If at first you don’t succeed . . . statistical manipulation might help

Anti-fluoride campaigners are promoting yet another new study they claim shows community water fluoridation lowers children’s IQ. For example, the Fluoride Free NZ (FFNZ) press release Ground Breaking Study – Fluoridated Water Lowers Kid’s IQs which claims the study confirms“our worst fears, linking exposure to fluoridated water during pregnancy to lowered IQ for the developing child.”

Yet the study itself shows no significant difference in children whose mothers lived in fluoridated or unfluoridated areas during pregnancy. Here is the relevant data from Table 1 in the paper:

Mean IQ of children whose mothers drank fluoridated or unfluoridated water during pregnancy (SD =  11.9 – 14.7)

Nonfluoridated Fluoridated
All children 108.07 108.21
Boys 106.31 104.78
Girls 109.86 111.47

The differences between fluoridated and nonfluoridated are not statistically significant.

The paper has just been published and is:

Green, R., Lanphear, B., Hornung, R., Flora, D., Martinez-Mier, E. A., Neufeld, R., … Till, C. (2019). Association Between Maternal Fluoride Exposure During Pregnancy and IQ Scores in Offspring in Canada. JAMA Pediatrics, 1–9.

Surprisingly the authors do not discuss the data in the table above. Its as if the data didn’t exist, despite being given in their Table 1. I find this surprising because their discussion is aimed at finding a difference – specifically, a decrease in child IQ due to fluoridation – and surely these mean values must be relevant. Were the authors embarrassed by these figures because they did not show the effect they wanted?

So how did they manage to find an effect they could attribute to fluoride, or fluoridation, despite the mean values above? They basically resort to statistical manipulation – and this has opened up an intense controversy about the paper.

An unprecedented “Editor’s Note”

The journal editor, Dimitri A. Christakis, published a note alongside the paper (see Decision to Publish Study on Maternal Fluoride Exposure During Pregnancy), together with a piece in the Opinion section by David C. Bellinger (see Is Fluoride Potentially Neurotoxic?). This opinion piece is described as an editorial although Bellinger is not an editor of the journal or on the Editorial Board.

This is, in my experience, completely unprecedented. Editor’s don’t comment on the quality of papers or the refereeing process and I can only conclude that within the journal editorial board and those who reviewed the paper there were sharp differences about its quality and whether it should be published. While an editorial may sometimes bring attention to an article, in this case, it is likely that Bellinger was one of the reviewers of the paper and he is expressing his viewpoint on it and supports its publication.

Christakis writes “The decision to publish this article was not easy.” He goes on to imply the journal supports publication “regardless of how contentious the results may be.”  But surely there is no need to defend a good quality paper in this way just because the results may be “contentious.”

Interestingly, FFNZ interpreted the publication of the Editor’s note as making the publication of the paper more “impactful” not realising that the Note is probably not positive for the paper as it reveals controversy over the paper’s quality and whether it was worthy of publication. FFNZ also chose to describe Bellinger’s comments in his opinion piece as representing the views of the authors. However, it would be inappropriate for an editor to make such comments.

I think Bellinger has his own biases and preferences which lead him to advocate for papers like this. I commented on Bellinger’s role in the review of another paper promoting an anti-fluoride perspective in my articles Poor peer-review – a case study and Poor peer review – and its consequences.

A large amount of controversy

I am surprised at the degree of controversy around this paper – and it’s loudness. The fact that it started on the same day the paper was made public reveal various actors have had access to the paper and have been debating it for some time.  This could have been stoked by the unorthodox statistical analysis used and contradictions in the findings.

But it appears this controversy had gone far wider than the journal editors and reviewers of the paper because of the immediate reactions from anti-fluoride organisations like the Fluoride Action Network (see BREAKING: GOVERNMENT-FUNDED STUDY LINKS FLUORIDATED WATER DURING PREGNANCY TO LOWER IQS IN OFFSPRING), some leading Newspapers,  professional bodies (see AADR Comment on Effect of Fluoride Exposure on Children’s IQ Study) and the UK Science Media Centre which published a reaction from experts article (see expert reaction to study looking at maternal exposure to fluoride and IQ in children).

This suggests to me a large degree of lobbying. Not only from activists and anti-fluoride scientists or reviewers. But also from authors and their institute. I am not really surprised as I have often seen how politics, activism, commercial interests, and scientific ambitions will coordinate in these situations.

How to discover an effect from a nonsignificant difference

So how do we get from the data in the table above – showing no statistically significant difference between fluoridated and unfluoridated areas – to a situation where the authors (who don’t refer to that data in their discussion) say:

“higher levels of fluoride exposure during pregnancy were associated with lower IQ scores in children measured at age 3 to 4 years. These findings were observed at fluoride levels typically found in white North American women. This indicates the possible need to reduce fluoride intake during pregnancy.”

In their press releases and statements to media, where they are not constrained by a journal’s need for evidence and objectivity, they come out even more vocally against community water fluoridation.

