Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A test for British schools

THE tormentors of Al Gore, who last week won a legal victory against his film, An Inconvenient Truth, are to step up their battle by sending British secondary schools a documentary attacking the science of global warming. Channel 4's The Great Global Warming Swindle has become one of the most notorious documentaries of the year, attracting complaints from dozens of scientists and viewers. This weekend, however, the campaigners behind the High Court case said they planned to send copies to 3,400 secondary schools "to counter Gore's flagrant propaganda". Gore is a joint winner of the Nobel peace prize for his efforts to educate the world about climate change. An Inconvenient Truth has also won two Oscars.

The distribution of The Great Global Warming Swindle is being funded by Viscount Monckton, who is part of a counter-campaign to undermine the scientific consensus on climate change. Monckton was one of the backers of Stewart Dimmock, the Kent lorry driver and school governor who took the government to court for sending copies of Gore's film to schools. The two are connected through the New party, a right-wing group whose manifesto was written by Monckton and of which Dimmock is a member.

Last week Mr Justice Burton ruled that, although it was broadly correct, An Inconvenient Truth contained at least nine scientific errors and said ministers must send new guidance to teachers before it was screened. The judge said, for example, that Gore was wrong to suggest polar bears were already drowning due to ice melting when this was just a prediction. "That ruling was a fantastic victory," said Monckton, a former Downing Street adviser to Baroness Thatcher. "What we want to do now is send schools material reflecting an alternative point of view so that pupils can make their own minds up."

Dimmock was awarded only two-thirds of his costs and is understood to have a bill of more than œ60,000. Monckton confirmed that he was among his "backers" but refused to confirm if he had financed the case. Monckton has obtained funding from a right-wing Washington think tank, the Science and Public Policy Institute (SPPI), to create a second film that will also be sent to schools. Entitled Apocalypse No, it parodies Gore, showing Monckton presenting a slide show in a vitriolic attack on climate change science.

Bob Ferguson, president of the SPPI, said: "We have filmed Christopher [Monckton] making a presentation to the Cambridge University Union . . . It could be sent out quite soon. We want to inform the public and policy makers that there are different views on climate change." Monckton has also won support from the maker of The Great Global Warming Swindle. Martin Durkin, managing director of WAG TV, said he would be delighted for his film to go to schools. "I have become a proselytiser against the so-called consensus on climate change . . . people can decide for themselves," he said.

Environmentalists say many questions remain about Durkin's film. Channel 4 said that two of the scientists who took part have complained that the editing gave a misleading impression of critical data and their own viewpoints. Ofcom, which regulates broadcast media, is examining other complaints from scientists.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which shared the Nobel prize with Gore, is preparing a Synthesis Report. Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC, said the report would show that the earth faced a catastrophic temperature rise within the next century.

George Monbiot, an environmentalist and critic of Monckton, said: "He is trying to take on the global scientific establishment on the strength of a classics degree from Cambridge."


A down to earth British naturalist

This sort of thing never used to happen on Gardeners' World. There was Alan Titchmarsh, strolling though the Shetland Islands while chatting to camera about the Arctic Skua, when whoosh - one of those very birds shot down out of the sky, smacked him across the top of the head then shot off again. Then another did it. And another. Titchmarsh was filming an episode of his new eight-part series for BBC1, The Nature of Britain - and it was turning out to be less cosy than that title suggests ....

One subject gets Titchmarsh more worked up than accusations of blandness, though. Perhaps, coming from a man who loves nature, it's a slightly surprising one: our obsession with global warming.

`I wish we could grow up about it,' he says. `I'm sure we are contributing to global warming, and we must do all we can to reduce that, but our climate has always changed. The Romans had vineyards in Yorkshire. We're all on this bandwagon of `Ban the 4x4 in Fulham'. Why didn't we have global warming during the Industrial Revolution? In those days you couldn't have seen across the street for all the carbon emissions and the crap coming out of the chimneys.' He pauses for breath, then smiles. `Sorry, bit of a tirade there.'

Surely he worries that global warming may threaten some of the species in his series. But this doesn't seem to bother him too much. `We'll lose some, we'll gain others,' he says. `Wildlife is remarkably tenacious. Nature always copes.'

He gives the example of otters, whose numbers in Britain are on the rise. `When I was a lad, you had to go to the Otter Trust in Suffolk to see them. For the series, I went to the river near where I grew up, where I used to fish for tiddlers. And on the banks were otter footprints. If I'd seen those when I was a lad, I'd have died and gone to heaven.'


