Are we all anti-fascist now?

US neo-Nazis and fascists supporters march in Charoltsvill, USA.
Image credit: Alejandro Alvarez/News2Share via Reuters

Wouldn’t that be nice? What if the current almost universal condemnation of fascism by the main stream media and social media commenters were genuine.? That it represents an abhorrence for fascism and its modern supporters who attempt to revive it – and not just partisan politics.

Because fascism is abhorrent. And it does have its modern apologists, even revivalists. It is not new, even in the US, and people shouldn’t be surprised at its manifestation in Charlottesville.

After all, we have seen similar actions in other parts of the world – in parts of the world which understandably understand fascism and its consequences far better than the average US citizen does.

Thousands of nationals, neo-Nazis and pro-fascists march in Kiev, Ukraine, on the anniversary of the birth of Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera.
Image credit: South China Morning Post.

Yes, I know. Our media tends to treat the marchers in Kiev and Riga as “freedom fighters” and not what they really are – supporters of  Nazi collaborators and those organisations derived from them which still exist today and play a role in the politics of those countries. But, unlike the USA, those collaborators were responsible for thousands of deaths of their fellow citizens(see my article Don’t put all the blame on the Germans – a lesson from World War II).

Supporters of Latvia’s Waffen-SS legion hold an annual commemoration Nazi SS division formed from Latvians during World War Two. Image Credit: The Telegraph.

 

Sculpture of the “Unbowed man” at the Khatyn Memorial site near Minsk in Byelorussia. The sculpture depicts Yuzif Kaminsky, the only adult to survive the massacre by Ukrainian Nazi groups, holding his dead son Adam.
Image credit: John Oldale.

Which brings me to my real message – my suggestion for action

Why not take advantage of this new-found anti-fascist feeling? Rather than let the lessons of Charlotteville disperse and die out why not do something meaningful and specific? Something that might last. And something with an international influence.

My suggestion – the US should change its stance next time the regular United Nations General Assembly resolution on “Combating the glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance” comes up.

The resolution expresses concern about the fact that in some countries, famed Nazi movement leaders and former members of the SS are honoured, and monuments to fighters (e.g partisan heroes) against fascism are demolished or subjected to desecration. It calls on states to pass legislation prohibiting the denial of crimes against humanity and war crimes during the Second World War.

It was last passed in November 2016. Then the only countries voting against the resolution were Ukraine, the United States and Palau!

Just imagine, if the US goes with its current anti-fascist feelings it could, at last, vote for this resolution. Of course, Palau as a client state will also automatically reverse its vote.

As for Ukraine – well, who could say the country is such a mess. Chances are the current government in Kiev may not be in power next time the vote occurs. But, unfortunately, the extreme nationalist and neo-fascist forces which seem to dictate affairs in that country will still be around.

But what about closer to home

Can not New Zealand also learn from the current anti-fascist feelings emanating from the USA? New Zealand traditionally takes the cowards way out and abstains on this resolution. Apparently aligning itself with the 131 countries supporting the resolution in 2016 would have caused too much displeasure from the USA – something we still seem to be afraid of. So we joined the group of 48 countries that abstained.
But, I guess, if the USA changed heart and voted for the anti-fascist resolution we would meekly snap into line and also vote for it.

A job for the US (and NZ) House of Representatives?

OK, the current US president may be even less willing than previous presidents to take a real international stand against fascism. But don’t we have some recent history that might provide a solution. Why don’t the US Congress and Senate follow on from their recent almost unanimous resolutions constraining the president in his handling of international affairs?

They made it impossible for President Trump to take any action on sanctions against Iran, North Korea and the Russian Federation without a decision from Congress.

So why not a near unanimous Congressional resolution demanding the USA in future votes for this resolution in the UN General Assembly? A resolution that prevents the US Ambassador from voting against it again without a decision from Congress?

Perhaps the New Zealand Parliament could place a similar restriction on our representatives at the UN

After all, aren’t we all anti-fascist now?

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Are fluoride researchers sacked for their findings?

Dr Phyllis Mullenix – employment terminated because of her fluoride research or other reasons? (Image credit: NYC Coalition Against Artificial Fluoridation)

Heard the one about the scientist who was doing excellent research but was sacked by her Institute because her discoveries shattered the prevailing “scientific orthodoxies?”

Yes, it is a common claim. Often made by activists promoting conspiracy theories.  But it is an easy one to make and it is always worth checking the facts in such cases.

Of course, the anti-fluoridation movement is no exception – they claim that a number of “anti-fluoridation scientists” have been sacked for their work. Here I will just look at one of these stories – that of Dr Phyllis Mullenix.

The Mullenix story

A few facts.

Phyllis Mullenix was working for the Forsyth Research Institute in Boston. In her time there, she researched several possible neurotoxicants but made only one study on fluoride which was published in 1995. The paper is:

Mullenix, Phyllis J., DenBesten. Pamela K., Schunior, A., & Kernan, W. J. (1995). Neurotoxicity of sodium fluoride in rats. Neurotoxicology and Teratology, 17(2), 169–177.

This paper has become central to claims made by anti-fluoride campaigners that community water fluoridation lowers IQ in children.

