Posts Tagged ‘christopher booker’
The Sunday Telegraph’s latest comment piece from Christopher Booker, downplaying the health risks of white asbestos, is in a similar vein to the 41 other articles that Booker has had published on the subject since 2002.
Booker again repeats his false (and dangerous) claim that white asbestos poses “virtually zero” risk to human health, and his long-debunked assertion that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) once agreed with him on this point.
He claims that concerns about the health risks of white asbestos are based on a “confusion”, which has been “deliberately promoted” by personal injury lawyers and asbestos removal contractors, and that the Health and Safety Executive has latterly been “shamefully conniving with both these rackets”.
The ‘hook’ for the latest article is a ruling from the Advertising Standards Agency, about a series of HSE radio ads highlighting the risks faced by construction and maintenance workers in older buildings where asbestos is still be present. The ads were part of a wider HSE campaign to encourage trades-people to protect themselves adequately when handling asbestos.
Following a complaint from the indefatigable John Bridle, the Advertising Standards Agency had ruled that the advertisements were misleading.
The HSE had suggested that six joiners, six electricians, three plumbers and 20 tradesmen died every week from asbestos-related diseases. After looking at the calculations used to produce these figures, the ASA concluded that the numbers used should instead have been “six joiners, five electricians, three plumbers and 18 other tradesmen” (ie. a total of 32 workman dying each week from asbestos-related illness rather than 35).
The ASA agreed that “it was reasonable for HSE to highlight the death rates for asbestos-related diseases, including those which were based on estimates, to today’s tradesmen. We considered however that the ads should have made clear that they were based on estimates and the claims should have been made in less absolute tones.”
Booker says that Bridle had complained to the ASA that the HSE’s publicity campaign was “wilfully misleading”, and that their estimates about the number of asbestos deaths was “wildly exaggerated”, and that the ASA had upheld all of Bridle’s complaints.
But so far as I can see, the ASA ruling did not conclude the HSE had deliberately set out to mislead people, or that the figures they used were “wildly exaggerated”. And there is certainly nothing in the ruling to support Booker’s conspiracy theory that the Health and Safety Executive had been “putting out advertisements designed to panic the public into falling for the wiles either of the lawyers or of rapacious removal contractors.”
From Liberal Conspiracy
Rejoice, people! Whatever you may’ve read, however many chilling predictions you may have heard, however frequently Al Gore might haunt your dreams, telling you that the world will end in a torrent of fire because YOU don’t use energy-saving lightbulbs, I can promise that all those fears are unfounded. For as people across the world glance at 2009 with such foreboding and dread, Christopher Booker has made the jolly discovery that instead of getting much, much worse, climate change doesn’t actually exist all!
Now, I understand that there’s a great deal of misinformation out there in BlogLand, and since I’m not a scientist (well, neither is he, but he sure seems to know a lot more than ‘real scientists’), I have to make sure that all my sources are of the highest calibre. So I did whatever any forensic time-deprived blogger would do, and checked him out on Wikipedia. Without further ado, and just to show how seriously you should take his scientific acumen, here are some of Booker’s greatest hits…
“Misinformed”, “substantially misleading” and “absurd” – the UK government’s verdict on Christopher Booker’s claims
The Sunday Telegraph columnist Christopher Booker has been taking some flack this week over his latest bogus claims on global warming. This in turn has triggered renewed scrutiny of Booker’s denialism on other issues – particularly his assertions about white asbestos, which I examine in “Don’t Get Fooled Again”.
I thought it might be useful to collate some of the responses to Booker’s articles over the years from the UK government’s Health and Safety Executive. Most are letters to the editor, correcting false statements that Booker has made about the HSE and its work. Only the first appears to have been accepted by the Sunday Telegraph for publication – the newspaper usually refuses to print letters which contradict Booker’s bogus claims.
Christopher Booker’s articles on the dangers of white asbestos (Notebook, Jan 13, 27, Feb 10) are misinformed and do little to increase public understanding of a very important occupational health issue.
–Timothy Walker, Director General, Health & Safety Executive, February 2002
The articles in the Sunday Telegraph by Christopher Booker entitled “Fatal cracks appear in asbestos scam as HSE shifts its ground” and “Booker wins asbestos battle” (11 December) highlighted aspects of the current Health and Safety Commission consultation on changes to the asbestos regulations.
While we welcome the emphasis in the articles on evidence-based policy making, I need to correct a comment about our views. While risks from white asbestos may be significantly lower than the risks from blue or brown, HSE does not agree that white asbestos poses no medical risk.
