Friday, November 30, 2007


What nonsense below! Are these guys seriously arguing that because genes with high relevance to IQ have not yet been found then there are none? I hate to repeat an old saw but the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Genes relevant to IQ are being discovered all the time. One with a big link to IQ could be just around the corner. Though it is most probable that high IQ is the result of an accumulation of many "good" genes -- which is why high IQ people tend to be healthier and live longer etc.

A team of scientists led by Professor Robert Plomin, of the Institute of Psychiatry in London, identified only six genes linked with intelligence to any degree of significance, but even those accounted for just 1 per cent of the differences in IQ between individuals. Experts said upbringing, education and a healthy diet in early life had important roles to play in helping to nurture intelligence. The research also means testing the potential intelligence of new-born babies - or improving it with genetic engineering - could be impossible.

The researchers said a study of the human genome revealed hundreds of genes which contribute to IQ, but their individual effects are barely detectable. Previous studies on twins and adopted children have established that about half of the variation in intelligence is down to environment, but almost all of the genetic component has yet to be uncovered.

Prof Plomin said: "If the biggest [genes] only account for 1 per cent of the variance [in intelligence], there's a long way to go. The most striking result is there are no large effects." However, this does not mean intelligence is not inherited. Many experts believe IQ is due to the cumulative effect of a combination of genes.

The study, published in the journal Genes, Brains and Behaviour, involved obtaining intelligence scores for 7,000 seven-year-olds and DNA samples. Dr Robin Campbell, an expert in intelligence and child development at Stirling University, said: " [This research] leaves it open that nurture, education and good early nutrition have an important role." [Of course they do. Nobody has ever said otherwise. But genetic inheritance is the major determinant]


Britain: Myths about rape myths

The Government is to produce "myth-busting" packs for juries to get more convictions for rape. These are supposed to demolish the idea that date rape does not count as rape, or that women who drink or dress provocatively are "asking for it". The details have not been finalised because of the small matter that pretrial information given by the prosecution might prejudice the trial. But politicians are determined to raise the conviction rate for this crime. "Where changes to the law are needed, we will make them," the Solicitor-General, Vera Baird, said yesterday. "Justice must not be defeated by myths and stereotypes."

Quite right. But I wonder if she and I have different notions of justice. For the more I look at this issue, the more myths I seem to find. The biggest is being propagated by politicians themselves. They repeat, ad infinitum, that the conviction rate for rape is scandalously low, at 5.7 per cent. They conclude from this that juries cannot be trusted. But 5.7 per cent is only the proportion of convictions secured out of the total allegations made, not the proportion of convictions secured out of the cases tried. The attrition rate in rape cases is high: only about 12 per cent of cases reach court. So in the courtroom, the true conviction rate is about 44 per cent, slightly higher than that for murder.

Rape is a shocking crime. But you would expect it to be at least as hard to prosecute as murder. More than four out of five allegations are now made against a partner, friend or acquaintance. About half of those involve drink and/or drugs. Jurors think long and hard about decisions if there is no witness, only circumstantial evidence and where a guilty verdict means a minimum of seven years in jail. Gang rape by strangers carries the same minimum sentence as rape by a drunken partner. There is no equivalent to manslaughter, because victim groups feel that a lesser charge would downgrade the seriousness of the crime. Yet some lawyers feel that some juries are not convicting because they feel that the right crime is not being tried.

No one argues that there must be something wrong with the law because only 40 per cent of those tried are convicted of murder. Yet rape is a deeply emotive issue. The Government has already bent over backwards to bend the law. It has changed the definition of consent. It has created specialist rape prosecutors. It now plans to make "hearsay evidence" - complaints of rape to a third party - admissable in trials. Yet the number of allegations that result in a conviction is still falling, because although more people are being found guilty of rape, allegations have jumped by about 40 per cent in the past five years.