However, this paper is not relevant to community water fluoridation because of the very high concentrations of fluoride used (0, 75, 100, 125 and 175 mg/L in drinking water fed the rats). That such levels are unrealistic was shown by her own report that “the 175 ppm level .  .  . resulted in dehydration and the death of 10 of the exposed animals within 10 days.” Half of the 21 animals exposed died within 10 days!

For comparison, the recommended concentrations for community water fluoridation are usually less than 1 mg/L. But it is interesting that when anti-fluoride campaigners tell Mullenix’s story they rarely mention the concentration she used.

Mullenix did lose her job at Forsyth. A unanimous meeting of senior staff members on April 19, 1994, recommended she not be reappointed to her position. She was a staff associate and employment was usually guaranteed for 12 months at a time. Renewals would have depended on several factors, including the level of funding the employee was able to attract from research grants. Mullenix was informed by letter on May 31, 1994, that the Board of Trustees had approved the recommendation from senior staff members that her appointment would not be renewed.

So, she lost her job – but technically was not sacked – just not reappointed.

Why was her employment not renewed? 

Anti-fluoride campaigners rely on books like “The Fluoride Deception” to support their conspiracy theories

Depends if you believe there was a conspiracy against fluoride research.

Here are some of the conspiracy stories that are floated:

Chris Bryson says in his book The Fluoride Deception:

“PHYLLIS J. MULLENIX. A leading neurotoxicologist hired by the Forsyth Dental Center in Boston to investigate the toxicity of materials used in dentistry. In 1994 after her research indicated that fluoride was neurotoxic, she was fired.”

This claim has been repeatedly presented in articles and submissions by anti-fluoride activists. For example:

She went from being a leading neurotoxicologist at a Harvard affiliated research institute to an industry pariah. This assignment and her findings ruined her career as a grant-funded research scientist.”

Dr Phyllis J Mullenix should be a household name. She was sacked for her work proving Aluminium and Fluoride act synergistically to damage your brain and that of your unborn child.”

Within days of learning that her study was accepted for publication, Dr [Phyllis] Mullenix was fired from the Forsyth Dental Center.  She has received no grants since that time to continue her research.”

Dr Phyllis Mullenix was sacked from the Forsyth Dental Center, where she was head of the toxicology department, for publishing research in Neurotoxicology and Teratology showing that fluoride can adversely affect brain function. She had been warned: “If you publish this information, we won’t get any more grants from NIDR” (from which the institute got most of its money).

And I could go on. And on. There is no shortage of such claims promoted as arguments against community water fluoridation.

But here are some facts.

I have gone to the legal document presented to the US District Court, D, Massachusett on November 13, 1996. These relate to a case brought by Mullenix against Forsyth claiming discrimination and retaliation for her legal actions.

Mullenix’s complaint:

“alleges that Forsyth discriminated against Dr. Mullenix on the basis of her sex, denied her equal pay and one or more promotions and retaliated against her for seeking legal redress during her employment at Forsyth as a Staff Associate from 1982 to 1994.”

The document, Mullenix v. Forsyth Dental Infirmary for Children, is quite long and full of legalese which I would never pretend to understand. But it certainly makes clear that the complaint by Mullenix and the response by Forsyth have nothing to do with fluoride or fluoridation.

Fluoride is mention only a few times:

“Dr. Mullenix asseverates that no one at Forsyth ever questioned the quality of her work or that her fluoride research did not lie within Forsyth’s mission. (Docket Entry # 102, Mullenix Affidavit).”

And:

“Dr. Mullenix contends that Dr. Taubman “called Dr. Mullenix `hysterical’ because he disagreed with her research.” (Docket Entry # 102, p. 18). Dr. Mullenix recites Dr. Taubman’s alleged statement while explaining what she said to Dr. Hay during a conversation a few days after giving a seminar on fluoride research. According to Dr. Mullenix, Dr. Hay mentioned that “Marty Taubman in particular was very irate about the data that was presented …” and that “Marty Taubman had indicated that I was hysterical in my reporting.” (Docket Entry # 98, Mullenix Deposition).”

It appears Mullenix made the complaint about use of the word “hysterical” together with apparently sexist remarks made by colleagues (relating to clothing and the employment rights of women who had husbands) as evidence of a hostile and sexist work environment.

This document outlines the various complaints made by Mullenix – and clearly, they did not relate to fluoride or, directly, to her findings about fluoride. In fact, it says:

“Dr. Mullenix asserts that the only reason other than gender which explains Forsyth’s actions is that it acted in retaliation for Dr. Mullenix’ seeking legal redress.”

Mullenix took her initial legal action because she had been denied a promotion and subsequently claimed Forsyth had retaliated against her because of her initial threat of legal action if her promotion was declined (it was and she did take legal action) and then the actual legal action.

I have focused on Mullenix’s version here because they do make clear that her fluoride research and findings were not involved in any retaliation by Forsyth. The institute’s version, of course, seeks to justify their actions. While there is some reference to her research interest not coinciding strongly with the Institute’s interests, their evidence relates almost completely to salaries for male and female staff members, the responsibilities of the staff associate position that Mullenix occupied, and the extent of funding Mullenix was able to attract.

