Passive Drinking – and other lucrative alarms
It doesn't actually matter if the original story had any merit. The great GM Food scare was based on research for which Dr Arpad Pusztai was later suspended. His results couldn't be reproduced. The paper on which the MMR vaccine scare was based was eventually withdrawn, and the authors struck off. A perennial example is "alcohol research", which has spawned a significant junk science industry, which plays down the health benefits and exaggerates the dangers [example]. It's used as the basis for policies such as minimum alcohol pricing.
Politicians desire to "do something" offers health and environment researchers an almost unlimited field.
The process was details in John Brignell's explanation of junk science in Sorry, Wrong Number, which describes the corruption of epidemiology. Until 30 years ago, science journals would not publish results indicating a relative risk (RR) ration of under 3.00. An RR of below 3.00 did not indicate sufficient causation. It may be a coincidence. But that iron law was gradually lifted – and epidemiology expanded enormously. One of the examples of publication bias Brignall used to highlight on his Numberwatch blog was "passive drinking". But life overtakes satire: passive drinking is now a clear and present danger.
What took place in climate science falls into this pattern. While in private, the scientists despair of their lack of understanding of the chaotic physics of climate, and are scathing about the quality of temperature reconstructions (for example), they are faced with constant demands from the bureaucracy and the media to tell a convincing story. Groupthink takes over, and evidence to the contrary is shunned, and scientists who advance it ostracised or smeared.
"I can't overstate the HUGE amount of political interest in the project as a message that the Government can give on climate change to help them tell their story. They want the story to be a very strong one and don't want to be made to look foolish," pleads a DEFRA bureaucrat in an email to CRU.
For the system to work properly, each stage – the media, the political class (politicians and their bureaucrats) and the scientists – need to be doing their job properly. The scientists may say they are merely feeding a demand. The media say they're irresponsible if they don't cover every potential alarm – and anyway, who wants to hear good news stories? Politicians are looking for a quick issue to "deal with" (and be seen to be acting decisively). And bureaucrats do what bureaucrats do – find new empires. Perhaps the only difference with climate was the immense amount of funding that's been available.
Just yesterday, a press release dropped into my inbox. The subject line reads "Delivering Sustainable Theatres. The challenge of achieving the triple bottom line" and reports on exciting progress made at the sixth Delivering Sustainable Theatres Conference. I shall spare you the full details – a sample of the prose should suffice ...
What we clearly and urgently need to do now is establish how we take the three pillars of sustainable development – economic, social and environmental – and relate these to a theatre’s ability to sell a unique cultural experience and make sure our theatre buildings have the capacity to deliver what’s needed for today, and into the future.
A small note thanks the seven-year funding commitment from the ERDF, the European Regional Development Fund.
My point is that enormous resources are being devoted to dubious ends – and that this is a systemic failure. Scientists are human beings too, and so plainly capable of human foibles. Demonise the individual and the problem doesn't go away.
Over to you. ®
It's not passive drinking though, is it.
Passive smoking is where you inhale other people's smoke. Passive drinking would be somehow passively ingesting alcohol where people around you are drinking.
The negative effects of alcohol consumption on a developing foetus would be passive drinking, but being hit by a car driven by someone who's over the limit is something else and involves no drinking on the part of the victim.
This is a stupid use of language. Don't encourage it.
Re: The problem doesn't go away
"When the wise man points at the moon, the idiot looks at the finger"
- Chinese proverb.
"“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”
- Joseph Goebbels
Well done, Andrew, for once again having the cheek to criticise today's dominant narrative around AGW - the fact that sceptics are also called 'deniers' is no coincidence in the light of just how religious pro-AGW propaganda has become. But it's so much more than that - it's a dangerous political dogma and an expensive waste of public money - money that could have been used for genuine environmental protection. The Church of AGW has permitted bad people to sneak in under the guise of 'green' and steal public money for illegitimate ends.
I refer El Reg once again to the upcoming COP-17 climate jamboree in Durban, S.A.. Two weeks of taxpayer-funded fun in the sun for politicians and NGOs alike, preaching the catechism of the AGW true believers, helped in their mission by the world's uncritical, ignorant media, eager for more sensational headlines regarding the impending 'climate catastrophe', no doubt headed our way. Will this be another 'two weeks to save the world' moment? I wonder. We've been there before, after all, so many times.
Keep it up, El Reg. Don't be afraid of your critics and keep that delicious sense of the absurd alive and well.