Category Archives: Uncategorized

Door knockers should pay to interrupt us

God botherers

Found this on Facebook (Shit Aussies say).

Really must get one for our front door. These god-botherers and salesperson seem to think that because you are retired you have all the time in the world.

Don’t they realise that when your retire you stop living at work and start working at life.

And that is a full-time job.

Cochrane responds to misrepresentation of their fluoridation review


Image Credit: Cochrane Oral Health Blog

The latest Cochrane Review on community water fluoridation (CWF) was published in June. Here are a citation and link for those interested:

Iheozor-Ejiofor, Z., Worthington, HV., Walsh, T., O’Malley, L., Clarkson, JE., Macey, R., Alam, R., Tugwell, P., Welch, V., Glenny, A. (2015). Water fluoridation for the prevention of dental caries (Review). The Cochrane Library, (6).

Immediately after publication, anti-fluoride propagandists launched a campaign of misrepresentation and outright distortion of the review’s findings. I dealt with some of this, and commented on the review itself, in the following posts:

The wave of misrepresentation and situations concerned health professionals – some of their on-line feedback and responses are in the Cochrane blog posts – Little contemporary evidence to evaluate effectiveness of fluoride in the water and Our response to the feedback on the Cochrane fluoridation review).

The Cochrane Oral Health Group yesterday published an updated Plain Language Summary (PLS) for the review. If you want to look in detail here is the original version of the review, and here is the abstract and updated Plain Language Summary from the latest version (now online). Their short explanation for this is:

“Following feedback, from a variety of sources, we felt it was necessary to make the language of the PLS simpler.”

This is logical. The PLS is the only part of the Review most policy makers will read. The old version contained too many words like “bias” and references to research “quality” which may have been reasonable to an academic audience but conveyed an entirely different meaning to policy makers who do not have an academic or scientific background. Anti-fluoride campaigners have worked hard to use this in their misrepresentations and distortions aimed at policy makers as well as the public.

Some of the changes

The new PLS does not include the word “bias” and now describes the selection criteria pointing out most studies made after 1975 were excluded (because they did not include initial surveys). Readers will now be more aware that the lack of information in some areas resulted from these strict selection criteria and not from lack of research.

For example, the text:

“No studies met the review’s inclusion criteria that investigated the effectiveness of water fluoridation for preventing tooth decay in adults, rather than children”

has been replaced by

“Within the ‘before and after’ studies we were looking for, we did not find any on the benefits of fluoridated water for adults.”

And the text:

“There was insufficient information available to find out whether the introduction of a water fluoridation programme changed existing differences”

has been replaced by:

“We found insufficient information to determine whether fluoridation reduces differences in tooth decay levels between children from
poorer and more affluent backgrounds.”

Will the misrepresentation continue?

Of course it will. Even the most carefully worded summary can be distorted to misrepresent reported findings. Hopefully, though, these changes will make it harder for campaigners to pull the wool over the eyes of policy makers. The careful reader will now have a better idea of the limitations of the review resulting from the strict selection criteria. Hopefully, they will also be aware that statements like “We found insufficient information . . .” do not mean there is no information. Nor does the inability, within the restricted selection criteria, to find an effect mean there is no effect.

I am disappointed that their changes did not make the situation of dental fluorosis clearer. They do now stress that most of the dental fluorosis studies reviewed “were conducted in places with naturally occurring – not added – fluoride in their water.” But this is not adequate:

“results of the studies reviewed suggest that, where the fluoride level in water is 0.7 ppm, there is a chance of around 12% of people having dental fluorosis that may cause concern about how their teeth look.”

is just not adequate

The choice of 0.7 ppm will be seen as relevant to the concentration used in CWF – but this does not mention that any difference between the  prevalence in fluoridated and unfluoridated areas is very small and not statistically significant. In other words, their comments on dental fluorosis are still not relevant to CWF.

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Australian census religion question – progress


World Religions. Credit: Islam Beyond Borders

Looks like Australians have won another small victory in the way that their religiosity is officially assessed. In particular how census forms pose the religion question on census forms is posed.

I discussed the problems in my article Non religious in Australia and New Zealand. The Australian census form buried the “no religion” option – and may, therefore, have skewed results – see below:

Compare that to the New Zealand census question below:

I asked the obvious question:

“Do Australians opt for a religion in their census answers because they don’t , at first glance, notice the “no religion” option?

