John Pilger on Paris, ISIS and Media Propaganda

You might not agree with everything John Pilger says – but he is always up front and clear in what he does say.

Some very relevant comments from Pilger in this recent Going Underground Special interview.

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Science is never done – some scientific terms explained

The above great video by It’s Okay To Be Smart explains words such as theory, hypothesis, fact and law in the way that scientists use them, not the way we use them in everyday speech.

As the article at Sciencedump, You might think you know, but do you really? Important scientific words explained!, says:

“I don’t know about you, but I’m getting kind of sick of people misunderstanding the words theory and hypothesis and turning them into something bad. Whenever I hear someone say that evolution is only a theory, I am immediately reminded of Wallace Shawn’s character Vizzini from The Princess Bride going around yelling “inconceivable!” at every turn, and in really having no clue what it actually means.”

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Studies show – or do they?


This article from The Spud – Sentences that start with “studies show” usually followed by bullshit, study shows really resonates with me. I have had a gutsful of terms like “studies show” or “scientists have found,” etc. They are simply used to give authority to all sorts of claims – but authority requires the reader to do a bit of work. Check out these studies. Find out exactly what they do say. Don’t take such claims at face value.

A recent study in the Journal of Studying Studies, concluded that sentences which start with “studies show” tend to be followed by inaccurate information.“We looked at several health news stories, anti-vaccine websites, pseudoscience pages which cover things like homeopathy and naturopathic medicine, and found that in almost all cases when a story or headline begins with “studies show” it usually meant the studies were very poor and the author didn’t fully understand the evidence they were presenting,” said researcher Dr. Ernest Young.In response to this latest news, Natural News founder Mike Adams replied with “Studies show that almost all of the studies going against natural medicine are funded by big pharma and all part of the global conspiracy perpetuated by the Illuminati and Agenda 21. I know how to juggle.”The report will be available in next months issue.

Source: Sentences that start with “studies show” usually followed by bullshit, study shows – The Spudd

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Should we trust science? – Wellington talk


Naomi Oreskes is Professor of the History of Science and Affiliated Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University, and an internationally renowned geologist, science historian, and author.

If you are in Wellington next Tuesday this should be an interesting talk. I would certainly be in the audience if I was able.

Should we trust science?

Perspectives from the history and philosophy of science

Naomi Oreskes

Professor of History of Science at Harvard University.

6pm Tuesday 24 November 2015
Paramount Theatre, 25 Courtenay Place, Wellington

In this talk Professor Naomi Oreskes offers perspectives from the history and philosophy of science, argues that we should trust science and explains why.

Many readers will know Professor Oreskes as one of the authors, together with Eric M. Conway, of 
Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming
I highly recommend this excellent book.

These two authors have also written a science-based book of fiction The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s certainly on my list (and in my eReader).

The Royal Society of NZ has organised the event – for more information see Should we trust science? « At Six « Events « Royal Society of New Zealand.

For those of us who can’t make Professor Oreskes talk there is a video of a similar talk she gave at Virginia Tech recently at Distinguished Lecture 2015: Dr. Naomi Oreskes, Harvard University

About Naomi Oreskes

Naomi Oreskes is Professor of the History of Science and Affiliated Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University, and an internationally renowned geologist, science historian, and author.

Oreskes is the author of many scholarly and popular books and articles on the history of earth and environmental science. She has lectured widely and won numerous prizes, including the 2009 Francis Bacon Medal for outstanding scholarship in the history of science and technology, the 2011 Climate Change Communicator of the Year, and the 2014 American Geophysical Union Presidential Citation for Science and Society.

For the past decade, Oreskes has been primarily interested in the science and politics of anthropogenic climate change. Her 2010 book, Merchants of Doubt, How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco to Global Warming, co-authored with Erik M. Conway, was shortlisted for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and won the Watson-Davis Prize from the History of Science Society. The film version was released in late 2014.

Oreskes’s current research projects include completion of a scholarly book on the history of Cold War oceanography.

Naomi Oreskes is brought to New Zealand by History of Science 2015 conference in partnership with the Royal Society of New Zealand.

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Can world leaders learn from the Paris terror attacks?

Putin Obama G20

This photo of Presidents Obama and Putin in serious and intense discussion  at the current G20 meeting symbolises what could be a positive change in international politics. Perhaps the Friday 13th acts of terror in Paris precipitated this particular meeting – or perhaps it is a culmination of geopolitical changes since the 2014 G20 conference in Brisbane.