I have no idea of the legitimacy of Phyllis Mullenix’s complaints or the legitimacy of Forsyth’s rebuttals. Nor do I know what the final outcome of her legal action was.

Mullenix’s complaints could very likely have been genuine. Even today women do get discriminated against in employment and salaries. Their complaints are often disregarded or treated in a sexist way. “Uppity” women can face retaliation. And things are better now than they were in the 1980s and 1990s. It is very likely Mullenix was granted an out-of-court settlement.

But one thing I am sure of – she was not “sacked’ for her fluoride research or publication of her fluoride paper. Any complaint made by colleagues about that work would have been perfectly normal and expected – and she herself, at the time, did not attribute any retaliatory action to her fluoride research.

So, yet another case where it pays to check the claims made by anti-fluoride activists.

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Fluoridation and cancer

Yes, you have. And one lie is the claim that fluoridation causes cancer. Image credit: Have You Been Lied to About Fluoride?

We all know the phrase “Lies, damned lies, and statistics.” If nothing else, this should warn us not to take on faith arguments which rely on statistical analysis for their credibility. Wikipedia uses this phrase to illustrate the “persuasive power of numbers, particularly the use of statistics to bolster weak arguments.”

Unfortunately, the scientific literature is full of weak arguments bolstered by statistics. It’s another case of “reader beware.” Do the statistical analyses used really support the argument? And how good was the statistical analysis anyway?

Unfortunately, scientific papers with poor or inappropriate statistical analyses often get used to bolster arguments in the political field. Anti-fluoride campaigners do this all the time. I illustrated this for the “fluoridation caused ADHD” argument in my articles ADHD linked to elevation, not fluoridation and ADHD link to fluoridation claim undermined again.

Another paper often used by anti-fluoride campaigners is that of Takahasi et al., (2001). They cite this to support their “fluoridation causes cancer” argument. For example, the prominent anti-fluoride activist Karen Favazza Spencer did this recently in a Facebook post quoting from Tkahashi et al., (2001):

“Cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx, colon and rectum… were positively associated with ‘optimally’ fluoridated drinking water.”

Well, how justified is that quote? How reliable was the statistical analysis used by these authors to arrive at that claim?

Takahashi et al., (2001)

In fact, their statistical analysis was poor. They considered only fluoridation as a factor. When we consider other likely factors the statistical analyses show no significant association between these cancers and fluoridation.

Let’s have a look at the paper and the statistical analysis.

The paper is:

Takahashi, K., Akiniwa, K., & Narita, K. (2001). Regression Analysis of Cancer Rates and Water Fluoride in the USA based Incidence on IACR / IARC ( WHO ) Data ( 1978-1992 ). Journal of Epidemiology, 11(4), 170–179.

Briefly, it searched for possible statistically significant associations between the incidence rates for a whole range of cancers and the extent of fluoridation. It used fluoridation extent and cancer incidence data for three US states and six US cities. Other factors were considered only for lip cancer where sunshine extent was included in the analyses.

I set out to repeat their statistical analysis, including some other relevant factors. However, the data they used for cancer incidence in 1978-1992 is not available on-line. But there are data sets available for more recent years.

Here I use the cancer incidence data for 1993-1997 taken from the WHO, International Agency for Research on Cancer publication Cancer Incidence in Five Continents Vol. VIIIThis lists cancer incidence for 58 body sites but I restricted my analysis to eight of the body sites for which Takahashi et al., (2001) reported significant associations with fluoridation.

Are any of these cancers significantly associated with the extent of fluoridation?

Well, yes, two are at the 5% level (p < 0.05) – cancers of the rectum and bladder. The table lists values for the probability p value produced by linear regressions. The p values for cancers at all the body sites considered is also significant – but only for females.

Cancer site p – Male p – Female
Lip 0.750 0.825
Oesophagus 0.427 0.285
Colon 0.090 0.146
Rectum 0.037* 0.048*
Bone 0.784 0.147
Prostate 0.639
Bladder 0.015* 0.031*
Thyroid 0.806 0.519
All sites 0.250 0.020*

Takahashi et al., (2001) found significant associations for rectum and bladder. But also for Colon, bone (male), oesophagus (female), prostate (male) and lip. This difference is not too surprising as I used a different, more recent, data set. Also, correlations do not mean causation, they can occur by chance (1 in 20 samples) and other factors are more than likely involved (see below).

Another difference is that I used simple linear regressions. Takahashi et al., (2001) transformed both fluoridation extent and cancer incidence to logarithms but their explanation for this is inadequate.  Such transformations are not normally applied unless there is evidence that a relationship is nonlinear.  Takahashi et al., (2001) did not give any evidence for this and there was no evidence for it in the data set I used.  Neither was there any evidence of patterns in the residual values from the regression analysis – another sign that simple linear regression was valid.

What about the influence of other factors?

One of the biggest complaints I have about the use of regression analysis in studies like this is that very often other factors are ignored. Takahashi et al., (2001) considered only sun shine extent – and then only for lip cancer.

I think the restriction to consideration of only fluoridation is naive. In fact, probably indicating a bias and a desire to confirm it. It is extremely unlikely that all, or even most, of the specific cancers considered have a single cause – fluoride. And it is unlikely that a single factor would explain all the variability in the cancer incidence data.