Does the Australian census overestimate religiosity?”

Greater minds than mine also asked this question. Rationalist and sceptic groups lobbied the Australian Bureau of Statistics to change the question during the post-2011 census review. They argued it was about accuracy. And they succeeded (see Census change: Is Australia losing its religion?).

“No religion” moves to first

So, for the first time “no religion” will be first on a list of answers to the question “what is the person’s religion”, and the “Catholic” option will move into second place – see below:
New question

It may seem like a subtle change, a psychological victory for the “nones,” but The Sydney Morning Herald argues it “may completely change the way Australia sees itself and have drastic consequences for the way government money is spent on welfare and education.”

“If Christianity did lose its position as the majority religion, this could impact government spending programs such as the school chaplaincy program, according to those advocating for the change.

“Many government services and resources depend on census accuracy, and the figures are used by religious organisations to maintain their status and influence in terms of grants, tax-free services, access to schools for religious instruction, and for their generally privileged position within the community,” president of the Rationalist Society of Australia, Meredith Doig, said this week.”

So it is more than a psychological victory. Surely it is important that allocation of resources to people of different beliefs should not be wroughted by the trickiness of questions like that in the old census form.

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New Zealand science book prize – 2015 Short list

The Royal Society of NZ has announced the shortlist of titles for 2015 Science Book Prize (see 2015 Royal Society of New Zealand Science Book Prize).

Here they are – together with the judges comments:

Tangata Whenua: An Illustrated History by Atholl Anderson FRSNZ, Judith Binney, Aroha Harris (Bridget Williams Books)

“Tangata Whenua is a beautifully produced, well illustrated and comprehensive record of the tangata whenua. Atholl Anderson, Judith Binney and Aroha Harris present archaeological and genetic evidence alongside history, traditional narratives and oral sources to produce this powerful story – both scholarly and readable – of Maori people and the land they live in.”


The Wandering Mind by Michael Corballis FRSNZ (Auckland University Press)

“Neuroscience, psychology and evolutionary biology are helping scientists to learn more about our brains. In this scientifically rigorous and quietly humorous book, Michael Corballis, one of the leaders in this field, explores what happens in our brains and to our minds when we are not paying attention. He takes us on a meandering and enlightening exploration of our wandering minds.”


Gathering Evidence by Caoilinn Hughes (Victoria University Press)

“From Johannes Kepler to Marie Curie, and from genetics to nuclear physics: in this book, which is rich with scientific themes, scientific words and phrases become poetry. Caoilinn Hughes gives readers new and unexpected perspectives on science in her lively and powerful poems that explore and communicate science with an emotional intensity that makes for a memorable read.”


Dolphins of Aotearoa: Living with New Zealand Dolphins by Raewyn Peart (Craig Potton Publishing)

“New Zealand’s five resident dolphin species are among the most-loved and cherished of our native fauna. In this beautifully produced book, Raewyn Peart goes beyond the traditional illustrated natural history book to tell a scientifically-grounded, moving and engaging story of the relationship between humans and dolphins in New Zealand.”

Manuka: the Biography of an Extraordinary Honey by Cliff Van Eaton (Exisle Publishing)

“Manuka honey is a uniquely New Zealand product, valued here and internationally for its rich taste and therapeutic properties. In this delightful and surprising book Cliff Van Eaton tells the captivating story of the science behind the discovery of the antibiotic effects of manuka honey, with a focus on the scientists and beekeepers who have brought this product to the world.”



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Dirty tactics by anti-fluoride activists in Taupo

Fly fishing in Lake Taupo. Image credit: Great lake Taupo

Local body councils have had a gutsful of the fluoridation issue. Most councillors don’t have the skills to objectively judge submissions – and the field is so controversial they get plenty of these. It’s also an area where extremists and people with obsessions are very active.

So it is no wonder that local body councils are asking for this whole issue to be taken off their plate. For it to be handed to central government, the Ministry of Health and District Health Boards.

