Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Daily Mail in reasonable journalism shocker.....

No. No. No. It's true. Look here:

The Case for and Against Homeopathy

Everyone's favourite tousle-haired Bad Science Ninja, Dr Ben Goldacre (ahem, Dr - as in medical, rather than Dr* as in Chemical...) has provided the common sense side of the argument - and done it well. Mind you, the arguments for homeopathy are paper thin and could be easily destroyed by a 10 year old (although in this case, it's someone who looks like a ten year old :)

The only real problem with it is that the case for is pretty weak (and has been given a proper fisking here as these two points of view have both appeared before, bizarrely, in The Guardian, the liberal lefty (usually) intelligent scourge of Daily Mail readers). It's a massive bugbear that I will not doubt blawg about at a later stage, that in the interests of 'fairness' we have to hear ALL sides of the argument, with no weighting being given to how sensible or bonkers the argument is.

The opening gambit is a beauty and in many ways negates reading the rest of the article (it's also interesting why someone with a bit of knowledge in the field didn't write the article):

A leading novelist who swears by it. A science expert who thinks it's tosh.

Imagine it wasn't homeopathy. Imagine a full reversal - say, for instance, a heart triple bypass and then you read in the paper a debate about its merits and found

A science expert who swears by it. A leading novelist who thinks it's tosh.

This could get silly. Thankfully, it's mid-day and the Christmas supplies of vino haven't arrived yet, so this particular train of thought has hit the buffers.

Oh, just one then......

Bible suggests young earth:
A creationist swears by it, a leading world class paleontologist thinks it's tosh

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Good Evening Mrs Storm, is your daughter in?

It's a slightly surreal title, I know, but then I've just put another empty bottle of Macallan into the recycling.

I am not a meteorologist. However, I do have an inkling about how some weather systems work...

**parades 'A' in GCSE Geography**

But the little I know leads me to believe that I know more than Jo MacFarlane, or at least more than she's letting on. (I don't even know if Jo is male or female but that, as so often is the case, is irrelevant).

Mother Of All Storms Will Blast Britain At Christmas

Now, being the Daily Express, it has no truck with fact and so can quite happily state 6 week weather forecasting as truth incarnate.

As an aside, the BBC would (if it was a REALLY slow news day) have headlined this with:

Adverse weather to "blast Britain at Christmas"

knowing that quotes negate any need to justify the headline. The Sun would have led with

Ghost of Christmas Blast

although I reckon it would have been lost on most of its readers, and the Mail would have led with:

Lower houses prices and increased taxes expected as Brown fails to prepare for coldest Christmas on record caused by asylum seekers committing benefit fraud

As I said, the Macallan is finished.

Now the point of this drunken tirade is two-fold:

1. Predicting that in Britain there will be storms in Winter is a bit like predicting that the next Pope will be Catholic. It certainly doesn't mean you can claim Randi's Millions if you are correct.

2. If the Met Office say that "[longer term predictions] are not necessarily within the scientific understanding of weather forecasting" I would tend to believe them, rather than Piers Corbyn, whose reasons for making [exciting if vague] predictions are clear either from a profit point of view or from a personal point of view.

Now, whether or not Mrs Storm does arrive at Christmas is not the point, it's whether Mr Corbyn predicted it. Given that we're currently (as in tomorrow, Friday 23rd Nov) supposed to be enjoying "Dangerous storms and tornadoes" (also penned by Mr/Miss/Mrs/Ms MacFarlane) I'll happily put him in the file marked "Bluffers".

EDIT: Just thought I'd put in today's (FRI 23rd Nov) report from the Met Office, compared with Mr Corbyn's 'predictions':

Friday day
Most parts dry, sunny but rather cold, a brisk, chilly northeasterly wind bringing rain, sleet or snow showers to some North Sea coastal areas of England and wet and windy weather arriving in the far northwest of Scotland.

Friday night
Widespread frost. The north, becoming windy, rain spreading southeast, turning to snow for a time over eastern Scotland and hills of northern England. Risk of icy conditions for a time.

Daily Express:
...“dangerous storms” to hit by Friday.

Regions could be battered by heavy rain and winds gusting up to 100mph, said forecaster Piers Corbyn at Weather Action.

He also warned that conditions would be perfect for tornado development, especially off the South Coast.

EDIT: January 1st 2008 - Happy New Year. Looks like we managed to escape the tornadoes over Christmas. What a waste of time Piers Corbyn is.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Religion MUST be a good thing......