Well, it appears to me, by statistical manipulation. One of the Science Media experts referred to above, Prof Thom Baguley, wrote:

“First, the claim that maternal fluoride exposure is associated with a decrease in IQ of children is false. This finding was non-significant (but not reported in the abstract). They did observe a decrease for male children and a slight increase in IQ (but non-significant) for girls. This is an example of subgroup analysis – which is frowned upon in these kinds of studies because it is nearly always possible to identify some subgroup which shows an effect if the data are noisy. Here the data are very noisy.”

It appears the authors found a significant effect of child sex on IQ so made a decision to do a subgroup analysis – of boys and girls – and this produced a significant association of IQ with maternal urinary fluoride for the boys. This resort to subgroup analysis may have, in itself, produced a misleading significant relationship.

Adam Krutchen, Biostatistics PhD student at the University of Pittsburgh, also illustrates how the relationship with child sex has confused the analysis. He comments on the data that he managed to extract from the paper’s Figure 3:

“There were drastic sex-specific IQ differences in the children, which is of course strange. We shouldn’t expect anything like that to happen. This difference is very significant. There’s also some outlier extremely low IQ values among the male children.”

He is saying that his regression analysis showed a strong effect of child sex on IQ. This is quite irrespective of maternal urinary F or drinking water F. However, once that effect of child sex is taken into account he found no relationship of child IQ with maternal urinary F. He says:

“with such a significant effect of sex on IQ, does fluoride have any remaining relationship? The answer is a resounding no in the digitized data.”

It appears that including child sex difference in the regression analysis produces the finding that there is no significant relationship of fluoride to child IQ after taking into account the significant relationship of IQ with child sex. But when the data is divided into subgroups and analysed separately (a technique statisticians “frown on” “because it is nearly always possible to identify some subgroup which shows an effect if the data are noisy”) a significant relationship of IQ with maternal urinary fluoride can be produced for boys (but not girls).

Interestingly, a second part of the Green et al., (2019) study investigated a relationship of child IQ with unverified estimated fluoride intake by the pregnant mothers. The estimation method was not verified so may be questionable). No sex difference appeared in that data set.

How strong are the reported relationships

Perhaps it is not necessary to go any further. Perhaps the data for mean IQ in the table above is sufficient to show there is no effect of fluoride on IQ. Or perhaps the critique of the analysis of subgroups used is sufficient to make the reported conclusions suspect.

However, perhaps a comment on the weakness of the relationships reported by Green et al is useful – if only because I took the trouble to digitally extract the data from the figures in the paper and do my own regression analyses on the data.

Of course, digital extraction does not get all the data – even if only because the points may merge. In this case, I managed to extract 410 data points from Figure 3A which showed the relationships of child IQ with the maternal urinary F concentrations during pregnancy. This is quite a bit smaller than the 512 data pairs the authors reported in their Table 1 and suggests to me they had not plotted all their data. However, the values for means and coefficients obtained by my own regression were very similar to those reported by Green et al., (2019).

The authors reported a significant (p=0.02) negative relationship of boy’s IQ with maternal urinary F. They do not discuss how strong that relationship is – although the wide scatter of data points in the figures suggest it is not strong. My regression analysis showed the relationship explained only 1.3% of the variance in IQ. I do not think that is worth much. With such low explanatory power, I think the authors overstate their conclusions.

I think this is another case of placing far too much reliance on p-values and ignoring other results of the statistical analysis. I discussed this in a previous article – see Anti-fluoride activists misrepresent a new kidney/liver study).

Conclusions

I think this paper has been overblown. It has problems with its statistical analyses as well as other limitations referred to in the paper. I do not think it should have been published in its present form – surely reviewers should have picked up on these problems. I can only conclude that intense arguments occurred within the journal’s editorial board and amongst reviewers – and most probably more widely amongst institutes and activist groups. In the end, the publication decision was most likely political.

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Anti-fluoride activists misrepresent a new kidney/liver study

Image Credit: Wild Rose College

A new study reporting the ranges of values for kidney and liver parameters in a healthy population is being actively misrepresented by anti-fluoride campaigners. The Fluoride Action Network’s (FAN) latest bulletin claims the study shows “that fluoride at commonly experienced doses can damage the kidneys and livers of adolescents.”

The study shows nothing of the sort. How could it – individuals suffering liver or kidney disease were specifically excluded from the study population. The reported parameter values are all for healthy individuals.

