Nov 03 2009

Anti-Science at the Daily Mail

Yes, I know – it’s the Daily Mail. My UK friends tell me this is little more than a rag, not to be taken seriously. But it’s popular enough, and may in fact represent the attitudes of a portion of the public, that sometimes we have to address the claims that are made there. In that way it is like the Huffington Post – a hopeless rag (at least when it comes to science) that sometimes needs a response.

This time the Daily Mail has published an incredible anti-science and anti-intellectual rant by reporter Andrew N Wilson. The article is a discussion of the firing of science adviser, David Nutt, over his recommendations regarding recreational drugs. The Guardian did a decent job of covering the controversy – but also had the moxy to run the headline – “David Nutt Sacked.” Perhaps that does not mean the same thing in the UK as it does in the US – which is hilarious.

There are two issues here – the question of drug policy and how it should be informed by science, and the incredible reaction of Wilson. Interestingly, I find myself siding (just a bit) with Wilson on some points, in that there is a kernel of truth to be had in his screed. Here’s the controversy in a nutt shell. David Nutt produced a report comparing the risks to individuals and society of various substances, including tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, and ecstasy. He concluded that the risk from the legal substances far outweighs the risk from the illegal ones.

I don’t think these facts are much in dispute, but rather how these facts should inform policy. The Guardian reports:

Richard Garside, director of the centre for crime and justice, said Nutt’s briefing paper gave an insight into what drugs policy might look like if it was based on the research evidence rather than political or moral positioning.

Garside added: “I’m shocked and dismayed that the home secretary appears to believe that political calculation trumps honest and informed scientific opinion. The message is that when it comes to the Home Office’s relationship with the research community honest researchers should be seen but not heard.

I certainly agree that we would all be better off if honest and objective science informed public policy, rather than opinion and politics. However (here comes the kernel of truth) science can only advise policy – not make it. There are other concerns. For example, alcohol definitely causes more illness and social harm than all illegal drugs combined, but banning it is simply impractical, as was demonstrated by prohibition, partly because of alcohol’s place in the culture. One might argue that alcohol should be banned, but it simply cannot be for practical reasons, but that does not mean that other drugs should therefore be legalized.

The whole question of legalization also deals with moral choices of freedom vs protecting people from themselves and protecting society from the vices of individuals. There is also the question of whether the cost of regulating substances is “worth” any apparent benefit. The point is – science can only inform policy on such issues, but political and moral choices also enter the picture. It is not necessarily a simple matter of politics trumping science (although, of course, that does happen) but rather what is the balance between the two.

And to be clear, overall I think we need to shift the balance more towards scientifically informing public policy. But that does not mean that every time more squishy social, moral, or practical concerns are brought to bear, that equals politics “trumping” science. Everyone wants to have science on their side in an argument, and sometimes that card is overplayed.

To give my favorite example just to illustrate where I am coming from – the abortion issue will never be settled by science, although both sides like to pretend that science is on their side. Yes – science can inform the discussion of whether or not abortion should be legal, in what circumstances, and should it be funded by governments. But science alone cannot settle what is ultimately a personal moral choice.

Before we get to Wilson’s absurd rant, I want to go into one more quick aside. In researching his history (to hopefully put him into perspective) I ran across this interesting story, summarized in Wikipedia:

In August 2006 Wilson’s biography of Sir John Betjeman was published. It was then discovered that he had been the victim of a hoax and had included a letter (to Anglo-Irish writer, Honor Tracy) which purported to be by Betjeman detailing a previously unknown love affair, but which he acknowledged to be a fiction, when it was pointed out that it contained an acrostic spelling out an insulting message to him. The letter was sent to Wilson by “Eve de Harben”, who then wrote to a journalist to reveal the hoax. The acrostic spelt out “AN Wilson is a shit” and “Eve de Harben” is an anagram of “Ever been had”. Bevis Hillier, Wilson’s arch rival and Betjeman’s authorised biographer, was an immediate suspect but initially denied all knowledge. A week after the hoax was publicised, however, Hillier admitted responsibility, stating that “When a newspaper started billing Wilson’s book as ‘the big one’, it was just too much.”

