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Archive for September 2008

George Monbiot endorses “Don’t Get Fooled Again”

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I’m delighted that “Don’t Get Fooled Again” has been given a generous endorsement by the Guardian columnist and campaigner George Monbiot: “This is an exceptional book: rigorous, witty and beautifully-written. If you want to know how the world works, you must read it.”

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Written by Richard Wilson

September 30, 2008 at 12:01 pm

“Don’t Get Fooled Again” reviewed in the Hindustan Times

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From Kushalrani Gulab in the Hindustan Times

Looking at “the myriad ways we can deceive ourselves — and be deceived by others,” the book begins by telling us briefly that we’re usually predisposed to having an idealised view of ourselves and everything that makes up our identities, and then gets into some seriously scary stuff. Stuff like how so many of us delude ourselves into taking people in authority — whether government types, politicians, business people, scientists and ‘experts’ or the media — so seriously that we don’t bother to cross-check, investigate or question what they (or frankly, even what we ourselves) say or do.

Now that we’re dealing with some hardcore terrorism and communalism problems in India, I was particularly gripped by the chapter titled ‘Heroes and Villains’. This uses the example of the US treatment of captured Iraqis in Abu Ghraib to show how easy it is for people to be so single-minded in their zeal to ‘punish evil’ that all rules of humanity go flying. While there’s nothing I’d like better than to have terrorists and communalists caught, tried and punished — and I have to say, the crackdowns do seem justified — I’ve been troubled by the raids on Muslim localities, the controversial Nanavati Report and the fact that, despite assurances from the Centre and the state governments, not much seems to have been accomplished in tracking down the people responsible for the recent violence against Christians, even though the Bajrang Dal has been indicted.

Don’t Get Fooled Again can be ordered with free delivery worldwide from the Book Depository.

Written by Richard Wilson

September 30, 2008 at 5:37 am

Stephen Colbert on “truthiness”…

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“That’s where the truth lies – right down here in the gut. Do you know you have more nerve endings in your gut than you have in your head? You can look it up.

Now, I know some of you are going to say, ‘I did look it up, and that’s not true.’ That’s ’cause you looked it up in a book. Next time, look it up in your gut. I did. My gut tells me that’s how our nervous system works.” 

– Stephen Colbert, White House Correspondents Association dinner, April 2006

Written by Richard Wilson

September 28, 2008 at 6:57 pm

Peter Eichstaedt on the international community’s naive dealings with Uganda’s LRA rebels

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From the Institute of War and Peace Reporting.

Someone defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

It’s an accurate description of the continuing situation with Joseph Kony, the leader of the Ugandan rebel Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, currently holed up in the northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC.

As he has in the past, Kony continues to play humiliating games with negotiators seeking a final end to northern Uganda’s brutal 20-year war with the LRA.

He, or his so-called spokesman David Matsanga, repeatedly announce that Kony plans to sign a permanent peace agreement, and even go so far as to set dates. Negotiators scramble to an agreed rendezvous point in the jungle – but Kony never shows.

This is followed by public grumblings from the negotiators, who vow never again to be fooled.

But that “never again” lasts only a few weeks. Kony then calls someone like United Nations Special Envoy Joachim Chissano or talks mediator Riek Machar, the vice president of South Sudan, or dials up Mega FM in Gulu or Radio France International, and rambles on about how much he wants peace.

This inevitably draws yet another delegation to the jungles and which again is left sitting alone and waiting.

Kony undoubtedly enjoys this because of the ease with which he can get away with it. He clearly does not want peace.

Written by Richard Wilson

September 24, 2008 at 8:55 pm

Booker’s false claims (42 articles and counting) downplaying the risks of white asbestos

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UPDATE – When I originally wrote this blog post I knew of 38 articles by Booker on this subject. He’s done at least 4 more since, bringing the total now to 42 and counting…

Poll: Is it right for the Sunday Telegraph to mislead the British public about the health risks of asbestos?

So what can you say about a man who makes the same mistake 38 times? Who, when confronted by a mountain of evidence demonstrating that his informant is a charlatan convicted under the Trade Descriptions Act, continues to repeat his claims? Who elevates the untested claims of bloggers above peer-reviewed papers? Who sticks to his path through a blizzard of facts? What should we deduce about the Sunday Telegraph’s columnist Christopher Booker? – George Monbiot, Guardian

In “Don’t Get Fooled Again” I highlight the false claims made by Christopher Booker in downplaying the health risks of white asbestos.

I thought it might be useful to post a comprehensive list of those articles here. My particular favourite is the frankly surreal (and yes, false) claim that white asbestos is “chemically identical to talcum powder”, which even made it into a Parliamentary question back in 2002. The claim was later regurgitated in this industry press release, and repeated again on John Bridle’s website here.

Striking, too is Booker’s frequent repetition of the asbestos industry’s non-denial-denial that their product poses “no measurable risk to health”.

See also Miningwatch: “Refuting Industry Claims That Chrysotile Asbestos Is Safe” and the HSE: “HSE confirms white asbestos remains a threat”.

