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Frank Davis

Banging on about the Smoking Ban


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The Death Ride of Science
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I've just watched Sir Paul Nurse in Science Under Attack. Nurse has a Nobel prize for his work on cell division. He's a biologist.

But the programme mostly wasn't about biology, but about climate science - or rather climate scepticism. Or "denial", as Sir Paul preferred to call it.

The impression I had of the entire programme was that it said, in a multitude of different ways, that climate scientists knew what they were talking about, and global warming was happening, and people should believe what they said, and be very, very worried.

There was the segment with a NASA scientist with a giant split screen showing the weather as it actually happened, and the weather as it had been predicted, and they were almost indistinguishable, with clouds popping up in the same places all over the planet.

Fred Singer, the climate sceptic, was briefly interviewed at one point, with his stalactite data. After the interview, Nurse pointed at a small tree, and said that the single tree (the stalactite) was just part of the picture. You had to look at the whole picture. i.e. stalactities are not enough.

He also interviewed Professor Phil Jones of the Climatic Research Unit at UEA. It was a very sympathetic interview, in which the single Climategate "hiding the decline" email was put forward as being the substance of the entire Climategate affair. Which it isn't. There are lots of emails. "Hiding the decline" was just one line from one of them.

There was also the Delingpole interview where the question was put to him whether he'd trust the consensus medical opinion on treatment or follow some obscure guru. Delingpole, after a moment of thought, asked if the discussion could return to climate science. This moment in the discussion has been seized upon as the moment that Nurse broke Delingpole. I couldn't see it myself.

Nurse also talked about bloggers (e.g. me) who he described as having reached their conclusions first, and then cherry-picked their data to suit.

Well, you know that's just like me, don't you?

At the end, Nurse was reverentially holding Newton's manuscript copy of Principia, and gazing at the signed copy of The Origin of Species that Darwin had given the Royal Society.

But at the end of the programme, it wasn't the subtle and not-so-subtle hints to the viewer that the climate scientists were totally on top of their job, and knew what they were talking about, and the climate deniers were all, well, ...people like me, that stuck in mind.

What stuck in my mind was that the way that Sir Paul described science was that it was a unified whole, and you were either a "scientist" or a non-scientist, and that there was a kind of unity to all this science, such that "scientists" all knew pretty much the same thing.

For example, he said that all scientists knew that plants contained things called "genes", even if stupid laymen didn't know a thing about them.

Do they? He's probably right, but how many quantum physicists or climate scientists know exactly what a gene is? And how many molecular biologists could give a good summary of Newton's laws of motion or the physics of atmospheric greenhouse gases? Most of them probably know no more about scientific disciplines outside their own narrow specialisation than any other TV-watching layman.

And exactly how much does Sir Paul Nurse, Nobel-prize-winning biologist, know about climate science? Has he tried, like I have, to build his own simple climate simulation model? Can he write computer simulation models? I can. And if he can't write them himself, and do the maths and science himself, is he not trusting that other scientists have done so? If he can't work it out himself, doesn't he just have faith in other scientists? Is that not all he was expressing in his support for climate science - faith that they knew what they were talking about?

As Nurse presented it, "Science" was a sort of unified whole. It was a kind of church. All scientists were united in a scientific consensus not just about climate science, but all science of whatsoever nature whatsoever.

Or at least, that was the idea of the church of science that Sir Paul was presenting. Believe it all, or believe none of it! If you were sceptical about climate science, then you were sceptical about Newton and Einstein and Darwin. It was all or nothing.

But I think that, in adopting this line of defence, Sir Paul has embarked upon what might be called the Death Ride of Science. He is, as President of the Royal Society, throwing the full majestic weight of Science behind a really rather novel and uncertain climate science.

It's as if he threw the full majestic weight of Science behind the headline antismoking "science" study which showed a 17% fall in heart attacks since the UK smoking ban.

What Sir Paul should be doing is to get rid of this sort of pseudo-science, expelling if from the body of established Science like a plague virus - as fast as he possibly can. Instead, he's going to embrace it. If your peer-reviewed papers are published in established, recognised scientific journals, what you're doing is Science, and deserves the support of all other Science.

