Sokal – the hoaxer who made a serious point – speaks at UCL

February 24, 2014 at 6:51 pm (academe, intellectuals, Jim D, left, philosophy, relativism, satire, science, socialism, spoofs, truth)

postmodernism_foot_on_neck

Do you remember the so-called ‘Sokal hoax’? For those who don’t (or whose memories have faded), here’s a good article explaining what happened and why it was – and still is – of significance. I say “still is” because of the recent nonsense on sections of the UK left concerning “intersectionality” and the like.

Anyway, Alan Sokal spoke at a packed Left Forum meeting in UCL on 12th February – here’s the recording:

http://leftforum.podomatic.com/entry/2014-02-12T08_46_15-08_00

The sound quality’s not great (especially when it comes to contributions and questions from the audience), but Sokal’s opening talk is easy to follow, and well worth listening to.

I think it’s particularly important to note that Sokal describes himself as “an unabashed old leftist who never quite understood how ‘deconstruction’ helps the working class.”

Well done to Omar and the other comrades at UCL for pulling this off!

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Rational, critical thought from QualiaSoup

November 6, 2013 at 8:23 am (Art and design, atheism, cyberspace, Jim D, philosophy, relativism, religion, science, secularism)

Ive only just discovered QualiaSoup, an artist and thinker whose YouTube videos present the case for rational, critical thinking and the scientific method. It’s excellent stuff, that anyone with religious hang-ups, belief in the “supernatural,” tolerance of backward ideas in the interests of “open-mindedness” and indeed quite a few people who consider themselves “Marxists,” would do well to watch and ponder. Here’s an example:

P.S: It transpires that QualiaSoup has a brother, TheraminTrees (!)

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Nuclear power: yes! This deal: no!

October 21, 2013 at 8:40 pm (economics, environment, green, Jim D, nuclear power, science, strange situations, Tory scum)

The environmentalist George Monbiot tweeted today:

Yes, I support #nuclear power, in general. But the economics of the #Hinkley deal are simply bonkers. Appalling value for money.

nuclear power symbol

Monbiot is right on both points: nuclear power must play a part in any serious UK energy plan, taking account of environmental concerns and climate change. But he’s also correct that this deal is “bonkers” – and not just because of the price guarantee/subsidy being gifted to EDF and the two Chinese companies that will deliver the new reactors: it’s simply bizarre that the privatisation-obsessed Tories are, in effect, handing the UK’s nuclear energy industry over to state-owned concerns in France and China.

The Observer‘s Will Hutton adds a further note of concern:

“This is a breathtaking step in an industry where the sensitivities over operating safety, technical efficiency and waste disposal are so acute. Fukushima, Three Mile Island and Chernobyl are remembered around the world. Chinese state-owned companies are a byword, not least in China, for inefficiency, loss-making and politicisation of decision-making. The party has wrestled for a generation with the reality that these companies, designed by Mao to embody the communist dream of uniting economic and social obligations, abolishing worker exploitation and spearheading modernisation, are sclerotic economic duds.”

Nevertheless, the traditional “left” stance against nuclear power (in reality, based upon Stalinist cold war anti-nuclear weapons concerns) is clearly outmoded, and must be dispensed with.

We have, in large part, George Monbiot to thank for forcing at least some in the environmental movement, and on the rational left, to rethink their old prejudices against nuclear power.

Les Hearn, writing for the AWL’s paper Solidarity in 2011, takes a similar position:

Why I support nuclear power as one of a range of alternatives to fossil fuels

Back in the 70s, like many on the left, I was alarmed by what seemed to be the cover-up of the risks of nuclear power in the 50s and 60s. The indiscriminate power of nuclear weapons to kill in large numbers also marked many on the left with a fear of nuclear energy. But, as Maynard Keynes put it, “when the facts change, I change my mind”.

We only have one planet and it is overwhelmingly likely that “we” (or greedy capitalists, if you like) are altering its climate for the worse by returning carbon dioxide to the atmosphere a million times faster than it was originally locked away in fossil fuels. And, despite attempts to reduce carbon emissions, these are actually rising … by over 5% last year, from 29.0 to 30.6 gigatonnes (Gt or billion tonnes).