So perhaps Wilson is not as rigorous a scholar as one would like. But actually, his article in the Daily Mail does more to impugn his scholarship than falling victim to a hoax. Wilson begins with the tiny kernel of legitimacy that science cannot solely dictate policy, and then builds that into a monumental straw man. He portrays scientists like Nutt as “gods of science” who arrogantly want to rule the world, and cannot abide mere mortals questioning their wisdom. Wilson’s is a childish cartoon image bearing little on reality. He misses all the nuance in this issue, and takes his unwieldy sledgehammer to it instead.

What Wilson is trying to do is actually similar to, but in the opposite direction, of what he is accusing Nutt of doing – whitewashing over a genuine controversy as if there is only one legitimate side. While accusing Nutt of trying to elevate science to ultimate control, he is trying to denigrate science and intellectualism to irrelevancy. It is a typical anti-intellectual strategy – dismiss the eggheads and clueless and megalomaniacal, the mad-scientists who populate children’s cartoons but not reality. Then, once you have dispensed with the scientists and intellectuals, you can push all your pseudoscientific nonsense on the public.

Wilson mischaracterizes Nutt’s report as being true only in the pristine lab, but not applying to the real world. He completely misses the substance of Nutt’s actual report, which considers the very real-world factors Wilson thinks are important. Again (without backing it up with rigorous scholarship) Wilson is just dismissing egghead scientists as clueless nerds.

Wilson even compares Nutt to Hitler, while coyly stating he is not trying to do so. He writes:

But I see the same habit of mind at work in Professor Nutt and his colleagues as made those mad scientists of the 20th century think they were above the moral law which governs the rest of us mortals.

I am sure you do.

But Wilson reveals himself most completely with the examples he gives of scientists bullying dissenters. He writes:

In fact, it is the arrogant scientific establishment which questions free expression. Think of the hoo-ha which occurred when one hospital doctor dared to question the wisdom of using the MMR vaccine.

Wrong, Wilson. Andrew Wakefield was not vilified because he dared question conventional wisdom. He also was not censored – he was published in the Lancet. The backlash against Wakefield came after it came to light that he was compromised by gross conflicts of interest (taking millions from trial lawyers to prove their cases), that his research was bogus and probably fraudulent. Wakefield is a terrible researcher with questionable ethics who ushered in an MMR scare that caused much disease and suffering.

Wilson continues:

The point here is not whether he was right or wrong – it was the way in which the scientific establishment closed ranks in order to assassinate him.

Absolutely wrong – it has everything to do with the fact that Wakefield was wrong, and his methods were questionable. But of course, you can make any legitimate scientific criticism into a conspiracy. All you have to do is dispense with all intellectual and journalistic integrity. Done and done.

He continues further:

There was a blanket denunciation of his heresy, just as there is if anyone dares to point out some of the mistakes made by that very fallible genius Charles Darwin.

Of course Darwin was fallible, and he made many mistakes. There was much that was not yet known in Darwin’s time. I am going to now be denounced by my fellow scientists (shudder)? Real scientists do not worship Darwin, as the creationists like to pretend. He was a genius who advanced scientific understanding considerably, but we have moved on with 150 years of advance since Darwin. Evolutionary theory is a robust scientific endeavor. Only creationists pretend it is all about Darwin the man – a straw man they can then take down (and they even botch that).

But no legitimate points of contention about Darwinian evolution are denounced – they are fodder for research and advance. What Wilson must be talking about are the fake criticisms leveled by creationists who do not understand evolutionary theory or the scientific process. Creationist canards that have been dealt with decades ago are not “mistakes” that scientists are hiding.

In short, in this article Wilson has revealed himself as an anti-science and anti-intellectual buffoon. But he represents a type of buffoonery that is all too common – the vilifying of science and scientists by those who want to be free from the constraints of facts and logic.

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27 responses so far

27 Responses to “Anti-Science at the Daily Mail”

  1. BaldySlapheadon 03 Nov 2009 at 10:30 am

    Hi Steve,

    I can reassure you that “David Nutt Sacked” has the exact same connotations to us as it does to you. :-)

    Did you make it to the Mail article before or after they removed the picture of Hitler from it? Just in case it wasn’t clear enough that all scientists are basically Nazis…

    This kind of crap is the Mail’s stock in trade. Just a couple of weeks ago, there was a national furore over a deeply homophobic article they printed which implied that a young man’s death was linked to his sexuality despite the coroner’s conclusion that it was from natural causes. Unfortunately, it is one of the best selling newspapers in this country.

