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Conflicted panels? Whatever next?

A fascinating article at the British Medical Journal site, looking at the problem of the medicalisation of every problem in society. The author reckons it's a lot to do with new diseases being created by expert panels with financial conflicts of interest. Sound familiar?

Among the 12 members of the panel that created the controversial diagnostic category “pre-hypertension” in 2003, 11 received money from drug companies, and half of those people declared extensive ties to more than 10 companies each. Critics have rejected “pre-hypertension” as a dangerous pseudo-syndrome that could increase drug company markets, while others point out that it gives a diagnostic label to nearly 60% of the adult population of the United States. Similarly, 11 of the 12 authors of a 2009 statement on type 2 diabetes were heavily conflicted, with authors working as consultants, speakers, or researchers for an average of nine companies each. That panel advocated a contentiously low blood sugar target, and explicitly defended the use of rosiglitazone, a drug since suspended from the European market because of its hazards to human health. Within the field of sexual dysfunction, conflicts of interest have reached new heights of absurdity, with drug company employees joining their paid consultants to design diagnostic tools to identify and then medicate millions of women with a disorder of low desire that may not even exist.  


Scientists behaving badly

Times Higher Education has a cover story about scientists behaving badly. The focus is on biomedical research and, in particular, the story of how two dogged biostatisticians named Baggerly and Coombes struggled to expose the errors in a paper on chemotherapy by Potti and Nevins.

The Climategate parallels in the story are obvious.

As well as the article (which is by Darrel Ince of the Open University) there is an accompanying editorial, which looks significant.

We may struggle to change human nature, but we ought to be able to ensure that journals, as Professor Ince says, "acknowledge that falsifiability lies at the heart of the scientific endeavour" - they must be less quick to dismiss challenges to their published papers and more willing to admit mistakes.

Duke itself has acknowledged that in work involving complex statistical analyses, most scientists could benefit from a little help from the statistics department before publishing.

Professor Ince goes a step further, arguing that all elements of all the work (in the Duke case, the full raw data and relevant computer code) should be made publicly available so that others can replicate or repudiate the findings.

In this age of information and the internet, that can't be too difficult, can it?


Monbiot on reality

While many people have assumed that George Monbiot would always remain an overgrown teenager, his recent outpourings seems to have at least a whiff of maturity and even a newfound willingness to engage with the world as it actually is. Monbiot's column on Monday has attracted much attention (Judith Curry here, Anthony Watts here) and there is now a follow-up piece looking at the same areas.

Environmentalism is stuck – factional and uncertain even of the goals we seek. But we must face facts and engage with reality.

Of course many people have been saying that environmentalists were delusional for years, but I'm sure we were denounced for doing so.


More on disasters

Anthony Watts has picked up the Houghton quotes story, and I thought it was worth expanding on what makes me uneasy about these links between disasters and global warming.

It seems clear to me that the original misquoted version hinted that Sir John was in favour of inventing catastrophes. His true words don't carry anything of that meaning.

The question then become one of whether his true words suggest creating links between disasters and global warming. Again, I'm not sure they do. A commenter here points out the rest of the quote in which Sir John says

It’s like safety on public transport. The only way humans will act is if there’s been an accident.

Click to read more ...


Huh Czar

Another great comic strip from Fenbeagle, this time taking aim at Chris Huhne. Do take a look at the whole thing.


UEA Chancellor's emails

Someone - not me - has got hold of the Climategate emails of UEA's Chancellor, Brandon Gough. This is a slightly odd choice of target, as university Chancellors are usually figureheads as far as I know.

However, it did throw up two things: one trivial but odd, the other just rather funny.

The trivial-but-odd thing is that a whole host of Spanish universities wrote to Brandon Gough in the wake of Climategate pledging their undying support. I would have waited for the investigation to finish myself.

Secondly, a rather amusing job application sent to Gough shortly after the emails hit the internet:

Dear Sir,

I am inquiring about the possibility of employment at the University.

