Archive for category Not remotely true

Different refugees, same scare story

A few weeks ago, the Daily Star ran a fairly shameful piece which claimed that “Thousands of illegal immigrants will flee riot-torn Egypt and flood to Britain, the leader of Nato has warned” even though the Nato Secretary-General had been talking about what may happen to the whole of the EU (not Britain in particular) if unrest in North Africa damaged the Middle East peace process. Tabloid Watch has a very good takedown of that story.

Anyway, today its stablemate the Daily Express has a very similar piece, this time about the situation in Libya: UN tells Britain to open its doors to refugees.

BRITAIN faces a wave of migrants from Libya after a demand from the UN yesterday that Europe opens its borders to refugees.

The article appears to be based to be based on an interview with Baroness Amos, who leads the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, on the Today programme yesterday. As quoted by the Express, she said:

“In asking for the borders of neighbouring countries like Tunisia and Egypt to stay open, it is important that EU borders also stay open.

“I know the EU countries are going through a difficult financial time but they are still much better off than people who are fleeing a violent and difficult situation in Libya.

“We will continue to ask the EU and neighbouring countries to keep their borders open.”

This is a less a “demand” and a more a very politely worded “If you wouldn’t mind…“; the European Union’s borders are already open to refugees fleeing Libya, and have been since the start. More importantly, she doesn’t mention Britain once. Nothing here supports the Express‘s claim that a “wave” of Libyan migrants is heading that way – it would after all be very difficult for anyone displaced by the fighting (almost certainly without access to much money) to, at short notice in a country with virtually no infrastructure, travel all the way from Libya to Britain, when there are other countries much nearer – not just Tunisia and Egypt but Italy and Spain as well.

Indeed, the question she was answering makes it clear that this isn’t about Britain at all, it’s about Mediterranean countries who actually would expect to receive some refugees from the conflict:

What about the role of the European Union, both in the short and in the longer term? If there’s going to be a large number of people who are displaced and who are very close to the European Union’s southern border, it does sort of raise a whole set of new questions, doesn’t it, over the way in which the EU deals with people who are often very desperate and trying to get into the EU?

Unless the UK has suddenly become part of Europe’s southern border, none of this has anything to do with migration to Britain. The Daily Express has co-opted an ongoing human rights crisis and turned it into yet another immigration scare story. Even the Daily Mail, not normally known for its balanced coverage of stories about refugees and asylum, has managed to be reasonable about the situation in Libya.

Sure enough, while the Mail has a mixture of comments both sympathetic and unsympathetic to the refugees, only one comment on the Express‘s article doesn’t demand that we “SEND EM ALL BACK”* – and that comment is just pointing out that the UN asked, it didn’t demand. The other comments look like this:

I’d like to tell the UN where they can stick this proposal – and it wouldn’t be anywhere pleasant. Libya & its people are not our problem; we have a shortage of decent jobs & affordable housing for our own people, so letting in yet more foreigners is preposterous. These people need to stay in Libya & weather the storm.

If this does happen,people we must act not just chat on paper sites.This country is dieing and cameron is no doctor.More mouths more human rights to pander to and more death on our streets.The world can go stuff itself my england has had a running sore since labour got into power,IMMIGRANTS.Increase foreign aid dave,well his big society must refer to the big foreign society that darkens our shores.Their will be blood,I really hope the bnp in power sends them all packing,I’ll be there waving them a good british clear off.Two fingers optional.

NOW IS THE TIME TO TELL THESE MIGRANT WORKERS TO GO BACK TO THEIR OWN COUNTRIES. WE IN THE UK ARE FED UP OF BEING DUMPED ON BY THE REST OF THE WORLD AND ESPECIALLY THE EU.
THE ROMANS HAD A GREAT IDEA A CENSUS MAKING ALL IT’S PEOPLE GO BACK TO THEIR PLACE OF BIRTH SOMETHING THAT LEADING POLITCIANS SHOULD THINK ABOUT FOR TODAYS SOCIETY.

Oh joy. Why is it always us that get told what to do regarding refugees? We already have 1.5 million from labors criminal actions plus a further 1 million illegals. The vast majority of these are Muslim and the chances are that Libyan, Egyptian and Tunisian are Muslim as well. We can no longer support the huge number of migrants that want to come here and seriously put the religious balance at risk. I have a suggestion for the UN. Get Russia to take them. I would think that if the immigrants were not going to Western Europe but to some place out on the Steppes they might prefer to stay where they are and rebuild their country.

I’m sure that has nothing to do with the misleading headline, which seems carefully calculated to rile people up, right?

* There’s one other comment that’s sort of sympathetic, but, err…

However, refugees are refugees – not ‘asylum seekers, potential residents, parasites on society or disruptive elements’; they should be treated as guests and behave as such.

Moreover, while guests in a country they should be looking to return home as soon as possible – and if the international community deems that their home country is run by an ‘oppressive regime’ then these refugees sould be armed, trained and sent back to their home countries as the spearhead of a UN force to liberate their kinsmen.

That would definitely prevent the situation escalating into civil war, right? Right?

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The Telegraph gives parenting advice, fails miserably

I bet The Telegraph‘s science desk leapt for joy when they realised they could have a run a story with the headline “Men should concentrate on playing with their children and leave the care to women“.