This will prove to be a catastrophic strategic error. Sir Paul will have spent the accrued capital of hundreds of years of scientific research simply to defend one or two outlying positions on climate science and tobacco research.

Sir Paul refuses to retreat anywhere. Not just in physics or chemistry or biology, but also in climate and tobacco research. The line must be held everywhere. There must be no retreat anywhere. This was, it might be remarked, Hitler's advice to his more flexible generals - like Manstein or Rommel - who were able to imaginatively concede ground in one place in order to win it in another.

It is Sir Paul's Hitlerian inflexibility which will bring about the death of science. Refusing to concede anything, he will end up conceding everything. Science is set to face a catastrophe, simply because this inflexible man refuses to ever retreat from anywhere.

I know just one of them durned'd bloggers, but I care about science, and I care about finding out the truth, and I think that Sir Paul Nurse is leading science to disaster and defeat.

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Excellent Post!

(Anonymous)
Well done you for watching it all...

I too sat down last night to watch it on iPlayer but it was so obviously biased from the outset I gave up after ten minutes...

How's Your Bird Flu?

(Anonymous)
A few years ago, I watched a very sober PBS documentary here in the U.S. about the then coming bird flu pandemic. The experts interviewed wore glasses and had beards. They sat in front of book shelves as their names, titles and credentials faded in below their chins. David Ogden Stiers delivered the very, very serious narration.

More than anything, I was struck how a professional, sober presentation of experts being interviewed could make something so unlikely seem like it wasn't only likely, but inevitable. I wish I'd recorded it, because I don't recall the title now.

At the time, it made me second-guess myself, because I believed that the likelihood of a worldwide bird flu pandemic was about as credible as, well, a worldwide catastrophe from global warming. Yes, I actually felt for a moment like a "moon landing denier".

So, the bird flu came and went.

Global warming, to my mind, is just an extended version of the bird flu scare. I'm just not buying it, because it smells bad to me, and always has. And that smell isn't going away because of any "consensus".

-WS


Re: How's Your Bird Flu?

I was struck how a professional, sober presentation of experts being interviewed could make something so unlikely seem like it wasn't only likely, but inevitable.

Well, they are authorities. They are our new archbishops and cardinals.

Frank

Science under attack - BBC2

As I already commented (Scaremonger essay):

A programme which raised more questions than it intended to answer.

Climategate: to create a graph starting with 1 set of data up to the point when unsuspected data was obtained, then completing the line on the graph with another set of data can only lead to considerable doubts of the validity of data reaching the public.

Consensus: Although the general consensus with respect to medical treatment might currently be the best course of action, one could argue that accepting this might stifle progress and development of less intrusive, more effective treatments to come.

The very point made of looking at the whole picture, not only at isolated parts of research and the data obtained, was destroyed by using the example "smoking causes lung cancer" as well as yellow teeth a statement. After all, the taken point A (the cause) might well be point D' in the whole picture.

Critique: The use of ridicule is hardly convincing. Although it is questionable that cultivating one's intestinal flora prevents the onset of AIDS, it is curious to see a person surviving without antiviral treatment for 13 years. Could it just simply be that this person is one of the very few people found to be "resistant" to the effects of the virus? We simply do not know.

All in all a poor attempt, just skimming various issues to ridicule critique; how disappointing.

Re: Science under attack - BBC2

was destroyed by using the example "smoking causes lung cancer" as well as yellow teeth a statement.

I almost missed that, because it was being presented in a very strange way, using ropes over a tiled floor. I was quite mystified by this to start with, until I'd figured out that it was clever new BBC way of presenting a graph.

Except it turned out not to be a graph. It was just one thing connected to another two things. It wasn't a "graph" at all. By which time I was getting so confused that the content of the segment was almost going over my head, I was so puzzled by the ropes and tiles.