This is partly because more women are prepared to come forward. That is a good thing. There are now some excellent sexual assault referral centres and rape crisis centres, which welcome women in and collect evidence - although provision of these is still too patchy. There is also a growing number of rape allegations involving binge drinking, which tests definitions of guilt to the limit.

The focus on trials is obscuring the more important question of why so few cases come to court at all. Earlier this year a report by the Inspectorate of Constabulary and the Crown Prosecution Service found enormous variations in the way that different police forces deal with rape. That remains a problem. It is clear that some forces are sceptical about some claims, particularly those that involve alcohol, and that many women are easily discouraged from pursuing cases that are traumatic to endure.

Home Office research undertaken two years ago at six different referral centres found that a sixth of the complaints that were dropped by police were classed as false allegations. A quarter were dropped because of insufficient or no evidence. A third were dropped because the complainant withdrew - some because a report had been made by someone else, against the person's wishes. This is tricky territory. It is right to encourage women to come forward. But a Home Office analysis of the British Crime Survey recently stated that "only 60 per cent of female rape victims were prepared to self-classify their experience as rape". If those women did not see themselves as victims, I wonder why the Home Office is so keen to make them so?

What hits you when reading reports of these cases is the painful individuality of each one. It is impossible to generalise about the infinite circumstances of human behaviour. Some people fear reprisals. Some want to deal with the trauma in their own way. Some are not sure what really happened. These are the delicate lines on which so many judgments must turn.

In March the Court of Appeal quashed the conviction of a 25-year-old computer software engineer, Benjamin Bree, for raping a 19-year-old student after a night of drinking with friends. The judges ruled that the student was still capable of consenting to sex, even after consuming substantial amounts of alcohol. They also ruled that a drunken person can lose the capacity to consent, and that would amount to rape. That seems to me to be an intelligent calibration. Ministers are still considering whether to insist that no agreement can be taken as consent if it is given when intoxicated. But that would make a drunken man accountable for his deeds, but not a drunken woman.

It is an outrage that some men are getting away with rape. But I also worry that the language in which the issue is now being discussed implies that the only right result is a conviction. That would be a travesty of justice. It is no good trying to bust myths about rape if you are also going to propagate the myth that everyone is guilty as charged.


English children's literacy levels 'among the worst in the developed world'

England has plummeted down a world league table of reading standards at primary school despite Labour's billions poured into education. Our schools tumbled from third place five years ago to 19th, beaten by the U.S. and many European nations - including Germany, Italy and Bulgaria. Only Morocco and Romania suffered a sharper decline in standards since the last global reading study in 2001. Scotland also slipped down the rankings, falling from 14th to 26th. In an alarming verdict on standards in England, the study report said the performance of ten-year- olds had deteriorated "significantly", particularly among the brightest children.

The results paint a dramatically different picture to the ever-rising scores in our official national tests. The shock slide deals an embarrassing blow to ministers who have claimed that extra cash has led to continual improvement. More than 50 billion pounds a year is now spent on nurseries and schools -against 27 billion when Labour came to power.

The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study spanned 40 countries - Belgium was represented by its two sections - and five Canadian provinces. It found that children in England - Wales and Northern Ireland were not included - were less likely to read for pleasure outside school than youngsters almost everywhere else. But they had the highest number of computers.

Children's Secretary Ed Balls insisted last night that parents must take some blame, including those who let their children spend too much time on video games, watching TV and using mobile phones. "Parents have got to find a way to strike a balance," he added. "They need to make sure there's space for reading and learning. "Today's ten-year-olds have more choice than in 2001 about how they spend their free time. Most have their own TVs and mobiles, and 37 per cent are playing computer games for three hours or more a day - more than in most countries in the study. "There is a direct link between use of computer games and lower achievement." [Rubbish. Kids playing Sim games sometimes learn a lot more about history etc. than they do at school] Sue Hackman, chief adviser on school standards, said parents must not "suddenly cut off" reading with their children because they think they have mastered the skill.

