Wednesday, March 28, 2007


We read:

The British government was advised against publicly criticising a report estimating that 655,000 Iraqis had died due to the war, the BBC has learnt. Iraqi Health Ministry figures put the toll at less than 10% of the total in the survey, published in the Lancet. But the Ministry of Defence's chief scientific adviser said the survey's methods were "close to best practice" and the study design was "robust".

The Lancet medical journal published its peer-reviewed survey last October. It was conducted by the John Hopkins School of Public Health and compared mortality rates before and after the invasion by surveying 47 randomly chosen areas across 16 provinces in Iraq.

Shortly after the publication of the survey in October last year Tony Blair's official spokesperson said the Lancet's figure was not anywhere near accurate. He said the survey had used an extrapolation technique, from a relatively small sample from an area of Iraq that was not representative of the country as a whole.

But a memo by the MoD's Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Roy Anderson [A zoologist], on 13 October, states: "The study design is robust and employs methods that are regarded as close to "best practice" in this area, given the difficulties of data collection and verification in the present circumstances in Iraq."

To see what statisticians experienced in the research method concerned say, see here and here. I am myself a much published user of that research method and I made the following comments last year:

None of the comments I saw appeared to be by people who are experienced users of cluster sampling -- the method used for the Lancet study. I am a VERY experienced user of cluster sampling -- with many of my academic publications based on it. And the glaring error which rather explains why the study appeared in a medical journal rather than a more statistically sophisticated journal is that there was NO VALIDATION of the survey results. That your survey-takers might just sit down under a tree and "make up" their "interview" results is a routine peril and it is routine to take precautions against it -- usually by going back on a later occasion and checking with the alleged respondents a proportion of all interviews handed in. Just the awareness that a sample of the respondents will be re-interviewed tends to keep the interviewers honest -- though not always so, regrettably. So the results reported in the Lancet study have no credibility at all and must be regarded as garbage.

It is astounding that the authors of the study were so naive. Perhaps they WANTED their interviewers to "fudge" the results -- making clear what the desired results would be, of course.

Another oddity in the Lancet article that suggests something peculiar about the authors is the claim that their interviewers were all DOCTORS -- and not just any doctors but doctors bilingual in Arabic and English. I have never seen the like of that before. Experienced interviewers of some kind were what was needed and that is what is usually used, not doctors. Can we really believe that a whole corps of these rare doctors abandoned their medical duties for so long in order to do something outside their normal expertise? If true it certainly suggests a heavy political committment on the part of the doctors concerned -- exactly what one would NOT want in a study claiming to be objective. To me the whole claim seems like the sort of "gilding the lily" that con-men engage in.

Other critics have noticed other vast implausibilities in the results reported -- the amazingly high (98%) success-rate at getting people to consent to an interview, for instance --- garbage, garbage garbage. And the lie about the death certificates actually shows how bogus the results were.

"Those guys were not even trying to do real research. It was just a propaganda circus. I strongly support Moore's point about the survey's lack of demographic information. That is so unthinkable in survey research that the article would never have been published in an academic journal that knew anything about survey research. The Lancet should stick to medicine.

And as Iraq Body Count note:

"Between January and June 2006, there were 91 violent deaths recorded by the Lancet survey. This would correspond to over 180,000 deaths in the first 6 months of 2006, and an average rate of 1,000 per day. The daily death rate over the same period based on UN reports (which sum Baghdad morgue and Ministry of Health data) is 80 violent deaths per day. Cumulated media reports provide a somewhat lower figure. If the Lancet extrapolation is sound, this would imply a further 920 violent deaths every day (1000 minus 80) which have been recorded by neither officials nor the media. As these are averages, some days would see many more deaths, and others substantially fewer, but in either case, all of them would remain unnoticed."

Strange NHS priorities

Tom and Donna (not their real names) are professional shamen. They teach classes in shamanism at a “foundation”, where you can learn “soul retrieval healing”, help the dead “continue their journey into the Hereafter”, and investigate “the Fairy Kingdom”. These soul retrievers and Fairy Kingdom investigators also work for the NHS — where, according to Tom’s foundation profile, they “use complementary therapies to help those with mental health difficulties”.

Shaman therapies are not the only unorthodox treatments for which the NHS will gladly pay. Taxpayers are also subsidising Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) “therapy”, in which, according to one NHS trust, “subtle energies” are reordered via “tapping with the fingertips to stimulate certain meridian energy points while the client is ‘tuned in’ to the problem”. The inventor of EFT notes on his website that he “is not a licensed health professional”, which doesn’t stop him promoting it as an effective treatment for diabetes — unsurprising, since it works for “just about every emotional, health and performance issue you can name”.

If EFT doesn’t do the job, an NHS foot massage might help. Reflexologists believe that each part of the foot maps to a different organ, and that massaging a particular point can treat that organ. Medical doctors think it’s absurd. This is not to say that the NHS doesn’t have a sceptical side — even it is dubious about homeopathy, pointing out that “no evidence has been found” to support the key homeopathic principle that water retains a “memory” of molecules that have been filtered out of it, and that pure distilled water is an effective treatment for a host of conditions.

Since the NHS believes that the entire basis of homeopathy is “contrary to scientific knowledge”, the obvious question becomes: why is it funding five homeopathic hospitals? Most depressing of all for the rational taxpayer is the NHS Directory for Alternative and Complementary Medicine, which aims to promote “dowsers”, “flower therapists” and “crystal healers”.

