Oooooh I’m in the Minority Report!

October 31st, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, religion | 87 Comments »

This is officially the most exciting moment of my hobby as a writer. The Parliamentary Science and Tech Select Committee have published a very sensible report about the evidence for and against a change in the Abortion laws. The Minority Report is an extra report, bolted on as an appendix: they are there for when there are members of a select committee who don’t like the actual report.

In the case of this Minority Report on abortion, it’s a rollercoaster ride of pseudoscience and dubious data, signed by one Tory MP with the support of one other, and I highly recommend giving it a read. I’ve posted the PDF here, until it appears on the parliament website.

If you want a good example of how spectacularly weak the evidence behind this “Minority Report” is, then you need look no further than the bit where they talk about, er, well, me, bafflingly:

We were greatly concerned to read in the Guardian on 27 October an article clearly aimed at undermining the credibility of Professor John Wyatt, which contained detailed information about Wyatt’s evidence, which was passed by him to the committee after his oral evidence session, and which could only have been passed on to the journalist concerned by a member of the Select Committee. There should be an enquiry about how this information got into the public domain and as to whether such a personal attack represents a serious breach of parliamentary procedure..

My article did indeed contain detailed information about Prof Wyatt’s evidence, but I suspect any enquiry set up to examine how I managed to obtain that information would finish its work well before the first set of tea and biscuits arrived, since all the facts came from the written evidence published openly and in full during the select committee hearing. There’s nothing clever about what I do, let me promise you.

In fact as I made perfectly clear at the time, if you look here:

www.parliament.uk/documents/upload/SDAevidence.pdf

You will see in full all of the documents I used to write my article, examining the striking inconsistencies in Prof Wyatt’s unpublished claims.

How could I know that the committee contacted Prof Wyatt to ask him for the abstract for the research claims he made? Come with me, students of subterfuge, into my cave of secrets. Memorandum 52 on page 334 reads: “As requested I enclose the abstract referred to in my oral evidence.”

How could I know that the committee had gone back to Prof Wyatt and asked for clarification again? Because “Supplementary Memorandum from Professor John Wyatt 23 October 2007″ (Memo 53 in the PDF of written evidence to the committee, page 337, if you love me, you love me for my disproportionate anality) begins: “This further memorandum has been provided at the request of Dr Chris Tyler in order to clarify the data presented in my earlier evidence.”

Seriously, it’s next level investigative journalism, this stuff. It’s like Watergate. It’s like those guys who got shot at in South America in the 1970s exposing CIA involvement in coups. This is the real deal. I totally downloaded the PDF. But I turned on the taps and put the radio on full blast first, just in case they’d bugged my flat.

In fact every single thing I wrote about in that article was freely available, a matter of record, in the public domain, when I wrote about it, no conspiracy, no nonsense, anyone could have written about those figures, and I wish we lived in a world where lots of other people had.

To be honest, I’m “greatly concerned” that a pair of tory MPs are “greatly concerned” about me having access to the written evidence for a select committee enquiry. Perhaps they’d prefer it if everything was done in secret behind closed doors, but luckily this has turned out to be a perfect illustration of exactly what science – and indeed government – should be about: transparency.

I respectfully invite you to contrast this transparency with the impossible task of getting in touch with Prof Wyatt through either UCL or UCH, or finding any of his claims published in a peer reviewed academic journal, or indeed any journal whatsoever, despite the data being collected between 7 and 11 years ago, and presented at a conference over three years ago.

Investigate that.

“Minority Report” indeed.

At least give it a grown up name.


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87 Responses



  1. edd said,

    October 31, 2007 at 6:03 am

    “Minority Report” indeed.
    At least give it a grown up name.

    I don’t understand this. What’s not grown up about calling a minority report a minority report? One would think you’d be all for, well, calling a spade a spade.

  2. Bob O'H said,

    October 31, 2007 at 6:58 am

    I’m greatly concerned that the secrecy surrounding your great concern about certain individuals who are greatly concerned has been breached by some nefarious individual placing this information on the World Wide Web. I think you have to demand a review of your security arrangements.

    Bob

  3. Grumpy Bob said,

    October 31, 2007 at 7:36 am

    BBC Breakfast just reported the two dissenters as “anti-abortion” MPs.

    Dorries is my MP. (I recently emailed her about her support for the homeopathy EDM, with no response).

    Strikes me that if they are really “anti-abortion”, that this is an ethical stance which will trump any evidence.

    Robert

  4. Forest Pines said,

    October 31, 2007 at 7:56 am

    From the “Evidence Selection And Deselection” section:

    “Whilst the written submissions to the Committee were essentially evenly divided
    between those coming from pro-liberalisation and pro-restriction perspectives, those
    chosen to give oral evidence did not reflect this. Of the 18 witnesses chosen, 13 were
    pro-liberalisation and only 5 pro-restriction. This seems unfair given that public
    opinion is very much in favour of reducing the number of abortions.”