And, of the 13.7 Gt released by electricity generation, 11.2 Gt is “fixed” for the foreseeable future, since it will come from existing or planned fossil fuel power stations that will be operating in 2020.

The closure or cancellation of nuclear power stations makes this much worse, since these are the main proven alternative source of electricity. Countries which have reacted to recent scares, rather than evidence, include Japan, Germany, Malaysia, Thailand, Italy and Switzerland.

Truthfully, the potential risks of radiation are massively exaggerated by anti-nuclear groups in comparison with the actual risks of the fossil fuel industry to workers and the public. In particular, the environmental risks of radiation are minimal — wildlife is flourishing in the exclusion zone round Chernobyl and, as James Lovelock has pointed out, in the atom bomb test sites in the Pacific.

Furthermore, the difficulties of replacing nuclear power, let alone the whole fossil fuel industry, with renewables are minimised (see my article in Solidarity 203, 11 May).

It is said (by Theo Simon, Letters, Solidarity 204, 18 May —http://bit.ly/k8WOD9) that “nuclear power demands high security and central control”, as if these were necessarily bad.

Central control would anyway be needed to construct tens of thousands of wind turbines, on- and offshore, and the new supergrid of thousands of kilometres which would be needed to get the electricity to the cities. Already, proposals to introduce new systems of pylons have provoked mass protests in Wales, Scotland, Somerset and the West Midlands. And putting cables underground would be ten times more expensive.

Apparently, I fail “to question the projected ‘energy gap’ which is being used to justify nuclear power expansion”. The argument goes that, if the most wide-ranging programme of insulation and energy conservation is undertaken world-wide (the like of which has never been seen), then the electricity generated by nuclear power would not be needed. As the Spartans once said in a different context, if!

Once again, let’s look at the reality of nuclear power. The worst accident of all time, Chernobyl, has killed 43 people. This was due to the criminal negligence of the USSR police state. 28 workers were fatally irradiated while bringing the reactor under control. 15 young people died of thyroid cancer, entirely avoidable had the bureaucrats issued potassium iodide tablets (as was done promptly in Japan recently). Other estimates of potential deaths range from 9,000 to 900,000 but even the lowest of these seems to be way too high. So far, no other deaths have been proved to be due to the Chernobyl disaster.

As Wade Allison (author of Radiation and Reason) states, the ability of living tissue to repair radiation damage has been wildly underestimated. In radiation treatment of cancers, healthy tissues receive up to five times the fatal dose of radiation but spread over several weeks, during which time they efficiently repair the damage.

Many accidents have occurred in nuclear power plants. In those resulting in radiation leaks, there have been … no deaths or even injuries among the public. A few workers have died, usually because they were close to the incident. Otherwise, nuclear workers are healthier than the general population. A 2% increased risk of cancers linked to radiation is dwarfed by a 24% decreased risk of death from other cancers, according to a Canadian study. It also found that nuclear workers lived longer than average. And this under capitalism!

I am accused of listing the objections to nuclear power but not attempting to answer many of them. In particular, in the areas of waste disposal, plant safety and cost, I fail to “see the reality of nuclear power within the context of a global capitalist economy”. Trading content-free accusations, I might accuse others of failing to see the reality of renewable energy within the context etc. etc.

Of course, I did deal with plant safety and waste disposal. A recent Physics World (May 2011) shows that more modern designs would have survived both the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. These include better back-up generators and containment for molten fuel in case of a meltdown, and passive (i.e. not depending on a power supply) emergency cooling operated by gas pressure or gravity. In fact, modifications to the Fukushima model to reduce radiation leaks in case of an accident were proposed by scientists 30 years ago but rejected as too expensive. Meanwhile, other similar power plants survived the earthquake and tsunami undamaged.