-Jonathan Rees, Deputy Chief Executive, Health and Safety Executive, December 2005
The Health and Safety Laboratory’s research does not confirm that white asbestos in textured coatings poses “no health risk” (Christopher Booker, 6 August). In its report for the Health and Safety Executive, the Laboratory found rather that the level of asbestos fibres in the air from work with textured coatings will not exceed the proposed new lower control limit when carried out using good practice.
Chrysotile asbestos, as found in many textured coatings, is classified as a category 1 carcinogen hazardous by inhalation by both the World Health Organisation and the EU.
-Geoffrey Podger, Chief Executive, Health and Safety Executive, August 2006
HSE does not exaggerate the risks of white asbestos cement fibres as claimed by Christopher Booker (Farmers face £6 bn bill for asbestos clean up’ 25 May). The article was substantially misleading…
The HSE paper quoted in the article in fact makes no specific statement about the risks of asbestos cement. It provides a summary of risk estimates for mesothelioma and lung cancer in relation to blue, brown and white asbestos across a range of exposures. Blue and brown asbestos are substantially more hazardous than white, but all three types can cause mesothelioma and lung cancer.
Finally, HSE in no way promotes the interests of the asbestos removal industry and it is absurd to suggest otherwise.
-Geoffrey Podger, Chief Executive, Health and Safety Executive, May 2008
From “Way of the Woo”:
Did you hear NASA announced that last month was the hottest October on record? No? How about now:
The world has never seen such freezing heat
On Monday, Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), which is run by Al Gore’s chief scientific ally, Dr James Hansen, and is one of four bodies responsible for monitoring global temperatures, announced that last month was the hottest October on record.
That was from the opinion pages of The Telegraph, “Britain’s No. 1 quality newspaper website”. The Investor’s Business Daily says in their Editorial/Opinion section:
Cold, Hard Facts
Despite record snows and low temperatures around the world last month, a major Al Gore supporter says October was the hottest on record.
And Barbara Sowell of the Digital Journal piles on:
Another Dagger in the Heart of Global Warming Advocacy
When GISS made the announcement last week it was shocking. All over the world were reports of unseasonal cold temperatures and record snowfalls. Even the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration registered 115 lowest-ever temperatures for the month of October.
Were you shocked by last week’s announcement? NASA announcing that “October was the hottest on record” is certainly a headline grabber and I have to admit that I was shocked…shocked that my Google newsfeed didn’t pick up on this story. I checked the major news outlets…ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, FOX, etc. I was shocked to find that none of them carried any mention last week of this historical data point in the Global Warming timeline. Of these, only FOX news has posted a quick paragraph on the matter by Britt Hume:
In Hot Water
Last week, NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies — one of the four bodies responsible for monitoring global temperatures used by the United Nations — announced last month was the hottest October on record. That was because the institute’s maps showed a 10-degree increase across parts of Russia.
So why didn’t responsible news organizations write a story about NASA’s announcement? You’re not going to believe this but there was no announcement. Christopher Booker, who wrote the original Telegraph article, made it up. Call it a lie, a fantasy, or Booker’s dream story…but it never happened. What did happen was that NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) posted an erroneous data point in their monthly tabulation of global temperature data. A glitch or a program error (or whatever) caused large sections of Russian temperature data from September to be carried over into October. That is, their particular data was duplicated, causing the overall global average temperature to be artificially high. The new data point would suggest that last October was indeed the hottest October on record.
NASA did not issue a press release, did not hold a press conference, did not send out news bulletins…they did not even so much as attempt any kind of ballyhoo around this new figure. Understand that James Hansen would practically drool over such a figure because it would, in the midst of our current economic turmoil and the transition of government power, bring the topic of manmade Global Warming back to the fore.
There’s no radio show quite like Little Atoms, which broadcasts on Resonance FM from a small studio near London’s Borough Market. In the last few years Neil Denny has interviewed an impressive line-up of leading sceptical thinkers, from Francis Wheen and Alain de Botton to Ben Goldacre, Julian Baggini, Jon Ronson and Stewart Lee.
It was an honour to be on the show, and a pleasure chatting to Neil about Don’t Get Fooled Again, discussing the weird cult of AIDS denial (148 comments on my New Statesman article and counting, with the debate still raging three weeks after it was published), the extraordinary Booker-Bridle asbestos love-in, and lots more besides. The interview should be available online in the next few days, so I’ll post the link when it appears.
