Saturday, May 03, 2008


An email from John A [] of Climate Audit referring to the BBC report by Richard Black

The BBC report features some startling reversals such as The Earth's temperature may stay roughly the same for a decade, as natural climate cycles enter a cooling phase, scientists have predicted. A new computer model developed by German researchers, reported in the journal Nature, suggests the cooling will counter greenhouse warming.

Oh my gosh! Just imagine that! Could the IPCC be completely wrong? "One message from our study is that in the short term, you can see changes in the global mean temperature that you might not expect given the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)," said Noel Keenlyside from the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences at Kiel University" and in a tyre-squealing manoevre that would do Lewis Hamilton proud: "The projection does not come as a surprise to climate scientists, though it may to a public that has perhaps become used to the idea that the rapid temperature rises seen through the 1990s are a permanent phenomenon."

Now where do you think the public might have got that impression from? The BBC? The IPCC? Nature? I don't think that most climate modellers or BBC journalists can even blush anymore.

Drug companies win appeal against arrogant and secretive British drug regulator

NICE did not want to reveal details of the "model" it uses. Not surprising given the erratic results obtainable from such models

Tens of thousands of Alzheimer’s sufferers and their families had their hopes raised yesterday as two drug companies won a landmark victory in the Court of Appeal. The court ruled that the powerful body that controls the prescription of new drugs must give up its most precious secrets — how it measures the benefits that novel treatments bring.

The ruling is the first case that NICE, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, has lost in court. It means that in future it will have to be completely transparent in the way it reaches its decisions, revealing the inner workings of the computer models it uses to measure value for money.

Drugs are approved if they cost the NHS less than about 30,000 pounds per quality-adjusted life year. That means for every 30,000 spent prescribing them, the benefit enjoyed by patients must add up to the equivalent of a single patient living an extra year of good-quality life.

NICE was adjudged to have acted unfairly in making an appraisal of the Alzheimer drug Aricept, which works by increasing levels of a brain chemical linked to memory and decision making. NICE had ruled that Aricept should not be prescribed on the NHS to patients with mild Alzheimer’s disease because the model failed to show that it provided good value. But it refused to allow Eisai and Pfizer, who market the drug, full access to the model. The Court of Appeal yesterday ruled that refusal unlawful. The judgment said that the two companies were disadvantaged in appealing against the guidance by NICE’s refusal to let them have a “fully executable” version of the economic model.

Had the companies had the full version, they could have tested it using a variety of assumptions and been in a better position to challenge the guidance. NICE must now make such a version available. Lord Justice Richards, giving the ruling of the appeal judges, said NICE had supplied a spreadsheet of the economic model and had refused a request from Eisai for full details. He allowed the appeal by Eisai/Pfizer, which will receive the full details and make new representations to NICE, which will then make a fresh appraisal of the drugs.

The ruling could influence many other appraisals made by NICE. For example, last year it issued guidance over drugs for osteoporosis that similarly relied on an economic model. When the National Osteoporosis Society appealed against the guidance, it complained that it had never had access to the economic model, despite several requests. “It always seemed to us that this public policy should have been subject to proper scrutiny,” said Nick Rijke, of the NOS. “It is a pity it took a court case to establish that.”

Economic models of this sort can be very sensitive to the precise details that are entered into them. The drug companies will want change the starting points and the assumptions built into the models to see if that produces a different answer. Potentially, it opens up a large and controversial area of public policy to greater scrutiny. NICE has been criticised widely for its propensity to reject new drugs. Companies disappointed by its rulings will in future be able to judge whether, for example, treating different groups of patients with a particular medicine might result in it being found more cost-effective, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry said yesterday. “This judgment provides further momentum behind the drive to make NICE processes more transparent,” said Richard Barker, director-general of the association.

NICE could appeal to the House of Lords and seek a reversal of the ruling. Andrew Dillon, its chief executive, said: “We will be considering very carefully the findings and the implications for the time it takes us to provide advice to patients and the NHS on the use of new treatments. The ruling will increase the complexity of our drug appraisals in some cases and they may take longer as a result.” The ruling will not make Aricept available to new patients. It will simply enable Eisai and Pfizer to search for any flaws in NICE’s reasoning.

The drug acts against a key process of the disease. In Alzheimer’s, the damage is caused by the loss of brain cells that produce a transmitter, acetylcholine, that carries signals from cell to cell. When it has finished transmitting its messages, it is broken up by an enzyme, acetylcholinesterase. Aricept inhibits the action of this enzyme, thereby slowing progression of the disease.

Nick Burgin, managing director of Eisai, said: “We believe that this decision represents a victory for common sense. As soon as we have reviewed their cost-effectiveness calculations we will submit any new findings to NICE. We hope that this action will ultimately restore access to anti-dementia medicines for those patients at the mild stages of Alzheimer’s disease.”

