Peter Hitchens: Never knowingly out-crazied

It must be tough for the more established Daily Mail / Mail on Sunday stable of writers to feel special now that Rightminds has opened up the Mail website to huge torrents of baffling lunacy. They must look fondly back to the good old days when they knew their own brand of rabid, ignorant ramblings were the toast of the website and equally bovine readers could flock to their comments sections to heap praise upon them. Alternatively, they just embrace the change by ramping up their own lunacy to try and stay one step ahead of the new breed of moronic babblers.

Peter Hitchens – posting his normal weekly drivel today – certainly seems up for the challenge of competing. Whilst James Delingpole started brightly today with his assertion that ‘the BBC fell for a Marxist plot to destroy civilisation from within’ simply because presenters use CE and BCE as well as AD and BC, Hitchens has fought back with this:

Mr Cameron is far closer to Mr Clegg than he is to his own voters.

He loves being manacled to him, and much prefers Coalition to governing alone.

Mr Clegg helps David Cameron ensure that the Government remains pro-EU, pro-crime, anti-education, pro-tax, politically correct and pro-immigration.

The coalition government is ‘pro-crime’ – and, worse than this the government ‘remains’ pro-crime, so that must mean New Labour were also ‘pro-crime’.

‘pro-crime’. And yet Peter Hitchens sometimes seems shocked when people point out to him that he’s more than just a bit dim, really, underneath his attempts at eloquence and his condescending manner. Wasn’t this the government that was determined to make an example of anyone involved in the riots, handing down severe sentences including a 4-year term for someone who posted messages on Facebook. That’s a real pro-crime agenda right there.

It’s a wonderful technique, employed by Peter here and used by so many of his fellow ‘Rightminds’ writers, to simply list things like this as if they are so self-evident they require no further explanation. Yes, the government is somehow ‘anti-education’. Peter doesn’t tell us why, he doesn’t need to, ironically, because fans of his work are the kind of dumbed-down ‘tell-us-what-to-think-please’ idiots that are presumably a product of the nation’s education system since way before the coalition or New Labour came to power.

Just a quick point

The Daily Mail (and Peter Hitchens) do like to drivel on about the ‘thought police’ and how apparently no-one is safe from them. Today the Mail has posted this story online: ‘The ‘coconut’ hate crime investigation that shows NOBODY can escape Britain’s Thought Police’. And again, the story does not relate to what someone thought, but rather on what someone actually said out loud and was recorded saying. It wasn’t a personal thought, it was a public comment that happened to be recorded.

Can the Daily Mail and Peter Hitchens please try to understand the vast difference between thinking something and saying something out loud. It really shouldn’t be difficult to tell the two apart: the thought is not heard by anyone, whereas when something is said out loud people can hear it (if you look at the person speaking you would normally expect to see their lips move).

Dear Peter Hitchens: It does not follow

Peter Hitchens in an small aside in his Mail on Sunday column again linked rampage killings to antidepressants:

Tristan van der Vlis, the Dutch rampage killer who murdered six people last week, is said to have spent time in a psychiatric institution. Was he prescribed antidepressants?

The trouble with this suggested link is that it is not based on any real evidence and is compounded by lots of factors that need to be taken into account – it is not a topic that can be understood without forcing your mind to be as rational as possible. Firstly, a key study:

found an overall trend for any antidepressant treatment to reduce the risk of suicidality in people aged 25 years or above.

In the under 25s, however, there was a non-significant increased risk of suicidal thoughts or behaviour (preparatory actions for suicide or attempted or completed suicide) with antidepressant treatment. When limited to suicidal behaviour alone this increased risk became significant.

But it didn’t speculate about antidepressants leading to rampage killings. This speculation has only been made by the media and by Hitchens on several occasions, it is not based on any evidence and merely relies on the fact that some killers had been prescribed some form of antidepressant (or in this case had merely sought help from a psychiatrist).

Such links are caused by people putting to one side the most blindingly obvious variable that influences the behaviour of anyone prescribed antidepressants: they are depressed. When the media links antidepressants and suicide they seem to ignore the fact that the person was depressed and possibly suicidal before being issued with the medication. The medication may have failed to prevent that person committing suicide, but this is very different to blaming the medication for being the direct cause of suicide.

Likewise, a deeply troubled individual might be given a cocktail of drugs in order to attempt to control their behaviour, but these might fail and that person might end up killing someone or worse, killing many people in a seemingly random act of violence. Again, blaming the medication is to ignore the underlying mental illness that put them at risk of committing such an atrocity and led them to medication in the first place.

Objectively, any medication issued could be a contributing factor – we cannot know how any  individual will respond to any medication given and prescribing doctors might not be aware of other influencing factors not declared by the patient. Treating mental illness is far from an exact science because the patient is often an unreliable narrator of their own mental state and physical symptoms. It is complex, it is difficult and it is not helped by people like Hitchens believing that they’ve made some fabulously insightful link based on nothing more than their own ignorance of compounding factors – even when they are as obvious as they are here.

The truth is we will probably never uncover a satisfactory reason for why individuals commit such acts – and as the protagonists of suicide and rampage killings are usually dead at the end of the event we are reduced to speculation – but such speculation should be clearly labelled as such by all involved. However, the lack of a satisfactory reason for such behaviour should not lead to the vacuum being filled with commentators blaming medication when they have no evidence to make such a claim.

It seems to me that any act of random violence or the decision to commit suicide could be made with or without the differing influence of any medication – the medication is just one of many variables that could play a part in any action. Of course, we can’t ever know this because the protagonist is normally dead so we can’t experiment with the impacts of stopping medication to see whether they still want to commit suicide or not.