1. C. Booker, ‘Billions to be spent on nonexistent risk’, Sunday Telegraph, 13 January 2002 –
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1381270/Christopher-Bookers-Notebook.html
2. C. Booker, ‘“Unnecessary” asbestos bill will top £8bn’, Telegraph, 27 January 2002, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/1382802/Christopher-Bookers-Notebook.html
3. C. Booker, ‘The great asbestos cull begins’, Sunday Telegraph,
10 February 2002,
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1384329/Christopher-Bookers-Notebook.html
4. C. Booker, ‘Substance abuse’, Sunday Telegraph, 3 March 2002,
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1386576/Christopher-Bookers-Notebook.html
5. C. Booker, ‘Asbestos claims on trial’, Sunday Telegraph, 21 April 2002,
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1391639/Christopher-Bookers-Notebook.html
6. C. Booker, ‘Asbestos scare costs homeowners millions’, Sunday Telegraph, 19 May 2002,
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1394644/Christopher-Bookers-Notebook.html
7. C. Booker, ‘Scaremongers cost industry billions’, Sunday Telegraph, 30 June 2002,
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1398805/Christopher-Bookers-Notebook.html
8. C. Booker, ‘No ceiling to the asbestos scam’, Sunday Telegraph, 18 August 2002,
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1404693/Christopher-Booker-Notebook.html
9. C. Booker, ‘Tories challenge “sneaky” asbestos legislation’, Sunday Telegraph, 25 August 2002, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1405310/Christopher-Bookers-Notebook.html
10. C. Booker, ‘Our costliest law must wait’, Sunday Telegraph, 8 September 2002,
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1406611/Christopher-Bookers-notebook.html
11. C. Booker, ‘The $350bn scam’, Sunday Telegraph, 15 September 2002,
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1407234/Christopher-Bookers-Notebook.html
12. C. Booker, ‘We put the brake on the costliest law in British history’, Sunday Telegraph, 20 October 2002, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1410696/Christopher-Bookers-Notebook.html
13. C. Booker, ‘Commons drubbing fails to stop our costliest statute’, Sunday Telegraph, 27 October 2002, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1411381/Christopher-Bookers-Notebook.html
14. C. Booker, ‘A blast from Burchill’, Sunday Telegraph, 10 November 2002,
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/1412709/Christopher-Bookers-Notebook.html
15. C. Booker, ‘Smallholders lumbered with petty regulation’, Sunday Telegraph, 17 November 2002,
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1413403/Christopher-Bookers-Notebook.html
16. C. Booker, ‘HSE blunders in new law’, Sunday Telegraph, 7 December 2002,
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1415521/Christopher-Bookers-Notebook.html
17. C. Booker, ‘How much longer will the HSE tolerate this racket?’, Sunday Telegraph, 16 February 2003, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1422214/Christopher-Bookers-Notebook.html
18. C. Booker, ‘Home “written off” in mix-up over asbestos’, Sunday Telegraph, 9 November 2003,
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1446248/Christopher-Bookers-notebook.html
19. C. Booker, ‘The BBC helps to sex up the asbestos threat’, Sunday Telegraph, 1 February 2004,
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1453151/Christopher-Bookers-notebook.html
20. C. Booker, ‘Let’s not spend £8bn to get rid of this stuff ’, Sunday Telegraph, 16 May 2004,
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1461994/Christopher-Bookers-Notebook.html
21. C. Booker, ‘Keep the asbestos hysteria flying’, Sunday Telegraph, 23 May 2004,
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/1462582/Christopher-Bookers-Notebook.html
22. C. Booker, ‘EC offices get a clean bill of health – for £1bn’, Sunday Telegraph, 8 August 2004,
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/1468894/Christopher-Bookers-notebook.html
23. C. Booker, ‘HSE has second thoughts on asbestos rip-off ’, Sunday Telegraph, 13 November 2004,
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1476559/Notebook.html
24. C. Booker, ‘“Frivolous asbestos claims” are a serious matter for Names’, Sunday Telegraph, 20 February 2005 – no longer
available on the Telegraph’s website at the time of writing. A pay-for-view version is archived here: http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P2-8928598.html
25. C. Brooker, ‘A dangerous level of asbestos inexpertise’, Sunday Telegraph, 10 October 2005,
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1499690/Christopher-Bookers-notebook.html
26. C. Booker, ‘Fatal cracks appear in asbestos scam as HSE shifts its ground’, Sunday Telegraph, 11 December 2005,
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1505199/Christopher-Bookers-notebook.html
27. C. Booker, ‘No, Winifred, the “asbestos in the organ” scam is not “very rare”’, Sunday Telegraph, 15 January 2006,
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1507831/Christopher-Bookers-notebook.html
28. C. Booker, ‘Environment Agency shows its asbestos ignorance’, Sunday Telegraph, 5 February 2006,
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1509655/Christopher-Booker’s-notebook.html
29. C. Booker, ‘The bizarre death-by-drawing-pin scare’, Sunday Telegraph, 9 April 2006,
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1515200/Christopher-Bookers-notebook.html
30. C. Booker, ‘The Environment Agency turns a livelihood to rubble’, Sunday Telegraph, 16 April 2006,
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1515856/Christopher-Bookers-notebook.html
31. C. Booker, ‘The asbestos sting goes on’, Sunday Telegraph, 25 June 2006,
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1522213/Christopher-Bookers-notebook.html
32. C. Booker, ‘When we are dead and buried we will be hazardous waste’, Sunday Telegraph, 16 July 2006,
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1524033/Christopher-Bookers-notebook.html
33. C. Booker, ‘Great asbestos scam faces a revenue loss of £½bn a year’, Sunday Telegraph, 6 August 2006,
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/1525683/Christopher-Bookers-notebook.html
34. C. Booker, ‘The BBC falls for the asbestos scam’, Sunday Telegraph, 15 October 2006,
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1531446/Christopher-Bookers-Notebook.html
35. C. Booker, ‘Why would the BBC have a go at the asbestos watchdog?’, Sunday Telegraph, 21 October 2006, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1532048/Christopher-Bookers-Notebook.html
36. C. Booker, ‘BBC bites watchdog again’, Sunday Telegraph, 2 December 2006,
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1535834/EU-orders-anend-to-the-Spanish-acquisition.html
37. C. Booker, ‘Asbestos – The most expensive word in history’ – Daily Telegraph, 6 November 2007 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/main.jhtml?xml=/earth/2007/11/06/eaasbes106.xml
38. C. Booker, ‘Farmers face £6bn bill for asbestos clean-up’, Sunday Telegraph, 25 May 2008 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2008/05/25/do2502.xml

