Tuesday, November 14, 2006


The government often hides behind a figleaf of scientific respectability when spinning unpalatable or controversial policies to make them acceptable to voters, according to a report by MPs critical of the way science is used in policy.

The parliamentary science and technology select committee said that scientific evidence was often misused or distorted to justify policy decisions which were really based on ideological or social grounds.

The report, the culmination of a nine-month inquiry, calls for a "radical re-engineering" of the way the government uses science. "Abuse of the term 'evidence based' ... is a form of fraud which corrupts the whole use of science in government," said Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrats' science spokesman and a member of the committee. "It's critical that the currency of an evidence base is not devalued by false claims."



The consensus on how to handle climate change has become suffocating. There is near universal agreement that the solution lies primarily in rationing energy consumption. On an individual level this generally means the imposition of `green taxes' to make such activities as driving and air travel more expensive. On a larger scale the emphasis is on `carbon trading', which is about reducing greenhouse gas emissions from businesses and the public sector.

This lack of debate is tragic, as the challenge of global warming could provide an invaluable opportunity to transform the world for the better. A huge investment in energy would enable humanity to tackle climate change and end the curse of world poverty at the same time. Such investment would not even require the invention of new technology - although more innovation would be hugely beneficial. Nuclear power and hydroelectric power could potentially provide plentiful energy without greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon sequestration - capturing carbon dioxide emissions and storing them - could make energy derived from fossil fuels far less harmful. The extra energy could fuel economic growth without doing significant damage to the climate.

If the solution is so obvious, why is it not recognised? The answer can be gleaned by examining the Stern report on the economics of climate change, commissioned by the British government. Although the report is more nuanced than any minister's speech, it is informed by a neurotic small-mindedness that is characteristic of the climate change discussion. Rather than boldly search for imaginative solutions to the challenge, it is steeped in anxiety and caution.

The starting point of the Stern report is the argument that climate change reveals the flaws of capitalism. `It is the greatest example of market failure we have ever seen', says the report (p1). The fact that the market system is seen as driving the world to disaster is a strong indication of the nervous mindset of its authors and its government sponsor. Stern portrays climate change as what in economics is called an `externality' (p23). In other words, the costs of greenhouse gas emissions are not paid for by those who create them. For example, if someone drives a car the cost of the damage it does to the environment is not factored into the price the driver pays to purchase or run the vehicle. Similarly, the environmental costs of using plentiful electricity are not paid by the rich consumers of the West.

From these assumptions it is easy to draw the conclusion that rationing must be central to any solution. Stern gives many examples of how this can be achieved. Putting a price on carbon - whether through tax, trading or regulation - is seen as central. Encouraging `behavioural change', for example through public `education' (read government propaganda), is also portrayed as important. To be fair to Stern, the report does discuss other policies that are not reliant on rationing. The possibility of switching to low carbon technologies which do not emit greenhouse gases is considered. It also sees a role for adaptation - for instance, building modern flood defences. But the discussion of these options often seems half-hearted or secondary to the alternatives. In any case, when it comes to the government's imminent climate change bill, it looks certain that rationing will be at the centre of its approach.

Stern is also sensitive to the charge that a strategy based on rationing could curb economic growth. It points out, correctly, that economic growth has historically been closely correlated with rising greenhouse gas emissions (p169). It is almost an iron law of economics that as societies become richer they use more energy per head. And historically, fossil fuels have supplied the vast majority of the world's energy needs.

One way Stern responds to this recognition is to downplay the economics costs of its approach. It estimates that the strategy it proposes need only cost 1 per cent of GDP by 2050. But its limited horizons are apparent in the notion of sustainable development that it advocates: `Future generations should have a right to a standard of living no lower than the current one.' (p42) So Stern seems to find it acceptable that humanity should continue in its present state of widespread poverty. This in a world where more than a billion still live on less than one dollar a day, and 2.7 billion live on less than two dollars.

More dishonest is the report's counterposition between an approach based on rationing and `business as usual'. It argues - correctly - that doing nothing could ultimately have enormous economic costs. But why should the alternative to rationing be doing nothing? No one is suggesting that Bangladeshis should be left to drown or that Africans should be condemned to die of drought. Nor should malaria or other diseases go unchecked.