Abuse and libel of councillors

A few days ago a Taupo District councillor, Dave Cozens, gave examples of the personal abuse he was receiving from an anti-fluoride extremist (see Councillors abused and libelled by anti-fluoride activists). He is one councillor who has done his own research on the topic:

“I was elected to office in 2013 and in my time in that position I have endeavoured to understand the finer details of what is the very controversial Fluoride Debate.

I approached the issue with an open mind in hope that whatever evidence I came across would steer me toward a well-informed path and that this would then encourage some solid proper decision making to occur.

What I found was a vast weight of material that supported the retention of Fluoride in our public water supplies and little substantiated proof that existed to support the contrary. There was however a wealth of alarmist articles ranging from fluoride’s use in the death camps of World War II to the decalcification of bones in children of third world nations. All of these articles appeared to be written by lay people with questionable, if any, notable qualifications.

Admittedly it can be proven that there can be some ‘mottling’ occurring on the teeth of a few scattered members of the community however the benefits displayed to the larger population appear immeasurable. It should be noted that this particular evidence was actually provided by the World Health Organisation.

I have spoken to doctors, dentists, orthodontists and scientists – all of whom support the continued use of Fluoride.

Not one single professional has contacted me to argue its removal from supplies.”

The fact he did his own research appears to have been enough reason for targeting by a Facebook page affiliated* to Fluoride Free NZ:

” I have been made their ‘poster boy’ for what they call the ‘poisoning of children’ in the area. I have received emails threats of legal action, accusations of committing murder, supposed land theft, instigating the dumbing down Māori as a race and now this negative rant has made its way to Facebook courtesy of aTurangi Anti-fluoride page. They have also linked that page to my professional work websites. “

He has repeatedly asked this group to come to him with peer-reviewed material or published documentation supporting their cause:

“But it seems that no amount of reasoning nor gentle coaxing will encourage them to meet me with a round-table discussion and the hope of finding some middle ground.

The hate and anger that has been delivered to me on this topic is beyond anything I have experienced before. It is both slanderous and distasteful but moreover it takes us to a dark place as a community because we as a population in the Southern Lake area are not like this – we simply don’t treat each other this way – it’s not our culture. I have now involved the Police, lawyers, Council and of course Facebook in hope that they will bring an end to this distasteful episode.”

It reminds me a bit of the clamour around the Hamilton City Council over the fluoride issue. When the Council mistakenly decided to stop fluoridation in 2013 suddenly council members (well, all except one who opposed the decision) could do no wrong. They were being quoted by Fluoride Free activists as experts on the issue.

After the Hamilton City Council decided to accept the wishes of the voters and return fluoridation last year they were ridiculed and attacked by the very same Fluoride Free activists. Well, one of the councillors (the only one to vote against the decision) is not attacked. Suddenly he became the darling of the local Fluoride Free activists.

Politics attracts some funny people. But there seem to be none so weird as the anti-fluoride activists involved in local body politics.


* Of course this affiliation is informal – FFNZ doesn’t have a formal membership as such. But the use of the FFNZ link in the Facebook page “about” section (see screenshot below) certainly implies an affiliation.

Of course FFNZ could formally dissociate their organisation from the Facebook page and from the abusive and libellous content. I suspect they might prefer to claim it is not their page but not to do this formally – a sort of deniability – because the attitudes expressed.certianly represernt many of the people active in their movement.

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October ’14 – NZ blogs sitemeter ranking

This post was accidentally deleted and this is a retrieved version.

There are now over 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 October 2014. 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

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Find out how to get Subscription & email updates

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Down-under Christmas

It’s that time of the year again.

Tim Minchin describes the joys of Christmas down under.

The inverted ethics of doxxing?

Came across this word “doxxing” lately. According to Wikipedia it refers to “the Internet-based practice of researching and broadcasting personally identifiable information about an individual.” My introduction to this new word was in a discussion of the ethics of identifying people who troll on social media sites.


Credit: Curiosmatic

I can understand why some people must protect their identity when commenting on social media. Whistle blowers, etc., are obvious – but even seemingly mundane topics may need some anonymity because of jobs, etc.

But, apart from jobs, I can never understand those people who insist on anonymity when discussing scientific knowledge. Surely that immediately undermines their credibility – especially when they confront, or abuse, other commenters who have no trouble identifying themselves.