On radioactive waste, I said that deep storage in stable strata was perfectly plausible. Reprocessing would reduce the amount and feed back fuel to nuclear plants. The relevance of the “global capitalist economy” to this is not clear, except that they won’t pay for it. In any case, the danger of waste has been greatly overstated. Five metres of concrete would absorb all the radiation from anything. Wade Allison “would be perfectly happy” to have high-level waste buried 100 metres below his house, while James Lovelock has “offered to take the full output of a nuclear power station in my back yard.”

Alternatives to fossil fuels consist of two proven technologies, nuclear and hydroelectric power (HEP), a host of promising but unproven ones, and the mirage (at present) of a vast reduction in energy demand.

All have environmental and/or health implications. HEP requires vast dams flooding arable land and wildlife habitats, disrupting river ecosystems, destroying estuarine fisheries, reducing the fertility of flood plains, and endangering lives in case of collapse.

The Three Gorges dam in China necessitated flooding 1000 towns and villages, and “removing” 1.4 million people. Since completion in 2006, the reservoir has been plagued by pollution and algae. The dam is silting up, while the extra weight of water is causing geological problems. Downstream, the reduction in flow has led to a drought affecting 300,000 people, with drinking water reservoirs containing only “dead water”. Shipping can no longer use large stretches of the river. It is worrying that Switzerland is phasing out the nuclear power that provides 40% of its electricity, replacing it with HEP.

It is also worrying that Germany, the sixth biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, is phasing out nuclear power, increasing carbon emissions by 3%. If it can afford to do without the electricity from its nuclear plants, it should keep them open while closing down an equivalent number of fossil fuel plants, cutting CO2 emissions proportionately.

In Japan, phasing out nuclear power will cause massive shortfalls in energy. The optimistic scenarios of Energy-Rich Japan (ERJ — http://www.energyrichjapan.info) all involve substantial reductions in demand (so far untested), while some involve reductions in population — by up to 20%! Since an increase will be needed in order to care for the ageing population, this seems particularly unrealistic.

In particular, ERJ claims that transport energy can be reduced by 70% with hydrogen-powered vehicles. They don’t mention the following problems. Hydrogen is inefficiently produced from fossil fuels; solar-powered electrolysis of water is even more expensive. Highly flammable hydrogen must be stored in pressurised tanks, no doubt to be released in traffic accidents. A new infra-structure for hydrogen supply would have to be built, “a matter for policy decisions and market forces” (ERJ) (!?). Fuel cells to “burn” the hydrogen use costly platinum catalysts which can be poisoned by impurities in the hydrogen or air, which is also needed; their reliability over long periods is unknown; they would easily freeze in cold weather; they would be a magnet for thieves. Incidentally, ERJ assumes that much of the hydrogen would be imported (from where?).

Other aspects of ERJ’s schemes are equally vague. Much geothermal energy would be needed, though this technology is notoriously unreliable. Curiously, nowhere in 250-plus pages is there a mention of earthquakes or tsunamis!

It is difficult to avoid James Lovelock’s conclusion that “only nuclear power can now [my emphasis] halt global warming” — but this is not to accept nuclear power as it is. The possibility of fail-safe thorium-powered reactors is ignored not only by the (capitalist) industry which will not or cannot afford the research costs but by the Left and environmentalists. Supported by eminent scientists such as Carlo Rubbia of CERN, thorium reactors do not have a chain reaction to go out of control. They rely on a stream of neutrons from a particle accelerator which could be instantly switched off. Using plentiful thorium, they can also “burn” other radioactive materials, including surplus bombs … and high level radioactive waste. Radioactive material decays into stable isotopes, usually lead. Plutonium takes about 100,000 years to reduce to 1/20 of its original amount. Thorium reactors accelerate this process greatly (Accelerated Transmutation of Waste), reducing the volume of waste and the time for which it would have to be kept safe.

A final point: Theo accuses me of ignoring the “proliferation argument”, which he seems to equate with the simple possession of nuclear power. There are many difficult steps to building nuclear weapons and it is clear that these have not proliferated anything like as fast as civil nuclear power. More of a problem is terrorism and here too it is not clear that nuclear power plants are uniquely vulnerable and dangerous targets. More importantly, many conflicts are, and will be increasingly, over resources, particularly as the climate changes. Nuclear bombs won’t be much use in these!