We’ve just learnt that some hospitals are removing every third light bulb to save money, and that nurses are being paid half the minimum wage — or being asked to work for nothing — at others. That’s how bad the financial crisis has become. Meanwhile, the National Health Service is employing shaman fairy enthusiasts as psychological counsellors, enthusiastically providing treatments invented by “an ordained minister and a personal performance coach” who thinks tapping your body can cure diabetes, promoting dowsers and crystal healers and spending vast amounts on therapies that can’t be scientifically supported.



UCAS challenged over proposed new application form

A civil liberties group has asked the Commission for Racial Equality [CRE] to intervene over the University and Colleges Admissions Service’s [UCAS] proposal to provide data about potential students’ ethnicity to Admissions Officers before rather than after the selection process is complete.

Liberty and Law director Gerald Hartup has written to CRE chair Professor Kay Hampton complaining about the proposal on the grounds that it would be in blatant breach of good equal opportunities practice propounded by the CRE over many years.

Monitoring forms the CRE has always argued should be anonymous, kept separate from any application form and from the entire selection process.

Where they are not this can and does allow ruthless discrimination at the selection process. This was evidenced notoriously by the use of equal opportunities data about their race being used last year to reject 289 white male applicants from consideration with Avon and Somerset and Gloucestershire Police Services.

Mr Hartup stated: “We must learn our lesson. We cannot trust Chief Constables with confidential information but they were at least breaking the law. How can we possibly allow the careers of students to depend upon the self denying integrity of Admissions Officers under pressure to come up with the results necessary to achieve maximum funding.”

“Should UCAS go ahead with their misguided policy they must expect legal action by students who can never be sure that the reason for their failure to obtain a place at their preferred institution was because their race did not fit the Education Secretary’s matrix.”

Liberty and law has written to UCAS Chief Executive Anthony McClaren urging him to drop the scheme. It has also written to OFFA [Office for fair Access] that has “a role in identifying and disseminating good practice and advice connected with access to higher education.”

More here

Green pain coming to Britain

Homeowners who refuse to make their properties energy efficient will face financial penalties under drastic government plans to transform Britain into the world's first 'green' economy. Ministers yesterday promised deep cuts to greenhouse gas emissions that they warned would mean everyone in the country having to 'live, work and travel differently'. They compared the scale of change that was necessary to reduce emissions by 60 per cent by 2050 to the industrial revolution of the 18th century.

The Government said that every new home should be 'carbon neutral' within ten years - and existing properties subject to a 'home energy audit' to assess how green they are. Householders would be given access to 'hassle-free' renovation services to improve the energy efficiency of their homes. They would be able to 'buy now, pay later' for green improvements as their fuel bills decreased. Zero carbon homes are insulated to reduce heating costs, use solar panels, windpower or other renewable energy sources, are made with environmentally friendly materials and use energy efficient light bulbs and appliances.

Critics said the plans raised the prospect of 'eco-snoopers' inspecting homes. Blair Gibbs, of the Taxpayers' Alliance, said: "It's bad enough that politicians want to take so much of our money away in tax. For them also to intrude into our homes in order to have the ability to penalise us even further is simply unacceptable."

Unveiling the plans, Environment Secretary David Miliband said it would be "painful" to continue to have an "energy inefficient home". Those that did would face higher bills, he added. Transport will also undergo radical overhaul as Britain moves towards becoming a "low- carbon economy", the Government said. Vehicles will be made more fuel efficient, effectively forcing current gas-guzzling models off the road. The Government is to work with the EU on new laws setting a new average emissions target of 130g of carbon dioxide per kilometre - well below most of today's models - with further reductions to follow.

People are to be encouraged to make 'more sustainable' travel choices, including greater use of public transport, walking and cycling. The Government is also to invest in solar, wind and wave power. A draft Climate Change Bill published yesterday dismissed sceptics, insisting there was 'no longer any real debate' that climate change was happening and man-made emissions were the main cause. In a sign of the importance the Government attaches to the legislation, the Prime Minister, his expected successor Gordon Brown, and Mr Miliband, touted as a future Labour leader, unveiled the Bill together in Downing Street.

Mr Blair compared the fight against climate change to the battle against fascism. Labour's legislation sets an interim target of a 26 per cent to 32 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2020, and 60 per cent by 2050. It will make Britain the first country in the world with legally binding targets. A panel will advise ministers on carbon targets every five years. If they miss the figure, future governments will face court action. The draft Bill will now be subject to consultation, but the Government hopes it will be law by Easter 2008. Mr Brown, who doubled air passenger duty last year, said he would not impose further 'green taxes' on aviation in next week's Budget.

But airlines suggested fares may have to rise anyway under the Government's plans. British Airways bosses told MPs ticket hikes could result from plans to include airlines in an EU emissions trading scheme - in which firms receive credits which allow them to emit specific amounts of greenhouse gases, but have to buy more if they exceed their limit.

Opposition politicians and green campaigners said the Government's proposals did not go far enough, insisting binding targets on emissions should be annual. Tory spokesman Peter Ainsworth said: "There is a danger that the fiveyear approach will enable responsibility for failure to be shunted on from one government to another."


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