    Or, in other words: never mind about trying to come up with the best recommendations; a Select Committee’s job is clearly to go out and find witnesses to support whatever its members already think.

  5. woodchopper said,

    October 31, 2007 at 9:15 am

    Ben – its obvious to me that the only way that the two Tory MPs could have made these allegations is if they didn’t read the all evidence put before the committee.

    Their decision to adopt a strict regime of mental hygene may well also explain why they didn’t concur with the rest of the committee.

  6. iantanner said,

    October 31, 2007 at 9:53 am

    Excellent stuff! To save others having to look it up let’s get the names of the 2 MPs onto your front page. They are Dr Bob Spink (Castle Point) and Nadine Dorries (Mid Beds).

  7. Teek said,

    October 31, 2007 at 10:16 am

    wow, your subterfuge and underhand tactics amaze us all – how dare you use publically available information to deviously undermine the cause of an admirable and thoroughly straight-thinking PROFESSOR…?!

    seriously tho, i’m glad times a million that sense has indeed prevailed – all hail the sci tech comm, bar the two notable tory exceptions!

  8. outeast said,

    October 31, 2007 at 10:24 am

    Hilarious article, thanks!

  9. manigen said,

    October 31, 2007 at 10:38 am

    Personally, I’m deeply concerned that two MPs could have found out what you know Ben. After all, the only way they could have found out what you wrote in the Guardian last Saturday would be if some sort of leak occured. You should talk to you editor and set up an enquiry to stop it happening again.

    Plus, does this mean you’re now upgraded from micro-famous to milli-famous? Or maybe it hasn’t gone that far yet. Let’s call it 10^-5 famous for now.

  10. Norbury said,

    October 31, 2007 at 10:52 am

    I’m shocked and frankly appalled that you dared to actually read the proceedings of a public committee of public servants, that may well be televised (was it?), is nothing sacred any more? Hmm?

  11. Scooby said,

    October 31, 2007 at 11:42 am

    Rereading the original article it strikes me that they haven’t read it.

    It’s almost libellous to suggest that it was undermining Prof Wyatt when it was actually looking at the evidence Wyatt presented – it is not a personal attack in the slightest.

  12. Dr Aust said,

    October 31, 2007 at 11:51 am

    Do you sense a similarity between the two rather dim Tory MPs – “ooooh, he can’t have known this unless he had access to inside secrets” – and many ranking journalists covering scientific and technical stories – “I won’t bother trying to find the source of this and/or research it’s veracity by checking online – the only information there can possibly be is the press release / this article in another paper”.

    As many previous blog stories have demonstrated, it is striking what you can find out/deduce if you have an internet connection, some time, and an eye for “connections”.

    Of course, this kind of research / sifting / piece-ing together is what the CIA and other intelligence agencies call “Analysis”. Are you sure MI5 haven’t been using you as a front, Ben?

  13. matt_b said,

    October 31, 2007 at 12:10 pm

    Also from evidence selection and deselection:

    “2. People were asked to give evidence who had not submitted written evidence (see
    especially Drs Neil Marlow and Maria Fitzgerald). This has led to loss of public
    transparency.”

    So is that a good thing, or a bad thing? Do even the authors know?

  14. Ambrielle said,

    October 31, 2007 at 12:11 pm

    In addition to accusing Ben of sneakily obtaining secret information, they are also giving the impression that another member of the Committee was illegally leaking information to the press for their own nefarious ends (vested interests in ‘teh abortion industry’ yada yada yada :rolleyes:). I think I would take objection to that if I was one of the other members.

  15. Bogusman said,

    October 31, 2007 at 12:14 pm

    This is all fun of course but the really heartening thing is the committee report itself. I have just skimmed it (I am supposed to be working after all) and it reads like a sober and considered review of the evidence leading to a set of consistent and justified conclusions. Makes me feel just a bit better about the entire political process.

  16. manigen said,

    October 31, 2007 at 1:07 pm

    Select committees always struck me as A Good Thing. They’re isolated from the worst of parlimentary name calling, and they get time to realy dig in and study a subject.

    Compare that to public bill committees (previously called standing committees) which are scrabbled together to argue over specific bills. They have precious little time to do anything and seem to spend most of that bickering.

    Anyway, sorry, off topic a bit there.