I was recently sacked from my previous job for conspiring to distort company figures. Before that I was fired for gross incompetence and for losing critical corporate data; and before that for attempting to corrupt audits by getting my mates assigned to the role, and for attempting to cover-up my dishonesty by criminally inciting others to delete incriminating files and emails.

I was thinking maybe something in your Climate Research Unit, but I'm concerned I
may be over-qualified.

I also have two convictions for fraud. Is this enough?

Please advise soonest.

Yours Sincerely,


Watch with care

Some readers may be familiar with the name of Dr Gabrielle Walker. It was Dr Walker who co-wrote The Hot Topic with Sir David King - the global warming book with a whole new "hide the decline" graph in.

I notice that Dr Walker has been commissioned to front a BBC TV programme about the science of ice.

One to watch...(carefully). 

Also coming up in the BBC's new season are a series about the science of the weather and a show called What's the Point of Satellites?, (to which the answer is probably "to promote global warming").



Ridley and Dyson on shale

Matt Ridley has written a report on shale gas for GWPF. This is an excellent, even-handed look at the pros and cons of this new energy source.

It's hard not to come away with the impression that shale gas is pretty benign compared to the alternatives. For example, the footprint of a shale well is amazingly small...

Click to read more ...


Plodding along

Last night I had a response to an FOI request to Norfolk Police for financial information relating to the UEA emails inquiry. I asked for costs per month for the investigation, expecting these to show a tailing-off over the period since Climategate.

Imagine my surprise then, to be sent this:

I wonder what happened in November 2010? A big anniversary party perhaps? :-) These could be big lumps of periodic recharges from external bodies - perhaps NDET? Your guess is as good as mine.


SciTech on peer review

The House of Commons inquiry into peer review is live streaming from 10:15 this morning. I will not be able to watch, so reports and comments are particularly welcome.

The stream should be here.


Exit stage left, Huhne...?

Guido Fawkes reckons that Chris Huhne could stand down as the UK's Energy and Climate Change Secretary at the cabinet meeting on Friday, with (relative) right-winger David Laws favourite to replace him.


Climate catastrophe deja vu

Sir John Houghton once famously said:

Unless we announce disasters, no one will listen.

Except actually he didn't say that. His real words were:

“If we want a good environmental policy in the future we’ll have to have a disaster.”

Now, in an eerie echo of the learned Sir John, we have the words of Robert Stavins, the head of Harvard's Environmental Economics program

It’s unlikely that the U.S. is going to take serious action on climate change until there are observable, dramatic events, almost catastrophic in nature, that drive public opinion and drive the political process in that direction


Me at Nuclear Street

A brief interview with me is up at the Nuclear Street website. "Raw, uncut and uncensored" it says.


Sheppard on Sheppard

Kate Sheppard is interviewed about her recent article about Climategate at the Energy Now blog.


An interview with Phil Jones

Harold Ambler, a journalist who has written a forthcoming book about global warming entitled "Don't Sell Your Coat", was lucky enough to get an interview with Phil Jones several months before Climategate and he has published some of the details at his website.

This is definitely a "read the whole thing" article, but to whet your appetite, here is an excerpt that I rather enjoyed:

One other reason Jones offered for refusing to share data appeared bizarre, to say the least:

I will say one more thing. Have you considered this issue from a perspective of a Met Service in Africa or South America. I have been told by people from these Met Services that one of the reasons they restrict access to data is that scientists in Europe and North America use their data to further their own scientific ends. This is a sort of data imperialism. They get nothing back and think of themselves as mere data collectors. They want to improve the lot of their scientists. I am able to help a few of them with grants to come and do MSc and PhD courses here at UEA, but it is only a few.

I take Jones at his word here, but it has been a matter of some surprise that he has not mentioned these issues in dealing with other journalists. More to the point, alluding to the plight of underprivileged meteorologists as a means of explaining why data sharing should not be moved forward as expeditiously as possible is, for lack of a better word, weird.