In my experience it is the anonymous commenter who tends to be the most abusive. So, why should ethical concerns about doxxing give free rein to the internet bully? I find myself sympathising with PZ Myers comment on this topic in his recent post The inverted ethics of the internet.

“It seems to me that there is a significant difference between maintaining internet anonymity to prevent being harassed, vs. anonymity used to enable harassment. But this distinction is routinely ignored, especially by the harassers, who just lump violating either into the category of the most sacrilegious of all internet violations, the total desecration of the holiest principle of all communication, doxxing. I suspect the only reason that “doxxing” has been elevated to such a sacred level of knee-jerk abhorrence is not out of some virtuous desire to protect the innocent, but entirely to protect the guilty.”

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Criminal investigation of MH17 tragedy – where is it at?

I thought this der Spiegel interview with Fred Westerbeke about the ongoing criminal investigation of the MH17 tragedy could be of interest. Especially as I have been accused of ignoring the “official version” of the incident.

At least this investigator is relatively open-minded – although I am concerned at the time the investigation is taking and the fact that even now they are only “preparing a request for assistance” from the Russian Federation about their radar records, and “remain in contact with the United States to get satellite images.” I would have thought these would be acted on much earlier.

Fred Westerbeke, born in 1962, directs the Dutch public prosecutor, the Department for investigations of terrorism and organized crime at home and abroad. He is coordinating the criminal processing in the MH17 case. As part of a joint investigation Commission (JIT) Malaysia, Australia and the Ukraine are also involved in it.

I have relied on Google Translate so please excuse the inevitable quaintness of the result.

Fred Westerbeke

 Der Spiegel interviews Fred Westerbeke from the Dutch Department for investigations of terrorism and organized crime at home and abroad.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr. Westerbeke, your job as chief prosecutor sounds hardly solvable: MH17 flight was shot down over a civil war zone, even now, three months later, your crime scene investigator for is not available. What gives you hope someday to be able to bring someone to court?

Westerbeke: The Netherlands does not determine in the case so alone. There is a very good cooperation with police and prosecutors, especially in Malaysia, Australia and the Ukraine. BTW, we can gain a lot of experience with similar cases, in connection with the genocide in Rwanda, for example, or with war crimes in Afghanistan. Also there you will find hardly any witnesses, no written documents that could be used as evidence. So As to your question: It is not easy. But we can do it.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In what period of time?

Westerbeke: Look at Lockerbie …

SPIEGEL ONLINE: … the bombing of a Pan Am jumbo in December 1988 with 270 deaths.

Westerbeke: At that time, it took three years before you could name those responsible. I do not mean that it will take a long time just as in MH17 flight, but it takes a long breath. We will certainly need the whole next year for our work, and perhaps even longer.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The Federal Intelligence Service BND assumes that pro-Russian separatists have shot down the machine with a surface to air missile. Recently some German parliamentarians corresponding satellite images were presented. Do you know these recordings?

Westerbeke: Unfortunately, we do not know to what images it involved concrete. The problem is that there are very many different satellite images: Some of them can be found on the Internet, others come from foreign intelligence agencies.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: High-resolution images, for example from US spy satellites could play a crucial role in the investigation of the case. Did you get those shots of the Americans?

Westerbeke: We are not sure if we already have everything, or whether there are more – material that may be even more specific. What we present is certainly not enough to draw any conclusions. We remain in contact with the United States to get satellite images.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The shooting down of flight MH17 is the biggest criminal case in the history of your country, it says. How many investigators are currently working?

Westerbeke: In the Netherlands alone there are ten prosecutors. Three of them coordinate the investigation, two work at the international level. Two more are responsible for the care of relatives. In addition, forensic experts, also around 80 policemen. There are regular meetings with colleagues from Malaysia, Australia and the Ukraine, to divide the work.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Because being fought at the crash site again and again, was so far none of your investigators on site, about to collect debris. But that would be important only to determine the weapon system used. On which tracks you rely instead?

Westerbeke: There are metal fragments that were found in the bodies of the dead and in pieces of luggage. This could be shrapnel from a rocket-Buk, possibly also parts of the aircraft itself. We analyze this, so far there are no results. We also have some witnesses who were on the spot immediately after the crash. In the Internet we spot an immense amount of information, we also various recordings of telephone conversations before, which has recorded the Ukrainian police. Some of it is already available online, but we did get richer material.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: So far, there is no indisputable evidence?

