Wednesday, 14 March 2007

Richard LittleJohn: fat, wrong, racist, homophobic ... plagarist?

Richard Littlejohn is a class-A knob. If he knew me, he'd be very pleased to know I think this. He''s a rightwing scribbler with the British Daily Mail. He exudes a bargain basement blokeishness and purports to scorn what he perceives as political correctness.

Recently he published a rant in typical style, rambling on about ... well, I'm not sure really. Work-shy shirkers in Britain or some such, and then he veered off onto the topic of single mothers getting helped back into the work-force. I can't fathom his logic here at all. First, he thins too many people are sitting on their arses not working, then he complains if some action is taken to try and get them back to work.

Anyway, that isn't my point. My point is that Littlejohn seems to have lifted parts of his article from the work of another Daily Mail writer, Nigel Green. Here is Littlejohn's piece, in full:

Why should we pay for Vicky Pollard to have a manicure?


12th March

More than one million immigrants are working in Britain, according to
official figures. Double that, add in the date of your mum's birthday and your mobile phone number and you'll probably be somewhere nearer the truth.

We are told that we have to import all these foreign nationals to fill the avalanche of jobs created by the Gordon Brown economic miracle.

These are vacancies which the British can't or won't fill, it is alleged. Why
not? At the last count there were estimated to be five million people under
the age of retirement who are classified as "economically inactive".

This includes the unemployed, the unemployable and those claiming to be incapacitated. But there is absolutely no reason why anyone should be
out of work in Britain today.

There are jobs aplenty, even if it means - in Norman Tebbit's memorable term - getting on your bike.

Is there no one of British birth living in the Morecambe Bay area who is capable of picking a cockle? When I worked in East Anglia, the sugar beet managed to get harvested without the aid of the Chinese.

There must be someone signing on in South London who could manage to push a
mop round a hotel bathroom. Why aren't able-bodied young men queuing up to
train as plumbers and bricklayers instead of collecting the dole?

Eastern Europeans seem to have little difficulty finding work on building sites. It was claimed yesterday that you can't get a plumber for love nor money in Poland
because they've all moved here.

I don't blame any immigrant who wants to come to Britain for a better life and is prepared to get his hands dirty. But there wouldn't be so much work for them if so many of the indigenous population weren't bone idle.

We used to have a word for the long-term unemployed - workshy. And as for all those claiming incapacity benefit, they can't all be off with bad backs. Let's acknowledge that there are some people physically unable to work. But I simply refuse to accept that there are five million of them.

The real problem is the dependency culture, which has removed any incentive for people to work. It's all carrot and no stick.

Take the latest daft idea to tackle the "self-esteem issues" of unemployed single
parents. They are being given free manicures and massages to "boost their

As part of a pilot scheme in Hereford, Worcester, Northumberland, Durham and Greater Manchester, any out of work single mum can choose from a range of treatments, including reflexology, a facial, a new hairdo and even ear-piercing.

When the post-war Labour government established the welfare state, did anyone ever imagine that its provisions would extend to giving Vicky Pollard and her
mates free council estate facelifts and nails like Barry White's girlfriend?

Was piercing the ears of unemployed teenage mothers part of Beveridge's great vision?

I shouldn't be surprised if they're not throwing in tattoos, too.

A girl who works in one of the salons chosen to participate in the scheme said: "They didn't look like they needed their confidence boosting -they were all very loud.

"They seemed to have a really good time. One of them was talking into her mobile phone and laughing and joking with a friend about how she was still drunk from the night before when she woke up that morning."

At least £60,000 has been blown on this ridiculous exercise already and there are plans to extend it across the country.

There is no reason why anyone on benefits should receive any more than someone working for the minimum wage, yet being an unemployed single mother is a pretty lucrative full-time job these days.

I repeat, good luck to any immigrant who comes here to work. But it is a national
disgrace that while people from all over the world are flocking to Britain to fill all the jobs on offer, the State is paying five million to stay at home playing daytime TV quiz games and bankrolling gormless trollops to loll around beauty salons.


Through some random google blasting, I happened to discover that Littlejohn's article had some striking resemblances to another, written by Nigel Green, also in the Daily Mail, a few days before:

Now the jobless get manicures, massages and facials ... all thanks to the taxpayer

By NIGEL GREEN - More by this author »
Last updated at 21:37pm on 10th March 2007

Unemployed single parents are receiving free massages and beauty treatments - paid for by taxpayers.

Under the Government-backed scheme, being tested around the country, they are being given the treats to 'boost their confidence'.

So far, more than 1,000 people, mainly women, have taken advantage of 'pamper days' at salons as part of the project, called Big Brother. It has been justified on the grounds that if jobless people are happier and more presentable, it will be easier for them to find work.

