.

The submission from MediaWise makes much more pertinent arguments for change, based on evidence, rather than the dishonest assumption that self-regulation is working wonderfully thanks to shame and self-aware criticism. It points out that it is no longer acceptable ‘At every new crisis of confidence about press misbehaviour the public are assured ad nauseam about editors’ commitment to self-regulation and the Code of Practice’, when the public can clearly see that editors have no commitment to the code of practice. If they did, then the constant misbehaviour would not happen.

MediaWise also points out that the desire for ‘cheap headlines and sensational claims’ (often from the PR industry) ‘take precedence over well-researched and properly verified stories. They refer to examples such as Madeleine McCann, Max Mosley, MMR, avian flu and swine flu to demonstrate how the press constantly reports without any reference to fact or truth. All of this under the careful watch of journalists who supposedly face fierce criticism and economic sanctions and editors who adhere to the code as a matter of moralistic principle.

It also points out that the line between news content and editorial content has become dangerously blurred, and that the PCC again demonstrated its complete failure as a regulatory body by ruling that: ‘a headline should be regarded as a comment and so not subject to the Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code’. How can an effective regulatory body argue that headlines have no need to be accurate? As a result of this ruling the Express headline: ‘Bombers are all spongeing asylum-seekers’, was ruled as being perfectly acceptable.

The PCC does not work. As long as editors and journalists continue to think that their newspapers are doing a great job of self-regulation and abiding by the principles and spirit of the code, then the PCC will never work. If editors like Paul Dacre are allowed to make nonsensical statements such as refuting the claim that the Daily Mail engages in ‘churnalism’ (the act of rehashing or even publishing in full press releases or even wire copy without any fact checking or any journalistic input whatsoever), then the PCC will never work.

I have no faith in the PCC becoming an effective regulatory body in the foreseeable future, which is why I am putting together a new website aimed at amalgamating the huge amount of blog articles written each day on the national media – whether it be TV, radio, newspapers or online news sources. The aim of the website is to give more prominence to the lies and distortions of our unregulated media. It will try to publish articles from some of the prominent media bloggers, as well as encouraging any blogger who has written something about the media to submit their content as well.

In order to make the site work we will need editors to trawl and check content, writers prepared to submit work (already TabloidWatch has agreed to submit some content that may be outside the remit of watching Tabloids) and above all we need a name for it. I hope that the few readers who have made it this far can add some suggestions for the project, whether it be name function or a small commitment to lend your support to the project.

My hope is to create a site that isn’t as easy to ignore as individual bloggers, to create a site that becomes greater than the sum of its parts. The PCC does not work, let us provide a website that demonstrates just how badly self-regulation of the press has let us all down.

What an utter ____: discuss

The story: ‘The curse of Fallujah: Women warned not to have babies because of rise in birth defects since U.S. assault‘.

The comment:

Here We Go, every evil PC liberal parasitic human rights lawyer in the UK will now be trawling Iraq and possibly Afghanistan looking for victims.

It’s my human right to say that because it’s true, they leech off others instead of earning a living productively.

Cases will be launched against the UK Government as they are more gullible than the US Government.

Pa Broon will apologise for the actions of the US and let the so called victims take as much as they want from the British tax payer, the evil Human rights parasitic lawyers will also dip in.

The lesson here is that the UK should never again get involved in a foreign land as we are not wanted, the people don’t want saving, they kill our troops then have the cheek to demand money.

For once, I agree with the Anti War Brigade, let’s withdraw from Afghanistan and protect our troops, to heck with the stone age people.

Let them kill each other, it’s in their nature, the Human Rights legals can then watch and bleat.

– Arkley Barnet, Back in the UK for now then back to NZ, 4/3/2010 10:10
Click to rate Rating 1

Surprise surprise, he seems to be an ex-pat, someone who is allowed to travel between countries and even live in another one. A privilege he doesn’t seem to want to grant to others. His views on human rights seem bang in line with the Daily Mail, and with the paper’s penchant for plagiarism I wouldn’t be surprised to see this comment tidied up and used as an editorial. There are many more reprehensible comments, but I don’t have the stomach to copy and paste anymore (particularly the numerous comments claiming that inbreeding is to blame). Why do ex-pats seem to be the worst offenders on almost every Mail article?