    Baldy

  2. bluskoolon 03 Nov 2009 at 11:16 am

    I agree with your take on Wilson, but I have to disagree about science not being able to say what should be done in this case. While there are many examples of science showing how things are and not how things should be (your abortion example is perfect), but that doesn’t mean that science can only inform. For example, if research shows that abstinence only education leads to an increase in unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases when the goal is to reduce unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, then it would be foolish to continue to use it.
    It is rather obvious that our drug policies have been an abject failure. Continuing to spend increasing amounts of money fighting illegal drugs when it is not having any effect on use is equally as foolish.
    If the moral goal is to reduce drug use, then we need to consider the best way to do that and science can certainly provide that answer.

  3. CrookedTimberon 03 Nov 2009 at 12:07 pm

    Oh, those nutty Brits.

    So, Wilson gets his knickers in a twist over a scientist presenting findings and somehow that warrants a Nazi comparison. Bollocks. And then proceeds to trumpet the arse water science of Wakefield, where does he get the minerals?

    You gotta love Brittish expressions.

  4. glosrobon 03 Nov 2009 at 12:21 pm

    Just to emphasise the best selling newspaper bit – In October of this year it was second only to the equally awful Murdoch owned Sun newspaper with a circulation of around 2 million.

    It is also no stranger to awful science reporting – a quick search on Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science blog will demonstrate that.

    Or a well worded Google search around ‘Daily Mail’ ‘Cancer’ and ‘Cure’.

  5. Fifion 03 Nov 2009 at 12:31 pm

    Anyone looking for a non-sensationalist look at health journalism and it’s flaws, that takes on all comers (in the US) and not just the obvious and predictable sensationalist and notoriously tabloid media sources, should check out Gary Schwitzer’s blog.

    http://blog.lib.umn.edu/schwitz/healthnews/

    http://blog.lib.umn.edu/schwitz/healthnews/cat_health_care_journalism.html

    Refreshingly, he calls out all the various sources of poor health reporting and does so with an understanding of journalism and lack of sensationalism or personal outrage.

    Just so you know, The Daily Mail isn’t really anything life Huff Post (which has grand intellectual pretensions and is more of blogging free for all than a newspaper). It’s a highly conservative/right wing paper that’s more like Fox – or a slightly (only slightly) less wacky version of The Weekly World News – and is in the Murdoch tradition of yellow or tabloid journalism. Not that Murdoch actually invented yellow journalism. The Daily Mail is ALL about being sensationalist to sell newspapers, calling it out for being sensationalist and bad reporting is really just stating the obvious.

    And, yes, The Guardian is a smart and funny newspaper and they know what a nutsack is. They hang to the left, by the way.

  6. mannik5000on 03 Nov 2009 at 12:54 pm

    Handling of Nutt Discharge Raises Eyebrows

  7. Steven Novellaon 03 Nov 2009 at 1:21 pm

    bluskool – I agree with you to a point, and remember I went out of my way to advocate evidence-based policy making.

    But the assumption in your premise is the agreement on the goal. You are right that once everyone can agree on what the precise goals of policy should be, then science can best answer the question of what is the most effective way to achieve that goal.

    But – there are many goals, and that is often where people disagree. For example, some people may think that instilling morality in children is more important the reducing teen pregnancy.

    Also, you have to consider trade-offs. We might be able to pass laws that would be most effective at achieving a certain goal, but some people may not want the trade-off of reduced freedom.

    And finally, the relevant scientific questions may not always be so obvious. There are often multiple ways to look at the data, and no one way is the objective best way. False objectivity is a problem of “scientism” and that is to be avoided, in my opinion. We have to be honest about the assumptions and choices we are making.

    Let me give another example, this one from medicine. Science can tell us what the statistical outcomes will be from various treatments of a specific type and stage of cancer. But only the patient can decide if the side effect from chemo, for example, are “worth” the statistical benefits of longevity. The patient has to decide what their goals are and which outcomes are most important to them.

