Just a quick update. Today I reorganised the main page a bit, splitting the “Food and Health” category in two, adding categories for “Environment” and “Social Justice”, and putting the “Tools” section under its own subheading, to make it extra clear those items are different from the various topic pages. This was provoked by the overly busy look that resulted from my adding the first new pages since I got back online after my year long “net fast”, one on GM (Genetic Modification) and one on DDT (the controversial pesticide).

GM is a critically important topic for us to get our heads around. From an Aotearoa perspective, the late 1990s saw the beginning of the first wave of pro-GM lobbying by biotech industry lobby groups. This wave broke and rolled back in the face of a broad social consensus against the environmental release of transgenic organisms (usually known as Genetically Modified Organisms or GMOs), but in the last few years, there has been a renewed push by the the biotechnology industry, and its critical that everyone knows enough about the scientific arguments for and against GM to make the right decision on whether to support them, or once again oppose them.

Pro-GM groups like like the Life Sciences Network, whose public spokesperson was Dr William Rolleston, were light on references, but heavy on rhetoric; one of their regular claims was that environmentalists who oppose GM were opposed to “progress”. According to an article by Quiggan and Lambert in Propsect Magazine, this “anti-science” trope dates back to the 1980s, when tobacco corporations were desperately trying to distract people from the emerging evidence that their products cause lung cancer by claiming that public interest activsts of all kinds are “anti-science”.

The particular focus of the Quiggan and Lambert’s article is the claim that when the newly coined environmentalist movement, shocked by the revelations in Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring”, pushed for a global ban of the use of the insecticide DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane), this resulted in the avoidable deaths of millions of people from malaria. A number of big green groups considered persistent organic pollutants like DDT to be a serious health risk to humans and other species, and wanted the 2001 Stockhold Convention to ban them outright. But faced with evidence that living in houses sprayed with DDT was less wrong than dying of malaria, they accepted an exception which allowed countries to continue using DDT for disease control until better alternatives could be found.

The most recent evidence I could find today suggests that supplying malaria-affected countries with insecticidal misquito nets is both cheaper and more effective than DDT spraying, but as always, Drilling for Truth pages are a work in progress, and any evidence for claims or counterclaim is always warmly welcomed.

Filed June 24th, 2015 under Uncategorized

I don’t have the credentials to make a definitive scientific case for or against water fluoridation based on the highly contested body of evidence available. There are dentists on both sides of the divide. There are academic researchers on both sides. Public health officials vary from wildly enthusiastic about water fluoridation (eg New Zealand, parts of the US) to completely opposed (eg Sweden, in fact excepting the UK, most of Europe). What I do find convincing is the ethical argument, as laid out by numerous writers like Mark Diesendorf, Ph.D (see the original in .PDF form) which says that mass medication without consent is a violation of basic medical ethics. To quote the UK All Party Parliamentary Group Against Fluoridation:

“The right to refuse treatment is accepted as fundamental in a free society, and has been enshrined in human rights legislation, the Patient’s Charter and elsewhere. There is thus a moral imperative on a Government (whether or not it sees itself as legally bound) which can possibly be lifted only in cases of national emergency, and/or highly infectious and/or life-threatening epidemics.”

Here in Aotearoa, a series of multi-day hearings have been held by a number of local government bodies, including New Plymouth District Council and Hamilton City Council, to investigate the safety and efficacy of water fluoridation. In each case the result has been a decision to end the practice, despite the fact that public health officials and academics at the country’s main Dental School in Otago consider the science to be settled in favour of it. With local body elections looming, the Minister of Health is determined to play King Kanute, and turn back the anti-fluoridation tide. He is quoted by TVNZ news as saying:

“There are a number of referenda that are going to happen around the country over the run-up to the local body election period,” Mr Ryall said.

“One of the things I’ve done is I’ve asked the authorities to look at how they can better convey both the health benefits and the social benefits of fluoridation in such a way that people can appreciate those benefits and be aware of them.”