Westerbeke: Yes. If you look in the newspapers, however, it always looks as if quite clear what happened to the aircraft and who is to blame. But if we really want to bring the perpetrators to justice or, we need evidence and more than a recorded phone call from the internet or photos of the crash site. That’s why we not only attract a scenario into consideration, but several.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What are the scenarios?

Westerbeke: first we have drawn four possible explanations considered for the crash of Flight MH17: An accident, a terrorist attack, the shooting down by a surface to air missile or an attack by another aircraft. After the publication of the interim report by the Dutch Security OVV …

SPIEGEL ONLINE: … where the crash is attributed to a variety of fast flying objects that have riddled the outside of the machine …

Westerbeke: … fall off the accident and the terror scenario. The other two remain.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Moscow circulated for some time, the version, the passenger plane had been shot down by a Ukrainian fighter jet. Do you think it possible?

Westerbeke: Based on the available information, the launch is by a ground-to-air missile in my eyes is still the most likely scenario. But we do not close our eyes to the possibility that it might have been different.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In the OVV report states that there were no military jets in the vicinity have been.

Westerbeke: Right. But this statement is based on information that was available at the time the OVV. The question is: Do the Russians possibly more?

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Your Prime Minister Mark Rutte has recently criticized Vladimir Putin because of his lack of support in the MH17 case. What is the role of Russia in the investigation?

Westerbeke: At the moment, no large, since it is not part of the investigation team. We are preparing a request for assistance, in which we ask Moscow to information that could be important for us. Among other things, those radar data with which the Russians wanted to prove the presence of a Ukrainian military jet near MH17 after the crash.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: If you actually draw the participation of the Ukrainian Air Force on firing of flight MH17 into consideration – is it not absurd that Ukraine is involved in the investigation?

Westerbeke: Of course that’s a problem. But we can not determine without them. I want a way to make it clear: We have no evidence that Kiev would not handle completely open with us. You give us all the information we want.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In the eastern Ukraine, the winter is coming. Is there any chance that it still create your investigators this year at the crash site?

Westerbeke: At the moment I do not think the right thing. It is there still very dangerous. Therefore, we work with the OVV on a plan B – if we can not get to the crash site itself, we need the debris just brought here by other means.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Suppose there is actually one day to the process – where would the place?

Westerbeke: With a possible process we now deal not us. We first want to spend all resources to find those responsible for this crime. If you however ask the Netherlands, we would certainly ready to make those suspected of committing the process here.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Unknown have been entered in the case MH17 about a German private investigator $ 30 million bounty. Will you also, launch a reward?

Westerbeke: So something is done more often in complicated cases. But currently we have no intention and it will certainly never go to 30 million. Incidentally, I caution anyone from making transactions with these people: No one knows who they are and what intentions they pursue.

See also:
MH17 prosecutor open to theory another plane shot down airliner: Der Spiegel
MH17 might have been shot down from air – chief Dutch investigator — RT News

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Accidental Renaissance – or intuition?


Saw this photo on the Guardian – see Accidental Renaissance: the photos that look like Italian paintings. The author says:

“Currently doing the rounds on Twitter is the image below, taken from Facebook by artist James Harvey, whose tweet has been shared thousands of times. It depicts one of the fairly frequent brawls in Ukrainian parliament which, while undoubtedly ugly to fans of democracy and national stability, is beautiful on a purely aesthetic level.”

I can appreciate the good composition in the photo even without the description of it’s adherence to the Fibonacci spiral. But I am happy with the description if this sort of photo as a happy accident:

“A court photographer obviously didn’t have the kind of time Michelangelo did to compose his image, but its serendipity makes it even more magical. The hands that swarm in at the edges of the photograph give it a weirdly Renaissance quality too: in those paintings, hands do so much of the emotional heavy lifting – they supplicate, pray, and constantly reach for the divine.”

I think that composition comes naturally to an experienced and good photographer. They might not be consciously thinking about Fionacci spirals or the golden ratio but years of practice helps them recognise good composition and the “right moment” to push the shutter.

Let’s give the photographer some credit and attribute the results to intuition based on years of experience rather than a happy accident or serendipity.