  8. daedalus2uon 03 Nov 2009 at 1:43 pm

    I think the sentiments expressed by Wilson are indicative of what I see as a “top-down” hierarchy of knowledge. Those at the top dictate to those underneath them. This is the normal scheme of things in a top-down hierarchy (which comprise most all human social systems). The person at the top, king, president, prime minister, Pope, bishop, patriarch, alpha male, laboratory director dictates to all those lower in the hierarchy how it is going to be.

    Science can’t work that way. Science has to proceed from the bottom-up, from facts and data to larger cognitive and theoretical constructs above. Those larger constructs may be useful in understanding and in filling out the details below them, but if the details below them don’t “fit”, then the edifice at the top must be changed or even abandoned. In virtually all cases in science, the findings that “don’t fit” will come from the bottom-up. They will not come from someone at the top of the hierarchy. Even if the persons at the top are 100x more likely to notice facts that “don’t fit”, there are many tens of thousands more scientists working at lower levels in the hierarchy.

    In reading what Nutt wrote, I see nothing controversial in it; pretty straightforward to me. If the justification for criminalizing certain drugs is due to the harm they cause, then matching the degree of criminality to the harm of the drug is a pretty straightforward strategy to minimize harm due to the drug and harm due to the criminalization of the drug.

    http://www.crimeandjustice.org.uk/factualerrorsdavidnutt.html

    I suspect that the major “harm” that politicians opposed to relaxation of drug laws perceive from the relaxation of drug laws is the narcissistic injury they inflict upon themselves for having pursued flawed drug policies for so long. Another major harm is from the implicit admission that those at the top make errors. If you are admitting that those at the top can make errors, the idea that those at the top are always right is fundamentally flawed. But the belief that those at the top are always right is the implicit foundation to all top-down hierarchies.

    The opinion piece at the Daily Mail was clearly anti-science. What is much more disturbing is that the UK government seems to be anti-science also.

  9. Fifion 03 Nov 2009 at 1:54 pm

    “But – there are many goals, and that is often where people disagree. For example, some people may think that instilling morality in children is more important the reducing teen pregnancy.”

    That’s a bit of an odd example since “instilling morality” is always promoted as a way to prevent teen pregnancy and not as moral education for its own sake unrelated to preventing teen pregnancy.

  10. Fifion 03 Nov 2009 at 1:55 pm

    Also, comparing personal medical decisions with public policy decisions seems like reaching and comparing apples and oranges.

  11. Fifion 03 Nov 2009 at 5:12 pm

    It’s well worth visiting The Guardian for the extensive coverage of the controversy around Nutt and his own writing about his and the Advisory Council’s views and the controversy. (And, yes, Professor Nutt is a psychiatrist and obviously has a sense of humor.) Overall, The Guardian does a very good job of covering science (as well as news and entertainment) and Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science blog is worth the visit too.

    Bad Science
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/series/badscience

    Nutt’s thoughts on drug policy…
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/nov/03/david-nutt-drugs-policy

    “One problem is that sometimes you get into what I think of as an illegality–logic loop. This is an example of a conversation I’ve had many times with many people, some of them politicians:

    MP “You can’t compare harms from a legal activity with an illegal one.”

    Professor Nutt “Why not?”

    MP “Because one’s illegal.”

    Professor Nutt “Why is it illegal?”

    MP “Because it’s harmful.”

    Professor Nutt “Don’t we need to compare harms to determine if it should be illegal?”

    MP “You can’t compare harms from a legal activity with an illegal one.”

    I have been surprised how difficult this concept is to get across to some people, whether they are politicians, fellow scientists or members of the general public.”

  12. Homologous Legson 04 Nov 2009 at 3:19 am

    The arrogant gods of certainty smite thee, A. N. Wilson!…

    I’m rarely angry. Even when a creationist says something stupid, I don’t react with fits of rage – I’ve made it a policy of mine not to do that under any circumstances.
    This doesn’t fall under any of the circumstances I wa…

  13. eiskrystalon 04 Nov 2009 at 4:35 am

    -but also had the moxy to run the headline – “David Nutt Sacked.”-

    No thats about on par with Daily Mail humour.

