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Archive for May, 2003

Digital Ark

Posted by Ed on May 26, 2003

The Scientist is reporting the launch of ARKive, a ‘digital Noah’s ark’.

From ARKive:

It is the Noah’s Ark for the Internet era – the world’s centralised digital library of films, photographs and sound recordings of species, accessible to all via the world wide web.

ARKive is leading the virtual conservation effort – finding, sorting, cataloguing and copying the key records of species, and building them into a comprehensive and enduring audio-visual record.

Apparently they’re desperate for a photo of a Christmas frigatebird (Fregata andrewsi), so if anyone’s got one…


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Asylum seekers: a few facts and figures

Posted by Ed on May 24, 2003

Recently I wrote about propaganda in the press, and its effect on the public perception of asylum seekers. Daily ‘campaigns’ against asylum seekers in some of the press, combined with the use of inflammatory language by ministers and the police (‘swamping’,‘tidal wave’), have led to a completely distorted view of asylum seekers in the public eye.

The Independent yesterday published a few facts and figures about asylum seekers. A few statistics:

  • According to an opinion poll last year, the public believes that the UK hosts about 23 per cent of the world’s refugees, although the real figure is 1.98%
  • The public overestimates by a factor of 10 the number of asylum-seekers in the UK
  • The public believes that the average asylum-seeker receives about £113 in benefits a week; in reality they receive about £36.54
  • During the controversy over the Sangatte camp in France, the media used 51 different terms to describe asylum-seekers, including ‘parasites’ and ‘scroungers’.

It appears, however, that these so-called ‘scroungers’, actually make a net contribution to the economy:

  • In 1999-2000, immigrants contributed £31.2bn in taxes and consumed £28.8bn in benefits – a net contribution of about £2.5bn to the economy.

The Economist also has a survey about migration.

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Misreporting MMR

Posted by Ed on May 23, 2003

The BMJ today has a report about the media (mis)handling of the MMR debate. Following a paper in the Lancet (A J Wakefield, S H Murch, A Anthony, J Linnell, D M Casson, M Malik, M Berelowitz, A P Dhillon, M A Thomson, P Harvey et al., Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children, The Lancet, Volume 351, Issue 9103, 28 February 1998, Pages 637-641.) about a possible association between MMR (measles, mumps and rubella vaccine) and autism, the usual hysterical reaction of the media (not just the tabloid press, this time) led to a dangerous decline in uptake of the vaccine in some parts of Britain.

The authors stated in the Discussion of the original paper:

We did not prove an association between measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine and the syndrome described.

but even the vaguest speculation was enough to set the hacks off. Since then the debate has raged, despite the vast majority of the evidence being totally supportive of the combined MMR vaccine. The BMJ report states that:

“Although almost all scientific experts rejected the claim of a link between MMR and autism, 53% of those [the people] surveyed at the height of the media coverage of the issues assumed that because both sides of the debate received equal media coverage, there must be equal evidence for each. Only 23% of the population were aware that the bulk of evidence favoured supporters of the vaccine,” says the study.

The Department of Health has extensive information on MMR, and concludes:

The latest scientific evidence shows no link between MMR and long-term problems such as autism and inflammatory bowel disease, that separate vaccines are worse for children than MMR and that MMR remains the safest way to protect children against these three potentially serious diseases.

And finally, the WHO states:

WHO stresses the importance of scientifically evaluating rumours, anecdotal reports, rumours and speculation about the safety of vaccines. The Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety has recently published its guidelines for assessing causality in this context in the Weekly Epidemiology Record. WHO is not aware of any scientific evidence that meets the criteria laid out by the Committee that might substantiate an association between autism and MMR vaccines.

Read the report here.

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BBC documentary about neo-cons

Posted by Ed on May 18, 2003

This may be too late for most of you, but tonight’s Panorama has a documentary about the American neo-conservatives, and, presumably, their links with PNAC. BBC1 10:15 UK time, 11:15 CET.

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Blogging from Westminster

Posted by Ed on May 12, 2003

Just a quick post to point out Tom Watson MP’s weblog. Anybody know of other politicians with weblogs (British or otherwise)?