Maybe I'll have to listen to it again. I think it was about causation. Nurse was saying that it wasn't that yellow teeth caused lung cancer, but that smoking caused yellow teeth and also caused lung cancer. I think he said "Obviously" as well. The manifest truth, which everybody knew, that Smoking Causes Lung Cancer was being used to explain the idea of causation. I'm sure everybody got the message.

Except me. Because these days I seriously doubt that smoking really does cause lung cancer, so there wasn't anything "obvious" about it all. In fact, it made me wonder whether you could only believe in global warming if you already previously believed that smoking causes lung cancer.

I think I really will have to watch it again. For as I watched it the first time, I was saying "No" at almost every step.

Frank




Re: Science under attack - BBC2

"....because it was being presented in a very strange way, using ropes over a tiled floor. I was quite mystified by this to start with, until I'd figured out that it was clever new BBC way of presenting a graph."

Nurse was trying to explain with the ropes that 1 "cause" [SMOKING], the little pillar which he labelled A, can have more than one effect; the pillar labelled B [YELLOW TEETH] and the pillar labelled C [LUNG CANCER].

He used this to explain that it is necessary to look at the full picture and not only segments as people can easily take point B as a cause of point C when this is incorrect. (This would most certainly support my view).
Within seconds Nurse managed to invalidate this very good point by making the statement "Pillar A - smoking causes lung cancer". By saying so he excluded the possibility of a number of other "pillars" which we might label A' - Z' (starting from individuals' lifestyle to broad environmental influences) eventually reaching what he took to be point A - the CAUSE.

Nurse used the word obvious, but if I remember correctly it was with respect to yellow teeth causing lung cancer. Nevertheless, he had to use "yellow teeth" (very un-lady-like, after all - people need to be physically beautiful) in conjunction with his point.


Re: Science under attack - BBC2

Sorry - a correction is necessary (apologies for being a hasty typer):

it was with respect to yellow teeth causing lung cancer - "obviously yellow teeth do not cause lung cancer".

Re: Science under attack - BBC2

Yes, it's at the end of this segment.

And I didn't understand why yellow teeth "obviously" didn't cause lung cancer. Perhaps the yellow on yellow teeth might have been a highly carcinogenic substance?

The only sense in which it was "obvious" that yellow teeth didn't cause lung cancer was because, as everybody knows, it is smoking that causes lung cancer.

Frank

Re: Science under attack - BBC2

"The only sense in which it was "obvious" that yellow teeth didn't cause lung cancer was because, as everybody knows, it is smoking that causes lung cancer."

Exactly. (Nurse closed off the "pillars" A'-Z'............ - no scientific question 'what if......' was uttered)

I watched this too, with mixed reactions starting off with the usual "BBC pro warming bias" and ending up somewhere around "Hes a lying bastard".

The whole piece was presented as a general attack on science in itself - where the only real issue lies with climate "science".

Nurse complained about "deniers" cherry picking data, then he did exactly that to support his position throughout the programme. He focussed on tiny parts of the whole Climategate affair, no reference to the programmer notes in the climate model data for example, and on one email out of thousands. Also no mention of the sanitised data sets nor the deletion of the original raw data.

Delingpole missed a trick with the medical analogy tho - he could have come back with a comment on the lines of "well, the treatment of cancer is based on the facts as we know them however in climate science the facts are obscured, sanitised and manipulated".

There were a couple of interesting bits however.

In the segemnt with the observed data and the climate model side by side purporting to be "near identical" - if you take a closer look at the images, while the weather patterns were indeed similar, the climate simulation had a far greater degree of cloud cover than the observed - greater than 50% more from the few very brief glimpses we got. Could it be this type of error that is actually causing the forcasted temperatures of the models to be out of whack with the observed data?

The other interesting bit was with the chap that had HIV - it was presented as a "this man doesnt believe what the experts have told him", glossed over the fact that he had conducted years of his own research and failed to explain why he was still alive after 13 years of self treatment when he was only given 2 years to live. Of course, this has nothing to do with the big pharmceuticals and the fact they have a vested interested in their own "cures" for HIV, which are rather expensive.

Interesting blog btw, thanks.

the chap that had HIV - it was presented as a "this man doesnt believe what the experts have told him"

He came across surprisingly well. So well, in fact, that I wondered if he might be on to something. Particularly since he looked so healthy.