Yet more deaths in the UK fossil fuel industry (four workers killed in a Welsh oil refinery explosion in March; five coal miners killed in Wales and Yorkshire in September) should help put the supposed dangers of nuclear power in perspective. Multiply these figures by at least 1,000 worldwide. According to Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy (www.ecolo.org), environmental opposition to nuclear energy is the “greatest misunderstanding and mistake of the century”. We should be demanding that nuclear power be expanded and improved, rather than phased out.

But let’s demand the safest forms of nuclear power, as well as support for renewable energy research.

Excellent piece by Monbiot: ‘The farce of Hinkley c’

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Sanity begins to prevail on GM crops

June 20, 2013 at 7:06 pm (conspiracy theories, environment, green, Jim D, science)

Environmental secretary Owen Paterson made a speech today in favour of GM crops.

He said that his speech was “quite long” and that it would contain “quite a lot of detail”. He’s right. You can read it here and, unusually for a speech posted on a government website, it makes very good use of links. If you read the speech online, you will find plenty of links to source material justifying the claims that Paterson was making. Paterson made some of his arguments on the Today programme this morning (9.45) , but in that interview did not include the attack on the European Union’s regulatory regime that is at the heart of the speech.

Paterson’s decision to come out in favour of GM follows years of pusillanimous evasion by British politicians of all stripes, terrified of antagonising the anti-science lobby and being portrayed as friends of “Frankenfoods.”   In large part this is due to a significant shift in public opinion: in a poll commissioned by the Independent last year, 64 per cent of respondents were in favour of experiments on GM crops, with 27 against and 9 per cent undecided. This represents a major shift from the 1990’s when public opinion in Britain was overwhelmingly opposed.

Much of the credit for this must go to Mark Lynas, an anti-GM protester from the 1990’s who studied the science and changed his mind, braving the wrath of erstwhile friends and colleagues, some of whom can turn very nasty. Lynas told the Guardian:

“I think there are several reasons why GM is making a comeback. First, the blanket opposition to GM per se as a technology is obviously untenable in any scientific sense – there is no reason why it should present any new dangers in food, and, indeed, may well be safer than conventional breeding in crops…

“With the passage of more than a decade since the widespread commercialisation of GM crops in North America, Brazil and elsewhere, hundreds of millions of people have eaten GM-originated food without a single substantiated case of any harm done whatsoever.”

Alongside Lynas, credit is due to Professor John Pickett and his team of scientists at the publicly funded Rothamsted Research Institute. Here four of the Rothamsted scientists make their case, pleading with protesters who had threatened to destroy their GM trial in May of last year:

Now, at last, it looks as though those voices of reason are winning the day.

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The PRISM slides, as shown to the National Security Agency

June 8, 2013 at 10:52 am (Civil liberties, conspiracy theories, internet, Jim D, law, science, snooping, terror, United States)

I’m honestly not sure how significant this is, or how worried we should be. GCHQ has been using the information gathered on British citizens. It’s all over today’s Guardian , but the PRISM Power Point slides, as shown to the US National Security Agency, were first revealed to the public by The Washington Post (below):

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Through a top-secret program authorized by federal judges working under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the U.S. intelligence community can gain access to the servers of nine Internet companies for a wide range of digital data. Documents describing the previously undisclosed program, obtained by The Washington Post, show the breadth of U.S. electronic surveillance capabilities in the wake of a widely publicized controversy over warrantless wiretapping of U.S. domestic telephone communications in 2005. These slides, annotated by The Washington Post, represent a selection from the overall document, and certain portions are redacted. Read related article.

Introducing the program

A slide briefing analysts at the National Security Agency about the program touts its effectiveness and features the logos of the companies involved.

The program is called PRISM, after the prisms used to split light, which is used to carry information on fiber-optic cables.

This note indicates that the program is the number one source of raw intelligence used for NSA analytic reports.

