Sunday, May 24, 2009


By David Whitehouse

It is very interesting to see today's story on BBC News Online about BSE/CJD "vCJD carrier risk overestimated.". It is the latest in a long line of similar assessments of the vCJD situation.

After many years of sporadic interest the BSE/vCJD story took off in 1996 after an admission in parliament by the health minister that there was a link between BSE contaminated meat and a new strain of the degenerative vCJD brain disease that had afflicted a handful of people. Initially, few people knew anything definite about the disease and its possible progression and, depending upon assumptions, computer models predicted anything from a small number of people being affected to a large fraction of the population. While such uncertainty existed it was right for journalists to reflect the scientific situation but as I was science correspondent for BBC Radio at the time, I soon began to realise the tension between science and journalism and the changing approach to science within BBC News at the time.

In terms of news the potential for a modern day catastrophic plague is a much 'better' story than the possibility that nothing much more will happen. So whilst the uncertainty persisted that was the story that was emphasised with the appropriate caveats. However, it soon became clear to most scientists at least that a major catastrophe was not in the making. The increase in numbers afflicted, despite the unknown incubation of the disease, was not increasing as some predicted, but that fact was inconvenient to some and did not impinge on our general approach to the story.

In such circumstances I took the view that journalists should stay close to the data and not let the scientific possibilities, however dramatic and 'newsworthy,' obscure what was actually happening, especially when those possibilities rested on a cascade of debateable assumptions being fed into a computer model that had been tweaked to hindcast previous data. It was not a point of view taken by other arms of the BBC one part of which was repeatedly promoting the same scare story coming out of one institution based on said computer models and predictions. I believed that taking a sober approach was the right one, especially for the BBC, which was looked to for responsible reporting. Wanting to get on air with a story and make an impression with editors and management was one thing, but I took the view that a journalist should not tailor the science to suit ones ambitions, or survival, that way. The political journalist John Sergeant summed it up when he said that there were many journalists who reported what they could get away with rather than what they know.

My approach was not favoured by the BBC at the time and I was severely criticised in 1998 and told I was wrong and not reporting the BSE/vCJD story correctly. But with hindsight I was correct in my approach. To date the total number of people afflicted with BSE/vCJD remains very small. In fact, far smaller than many illnesses that never get a mention in the media, and the scientific doom mongers have moved onto new pastures. But the attitude towards science still remains at the BBC and has been evident in its evangelical, inconsistent climate change reporting and its narrow, shallow and sparse reporting on other scientific issues.

Reporting the consensus about climate change (and we all know about the debate about what is a consensus in the IPCC era) is not synonymous with good science reporting. The BBC is at an important point. It has been narrow minded about climate change for many years and they have become at the very least a cliché and at worst lampooned as being predictable and biased by a public that doesn't believe them anymore.

Times are changing. New data is emerging, the world refuses to warm in the past decade, the sun becomes quiet, and scientists are beginning to study themselves investigating how entrenched positions become established and whether consensus is a realistic concept. History and science will always correct things in the end. It has done so with vCJD and it is not impossible that the judgement of history and science on current environmental reporting will be the same.


Nearly a quarter of babies born in UK are born to mothers from outside the UK

The number of babies born in England and Wales reached an all-time high last year. There were more than 700,000 births, 100,000 more than when the birthrate hit its lowest in 2001. The birthrate has been pushed up fast in recent years by immigration. Last year nearly a quarter of all babies in England in Wales were born to mothers who were themselves born abroad.

The number of live births in 2008 was 708,708, of which 24 per cent were born to mothers from outside the UK, according to figures from ONS. The figures were released by the Office for National Statistics, which said: 'Fertility rates for 2008 give an average number of 1.95 children for every woman (over their lifetime) in England and Wales, the highest since 1973 when there was an average of two children for every woman.' The number of births, 708,708, was the highest since 1972, when the long postwar baby boom began to fade away.

Migration is a key reason for the rising birthrate. Some 24 per cent of all babies were born to mothers from abroad, up from 23 per cent in 2007 and 14 per cent in 1998. More than 15 per cent of all babies have both a mother and father born outside the UK. In London, more than half of all children are born to foreign-born mothers.

Among women born in Britain, fertility rates are running at a low level - a British-born woman can expect to have 1.6 children in her lifetime. Mothers born outside Britain have a current fertility rate of 2.2 children. The highest fertility rate is among women born in Pakistan and Bangladesh, who can expect to have 4.7 and 3.9 children respectively.

The town with the highest fertility rate was Boston in Lincolnshire, where women can expect 2.81 children in a lifetime. The East of England has attracted high numbers of migrant workers in recent years to agriculture and factories.

High fertility rates among immigrant groups are thought likely to play a central role in pushing up the overall population. Official projections suggest that the UK population will reach 70 million by 2028, and that 70 per cent of the ten million increase will be driven by immigration.