But I don't have any strong opinions on HIV/AIDS. I usually accept that the medical science is correct. But I'm aware that there are a number of people who don't think it is.

Maybe I'll have to review this too.

Frank

I thought that the difference between HIV and smoking was that HIV is a necessary cause of AIDS, where as smoking is not a necessary cause of lung cancer. But actually I don't even know if 100% of people with AIDS have been HIV positive.

The average Joe may not be a PHD but they know the hallmarks of a con and a whitewash when they hear of one.
You don't have to be a tailor to notice a badly made pair of trousers .
The AGW theory reeks of cronyism which usually means ,con.

I watched about half it, before I could stand no more.

I was very much reminded of this -


The British are the masters of deceit

"No weapon is more effective in war than the lie. No one has deployed military deception, over the years, more effectively than the British."

"That deception is only the latest chapter in a long and noble history of military con artistry. As Nicholas Rankin writes in his forthcoming book Churchill's Wizards: The British Genius for Deception: “The British enjoy deceiving their enemies [and] acting is a long-established area of British talent.”

"We like to pride ourselves on playing with a straight bat and a stiff upper lip, yet concealment is also part of the British character, allied to a natural love of theatre. When the British put their minds to lying for King, Queen and Country, nobody does it better."

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/ben_macintyre/article4662940.ece

Rose

I was disappointed that it focussed on climate science as, even with all the shenanigans that the scientists have gotten up to (which adds severe doubts to what they are saying) the whole thing is so hard to understand that no-one, not even the scientists themselves, really has a clue as to what is going on.

Had he focussed on tobacco science, however, I think the program would have been far more interesting. One doesn't need a PhD to understand that much of this research is nonsense; one just needs an understanding of the basic scientific method. Things like "smoothing" the data so an obvious reduction (when you look at the numbers) suddenly looks like an increase, on a graph. Things like using phone polls of the public to prove the existence of 3rd hand smoke. Things like removing certain months from annual data sets for no other reason than they would alter the results and not show what the researchers wanted to show. Even (an increasing trend in Tobacco Control research) announcing results before the research has even been conducted! Even a puffed-up egotist like Nurse would have had trouble defending this sort of crap, and it's exactly this sort of nonsense (and the "one smoke is fatal" nonsense coming from the US Surgeon General which isn't even supported by junk research, let alone a well-conducted study, that is killing people's faith in science.

The shenanigans at CRU just add to it.

Mr A

By the way, on the subject of tobacco, can I trouble the massed brains of the internet on this study?

I've been poring over it again.

It was published in the same year that the name Nicotinic Acid was changed to niacin to hide the link with nicotine, and one year after Nicotinic Acid was confirmed in tobacco smoke.
Three years after Muller's study was published in America.

They appear to be looking down the wrong end of a telescope.

B Vitamins in Cancerous Tissue Nicotinic Acid - 1942

"In view of the considerations presented in the introduction whereby one might be led to expect high nicotinic acid contents in tumours, it is interesting to speculate on the significance of the finding that this vitamin is actually decreased in cancer.

Since the transformation to the cancerous state is accompanied by an increased ability of the cells to metabolize carbohydrate glycolytically, the most obvious conclusion is that nicotinic acid is not associated with the increased glycosis.

On the otherhand, the constancy of the nicotinic acid content in various tumours is an indication that this vitamin is essential for at least some aspects of cancer metabolism.

It may be that the cancer cell is able to utilize its nicotinic acid much more efficiently in glycolytic processes than are noncancerous tissues.

If this should be the case, it would account for the apparent anomaly of low nicotinic acid content and high glycosis.

The low vitamin level might simply be a reflection of low storage capacity of the cancer cell.

These questions await further investigation."


Summary

"It is concluded that transformation to the cancerous state involves a decrease in nicotinic acid content, although whether this signifies low utilization of this vitamin or low storage capacity and efficient utilization is not clear.