John Young, managing director of Pfizer, said: “Contrary to NICE’s position that they follow a fully fair and transparent process, the Court of Appeal found that this is not the case.”

Neil Hunt, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “Today’s decision is a damming indictment of the fundamentally flawed process used by NICE to deny people with Alzheimer’s disease access to drug treatments.”


Vengeful mothers leave good fathers powerless to see child, says judge

A senior judge spoke out against child access law yesterday, saying that the courts were powerless to help decent fathers to see their children if vengeful mothers stood in the way. Lord Justice Ward made his comments after telling a father that there was nothing he could do to help him to reestablish contact with his teenage daughter who had been turned against him by her "vicious" mother.

The "drip, drip, drip of venom" poured into the daughter's ears by the mother included accusations of sexual abuse against the innocent father after the couple divorced, the judge said. The former wife's tactics were so successful that the daughter wrote to her father when she was 9 saying that she wished he was dead. The daughter is now 14. The identity of the family must be kept secret to protect her privacy.

Lord Justice Ward told the father that the case was bordering on scandalous but the court was compelled to act solely in the best interests of the child. The girl would be too distressed if she was forced to spend time with her father after her mother's "corrupting" campaign, he said. "The father complains bitterly, passionately and with every justification that the law is sterile, impotent and utterly useless - we have to acknowledge there is a degree of force in what he says," the judge told the Court of Appeal Civil Division. "But the question is what can this court do? The answer is nothing. This is a truly distressing case. It may not be untypical of many, but in some ways it borders on the scandalous. It certainly is tragic."

Between 15,000 and 20,000 couples go to court to resolve child access disputes each year. Campaigners say that the courts too often side with the mother, are too ready to believe what she says and rarely take action if contact orders are flouted. They want courts to start from a legal presumption of shared parenting between mothers and fathers. Yesterday's case involved parents who were briefly married in the 1990s but parted while their daughter was a baby. Contact between father and daughter was maintained at first but gradually disintegrated, according to the judge.

During rows over access, the mother, who lives near Lincoln, accused him of sexually abusing their child. But in 1997 a judge ruled that her allegations were wholly unfounded. However, Lord Justice Ward told the court yesterday that the mother had convinced the child that her father was guilty. "The seeds of poison had been sown and from it has grown a wall of dislike, bordering on hatred, for the father," he said. He described the letter written by the girl as "the most ghastly, horrible, letter for a nine-year-old girl to write to her father". It read: "This is what I really think about you. I hate you and you frighten me. You made my life miserable and stressful. I wish you would die. Leave me alone."

Despite this, the father went to Lincoln County Court in 2004 in an attempt to reestablish contact. A judge ruled that he should be allowed to see her under the supervision of a priest. That turned out to be distressing for the girl and the arrangement broke down. The girl insisted that she had been sexually abused. Lord Justice Ward refused the father permission to appeal against his decision, but told the court that the mother was to blame and a copy of his judgment would be given to her and her daughter to read. "The mother is, in my view, the source of this state of affairs by corrupting this girl so viciously and turning her against her father. That is the most I can do for you, with a heavy heart. It is a public scandal that these things go wrong."

After the hearing the father said: "This situation exemplifies what is wrong with the family justice system." He said he would consider taking his case to the European Court of Human Rights.


Row over British plans to recycle 24,000 failing teachers

Up to 24,000 incompetent teachers should be removed from their classrooms and put to work in neighbouring schools, according to the body responsible for upholding teaching standards. Keith Bartley, the chief executive of the General Teaching Council for England, said that urgent action was needed to retrain teachers who had “more bad days than good”. He said that it was unacceptable that only 46 teachers, from a workforce of half a million, had been judged incompetent since 2001.

In an interview with The Times, Mr Bartley said that he had drawn up draft proposals to tackle the problem in response to a call by Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, in his ten-year Children’s Plan, for the GTCE to root out teachers whose “competence falls to unacceptably low levels”. Mr Bartley’s comments provoked immediate criticism from teachers’ leaders and parents, who said that it was unfair to expect pupils and schools to take on teachers judged to have failed elsewhere.

At present one of the best-kept secrets of the teaching profession is that head teachers routinely encourage sub-standard teachers to resign, allowing them to transfer, often with a passable job reference, to another school. This is easier than embarking on lengthy and stressful incompetence procedures, but it shifts the problem elsewhere.

Mr Bartley said that it was impossible to say for sure how many incompetent teachers there were, although some estimates put the number as high as 24,000 — roughly one per school. Mr Bartley said that on his visits to schools he often came across teachers who felt “oppressed” by continually changing educational policy and everyday tasks, having lost the bigger vision of what teaching was about. “We know we have the best-qualified teachers we have ever had,” he said. “We are not talking about a system in crisis. But there’s a band of teachers who have more bad days than good. The issue is how do we energise people in the profession so that they don’t drop into the routine.”