The study, overseen by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, also implicated the school system in England's declining performance, even though more than 600 million has been spent on primary school literacy schemes alone since 1998. It revealed a tripling in the number of pupils who are never set reading homework and a decline in the time spent teaching reading. The PIRLS project involved giving reading tests to tens of thousands of ten-year-olds. The tests, which assessed pupils' comprehension of factual information and their appreciation of literature, were translated from English into more than 30 other languages.

England's performance will add to pressure on Gordon Brown and focus attention on Labour's ten-year Children's Plan, being unveiled next month. Ministers had trumpeted improving standards in the three Rs as a key success of Tony Blair's premiership. A decade of reforms has been accompanied by an increase in the schools and early-years budget from 27.2 billion in 1996 to 49.4 billion last year.

England's poor showing was also being blamed yesterday on a failure to put traditional "synthetic phonics" at the heart of literacy lessons. The back-to-basics method of teaching children to read - credited with virtually wiping out illiteracy in part of Scotland - became law in schools only last September.

Shadow Children's Secretary Michael Gove said last night: "While the Government says its policies are driving up standards, the independent auditors of our education system tell a very different story. "It's time the Government stopped blaming parents and accepted the case we've been making for a new focus on teaching reading, using tried and tested methods, with a test after two years to ensure our children are being taught properly."



Gordon Brown today gave his unequivocal support for a third runway at Heathrow in an address to a conference of business leaders. Speaking at the annual Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference, the prime minister said that business was right to call for airport expansion and that Britain's prosperity depended on it. "Even as we place strict local environmental limits on noise and air pollution and ensure that aviation pays its carbon costs, we have to respond to a clear business imperative and increase capacity at our airports," Brown said. "Our prosperity depends on it: Britain as a world financial centre must be readily accessible from around the world."

He added that the government had demonstrated its determination not to shirk the long-term decisions but to press ahead with a third runway. The prime minister's insistence that airport expansion is necessary comes a week after he set out his green vision for cutting C02 emissions in Britain by 60% by 2025.

Critics described Gordon Brown's plans for tackling climate change as "confusing and deeply worrying". "Last week he talked about making Britain a world leader in developing a low-carbon economy. But allowing airports to expand will seriously threaten our targets for cutting carbon dioxide emissions. The Government must tackle aviation emissions. It should include the UK's share of carbon dioxide emissions from international aviation in its new Climate Change Bill, scrap airport expansion plans and fundamentally re-think this country's unsustainable transport strategy, " said Friends of the Earth director, Tony Juniper.

Other green campaigners questioned whether Mr Brown is capable of listening to responses to the public consultation over Heathrow which is currently underway. "You're left wondering if this prime minister is capable of listening to the public. He certainly doesn't seem to be listening to climate scientists," said Greenpeace's executive director, John Sauven.


Recycling isn't anything like as eco-friendly as its propagandists would have us believe

For obvious reasons I am not going to tell you where I live, but for aggrieved council taxpayers whose wheelie bins have been left unemptied because the lid wasn't quite shut I know of an alternative way of disposing of waste: come and dump it round my way. I can guarantee you that you won't get caught. Whenever a pile of rubbish has appeared illegally dumped on a roadside the council has scratched its head and come to the conclusion: sorry, there is not a lot we can do, other than to scrape it up at taxpayers' expense and sent it to landfill.

Illegal dumping is a problem that is only going to get worse as the Government continues its ham-fisted efforts to reach its recycling targets. Every time a local authority devises another punitive scheme - fining householders for the crime of failing to fulfil the evermore prescriptive rules for putting out the rubbish - it is another powerful incentive for antisocial householders to tip their rubbish under the nearest hedge. If I was the South Wales man fined recently because a single sheet of paper had found its way into the wrong recycling container I know what I would be tempted to do: deposit next week's rubbish on the council's doorstep.