Readers can check for themselves – there is a free download. The paper is:

Malin, A. J., Lesseur, C., Busgang, S. A., Curtin, P., Wright, R. O., & Sanders, A. P. (2019). Fluoride exposure and kidney and liver function among adolescents in the United States: NHANES, 2013–2016. Environment International,

It is important to understand what this study really found. Not only is it being misreported by anti-fluoride activists. The University (The Mount Sinai Hospital/Mount Sinai School of Medicine) press release also appears to attribute more to the study’s findings than is warranted. This is a common problem with university public relations departments. (Readers are warned – the press release includes the disclaimer:

“AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system”

Below I list some information on the study

This is not a study about kidney or liver disease

Individuals showing such disease were specifically excluded. The study reports values for kidney and liver parameters in “generally healthy” subjects. The authors make this very clear in the discussion saying:

“this study did not aim to determine whether fluoride exposure is associated with clinical decrements in kidney function among U.S. adolescents. Rather, this study aimed to examine subclinical changes in kidney or liver parameters associated with fluoride exposure among a generally healthy population. For example, the lowest GFR estimated in this study was 84 mL/min/1.73m2, and therefore none were below the<75 mL/min/1.73m2 value considered reflective of
abnormal kidney function. Future prospective studies including participants with and without kidney disease are needed to assess clinical changes in kidney or liver function.”

So, this study just could not have identified factors causing kidney and liver disease, let alone confidently attribute a cause to the disease. So we can reject the anti-fluoride activist’s claims and their misrepresentation of the study results.

But why all this fuss about fluoride?

Because the authors have a preoccupation with fluoride they used statistical analyses to see if they could find any association between drinking water fluoride or blood plasma fluoride and the measured kidney and liver parameters. They did find a small number of very weak associations.

They do not support the claims made by anti-fluoride activists so details of their results and a critique of their results are irrelevant to the main arguments. But I do have a hangup about the way statistical analyses are used, and the way they are over-interpreted to support pet biases so will discuss their data below.

Very few associations found

The study included nine kidney and liver function test parameters. Only one of these (Blood Urea Nitrogen [BUN]) had a statistically significant relationship with water fluoride (Uncorrected p <0.001) – see figure below.

The relationship of BUN with blood plasma F was also statistically significant (Uncorrected p <0.001) – see figure below.

The Standard Reference Range of BUN for this adolescent population is 6–23 mg/dL. Only a few data points are outside that range and they mainly occur for low water F or plasma F concentrations.

The authors also reported statistically significant associations of estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) and Serum uric acid (SUA) with blood plasma F. However, once adjustments were made for plasma cotinine levels (a biomarker of tobacco smoke exposure) associations were not statistically significant (uncorrected p=0.18 for eGFR) or only “marginally” statistically significant (uncorrected p=0.06 for SUA).

In effect, statistically significant associations with either water F or plasma F occurred for only one. It is not credible for FAN to use these associations as indicators “that fluoride at commonly experienced doses can damage the kidneys and livers of adolescents.”

Reported associations may be “a pure act of will”

The authors appear to place a lot of reliance, in my opinion far too much reliance, of p values as somehow providing a causal mechanism behind the reported associations. This reliance has been strongly criticised by statisticians. Recently Briggs (2019) (Everything Wrong with P-Values Under One Roof) concluded:

“P-values should not be used. They have no justification under frequentist theory; they are pure acts of will. Arguments justifying p-values are fallacious. P-values are not used to make all decisions about a model, where in some cases judgment overrules p-values. There is no justification for this in frequentist theory. Hypothesis testing cannot identify cause. Models based on p-values are almost never verified against reality. P-values are never unique. They cause models to appear more real than reality.”

He goes on to elaborate:

“a small p-value has no bearing on any hypothesis . . . Making a decision about a parameter or data because the p-value takes any particular value is thus always fallacious . . . . Decisions made by researchers are often likely correct because experimenters are good at controlling their experiments, . . . . . ., but if the final decision is dependent on a p-value it is reached by a fallacy. It becomes a pure act of will.”

I believe Malin et al., (2019) place too much reliance on the p values they obtained and should have provided more complete results from the statistical analyses. Citing and relying on p values alone is, I believe, a major deficiency in this paper.

To their credit, while not providing full statistical analysis results the authors did display individual data points in their figures 1 and 2. This enables careful readers to make some judgments about the statistical analyses which would not be possible if the figures had not been provided.

Problems with outliers

The figures show a small number of outlying data points with some of the parameters. One has to be very careful that any association found only has a low p-value because of the influence (or leverage) of these outliers. The figures above for the BUN parameter illustrate the problem – particularly for water F where 2 data point greater than 6 mg/L clearly have a lot of influence.

This problem should stand out to any informed reader of the paper. The authors claim “Cook’s distance estimates were used to test for influential data points; none were identified.” However, this does not seem credible (particularly for Water F) so it is understandable that I should ask to see the results of these estimates so I can make up my own mind. They were not provided.

The associations were extremely weak

There is a huge scatter in the data points obvious in the figures above. This tells us that the reported associations can explain only a small amount of the variance. This is one reason why p-values alone can be misleading. A low p-value for an association (or fitted line) explaining only a few percent of the variance is meaningless. Concentration on such associations means that more important ones (explaining more of the variance) may be ignored. It also ignores the fact that the risk-modifying factor (in this case water F or plasma F) may simply be acting as proxies for more important factors (see Perrott 2018 for an example of this).