UPDATE – here are a few more:

39. C. Booker, ‘The great moonbat is the one who’s spreading “misinformation” about asbestos’, Sunday Telegraph, 28 September 2008 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/christopherbooker/3562445/Carbon-capture-is-not-here-yet.html

40. C. Booker,  ‘White asbestos proved fatal for their livelihood”, Sunday Telegraph, 19 October 2008 http://findarticles.com/p/news-articles/sunday-telegraph-the-london-uk/mi_8064/is_20081019/white-asbestos-proved-fatal-livelihood/ai_n46519650/

41. C. Booker, ‘The BBC keeps the asbestos scare flying’, Sunday Telegraph, 2 November 2008, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/christopherbooker/3563191/Climate-Change-Bill-makes-chilling-reading.html

42. C. Booker, ‘The Great Asbestos Hysteria’, Daily Mail, 23 February 2010 http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1253022/The-Great-Asbestos-Hysteria-How-man-claims-BBC-profiteering-firms-politicians-grossly-exaggerated-dangers.html

Attack of the AIDS denialists…

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My recent piece on “bogus sceptics” in the New Statesman drew some impressively prompt brickbats from the AIDS denial 24-hour rapid response unit. I particularly liked this one:

Do yourself a favor, before you insert your foot in your mouth again. Richard, check out the blog of a professor who investigates pseudoscience, who recently FULLY researched hiv/aids and found himself fully in agreement with Dr. Duesberg, at hivskeptic.wordpress.com.

Or read Professor Duesberg’s books.

You will find upon your own research that the years of high death said to be due to hiv are the EXACT YEARS of high dosage AZT.

You will find that NO test finds verified HIV.

You will find that the HIV tests are proven to often go off with 70 different PROVEN factors.

You will find that there is NO proof that HIV is the cause of AIDS.

You will find that the leading cause of death in HIV positives in the west, is and always has been in those who take the HIV drugs.

No fool like an old fool, Richard. Surely you are not too old to learn something new! And being an obviously closed minded dogmatist yourself, perhaps it is time to come out of your little eggshell and wake up and smell the coffee, and at least admit that you are far from being any kind of a knowledgeable purveyor of truth yourself.

I’ve done my best to respond on the article itself, but I thought it might also be useful to post a link here to one of the most comprehensive summaries I’ve seen of the evidence linking HIV and AIDS, from the US National Institute of Health.

Julian Baggini on the need for more scepticism…

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From The Herald

Getting more clued up requires understanding why it is we are so frequently fooled. To do this, we need to learn not only about faulty logic, but our psychological weaknesses. For example, we tend to be too impressed by the mere volume of evidence marshalled in support of a case. But no amount of bad evidence adds up to good evidence. Nor should we forget that the size of even a good dossier of evidence can only be judged to be impressive or insufficient when it is compared to the size and contents of the dossier against.

There are signs that people are already equipping themselves to cope with the information tsunami. Between starting to write my own contribution – a book on bad arguments and rhetoric – and it coming out, I’ve noticed other books have also appeared with similar agendas, such as Damian Thompson’s Counterknowledge and Richard Wilson’s Don’t Be Fooled Again.

I’m hopeful that the information overload might be provoking a long-overdue upgrading of the general population’s capacity to distinguish for itself between good and bad arguments. Rather than blaming the internet, we need to attribute responsibility to the right place, which is with people who dish out the falsehoods in the first place, and ourselves for swallowing them too easily.

Julian Baggini‘s latest book is The Duck that Won the Lottery and 99 Other Bad Arguments (Granta).

Written by Richard Wilson

September 20, 2008 at 1:01 am