  17. Heftmaid said,

    October 31, 2007 at 1:23 pm

    For those of you that might like to see the irrational Dorries and Spink and the rational and masterful Dr Evan Harris in action, the Science and Technology Select Committee Meeting ‘Scientific Developments relating to the Abortion Act 1967′ from 24th October will be aired on BBC Parliament at 6am tomorrow morning.

    What do you mean you’re not THAT dedicated that you’ll be up to watch it? Sky Plus isn’t just for taping porn in the middle of the night after you’ve gone to bed!

    For future reference BBC Parliament screens a lot of Select Committees and they’re often much more interesting than any other political programming you might care to watch. This one is a cracker.

  18. Gimpy said,

    October 31, 2007 at 2:37 pm

    Heftmaid or you could just watch it online at your leisure here

    www.parliamentlive.tv/Archives/SearchAll.aspx?Keywords=abortion&From=02/10/2007%2000:00:00&To=30/10/2007%2000:00:00

  19. BarryNL said,

    October 31, 2007 at 2:39 pm

    “It’s open for comment …”

    Hmm, strange that all the comments seems to be positive. Let’s have a go and see if anyone can get her to approve a critical comment on that page…

  20. fiwallace said,

    October 31, 2007 at 2:45 pm

    Maybe an idea to all write critical comments on her blog, keep a note of what is written (and not posted)and then pass it on to Private Eye? She’s an MP, after all, so should be in favour of honest debate…

  21. emilypk said,

    October 31, 2007 at 3:09 pm

    If anything there has been more new evidence from the veterinary side that foetuses are not awake and conscious until they begin breathing.

  22. Dudley said,

    October 31, 2007 at 4:30 pm

    I’m confused by Dorries’ comments regarding the “abortion industry”. Is she seriously suggesting that the other MPs on the committee were being paid in some way by abortion clinics to keep large numbers of women coming through their doors? That moves beyond libel into la-la land.

  23. nekomatic said,

    October 31, 2007 at 5:09 pm

    From page 74 of the pdf Ben linked to – well actually page 78 of the pdf, representing page 74 of the report:

    “b) All pre-term births happen for a reason and are usually indicative of a pre-disposing medical problem, either with the mother, or the baby. To use survival statistics of babies born prematurely to predict viability of babies aborted is not comparing like with like. The majority of aborted babies, if left to term, would be born healthy and so a direct comparison cannot be made.”

    Why yes, you’re right, how true this is. No point in being squeamish about it, abortion is about preventing the normal birth of – killing, if you will – foetuses that could otherwise have developed into healthy term babies.

    So how come you spend the rest of your minority report trying so hard to prove that survival rates of pre-24-week babies are better than the ‘abortion industry’ is trying to convince us they are, when this issue is irrelevant to the question?

  24. jackpt said,

    October 31, 2007 at 5:11 pm

    FFS “We were greatly concerned to read in the Guardian on 27 October an article clearly aimed at undermining the credibility of Professor John Wyatt …” I wonder if they’re so bothered about vile smear and innuendo aimed at members of the committee and I wonder who stories like that originate from… I suspect that story was prepared in advance and aided by people who knew the results of the report in advance. Whoever they may be.

  25. nekomatic said,

    October 31, 2007 at 5:12 pm

    “Hmm, strange that all the comments seems to be positive.”

    Well, Chuck Unsworth’s isn’t: “You mention the ‘Abortion Industry’. I’m interested in what you think this comprises and how you think it works. Any further comment on this?” Maybe it is a bit too subtle for the irony-challenged to pick up on though…

  26. edd said,

    October 31, 2007 at 6:06 pm

    www.thisislondon.co.uk/news/article-23418858-details/MPs+report+gives+green+light+to+DIY+abortions/article.do

    is rather a one-sided view on the matter

  27. Kells said,

    October 31, 2007 at 6:15 pm

    Nadine Dorries MP should be a staunch supporter of you Ben

    From her blog….
    10. The committee has given too much space in its report to evidence on both sides that has not yet been published in peer-reviewed journals. These ‘findings’ should be removed from the report and should not be used to inform Parliament (eg. EPICure 2, Dr Ellie Lee, UCLH neonatal survival rates).

    Surely you can safely say she is an ally?

  28. Ginger Yellow said,

    October 31, 2007 at 6:21 pm

    ” Of the 18 witnesses chosen, 13 were
    pro-liberalisation and only 5 pro-restriction. This seems unfair given that public
    opinion is very much in favour of reducing the number of abortions”

    Hey, I’m in favour of reducing the number of abortions, too. Doesn’t mean I favour legal restrictions. There’s more than one way not to abort a foetus.

  29. emilypk said,

    October 31, 2007 at 6:34 pm

    Indeed. Who on earth would celebrate increased need for abortions. The straw man entered the room at that point.