But critics say the project is a waste of public money. So far the cost to taxpayers is at least £60,000, but the figure is likely to spiral.

The scheme - in operation in Hereford, Worcester, Northumberland,
Durham and Greater Manchester - is open to any single parent over the age of 18 who has been unemployed or on disability benefit for at least six months. They can choose from a range of treatments, including a massage, a haircut, new make-up, a facial, a manicure and even ear-piercing.

They can also claim a separate £30 handout to spend on a shopping trip for new clothes, and are eligible for free lunches and childcare.

The Big Brother scheme is run by Inspire2Independence, a private company based in York. It is backed by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and the European Union. Neither the DWP nor Inspire2Independence would say how much public money was being spent on the scheme.

A teenage girl who works in a salon used by the single parents was
critical of the initiative. 'They didn't look like they needed their confidence boosting - they were all very loud,' said the girl, who did not want to be identified.

'They seemed to have a really good time. One of them was talking into her mobile phone and laughing and joking with a friend about how she was still drunk from the night before when she woke up that morning. Many of them had tattoos and were wearing crop-tops.'


I've highlighted the similarities. True, Littlejohn has changed a word here or there - "any single parent" becomes "any out of work single mum" and so on, but it looks like Littlejohn has simply 'borrowed' parts of Green's work and is passing it off as his own. I don't know if Nigel green would care about this - given that they both work for the Mail, he might have (blokeishly) asked, 'Oi, Nige, can I use a bit of that guff you wrote about slags getting their nails filed?' But he is presenting the work as if it is his own. He's too fat and lazy to even bother writing his own column any longer, he cobbles it together from other people's (unacknowledged) work.

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Monbiot attacks climate change scare tactics

Recently, Channel 4 in Britain aired a program called 'The Great Climate Change Swindle.' I have not seen it (C4 in Britain is not quite the same thing as C4 in New Zealand ...) but I have been involved in arguments about climate change before, during and after the program was shown.

This is what George Monbiot made of it, in The Guardian:

Don't let truth stand in the way of a red-hot debunking of climate change

Were it not for dissent, science, like politics, would have stayed in the dark ages. All the great heroes of the discipline - Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Einstein - took tremendous risks in confronting mainstream opinion. Today's crank has often proved to be tomorrow's visionary.

But the syllogism does not apply. Being a crank does not automatically make you a visionary. There is little prospect, for example, that Dr Mantombazana Tshabalala-Msimang, the South African health minister who has claimed Aids can be treated with garlic, lemon and beetroot, will be hailed as a genius. But the point is often confused. Professor David Bellamy, for example, while making the incorrect claim that wind farms do not have "any measurable effect" on total emissions of carbon dioxide, has compared himself to Galileo.

The problem with The Great Global Warming Swindle, which caused a sensation when it was broadcast on Channel 4 last week, is that to make its case it relies not on future visionaries, but on people whose findings have already been proved wrong. The implications could not be graver. Just as the government launches its climate change bill and Gordon Brown and David Cameron start jostling to establish their green credentials, thousands have been misled into believing there is no problem to address.

The film's main contention is that the current increase in global temperatures is caused not by rising greenhouse gases, but by changes in the activity of the sun. It is built around the discovery in 1991 by the Danish atmospheric physicist Dr Eigil
Friis-Christensen that recent temperature variations on Earth are in "strikingly good agreement" with the length of the cycle of sunspots.

Unfortunately, he found nothing of the kind. A paper published in the journal Eos in 2004 reveals that the "agreement" was the result of "incorrect handling of the physical data". The real data for recent years show the opposite: that the length of the sunspot cycle has declined, while temperatures have risen. When this error was exposed, Friis-Christensen and his co-author published a new paper, purporting to produce similar results. But this too turned out to be an artefact of mistakes - in this case in their arithmetic.

So Friis-Christensen and another author developed yet another means of demonstrating that the sun is responsible, claiming to have discovered a remarkable agreement between cosmic radiation influenced by the sun and global cloud cover. This is the mechanism the film proposes for global warming. But, yet again, the method was exposed as faulty. They had been using satellite data
which did not in fact measure global cloud cover. A paper in the Journal of
Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics shows that, when the right data are used, a correlation is not found.

So the hypothesis changed again. Without acknowledging that his previous paper was wrong, Friis-Christensen's co-author, Henrik Svensmark, declared there was a correlation - not with total cloud cover but with "low cloud cover". This, too, turned out to be incorrect. Then, last year, Svensmark published a paper purporting to show cosmic rays could form tiny particles in the atmosphere. Accompanying the paper was a press release which went way beyond the findings reported in the paper, claiming it showed that both past and current climate events are the result of cosmic rays.