Also, fluoride could be acting as a proxy for more relevant factors. The ADHD relationship with the extent of fluoridation is an example. In my paper Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder prevalence associated with altitude but not exposure to fluoridated water*, I showed that fluoridation extent is significantly correlated with mean altitude. When altitude was included in a multiple regression there was no significant association of ADHD with fluoridation.  This suggests that, in fact, the fluoridation data was really a proxy for something else – in this case, altitude – which Huber et al (2015) reported is associated with ADHD prevalence.

I am not intending here to narrow down the most likely factors which are associated with cancer at all these body sites. I simply want to check how significant any association with fluoridation is when other possible factors are included.

Geographic factors are worth considering – not because they necessarily have a direct influence. But because they may act as proxies from environmental, population density and industrial concentration factors which could be important. So I included data for mean elevation, mean latitude and mean longitude together with the extent of fluoridation in multiple regressions of the eight cancers above as well as for all the body sites data.

Using adjusted R square values to test for a fluoridation contribution

Rather than attempting to identify significant correlations with different factors for different cancers, I used the method of judging what effect inclusion of fluoridation extent had on the explanatory power of regression models which included the geographic factors. Jim Frost describes this approach in his article Multiple Regression Analysis: Use Adjusted R-Squared and Predicted R-Squared to Include the Correct Number of Variables

Briefly, he describes problems with the R squared value:

“Every time you add a predictor to a model, the R-squared increases, even if due to chance alone. It never decreases. Consequently, a model with more terms may appear to have a better fit simply because it has more terms.”

Include more factors and you could simply be modelling random noise in the data.But the adjusted R-squared  overcomes this because it adjusts for the number of predictors in a model:

“The adjusted R-squared increases only if the new term improves the model more than would be expected by chance. It decreases when a predictor improves the model by less than expected by chance. The adjusted R-squared can be negative, but it’s usually not.  It is always lower than the R-squared.”

These examples below of multiple regression output including fluoridation and excluding fluoridation in the models illustrate where adjusted R square values are reported:

The table below lists the adjusted R square values for multiple regressions:

  • +Fl included fluoridation extent, mean elevation, mean latitude and mean longitude, and
  • -F included only mean elevation, mean latitude and mean longitude.

Comparing the adjusted R square values for +Fl and -Fl tells us about the effect of including fluoridation extent on the models:

  • Where the value for +Fl is larger than for -F then the extent of fluoridation improves to model more than would be expected by chance.
  •  Where the value of +Fl is smaller than for -F then the extent of fluoridation improves to model less than would be expected by chance.

Male

Female

Cancer site + Fl – Fl + Fl – Fl
Lip 0.170 0.242 0.685 0.649
Oesophagus 0.809 0.842 0.558 0.612
Colon 0.842 0.771 0.681 0.659
Rectum 0.357 0.455 0.616 0.692
Bone 0.451 0.527 0.625 0.700
Prostate -0.350 0.130
Bladder 0.860 0.863 0.530 0.606
Thyroid 0.434 0.544 0.801 0.824
All sites 0.622 0.676 0.846 0.865

The table shows that adjusted R square values are greater (red) when fluoridation extent is not included in the regression model for all cancer sites except the colon and female lip. That indicates that these cancers are not associated with fluoridation extent. That the simple regression results alone  for fluoridation extent in the case of rectum and bladder cancer (and all sites female cancer) are misleading.

The colon and female lip cancer are exceptions – but the fact no significant association was found for fluoridation extent alone (first table) suggests something more complex is occurring here. It could be that the selected geographic factors have very little role in these cancers and inclusion of more relevant factors is needed.

Conclusion

The associations of fluoridation extent with various cancers reported by Takahashi et al., (2001) disappear when we consider other more relevant factors. Therefore, the use of this study by anti-fluoride campaigners to claim fluoridation is responsible for cancer is misleading. Not that I expect, from their past record, they will stop doing this.

More generally this is yet another example showing that readers should beware of putting too much faith in simple statistical analyses reported in scientific papers – even those published in respectable journals. It is just too easy to use statistical analysis to confirm a bias.

We should all keep in mind the phrase  “Lies, damned lies, and statistics” and treat such reports critically. If possibly checking out the extent to which other factors have been considered. Even where significant correlations are reported we should check how useful such correlations are at explaining the variations in the data.


*The full text of this paper is not yet available as it is undergoing journal peer review. However, the full text of CRITIQUE OF A RISK ANALYSIS AIMED AT ESTABLISHING A SAFE DAILY DOSE OF FLUORIDE FOR CHILDREN, the first draft from which this paper was taken, is available.

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Local anti-fluoride activists tell porkies yet again

FFNZ confuses lack of low fluoride studies on rats with human studies

Well, I suppose that’s not news. A bit surprising, though, because they are claiming the absence of research on fluoridation and IQ – which sort of conflicts with the previous attempts to actually condemn and misrepresent the actual research on fluoridation and IQ.

Fluoride Free NZ’s (FFNZ) face book page is claiming:

Would you be interested to know that no studies have been conducted on fluoridated water at 0.7ppm to determine whether there is IQ reduction? The National Toxicology Program are currently completing research to fill this gap. You would have thought that they would have done this in the 1950s before starting the fluoridation program wouldn’t you?