  30. RS said,

    October 31, 2007 at 6:34 pm

    Hah, next you’ll be advocating widespread availability of contraception and emergency contraception! No true abortion opponent you!

  31. emmer said,

    October 31, 2007 at 6:37 pm

    Damn that EPICure study – the low survival rates it reports have lead to “Doctors ‘not trying hard enough’” to save premature babies apparantly. If only it hadn’t ever been published.

    Poor Ben! I expect he will have to have his eyeballs gouged out and replaced by a man in a dirty apron.

  32. RS said,

    October 31, 2007 at 6:46 pm

    To be fair, survival rates are probably a bit lower than they would be if doctors tried heroically like they do in the US.

  33. ForeverAutumn said,

    October 31, 2007 at 6:56 pm

    Ginger Yellow – Well said. Reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies is a noble aim.

    Easier said than done, though. The liberal-leftie side of me says “more sex ed and more easily available contraception will lead to less unplanned pregnancy”. But the CSI “look-at-the-evidence” side of me sees a rising abortion rate alongside more sex ed in schools, condom machines in loos, and pills for free on the NHS. So my liberal-leftie theory isn’t holding up too well. I know there’s a certain failure rate for all contraceptive methods, but either it’s much higher than I’ve been led to believe or a lot of people still aren’t using it. Any other ideas as to why?

  34. stever said,

    October 31, 2007 at 7:36 pm

    posted on Nadine’s blog:

    so can we assume that any critical comments are being censored? Hurrah for democracy and meaningful debate!

    (for the moderators really)

  35. Filias Cupio said,

    October 31, 2007 at 10:08 pm

    Offtopic: Today’s Dilbert is a brilliant example of Bad Science.

    www.dilbert.com/comics/dilbert/archive/dilbert-20071031.html

  36. misterjohn said,

    October 31, 2007 at 10:17 pm

    I’ve now read lots of posts an hour before they were posted.

    Spooky, and on Halloween.

    Woo-woo.

  37. misterjohn said,

    October 31, 2007 at 10:56 pm

    It would be something of interest to know how many of the MPs have any academic scientific background, which might mean they were able to apply some scientific method to their reflections on these matters.
    I believe that over a third of MPs are lawyers of one sort or another, which would explain their ability to argue unarguable cases. It is also perhaps unreasonable to expect expertise in a wide range of subjects, but the use of logical argument and critical thinking is possible without that expertise. I’d hope that an MP would be able to recognise fallacious arguments, the use of “ad hominem” attcks and so on, particularly as so many of them use these methods to great effect.

    But given the number of MPs who support the funding of complementary medicine of no value at all, it is unsurprising that they are unable to distinguish between wanted and unwanted pregnancies, and that the efforts made to keep a wanted child alive are not linked to the issue of abortion.
    No-one, I suspect, thinks that abortion is a wonderful thing, but those who support the right to choose also tend to support the provision of contraceptive advice and contraceptives. Th opponents tend to be asgainst contraception also, probably on the basis that;-
    “Every sperm is sacred.
    Every sperm is great.
    If a sperm is wasted,
    God gets quite irate.”

  38. Ben Goldacre said,

    October 31, 2007 at 11:14 pm

    “There should be an enquiry about how this information got into the public domain and as to whether such a personal attack represents a serious breach of parliamentary procedure..”
    I think we should start a petition for that inquiry right now!

    ok seriously. that’s what I want for xmas. only you can give it to me. nothing could make me as happy as a response from the number10 petiton people on this petition. can anybody be bothered to start one? I reckon if you worded it right it would get through.

  39. Nero said,

    November 1, 2007 at 12:05 am

    So following on from Ben’s post above I guess we need a bit of action at:

    petitions.pm.gov.uk/

    I’m more than happy to kick this of but some suggestions re petition text would be appreciated.

    Something along the lines of

    “We the undesigned demand a know how a credible scientific reporter gained information held within the public domain, ……”

    I’ve dried up, anyone else?

  40. Nero said,

    November 1, 2007 at 12:07 am

    Ok it’s late, forgive the typo’s above.

    (Should this be in the secret bunker?)

  41. thom said,

    November 1, 2007 at 12:30 am

    Re: “2. People were asked to give evidence who had not submitted written evidence (see especially Drs Neil Marlow and Maria Fitzgerald). This has led to loss of public transparency.”

    Professor Neil Marlow is one of the authors of the EPIcure study – one of the largest studies in the relevant field – data from which are both published and peer reviewed. It seems highly appropriate to me that they’d invite him to speak.

    Re: “Scooby – it can’t be libel as MPs in the House of Commons are protected by Parliamentary Privilege. (They are allowed to say what they like).”