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Iran again

Posted by Ed on May 10, 2003

In The Weekly Standard, mouthpiece for the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), William Kristol, chairman of PNAC, writes

The liberation of Iraq was the first great battle for the future of the Middle East. The creation of a free Iraq is now of fundamental importance, and we must do what it takes to make a decent, democratic Iraq a reality. But the next great battle–not, we hope, a military battle–will be for Iran. We are already in a death struggle with Iran over the future of Iraq. The theocrats ruling Iran understand that the stakes are now double or nothing. They can stay in power by disrupting efforts to create a pluralist, non-theocratic, Shia-majority state next door–or they can fall, as success in Iraq sounds the death knell for the Iranian revolution.


So we must help our friends and allies in Iraq block Iranian-backed subversion. And we must also take the fight to Iran, with measures ranging from public diplomacy to covert operations. Iran is the tipping point in the war on proliferation, the war on terror, and the effort to reshape the Middle East. If Iran goes pro-Western and anti-terror, positive changes in Syria and Saudi Arabia will follow much more easily. And the chances for an Israeli-Palestinian settlement will greatly improve.

“If Iran goes pro-Western”? This type of statement clearly shows what the ambitions of PNAC are, and that they have nothing to do with liberation or democracy – except perhaps the ‘liberation’ of new markets for US companies. We should of course remember that PNAC does not officially formulate US government policy, but they are undoubdetly very influencial and US foreign policy is certainly until now following the blueprint with unnerving fidelity (see my other postings about PNAC). Witness George Bush’s announcement of a US-Middle East Free Trade Agreement. According to the Guardian’s report:

To quality, nations would have to meet certain requirements, such as renouncing and combatting terrorism and agreeing to lower their own barriers to trade and investment by U.S. companies. They would also have to agree to drop boycotts of Israel.

It is also clear that the US intends only to allow US-approved ‘democracy’, regardless of what the majority Shia population of the country wants. From Warblogging:

The United States will give Iraq self-determination to a point ? but it will not allow any kind of government it doesn’t like to flourish in its new protectorate. It has already told Iraqis what it wants in return for “liberation”: military bases, oil, a Western-style secular democracy and stability for the region. What if the Iraqis don’t want to give us military bases? What if they want an Iranian-style theocracy instead of a Western-style democracy? Well, as Defense Secretary Rumsfeld says, that “ain’t gonna happen.”

George Paine of Warblogging has regular articles about PNAC.

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His head got in the way of our bullets, m’lud.

Posted by Ed on May 9, 2003

Recently, the Israeli army shot peace activist Tom Hurndall in the head as he tried to help a Palestinian child. Subsequently, they fired shots at his parents when they came to visit him in hospital. Now, as a visitor to the Gaza Strip you must sign a disclaimer absolving the Israeli army of all responsibity if they just happen to shoot you while you’re there. Marvellous.

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Posted by Ed on May 5, 2003

Charl links on his weblog to an article on the (self-imposed) censorship of the American media during the war on Iraq.

“Editors across the US also worked hard to avoid the grisly images of war, especially scenes of dead Iraqi civilians and Americans, while Europeans saw uncensored horrific images.”

Al-Jazeera was roundly attacked for showing such images, including those of a young boy with half his head blown off. I applaud al-Jazeera for this action, and agree with Charl that had these sorts of images been more widely shown in the western media, many people would think differently about the so-called ‘liberation’ of Iraq.
Read the rest of this entry »

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BMJ endorses ‘author pays’ model

Posted by Ed on May 2, 2003

A couple of weeks ago I posted an entry about a new model for scientific publishing, which would see the author (or funding body) paying the costs of publication but retaining copyright and allowing free access to the published article for all.

An editorial in this week’s BMJ discusses this very issue. One of the major sticking points envisaged by the BMJ is the institutions’ reliance on impact factors (IF) as the sole measure of the quality of a journal. This makes the transition difficult as everybody waits for the IF of a new journal to go up before publishing there. Of course, while everybody’s waiting, the IF doesn’t go up.

The BMJ has been exemplary on this front, having provided free access for a number of years now.

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World’s smallest political quiz

Posted by Ed on May 1, 2003

Find out where you stand with the World’s smallest political quiz.

This is me (red dot):


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