There have actually been three recent studies from three different countries which have specifically investigated the claim of an effect of fluoridation on IQ – and, unsurprisingly, all threes studies showed there was no effect.

Here are those studies:

New Zealand

Broadbent, J. M., Thomson, W. M., Ramrakha, S., Moffitt, T. E., Zeng, J., Foster Page, L. A., & Poulton, R. (2014). Community Water Fluoridation and Intelligence: Prospective Study in New Zealand. American Journal of Public Health, 105(1), 72–76.

In fact, anti-fluoride activists in the US, as well as New Zealand, have campaigned against this study. Their major criticism is that the study also included the effect of fluoride tablet use. They argue that this makes the unfluoridated control group useless because many participants will have consumed fluoride tablets. However, they ignore the fact that the statistical analysis corrected for this but still found no statistically significant difference in IQ of children and adults from fluoridated and unfluoridated areas.

Sweden

Other critics of the Broadbent et al. (2014) study have raised the issue of experimental power because of the numbers of people in the study. This could be a valid issue as it would determine the minimum effect size capable of being detected. Aggeborn & Öhman (2016) made that criticism of Broadbent et al., (2016) and all other fluoride-IQ studies. Their study is reported at:

Aggeborn L, Öhman M. (2016) The Effects of Fluoride in the Drinking Water. 2016.

Aggeborn & Öhman (2016) used much larger sample size than any of the other studies – over 81,000 observations compared with around 1000 or less for the commonly cited studies. It was also made on continually varying fluoride concentrations using the natural fluoride levels in Swedish drinking waters (the concentrations are similar to those in fluoridated communities), rather than the less effective approach of simply comparing two villages or fluoridated and unfluoridated regions. The confidence intervals were much smaller than those of other cited fluoride-IQ studies. This makes their conclusion that there was no effect of fluoride on cognitive measurements much more definitive. Incidentally, their study also indicated no effect of fluoride on the diagnosis of ADHD or muscular and skeleton diseases.

Canada

Another recent fluoridation-IQ study is that of Barbario (2016) made in Canada:

Barberio, AM. (2016). A Canadian Population-based Study of the Relationship between Fluoride Exposure and Indicators of Cognitive and Thyroid Functioning; Implications for Community Water Fluoridation. M. Sc. Thesis; Community Health Sciences, University of Calgary.

This study also had a large sample size – over 2,500 observations. This reported no statistically significant relationship of cognitive deficits to water fluoride.

Incidentally, Barberio (2016) also found there was no evidence of any relationship between fluoride exposure and thyroid functioning. That puts another pet claim of anti-fluoride campaigners to rest.

Animal studies

So much for NZFF’s claim that “no studies have been conducted on fluoridated water at 0.7ppm to determine whether there is IQ reduction.” But, just a minute, they are quoting the National Toxicology Program (NTP):

“No studies evaluated developmental exposure to fluoride at levels as low as 0.7 parts per million, the recommended level for community water fluoridation in the United States. Additional research is needed.”

But they omit the next sentence from the quote:

“NTP is conducting laboratory studies in rodents to fill data gaps identified in the systematic review of the animal studies.”

The NTP is discussing the research with animals, mainly rats, where effects of fluoride on the cognitive behaviour of the test animals have been reported but the fluoride concentrations are very high. And NTP’s assessment base on the review of the literature found only “a low to moderate level of evidence that the studies support adverse effects on learning and memory in animals exposed to fluoride in the diet or drinking water.” Hence the need for more research.

As part of the NTP’s research, which is currently underway, there are plans to extend studies to low fluoride concentrations more typical of that used in community water fluoridation.

The high concentrations used in animal studies is a major flaw in the anti-fluoride activist use of them to oppose community water fluoridation. For example, Mullinex et al (1995) (very commonly cited by anti-fluoride campaigners) fed test animals drinking water with up to 125 mg/L of fluoride (concentrations near 0.8 mg/L of fluoride are used in community water fluoridation).

While it is unlikely that the NTP research will find any significant effects of fluoride on the cognitive behaviour of rats at the low concentrations used in community water fluoridation the anti-fluoride campaigners have their fingers (and probably toes as well) crossed.

NTP will begin publishing the results of their new research next year (see Fluoride and IQ – another study coming up).

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July ’17 – NZ blogs sitemeter ranking

SiteMeter “permanently retired.” Image credit: David Melin.

Well, Sitemeter seems to have finally died.

According the CurrentlyDown.com it has been down since July 5 and the image above taken from Twitter indicates it has been permanently retired. This follows many problems in the past so it appears unlikely to appear again.

My advice to those who have been using Sitemeter is to consider replacing it with Statcounter or a similar counter. Have a look at the NZ Blog Rankings FAQ. for advice on this. 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.

So this month’s list is greatly reduced. At last count, there were about 45 NZ blogs on the ranking list using Sitemeter.

Here are the rankings of New Zealand blogs with publicly available statistics for July 2017. 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

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The main stream media is out of touch

I find the US mainstream media particularly boring and uninformative these days. It has become embedded in a partisan political campaign and seems to go into a frenzy over every bit of “evidence” or fake news it can garner, invent, or exaggerate in an apparent attempt to reverse the results of last year’s presidential elections.