    Just to clarify … I think is restricted to “proceedings in the House” and so would not apply to anything on her blog, but probably would cover the minority report.

  42. misterjohn said,

    November 1, 2007 at 1:01 am

    Thanks, Gimpy.
    There may also be others with legal backgrounds but who are either not qualified as Barristers or Solicitors, or awhoi are declaring themselves as politicians or businessmen, for example.
    Perhaps the numbers of journalists and political organisers at 26.8% is indicative.
    Your link says there are 6 “Doctors in the House”, so that leaves very few other scientists if you are correct about a total of 8 or 9.
    Noteworthy also that about a third of MPs went to feepaying schools, and a quarter of them to Oxbridge.
    What do they teach them these days?

  43. per said,

    November 1, 2007 at 1:26 am

    The “minority report” states that: “There have been at least ten international studies on neonatal survival of extremely premature neonates published since the year 2000 which we can supply to the committee”.

    It further says: “It is imperative that MPs have an opportunity to examine original scientific documents rather than relying wholly on reviews of those documents in written and oral evidence submitted to the committee. We have therefore included further material which has a major bearing on the debate. Specifically … Recent published peer-reviewed scientific research and literature reviews.”

    They proceed to list only two studies (Hoekstra et al. and Riley et al.). The next step would be to find out what the other eight studies are.

  44. Mojo said,

    November 1, 2007 at 1:37 am

    To quote Lord Denning:

    “The House of Commons starts its proceedings with a prayer. The chaplain looks at the assembled members with their varied intelligence and then prays for the country.”

  45. Robert Carnegie said,

    November 1, 2007 at 3:34 am

    I’ve only heard the term “Minority report” or minority opinion” in connection with the judges of the U.S. Supreme Court. Their standards aren’t what they were but a committee of U.K. M.P.s still is giving itself airs by the phrase – as are the Supremes themselves, of course.

  46. Grumpy Bob said,

    November 1, 2007 at 7:02 am

    I posted a comment on Dorries’ blog yesterday, enquiring just who constitutes the “abortion industry”. It never appeared, and now she’s not allowing comments on the blog. Most of those that survived moderation were pretty fawning!

    She never responded to my recent email about her support for homeopathy, either, which is a shame. She’s my MP, and is usually very good about responding to her constituents.

    Robert

  47. NickConnolly said,

    November 1, 2007 at 9:03 am

    Regarding Ben’s Xmas present:
    The petition should be unsarcastic – phrased correctly you could probably even get a anti-abortionists to sign it.

    Ahem…
    “We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to support the call by MP Dr Bob Spink and MP Nadine Dorries for an enquiry into a recent article in the Guardian newspaper. The said article discussed the evidence of John Wyatt to the recent select committee discussing abortion law reform and was clearly aimed at undermining the credibility of his evidence. We ask the Prime Minister to ensure that concerns raised by Dr Spink are fully investigated, specifically:
    * How did the journalist (Ben Goldacre) gain detailed evidence of Prof Wyatt’s oral submission
    * How did the journalist gain access to evidence Prof Wyatt submitted after his oral submission
    * Did a member of the committee act as a ‘mole’ for Ben Goldacre and pass on this information by some clandestine means
    * Whether this constituted a personal attack and a breach of parliamentary procedure”

    OK – who is up for actually starting the petition?

  48. NickConnolly said,

    November 1, 2007 at 9:23 am

    OK changed the wording a little – removed names (apparently not OK to name people). If they accept it it should be:
    petitions.pm.gov.uk/minority-report

  49. Ben Goldacre said,

    November 1, 2007 at 9:31 am

    far be it from me tt involved in my own xmas present but I think it should simply demand an enquiry into how I obtained the oral and writtwn evidence to the committee as suggested by spink and dorries. and mention me by name. to be really christmassy.

  50. RS said,

    November 1, 2007 at 11:30 am

    “They proceed to list only two studies (Hoekstra et al. and Riley et al.). The next step would be to find out what the other eight studies are.”

    Yeah, I noticed that, annoying, I’m half intending to dig out the studies and make a blog post summarising them but it’ll probably have to wait for the weekend.

  51. Ben Goldacre said,

    November 1, 2007 at 11:41 am

    er okay look i hate to be over involved in my own xmas present,

    but the petition that’s been submitted makes it look like real scientists have genuinely called for an enquiry and are concerned,

    can someone put the sarcastic one up instead?

    three alarmed people have already emailed me about this. frankly i’m all for being childish but they might well have a point.

    maybe someone change it to:

    we support the demands made by conservative MPs Nadine Dorries and Bob Spink for an enquiry into how the guardian was able to get access to publicly available oral and written evidence submitted to the parliamentary select committee looking at abortion.

