31 January 2008

BBC's Atlantic Stirrings

I was amused by a story on the Today programme just before 7am this morning highlighting a new study in Nature that claims to show a link between the frequency and severity of Atlantic hurricanes and rising sea temperatures. Amused on three counts: Firstly, no attempt was made to ask how this study sits with contradictory claims made last week that actual records of hurricanes over the last 150 years show an inverse relationship between the two; i.e. that increasing temperature in fact results in fewer hurricanes.

Secondly, no attempt was made to ask how this study can be reconciled with another published also by Nature last year showing that there is little correlation between Atlantic hurricanes and temperatures in the Atlantic but that there is, again, an inverse correlation with El NiƱo-related warming in the eastern Pacific.

Thirdly, that the scientist interviewed categorically asserted that there was no demonstrable link to claims of anthropogenic global warming but rather the observed 0.7°C warming was within natural fluctuations known as the Atlantic Multi-Decadal Oscillation.

Thus the BBC's latest evidence in support of its position on human-induced global warming evaporated before anyone could even complain about the lack of rigour in its questioning...

28 January 2008


Not that anyone is dumbing down, of course, but if new vocational qualifications were going to be credibly introduced, you would have thought the companies selected to launch the scheme would have considerably better reputations than a junk food chain, a rail service that has not exactly enjoyed the most positive media coverage over the years, and a virtually unknown airline that sounds like freebee.

Or is it April fools' day and I've simply missed the joke? What next - Buy one qualification, get one free? ( Will that be a first class or a double, sir? - Actually, I was rather hoping for a K or P...)

27 January 2008

Labour's Ethical Rebels

In the latest tussle over the government's controversial Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, that would allow the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos and allow children to be born by IVF without a father's involvement, the Observer reports that senior Labour Catholics are demanding a free vote when the bill returns to the Commons after Easter, claiming that the ethical issues it raises are matters of conscience. Among the those wanting to be led by their consciences rather than blindly following the party line are Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly, Welsh Secretary Paul Murphy, and Defence Secretary Des Browne. Others apparently include a Northern Ireland Office minister and three Labour whips.

Even though our party machines do not like their members to think freely, on this issue perhaps more than any other under current debate, it would surely be right for our elected representatives to be allowed to stand up and be counted for their own personal beliefs.

26 January 2008

Climate Science Is Settled

Certain authorities keep trying to convince us that the science of climate change is settled. So why is it that climate scientists continue to reach opposing conclusions?

You may remember research from last spring indicating that increases in vertical wind sheer – differences between the upper and lower levels of the atmosphere in wind direction and speed – could counter-balance the effects of warming waters. Although conventional wisdom suggests that global warming could result in more powerful storms, examination of 150 years of hurricane records in fact reveals a small decline in hurricanes making landfall in the United States as oceans warmed. This latest inconvenient observation apparently triggered "lively debate" at the annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society.

Little wonder the majority of people remain sceptical† about the severity of claims made by politicians and the media!

† A global survey conducted last year concluded that just one in five believe human causes are the main factors driving climate change.

24 January 2008

Beyond Consent

At a time when an “opt-out” system for organ donation is attracting strong opposition, it is extraordinary that deriving a clone or other embryo from a non-consenting child or older patient should be seen as acceptable ethically. There is a big difference between authorising research on one’s own cells alone, as with standard adult stem-cell research, and authorising the creation and destruction of human embryos or hybrid human entitites. Consent for the latter, highly controversial practices should never be presumed.
On Monday, a group of scientists wrote a letter in The Times objecting to a proposed ban on the generation of embryos in stem cell research using cells for which the donors did not, or could not, give specific consent. Today the paper publishes an excellent group response, picking up on some of the same ethical issues this blog highlighted earlier this month on the possible use of stem-cells from non-consenting adults and children.

Read the whole letter at Times Online.

23 January 2008

Do You Laugh Or Cry?

Three Little Cowboy Builders [Credit: BBC]

Is it true that all builders are cowboys, builders get their work blown down, and builders are like pigs?
Well, obviously, no. But that doesn't mean we should ban the classic fairy tale Three Little Pigs or its digital retelling, Three Little Cowboy Builders, does it?

Unless, of course, you're a politically correct government agency paranoid that Muslim fanatics are about to burn down your building or call for your death. In which case, you would be quite right to be concerned that "the use of pigs raises cultural issues" and would be "too offensive" to the Muslim community.