Or perhaps I am just being  far too optimistic. After all, the problems facing the world today are pretty intractable.

“What have you done?”

It seems to me that a key moment was September UN General Assembly meeting where President Putin warned about the consequences of geopolitical trends. His  question to world leaders – “Do you realise what you’ve done?” – proved tragically prophetic (see the full text of his speech at Putin’s UN address: “Do you realise what you’ve done?”). France is just the most recent country to suffer extreme acts of terrorism and we should not ignore the other recent acts most probably carried out by Islamic State in Turkey, Lebanon and the Sinai Peninsula.

However, Putin’s question was primarily directed at political leaders in France and Turkey, as well as Europe, NATO, the USA, UK and the Middle East. These leaders have pursued policies of regime change which have, at best, downplayed the problems of terrorism, or at worst actually used terrorist groups like Islamic State and its affiliates to carry out regime change.

Now, perhaps, they are starting to realise the consequences of those policies and are becoming  a little more willing to support the concept of an international alliance to counter terrorism.

But only a “little more willing,” and that is not enough.

What right have outsiders to impose “regime change?”

French president Francois Hollande said during the emergency meeting of the French parliament:

“In Syria, we’re looking for the political solution to the problem, which is not Bashar Assad. Our enemy in Syria is ISIL,”

Good – France now supports a political solution to the Syrian civil war – but surely that is a solution which must be put into effect by the Syrian people. What right does the leader of a foreign country have to demand that any particular Syrian politicians must or must not be part of that process?

Western and Middle Western political leaders need to realise that an imposed “regime change’ of the sort that took place in Iraq and Libya will only promote more terrorism – in fact, is the source of the current terrorism. Regime change should be in the hands of the Syrian people – not external countries.

But there is a glimmer of hope. Maybe recent changes were precipitated by the intervention of Russian forces in Syria to prevent an armed overthrow of the government. But the Syrian peace talks in Vienna seem to be making some progress. There is now more talk of a political settlement, a ceasefire negotiated between the Syrian government and selected opposition forces and a timetable for parliamentary and presidential elections. The Syrian leadership is open to this process and hopefully the more genuine opposition  forces can be encouraged to take part.

And, isn’t that a better way to change a political regime?

External political leaders should stop their talk of “Assad must go” – it is arrogant and disrespectful to the Syrian people. What the hell are these western and Middle Eastern leaders going to do if a political settlement leads to democratic and constitutional changes and Assad is re-elected? Are they going to refuse to accept the will of the Syrian people?

Who is backing Islamic State?

Meanwhile, reports from the G20 meeting show that president Putin has provided leaders with evidence of the support helping to maintain ISIS and similar terrorist groups. He told reporters:

“”I provided examples related to our data on the financing of Islamic State units by natural persons in various countries. The financing comes from 40 countries, as we established, including some G20 members.”

He also presented satellite images and aerial photos showing the true scale of the Islamic State oil trade:

“I’ve demonstrated the pictures from space to our colleagues, which clearly show the true size of the illegal trade of oil and petroleum products market. Car convoys stretching for dozens of kilometers, going beyond the horizon when seen from a height of four-five thousand meters.”

Now, it seems to me that NATO and the US have demonstrated great skills in targeting sanctions at individual business and political leaders in the Russian Federation, Ukraine and Crimea. Surely it is not beyond them to destroy the financial and economic support current shoring up Islamic State. They must know who these business leaders are – and they must surely know who is trading the oil Islamic State transports into Turkey.

Surely, all they need is the political will.

Coordinating the anti-terror struggle

Wouldn’t armed attacks on Islamic State be far more effective if they were coordinated. If participants shared intelligence and identified agreed targets? Again, that is surely realistic – if an anti-Nazi coalition was possible during the last world war surely an anti-terror coalition would be a lot easier now. The current US excuses for refusing cooperation seem petty and inappropriate given the seriousness of the situation.

But that requires abandoning a failed policy of “regime change.” That requires a fundamental change in international power – or at least the recognition that a single superpower should no longer be allowed to dictate the political and social arrangements of other countries.

Still, I look at that photo above and it does give me hope.