We don't have a coherent strategy for dealing with waste. Rather, in recycling, the Government, local authorities and their contractors have discovered a very useful device for raising money and excusing slovenly service. Need some extra revenue and can't put council tax up any more? Fine those who put a tin can in a bag meant for plastic bottles. Need to slash your budget? Switch to fortnightly collections and say you are doing it to encourage recycling - even though in many countries with higher recycling rates than ours urban areas have daily waste collections.

Few conscientious, middle-class folk who sort out their waste into half a dozen different containers each week realise that technology already exists to make this palaver redundant. Many American cities have increased their recycling rates by switching to single-stream collections of recyclable waste that are then sorted in an automated plant. The collected waste is emptied on to a conveyor belt, where systems of magnets and optical scanners pick out most of what can be recycled, leaving humans to sort out the residue. When introduced in Maryland it resulted in 30 per cent more waste being recycled than under the previous system, where householders were made to sort out their recyclables by hand.

But I suspect it will be a long time before we see such technology here thanks to the near-religious fervour for recycling collections among British environmentalists. We are made to go through the weekly ritual of sorting our bottles from our magazines not because it is the best way of collecting recyclable material but because it is thought to be good for us.

The whole issue of recycling has been clouded by green ideology. The EU set it targets for increasing recycling back in 1999 without properly questioning whether that is always the best way of disposing of rubbish. That we can't go on covering the country with landfill sites is obvious, but it is far less clear-cut whether recycling or incinerating waste is the best environmental option. Recycling your plastic bottles may make you glow with virtue, but if they have to be carted halfway around the world to be recycled, and then large quantities of energy are consumed in the recyling process, it is far from obvious that you are doing the planet a good turn.

Alternatively, your plastic bottle could be burnt in a power station, its stored energy used to generate electricity that would otherwise require fossil fuels, and the waste heat distributed to local public buildings and homes. This is exactly what happens in the case of the Eastcroft combined heat and power plant, which has been consuming nearly a third of Nottinghamshire's waste since it opened in 1973. Further development on waste incinerators in Britain has stalled, however, thanks to the assumption that waste must be recycled at all costs.

In a retrospective attempt to justify the policy on recycling, the Government's waste quango, the Waste Resources Action Programme (WRAP), recently asked the Technical University of Denmark to undertake a review of worldwide research on the debate between recycling and incineration and their respective contributions towards greenhouse gas emissions. The review has been quoted by green groups wanting to "debunk the myth" that recycling isn't all it is cracked up to be. But it fails to debunk anything. Of 37 studies into the issue of paper recycling, for example, six arrived at the conclusion that paper is better incinerated than recycled, and nine indicated it makes little difference environmentally either way. Of 42 studies into plastic recycling, eight concluded that plastic is better incinerated and two said there was little difference.

Notably, all but one of the remaining that came down in favour of recycling used the assumption that 100 per cent of the plastic could be recycled, which is not reflected in practice. In studies where a more realistic assumption was made, that 50 per cent of the plastic could be recovered, the conclusion was firmly that incineration was better for the environment.

In any case, none of the studies reflected what we know from anecdotal evidence happens in practice: that an unknown quantity of recyclable material exported to China ends up being burnt or dumped. It is certainly better for the British environment if waste is shipped off to China, but not so good for the Chinese who have to live with the consequences.

In some cases, recycling is unquestionably the best option. We have, after all, been melting down and recycling metals since long before the word recycling was invented, because it has made economic sense to do so. But to make a blanket assumption that only recycling can save the planet, as current policy says, owes more to religion than science. From the rats poking around unemptied dustbins in Barnet to the piles of smouldering plastic waste in backwoods China, this is a policy that needs urgent review.


British singer sparks row over immigration

The outspoken former Smiths singer Morrissey has found himself at the centre of a row after alleged comments about immigration and its impact on British identity in a magazine interview. The star, who has enjoyed a highly successful solo career since the band's split, reportedly told the music magazine NME that Britain had suffered an "immigration explosion", adding: "England is a memory now". "The gates are flooded and anybody can have access to England and join in," he was reported as telling NME reporter Tim Jonze.