On the contrary, rapid economic growth would be enormously beneficial to the Third World, as well as bolstering its ability to tackle climate change. Economic growth would enable Africans, Asians and Latin Americans to share the benefits of prosperity that we in the West take for granted. It would also give them the resources to reduce their vulnerability to climate change. A subsistence farmer clearly has little flexibility to react to changes in his environment. A modern city-dweller, by contrast, has access to networks and resources to protect himself from the climate. Why should anyone die of heatstroke if they live in an air-conditioned building? How can there be drought if there are the resources to build desalination plants? Why should malaria continue to be a threat with modern preventative measures and hospitals?

So the time to act against global poverty and to tackle climate change is here. Let's have a massive investment in new global energy supplies. With modern innovations there is no reason why it should lead to significant increases in greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed, over time there could be reductions. The challenge of climate change could be turned into an opportunity to transform the world into a better, richer place.



The climate change debate has taken on a pantomine character, with lurid plots and stage villains, says Dominic Lawson

The studio audience of The Late Edition, the BBC's only live comedy show, last week witnessed the following elevated debate between the host, Marcus Brigstocke, and your columnist. Brigstocke: "All those who question the extent of manmade climate change are in the pay of the oil companies." Self: "Oh no, they're not." Brigstocke: "Oh yes, they are!" Self: "Oh no, they're not!"

At this point I half-expected the audience to start chanting along with us, in the manner of a Christmas panto. At times it has seemed as if the entire British debate on climate change has taken on the character of a pantomime, with lurid plots, grotesque caricatures, and stage villains. Indeed, some of the outfits worn at the Stop Climate Chaos rally in London on Saturday looked as though they had been hired from theatrical costumiers.

In the world of grown-ups, the man who has probably thought more deeply than anyone else in this country about climate change is distinctly unamused. Professor Mike Hulme is the founding director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and the coordinating lead author of the chapter on "climate change scenarios" for the third assessment of the International Panel on Climate Change. On the day that 22,000 supporters of Stop Climate Chaos rallied in Trafalgar Square, Professor Hulme delivered a thunderous rebuke, which was posted to the Green Room, the BBC's website for 'thought provoking environmental opinion pieces'.

"Over the last few years a new environmental phenomenon has been constructed in this country - the phenomenon of 'catastrophic' climate change'" wrote Prof. Hulme. "The increasing use of this term and its bedfellow qualifiers 'chaotic', 'irreversible' and 'rapid' has altered the public discourse [which] is now characterised by phrases such as 'irreversible tipping in the Earth's climate' and 'we are at the point of no return.'" "Some recent examples of the catastrophists include Tony Blair, who [states] 'We have a window of only 10-15 years to take the steps we need to avoid crossing a catastrophic tipping point.' Why is it not just campaigners, but politicians and scientists too, who are openly confusing the language of fear, terror and disaster with the observable physical reality of climate change, actively ignoring the careful hedging which surrounds science's predictions? ... By 'sexing it up' we exacerbate...the very risks we are trying to ward off. The careless (or conspiratorial?) translation of concern about Saddam Hussein's putative military threat into the case for WMD has had major geopolitical repercussions. We need to make sure the agents in our society which would seek to amplify climate change risks do not lead us down a similar counter-productive pathway." ....

So far, very few in this country have questioned the 'facts' assembled by Sir Nicholas Stern . One of his fellow economists abroad has, however. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Bjorn Lomborg made the following observations. The cost of hurricanes in the US appears as both 0.13 per cent of GDP and also as 1.3 per cent in Stern's report. Stern declares that the "social cost" of carbon is $85 a ton. Yet one of the world's most distinguished environmental economists, Yale's William Nordhaus, praised in the Stern report as having the "approach closest in spirit to ours", insists that the social cost of carbon is $2.50 a ton. Stern tells us that the cost of flooding in the UK will quadruple from 0.1% to 0.4% of GDP. Yet the British Government's own figures, which take into account a small increase in flood prevention measures, say that the cost will decline sharply to 0.04% of GDP, despite climate change.