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Anti-fluoride hypothyroidism paper slammed yet again


Credit: Display of Statistical Data

Anti-fluoride campaigners often cite a limited number of papers published in scientific journals as evidence for their claims that community water fluoridation (CWF) is harmful. They do this to give some sort of scientific credibility to their claims – but the citations are far from scientific as they are usually cherry-picked, misrepresent the cited papers or use poor quality papers which are often not peer-reviewed, or poorly peer-reviewed, and written by fellow anti-fluoride campaigners.

This year, anti-fluoride campaigners have heavily promoted two such papers claiming harmful effects of CWF:

The hypothyroidism paper (Peckham et al., 2015) received negative reviews immediately after publication and a number of peer-reviewed responses have since been published. The latest response by Foley (2015) is useful because it gives a thorough critique of several faults in the Peckham paper. It is available in full text on-line:

Foley, M. (2015). Fluoridation and hypothyroidism – a commentary on Peckham et al. British Dental Journal, 219(9), 429–431.

Here is a summary of some of the points covered by Foley:

Confounding effects almost ignored

The sort of statistical analysis of data used in the Peckham et al., paper should always consider confounding effects – otherwise the analysis is simply an exercise in confirmation bias.  Foley says:

“Peckham et al. show little understanding of confounding factors, and have made only a token attempt at considering their impact. The authors mention the ecological fallacy, but then ignore its implications in strongly implying a causal link between water fluoridation and hypothyroidism.”

The confounding factor that sticks out like a sore thumb is iodine – or its deficiency. Iodine deficiency is associated with hypothyroidism and there are moderately to severely deficient levels of iodine across the UK. Foley points out:

“Vanderpump et al. have already shown that schoolgirls in fluoridated Birmingham appear to be more likely to show moderate-to-severe iodine deficiency than schoolgirls in many non-fluoridated UK cities . .”


Credit: Mu-Peter

Iodine intake could potentially be associated with fluoridation status, yet Peckham et al. discounted its effects claiming “it is unlikely that there are significant differences [in dietary iodine intake] between people, living in fluoridated and non-fluoridated areas.” That is just not good enough and simply confirms the bias of the authors – especially as they had already referenced a study showing “greatly differing urinary iodine levels in groups of schoolgirls from major UK cities, with 17% of participants showing moderate to severe deficiency.”

As Foley points out:

“. . iodine intake is associated with the outcome variable, hypothyroidism. Iodine intake could certainly confound any statistical association between fluoridation status and hypothyroidism. So why wasn’t this considered by the authors? Authors also failed to consider the impacts of smoking, medications and other factors known to contribute to hypothyroidism.”

Ignoring or downplaying confounding effects is a common trick used by those who have a bias against CWF. I referred to this in my articles Connett misrepresents the fluoride and IQ data yet again, and Connett & Hirzy do a shonky risk assessment for fluoride. Connett uses data showing a correlation of IQ with urinary fluoride explaining only 3% of the variation in IQ. The statistical  analysis did not consider confounding effects which could easily have eliminated the correlation with fluoride.

Another example is the ADHD paper of Malin & Till where a significant correlation with CWF disappeared when confounding effects were included in the statistical analysis (see  ADHD linked to elevation not fluoridationADHD link to fluoridation claim undermined again).

Poor review and citation

Authors inevitably show some bias in the citations they select, but anti-fluoridation proponents carry this to the extreme. Citations are cherry-picked to support their case and the rest of the literature usually ignored (or ridiculed) to give the impression there is a large amount of scientific support for their case.

Foley criticises the Peckham paper for this sort of citation – and for “inappropriate self-citation.”


Credit: Self-citations, is it worth to work on them?

Peckham et al., demonstrates how to use self-citation as a way of getting claims from a poor journal into a  mainstream journal. Foley mentions their self-citation of a earlier paper opposing CWF – Peckham & Awofeso (2014), Water Fluoridation: A Critical Review of the Physiological Effects of Ingested Fluoride as a Public Health Intervention, The Scientific World Journal Volume 2014 (2014):

Scientific World Journal has a well-publicised history of colluding with other journals to self-cite authors’ papers to increase journal impact factors. The referenced Peckham and Awofeso paper is unusual in that many unattributed paragraphs, including factual errors, are almost identical to paragraphs from a previous Awofeso paper. This paper in turn has unattributed paragraphs almost identical to paragraphs on webpages belonging to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research and a popular chemistry website.