    *cough* controversy in a nutt shell *cough*

    We have a massive problem with alcohol in England. The governments answer was to allow the selling of incredibly cheap alcohol in supermarkets. So teens could get tanked up before going out.

    Science should only inform politics but most of the time the science says one thing and business interests and government say the opposite. Science is then ignored. THAT is not informing politics. Informing politics would imply an actual effect.

  14. Marshon 04 Nov 2009 at 7:21 am

    The main good thing to come from this whole affair has been the invention of the single greatest Twitter hash-tag ever: #NuttSack It’s as if the universe and all it’s beautiful complexity came together to create the greatest meme name ever.

    The Daily Mail is indeed a bit like the Huff-Po, but with more Nazis.

  15. Steven Novellaon 04 Nov 2009 at 9:46 am

    to be clear – the Guardian ran the Nutt Sacked headline, not the Daily Mail.

  16. Fifion 04 Nov 2009 at 9:54 am

    eiskrystal – It was The Guardian that ran that headline not The Daily Mail…what editor could resist it? There’s a massive problem with alcohol in North America too, along with all other kinds of drug abuse. The War On Drugs is a joke…well, it would be if the consequences weren’t so horrible. Of course, the privately run prison corporations have been making a killing, as have the drug lords across the Americas (the devastation in Mexico is a chilling example). Conservative governments like to frame issues around public drug use and addiction in moral terms but it’s really about corporate interests (that includes creating the need for more police, more invasive “security”, etc). People who don’t do horrible/antisocial things ONLY because they’ll get caught and punished assume everyone else functions this way (and will do all kinds of antisocial things if they think they can get away with it).

    In the US, there’s meant to be a separation between Church and State that means that government isn’t imposing religious morality on the people or basing policy on religion (obviously that’s not the reality in the US, which has increasingly become a theocracy…and much of the “moral” posturing is really a cover for corporate interests). Science is about reality and not morality – though one may derive an ethical position from a deeper understanding of reality. This is what makes it a good tool for making decisions about reality and a basis fro making decisions about political policy. Sadly, in the US it’s pretty clear that unreality-based thinking is so entrenched in politics and the national psyche that even a total crisis isn’t waking people up from the American dream to the very real nightmare that’s unfolding.

  17. Fifion 04 Nov 2009 at 10:04 am

    Marsh – The Huff Po and The Daily Mail differ in many ways, the main one being that the Mail is decidedly anti-intellectual and conservative/right wing/reactionary and aimed at the working and middle class, while the Huff Po is pseudo-intellectual, liberal/left wing/new agey and aimed at the middle to upper middle class. Both promote unreality based thinking but are geared towards quite different demographics. The Daily Mail is much more like Fox News (which also has Nazis), it’s just that the equivalent demographic in the US doesn’t buy newspapers anymore, they get all their news from TV.

  18. Calli Arcaleon 04 Nov 2009 at 10:50 am

    In the US, there’s meant to be a separation between Church and State that means that government isn’t imposing religious morality on the people or basing policy on religion

    Not exactly. In the US there is what’s called “the establishment clause”. It’s in the United States Constitution, and it states that the federal government shall make no law concerning the establishment of a religion. State governments have to follow that as well. (No state law can violate the US constitution.) What exactly that *means* has been a matter of some controversy, but it would definitely be taking it too far to say that government entities may not impose religious morality. After all, how do you determine, in a court of law, whether or not a law imposes “religious morality” if the law doesn’t specify “per Christian doctrine” or somesuch? It’s not like morals are unique to any religion. Indeed, most morals aren’t religious in origin; they originate in society and are added to religions in order to codify them.

    There are a whole lot of laws in the US which originated from explicitly religious sentiment, yet they do not violate the establishment clause. “Blue laws” are the obvious example. Most have been repealed (not because they were unconstitutional, but because the relevant legislative bodies chose to repeal them). Prohibition was such a law. Here in Minnesota, I may not go into a liquor store and buy booze on Sunday (although I can go to a restaurant or bar and order a drink, as long as its a place which also serves food). I also can’t buy a car on Sunday — yes, that’s a blue law.