The seal of Special Source Operations, the NSA term for alliances with trusted U.S. companies.

Monitoring a target’s communication

This diagram shows how the bulk of the world’s electronic communications move through companies based in the United States.

Providers and data

The PRISM program collects a wide range of data from the nine companies, although the details vary by provider.

Participating providers

This slide shows when each company joined the program, with Microsoft being the first, on Sept. 11, 2007, and Apple the most recent, in October 2012.

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Hawking boycotts Israel

May 9, 2013 at 4:58 pm (celebrity, Guest post, Human rights, intellectuals, israel, Middle East, palestine, Pink Prosecco, science)

Guest post by Pink Prosecco

Stephen Hawking, explaining his decision to boycott the Shimon Peres Presidential Conference in Israel, describes what he had planned to say:

“Had I attended, I would have stated my opinion that the policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster.”

That is a strong statement, but it’s not an eccentric or hateful view – and you certainly don’t have to be an enemy of Israel to share it.  Yet although I can understand why some (particularly Palestinians) have urged Hawking to boycott this event, I very much regret his final decision.  There are many countries which would not have allowed him to strike his planned dissenting note – and where requests for solidarity from those considering themselves oppressed could not even have been articulated.  Here is Omar Barghouti’s response:

But Palestinians welcomed Hawking’s decision. “Palestinians deeply appreciate Stephen Hawking’s support for an academic boycott of Israel,” said Omar Barghouti, a founding member of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. “We think this will rekindle the kind of interest among international academics in academic boycotts that was present in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.”

I believe Barghouti is still registered as a PhD student at Tel Aviv University. That doesn’t mean that he can’t speak out against the injustices of occupation, checkpoints, detention or any other topic, or indeed call for boycott.  Clearly he can.  And that fact in itself might make one wonder, not whether Israel should be protected from robust criticism over its policies, but whether it is really the one country in the world which deserves to be the focus of such a very concerted boycott campaign.

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Measles: single jab quackery

April 24, 2013 at 7:41 pm (children, conspiracy theories, Daily Mail, health service, Jim D, media, parasites, profiteers, science, Tory scum, truth, youth)

It is now universally accepted by competent health professionals that the MMR triple vaccination jab is the safest protection presently possible against measles, mumps and rubella. The present outbreak of measles in South Wales is entirely attributable to the discredited (and probably fraudulent) “research” of Andrew Wakefield in 1998, falsely linking the MMR jab with autism. Wakefield’s dodgy “research” was widely promoted by the Daily Mail and other media (including the South Wales Evening Post) from the moment it first appeared until well into the 2000’s, even after Wakefield’s “research” was officially discredited and the man himself struck off.  As a direct result teenagers who did not receive the two MMR jabs that are required, as infants, are now the main group suffering from infection.

But still opportunist quacks are (literally) cashing in on the fears of gullible parents: The Children’s Immunisation Centre (see below) ran a clinic last weekend in Swansea supplying the less effective single measles vaccination privately for £110 for each jab plus a £50 registration fee. MMR is available on the NHS free of charge.

The Children’s Immunisation Centre website gives telephone numbers for private clinics offering single measles jabs in England and in Swansea and also links to old newspaper articles suggesting an autism link to the MMR vaccine.

It also claimed that the single vaccines are “the only safe option” to immunise against measles – but that demonstrably false claim has now been removed from their website.

Why has no government minister spoken out against these quacks? In particular, why has health minister Jeremy Hunt had nothing to say? It surely can’t be because the government rather approves of both “parental choice” and private medicine for profit – or that Hunt himself is on record as being sympathetic towards quackery?

H/t: BBC Wales

The profiteers’ fraudulent publicity, below:

The Children’s Immunisation Centre Ltd operates The Immunisation and Medical Centres. Our centres operate Nationally London, Manchester, Kent, Dartford, Birmingham, Southampton, (Leeds-Harrogate, Nottingham-Sheffield Coming Soon), has been specialising for ten years  on all types of vaccinations but particularly  in single vaccinations against  Measles, Mumps, Rubella: MMR single vaccinations; baby jabs and other childhood and new vaccinations to protect adults and children in the UK, and for all your travel vaccinations such as Yellow Fever ,Typhoid rabies and Cholera to name but a few.