As Dr Gavin Schmidt of Nasa has shown on, five missing steps would have to be taken to justify the wild claims in the press release. "We've often criticised press releases that we felt gave misleading impressions of the underlying work," Schmidt says, "but this example is by far the most blatant extrapolation beyond reasonableness that we have seen." None of this seems to have troubled the programme makers, who report the cosmic ray theory as if it trounces all competing explanations.

The film also maintains that manmade global warming is disproved by conflicting temperature data. Professor John Christy speaks about the discrepancy he discovered between temperatures at the Earth's surface and temperatures in the troposphere (or lower atmosphere). But the programme fails to mention that in 2005 his data were proved wrong, by three papers in Science magazine.

Christy himself admitted last year that he was mistaken. He was one of the authors of a paper which states the opposite of what he says in the film. "Previously reported discrepancies between the amount of warming near the surface and higher in the atmosphere have been used to challenge the reliability of climate models and the reality of human-induced global warming. Specifically, surface data showed substantial global-average warming, while early versions of satellite and radiosonde data showed little or no warming above the surface. This significant discrepancy no longer exists because errors in the satellite and radiosonde data have been identified and corrected."

Until recently, when found to be wrong, scientists went back to their labs to start again. Now, emboldened by the denial industry, some of them, like the film-makers, shriek "censorship!". This is the best example of manufactured victimhood I have come across. If you demonstrate someone is wrong, you are now deemed to be silencing him.

But there is one scientist in the film whose work has not been debunked: the oceanographer Carl Wunsch. He appears to support the idea that increasing carbon dioxide is not responsible for rising global temperatures. Wunsch says he
was "completely misrepresented" by the programme, and "totally misled" by the
people who made it.

This is a familiar story to those who have followed the career of the director Martin Durkin. In 1998, the Independent Television Commission found that, when making a similar series, he had "misled" his interviewees about "the content and purpose of the programmes". Their views had been "distorted through selective editing". Channel 4 had to make a prime-time apology.

Cherry-pick your results, choose work which is already discredited, and anything and everything becomes true. The twin towers were brought down by controlled explosions; MMR injections cause autism; homeopathy works; black people are less intelligent than white people; species came about through intelligent design. You can find lines of evidence which appear to support all these contentions, and, in most cases, professors who will speak up in their favour.

But this does not mean that any of them are correct. You can sustain a belief in these propositions only by ignoring the overwhelming body of contradictory data. To form a balanced, scientific view, you have to consider all the evidence, on both sides of the question. But for the film's commissioners, all that counts is the sensation. Channel 4 has always had a problem with science. No one in its science unit appears to understand the difference between a peer-reviewed paper and a clipping from the Daily Mail. It keeps commissioning people whose claims have been discredited - such as Durkin. But its failure to understand the scientific process just makes the job of whipping up a storm that much easier. The less true a programme is, the greater the controversy.


In the comments section that followed Monbiot's article, some kind soul appended the email sent by Wunsch where he outlined his objections to the way his opinions were represented in the program:

Mr. Steven GreenHead of Production
Wag TV2D
436 Essex RoadLondon
N1 3QP
10 March

Dear Mr. Green:

I am writing to record what I told you on the telephone yesterday about your Channel 4 film "The Global Warming Swindle." Fundamentally, I am the one who was swindled---please read the email below that was sent to me (and re-sent by you). Based upon this email and subsequent telephone conversations, and discussions with the Director, Martin Durkin, I thought I was being asked to appear in a film that would discuss in a balanced way the complicated elements of understanding of climate change---in the best traditions of British television. Is there any indication in the email evident to an outsider that the product would be so tendentious, so unbalanced?

I was approached, as explained to me on the telephone, because I was known to have been unhappy with some of the more excitable climate-change stories in the British media, most conspicuously the notion that the Gulf Stream could disappear, among others. When a journalist approaches me suggesting a "critical approach" to a technical subject, as the email states, my inference is that we are to discuss which elements are contentious, why they are contentious, and what the arguments are on all sides.

To a scientist, "critical" does not mean a hatchet job---it means a thorough-going examination of the science. The scientific subjects described in the email, and in the previous and subsequent telephone conversations, are complicated, worthy of exploration, debate, and an educational effort with the public. Hence my willingness to participate. Had the words "polemic", or "swindle" appeared in these preliminary discussions, I would have instantly declined to be involved.

I spent hours in the interview describing many of the problems of understanding the ocean in climate change, and the ways in which some of the more dramatic elements get exaggerated in the media relative to more realistic, potentially truly catastrophic issues, such as the implications of the oncoming sea level rise. As I made clear, both in the preliminary discussions, and in the interview itself, I believe that global warming is a very serious threat that needs equally serious discussion and no one seeing this film could possibly deduce that.