What really bothers me here in the patronising attitude towards the public. In the eyes of technocrats like Ryall we remain the “great unwashed”, incapable of understanding logical arguments or weighing the available evidence for ourselves. In other words, presented with both sides of the argument in a thorough public hearing, people are coming to the *wrong* conclusions. Public servants are now tasked with the PR job of massaging the way the information is presented until we start coming to the *right* conclusions again. If I’m correct in my suspicion that it is the ethical argument that is winning people over, I doubt they can succeed, but it’s truly sad to think about how many thousands of public health dollars are being wasted in the process of trying.

Drilling for Truth has the beginnings of a research page on Fluoride, although much more work needs to be done.

Filed July 7th, 2013 under Uncategorized

I have to admit to being against the use of 1080. However, I’d like to mention that I’m vegan, so not really an advocate of hunting, or the pest-meat industry. Also I’m studying Ecology at Massey, so while I wouldn’t claim to be a scientific expert, I’m certainly not unfamiliar with the issues, or unconcerned about the survival of native species.

Anyway, I can’t help but notice that the Graf Brothers, creators of the anti-1080 documentary Poisoning Paradise, seem to attract some pretty strident critics. When the NZ Department of Conservation produced a critique of the documentary, it produced a rash of comments on the Graf’s website, and I couldn’t help but ask, who are these people trolling the comment thread? Are they useful idiots who really do care about native bush and its ecosystems but cannot grasp that dropping a broad-spectrum poison into that bush is ecocide? Are they provocateurs working for the chemical industry and aiming to:

* start arguments using patronising languge (eg “your movie is constructed on inuendo, fear and cherry picked sentences from 20 year old reports?”)

*distract the discussion onto tangents (eg the country of origin of scientist, or red herrings like creationism)

* claim to the moral high ground (eg you’re not like those of us who are committed to the ecology and conservation of Aotearoa… you’re a hand puppet to the hunting and pest-meat lobby)

One clue to look for is the same (or similar) lines being repeated by different posters, as if they were scripted, eg “please detail (or at least outline) what the issues are that you think are of such importance”. Sometimes these semi-scripted key messages will turn up on multiple fora, news sites etc. Some of these techniques are discussed in Nicky Hagar’s book the Hollow Men. I’m still interested in hearing scientific arguments that support the use of 1080 in our native bush, but this trolling does little to convince me that the pro-1080 discourse emerges from genuine and informed concern for native species.

Filed March 30th, 2013 under Uncategorized

A while back, a fellow researcher introduced me to September Clues, and the accompanying CluesForum, the work of a loose network of media critics who assert that much of the audio-visual evidence of what happened at the World Trade Centre on September 11 was fake. having seen corporate media present lies and half-truths about almost every political campaign and protest activity I’ve ever been involved with (if they deign to cover it at all), I don’t struggle with the idea that some or all of the media product which represented 911 was misrepresented or even doctored. However, even for someone who is already highly suspicious of the official theory of 911, the claims the Clues crew make are hard to swallow. The September Clues video, although very thorough, is also extremely repetitive, dry, long, and very hard to watch beyond the first few minutes.

Recently, the same colleague convinced me to watch a chunk of another 911 conspiracy video called In Plane Sight. About half way through, the host plays what he claims is a news clip, one which is clearly fake. Go to 8:01 in this segment and have a look. Watch it again, without the sound, and take a good look at all the people, and what they are up to. Their body language, their focus of attention etc. Watch it again, with your hand over the portion of the screen that contains imagery of a smoking WTC tower. What do you see?

These people are tourists, and passers-by on an ordinary day. There is no sign that any of them have just witnessed an unprecedented terrorist attack, or anything out of the ordinary. Look at the lady on the right hand side, who buys some food, and wanders away. Look at the lady walking her dog, wandering away from the WTC. Look at the guy in the construction helmet, nonchalantly wandering away from the WTC. There is a guy rubbernecking with a pair of binoculars, but his body language looks more like than of a birdwatcher, than someone looking at a smoking skyscraper. The only thing in the video which gives that impression is the smoking tower in the background, and the screaming in the soundtrack, none of which, on closer examination, actually seems to be emanating from anyone in the video.