Malin et al., (219) should have provided more complete statistical analyses results to help readers judge the strength of the reported association. however, the figures themselves enable us to conclude the associations are very weak.

It is misleading to use the statistical result predictively

Malin et al., (2019) appear to “predict” the effect of fluoride on liver and kidney parameters, particularly BUN. They write in their abstract:

“A 1 mg/L increase in water fluoride was associated with a 0.93 mg/dL lower blood urea nitrogen concentration (95% CI: −1.44, −0.42; p=0.007)”

And

“1 μmol/L increase in plasma fluoride was associated with . . . . . a 1.29 mg/dL lower blood urea nitrogen concentration (95%CI: −1.87, −0.70; p < 0.001).”

But consider going from 0 to 1 mg/L in the image above for water F. The fitted line suggests that BUN would drop from about 11 to about 10 mg/dL. Taking the 95% CI interval into account the line “predicts” a value in the range of about 9.56 to 10.58 mg/dL. But only a small number of the points scattered at about 1 mg/L F have values in that range.

[Yes, I know. The authors only refer to associations, but reports of this work in the alternative health media are using these statements as predictions and that is how activists are suing the information.]

All that the best fit line can predict are values which fit the line. As the association represented by the best-fit line explains only a very small percentage of the variance (despite the small p-value) these “predictions” are meaningless. Unfortunately, the authors do not make this clear in their paper and this deficiency only contributes to the ability of anti-fluoride activists to misrepresent the findings.

Conclusions

Anti-fluoride activists are misrepresenting the finding reported in this paper. The authors themselves stress that their study was not designed to determine if fluoride exposure is associated with, or causes, declines in kidney or liver health. The FAN claim that the study shows“that fluoride at commonly experienced doses can damage the kidneys and livers of adolescents” is completely incorrect.

That is all we need to know regarding the way activists are misrepresenting the study. However, a closer look at the data suggests that the associations with fluoride for healthy individuals reported in the paper are extremely weak.

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July ’19 – NZ blogs sitemeter ranking

Image Credit: How To Start a Blog – Beginner’s Guide for 2019

I notice a few regulars no longer allow public access to the site counters. This may happen accidentally when the blog format is altered. If your blog is unexpectedly missing or the numbers seem very low please check this out. After correcting send me the URL for your site meter and I can correct the information in the database.

Similarly, if your blog data in this list seems out of whack, please check your site meter. Usually, the problem is that for some reason your site meter is no longer working.

Sitemeter is no longer working so the total number of NZ blogs in this list has been drastically reduced. I recommend anyone with Sitemeter consider transferring to one of the other meters. See  NZ Blog Rankings FAQ.

This list is compiled automatically from the data in the various site meters used. If you feel the data in this list is wrong could you check to make sure the problem is not with your own site meter? I am of course happy to correct any mistakes that occur in the automatic transfer of data to this list but cannot be responsible for the site meters themselves. They do play up.

Every month I get queries from people wanting their own blog included. I encourage and am happy to respond to queries but have prepared a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) people can check out. Have a look at NZ Blog Rankings FAQ. This is particularly helpful to those wondering how to set up sitemeters. Please note, the system is automatic and relies on blogs having sitemeters which allow public access to the stats.

Here are the rankings of New Zealand blogs with publicly available statistics for July 2019. Ranking is by visit numbers. I have listed the blogs in the table below, together with monthly visits and page view numbers. Meanwhile, I am still keen to hear of any other blogs with publicly available sitemeter or visitor stats that I have missed. Contact me if you know of any or wish help adding publicly available stats to your bog.

You can see data for previous months at Blog Ranks

Subscribe to NZ Blog Rankings Subscribe to NZ blog rankings by Email Find out how to get Subscription & email updates Continue reading

MH17 tragedy- 5 years on

A recent video prepared by independent reporters places serious doubt on the scenario for the MH17 tragedy promoted by pro-western investigators.

Five years on from the MH17 tragedy and attribution of blame is still a huge problem confounded by political agendas.

In July 2014 the Malaysian Airline Flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine. All 283 passengers and 15 crew died. A Dutch-led international Joint Investigation Team (JIT) has been investigating the tragedy with the aim of determining criminal blame. However, it’s investigation is plagued by geopolitical interests and the current claims of the JIT are unconvincing. Nevertheless, the JIT is planning to start criminal proceeding against four people connected with the separatist movement which rose up in Eastern Ukraine after the February 2014 coup in Kiev.

Geopolitical agendas were, of course, involved right from the moment the tragedy occurred with the USA, other NATO and western countries blaming the tragedy on separatist forces. An evidence-free narrative supported only by the anti-Russian and Russophobia ideologies existing in these countries.

Eventually, these narratives condensed into a story initially promoted by the NATO and Atlantic Council aligned Bellingcat “open source” internet investigation group. The JIT appeared to initially go with this story. Their public appeals for evidence were initially directed simply to confirm the story and no attempt appears to have been made to consider alternative scenarios.

