Posts Tagged ‘chrysotile’
“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
The Daily Mirror has picked up on a story that’s been doing the rounds in Rochdale for a while – the revelations about dubious links between the veteran Liberal MP (now retired) Cyril Smith and the asbestos manufacturer, Turner and Newall. Documents recently obtained by local campaigners show that during the early 1980s, as public health concerns over asbestos grew, Smith wrote to the company – whose factory was based in his constituency – asking them to write him a speech which he would then read out in Parliament, passing it off as his own independent view. In the speech, Smith claimed that “the public at large is not at risk”, but failed to reveal that he was simply parroting the industry’s line. The following year it was disclosed that Smith owned 1,300 shares in Turner and Newall. Smith was unrepentant when questioned recently about the case by the Mirror: “Of course the speech was extremely useful to me because it made it sound as if I could speak intelligently on a subject I knew little about”.
In his 41st article on the subject, Booker accuses the BBC of “moral corruption” for highlighting the health risks of asbestos
Earlier this week the BBC’s Today Programme reported a rise in the number of teachers, doctors and nurses dying from the incurable cancer mesothelioma, having been exposed to asbestos in schools and hospitals. The programme highlighted the case of Mary Artherton, a former nurse who had been diagnosed with the disease after working in three hospitals where asbestos was present.
“I was absolutely horrified when I heard the news”, she told the BBC. “I’d nursed people with mesothelioma in the past. I know the prognosis was very poor and it just frightened me, completely.”
The BBC had previously highlighted a new campaign by the Health and Safety Executive to raise awareness of the risks of asbestos exposure among plumbers, electricians and other tradespeople:
The HSE says research suggests exposure kills on average six electricians, three plumbers and six joiners every week and it fears those numbers could grow in the future because of complacency.
It believes only one in 10 current tradesmen recognises the danger and is launching a campaign to raise awareness.
The HSE’s new campaign was also publicised by the UK’s largest cancer charity, Cancer Research UK:
When a person comes into contact with asbestos, they breathe in tiny fibres of the substance and these can irritate and damage the cells lining the lung. Up to 80 per cent of people diagnosed with mesothelioma have been in contact with asbestos, and the risk is greatest among tradesmen who can be exposed to the substance at work. According to the HSE, at least 4,000 people die as a result of asbestos every year. But scientists believe this rate could rise, since people who have been exposed usually do not develop mesothelioma for between 15 and 40 years. The organisation’s new campaign, ‘Asbestos: The hidden killer’, is designed to improve awareness among tradesmen, many of whom underestimate the risk that asbestos still poses despite the ban.
In response to the BBC’s coverage, the Sunday Telegraph columnist Christopher Booker has written his 41st article misrepresenting the science around asbestos, and accusing the BBC of “moral corruption” for highlighting the health risks of asbestos exposure:
Last week, the BBC was again publicising the latest scare over asbestos, launched by the Health and Safety Executive and supported by all those who stand to benefit by it, from asbestos removal contractors to ambulance-chasing lawyers (and the trade unions which get £250 for every referral to solicitors specialising in compensation claims).
In the article, Booker also repeats his false claim that the HSE had previously described the risks of white asbestos cement as “insignificant or zero”.
In previous articles he has repeatedly misrepresented one paper by two HSE statisticians, Hodgson and Darnton, which he says drew such a conclusion. The editor of the journal which published that study recently commented here that:
“The paper does not say that the risks from asbestos cement are probably insignificant – it uses this phrase for the chrysotile risks at the lowest exposures. At higher (but still low) exposures, the authors gave estimates of lung cancer risk about 30-40 times lower than those from crocidolite, and did not regard this as insignificant..
The 500 times difference… may apply to the relative risk of mesothelioma, a much less important disease than lung cancer in chrysotile exposure…”
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.