  52. MJ Simpson said,

    November 1, 2007 at 1:09 pm

    How about this. We call on the PM to…

    Commission a public enquiry into how the Guardian journalist Ben Goldacre was able to view and write about evidence presented to the Parliamentary Science and Technology Select Committee which, as stated by Bob Spink MP and Nadine Dorries MP in their minority report appendix to the Select Committee’s report on abortion “could only have been passed on to the journalist concerned by a member of the Select Committee” and may represent “a serious breach of parliamentary procedure.”

  53. emilypk said,

    November 1, 2007 at 2:23 pm

    Whereas posting only supporting comments doesn’t make you uncomfortable at all?

  54. emilypk said,

    November 1, 2007 at 2:24 pm

    (I suppose I should have typed “her” as she is unlikely to visit here…)

  55. used to be jdc said,

    November 1, 2007 at 5:06 pm

    If you have written a comment on Nadine’s blog and can’t see it then you’re not alone!
    I’m pretty disgusted (but not surprised) that she cherry picks comments. Some other blogs have dealt with ‘Dorries +abortion’ – I found a few on google this morning.

  56. DrJon said,

    November 1, 2007 at 6:12 pm

    Where’s this petition? I can’t find it in the open petitions or the rejected petitions :)

    I understand moderating MPs blogs, but the positive only comments policy was truly frightening.

  57. NickConnolly said,

    November 1, 2007 at 7:15 pm

    Sorry Ben but this e-mail came back from Number 10:
    Hi,
    I’m sorry to inform you that your petition has been rejected.
    Your petition was classed as being in the following categories:

    * Issues for which an e-petition is not the appropriate
    channel

    Oh well, looks like you’ll be getting socks again for crimbo…

  58. MJ Simpson said,

    November 1, 2007 at 7:19 pm

    I think the facet of this which is worth pointing out is that Dorries and Spink were sitting on a Select Committee without understanding how a Select Committee works.

  59. Ben Goldacre said,

    November 1, 2007 at 7:30 pm

    well that’s it then.

    they’ve ruined christmas.

  60. NickConnolly said,

    November 1, 2007 at 7:35 pm

    Darn, and all that homeopathic egg-nog I made will go to waste…

  61. Citizen Deux said,

    November 1, 2007 at 8:47 pm

    “And just where did you get such sensitive company information?”

    “It’s in the company’s annual report…”

    Michale J. Fox in The Secret of My Success

  62. nix said,

    November 1, 2007 at 9:14 pm

    There could have no better result for a pro-choicer than to have Nadine Dorries on the other side. Not for nothing is she known as `Mad Nad’. If there’s a cause that’s unpopular for good reasons, she’ll back it, from supporting blatantly astroturfed PR campaigns for large leisure firms to devoting enormous energy to pissing off her fellow MPs by threatening to piss with Parliamentary procedure for the hell of it. (e.g. she was reported last year in _Bedfordshire on Sunday_, the unofficial anti-County, pro-Borough Council organ[1], as threatening to put her antiabortion stuff in as an early day motion every single day until she was stopped. In fact she made a huge noise, did it once, was comprehensively defeated, and then tried this approach to get it in through the back door.

    In that alone her political anti-genius is seen.

    The only downside is that this lunatic is my only Parliamentary representation. Still, the man she replaced was much worse, getting into major disciplinary trouble, having the whip withdrawn, and then being given a choice between resigning and being bashed by the Standards and Privileges Committee for corruption (he’d already been hit with the conduct unbecoming stick).

    [1] the County and Borough Councils aren’t talking to each other and haven’t for ages, so most of their debates take place in the BoS’s letters pages, and, soon, in court, what a nice use of my council tax

  63. nix said,

    November 1, 2007 at 9:40 pm

    It’s just occurred to me that I hold a winning moral card, as a pro-choicer constituent of Nadine Dorries who was born at 25 weeks and whose identical twin suffered severe anoxia and was allowed to die (he could theoretically have been saved but would have been horribly damaged) yet who *still* supports women’s right to choose whether or not to give birth up until the current legal threshold.

    I could go over to Nadine’s blog and annoy her by waving this in her face and implying irrationality.

    Would this be too cruel?

  64. Bloggerheads said,

    November 1, 2007 at 10:34 pm

    Merry Christmas, Ben:
    nadine-dorries.blogspot.com/

  65. Ben Goldacre said,

    November 1, 2007 at 10:55 pm

    interesting.

    actually for a very long time i’ve wanted to get involved with some people in setting up an internet-wide site called

    commentrejected.com

    it’ll need a bit of coding, but it couold easily go viral and win the internet. basically whenever someone has a comment rejected from a site, they fill in the url from where their comment was rejected, and post their comment on commentrejected.com instead, which puts all rejected comments of one thread together, along with a link back to the context.

    in my opinion if i get run over tomorrow i am still officially a genius for having this idea, albeit a flawed one for failing to follow through on it.

    if anybody wants to get involved (ie do it) i’ll set up a google group, it could be massive. i’ve registered the domain.