The comparative constancy of the vitamin level in tumours may be an indication of the essential nature of the vitamin for cancer metabolism."
http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/2/11/744.full.pdf

"These questions await further investigation"

And 50 odd years later they were.


Mapping the role of NAD metabolism in prevention and treatment of carcinogenesis

"The association of lower NAD with malignancy in skin supports the hypothesis that niacin maybe an important preventive factor in cancer."
http://www.mentorwwllc.com/pdfs-global/nia/study/MappingroleofNADmetabolism.pdf

"A new interest in the relationship between niacin and cancer has evolved from the discovery that the principal form of this vitamin, NAD, is consumed as a substrate in ADP-ribose transfer reactions.

Poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase, an enzyme activated by DNA strand breaks, is the ADP-ribosyltransferase of greatest interest with regard to effects on the niacin status of cells since its Km for NAD is high, and its activity can deplete NAD.

"Studies of the consequences of DNA damage in cultured mouse and human cells as a function of niacin status have supported the hypothesis that niacin may be a protective factor that limits carcinogenic events"
http://www.jacn.org/cgi/content/abstract/12/4/412


"Scientists are not exactly sure how vitamin B3 boosts the skin's defences against cancer.
Tests so far have shown it is safe and effective as a topical treatment."
http://www.abc.net.au/news/health/sophie_scott/newsitems/s1366452.htm


NAD in skin: therapeutic approaches for niacin.

"Furthermore, the identification of the nicotinic acid receptor in human skin keratinocytes provides a further link to niacin's role as a potential skin cancer prevention agent and suggests the nicotinic acid receptor as a potential target for skin cancer prevention agents."
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19149600


"The comparative constancy of the vitamin level in tumours may be an indication of the essential nature of the vitamin for cancer metabolism"

- not that the body has depleted it's reserves of niacin trying to repair the DNA strand breaks.

In 1942, before the anti-tobacco campaign really got started, inadvertantly, science seems to have been turned on it's head.


Rose

I can assure you that many scientists are very sceptical about climate change Franck. I have not researched that area myself but I do know lots of scientists and have discussed it with many of them.

As you correctly point out, scientists are not some kind of homogenous collective but hold vastly differing opinions on almost everything. The problem with climate change and public health is that the subjects have become creeds and are no longer studied using a truly scientific approach. Science works best when opposing or at least multiple theories are tested against each other. It demands objectivity and benefits from a healthy scepticism. Both of these important criteria are absent in the public health industry and the politicisation of climate science suggests that the same malaise may afflict that area too.

The orthodoxies that dominate public health thinking and climate change are now so entrenched that it is virtually impossible for truly objective science to take place. Not least because of the way that research is funded these days. Try getting a grant if the theory you want to test undermines the prevailing view on climate /tobacco /obesity etc. Enstrom and Kabat are the classic example of what happens to those scientists who dare to oppose the prevailing orthodoxy based on their scientific results. Note the impartiality and journalistic accuracy the BBC displayed in reporting their work http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/3026933.stm

I didn’t see Horizon but it sounds like yet another case of the BBC going out of its way to support the established view as projected by the scientific and political elite.

The orthodoxies that dominate public health thinking and climate change are now so entrenched that it is virtually impossible for truly objective science to take place.

And it is corrupting the whole of Science. Once there is politically correct climate science and lifestyle medicine, what's to stop there being politically correct physics or chemistry? And yet in Sir Paul Nurse we have someone who is welcoming this, and fully engaging in it himself.

Frank

Youtube Science Under Attack

For some reason or other (or maybe no reason at all), the BBC doesn't allow non-UK IP addresses to see its stuff online. But I've found a website that lists some Youtube versions of the programme.

They start here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=miwJxFBOlX8

Like Anon at 7.14, I couldn’t bear to watch the programme right through to the end, so thanks for summarising it for me. Much as I suspected, the question as to why science is losing the trust of the public (the basis upon which it was advertised) – simply wasn’t addressed at all. I have to ask the simple question: if they wanted to know why people didn’t believe in science any more, why didn’t they simply go out into any shopping centre and stop man-in-the-street-type people – the ones whose support they say they are concerned about losing – and ask?? Maybe because they just didn’t want to hear the answers. Which, when you think about it, is a very un-scientific approach to any question!