I discussed this journal and Peckham & Awofeso (2014) in my article Peer review, shonky journals and misrepresenting fluoride science.

So, get a biased article published in a shonky journal (usually by paying publication fees to avoid proper peer-review) and then cite it in later papers to give dubious credibility to current claims.

But again and again Peckham et al., (2015) cites papers which don’t really support the claims they make. For example, they cite Feltman & Kosel to support their statement that “the effects of fluoride on the thyroid have long been observed.”

“But Feltman and Kosel’s only mention of the thyroid is a single sentence that other researchers ‘…report that fluoride is a thyroid inhibitor’. Their only references for this statement are a personal communication with US Public Health Service researcher Floyd De Eds, and a 1954 paper that studied delayed tooth eruption in rats following removal of the pituitary gland. The evidence supporting Peckham et al.’s statement is extremely weak.”

Similarly, Peckham et al referenced a 1958 Galletti and Joyet paper to claim fluoride reduced thyroid activity:

“However, Galletti and Joyet only investigated the effect of fluorides on patients with hyperthyroidism, and did not find that fluoride was linked to goitre. . . . . Regarding the reduction in thyroid activity in patients with hyperthyroidism treated with fluoride, Galletti and Joyet concluded ‘…such an action appears only occasionally among persons subjected to massive doses of this substance’, a situation clearly not comparable to community water fluoridation.”

Peckham et al., concluded there are “questions about the safety of community fluoridation and consideration should be given to reducing all sources of fluoride in the environment.” But Foley points out:

“Three references are given to support this statement; however, two of the references provided make no such alarmist recommendation. The only one of the three that does so is Peckham’s own 2014 paper.”

Poor conclusions

Foley’s opinion is that “the paper’s conclusions can and should be dismissed” as it has “serious biases and flaws.”

He says:

“Literature reviews have been highly selective and critical analysis of that literature has been poor. The authors show a disturbing tendency to focus on a small number of poor quality studies that reinforce their own views, while ignoring contradictory evidence from much stronger studies and reviews.”

And provides a bit of advice:

“Peckham et al. should have heeded the adage ‘correlation is not causation’ before coming to a conclusion at odds with a large body of reputable evidence from around the world.”


Credit: xkcd – correlation

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Cyberchondria and similar “illnesses”

Came across this new word today and realised immediately what it means.


What I need now is a word for a troll who makes claims to all sorts of personal illnesses and symptoms (not professionally diagnosed of course) which are highly exaggerated or invented.

Onehunga and the “fluoride-free” myth

Onehunga Aquifer optimised

An aerial view of the Onehunga Water Treatment Plant

Recently I discussed the fluoridation issue with a self-diagnosed sufferer from fluoride sensitivity. He claimed to have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) brought on by fluoride in drinking water. His doctor didn’t believe him but he knew better – every time he left his hometown (which is unfluoridated) for fluoridated areas his IBS returned. He assured me that the water in his city is “fluoride-free.”

I checked the published data for his city and found the natural levels of fluoride in the tap water is 0.4 ppm – not too much less than the recommended 0.7 ppm where community water fluoridation is used. He didn’t respond to my comment passing on this information – maybe it brought on an attack of IBS as stress is one of the known factors causing this.

This issue came up again at a recent Auckland City Council meeting which considered a request for fluoridation of the Onehunga water supply. Unlike most of Auckland Onehunga’s water is pumped from the Onehunga springs and is not fluoridated. In fact, a referendum in 2001 voted against a proposal to fluoridate.

But what struck me is the argument presented by one councillor that some resident of Onehunga moved there because the water is “fluoride-free” and it would violate their rights if the water supply is now fluoridated. That seems a very poor argument as anyone with a hangup about fluoride can buy and use a cheap water filter – far cheaper than shifting house. But the claim that Onehunga’s water is “fluoride-free” motivated me to check out the published data for fluoride in the Onehunga water.

This graph summarises the data from reports covering the years 2010 – 2014 (a single report covered 2011-2012):

So, Onehunga water is not “fluoride-free.” The average concentration is about 0.2 ppm (not too unusual for ground-water sources in New Zealand) but the actual concentrations can vary a lot. Customers would have occasionally been drinking water with a concentration as high as 0.9 or 1.1 ppm F during that time period.