BBC blinkered, say Scotland Yard

The battering of the BBC continued yesterday with Scotland Yard calling the organisation blinkered and arrogant. The attack came after the Independent Police Complaints Commission cleared the police of claims made in a BBC documentary about Stephen Lawrence, who was murdered at a South London bus stop in 1993. The documentary said that the Metropolitan Police withheld testimony about a corrupt officer from the inquiry into the bungled murder investigation that followed. The commission said: "We have found no evidence in support of the allegations made during the programme."

A senior Scotland Yard insider said: "It was sensationalism, it was arrogant. They became blinkered into believing what they wanted to believe." The BBC, however, released a statement saying it stood by its programme. "We considered it our duty to bring these serious allegations before the public and fully reflect the response of the police."

Mr Lawrence's family offered their support to the BBC yesterday


Many Brits pay twice for dentistry

It's supposed to be provided by their government health insurance

Scores of patients are being forced to pay for private dental treatment because of a continuing lack of NHS dentists, a large survey suggests. Almost a fifth of NHS patients have gone without treatment because of cost. Others are even resorting to extracting their own teeth after the largest shake-up of NHS dentistry in 50 years. According to the Government’s own estimate, more than 2 million people who wish to access NHS dental care are unable to do so. In April last year, ministers introduced a new dental contract, which aimed to increase access and simplify charges.

But the Dentistry Watch survey conducted by Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) Forums throughout England suggests that a majority of dentists believe that the quality of patient care has declined since the changes and that huge problems remain in finding dentists who will accept NHS patients. For example, when a new dental practice opened in Portsmouth in April hundreds of people queued around the block to register.

Between July and September this year 5,212 patients and 750 dentists were asked for their views: 78 per cent of private dental patients reported abandoning the NHS because either their dentist stopped treating NHS patients, or because they could not find another one who would. Of those patients not using NHS dental services, 35 per cent said it was because they could not find an NHS dentist close to their homes. Only 15 per cent claimed it was because they believed they could get better treatment. Six per cent of patients said they had treated themselves, including extracting their own teeth, because they were unable to get treatment.

The arrangements under the new contract have been criticised by dentists as a crude, target-driven system, which does not encourage them to treat complicated cases or take on new patients. Of the dentists surveyed, 45 per cent said that they were not accepting any more NHS patients and 58 per cent said that the quality of care patients have received since the introduction of the new dental contracts has got worse. Nearly three quarters said they were aware of patients declining treatment because of the cost. However, 93 per cent of patients receiving NHS treatment said they were were happy with the treatment provided.

Sharon Grant, Chair of the Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health, which organised the survey, said: “These findings indicate that the NHS dental system is letting many patients down very badly. “It appears many are being forced to go private because they don’t want to lose their current trusted and respected dentist or because they just can’t find a local NHS dentist. This is an uncomfortable read for all of us, and poses serious questions to politicians.”

Commenting on the findings, the British Dental Association said that the survey highlighted the “serious concerns” about the impact of reforms to NHS dentistry in England. Susie Sanderson, chairman of the association’s executive board, added: “The new contract has done nothing to improve access for patients and failed to allow dentists to deliver the kind of modern, preventive treatment they want to give.”


All schools are equal according to British government socialists

Oxford and Cambridge universities are unlikely to reach their targets for recruiting more students from state schools, analysis of admissions data suggests. Last year the two universities signed agreements with the Office for Fair Access pledging to increase the proportion of students they take from state schools by 2011. But a study by the Institute for Public Policy Research indicates that, at current rates of progress, their targets will not be met at Cambridge until 2012 and at Oxford until 2016.

The institute's analysis suggests that 36 per cent of students who got three A grades at A level went to independent schools, but the independent sector takes up 46 per cent of Oxford places and 43 per cent of Cambridge places.

Lisa Harker, co-director of the institute, said: "Oxford and Cambridge need to be more pro-active. Students getting three A-grade A levels at state schools are significantly under represented at both universities. Oxford and Cambridge must stop blaming a lack of applications for failure to make progress."

Oxford takes 54 per cent of its students from state schools. Its target is for 62 per cent of applications to come from state schools in five years. Cambridge takes 57 per cent of its students from state schools. Its target is for 60 to 63 per cent by 2011.

Admissions officers at both universities said that the analysis was flawed as it wrongly assumed that all A grades were equal and took no account of what subjects students had studied or what courses were on offer at Oxbridge. Geoff Parks, head of admissions at Cambridge, said: "Independent and grammar school students are more likely to have the right subject combinations that we are looking for at Cambridge."

The figures come days after John Denham, the Universities' Minister, said that he wanted the question of bias against pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds settled before a review of university tuition fees in 2009.


Big rise in serious British crime: "Deployments of armed police have increased by 53 per cent in a decade, according to the Home Office. The number of incidents rose from 12,379 in 1996-97 to 18,891 in 2005-06. In London, the number rose from 2,439 to 4,711 while in the West Midlands it went from 270 to 1,044."

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