As the book's creative director, Anne Curtis has said, does that mean that secondary schools can not teach Animal Farm because it features pigs? Once again, it is quite clear that some religions animals are more equal than others.

Source: BBC

Family Flat-Earthers

  • Two-thirds of people (66%) think there is little difference socially between being married and living together.
  • Only one in four people (28%) think married couples make better parents than unmarried ones.
Reading parts of the British Social Attitudes 24th Report, published today by the National Centre for Social Research, reminds me of those in the past who insisted the world was flat, despite any evidence to the contrary.

People may like to think there is little difference socially between marriage and cohabitation or that unmarried couples provide parenting as good as married ones, but the facts do not support such misplaced impressions. As I have noted previously, children born to married parents have significantly better chances in life than those born to unmarried parents: just 8% of married couples split up within five years of the birth of a child compared to 25% of those who marry after birth and 52% of cohabitees. The evidence increasingly shows that children born to married parents tend to be physically and mentally healthier than other children, less accident-prone, and less likely to self-harm. They perform better in school, become sexually active at a later age, are less likely to have behavioural problems, suffer depression, or turn to drugs, smoking or heavy drinking, or to become involved in criminal activities. Furthermore, children from cohabiting households are 33 times more likely to suffer serious abuse than where the child lives with married parents and children under two have a 100 times greater risk of being killed by step-parents than by genetic parents.

Perhaps this is why other surveys indicate that 94% of teenage girls want to get married by the time they are 25, 89% want to get married before they have children, and half of sexually active teenage girls say they regret the experience.

Where To Start?

Sometimes there's so much going on, it's hard to know where to start ... the three year delay of ID cards, the global stock market crash, the effective nationalisation of Northern Rock and unwinding of the government's "stable" economy, the not so liberal LibDems to vote against any referendum on the European Constitution Lisbon Treaty. What do you think of the week's big issues?

20 January 2008

Collective Worship in Schools

Commenting on government proposals that will most likely abolish the statutory obligation upon schools to hold a daily act of collective worship, Cranmer asks, "is it any coincidence that those schools which take the Christian daily act of collective worship seriously, and do it very well, are invariably those with the highest educational standards, yielding best academic results, turning out some of the most reasonable and most excellent contributors to society?"

As we noted last month, the question is why this should be so. The Church of England's chief education officer suggested it "helps embed strong discipline, a caring attitude, and a sense of purpose." Looking for political guidance, we find that when he was Education Secretary, Alan Johnson noted collective worship in schools "can provide an opportunity not only to worship God but also to consider spiritual and moral issues and to explore their own beliefs. Collective worship can also help to develop community spirit, promote a common ethos and shared values and reinforce positive attitudes."

Assuming that still to be the case, don't we need this for our children now even more than ever?

16 January 2008

Anyone Remember Sudan?

Last summer seems such a long time ago. Riding high on a tide of misplaced hope, the Prime Minister hailed the "historic and unprecedented" UN resolution that we were supposed to believe would bring peace to Sudan. Now, in the cold depths of winter, just a fraction of the promised peacekeeping (sic) "force" have been deployed and government planes continue to drop bombs on Darfur, turning some areas into "no go" zones for aid workers:

Sudanese government planes bombed rebel positions in Darfur, rebels and international sources said on Monday of the latest violence that has turned parts of West Darfur into a "no go" zone for aid workers. [Reuters]
Just last week the Sudanese military admitted that its forces were involved in an attack on peacekeepers in Darfur. America and Britain have again accused Sudan of blocking the UN mission. It wasn't supposed to be this way...

13 January 2008

State Sanctioned Grave Robbing?

I see the Prime Minister has now backed the controversial proposals I referred to earlier this week for everyone to be placed automatically on the organ donor register.

I merely repeat the question I posed when England's chief medical officer suggested the idea last July: Do we really want to give the State presumed ownership of our body parts?

Next thing you know, Big Brother will be after our identities...!

08 January 2008

Phillips on Barack Obama

I notice a lot of people are visiting this site by searching for information about Barack Obama. You might therefore be interested in a piece in the Spectator by Melanie Phillips entitled Princess Obama. Here are the central paragraphs:

Welcome to Planet Diana. It was only with the death of the People’s Princess that the extent of Britain’s transformation from a country of reason, intelligence, stoicism, self-restraint and responsibility into a land of credulousness, emotional incontinence, sentimentality, irresponsibility and self-obsession became shatteringly apparent. Princess Diana was an icon of the new Britain because she embodied precisely those latter characteristics.