The video above from independent journalist critiques the JIT approach. In particular, there is evidence of fraud in the video evidence collected by Bellingcat and in the telephone taps provided by the Ukrainian security service, the SUB.

I have been particularly concerned about political bias in the JIT. The unwillingness initially to include Malaysia in the team. The unwillingness to carry out investigations at the site – claims that security could not be guaranteed by local authorities are clearly wrong as the Malaysians were able to arrive at the crash site and take delivery of the recovered black boxes from local authorities.

Claims, by a member of the JIT at their most recent press conference (partially covered in the video above), that the Russian Federation refused to cooperate with the JIT were clearly wrong as evidenced by the reply from another member of the JIT to a question from a reporter. The Russian Federation has been providing data (much of it requiring declassification) from the beginning. In particular, they provided information (requested by the JIT) on the manufacture and deployment of the BUK missile used to shoot down the aircraft and also primary radar information related to the destruction of the aircraft (see Flight MH17 tragedy in Ukraine – new evidence).

While receipt of this crucial information by the JIT was acknowledged by one of the JIT spokespeople he seemed to argue that it was not considered because it didn’t fit with their preferred scenario (the missile system had been deployed in Ukraine, not the Russian Federation). The fact that such crucial information is being ignored (even after the JIT had made a public appeal for the information) just shows how political the investigation has become.

I think the politicisation of the JIT is disgusting. It shows a fundamental lack of respect for the 298 lives lost in this tragedy. Those lives and the feelings of surviving relatives should not be used in a blatant geopolitical game.

Unfortunately, the current international political climate probably means that the JIT with its current composition will be unable to bring justice to the victims of this tragedy and their relatives. The involvement of Ukraine (which had possession of the missile system used and political motivation to blame the Russian federation and separatists in Donetsk and Lugansk), the initial exclusion of Malaysia and recent statements by the Malaysian Prime Minister criticising the investigation) and the anti-Russian political alignment of other countries in the JIT (the Netherlands, Australia, and Belgium) simply make this impossible.

Surely a new, politically neutral, investigating team is the only way the victims and their families can get the justice they deserve.

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June ’19 – NZ blogs sitemeter ranking

Image Credit: Blog Writing Tips.

I notice a few regulars no longer allow public access to the site counters. This may happen accidentally when the blog format is altered. If your blog is unexpectedly missing or the numbers seem very low please check this out. After correcting send me the URL for your site meter and I can correct the information in the database.

Similarly, if your blog data in this list seems out of whack, please check your site meter. Usually, the problem is that for some reason your site meter is no longer working.

Sitemeter is no longer working so the total number of NZ blogs in this list has been drastically reduced. I recommend anyone with Sitemeter consider transferring to one of the other meters. See  NZ Blog Rankings FAQ.

This list is compiled automatically from the data in the various site meters used. If you feel the data in this list is wrong could you check to make sure the problem is not with your own site meter? I am of course happy to correct any mistakes that occur in the automatic transfer of data to this list but cannot be responsible for the site meters themselves. They do play up.

Every month I get queries from people wanting their own blog included. I encourage and am happy to respond to queries but have prepared a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) people can check out. Have a look at NZ Blog Rankings FAQ. This is particularly helpful to those wondering how to set up sitemeters. Please note, the system is automatic and relies on blogs having sitemeters which allow public access to the stats.

Here are the rankings of New Zealand blogs with publicly available statistics for June 2019. Ranking is by visit numbers. I have listed the blogs in the table below, together with monthly visits and page view numbers. Meanwhile, I am still keen to hear of any other blogs with publicly available sitemeter or visitor stats that I have missed. Contact me if you know of any or wish help adding publicly available stats to your bog.

You can see data for previous months at Blog Ranks

Subscribe to NZ Blog Rankings Subscribe to NZ blog rankings by Email Find out how to get Subscription & email updates Continue reading

Chemical watchdog confirms suppressed report but justifies the suppression

Director-General of OPCW Fernando Arias Gonzales admits Douma engineers report was legit and he was part of the FFM – but attempts to justify suppression of the report.

France 24 reports that the head of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) “has ordered a probe into the leak of an internal paper which queried the body’s findings into a 2018 attack in the Syrian town of Douma” (see Chemical weapons body probes leaked document on Syrian attack). This is yet another confirmation of the authenticity of the leaked document I discussed in Does international chemical watchdog cherry-pick evidence to confirm a bias? Recent documents form the OPCW also confirm that Ian Henderson, the head of the engineering subteam that prepared the suppressed document, was employed by the OPCW (see Remarks of the Director-General at the Briefing for States Parties on Syrian Arab Republic: Update on IIT-FFM-SSRC-DAT).

This should put to rest claims made by some corporate media journalists that the leaked document was fake and manufactured to discredit OPCW findings. Even so, these same journalists are not exactly rushing to repor the issue.