Surely this would occasionally send any fluoride sensitive person into a bout of IBS, skin rash, or one of the myriads of other symptoms propagandists against community water fluoridation claim. Or perhaps only if they had been told about the high concentrations (see Fluoride sensitivity – all in the mind?).

Fluorine is the 13th most common element in the earth’s crust so it is inevitable that our food and drink contain traces derived from natural sources. In the real world, there is no such thing as “fluoride-free.”

Note: I don’t know if such variation is common with underground freshwater sources. The Onehunga aquifer  derives from rainwater soaking through lava flows around One Tree Hill. It could well be prone influences from historical industrial or other sources in the locality. Apparently it has high nitrogen levels and may also be influenced by broken sewer pipes.


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Thames voters decisively support fluoridation

Fluoride Referendum Web Page Banner-01

Voters in the Thames water supply area of service have resoundingly defeated attempts to stop fluoridation of their water supply.

The Thames-Coromandel District Council has released the result of a referendum  which had been imposed on the town because of activities of anti-fluoridation campaigners. The results show a resounding defeat for these campaigners with 73% of voters supporting retention of community water fluoridation.

This is a decisive result, made even more decisive by the high turnout in the postal vote – almost 57 %. This is an unusually high turnout for local body votes in New Zealand.

Anti-fluoride campaigners were very active during this referendum, publishing about six full-page advertorials in the local papers as well as having a strong presence on the streets. It appears this aggressive approach could have turned residents off, even encouraged them to vote.

In fact, the advertising and billboard claims of the anti-fluoride campaigners have been the subject of several complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The Authority released the first decision on these complaints today finding that anti-fluoride advertising had violated advertising ethics. There will be more decisions released by ASA in the coming days and weeks.

The council had decided this would be a binding vote so approval of the decision to continue fluoridation is just a formality.

See also: Thames-Coromandel District Council – Thames voters opt to continue fluoridation of town water supply

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Why doesn’t Putin shirtfront someone?


A 10-month-old girl gazing at the planes in St. Petersburg airport before departing to Egypt – this picture has become the symbol of the plane crash in Sinai on social media. Image credit: Darina Gromova ©

Can’t help being provocative here.

Surely if the Russian authorities want a clear answer to what caused the crash of the Airbus A-321 in the Sinai Peninsula they have only to call on some renowned “experts” like Tony Abbott (ex Australian PM), US President Barack Obama, UK PM David Cameron or a few of the newspapers who are fond of pronouncing judgment. These “experts’ were able to confidently assign guilt within hours for the crash of the Malaysian MH17  in eastern Ukraine last year! They were very confident in their attributing blame, very loud – and, what’s more, imposed economic and political sanctions pretty well straight away.

Why are the Russian authorities so backward? Why is their Foreign Ministry’s  spokeswoman Maria Zakharova so reluctant to apportion blame by saying:

“How can we talk about any version, when our experts have only just begun to work on the site of the crash?”

Why did the Russian Foreign Ministry say on Monday that debating the reasons for the crash of the Russian Airbus A-321 in Egypt is “premature?”

Do these Russian authorities not have the same love for these civilian victims (mostly citizens of the Russian Federation) that Tony Abbott, President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron had for the innocent victims of the MH17 crash?

Abbott had no doubt from the very beginning that Vladimir Putin was directly responsible for the MH17 tragedy and threatened to “shirtfront” Putin at the Brisbane G20 leaders meeting.

Now, our media keep telling us what a rude and brazen person Putin is. Why isn’t he threatening to “shirtfront” someone? Why hasn’t Putin already apportioned blame and expressed the same supreme confidence in a scenario that we were exposed to last year over MH17.

Is Putin a weak leader who couldn’t care less about the plight of his people?

Or were Tony Abbott, Barack Obama, David Cameron, etc., simply attempting to make political capital out of a tragedy?


The London Times had no trouble identifying the culprit last year – it didn’t have to wait for any evidence.

Is, in fact, Putin illustrating what a real responsible leader should do? Is he just being true to his request over MH17 that political leaders stop using the tragedy for political purposes and wait to see the findings of the investigation instead of launching a lynching party without any evidence.


St Petersburg: Russian mourns victims of plane crash in Egypt. Image credit: Moscow Times.

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