We are particularly proud of our 100 per cent safety record and have over 18,000 registered patients and we are one of the UKs largest and friendliest injectables company.

Our group was established in 2002, and for the last 10 years has brought PEACE OF MIND to thousands of patients for affordable private single baby jabs of single Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR single jab vaccinations) -currently no mumps vaccine available in the UK.

All our thousands of patients are healthy, with no autism, no hospitalizations or fits (anaphylaxis shock) no febrile convulsions. We have a 100% Safety Record and have given over 70,000 vaccinations.(over 18,000 patients)

Our Measles, Mumps, Rubella single jab (MMR single jabs) immunisation clinic was the first private health clinic to obtain its Care Quality Commission. We have been independently audited and checked by  Care Quality Commission Assessors;

FOR YOUR PEACE OF MIND

FOR YOUR PEACE OF MIND.

Our clinics are in Birmingham, London Harley Street, Manchester,  Kent-Dartford, Southampton, (Leeds-Harrogate, Nottingham-Sheffield Coming Soon). All our clinics are open on Saturdays so that parents can conveniently bring their children for their single MMR jabs (single immunisations). It is essential children and adults keep up with all their immunisations and check booster requirements.

Apart from MMR single jabs, we also protect against the following diseases, especially for travelling children. No NHS referral necessary.

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The Mail, Philpott, welfare…and MMR

April 6, 2013 at 5:28 pm (benefits, children, crime, Cuts, Daily Mail, Jim D, media, science, Tory scum, tragedy, welfare)

Daily Mail Welfare UK cover
As a general rule, it’s the political right who object to attempts to explain crime by reference to the social, economic or political context in which it occurs. This is, they say, to make excuses and to let evil people off the hook. Individuals must be accountable for their actions and distractions like poverty and unemployment should not enter into the equation.

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Which makes the Daily Mail‘s campaign to link the Mick Philpott case with the benefits system, at first blush, seem rather odd. AN Wilson, writing in the Mail, stated that “What the Philpott trial showed was the pervasiveness of evil caused by benefit dependency” and went on to ask his readers, rhetorically, “Do you think Philpott would have done this crime if he has worked regularly for the past 20 years and provided for those six children out of his own pocket?”
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Now this is all highly unpleasant stuff and clearly part of a Tory campaign to justify the government’s dismantling of the welfare state. The repugnant, monstrous figure of Mick Philpott has of course been a godsend to the Tories, taken up first by the Mail and then by Chancellor Osborne following a bizarre speech on welfare “reform” delivered at a Morrisons warehouse in Kent.
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But I’m not joining in with the shrill, self-righteous outrage expressed by the likes of Owen Jones and Pamela Nash MP: after all, us lefties do not hesitate to blame the Con-Dems and their cuts for death and misery. The Mail and the Tories will not be defeated by moralistic posturing or complaints that certain headlines, articles and speeches are “offensive.”
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For what it’s worth, I think the argument that Philpott did what he did in order to get his hands on more child benefit and/or a larger house, is pretty far-fetched. From what I’ve read and heard, his motives would seem to have been a desire to exact revenge upon his ex-mistress by framing her for the fire, and to simultaneously win himself media attention as a “hero” for having saved the children.
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But the truth is, none of us can know for sure.
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What we can know for sure, however, is that sections of the press and other media have played a big part in putting the lives of thousand of children’s health and lives at risk.
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The present measles epidemic in Swansea is the direct result of a cynical, irresponsible and hysterical campaign run by swathes of the UK media between about 1998 and 2010, against the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine and its alleged (but in fact non-existent) link to autism. Thanks to widespread vaccination, incidences of the three diseases covered by MMR had been rapidly decreasing for years, to the point where they’d become very rare. But in the 2000’s instances of mumps and measles began to rise again. Dr Ben Goldacre, in his 2008 book Bad Science, wrote:
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“[T]he incidence of two of the three diseases covered by MMR is now increasing very impressively. We have the highest number of measles cases in England and Wales since current surveillance methods began in 1995, with cases occurring mostly in children who had not been adequately vaccinated: 971 confirmed cases were reported in 2007 (mostly associated with prolonged outbreaks in travelling and religious communities, where vaccine uptake has been historically low), after 740 cases in 2006 (and the first death since 1992)…
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“Mumps began rising again in 1999, after many years of cases in only double figures: by 2005 the United Kingdom had a mumps epidemic, with around 5,000 notifications in January alone.”
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Now, in Swansea, the measles epidemic has reached 588 cases and Public Health Wales have said: “it is just a matter of time before a child is left with serious and permanent complications such as eye disorders, deafness or brain damage, or dies.”
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According to the Guardian, “Take-up for the MMR vaccine dropped by 14% in south Wales in the late 1990’s after research, subsequently discredited, raised health concerns about the jab and prompted a campaign against it by the South Wales Evening Post.”
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And which major national paper was giving the provincial South Wales Evening Post its lead?
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No prizes for guessing:
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Embedded Image