One of the more entertaining aspects of the current "climate catastrophe" caterwauling is that some of the scientists who are most alarmist - such as that brilliant writer James Lovelock-were thirty years ago warning that we were on the verge of a new Ice Age. One reason was that between 1945 and 1975 global temperatures fell. Between 1975 and 1998 global temperatures rose slightly - and set off a symmetrically divergent panic. Over the past eight years, global temperatures have been as close to stable as makes no difference. I can therefore understand Professor Hulme's agitation. He knows that the alarmists have based their scare tactics on a dramatic rise in temperatures across the world in the very near future. That won't happen. When that fact dawns on most people, they will begin to ignore all experts' warnings about the weather. Then, if a serious figure such as Professor Hulme discovers a genuine reason to panic, he will be dismissed as yet another Chicken Little, who thought that because an acorn landed on his head, the sky was falling in.

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This summer, the influential European Medicines Agency (EMEA) officially advocated the prescription of the antidepressant Prozac within the EU for children from the age of eight upwards, reinforcing a similar recommendation made last year by the UK's Nice (the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence), despite the known dangerous side effects of the drug on children and adolescents.

The nub of the medical authorities' argument is that there are mental conditions that only Prozac or Prozac-type drugs can reach. Prozac (or fluoxetine) came off patent five years ago, prompting the manufacture of a number of generic drugs of essentially the same chemical compound. As for the side effects, which include the risk of suicide, everything depends, the medical authorities advise, on the circumstances and care with which the Prozac-type drug is prescribed and monitored.

The EMEA and Nice have insisted that treatment with fluoxetine should be preceded and attended by psychotherapy. But Sane, the mental-health charity, and YoungMinds, the childhood mental-illness watchdog, are concerned about the lack of adequate resources in the National Health Service for the provision of psychotherapy for children.

Nor is there legislation in place that prevents doctors from prescribing fluoxetine to children without the recommended safeguards. There is ample evidence that some doctors have been prescribing the drug "off licence" to toddlers - in other words, they are doling them out outside of recommended usage, as an antidote to infant "agitation". A study made by a pharmacology unit at Southampton University recently surveyed a small sample of 100 general practices in the UK, and found that 19 children - whose ages range from 1 to 12 - were on fluoxetine.

Against the background of the huge increase in the use of the amphetamine-like drug Ritalin for attention-deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), especially for middle-class children, there are fears, says Professor David Healey of the University of North Wales, that Prozac could follow a similar pattern of rapidly expanding usage as a quick fix for children deemed to be "low" or depressed. "Companies have been enabled to medicalise childhood distress, and as the rapidly changing culture surrounding the management of such problems indicates, companies have the power to change cultures and to do so in astonishingly short periods of time." According to Department of Health (DoH) figures, the past 10 years have seen a tenfold increase in prescriptions for Ritalin in Britain to combat a range of perceived childhood and adolescent problems - from restlessness to lack of concentration in class.

According to the DoH, an estimated 30,000-40,000 children and teenagers are already being prescribed antidepressants in Britain (off licence in the case of pre-puberty children), and about half of those are treated with fluoxetine or Prozac. In total, the UK Prescription Pricing Authority reports a rise in courses of Prozac-type drugs from 3.7m in 2000 to 4.4m last year. No figures are as yet available for 2006 following the recommendation of Nice, and the authority offers no breakdown for prescriptions for children anyway. But prescriptions for children are clearly set to rise despite serious doubts about fluoxetine that have persisted ever since the drug first reached our pharmacies in the mid-1980s.

The debate over all antidepressants and children has been especially fierce in the US, where a federal panel of drug experts last year found a proven link between antidepressants and suicide in children and teenagers. The risk, according to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), is high when the course of treatment starts, or when there is a change of dosage, or sudden withdrawal. Last year an American teenager, Jeff Weise, shot dead nine men, women and children before committing suicide at Red Lake high school, Minnesota. His aunt Tammy Lussier told journalists that he first attempted suicide after he went on Prozac. After that, he was taking increased dosages, she said: "I can't help but think it was too much, that it must have set him off."

Fluoxetine is a compound designed to combat low activity of a natural brain chemical called serotonin - a condition associated with depression and obsessive-compulsive disorders, such as nonstop hand-washing. Problems begin, say neuropharmacologists, when serotonin is absorbed too speedily into the billions of minuscule "receptor sites" at the synapses - the contact points between brain cells. Fluoxetine latches onto the receptors like a key in a lock, to switch off serotonin absorption, or "serotonin reuptake", thus increasing the presence and action of this vital natural chemical in the brain. Hence, Prozac is known as an SSRI -a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor - which, scientists claim, elevates the mood of the depressed and increases "impulse control".