Critics said the figures pointed to future problems for 'social cohesion'. Robert Whelan of the Civitas think-tank said: 'This shows the impact that mass immigration is having on the demography of the country. 'It is changing the make-up of the population. 'Many of the children now being born will be brought up in a different culture to that of the majority population. 'This suggests there may be issues in the future when the children grow up and make up a high proportion of the population.'

The population also rose as mortality rates in England and Wales fell to the lowest level ever recorded. Last year fewer than 7,000 men and 5,000 women in every million died - a rate that has fallen by 25 per cent for men and 19 per cent for women over the past decade. Nine out of every 20 babies were born outside marriage last year, the ONS figures showed. The proportion of children born to unmarried mothers has passed 45 per cent for the first time, up from 37 per cent in 1997, when Labour came to power.

Labour has been accused of encouraging single parenthood with tax and benefit systems that favour lone mothers over couples. Until 30 years ago only about one baby in every ten was born to an unmarried mother.


Equality? You must be joking! As watchdogs say it's OK to sneer at men (but not women) in adverts

Majority rules? If you take a look around you these days, nothing could be further from the truth. That sacred tenet of democracy, which holds that the view of the greatest number of citizens should prevail is no more. Increasingly, we are ruled by the tyranny of the minority - or rather by the PC thought-police who believe they have a monopoly on public grievance.

How else would you explain an edict from the powerful Advertising Standards Authority that has decreed this week that it is socially acceptable to treat men as mindless sex objects, but a crime to make similar references to women. Let me explain. In one recent advert for the bookmaker Paddy Power, two sexually provocative young ladies in short skirts cosy up to a banker. Hardly sophisticated, for sure. But offensive? The ASA thought so, banning the advert on the grounds that it associated sexual success with stockmarket betting (try telling that to Nick Leeson).

That decision would have made more sense if the ASA hadn't rejected several hundred complaints about an equally idiotic misrepresentation of the sexes in an advert for Oven Pride kitchen cleaner that portrayed men as simpletons who don't know one end of a scouring pad from another. The voice-over says: 'So easy, a man can do it.'

Now, you and I may know that oven-cleaning is by no means an activity that most men would readily volunteer for. But then nor would most women, if we're honest. Which is why I have some sympathy for the 673 people who complained that the ad was sexist - a significant number in ASA terms.

Yet because the ad belittled men rather than women, the protests were overruled on the basis that the advert was 'unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence'.

Talk about double standards! But the horrible truth is, the ASA is right. As a society, we have become so institutionally sexist against men that it is now accepted practice to treat them as second-class citizens. Think of the huge number of TV comedies in which the men are portrayed as underperforming dolts who are vastly inferior to the female characters (Men Behaving Badly being the most notable example).

Think of all those women's magazines that routinely reinforce the stereotype of men as being helpless inadequates who think only with their lower organs.

On a more serious note, think of the raft of legislation that has been put in place to benefit women, and indeed positively discriminate in favour of them, often at the expense of male interests. In the supposed attempt to impose equality across the board there is - often quite literally - one rule for women and another for men. What's equal about that?

Surely the only true test of equality is a simple one. A little gender role reversal will do it. Imagine the same Oven Pride ad with women portrayed as imbeciles incapable of performing a simple domestic task. The firm would be flayed alive as sexist pigs and commercial chauvinists.

So why in 21st-century Britain is it OK to ridicule men but not women? If we believe in satirising gender stereotypes, then everyone should be up for grabs, so to speak.

But then the problem extends much further than the age-old battle of the sexes. It reaches into every arena of public life in which a supposedly weaker group is entitled to mock or denigrate anyone or anything it chooses, but must never, ever be ridiculed or criticised in return. So it's fair game for any paid-up member of the commentariat to belittle heterosexual marriage, but gay partnerships are deemed beyond reproach.

It's culturally acceptable to make jokes about Christians, or openly denigrate their faith, but belittle or insult any minority religion in a similar vein and you will be branded a hateful bigot. It's fine for the bien pensants to sneer at Middle England with its bourgeois values, but should Middle England dare to pass opprobrium on the cultural values of any other group and they are condemned as quasi-fascists.

How can this be right? Surely equality should be a two-way street in which the jokes, the criticisms and the views are allowed to flow freely in both directions without minority lobby groups decreeing what is or isn't acceptable? Alas, I fear it is already too late.

Just look at some of the big news stories of the past few months for a snapshot of the new orthodoxy. In March this year, a large group of Muslims in Luton protested in the town with deeply offensive posters vilifying our returning troops, calling them rapists and murderers. Only two people were arrested that day. No, not any of the Muslim rabble, but two of the decent majority who could not tolerate this abuse against our brave troops and shouted back at the fanatics. They were eventually released without charge.

Or how about the boss of the British Association for Adoption and Fostering, David Holmes, who described as 'retarded homophobes' those who believe that heterosexual couples make the most suitable adoptive parents. This, despite the fact that most ordinary families recognise that a child fares best when it has a married mother and father in the home - a belief that is backed by repeated academic studies.