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…
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 –
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,
4. C. Booker, ‘Substance abuse’, Sunday Telegraph, 3 March 2002,
5. C. Booker, ‘Asbestos claims on trial’, Sunday Telegraph, 21 April 2002,
6. C. Booker, ‘Asbestos scare costs homeowners millions’, Sunday Telegraph, 19 May 2002,
7. C. Booker, ‘Scaremongers cost industry billions’, Sunday Telegraph, 30 June 2002,
8. C. Booker, ‘No ceiling to the asbestos scam’, Sunday Telegraph, 18 August 2002,
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,
11. C. Booker, ‘The $350bn scam’, Sunday Telegraph, 15 September 2002,
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,
15. C. Booker, ‘Smallholders lumbered with petty regulation’, Sunday Telegraph, 17 November 2002,
16. C. Booker, ‘HSE blunders in new law’, Sunday Telegraph, 7 December 2002,
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,
19. C. Booker, ‘The BBC helps to sex up the asbestos threat’, Sunday Telegraph, 1 February 2004,
20. C. Booker, ‘Let’s not spend £8bn to get rid of this stuff ’, Sunday Telegraph, 16 May 2004,
21. C. Booker, ‘Keep the asbestos hysteria flying’, Sunday Telegraph, 23 May 2004,
22. C. Booker, ‘EC offices get a clean bill of health – for £1bn’, Sunday Telegraph, 8 August 2004,
23. C. Booker, ‘HSE has second thoughts on asbestos rip-off ’, Sunday Telegraph, 13 November 2004,
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,
26. C. Booker, ‘Fatal cracks appear in asbestos scam as HSE shifts its ground’, Sunday Telegraph, 11 December 2005,
27. C. Booker, ‘No, Winifred, the “asbestos in the organ” scam is not “very rare”’, Sunday Telegraph, 15 January 2006,
28. C. Booker, ‘Environment Agency shows its asbestos ignorance’, Sunday Telegraph, 5 February 2006,
29. C. Booker, ‘The bizarre death-by-drawing-pin scare’, Sunday Telegraph, 9 April 2006,
30. C. Booker, ‘The Environment Agency turns a livelihood to rubble’, Sunday Telegraph, 16 April 2006,
31. C. Booker, ‘The asbestos sting goes on’, Sunday Telegraph, 25 June 2006,
32. C. Booker, ‘When we are dead and buried we will be hazardous waste’, Sunday Telegraph, 16 July 2006,
33. C. Booker, ‘Great asbestos scam faces a revenue loss of £½bn a year’, Sunday Telegraph, 6 August 2006,
34. C. Booker, ‘The BBC falls for the asbestos scam’, Sunday Telegraph, 15 October 2006,
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,
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
While I was writing “Don’t Get Fooled Again” I came across numerous examples of pseudo-science being disseminated via the net, from the poisonous theories of the AIDS denialists to the clumsy corporate quackery of the industry-funded Chrysotile Institute.
Following the recent scare stories about the CERN project and the MMR vaccine, Tim Berners-Lee, the man often credited with inventing the World Wide Web, has raised concerns over the extent to which unsubstantiated claims about science are often disseminated online. Berners-Lee suggests that we should consider some kind of ratings system (or systems) to give a public measure of the reliability of the multitude of online sources.
Having waded through page after page of the eloquently-worded online nonsense scattered across the net over the last year – and read some of the stories of those who have been persuaded on the basis of a pseudo-scientific conspiracy theory to stop taking medicines that could have saved their lives, it’s easy to agree that there is a very serious issue here.
But I’m not sure that formal ratings systems will really help. Pseudo-scientists like the AIDS denialist Peter Duesberg already claim that their exclusion from the mainstream media, and their failure to get published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, is evidence of the ‘conspiracy of silence’ ranged against him. If some sort of ‘reliability rating’ system is introduced, the conspiracy theorists will simply say the same thing about the fact that their website has been refused a rating (or given a very low one). It seems unlikely that the kind of person who would be taken in by conspiracist claims about peer review and the mainstream media is going to be immune to similarly paranoid arguments about ‘reliability ratings’. Setting up a formal system is just going to give the conspiracy theorists something else to get paranoid about.
It also seems to me that increasing numbers of people are now figuring out for themselves how to gauge the reliability of what they see and read online, and that a more effective way of combatting web tomfoolery might simply be to promote some basic ‘rules of thumb’, drawn from experience, which web users can then apply in their own way.
A further point is that by focussing solely on the dangers of nonsense being spread in the online media, we risk letting established media sources off the hook, when complacency in this area is equally dangerous. In “Don’t Get Fooled Again” I found many cases of mainstream journalists being comprehensively duped by dangerous pseudo-scientific ideas – from the bamboozling of the Sunday Times journalist Neville Hodgkinson and the Sunday Telegraph commentator Christopher Booker, to the PR deceptions of the tobacco industry during the 1960s and 1970s.