In fact, none of these people look hysterical, panicked, frightened, or even confused, and they are not jockeying to get a better view of the smoking tower in the background, or interacting with each other in any way that suggests that have just seen something shocking together. I could believe that the video is from just before the towers collapsed, almost an hour after the second tower was hit, and that people have by now calmed down, some of them deciding there’s nothing more to see. But how does this fit with the soundtrack of screaming, hysteria, and some woman ranting about how whatever she saw was “not American Airlines” (which is a weird thing for someone to fixate on under the circumstances, don’t you think?). It’s clear to me that the clip is a fake, and the smoke (at least) has been added after the footage was filmed.

What’s even more disturbing is that later, the host of In Plane Sight actively defends this obviously fake footage, running the last part through in slow-motion, and claiming that the food-buying lady is the one ranting about “American Airlines”. See 1:55 into part 5 of 6. Either this guy is very gullible, suffering from a major confirmation bias (”it must be real because it fits my pet theory”), or his crew have doctored this clip themselves. This clip has no watermark or other visible attribution, and the host never mentions its source (except “tv news”). I’m now convinced, from my own observations, that fake media is being passed off as real documentary evidence of the events of 911, at least in this case.

Filed December 26th, 2012 under Uncategorized

“Denialism is choosing to deny reality as a way to avoid an uncomfortable truth. Author Paul O’Shea remarks, ‘[It] is the refusal to accept an empirically verifiable reality. It is an essentially irrational action that withholds validation of a historical experience or event’.” 

 - Wikipedia

It began with people whose writings question the official histories of Auschwitz and other German concentration camps, who were called “Holocaust Deniers”. The term was extended more recently to those who disbelieve the scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change, who are now “Climate Change Deniers“, and those who question aspects of the Peak Oil consensus, who are now “Peak Oil Deniers“. As a left-libertarian and a permaculturist, none of these people are my natural political allies. It would take a lot of evidence to convince me that the entire history of the gas chambers in concentration camps were Soviet war propaganda, and that the Nuremberg Trials were a repeat of the “kangeroo courts” of Stalin’s purges. It would take some very powerful arguments to convince me that fossil fuels are not a finite resource which we need to move beyond, or that the visible evidence of climate change is not real.

I understand that in the case of Climate Change and Peak Oil the “denier” label is really aimed at industry-funded spindocters like Marc Morano and Christopher Monckton whose goal is to polarise the debate, and confuse the public. What bothers me though is that friends of mine risk being labeled “deniers” too, regardless of that fact that their sympathy for contrarian arguments stems from legitimate scepticism about the policies being offered by state and global corporate bureaucracies as “solutions” to these environmental problems.

What worries me even more is the ‘mission creep’, where people just keep finding new uses for the word ”denier”. Now that it’s associated in the public mind with unsavoury types like neo-nazis, anti-semites, and paid liars whose spin is putting the survival of millions of people at risk, this dangerously loaded prefix is being used as a weapon by the very state-corporate interests it was coined to criticise. Anyone who publicly expresses concerns about the safety or effectiveness of highly profitable vaccination programs is now a “vaccination denier“. Similarly, anyone who questions the theory that AIDS is caused exclusively by HIV is now an “AIDS denier“, despite the fact that many aspects of the medical theory on HIV/AIDS are questioned by scholars like Cell Biologist Dr Peter Duesberg, and Anthropologist Eric B. Ross. HIV/AIDS is the latest controversial topic to get the Drilling For Truth treatment. No longer satisfied with branding its critics “extremists”, and even “terrorists“, the state-corporate systems have decided environmentalists and natural health advocates we are all ‘progress deniers’, or perhaps ‘neoclassical economics deniers’.

As for “holocaust deniers”, such people are naturally my political opponents. That’s why, when I find myself agreeing with some well-argued points about academic freedom, and the double standards that allow some genocides to become dogma while others are denied, it surprises me that the article in which these points are made,  ’New Zealand’s “Cyber Crime Law: The Back Door to Censorship“, was written by Kerry Bolton, author of ‘The Holocaust Myth’.