Then there is the way Christians are routinely ignored in our society in a craven attempt to appease minority religions, with crosses banned from public buildings and civic officials reprimanded for daring to mention their faith in public. (Remember the nurse who almost lost her job for making the unforgivable error of praying for a patient?). You'd never imagine we are a country where more than 60 per cent of people still define themselves as Christian.

Can you imagine for a moment a devout Muslim nurse being suspended from the NHS because she prays to save a sick patient? Or a Christian succeeding in complaining about a traditional Muslim festival and having it cancelled - as so often happens each year in schools and town centres at Easter and Christmas. Of course not. Minority rules, OK.

Everywhere you look, double standards have become the order of the day. And the sorry truth is that there is almost no one left either able or willing to stand up for the views of the silent majority, who have been brushed aside by the PC zealots and their endless list of grievances - some real, many imagined.

The great British institutions, whether they be the BBC, the Church of England or Parliament, have been cowed into submission by the cheerleaders for minority rule. In their desperation to cause offence to no one, they no longer know what they stand for any more. Equality? To paraphrase Orwell, some are more equal than others.


Coroner's fury as great-grandfather, 86, dies after being dumped on NHS emergency trolley for 19 hours TWICE

Oh no! NOT a Royal Marine. How disgusting. The neglect below should not happen to anybody but Royal Marines are heroic men who should be treated with special honour

A Normandy veteran died after being abandoned on a hospital trolley for 19 hours - on two separate occasions. Walter Gibson, 86, suffered an agonising death from infected bedsores caused by his ordeal. Yesterday a coroner condemned the 'gross failings' and 'neglect' that contributed to the great-grandfather's death.

Mr Gibson, who had Parkinson's disease, was admitted to Queen's Hospital in Romford, Essex, in December 2007 with a chest infection. But the flagship £200million, three-year-old hospital did not have enough beds to accommodate him, an inquest heard. Instead Mr Gibson was left on an A&E trolley - designed to be used for up to 12 hours - for 19 hours. By the time he returned to his care home after treatment Mr Gibson had developed painful bedsores.

Days later, on New Year's Day 2008, he was admitted to the hospital again with pneumonia. Astonishingly, he was forced to endure another agonising 19 hours on a trolley as he waited for a bed. When Mr Gibson was finally seen by locum consultant physician Dr O A Elegbe, it was clear the bedsores - also called pressure sores - had become far more severe and were infected. One of the sores had developed into a 'grade four' ulcer - deep enough to expose tendon and bone. The wounds were dressed, but it was another 12 hours before he was moved to a ward where he could be placed on a pressure-relieving mattress.

By then, however, it was too late. Mr Gibson died on January 12 of septicaemia as a result of the open bedsores. Bronchial pneumonia was also found to be a contributing factor in his death. Yesterday coroner Dr Fiona Wilcox passed a verdict of death by natural causes, contributed to by neglect.

Dr Wilcox told Walthamstow Coroner's Court in East London: 'It is quite clear from the evidence I've heard that the length of time Mr Gibson waited at A&E both the first and second time - the second time added insult to injury to a man already completely dependent - made a significant contribution to his death.' She added: 'He was at very, very high risk of pressure sores and he should have been provided with appropriate protection against worsening of the pressure sores.'

Mr Gibson's wife Pheobe, 82, lives in a care home in Dagenham. The couple had three daughters, six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Mr Gibson served as a Royal Marine during the Second World War and was involved in the D-Day landings.

Two of his daughters, Jacqueline With and Kay Newton, and his granddaughter Vicky Newton were in court to hear the coroner's criticisms of the hospital. Mrs With, 62, said after the inquest: 'We were angry and upset when we found out that the bedsores were a factor in his death, they had got infected and he got septicaemia. 'If he hadn't had to wait so long on the trolley he wouldn't have got the bedsores and may have survived longer.' She added: 'I know hospital A&E is a busy place but I feel the elderly should be fast-tracked through. 'It's a hard task for the doctors and nurses trying to treat people but something needs to be done. More money needs to be put into emergency care or there should be a specialist unit for the elderly.'

The coroner urged Queen's Hospital to increase training for nurses, step up risk assessment of patients likely to develop pressure sores and provide more air mattresses.

Mrs With, of South Ockendon, Essex, said: 'I genuinely hope the recommendations go through so that no one else has to suffer the terrible way my poor dad did.' The Daily Mail's Dignity For The Elderly campaign has highlighted how vulnerable older patients are sometimes not given the care they deserve in hospital.

A spokesman for Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals Trust, which runs Queen's Hospital, said: 'Our sympathies are with Mr Gibson's family at this difficult time. 'Over the past year, the trust, in partnership with the primary care trusts, has reviewed and streamlined the processes for patients attending A&E to ensure that they can be admitted and cared for in the right setting to meet individual needs. 'A list of recommended actions from the coroner will be submitted to the trust for implementation and response. 'The trust takes very seriously what lessons can be learnt in order to prevent a similar occurrence in the future.' [Bullsh*t, Bullsh*t, Bullsh*t]


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