It became clear that politicians could score remarkable short-term success if they too got in touch with their inner trauma and felt everyone else’s pain. Bill Clinton (hideous irony for Hillary) was the first to realise this and made it his political signature. Tony Blair, whose lip periodically quivered with precision timing, had it in spades. David Cameron has it; so too does Obama.

The effect is electric, but short-lived. That is because Dianafication is essentially empty, amoral, untruthful and manipulative; eventually voters see through it and realise they have been played for suckers. But while it lasts -- and it creates presidents and prime ministers -- reason doesn’t get a look in. Warm fuzzy feelings win hands down because they anaesthetise reality and blank out altogether those difficult issues which require difficult decisions. Obama appears to be on the wrong side of just about every important issue going; indeed, were he to be elected president he would be a danger to the free world. But hey – the guy makes people feel good about themselves; he stands for hope, love, reconciliation, youthfulness and fairies at the bottom of the garden.

Umbilical Cord Blood Use

MP David Burrowes wants doctors to offer parents the option of storing their baby's umbilical cord blood. At present, the NHS takes about 2,000 samples each year and around 10,000 people are said to have been cured of blood cell disorders using this cord blood. However, there have been cases where the cord blood bank has struggled to find matches, especially among ethnic minority groups. From that perspective, increasing the size of the bank seems like a sensible proposal.

I note, though, that it is also hoped that the stem cells contained in cord blood might one day be used to treat diseases such as leukaemia, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Given the questions that many still have over stem cell research, as with proposed ideas to tackle the shortage of organ donors, there is an issue of presumed consent. There would therefore need to be a clear distinction made between permission for storage only and additional permission for use of the cord blood in research.

06 January 2008

Free Speech Under Threat

Apologies to everyone who has visited during the past week, expecting to find new comment for discussion and debate. I started a new job and had hoped to be able to continue blogging but have been to do anything very much on the computer at all! Life should settle down again in about a week though whether I'll be able to keep up the daily posts remains to be seen. So if anyone is interested in joining a team of bloggers for The Difference, do contact me via email.

In the meantime, my most recommended blog post of the past week is Archbishop Cranmer's British blogger to be arrested?:

While British mosques are free to distribute books and other materials that contain hate and disdain towards non-Muslims (and do so with impunity); and imams quote from the Qur’an vast passages which preach hatred, violence and paedophilia (and do so with impunity), a British blogger is to be arrested for daring to criticise Islam and Islamism. ...

It is actually difficult to see how Lionheart may be arrested for stirring up racial hatred, but there may be prima facie evidence under the Religious Hatred Bill . This could easily be deployed to challenge what may be termed the ‘Counter-jihad’ blogosphere. And even more concerning is the fact that as we move towards a ‘harmonised’ legal system throughout the EU, Lionheart could be arrested in the UK under an EU warrant and extradited to any EU country province which happened to find his writings ‘xenophobic’.

01 January 2008

NHS Bill of Rights

A new constitution for the NHS, proposed by the Government, would set out for the first time the rights and responsibilities linked to entitlement to NHS care. However, as we enter the year of the health service's 60th anniversary, does transforming it into "an NHS which is more personal and responsive to individual needs" really mean it will cease being free at the point of delivery for all and become a conditional provider of health services — more personal and responsive only to the needs of those who do not struggle with issues such as over-eating and smoking? Or, if the NHS is to survive, is this a necessary compromise in an age when an increasing number of patients expect their taxes to entitle them to access an ever-increasing range of expensive treatments and an ever-increasing choice of optional extras?

Unashamed Hypocrisy

Benazir's death may offer new hope for democratic values: rights, the rule of law, and law enforcement.

Benazir Bhutto gave Pakistan false hope of these enlightened values two decades ago. In a shocking display of ineptitude, Pakistan's first woman prime minister failed to pass a single piece of major legislation during her first 20 months in power. According to Amnesty International, Bhutto's particular brand of democracy while in office - in the words of historian William Dalrymple, "elective feudalism" - brought some of the world's highest numbers of extrajudicial killings, torture, and custodial deaths. Transparency International characterized hers as one of the world's most corrupt governments.
For an alternative analysis of the implications of Benazir Bhutto's assassination for Pakistan, check out Bhutto's true colors in the IHT.