I think many people must be heartily sick of this campaign. I would not be surprised if this is encouraging many to turn to alternative news sources and I suspect this media obsession is encouraging an increasing mistrust of the mainstream media.

But it is not just a matter of all the fake news and media lies. This political campaign is diverting media attention away from the things that really concern people. After all, they had their election last year and sensible presidential challenges should be off the burner until 2000. Meanwhile, there are all sorts of problems the ordinary person expects their government, and the media, to come to grips with.

So I am not surprised to see recent polling identifying a huge mismatch between the concerns of the media and the concerns of the public. Jon Gabriel’s Ricochet article What Americans Care About vs. What the Media Cares About illustrates this in the following graphic.

Constraining the President

Frankly, I think this US political hysteria is being produced by an alliance of the media, elements of the intelligence community and the “establishment” in general. For one reason or another, they just can not accept the result of the 2016 election and would like to see that result reversed. At the very least, they are using this artificial campaign to constrain the president in areas like foreign policy where they have big differences.

Perhaps pressure from the neocons and deep state to constrain and control a new president is not new. Certainly, we saw this with President Obama. But the campaigners have resorted to a more public and hysterical pressure in President Trump’s case because he is basically a political outsider. He came out of “left field,” was not part of the “acceptable” political establishment and is a maverick. His personality makes him difficult to control in the normal, behind the scenes, way.

Media does itself no favours

There are a number of objective factors creating turmoil for the mainstream media these days. transfer of advertising to social media, changes in technology and the loss of skilled reporters. But the old, established media is not doing itself any favours by diverting into a blatantly partisan political campaign and resorting to such bias in its reporting. And it harms society by encouraging the growth of neo-McCarthyism and supporting those who are working to reduce international cooperation and the relaxation of tension. That is dangerous for the American people – and in fact for the whole world.

But I guess the upside is that this self-exposure of bias is an education to the public. They may now search for alternatives – and that is a good thing. They will also be a lot more critical of what is delivered to them by the news media – and that is also a good thing.

The reader does need to beware – and to question more.

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Don’t rely on sources – follow the evidence

CNN pushes this mantra but many believe they promote fake news

When scientists evaluate published research we are more interested in evidence than in conclusions. In fact, the same evidence may lead scientific readers to different conclusions. That’s not surprising as in the real world no research project is able to consider all the theoretically possible evidence. Readers may, in fact, have other evidence. Or they may detect faults in authors’ interpretations.

I think this is a good thing. Considering the evidence allows competent critiques to be made and encourages knowledge to advance.

However, it annoys me that when we move outside the scientific environment we have to deal with situations where evidence may rarely be considered. People indulge in debating conclusions often with no regard to evidence. In fact, debaters seem to rely more on the real or perceived authority of their sources to support or discredit an argument, than on the evidence.

That’s just lazy. Source authority proves nothing and I would like to think that my discussion partners are capable of coming to a more reasonable position when they are forced to actually consider the evidence.

Both sides are guilty

Unfortunately, both supporters and opponents of a scientific viewpoint or consensus fall into this trap. Take the “fluoridation debate.” It annoys me that some supporters of the scientific viewpoint will respond to an opponent by disparaging their sources. The fact that the opponent is citing the activist Fluoride Action Network, the “Fluoride” journal or one of the shonky pay-to-publish journals where anti-fluoride activists sometimes get published does not, in itself, discredit their argument. On the other hand, if the actual evidence involved in those reports were discussed it might just be possible for the faulty conclusions to be exposed.

On the other hand, how often have I heard opponents of community water fluoridation reject the authority of scientific journals or published research because the workers were paid by the government (we must all get a wage from somewhere) or the journal or conference received industry sponsorship? I am not at all impressed by the refusal to consider the real evidence implied by falling back on disparaging sources.

The other tactic of supporting a claim by pointing to the high authority of the source is also repugnant. Even researchers and journals we generally consider “reputable” can still publish flawed work and even rubbish.

One of the most common arguments used by anti-fluoride campaigners is that the highly respectable, authoritative journal “The Lancent” has “officially” declared fluoride to be a “neurotoxin.” This is wrong on so many counts. The Lancet publishes research papers. It is not in the business of making official declarations on toxic compounds. The paper referred to did not describe fluoride as a “neurotoxin” – that word is inappropriate for describing a chemical of inorganic origin. The work cited in that paper was from areas of endemic fluorosis mainly in China and is not relevant to community water fluoridation. And the paper itself was not justified in making the limited conclusions it did on such poor evidence. I have discussed the paper more fully in Repeating bad science on fluoride.

The odds are, of course, that those activists citing this paper in such a manner have not actually read the paper – a common problem with people who rely on the authority of their sources rather than evidence. In fact, they are probably not at all interested in the details in most cases.

My point is reliance on authority is not a valid supporting argument any more than disparaging a source is a valid opposing argument. We should always follow the evidence – and rely on that evidence for our arguments in such discussions.

The political arena

This problem is even worse in the political sphere where so often we actually do not have evidence to fall back on. In fact, this situation seems to have got a lot worse of late where, for one reason or another, facts and evidence seem to be the last thing in the minds of “reporters” – or at least those who are continually telling us what we should think.