Having to swallow my pride and admit that I agree with a political opponent about something also increases my respect for the courage and intellectual integrity shown by Professor Noam Chomsky, in his defence of the free speech rights of holocaust revisionist Dr Robert Faurisson. Like Chomsky, whatever I might think of the intellectual rigour of my opponents arguments, I see threats to academic freedom when governments create historical “fact” by legislation, and make the courts into a modern day Inquisition used to punish heretics. I agree with Bolton that it would be foolhardy for the New Zealand State to sacrifice our freedom of thought and expression to for an illusory “security” by joining the “Budapest Agreement” on policing “cybercrime” (a word eerily similar to “thoughtcrime”). Actually I’m suspicious of the whole demonization of the internet that is implied by tacking the prefix “cyber” onto negative words like “crime”, and “bullying”. Does that make me a “cybercrime denier”? Too bad. 

Filed September 21st, 2012 under Uncategorized

I wrote this as a response to the post ‘The World is Changing‘ on Muertos’ Blog.

A thought-provoking article, but I think it’s a major mistake to see the conspiracy underground as a unified entity. There are many divisions, and the idea of two distinct camps of conspiracy “believers” and “skeptics” is a false dichotomy. Certainly, there are theorists who gather all available conspiracies under a meta-conspiracy of NWO.  vs. fundamentalist “debunkers” who gather anyone who questions any aspect of their perception of “normal” under a meta-conspiracy of “lunatic fringe”; but curiously, one finds climate change “skeptics” who fit both these profiles.

Then, there are those who get obsessed with proving a single conspiracy theory (eg JFK or chemtrails), while taking a mainstream attitude to all the others. Or those those who fervantly believe in one cluster of conspiracies, while lambasting the proponents of others as tin-foil hat wearers.  In Aotearoa, some of the most vocal “debunkers” are objectivist libertarians, who are die-hard Austrian Schoolers, and climate ’skeptics’, who claim environmentalism is a communist plot.

Your association of conspiracy theory, religion, and utopian politics also seems to suffer from some confirmation bias. In my experience, there have always been some people entering conspiracy discussion from a mythic worldview (often, but not always a fundamentalist christian one), for whom the evil of the conspirators is more important than the falsifiability of any claims, or the evidence for and against them. Similarly there are others who believe critical thinking includes questioning the status quo (eg the official story of 9/11), and for whom establishing which claims can be falsified, and what evidence is available is of critical importance.

I find that “debunkers” or “skeptics” can be similarly divided. There are those  willing to suspend judgement, pull back on the flaming, and have a vigorous debate about the facts of each case. Then there are those, like Penn Jillette, who foam at the mouth at the mere mention that there might be anything untoward about water fluoridation, mercury amalgam, or building 7 falling into its own footprint because of a few office fires, and think conspiracy theorists should be lynched as a blight on humanity.

For example, a landmark court case, Wilks vs. the American Medical Association, found that the AMA had been systematically undermining the practice of chiropractic, despite mounting evidence of its efficacy, and a  complete lack of evidence for claims that its riskier than drugs or surgery. Many medical doctors now refer their patients to chiropractors for conditions where there is peer-reviewed evidence of its benefits. Yet some medical “skeptics” continue to smear chiropractors as “quacks”; the same with herbalists, despite the mounting peer-reviewed evidence for the safety and benefits of many (not all, but many) herbal treatments.

The ThriveDebunked blog gives a great example of a failure to understand scientific method common among “debunkers”:

“If you can show me a working example of a “free energy” device whose operation is clearly and publicly verified by reputable scientific sources—a “free energy” device whose operation and functioning are unmistakable, explainable by science and capable of being reproduced—I will concede that “free energy” exists.”

If the device can be observed to run off “free energy”, after having run any conceivable experiment to test alternative explanations of its energy source, it doesn’t matter if the person writing up the report is a ‘reputable scientific source’. This is an ‘appeal to authority’ fallacy. Certainly being published in a peer-reviewed journal would give the report more credibility, because it means more experienced eyes have failed to find bugs in the experimental method, and perhaps reproduced the results. But a high number of papers published in scientific journals later turn out to be wrong on important points. Being published in a reputable source, or endorsed by a big name scientist, is not what makes a claim scientific.