According to the magazine, the singer - who now lives in Rome - said that while he didn't have anything against people from other countries, "the higher the influx into England the more the British identity disappears". "The British identity is very attractive, I grew up into it and I find it quaint and very amusing," he went on. "Other countries have held on to their basic identity yet it seems to me that England was thrown away."

He said that while immigration does enrich the British identity, it meant saying goodbye to "the Britain you once knew". "The change in England is so rapid compared to the change in any other country. "If you walk through Knightsbridge on any bland day of the week you won't hear an English accent. You'll hear every accent under the sun apart from the British accent."

He was challenged over the comments in a second interview, in which he insisted he did not intend to be "inflammatory". "I find racism very silly," he said. "Almost too silly to discuss. It's beyond reason. And makes no sense and is ludicrous. I've never heard a good argument in favour of racism."

But his alleged comments, published in the magazine today, sparked outrage among some fans who said they would boycott the singer's Best Of album due to be released in the new year. One, named Slimjim, of Bradford, wrote on an internet message board: "It's totally out of order. Morrissey sounds like a Tory MP these days. It's a disgrace. I'll think twice about buying his next album."

It is not the first time he has caused controversy, nor the first time he has fallen out with the magazine's editors. In 1992, he was criticised by NME after he appeared on stage in Finsbury Park to support Madness wrapped in a Union Jack flag. Some of his song titles and lyrics have also attracted criticism, including the tracks Bengali in Platforms and National Front Disco, which included the lyrics: `You've gone to the National Front Disco/Because you want the day to come sooner'.

But his manager responded angrily, accusing NME of a "poorly thought out and terribly executed attempt at character assassination" of the 48-year-old. "Anti-racist songs such as "Irish Blood, English Heart," "America Is Not The World" and "I Will See You In Far-Off Places" tell you the true measure of the man," Merck Mercuriadis wrote on the Morrissey fan website True To You.

Dr Rob Berkeley, deputy director of the Runnymede Trust, which campaigns for equality and justice, said that while he did not agree with Morrissey's comments, his views were not that uncommon.


NHS care 'favours middle classes'

ANY healthcare system would -- but the fact that it happens in the NHS deprives the NHS of a major part of its justification

The NHS is a "divisive influence" which favours the assertive middle classes over poorer people, a study says. The report by centre-right think-tank Civitas said the health service was not providing equal treatment to all. It pointed out that people in deprived areas were often more in need of treatment, but less likely to get hip replacements or key x-rays. The report called for more use of the private sector, but other experts said this would just widen inequalities.

Report author Nick Seddon said studies had shown that those on lower incomes made more use of primary care, but were less likely to be referred on for hospital treatment. He highlighted York University research which showed those in deprived areas were more likely to need hip replacements but less likely to get them. And the report also mentioned another study which found angiograhy - x-rays of arteries and veins - rates among the lowest socio-economic groups were 30% lower that in the highest.

Mr Seddon said this was partly attributable to the fact that middle classes were more assertive, articulate and confident in dealing with health professionals. "Much depends on where you live, how much you earn, how old you are and crucially who you know. "It has always been said in defence of the NHS that, although it was not the best in terms of quality, it was at least impressive in term of equity. Now that is no longer true. "The NHS cannot be allowed to continue as it is."

He said part of the problem for the NHS was that it had made little use of the private sector. He suggested the NHS could learn from other European countries with social insurance schemes which encouraged companies to get more involved in health. "In the NHS, private providers have only really got involved in non-emergency operations to date, but why can't they do more? What about heart and cancer care and GPs? "By introducing the private sector, you increase competition and drive up standards."

But Alex Nunns, of the Keep Our NHS Public campaign group, which represents health professionals, the public and academics, said: "The middle classes will always make the best of a system. "In fact, there is evidence to show that when you involve the private sector, it just exacerbates the situation."


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