    There are much less clear examples as well. Is it an example of religious morality if the federal government chooses to only fund abstinence-only education? Maybe. But is it “religious morality” merely because a Christian happened to be pushing it? What if a Muslim were pushing it? Would that be different? What if an atheist were pushing it? There are, after all, moralistic and even preachy atheists. These views are not unique to any one religion, and it would be very difficult to tell if a particular bill was being promoted for its adherence to a particular religious doctrine, or because of the personal opinions of the person promoting it, who just happened to be a religious sort of person. Religious people cannot be barred from promoting their views; that would be as bad as enfranchising only one religion. So just because somebody is, say, Baptist, that doesn’t mean their views should be discredited when they happen to coincide with the person’s religious views.

    The US is far from a theocracy. If you believe otherwise, then you probably don’t understand what a theocracy really entails.

    Science is about reality and not morality – though one may derive an ethical position from a deeper understanding of reality.

    I agree; science gives us the facts. It is then our responsibility to decide how we feel about those facts, and what we will do with the information. That’s where things like ethics and morality and honor come into play.

  19. Steven Novellaon 04 Nov 2009 at 10:56 am

    I am no constitutional scholar, but as far as I know the test is whether or not a law has any secular purpose. If it does, then the fact that is also has religious implications may be OK and it does not necessarily violate the establishment clause.

    Murder can be illegal even though it is also a Biblical commandment.

    You just can’t justify a law by saying it advances a particular religion or religious view. It must have a secular purpose.

  20. Fifion 04 Nov 2009 at 11:44 am

    Steven – Isn’t that why abstinence is always promoted as a form of birth control and not a moral teaching?

    Cali Arcale – Thanks for the explanation. It was probably a bit glib to call America a theocracy, it’s just very tempting to do so when wars are framed as “crusades”, prayer is considered medicine and to be payed for by taxpayers, and religious and corporate lobbyists seem to have more power than citizens.

    And, of course, law is historically based in Christian moral beliefs in Europe, Canada and the US (being Judeo-Christian cultures, though Islam is from the same roots, something that many people seem to be unaware of!). Why would it be any different if Muslims were trying to impose a moral belief determined by religious laws? I’m not sure why you think it’s different according to which religious group is trying to shape public policy according to their religious/moral beliefs. Here in Canada Muslims tried to argue they should be able to impose Sharia law and have their own courts – this was an attempt to override secular law with religious law.

    Science usually deals with ethics and not morals. While I realize many people don’t differentiate between the two or consider them the same thing, I think there’s a distinction to be made. There’s a reason why people don’t study “medical morals” but do study “medical ethics”, and why ethical standards change within science and medicine as our understanding and knowledge grows.

  21. Steven Novellaon 04 Nov 2009 at 11:56 am

    Fifi – yes, and I find those kinds of things very deceptive. It is like intelligent design – trying to dress up a religious belief as if it has a secular scientific purpose.

    That is the very reason for the deception – the need to present a secular purpose for things that are really religious.

  22. Fifion 04 Nov 2009 at 12:04 pm

    Cali – I think there’s a big distinction to be made between “a” person pushing something and an organization with a religious mandate pushing something. Most religious lobbying in the US is done by organizations, not by individuals.

    Tibet before the invasion by China was a theocracy, I’m aware of the technical meaning. As admitted, calling America a theocracy was somewhat glib on my part but religion certainly plays a huge and powerful role in American politics that is quite different than in Europe, Canada and Australia (where it’s actually often Fundamentalist Muslims who are trying the hardest to influence policy, sometimes in conjunction with Fundamentalist Christians). This is heavily reflected in policy decisions in the US – particularly regarding science. This doesn’t mean there isn’t religious fanaticism in other nations or that religious organizations don’t try to influence policy, and I’m not attempting to demonize America as a nation run by religion. However, one only has to look at the influence of Fundamentalist religious beliefs on US policy towards science and medicine to realize American government is heavily influenced by religious morality (that has very little to do with actual ethical and reality based decision making, and everything to do with Fundamentalist interpretations of biblical morality).