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EDF are suing our daughter

February 27, 2013 at 6:51 pm (Civil liberties, climate change, environment, Free Speech, Human rights, law, profiteers, protest, science)

Above: EDF’s attempt to look lovable…

Our daughter Claire was one of 21 activists who spent a week up a chimney at West Burton power station to protest against the use of gas-fired power stations.

It was a peaceful protest to draw attention to the environmental consequences of burning fossil fuels for power. No one was hurt but now EDF Energy are suing our daughter and her fellow activists for £5 million.

We believe this is totally unfair and unprecedented. That’s why we have started a petition to call on EDF to drop the suit against our daughter and her friends, the West Burton activists. Click here to sign our petition.

Our daughter and her friends protested peacefully. They knew they would be arrested but were brave enough to accept this possibility. Peaceful protest has never before been followed by an injunction for costs like this. If EDF are successful in this suit it will set a dangerous precedent for the right to peaceful protest in this country.

We are proud of what Claire and her friends are trying to do. It’s heartbreaking to think that they are being punished for putting themselves at risk for the good of humanity. If EDF pursue this suit they will put my daughter and her friends in debt — possibly for the rest of their lives. For EDF it is a mere drop in the ocean, but for them it is a lifetime’s income.

EDF might think it can silence 21 activists but it has to listen to consumers. If enough consumers show they are outraged by EDF’s actions, the impact to the company’s brand will be worth more than £5 million and the suit will be dropped.

Please sign our petition asking EDF to drop this unprecedented legal assault.

Thank you,
Russ and Barbara Fauset

NB: ‘Will EDF become the Barbra Streisand of climate protest?’ – George Monbiot in the Guardian

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Rita Levi-Montalcini: an extraordinary life

January 3, 2013 at 9:03 pm (anti-semitism, fascism, history, intellectuals, Jim D, science, war, women)

From the Daily Telegraph:

Rita Levi-Montalcini, who has died aged 103, overcame racial and sexual prejudice to become a leading neurobiologist and one of the handful of women scientists to win a Nobel Prize.

Rita Levi-Montalcini
 

Her triumph came in 1986, when she shared the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine with her student, the biochemist Stanley Cohen, for their contributions to the understanding of growth factors in human development.

By the 1950s, the pattern of cell growth and differentiation had long been established, and scientists knew that the addition of blood or organ extracts to cells in culture resulted in their successful growth. They did not know, however, the identity of the active substances, just as cancer researchers understood little of the unregulated growth of tumour cells.

In 1952, Rita Levi-Montalcini found that when tumours from mice were transplanted to chick embryos, they induced potent growth of the chick embryo nervous system . She concluded that the tumour released a nerve growth-promoting factor (NGF) which had a selective action on certain types of nerve cells.