I guess no one who has worked for a large organisation, whether corporate or state owned, can be surprised at the way the OPCW is reacting to the leaked document. Or surprised that an important analysis was supressed leading to questions about the reliability of the final reports.

But the fact this is an international organisation bearing responsibility for monitory and eliminating a whole class of dangerous weapons makes the behaviour very serious. Even worse, the apparent bias in the final report about an incident which supposedly lead to the deaths of so many civilians raises questions about the ethical behaviour of the OPCW. It is very likely a war crime was committed and the OPCW has not only failed in its role to objectively elucidate the evidence of this crime but actively worked to prevent attributing blame to the likely instigators of the crime. Instead the OPCW appears to have succumbed to political pressure from NATO-aligned countries to blame an innocent party.

Alleged victims of chemcial attack in Douma, Syria. Who was responsible for these deaths? Image credit: New York Times – Most Chemical Attacks in Syria Get Little Attention. Here Are 34 Confirmed Cases.

Given the seriousness of this matter, it is pleasing to see that the media is starting to provide some coverage of the document suppression – although very belatedly and in a very limited matter in the case of the corporate mainstream media. I hope the truth comes out and I hope, as a result, steps are taken to reform OPCW procedures to limit this sort of political interference.

However, in this post, I will just deal with an attitude expressed by the OPCW which displays a very unscientific attitude to their work. The idea that evidence should be selected to support a conclusion – rather than the conclusion be based on all the evidence.

Director-General of OPCW admits the legitimacy of engineers’ report

The video above shows Fernando Arias Gonzales, the Director-General of OPCW, admitting to the legitimacy of the engineers’ report and attempting to justify the fact its findings were excluded from the final report. I described the findings of the suppressed report in Does international chemical watchdog cherry-pick evidence to confirm a bias?

Briefly, whereas the final OPCW report provided evidence for the finding that the chlorine cylinders had been dropped from the air, the suppressed engineers’ report found it far more probable that the cylinders had been placed manually.  Considerations of the sizes of the ceiling holes, the possible velocities of the cylinders and damage to them, and surrounding damage were considered in the suppressed report.

Whereas other external engineers were later consulted by the OPCW and provided arguments justifying air-delivery I would expect an objective report would include all the analyses and information available. On those grounds alone the Director-General’s arguments for suppression are very suspect and do nothing to alleviate the subsequent loss of credibility of his organisation.

But to me it is worse – his comments are scientifically unethical.

“But sometimes it does not fit to the conclusion”

How can a report be considered credible if evidence contradicting its conclusion is omitted? Fernando Arias Gonzales does nothing to preserve the integrity of his organisation when he says of evidence – “But sometimes it does not fit to the conclusion.”

His statement implies that in this case the writers of the report started with a conclusion and then selected only that evidence which could support their pet conclusion.

That is scientifically unethical and displays probable political pressure.

Hiding behind possible attribution

In a formal statement from the OPCW the Director-General provides yet another justification for the report’s suppression:

“The document produced by this staff member pointed at possible attribution, which is outside of the mandate of the FFM with regard to the formulation of its findings. Therefore, I instructed that, beyond the copy that would exclusively be kept by the FFM, the staff member be advised to submit his assessment to the IIT*, which he did, so that this document could later be used by the IIT.”

But this is just incredulous. The final report presented only the evidence supporting air delivery of the two chlorine cylinders. The suppressed report presented evidence which did not support air delivery but was consistent with the cylinders being placed manually.

Neither the engineer’s report nor the final report mentioned any attribution – although of course attribution could be inferred. By arguing for air-delivery the final report can be seen as possible laying the blame on the Syrian state forces which used helicopters in the area.  Manual placement provides for possible attribution to the jihadist forces and a staged event. But neither of these are stated directly and it is disingenuous for the Director-General to claim, the suppressed report “pointed at possible attribution” but the final report didn’t.

Really, the Director-General’s statement has only dug a deeper hole and further reduced the credibility of the origination and its past and future reports.

*IIT –Investigation and Identification Team. This has been set up by the OPCW Secretariat to identify “the perpetrators of the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic.” However, it does not have full support from OPCW members and its establishment is controversial.

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May ’19 – NZ blogs sitemeter ranking

Image credit: Hot Tips to Boost Your Lead Generation Through Blogging

I notice a few regulars no longer allow public access to the site counters. This may happen accidentally when the blog format is altered. If your blog is unexpectedly missing or the numbers seem very low please check this out. After correcting send me the URL for your site meter and I can correct the information in the database.

Similarly, if your blog data in this list seems out of whack, please check your site meter. Usually, the problem is that for some reason your site meter is no longer working.

Sitemeter is no longer working so the total number of NZ blogs in this list has been drastically reduced. I recommend anyone with Sitemeter consider transferring to one of the other meters. See  NZ Blog Rankings FAQ.

This list is compiled automatically from the data in the various site meters used. If you feel the data in this list is wrong could you check to make sure the problem is not with your own site meter? I am of course happy to correct any mistakes that occur in the automatic transfer of data to this list but cannot be responsible for the site meters themselves. They do play up.