  23. Fifion 04 Nov 2009 at 12:18 pm

    Calli – “I agree; science gives us the facts. It is then our responsibility to decide how we feel about those facts, and what we will do with the information.That’s where things like ethics and morality and honor come into play.”

    Really? Do you sincerely believe it’s about how we “feel” about the facts? Whether we like or dislike reality/facts? That seems odd to me. The whole point of having facts is so that we can deal with something rationally and predict consequences based in reality and not how we “feel”. What if everyone “feels” differently? Reality is reality, no matter how we feel about it. If we feel threatened by reality or it challenges a belief we hold so we feel afraid of the facts, does that mean you think we should ignore reality and facts in favor of feeling good? It seems to me that this is the very basis of the kind of unreality based thinking (feelings trump facts) that’s so problematic in our very real world. Ethics in science and medicine aren’t based upon feeling, they’re based upon the very real consequences of actions and if they harm others, individual good vs common good, etc. They are based upon the best knowledge and understanding at the time and change according to new information.

  24. eiskrystalon 05 Nov 2009 at 4:28 am

    -People who don’t do horrible/antisocial things ONLY because they’ll get caught and punished assume everyone else functions this way (and will do all kinds of antisocial things if they think they can get away with it).-

    i.e. sorta like christians and hell. Except they beg forgiveness then get moved to another church.

    This is also (one of the many reasons) why the idea of christian prisons should frighten the life out of all of you (see pharyngula).

    I stand corrected on the newspaper title. It appears there is less difference between the newspapers than I first thought.

  25. Fifion 05 Nov 2009 at 12:20 pm

    eiskrystal – Yes, very much like some christians and hell. I guess the more antisocial and narcissistic your religion is – or any ideology for that matter – the truer it becomes! I’ll have to go have a look at pharyngula’s bit on Christian prisons…is it part of the move to privatize the prison system?

    The Daily Mail and The Guardian are quite different, it’s just that the British are much more likely to have a good laugh when there’s one to be had (and particularly like ribald humor of the kind that makes some American’s gasp in puritanical horror…nipples are considered funny and sexy and not scandalous in the UK, for instance). Media – meaning print, radio and TV – are quite different in the UK and America for a wide variety of reasons.

  26. Dangbhon 05 Nov 2009 at 12:36 pm

    And that wasn’t all; on the same day the Daily Mail (Daily Hell, Daily Heil) published this piece:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1224578/MELANIE-PHILLIPS-Fatuous-dangerous-utterly-irresponsible–Nutty-professor-whos-distorting-truth-drugs.html

    by Mel Philips, who you may remember as a promoter of what Ben Goldacre calls the MMR hoax, and who memorably suggested that she knew more about epidemiology than, well, epidemiologists. Well, I’m sure that’s not exactly what she said, but it was the inevitable conclusion, as I remember it. Anyhoo, if you want to play spot the logical fallacy, this, as with most of Mel’s pieces, makes excellent fodder.

    How do you confuse a Mail reader?
    Tell them asylum seekers eat paedophiles.

  27. jclinchon 06 Nov 2009 at 1:02 pm

    Loving the Mail joke.

    I know this is a science blog but I can’t leave this without comment – and an unabashed ad hominem point, I’m afraid.

    There is particular irony in AN Wilson associating scientists with Nazis – in the Daily Mail, of all places. In 2003, Wilson was dazzled enough by the charm of the unrepentantly pro-Nazi Diana Mitford that he attended her funeral. (Note to our US friends: Mitford was the wife of Oswald Mosley, leader of the British fascists in the 1930s – the “Blackshirts”.)

    The then owner of the Mail, Lord Rothermere, wrote an article entitled “Hurrah for the Blackshirts”, in January 1934,

    And in 1938, as persecution of the Jews in Europe escalated, the Mail objected to their seeking asylum in Britain. “The way stateless Jews from Germany are pouring in from every port of this country is becoming an outrage. The number of aliens entering the country through the back door is – a problem to which the Daily Mail has repeatedly pointed.”

    It’s a fine tradition that they continue to this day. In the Mail worldview, scientists are “boffins” who, instead of doing something useful like finding a cure for cancer, spend their time on lunatic theories which, using nothing more than hard evidence, “conveniently” explain global warming or evolution.

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