Questions have been raised, however, as to whether an individual, with paranoid fantasies that have been rendered inactive in the depths of depression, gains impetus as a result of fluoxetine to fulfil a murderous fantasy rather than control the impulse. This was the explanation proposed in a civil action in America following 47-year-old Joe Wesbecker's shooting spree in 1989. He shot 20 of his co-workers at the Louisville Courier-Journal printing plant, killing eight of them, before killing himself. He had been on Prozac for one month.

The SSRI strategy is based on the belief that there is a direct link between the state of our brain molecules and our moods. The co-inventor of Prozac, the late Dr Ray Fuller, once told me during the Wesbecker trial that the SSRI proceeds from the principle that "behind every crooked thought there lies a crooked molecule".

Three years ago, the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) issued warnings about most antidepressants for children, specifically including SSRIs, on the grounds of risk of suicide. The view was based on a review by a group of medical experts studying all available evidence of clinical trials on both sides of the Atlantic.

The MHRA asserted that the benefits of treating under-18s with any SSRI, except one, Prozac, were outweighed by the risks of side effects. The drugs mentioned were paroxetine (Seroxat), sertraline (Lustral), citalopram (Cipramil) and fluvoxamine (Faverin).

Fluoxetine alone was judged on statistical evidence, and in strict specific circumstances (of which more later), to have a positive balance of risks versus benefits in the treatment of the most severe forms of depression in the under-18s. In other words, when risk of suicide, for example, is so great and persistent that it outweighs the worst-case-possible side effects of the drug.

But the gap between an 18-year-old and an eight-year-old is huge in brain-developmental terms. And Prozac itself has been associated with suicidal patients of all ages, as well as side effects such as stunted growth and deleterious effects on the sexual organs of children. SSRIs have been associated with atrophy of gonadal tissue in boys, indicating future problems with puberty and sexual activity later in life.

It is still not known whether there could be a deleterious effect on a girl's ovaries. Two years ago, researchers at Columbia University in New York found that young mice exposed to fluoxetine and other SSRIs were prone to abnormal brain development; the drugs appeared to be inhibiting normal neural growth factors. Animal studies have claimed that SSRIs weaken bone growth. There are also addiction issues, as yet unexplored in children owing to lack of longitudinal studies.....

Philosophy and sentiment apart, the neurophysiological unknowns are substantial. The American professors of psychology Alison Gopnik and Andrew Meltzoff claim in their book How Babies Think that typically by the age of three "the number of synapses reaches its peak when there are about 15,000 synapses for each brain cell, which is actually many more than in an adult brain". They argue that children have brains that are "literally more active, more connected, and much more flexible than adult brains". So under what conditions could a child, still subject to rapid neurobiological development, show signs of clinical depression comparable to an adult, or even an adolescent, so as to be a suitable case for treatment with powerful mind-altering drugs?

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Addressing the rising tide of British anti-Semitism, the British columnist Nick Cohen recently wrote, "Anti-Semitism isn't a local side effect of a dirty war over a patch of land smaller than Wales. It's everywhere, from Malaysia to Morocco, and it has arrived here. If you challenge liberal orthodoxy, your argument cannot be debated on its merits. You have to be in the pay of global media moguls. You have to be a Jew."

Robert Wistrich, a scholar of history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, also examines the history of modern anti-Semitism in Britain, pointing out that "Great Britain is today second only to France in serious anti-Semitic incidents reported among European countries." Wistrich documents the persistence and wide reach of anti-Jewish mainstream prejudice, particularly among the media and the upper echelons of British society - "the same group that supported Hitler in the 1930s."

Thus, the Muslim promotion of anti-Semitism in England has been very successful, perhaps because it has been able to graft onto longstanding, well-established British anti-Semitism. Most disturbing, "anti-Semitic sentiment is a part of mainstream discourse, continually resurfacing among the academic, political, and media elites," often taking the form of unsubstantiated, unreasoning criticism of Israel, while Arab terror is condoned or excused.

We should not be surprised. The Brits have never much liked Jews - their unwritten law being, "no Jew can be a gentleman" - and their greatest writers, Shakespeare, Marlowe, Dickens, T.S. Eliot, Kipling, even the sainted George Orwell, have all had their innings at Jew-bashing.