....otherwise we wouldn't get stories like these:

Donkey wedding staged to bring rain

Man marries bitch to beat curse

Still, I suppose when you take into account all the people who died in religious wars and people whose lives have been made misery by varying forms of religious-instilled bigotry, it's maybe not such a good thing after all.

Nonetheless, seems like a good time to introduce Jesus & Mo, two random characters based on nobody in particular (either living, dead or a little bit of both). Here is the Wiki blurb, which (let's face it) puts it more succintly and cleverly than I could:

The simply drawn comic features two present day religious prophets, Jesus and Mo. While Jesus is portrayed as the actual Christian prophet, Mo claims to be a body double ... to get around the restriction in Islam of representing the prophet Muhammad pictorially.

Jesus and Mo share an apartment and occasionally venture outside, principally to a public house, The Cock and Bull, where they imbibe Guinness stout and engage in conversation and debate with an atheist female bar attendant known simply as Barmaid.

A fourth character, Moses, another Abrahamic prophet, appears in a few strips. The Hindu god Ganesh made a one-time appearance; both Jesus and Mo mocked his depicted weight and four arms.

Enjoy at your leisure.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Pass me the ScienceMangle™

The Daily Mail's irony-meter must have been broken this week, as they published on their website (about half way down) a reasonable diatribe written by Prof. Karol Sikora, Medical Director of CancerPartners UK regarding the recent report, Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective.

The first inkling that something was up was that the DM webpage didn't mention the name of the report, referring to it only as "last week's health report". The thrust of the piece was that publishing a report which pretty much said that everything you eat will affect your cancer risk to some degree will make people switch off listening to the good healthy eating advice and lose the message.

What struck me as odd, is that the Daily Mail for as long as I can remember has been putting all inanimate objects in the known universe into the categories of either causing or curing cancer. With the help of a sturdy ScienceMangle™ they have been one of the most repetitive sources of cancer fear for the worried well. How could we forget those lethal grapefruit or the bowel-busting one-glass-of-wine? I'm certainly glad that I'm not a tall, 14-year-old, left-handed, brunette who is sexually active (from the Daily Mail's perspective, at any rate....)

EDIT: I said 'inanimate objects' above. Apparently, it is also animate objects - bring on the carcinogenic canine.


Luckily for us all, DM debunks its own stories every once in a while. Now listen up and read carefully. It's time for Spot The Difference or Compare & Contrast or however you like to refer to it. Have your ScienceMangle™ set to "Irony".

Let's start with the DM's "Unravelling the Cancer Myths".

MYTH: You can get cancer from barbecued food.

FACT: The blackened crust of barbecued food contains substances called heterocyclic aromatic amines (HAAs), which are carcinogenic.

But there has been no evidence produced which links barbecued food to cancer.

Perhaps this is because you would never eat enough charred food to cause the DNA damage that is central to cancer development.

And compare with the article "Cancer: Foods to Avoid"


A potential [cancer-causing] culprit is [sic] heterocyclic amines which are formed on the surface of meat when it's grilled, roasted, fried or barbecued - especially when burned or charred.

Risk factor: Although animal studies suggest that high intakes of heterocyclic amines can promote cancer, there is no direct evidence in humans. But it makes sense to minimise any risk.
Minimise any risk, you say? Hmmm... talk to me about deodorants:

"Why Women should avoid deodorants that could cause breast cancer" (if I was being pedantic, I would say the answer is in the title, but I digress). Two weeks later we get:

MYTH: Using anti-perspirant can cause cancer.

FACT: An e-mail made the rounds a couple of years ago falsely linking antiperspirant with an increased risk of breast cancer.

It said anti-perspirant stopped toxins being purged from the body in sweat instead being deposited in the lymph nodes, causing cell mutations.

Cancer Research UK and the American Cancer Society have rubbished the claim, saying it is simply not true. Firstly, sweat does not contain toxins. And there is no proven link between anti-perspirant chemicals and cancer.

Now, of course, everyone knows that mobile phones cause cancer - at least, we're told it does by the DM; eye cancer and brain tumours are your lot, even if you're only on the phone for ten minutes. But, phew, relief and everything's fine because the ScienceMangle™ has been momentarily switched off, so that we can be told

MYTH: Mobile phones give you brain cancer.

FACT: So far, most studies have found no link between mobile phone use and brain cancer. But the jury is still out on just how damaging mobiles are.

Of course they are - the jury consisting of the DM's shareholders and lots of middle class unintelligentsia. These stories will always sell papers to this demographic - all you need is a list of all the objects in the world, access to some medical journals and a good, well-maintained ScienceMangle™.