  66. stever said,

    November 1, 2007 at 10:58 pm

    well done bloggerheads. superb idea. i’ve posted already, being very pissed off that my Nadine comments didnt make the cut, before she stopped taking comments altogether.

    Ben – brilliant idea. im right behind it. let me know what i can do.

  67. Bloggerheads said,

    November 1, 2007 at 10:58 pm

    “interesting”…?! Next time, I’ll just get you some socks, shall I?

    ;oP

  68. JonnyB said,

    November 1, 2007 at 11:35 pm

    Hullo – I went to commentrejected.com in order to leave a comment, but there was no facility. I am thinking of registering commentrejectedrejected.

    Seriously – that is a superb concept.

  69. Ben Goldacre said,

    November 1, 2007 at 11:56 pm

    anybody who wants to get involved writing code and building the site sign up here, this rests on you…

    groups.google.com/group/commentrejected/

  70. Robert Carnegie said,

    November 2, 2007 at 1:24 am

    Hmm. There may be effective reasons why a comment is rejected. Specific, damaging, and false allegations about the sex life of Sue Lawley perhaps. Setting up an open house for anyone’s rejected comments is risky. The DMCA could apply, depending where it’s hosted and how. You may not be able to tell what’s wrong with comments as they go up. And the spelling! My goodness, the spelling!

  71. igb said,

    November 2, 2007 at 8:11 am

    What the MPs in the Minority Report (*) clearly haven’t heard of is the somewhat confusingly named Open Source Intelligence. There’s a whole subclass of intelligence work, with big computers and clever people, which works on distilling down newspapers, public websites, Usenet (back in the day), blogs (today), plus information whose classification is so nugatory that it’s for practical purposes open (`Restricted’ and `Confidential’, clearances honoured more in the breach) and so on to extract classified material.

    That’s why a clearance that permits you access to Secret, say, is also required for sufficient volumes of Confidential that allow information marked Secret to be deduced. An acquaintance some years ago had had to hold DV (ie sufficient clearance for TS and above) in order to work on an ERP system in the 80s, because one thing being planned from food and clothing deliveries to the nuclear deterrent, from which cruise plans could be deduced.

    This is, in passing, why all those stories about “classified orders for biscuits” show a lack of understanding. If you were German and the date was May 1944, and you heard about a large order of biscuits being delivered to the depot Portsmouth but no similar order going to Dover, what would that tell you?

    As Groklaw has demonstrated, Eric Raymond’s thing about “given sufficient eyes, all bugs are shallow” applies to legal documents: informationa bout the SCO/IBM thing has emerged simply because enough people are prepared to cross-correlate documents and extract latent meaning. N documents cross-referenced is (N(N-1))/2 comparisons, which requires computers, people or both.

    What Ben’s done is take documents that even ten years ago would have been tedious to obtain and search, and extract information that was put there with no real expectation of being read. Do you remember the row about the inquiry into the Stephen Lawrence affair, where the initial downloadable versions of the evidence contained the addresses of the witnesses, a botch that cost about half a million in relocation? Not a problem in the past: how many people, Denning’s report into the Timothy Evans affair notwithstanding, buy HMSO reports? But today, in download city, all documents like that travel quickly.

    So the MPs probably live in a kinder, gentler age in which HMSO reports are more for the private consumption of the political classes who play by Queensbury rules, not for Guardian-reading doctors who might, you know, _use_ the information.

    Sorry, bit of a ramble…

    ian

    (*) Along with Magnolias and Collateral proof that Tom Cruise is actually rather a good, albeit limit, actor.

  72. manigen said,

    November 2, 2007 at 10:29 am

    Ramble nothing, that was fascinating.

  73. JoanCrawford said,

    November 2, 2007 at 11:31 am

    www.dilbert.com/comics/dilbert/archive/dilbert-20071031.html

    Actually, this cartoon is appropriate to most of the site, in fairness.

    Made me chuckle, anyway.

  74. Dr Aust said,

    November 2, 2007 at 3:38 pm

    Nice one, igb – I think I was was kind of getting at the same thing eariler on here.

    Thinking back, this has always one of the classic non-sequiturs of Official Secrets Act: that something could be viewed by the Govt to be a secret when in fact it was a logical deduction from lots of freely available non-secret information (aka journalism).