And now, the Israeli Jews are taking on, in the eyes of the Brits, and especially the British left, all the grossness that Shakespeare once imputed to Shylock: that they are bloody-minded, implacable killers of their helpless, innocent victims. The only difference between Shakespeare's portrait and that drawn by both the British extreme right and the left is that now Shylock goes armed: now he has his own country and his own army.

As long as the Jews were weak and dispossessed, the Brits limited themselves to well-bred anti-Semitism: snide references to "Sammies," and the like. But with the advent of Zionist pioneering, when Shylock started amassing land and collecting an arsenal, British cultural anti-Semitism escalated: it became politicized, and even militarized. The cycle of British wars against the Jews was initiated.

The British war effort was at the outset ambivalent, indecisive. From '36 to '39, when the Palestinian Arabs, upset by the influx of Jewish refugees from Hitler, started a three-year Intifada, the British Mandate authorities in Palestine alternated between grudging support of the embattled Jews and outright sabotage of their efforts at self-defense. On one hand, they made Jewish arms illegal, and forced the Hagana people to hide their store of antiquated rifles under kibbutz manure piles. On the other hand, they assigned one of their most brilliant field officers, Orde Wingate, to be a kind of T.E. Lawrence of the Jews, and to train them, in his Special Night Squads, in the arts of irregular warfare.

However, as the Brits mobilized for the coming war against Hitler, their policy makers resolved their ambivalence in favor of appeasing the Arabs, and outright hostility to the Jews. Together with Hitler, they acted so as to create the maximum tally of dead European Jews........

It appears that the game is afoot once again, with the task no longer out-sourced to Palestinians alone, but to the much larger body of radical Islamists now piling into Britain, all eager for the treat. The Brits still limit themselves to talk, but from all accounts, the chatter in the trendiest salons, at party congresses both of the Left and the Right, at A-List dinner parties and scholarly gatherings, has become obsessively, fiercely anti-Israel, anti-Zionist and at times frankly anti-Semitic, to the point where the received and conventional wisdom has it that Israel has no right to exist, and should be eliminated. Again, this genocidal act will presumably be left to radical Islam, or to Iran's nukes, while the British gentlefolk avert their eyes - or in a few cases, feast them.

The Brits tolerated Hitler's anti-Semitism because, out of fear, they wanted to appease him, and because many of them covertly shared his obsession with the Jews. They fostered Arab anti-Semitism as a way of keeping their access to Middle-Eastern oil, and later as a way of holding on to Palestine. But now, when there are fewer, obvious strategic reasons for their Jew-hatred, it appears to be more vigorous than ever. Explaining this, the Brits will cite the Jews' oppression of the Palestinians, and more recently, their punishment of Lebanon. In effect, they might hint, the Palestinians have become the body of Christ, and the Jews are up to their dirty tricks, crucifying him yet again in Palestine.

In effect, the Brits are telling us how compassionate they are, in contrast to those bloody Christ-killers. Bully for them; but as they stress Brit idealism, they avoid any mention of Brit fear - the fear of militant Islam that appears to be gripping all of Europe now, and that - I would suggest - is partially alleviated through anti-Semitism. The Brit's rationales for that anti-Semitism are designed to do them credit, as possessors of superior conscience, but they mask some smelly motives.

We have never truly appreciated the terror inspired by terror tactics - especially suicide bombing, and in particular the destruction of the Twin Towers. As the great towers collapsed into billowing smoke and fire, they called to mind the fearsome imagery of nuclear war, combined with the retributive judgment of Almighty God. Linked to such overwhelming images, the terrorists and their faith have become more terrifying than we are willing to admit.

But denied motives can still drive our acts and our ideas. Along with the rest of what is now being called "Eurabia," the Brits are soothing the Muslims among them by acts of appeasement. In 1938, they bought a year of peace by offering Czechoslovakia to Hitler; now, for a temporary peace, they offer Muslims a piece of the Jews who are like the unlucky passenger tossed from the sled to appease the ravening wolves.
Once again, Albion may have found the cohort that will kill Jews for it, leaving the Brits, temporarily at least, "sans peur et sans reproche" - without fear and without blame.

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1 comment:

Pierre said...

On the Pharma drugging kids story there was some good correspondence in the British Medical Journal this week


One or two really strike at the problem.