Under draft proposals drawn up by Mr Bartley, head teachers would be able to refer incompetent teachers to an independent agency that would in turn place the teacher in a nearby school. There, the teacher would be given intensive retraining and support and the chance to prove themselves. He said that evidence from cases heard by the GTCE suggested that incompetence was often a matter of context. “A teacher may be incompetent in one area, but not in all areas.” He added that it should be a given that all competent teachers sought constantly to improve and developtheir and practice. It was part of a wider move to improve the overall standards of teaching and went hand in hand with plans to encourage all teachers to study for masters degrees.

John Dunford, of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that heads would want to help teachers to find a school that suited them. “But they can’t just go from school to school, because heads would be reluctant to take the risk that a teacher found incompetent in one setting might be less competent in another.”

Margaret Morrissey, of the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, said: “If these teachers are incompetent, parents will immediately say: what effect has this had on my child’s education?”

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said that it was keen to ensure that such teachers were helped to improve as quickly as possible. “We are clear that simply moving poor-quality teachers around is unacceptable and those who do not quickly improve will be helped to leave the profession.”


Black British soldier sues over 'humiliating' nickname

We read:
"British soldier Kerry Hylton is suing the army because of the embarrassing nickname given to him by fellow troops. Hylton claims he has been "demeaned'' by the nickname "Paris'', after the notorious blonde American socialite and Hilton hotel empire heiress. He is suing for race discrimination, alleging that his fellow soldiers ignored orders to stop calling him Paris.

The Daily Express newspaper reported that Hylton, a chef with the Welsh Guards, finds the nickname offensive because he considers Paris Hilton "a white woman with a low reputation''. The Jamaica-born 33-year-old also alleged he was called several racist names at his barracks in London. An employment tribunal in London is expected to hear his case next month."


So it is racist to give a black the name of someone white? A bit of a stretch. But in batty Britain it might fly, I guess.

Anyway, nicknames are common in the army. They come with the job. My army nickname was "Whanger" but I had better not explain that.

Eating 5 tomatoes a day 'offers sun protection'

The sample size was too small to enable generalizations

Eating five tomatoes a day could help protect against sunburn and premature ageing, research suggests. Experts at Manchester and Newcastle universities found that the fruit improved the skin's ability to protect itself against ultraviolet light. The researchers calculated that the protection offered was comparable to applying factor 1.3 sunscreen. Now they hope further research will establish whether eating tomatoes protects against more severe forms of sun damage, such as skin cancer.

"You don't have to eat an excessive amount of tomatoes to experience the effect if you are already eating a tomato-based diet with plenty of things like spaghetti and pizza toppings," said Prof Mark Birch-Machin, a dermatology scientist at Newcastle University. "Eating tomatoes is going to have this benefit in the sun, but it is still important to use conventional methods of protecting yourself against the sun such as sunscreens, shade and clothing."

Researchers studied the skin of 20 people, half of whom were given five tablespoons (55g) of standard tomato paste, the equivalent of five or six cooked tomatoes, with 10g of olive oil. The other half received just olive oil. The experiment was carried out over 12 weeks and the group was exposed to ultraviolet light at the beginning and the end of the trial. The results, presented to the British Society for Investigative Dermatology in Oxford, found that those who had eaten the paste had 33 per cent more protection against sunburn.

Ultraviolet light leads to excess production of harmful molecules called "reactive oxygen species", which can damage skin structures and eventually cause wrinkles and skin cancer. Tomatoes contain an antioxidant called lycopene, which can neutralise these molecules. This red pigment is found in a number of fruit and vegetables, but is at its most concentrated in tomatoes. The tomatoes were cooked and made into a paste because the heating process frees up lycopene.

Analysis of skin samples from both groups also showed that the tomatoes had boosted the skin's procollagen levels, a molecule which gives skin its structure. Losing procollagen leads to the skin ageing and losing its elasticity. It was also found that the increased levels of lycopene reduced damage to mitochondrial DNA in the skin, which is also linked to ageing skin.


Leftists lose big in Britain: "Gordon Brown is facing pressure from Labour MPs for a change in direction after a nightmare at the polls which saw the party slump to its worst results for four decades. With results still coming in from England and Wales overnight, Labour’s projected national vote share has been put at just 24 per cent, trailing 20 points behind David Cameron’s Conservatives on 44 per cent and beaten into third place by the Liberal Democrats on 25 per cent. The margin was similar to the drubbing received by John Major in council elections in 1995, two years before he was ejected from Downing Street by Tony Blair. Latest analysis suggests that the Tories would enjoy a landslide Commons majority of between 138 and 164 seats if the results were repeated in a general election."

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