Unfortunately, discussion of political issues often leads people to claim they are using what they think as “reliable sources” or disparaging an opponent’s argument by claiming they are using “unreliable sources.” In fact, people who should know better, seem to often support their claims against any criticism by claiming it came from a “reliable source” or “authoritative source.” And these people who should know better will often resort to “attacking the messenger.” Criticising or rejecting information because it was reported by what they consider an “unreliable source.” The facts or evidence seem to be forgotten.

This can get pretty silly. I once had to confront the argument of a discussion partner who rejected the video recording of a statement made by a spokesperson for the US Department of State because it was part of a piece of RT news coverage! Especially silly as the video recording was probably an official one made by staff of the Department of State.

How often do we see people promoting partisan claims about the political hysteria in the US or the war in Syria by using sources like the Washington Post, New York Times, CNN or Al-Jazeera? Sources they claim are “reliable?” In my article  I described how the New Zealand Ministry’s of Foreign Affairs and Internal Affairs carried out “due diligence” on the White Helmets organisation they were planning to give money to by referring simply to a report from Al-Jazeera. No attempt to dig deeper, to evaluate the veracity of the Al-Jazeera reports or to follow-up other sources critical of the White Helmets. Yet Al-Jazeera has a reputation for supporting “rebels”/”terrorists” in Syria. It is shocking that a New Zealand ministry was not prepared to make a more sensible judgment.

On the other hand, how often do we see people disparaging information or claims about the current US political hysteria or the war in Syria which with they disagree because it was reported by Sputnik, RT or one of a host of other “alternative” news sources?

Both sides of a political argument now denigrate the sources used by the other side as promoting “fake news.” And, to an extent, each side is probably right as every news sources these days has its own point of view – its own bias.

Reader beware – use a range of sources

Unfortunately, many readers seem more interested in confirming their own biases than dealing with real facts or evidence. Understandably these people will select the news source that suits them. That’s OK if you simply want to follow the “party line.” But it is lazy because it avoids any intelligent or critical analysis.

It is incumbent on the rest of us who are more interested in real facts and in drawing more credible conclusions to make an effort to consult a range of news sources and to critically analyse the claims, opinions and information we get from them. I believe that in today’s world there is no such thing as an authoritative or reliable source when it comes to political information. All the media – the “established mainstream media” as well as the “alternative media” are equally capable of publishing and promoting fake news.

We need to be aware of this, be prepared to use a variety of sources to avoid the “party line” problem, and critically analyse what we read so we can separate facts from opinions and unsubstantiated claims.

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Stovepiping to produce fake news

Image credit: THOSE ’17 INTELLIGENCE AGENCIES’ CITED BY HILLARY CLINTON ABOUT TRUMP AND RUSSIA TURNED OUT TO BE FAKE NEWS

I have discovered a new word – “stovepiping.” Must admit I had to look it up – but it seems to be highly relevant to the way media seem to authenticate their news reports today – particularly in the current political hysteria emanating from the USA. And, I think, stovepiping plays a central role in the promotion of fake news.

There is nothing new about fake news – we have been subjected to it for ages. But suddenly everyone is talking about it. Of course, it is always the “other” side which indulges in fake news – never “our” side. But I suggest that just demonstrates our own prejudices and confirmation bias. We should look more critically and objectively at the way “our” news media gathers and present what it feeds us.

Stovepiping in the intelligence community

So we come to “stovepiping” which Wikipedia says:

“has been used, in the context of intelligence, to describe several ways in which raw intelligence information may be presented without proper context. . . . . the lack of context may come from a particular group, in the national policy structure, selectively presenting only that information that supports certain conclusions. “

On the one hand, this may be an inevitable result of the way intelligence agencies work – “due to the specialised nature, or security requirements, of a particular intelligence collection technology.”

On the other hand, it may be purposely used to deceive politicians and the public  (to support “certain conclusions”) – the issue of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the justification for the US invasion of that country provides a clear example.

Unfortunately, stovepiping is rampant in the current US media and political hysteria surrounding the current political struggles resulting from an election result which didn’t go the way the establishment wanted and believed it would.

Consider all the “confidence” that the US presidential elections were “hacked” by Russia – even by, or under the personal orders of, the president of the Russian Federation. The assertion is claimed to be unassailable, beyond any question, because it was a conclusion reached, unanimously, by 17 US intelligence agencies. Hillary Clinton made the claim last October in a presidential election debate:

 “We have 17 intelligence agencies, civilian and military, who have all concluded that these espionage attacks, these cyberattacks, come from the highest levels of the Kremlin, and they are designed to influence our election. I find that deeply disturbing.”

The really “deeply disturbing” aspect is that this claim was repeated again and again without a sniff of evidence. Anyone questioning the claim, or asking for evidence, was jumped on as a “Kremlin troll” and no politician seemed to have the courage to draw parallels with the Emperors Clothes.” To actually ask – “where is the evidence.” Neo-McCarthyism is alive and active.

Welcome to evidence-free reporting – where stories rely on unattributed, unnamed sources. Where “intelligence reports” are completely free of evidence – yet presented with high authority. And worse – the media then claims the evidence-free reports themselves as “evidence!”