Every month I get queries from people wanting their own blog included. I encourage and am happy to respond to queries but have prepared a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) people can check out. Have a look at NZ Blog Rankings FAQ. This is particularly helpful to those wondering how to set up sitemeters. Please note, the system is automatic and relies on blogs having sitemeters which allow public access to the stats.

Here are the rankings of New Zealand blogs with publicly available statistics for May 2019. Ranking is by visit numbers. I have listed the blogs in the table below, together with monthly visits and page view numbers. Meanwhile, I am still keen to hear of any other blogs with publicly available sitemeter or visitor stats that I have missed. Contact me if you know of any or wish help adding publicly available stats to your bog.

You can see data for previous months at Blog Ranks

Subscribe to NZ Blog Rankings Subscribe to NZ blog rankings by Email Find out how to get Subscription & email updates Continue reading

Does international chemical watchdog cherry-pick evidence to confirm a bias?

Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons headquarters in The Hague. Image credit: Prensa Latina Ready Syria to Cooperate with Organization Against Chemical Weapons

Multinational bodies, like the Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) usually have authority and appearance of objectivity because of their international and representative nature. But I have been disappointed with some of the OPCW reports because they relied on hearsay and appeared to suffer bias. They also usually lack transparency and suffer from lack of data. I have discussed some of this in my articles Another shonky OPCW chemical incident report on Syria and OPCW on Salisbury poisoning – one step forward, two back?

It is probably inevitable that a theoretically objective  or non-partisan organisation will, in practice, be influenced by political and geopolitical interests. Even so, I am shocked to discover that The OPCW may have resorted to cherry-picking evidence for their Final Report of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) on the alleged chemical attack in Douma on 7 April 2018, released on 1 March 2019.

Paul McKeigue, David Miller and Piers Robinson who are members of Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media, revealed the cherry picking in their report Assessment by the engineering sub-team of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission investigating the alleged chemical attack in Douma in April 2018.

OPCW sidelines its own fact-finding engineers

Specifically the Final OPCW report ignored the findings of their own Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) Engineering Subteam that was part of the original investigation on the ground. Instead, the OPCW later contracted unidentified experts who provided the engineering analyses included in the final report.

These unidentified experts produced a different conclusion to that reached by the FFM engineering subteam as described in a leaked dcouyment from the subgroup (Engineering-assessment-of-two-cylinders-observed-at-the-Douma-incident-27-February-2019-1). That, in itself, is not surprising – consider how in criminal cases prosecutors and defence can produce their own experts to make completely opposite arguments.  But the OPCW should have at the very least acknowledged the two different conclusions from the two different groups. They should also have given more weight to the conclusions of the own subteam who were involved in the initial investigations rather than the contracted experts who relied only on second-hand data (and were possibly given a more limited mandate).

I wrote about the interim report on this alleged chemical attack and its misrepresentation by corporate media in my article Blatant misreporting of latest OPCW report on chemical weapons in Syria. The interim report considered the allegation that a chemical weapon had been used and concluded:

“No organophosphorus nerve agents or their degradation products were detected, either in the environmental samples or in plasma samples from the alleged casualties.”

The notorious chlorine gas cylinders

However, it left open the possibility that chlorine gas had been used and this was considered in the final report which considered the two chlorine gas cylinders found at the site of the alleged chemical attack.

The two engineering reports relate to these chlorine gas cylinders. Whereas the original Fact-Finding Mission engineering subteam concluded that the chlorine gas cylinders had most probably been manually placed at the scene the anonymous experts later contracted by the OPCW appear to favour an explanation involving delivery by an aircraft.

From the report of the engineering subteam of the fact-finding mission – (Engineering-assessment-of-two-cylinders-observed-at-the-Douma-incident-27-February-2019-1)

The arguments and conclusions of the anonyous contracted enegineering experts are contained in the final report – Report of the Fact-Finding Mission Regarding the Incident of Alleged use of Toxic Chemicals as a Weapon in Douma, Syrian Arab Republic, on 7 April 2018.

LOCATION 2

The above propaganda video from the White Helmets (allied with the jihadists in Douma) illustrates the position of this gas cylinder on a roof adjacent to a crater.

The anonymous contracted experts concluded the cylinder had been dropped onto the roof with sufficent kinetic energy to create the crater but not penetrate the roof. However the OPCW FFM subteam concluded from their modelling:

“that the alleged impact event or events leading to observed vessel deformation and concrete damage were not compatible.

A criss-cross pattern on the paintwork of the cylinder body, that had been attributed by some observers to the cylinder falling through the wire mesh, was inconsistent with the near-vertical angle of incidence that would have been required to create the crater.

Experts consulted to assess the appearance of the crater took the view that it was more consistent with a blast (from a mortar round or rocket artillery) than with an impact from the falling object. Similar craters were present in concrete slabs on top of nearby buildings.”