    A lot of what I think of as “proper” investigative journalism, and some of the political stuff depended on this kind of “sifting and piece-ing together” (think Woodward and Bernstein). Which is why I am often disappointed (though not surprised) that broadsheet coverage of science and technology questions doesn’t seem able to do the same thing.

  75. PalMD said,

    November 2, 2007 at 9:35 pm

    You are one sneaky mamzer…seriously though, it took at least a little work to dig up and read primary sources–while not nefarious, it’s worth a few journalism points.

  76. nickyb said,

    November 3, 2007 at 5:46 am

    From Dorine’s blog about Evan:

    “Anyway, he took longer in make-up than I did, which is saying something. I was begining to worry they may replace us with another item.”

    Am I just a prissy, hysterical, uber-sensitive queen, or there more than a hint of homophobic smearing in this?

    That’s after she has had her fill of effectively calling him “Dr Death”.

    What a vile woman.

  77. JohnD said,

    November 3, 2007 at 9:31 am

    Ben,

    Is it just me?
    Clicking on your link (“I’ve posted the PDF here, until it appears on the parliament website”) to this Minority Report leads me back to the main report.

    If it is me, I’ll Google for it, or else please post the full URL.
    If it isn’t – has no one except you read it, including the above?

    John

  78. Mojo said,

    November 3, 2007 at 11:16 am

    The minority report is in the “Formal minutes” section, starting on page 71 of the report (page 75 of the pdf).

  79. Diotima said,

    November 4, 2007 at 9:06 am

    ‘Abortion’ is mainly performed by the uterus(the uterus perfoms quality control on its products). Ben could probably direct us to the very interesting US experiment in which a statistically significant sample of nurses, using no contraception and hoping to become pregant, allowed their menstrual blood to be checked regularly for evidence of foetal cells. It was (as I recall) found that up to 25% of pregnancies were ending in miscarriage quite early in pregnancy. So if there is an ‘abortion industry’ we must point the finger at the uterus itself.

  80. Trez75 said,

    November 6, 2007 at 1:55 pm

    Its not the uterus’ fault.
    Well, not according to “Christian Voice” anyway.

    Apparently its all down to “Gordon Browns cronies” and other “Pro-Death MP’s”.

    www.christianvoice.org.uk/Press/press057.html

    Having said that, they’re also against the HPV vaccinations, as it will encourage promiscuity. They want to prevent something will reduce deaths due to cervical cancer on the grounds that in order to stop young unmarried people from ‘doing the deed’ that we have to keep the threat of it killing them.

  81. Robert Carnegie said,

    November 7, 2007 at 12:22 am

    Can you find out who “Christian Voice” actually is, or do anything with the site besides join and send money? I see that “Post hoc ergo propter hoc” is their test of success, which I guess does make sense theologically. Like praying for the Moon not to fall on the Earth – try it, it works… I also notice that members get “a free copy of Britain in Sin”, is that the edition with foldout map?

  82. used to be jdc said,

    November 7, 2007 at 10:22 am

    But Christian Voice do have a knack of picking up on the really important issues too: Sunday trading, homosexuality in the police…

    *Britain in Sin is also available as a PDF. 31 pages of comedy gold. They even list the EU treaties that have broken the second commandment.

  83. Trez75 said,

    November 7, 2007 at 1:37 pm

    Christian Voice is basically a guy called Stephen Green. No-one knows how many other members there are because he won’t tell anyone. The Co-Operative Bank closed his account because of his quite frankly fascist opinions and the BBC now won’t allow him to speak on there either.

    He basically has the opinion that if its against the word of the Bible then it needs to be discouraged no matter what the consequences. I was going to write to him and (jokingly) suggest that he should also campaign to withdraw NHS treatment for HIV to homosexuals or intravenous drug users. Or stop treatment for alcohol or smoking related illnesses.
    The Bible says that the body is a temple, and homosexuality a sin, so we deserve what we get.
    Anyway I’m going off thread here

  84. Robert Carnegie said,

    November 11, 2007 at 1:29 am

    Trez: do you think the Church, or this particular member, isn’t ahead of you? All disease is a sin. Some sins can be forgiven and the disease cured. Some should not be. Or something like that. Materialist cures for sin, I think he’d be persuaded to say, are an abomination.

  85. PRJ said,

    September 22, 2008 at 10:03 pm

    It should be noted

    A French cohort study involving 12,432 women suggested
    that “a history of induced abortion increases the risk of preterm delivery, particularly for women who have had repeated abortions”.

    and

    We recommend:
    1. That in the context of conflicting expert evidence on fetal pain and viability, this lack of consensus should be fully acknowledged in the report and the committee should
    adopt the precautionary principle giving the fetus the benefit of the doubt, until a clear consensus emerges.

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