Daily Mail Readers on Asylum Seekers

This story: ‘UK Border Agency whistleblower: ‘Staff ‘made asylum seekers act out shootings and sang offensive “Um Bongo” song’‘ didn’t get a huge amount of publicity on the Daily Mail website – considering how often stories relating to immigrants appear as the lead story. Nor did it even justify a actual reporter to write it up, instead it was rehashed by the Daily Mail Reporter. It did though, manage to attract a few inhumane shitstains who delight in the cruel treatment of anyone not born in the UK – or should we be more honest and say: anyone with dark skin.

Here is a quote from the whistleblower:

‘I asked about the claimants and their [the staff member’s] thoughts and was told “If it was up to me I would take them all outside and shoot them”.

Here are some comments from Mail readers:

We need more of these people. Give them a raise!

– Dave, Birmingham, England, 3/3/2010 14:45
Click to rate Rating 262

Another idiot throwing the racist card wanting to be noticed

Vote BNP to save Britain

Then there will be no need for a UK Border Agency

– John Beatson, Sheffield England, 3/3/2010 9:33
Click to rate Rating 131

I think the people that work at the Boarder Controls are sick to the back teeth of seeing all these asylum seekers coming to our Country i know i would.

– wind, in the willows, 3/3/2010 10:37
Click to rate Rating 119

lets all cry racism!!!-makes me sick!!-dont like it,,then DO NOT try to enter this country illegally!!

– ukman, hampshire, 3/3/2010 10:07
Click to rate Rating 113

They can’t be that racially biased with so many getting through !

– trev, Brive France, 3/3/2010 10:39
Click to rate Rating 112

What a complete non story. Instead of concerning itself with this nonsense, the agency should explain to the British people why there are at least 1 million illegal immigrants in the UK. After all thats its job – protecting our borders. If it can’t do that, what is the point in having such a body.

– Ian McDougall, Edinburgh, 3/3/2010 10:30
Click to rate Rating 88

What is the point of this organisation;everyone knows that virtually all these foreigners are allowed to stay and claim Benifits so why bother.

– Brian Powell, neath Wales, 3/3/2010 10:37
Click to rate Rating 78

I hate to think what accusations would be levelled at the UKBA if they were actualy doing their job properly.

– Robert, Croydon, 3/3/2010 10:39

Who cares ?

– Harry Bluenapp, Surrey, 3/3/2010 10:17
Click to rate Rating 78

Most of these comments bear little relation to reality – the implication that this somehow isn’t racism, that they’ll all get benefits and let in etc. They only reflect the world created by the tabloid press, in which asylum seekers and immigrants are so evil that they deserve all the bad treatment they encounter. The constant misinformation published about migration and asylum has led to people treating outsiders as little better than animals. I don’t like to casually invoke the Nazis, but as they seem to be the bogeymen we can all compare situations to, I think it is obvious to point out that dehumanisation was pretty central to their attempted extermination of an entire religious group (and gypsies, of course, which no doubt pleased Richard Littlejohn).

Certainly the tabloid propaganda campaign creating such intense hatred should rightly be compared to the lies told about the Jews by Der Sturmer. The only difference is Der Sturmer was one weekly paper, not a collection of daily national tabloids.

The Daily Mail’s Idea of a ‘Green’ Car

The Daily Mail has today given us the intriguing news that Ferrari is launching what sounds like an eco-car: ‘The green Ferrari: No more roaring revs as Italian supercar goes electric‘. Wow, thinks the average reader, an electric Ferrari. Then you actually read the article which points out that it’s actually an hybrid, with a 6.0 litre V12 petrol engine and a ‘back up’ electric engine supplying just 100 horsepower. The standard petrol version of the car manages around 16mpg, whilst the electric version is expected to do up to 25 miles to the gallon, an improvement, clearly, but it hardly screams ‘green’.

CO2 emissions are cut by 35%, but considering it still emits 270g/km (98 grams per km above the average CO2 emission of a car) I still find the idea that this is somehow a car for hippies a little bit stretched. To be fair to the Daily Mail the car is literally green, a change from the traditional red, but they seem to be using ‘green’ in a metaphorical sense; hence the clear madness that a car with a 6.0 V12 petrol engine means ‘no more roaring revs’ and that the car has gone ‘ electric’.

It’s another case of a totally misleading headline from the Daily Mail, demonstrating that no matter how trivial the story, they can still woefully misreport it.