As for being “explainable by science”, it’s not uncommon for verifiable observations to clash with the theories fashionable in among scientists at a given time. The accumulation of such observations has regularly lead to the scientific revolutions described by Kuhn in his book on paradigm shift. For example, the observable findings of quantum mechanics have yet to be squared with the observable findings that allowed Einstein to unseat aspects of Newtonian mechanics with general relativity. To summarize, fitting nicely with the academic establishment and it’s current Holy Writ is also NOT what makes claims scientific. Scientific knowledge is generated by constantly tweaking or even rewriting theory to fit observation. John Michael Greer writes some interesting points on these and other flaws of “scientism” in the Ecotechnic Future.

I always try to keep in mind the words of one of the founders of western philosophy (if he actually existed), Socrates, who Plato claimed said something like ‘I am the wiser man, because I know, that I know nothing’.

Filed March 2nd, 2012 under Uncategorized

The other day I went through the original D4T pages on the Disintermedia wiki, made sure all the info on them was also on the new pages, and deleted them from Disintermedia. The main reason I did this was because I spent an evening doing some work on D4T, then realised I had made the changes on that obselete version, rather than the new version.

One of the things I did that evening was to create a Page Template for pages on D4T. I figure a standard page layout will make it easier to make use of pages, as well as easier to create a new one, when other researchers get involved in this project. I’ve also added bits and pieces to a number of the existing pages, especially making notes of ‘Points of Interest’ for further research, and added a new section on Hemp.

Filed July 4th, 2011 under Uncategorized

I’ve added some more claims and references to the Vaccinations topic today. In the process I stumbled across a site that seriously knocks the credibility of Quackwatch, and its founder Stephen Barrett, M.D. The Quackwatch article on Mercury Dental Amalgam, along with a brief summary of its salient points on the letterhead of the NZ Dental Association, are the “evidence” given to patients who question the safety of installing toxic heavy metals in their mouth.

“Skeptics” like Barrett, give being sceptical a bad name. Their claim to be interested only in the value-neutral pursuit of scientific truth simply does not gel with their vitriolic attacks on anyone who comes to different conclusions from them, or has beliefs about things which are outside the capacity of empirical science to study. I written a primer on my issues with “Skeptics”, and what being sceptical means to me, and encourage anyone researching controversial topics to use and contribute info and references to Sourcewatch.

Filed September 11th, 2010 under Uncategorized

Drilling for Truth (D4T) began on the wiki of the Disintermedia project. Today I have moved those pages to this separate project, which can be edited by anyone with a CoActivate account. I am hoping to attract a broad range of independent researchers to add their knowledge and evidence to the D4T pages, and since some bleeding edge researchers tend not to be joiners, I thought a separate project with a more liberal edit rule might help (Disintermedia only allows edits by team members.).

At present there are 7 topics on the wiki. Each of these needs more work to identify claims, and counterclaims, and link to examples, and to relevant evidence. Some claims for which there are no counterclaims need to be moved into a separate section, ‘uncontroversial facts about…’. The Drug Law Reform topic is one that hasn’t really been properly begun, and I intend to make time to work on it in the next few months, so it can be a reference resource for the 2011 general election campaign here in Aotearoa. Other topics could be added.

Some may ask why I don’t simply contribute to the relevant wikipedia pages. Certainly, the information aggregated on D4T could be used by those researching wikipedia edits, but the answer is that I want to experiment with a different way of presenting the information. By breaking down complex and often emotive controversies into simple claims and counter-claims, it is easier to see that these issues are never as simple as picking a ’side’ to believe. People can look at the evidence for both sides of a particular claim, and come to their own conclusions.

I welcome you to explore the D4T pages, and add to them as you see fit. Let’s see what we can learn together.

Nau te raurau, naku te raurau, ka ora ai te iwi

(By working together, we serve the greatest good of the people)

Ngaa mihi

Strypey

Filed September 6th, 2010 under Uncategorized
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