What we now have is an out-and-out propaganda piece, in which there is not even gesture toward balance or explanation of why many of the extended inferences drawn in the film are not widely accepted by the scientific community. There are so many examples, it's hard to know where to begin, so I will cite only one: a speaker asserts, as is true, that carbon dioxide is only a small fraction of the atmospheric mass. The viewer is left to infer that means it couldn't really matter. But even a beginning meteorology student could tell you that the relative masses of gases are irrelevant to their effects on radiative balance. A director not intending to produce pure propaganda would have tried to eliminate that piece of disinformation.

An example where my own discussion was grossly distorted by context: I am shown explaining that a warming ocean could expel more carbon dioxide than it absorbs -- thus exacerbating the greenhouse gas buildup in the atmosphere and hence worrisome. It was used in the film, through its context, to imply that CO2 is all natural, coming from the ocean, and that therefore the human element is irrelevant. This use of my remarks, which are literally what I said, comes close to fraud.

I have some experience in dealing with TV and print reporters and do understand something of the ways in which one can be misquoted, quoted out of context, or otherwise misinterpreted. Some of that is inevitable in the press of time or space or in discussions of complicated issues. Never before, however, have I had an experience like this one. My appearance in the "Global Warming Swindle" is deeply embarrasing, and my professional reputation has been damaged. I was duped---an uncomfortable position in which to be.

At a minimum, I ask that the film should never be seen again publicly with my participation included. Channel 4 surely owes an apology to its viewers, and perhaps WAGTV owes something to Channel 4. I will be taking advice as to whether I should proceed to make some more formal protest.


Carl Wunsch
Cecil and Ida
Green Professor of Physical Oceanography
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

First (and final) thoughts not really on the Rickards affair

I'm not going to get into the whole Rickards, Shipton and Schollum vileness. I don't know if all of them, some of them or none of them raped one or two young wome two decades ago. They know, their accusers know, or at least they all think they know - subjectivity and all that.

I'm not going to talk about whether or not Rickards should have his old job back.

What I am going to talk about is the strange intellectual practices of ideologically motivated people. Today I was listening to National Radio - Waytne Mowatt or Jim Morra's show, I can't keep track of which one is broadcasting in the afternoons. Towards the end of the programme, the discussion turned to the Rickards affair, as it seems to have at every opportunity, in every programme, every day.

A female campaigner called in. I can't recall her name. She was identified as a student campaigner against rape. It was put to her that the existance of a few bad cops did not equate to the whole police force being corrupt. She retorted that this was not the opinion of most New Zealanders, and their opinion could be seen in ther ferocity of the response to the verdict. This is faulty reasoning. The revulsion expressed stems from the disgust felt at the actions of these three officers, and the inentisty of debate from the wrangle over whether or not the jury should have been told that Shipton and Schollum were convicted rapists. It was centered on the two rape trials, and the three police officers in question.

She made another comment, that she personally felt hostility towards the police. She recounted how she had been insulted by a drunken police officer outside a police station, while she was waiting for a friend to be released. Apparently, the policeman said, "If you get raped, don't call us, we won't come."

Indefensible, of course. But think about the background here. We were told the commentator hwas waiting for her friend, who had been arrsted on a demonstration. Think about that for a moment. I twasn't clear from what she said which demonstration it was, but I'll hazard a guess that it was the demos surrounding the Louise Nicholas trial, when campaigners were breaking the story about Shipton and Schollum's previous conviction. Assume that police officer had been out there, that day, policing the demo. He might have seen something like this:


He might have been insulted, spat at, called a rapist. He would have been very aware of the hostility being directed at police by the demonstrators. He might have felt shamed to be tainted by association with Rickards, Shipton and Schollum. He might have felt angered by the attempt to influence the jury in the Nicholas trial. Then, tired, with a few drinks inside him, he rolls out the bar to see a group from the demonstration outside the police station. He vents his fustration by saying something stupid. And it was stupid, and inexcusable, but not something that can be used to impugn the reputation of the police in the way that the commentator did.


On the TV news tonight, there was an item about a demonstration showing anger at the Rickards-Shipton-Schollum verdicts. It was noteworthy because the police opted to deploy female officers to maintain order. Even then, it was startling to see the hostility being directed at the officers. One demonstrator snarled, "You ought to be ashamed of yourself" at an officer. For God's sake, why? Because she chose to join the police force so she could put wife beaters, murderers and rapists in jail? I'll bet that officer does more to help women who have been assaulted, violated and tormented by evil bastard men that most of those on the demonstration do. And in payment, she gets a mouth full of abuse from a supposed sister.