Blaming medication is lazy, simple-minded and above all ignores the myriad of complex reasons as to why people end up seeking medical help for a mental illness in the first place. Perhaps if as a society we focused more on well-being we wouldn’t need to write around 23 million prescriptions of antidepressants a year – but then I suppose that’s the kind of airy-fairy liberal wish-wash that Hitchens’ despises. After all, the Daily Mail is clear about what it thinks of depressed people:

Above all, columnists need to understand that we are not rational beings so we have to constantly force ourselves to think rationally. I am sure Mr Hitchens is aware of cum hoc and post hoc arguments as well as knowing what a non sequitur is. I can only appeal to him to re-read his columns with these arguments in his mind so he can clearly see where he is using them and why such arguments constantly undermine his writing.

Honesty

I wanted to leave this topic well alone, but unfortunately Peter Hitchens is now claiming on his own blog that:

Intrepid Web voyagers may also be able to find an encounter with me and one of my more virulent critics, in which I have caught him red-handed distorting my words, and he and his supporters insist that this is perfectly all right.

My crime was to copy and paste something I had written in an earlier blog post, here is what I wrote in the comments:

I admitted – twice in the post – that I had pointlessly ranted, but how else can you engage with a writer who actually claimed in the column that I was writing about that: ‘most of our elected leaders are “unrepentant illegal drug-takers”‘

People interested in the complete post can read it here (because Peter seems to have an aversion to linking to sources).

Now, what I put into inverted commas was what I had written previously, only the words in speech marks belonged to Peter Hitchens – his original words:

So many of our leaders now are unrepentant illegal drug-takers themselves that they shouldn’t be trusted near the making of laws*.

I pointed out to Peter that I was quoting my own words and his – as shown by inverted commas and speech marks – but I apologised for the clumsy introduction which was misleading. Rather than accept this and move on he accused me of blatant distortion, dishonesty and concluded that the credibility of this blog was now in ruins – ending with his final comment:

Final, final, final word. It is clear from all above that in this little world, objecting to dishonesty and distortion is ‘pedantry’, and twisting the words of others is excusable. No absolutes here, then. Truth here is a relative concept. That’s the choice of the host of this site and of his friends. Very well. The rest of us can now with confidence refer to this place in future as ‘The site that makes up quotes’.

Hence my lovely new tagline. One little detail and everything I have ever written can be dismissed as far as Hitchens’ is concerned. Nicely done.

Anyway, throughout the ‘debate’ – most of the time it really doesn’t deserve the term – with Hitchens I was open and honest as usual – even in the comment that led him to accuse me of distorting his words I linked to my original post that would have set any reader straight about my clumsy quotation immediately (they would see I was copying and pasting what I had written earlier, not purposefully putting words into his mouth) – hardly the actions of someone being purposefully deceptive or dishonest. I moderated no comments, the thread stands in its mind-numbing entirety for any neutral observer to make their own mind up about the terrible nature of my crime, and the superb intellectual victory scored by Mr Hitchens.

Except, although he keeps referring to this blog and his victory over anyone who argues with him, he won’t link to it. He doesn’t trust his own readers to make their own mind up; instead he just fills them in with his version of events. He may argue that the level of ‘critics’ he encountered was too low to warrant a link, but it seems apparent to me that he simply could not defend his position on passive smoking so he therefore decided to derail the argument in order to ‘win’ on his own terms.

Peter Hitchens can accuse me of whatever he likes, I stand by my arguments about why he is wrong about passive smoking (more about this later) and I stand by the comments section of that post to demonstrate that I am a reasonable, open and honest person (not to mention naive for thinking I could get anywhere or achieve anything with the argument). If he really thought the comments section of that post suggested otherwise perhaps he should link to it and let his readers make up their own minds.


*Furthermore, Hitchens’ argued that the meaning of ‘most’ is massively different from ‘many’ and therefore I was massively and dishonestly distorting what he originally said. However, given that laws require a majority to get through the House of Commons it follows that Peter’s worry would only be real if a significant majority of politicians were ‘unrepentant illegal drug-takers’ to push such votes through. This suggests that ‘most’ is an appropriate word to use – and remember, he doesn’t just say ‘many’ but ‘so many’.

And let’s face it, here is a man who is happy to stand by his ludicrous (no evidence provided) statement that: ‘So many of our leaders now are unrepentant illegal drug-takers themselves that they shouldn’t be trusted near the making of laws.’ But change ‘many’ to ‘most’, and he feels the need to defend himself in case he is being made to look silly.

I have finally made it onto the Mail website (sort of)

So, Peter Hitchens responded to my recent 5-minute post on his claims about passive smoking – that he essentially wasn’t convinced by the ‘stories’ about the dangers and thought that the evidence was ‘very thin’. Anyway, you can read that conversation here, but interestingly enough Peter has now decided to blog about the subject – in which he again accuses me of being a ‘scornful but anonymous person’ even though my name was revealed in the comment section of this blog shortly after Peter’s first comment. Obviously he misses simple details even if they are given to him, hardly a good start for his blog post that is supposed to demonstrate that he can provide evidence to support his assertions.

Amusingly, despite being given numerous links to various studies demonstrating a link between passive smoking and health issues, he is still clinging to one particular controversial study (Enstrom and Kabat – said to have been ‘funded and managed by the Center for Indoor Air Research, a tobacco industry front group tasked with “offsetting” damaging studies on passive smoking’) as well as introducing collection of newspaper articles on the subject (as if journalists are the ones to turn to for accurate scientific reporting). None of which can discredit the meta-analysis (confirmed on several separate occasions) that shows that secondary smoke has a statistically significant impact on health.

Now, I’m not a paid writer and I don’t have the time or patience to take the matter any further, but if anyone does have a good knowledge of the subject then feel free to read Peter’s blog post and post your thoughts in the comments here.