The retractions are buried and ignored

Sometimes such stories do get retracted. On June 29 The New York Times issued a retraction of the claim that 17 intelligence agencies had reported Russian hacking. The NYT admitted:

“The assessment was made by four intelligence agencies — the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency. The assessment was not approved by all 17 organizations in the American intelligence community.”

Worse – we had stovepiping within stovepiping. Not only was the claim not approved by the 17 agencies – the claim itself was made by selected personal within the four agencies involved. Heavy reported:

“Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper had already essentially admitted to this when he testified in May in front of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee. He said the Russia hacking finding came from a special intelligence community assessment, formed by hand-picked analysts from the NSA, FBI, and CIA.”

This sort of stovepiping is loaded with possibilities for anyone wishing to promote evidence-free but politically damaging claims as part of a political battle. Just hand-select a few anonymous agents who you know will support the story you want. The ultimate confirmation bias.

One might think the news media has the ethical responsibility to be a bit more critical of such stories. To refuse to repeat evidence-free claims. To avoid unnamed, and unchecked, sources. And to publish an analysis of the origins of these claims, stressing the lack of evidence.

Unfortunately, in the USA it appears that the mainstream media has forgotten these ethics. It is wholeheartedly participating in this political battle. It is cooperating with elements in the intelligence community who have also joined this political battle. The mainstream media and this politically motivated section of the intelligence community are taking in each others laundry. Unnamed intelligence sources are providing evidence-free information to fill the news reports. The media is giving public voice to these disaffected intelligence agents and the intelligence community (or elements within it), in turn, is giving “authority” to the reported evidence-free claims. After all, what patriotically-minded US citizen will refuse to accept the authority of the intelligence agencies – even without evidence?

Weak retractions, or even the absence of retractions, seems to be an accepted procedure within the mainstream media. Remember Omran Dogneesh, the “Aleppo boy?” Much media hysteria was spent on his story (accompanied by an admittedly outstanding photograph) promoted by the al Qaeda-affiliated White Helmets as part of their propaganda campaign against Syria. His family was liberated with the rest of eastern Aleppo and they can now tell their story about the way their boy was used – in effect kidnapped by the White Helmets – for propaganda purposes. His family’s story has been reported to some extent – certainly without any of the fanfare the original misleading story was promoted (see How Omran, the dazed Aleppo boy who reappeared this week, became a political pawn in Syria’s war). And a gullible public will be encouraged to continue to believe the original distortions.

Aleppo boy – his true story was buried. The first photo was trumpeted around the world as part of anti-Syria propaganda. The second practically ignored. Credit: India.com.  Aleppo boy Omran Daqneesh makes his first appearance since 2016 bombing! See heart warming pictures of the Syrian kid 

Just as “authoritative” mainstream media sources continue to report that 17 intelligence agencies had a “high confidence” the Russians “hacked” the US elections.

It’s wider than the Clinton-Trump conflict

While this example of stovepiping and fake news is typical of the current political conflict in the USA the problem is not going to go away when that conflict disappears. I think stovepiping and fake news have resulted from the danger the established news media sees itself in as a result of social media and wider digital sources for news.

In fact, when we look at the intelligence reports about the so-called Russian hacking of the US elections we find the main concern being expressed is the possible influence of alternative media. These reports concentrate on media like RT and Sputnik which have Russian origins – but the concern is really about alternative media in general. After all, if the best they can do is complain that RT gave coverage to minority candidates and ran one interview with Trump then we can see what their crime is. RT and Sputnik, just like the rest of the alternative media, is not under the thumb of the establishment. They are free to question the narrative promoted by that establishment.

The alternative media, just like the internet, is not going to go away. It will persist and it will provide alternatives to those of us tired by the conformity and fake news of the establishment mainstream media.

The political establishment in the US and Europe is trying to nip this phenomenon in the bud – after all the alternative media has limited reach so far. But the establishment can see the danger it represents and we cannot avoid the possibility it may take extreme action to prevent the loss of its influence a wider spread of alternative media represents.

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June ’17 – NZ blogs sitemeter ranking

Image credit: How to Write SEO-Friendly Blog Posts Your Audience Will Read – and Love

There are about 300 blogs on the list, although I am weeding out those which are no longer active or have removed public access to sitemeters. (Let me know if I weed out yours by mistake or get your stats wrong).

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 2017. 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

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Darwin, sexual selection and Putin

Credit: RussiaFeed.

Must edge my way back in into blogging after a period of mourning. So here is something provocative.

Perhaps President Putin is “making Russia great again” in a way we haven’t thought of. Via Darwinian sexual selection?

If this song is anything to go by maybe Putin as a role model will lead to improvement in the Russian gene pool if women start preferring men with his moral and lifestyle characteristics.

Or perhaps his influence will operate more quickly by encouraging Russian men to smarten themselves up if they want to find a partner?

Is this yet another positive influence Putin has had on Russian life after the disastrous experiences of the criminal anarchy of the 1990s?

Or is it a sign that Putin has finally decided to run in next March’s Russian Presidential elections and this is his first campaign song?

Whatever – it’s a welcome (and tuneful) change from the usual demonisation of the man we get from our mainstream media. (And I expect to get from commenters here).

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