They concluded that the cylinder had more probably been manually placed in the location rather than dropped from an aircraft.

LOCATION 4

This cylinder has always appeared strange, lying on a bed in a room that was relatively undamaged.

The anonymous contracted experts concluded (or maybe assumed) the cylinder had been dropped from the air and come through the ceiling to land on the floor where it subsequently bounced onto the bed (see image below from the OPCW final report).

However the FFM engineering subteam concluded from their analyses and modelling:

“that the cylinder with intact valve and fins attached could not have fitted through the hole in the roof:

it was not possible to establish a set of circumstances where the post-deformation cylinder could fit through the crater with the valve still intact (whether or not an end-cap was assumed to have been fitted at the front end of the cylinder), and the fins deformed in the manner observed.”

Conclusions

I can understand how different assessment teams can come to different conclusions and it could well be that the anonymous contracted experts were asked to assume that the cylinders had been dropped and to model possible trajectories and dmagge. In contrast the intial FFM engineering team considered alternative hypotheses as well as air-dropped cylinders and specifically proposed the alternatives in their report.

Such modelling and conlcusions can’t help but involve a degree of speculation so it does not concern me that different conclusions were drawn. But I am very concerned that the OPCW final report ignored the findings of their own FFM engineering subteam. This indicates a degree of bias which should be unacceptable for such an international body.

The authors from the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media go as far as describing the issue as the hijacking of OPCW concluding:

“The new information we have removes all doubt that the organization has been hijacked at the top by France, UK and the US. We have no doubt that most OPCW staff continue to do their jobs professionally, and that some who are uneasy about the direction that the organization has taken nevertheless wish to protect its reputation. However what is at stake here is more than the reputation of the organization: the staged incident in Douma provoked a missile attack by the US, UK and France on 14 April 2018 that could have led to all-out war.

The cover-up of evidence that the Douma incident was staged is not merely misconduct. As the staging of the Douma incident entailed mass murder of civilians, those in OPCW who have suppressed the evidence of staging are, unwittingly or otherwise, colluding with mass murder.”

Other commentary on the OPCW FFM Engineering subteam report:

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Psychology of Russiagate – an adult discussion for a change

This is a fascinating interview – and not only because it is a highly respected independent journalist, Aaron Maté, interviewing his highly respected mental health expert father, Dr. Gabor Maté. It is fascinating because it is objective and adult – unlike so much of the Russiagate reporting. It is an adult discussion.

I have been shocked at how people I thought should know better got caught up in the Russiagate hysteria. This interview helps me understand the psychology behind such unthinking acceptance of what I saw from the beginning was a diversion away from the real issues and an unthinking excuse for an election result which did not conform to predictions. This whole approach has prevented liberal and democratic forces from addressing the real problems they have. It has disarmed them at a time when a more intelligent approach is needed if Trump is to be defeated in 2020.

Well, I have often said that humans are not a rational species, more a rationalising one. I should have not been surprised at the way apparently rational people ended up being emotionally driven. Dr. Gabor Maté explains how we all succumb to such approaches when facing trauma like the election of a Donal trump.

I advise readers who do not have time to watch this very important interview to read Caitlin Johnstone’s article about it – This Talk Between Aaron & Gabor Maté Is The Best Political Video I’ve Ever Seen.

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April ’19 – NZ blogs sitemeter ranking

I notice a few regulars no longer allow public access to the site counters. This may happen accidentally when the blog format is altered. If your blog is unexpectedly missing or the numbers seem very low please check this out. After correcting send me the URL for your site meter and I can correct the information in the database.

Similarly, if your blog data in this list seems out of whack, please check your site meter. Usually, the problem is that for some reason your site meter is no longer working.

Sitemeter is no longer working so the total number of NZ blogs in this list has been drastically reduced. I recommend anyone with Sitemeter consider transferring to one of the other meters. See  NZ Blog Rankings FAQ.

This list is compiled automatically from the data in the various site meters used. If you feel the data in this list is wrong could you check to make sure the problem is not with your own site meter? I am of course happy to correct any mistakes that occur in the automatic transfer of data to this list but cannot be responsible for the site meters themselves. They do play up.

Every month I get queries from people wanting their own blog included. I encourage and am happy to respond to queries but have prepared a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) people can check out. Have a look at NZ Blog Rankings FAQ. This is particularly helpful to those wondering how to set up sitemeters. Please note, the system is automatic and relies on blogs having sitemeters which allow public access to the stats.

Here are the rankings of New Zealand blogs with publicly available statistics for April 2019. Ranking is by visit numbers. I have listed the blogs in the table below, together with monthly visits and page view numbers. Meanwhile, I am still keen to hear of any other blogs with publicly available sitemeter or visitor stats that I have missed. Contact me if you know of any or wish help adding publicly available stats to your bog.

You can see data for previous months at Blog Ranks

Subscribe to NZ Blog Rankings Subscribe to NZ blog rankings by Email Find out how to get Subscription & email updates Continue reading