Ironically, however, the programme seems to have answered the question in and of itself, even whilst trying to avoid it, because the reason why science is losing the trust of people is because scientists today do precisely what this programme did - order people to believe they are right (always, unfailingly, without exception and with no room for discourse or dissenting views); and then bury their heads in the sand, or stamp their indignant little feet, when reality proves them wrong because they have overstated their case for the sake of publicity or presented data which is inaccurate because it satisfies their sponsors! One wonders if any of them have ever heard the story about the little boy who cried “wolf!”

How encouraging (and useful!), though, to see them unwittingly indicating which bits of the “science” they are most desperate to win people over to (and which, through their inclusion and high focus, they are tacitly admitting that people are sceptical about) – climate change, genetically-modified food and smoking!! Now, I wonder why that might be …….!

"the question as to why science is losing the trust of the public (the basis upon which it was advertised) – simply wasn’t addressed at all."

Nurse did address this issue - just from a scientist's point of view. He did point out that scientists need to be forthcoming much more with their data than they currently do. This I would agree with. Unfortunately this was only approx. 10 seconds of the programme.

Dammit! That 10 seconds must have been after the point at which I turned over to watch some rubbish on the other side!

I knew that this program was scheduled, but decided not to bother with it because the program blurb said that the intention of the program was to show that scientists were not 'media savvy'. In other words, the reason that 'climate change' etc was not being accepted by the public was that the information was not being presented in a 'proper' way. So horizon want to talk about 'the presentation' of science? "Carry on", I thought to myself,"but 'the presentation''of the science is not what I am interested in." What I am interested in is the science itself.

I shall now watch it on utube and see what it says. Damn it! I know that it will annoy me.........

I have just watched the whole thing on BBC i player. Wonderful what they can do nowadays!

Right. 80% justification of climate science. A dig at smoking. A clap for GM crops. A bit of sentimental stuff about HIV.

A semi-contradictory statement that the whole is made of the parts, but the whole is more important than the parts. This was made clear in the Delingpole interview – the best treatment for an illness is that which has been agreed by consensus. I think that James was badly treated by the BBC there – the cameras should have been stopped in order to give him time to collect his thoughts. The thing is that, on the face of it, the idea is correct. But it is not. It is not the consensus but the efficacy of the treatment which is important. Was this deliberate? It would not surprise me – after all, James is a blogger and the BBC does not like bloggers.

As has been said, the emails were glossed over rapidly. I think that the real scandal was as much about the silencing of dissent, with threats, as much as the ‘hide the decline’.

Nurse missed the whole point, really, didn’t he? Einstein was totally against peer review. This is not surprising since, had peer review been in existence in 1905, his paper on Special Relativity would almost certainly have been chucked out. Nurse missed the point because Science stands or falls on its correctness. It must be verifiable, usually by experiment and observation. As regards the computer simulation which purported to show that the computer simulation of the climate was in line with events, it would have been interesting to see what would have happened had the simulation been allowed to run for a while. I wonder what the picture would have been had the simulation been ‘wound back’ two years and compared with actuality thereafter? My bet would be that the simulation and actuality would have rapidly diverged.

I don’t think that the word ‘science’ should be used for matters which are unverifiable. As regards the climate, perhaps the words ‘climate conjecture’ would be more appropriate than ‘climate change science’.

The bit of fun with the pillars (or posts) and the ropes used to illustrate the smoking conjecture was really rather silly as an illustration of cause and effect. The complexity of reality seems to come from the fact that a cause has and effect and that effect becomes a cause of some other effect, which then becomes a cause.....etc. To make things worse, it seems that, in nature, the final effect becomes the cause of the original event which started the whole thing off! The whole Universe seems to be a perpetual motion machine – oopst! There is (dare I say it!) a nigger in the woodpile, and that is the fact that the Universe seems to be expanding exponentially. The terrible problem there is that, in an infinite environment, the machine must eventually stop.

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