Following this discovery, she began to measure the effect of NGF on cells in culture, and discovered that a sensory or sympathetic nerve cell reacted within 30 seconds of the addition of minute quantities of NGF. Just one billionth part of a gram of NGF per millilitre of culture medium exerted a potent growth-promoting effect.

In 1953 the biochemist Stanley Cohen joined her research group at Washington University, St Louis, and together they purified a nerve growth-promoting extract. Rita Levi-Montalcini’s discovery improved scientific understanding of the processes involved in certain physical malformations and diseases. It has led to improved therapeutic agents and could be central to eventual treatments for diseases such as multiple sclerosis or Alzheimer’s as well as psychiatric disorders such as depression or anorexia.

Rita Levi-Montalcini was born, with her twin sister Paola, in Turin on April 22 1909, the youngest of four children. Her father, Adamo Levi, was an electrical engineer and mathematician, and her mother, Adele Montalcini, a talented painter. Their elder brother, Gino, would become a prominent Italian architect and professor at the University of Turin.

Though the family was cultured, Rita’s father took a traditional view of a woman’s place and decided that his three daughters should not go to university. But Rita was convinced she could not be content with a merely domestic role and, at the age of 20, begged her father to be allowed to try for university. Eventually he relented and within eight months she had rectified her deficiencies in Latin, Greek and Mathematics, graduated from high school, and enrolled at the medical school in Turin, where she studied under the histologist Giuseppe Levi.

In 1936 she graduated with a summa cum laude degree in Medicine and Surgery, and began postgraduate work in neurology and psychiatry. But that year, Mussolini issued the Manifesto per la Difesa della Razza, signed by 10 Italian scientists, which called for laws barring academic and professional careers to non-Aryan citizens. She therefore left Italy for Belgium, where she worked as a guest of a neurological institute in Brussels. In 1940, on the eve of the German invasion of Belgium, she returned to the relative safety of Turin.

Realising it would not be possible to pursue her scientific interests openly, Rita Levi-Montalcini built a small research unit in her bedroom. By this time, inspired by a 1934 article by Viktor Hamburger reporting on the effects of limb amputation in chick embryos, she had become interested in the mechanisms controlling the development of the vertebrate nervous system. She had barely begun work when her former teacher, Giuseppe Levi, who had also escaped from Belgium, returned to Turin and joined her in her work.

Forced to leave Turin by the heavy Allied bombing of the city in 1941, she moved her laboratory to a cottage in Piemonte. But the invasion of Italy by the German Army in 1943 forced her to move again and she remained in hiding in Florence until the Allies liberated the city in August 1944. She was then taken on by the Allied armies as a volunteer physician and assigned to a refugee camp, where she had to treat cases of typhoid and other infectious diseases.

When the war ended she returned with her family to Turin and resumed her academic career at the University. In 1947 she received an invitation from Viktor Hamburger to join him at Washington University, St Louis, where he was a professor. She planned to remain in America for a year but, as a result of the success of her research, decided to postpone her return.

She continued her research on NGF for some 30 years. In 1956 she was appointed Associate Professor and in 1958 full Professor of Neurobiology at Washington University, a position she held until her retirement in 1977. In 1962 she established a research unit in Rome, and from then on, she divided her time between Italy and America. From 1969 to 1978 she was Director of the Institute of Cell Biology of the Italian National Council of Research.

After her retirement in 1979 she became an emeritus professor at the Institute, and from 1989 to 1995, by now well into her eighties, she worked at the Italian National Council of Research Institute of Neurobiology, testing new hypotheses on the action of NGF.

From 1993 to 1998 she was President of the Institute of the Italian Encyclopaedia. She was the author of numerous scientific publications, four bestsellers, and a short autobiography, In Praise of Imperfection. In 1992 she created, together with her twin sister, the Levi-Montalcini Foundation, in memory of their father, to assist young people in the difficult choices regarding their fields of study.

Rita Levi-Montalcini was a member of many scientific academies, including the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, the Pontifical Academy, the Accademia delle Scienze, the American National Academy of Sciences, and the Royal Society.

She was unmarried.

Rita Levi-Montalcini, born April 22 1909, died December 30 2012

 

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