Trouble is, the actual study didn’t say that. Instead, it showed that parents* whose roles overlap tend to be more competitive, and sometimes that competitiveness can undermine the support given to the child. For couples who can avoid letting that rivalry get the better of them, there’s no reason both parents can’t share caregiving duties.

Incidentally, the paper doesn’t seem to mention couples where the men did the majority of the caregiving and women just focused on playing; since there’d be no competition in these couples, there’d be none of the undermining behaviour seen in the study.

The Telegraph‘s article seems to quote heavily from this Science Daily article, though curiously they forget to neglect to quote the author’s conclusions:

Overall, [study leader Sarah] Schoppe-Sullivan said the results show that each couple has to decide for themselves which way works best when it comes to taking care of their children.

“There is more than one path to an effective co-parenting relationship,” she said.

“Effective co-parenting is not necessarily synonymous with equally sharing caregiving duties.”

In other words, this study isn’t saying “men are bad parents”, it’s saying “every couple is different”. There’s a big difference between the two.

* All the parents in the study were in couples, most were married, all lived in Midwest America, and they all had 4-year-old children; hardly a definitive sample of all parents anyway. I don’t have access to the paper, unfortunately, so I don’t know where all the parents involved were the birth parents of the children, whether any of the children were adopted, whether any of the couples were same-sex, etc.

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Trivialising domestic abuse, Mail-style

Partner abuse. It’s often a difficult topic to discuss, and the countless factors involved – from victims defending their abusers, to the devastating affect it can have on the children of the families – mean you often have to handle it with utmost sensitivity. Unless you’re the Mail that is!

Women entitled to a council house if they move out because their partner shouts at them, top judges rule

The Supreme Court ruled that women whose partners shout at them persistently can claim they are effectively ‘homeless’ – and will be entitled to a council house.

In a test case, the judges ruled that Mirhmet Yemshaw was the victim of ‘violence’ at the hands of her husband even though she was never physically attacked.

Her local authority had earlier ruled that she was at low risk of being physically attacked by her partner.

The decision could have wide-ranging implications for councils across the country.

If a couple split and the ‘abused’ partner is shouted at they will potentially be entitled to be handed a new home by their local authority.

First of all, the law in question is gender neutral on this issue – men who are the victims of abuse have exactly the same rights as women to receive council accommodation if they are made homeless.

But look at the Mail‘s wording, and how it uses scare quotes. Yemshaw wasn’t homeless, she was ‘homeless’. She wasn’t a victim of violence, she was a victim of ‘violence’. She wasn’t abused, she was ‘abused’. Time and time again, it’s almost as if the Mail is trying to downplay the abuse, not least by repeatedly characterising this abuse as just “being shouted at”.

Of course, the Mail‘s readers – obsessed as they are with council houses and the people who may or may not deserve them – have picked up on the dog-whistles and run with them, apparently oblivious of the difference between a loveless relationship and an abusive one.

What a joke … This can’t be right ! A horrible nagging mad cow ex-wife used to shout at me all the time. How come she ended up with the house , the contents and most of my wages then? Maybe I should have shouted at her and she could have been given a council house instead.

There’s a lot of “What about the men?” comments too – understandable given that the Mail hints (falsely) that this the law benefits women at the expense of men (and yes, for you concern trolls out there, it also applies to gay couples) – and even more comments from readers who think that the housing system is clogged with women pretending to be abused for a free council house:

Saves going to all that trouble of having a baby, just move in with some poor mug for five minutes then start crying that ‘he shouted at me’ and bingo. Next ruling will probably make the man responsible for paying the rent/bills/council tax. The government have been treating grown people like babies for the last 13 years so I’m not surprised that vast swathes of the population now act like babies. Victim culture is a pathetic selfish ideology that might seem OK to the ‘protected groups’ that can claim compensation for anything but it’s going to end in tears one day

So if you want another house just go down to the local council office and tell your husband / partner has shouted at you. Do these judges live in the real world?

Women who are shouted at by partners should be entitled to council property? Well, Mugs UK, you’d better start building a great deal more council property. I see another clever little scam looming.

SHOUT AT ME!! I WANT A COUNCIL HOUSE!! I never realised it was that easy.

Of course, none of them can say why this system would be any more open to abuse than the current system, or why the risk that some people might try to take advantage of the system automatically means no-one should receive its protection.

Those comments all had dozens of green arrows, by the way, though that’s not to say every top-rated comment is dreadful. I’ll leave you with this comment, from Nina, Suffolk, which has 94 upvotes at time of writing.

A friend of mine recently finally left her husband after suffering years of aggression from him. He never actually hit her but threw things which narrowly missed her making holes in the wall, hit walls & doors with his fists, screamed at her in the steet on a daily basis, screamed at her at home on a several times a day basis, screamed at their friends who dared to point out that his behaviour was unreasonable and never once was prepared to take responsibility for his anger and tried to blame her. When she asked for examples of what she did that upset him so much, he couldn’t give an answer. But it was still all her fault, not his. Thankfully she had her family to go back to in the end but a lot of women aren’t that lucky. What kind of a society do we live in if a woman (or a man) has to actually be physically attacked before they can get help? Surely helping them get out before that happens is better?

Edit: Natalie Dzerins points out that overnight, the Mail has managed to make that headline even worse. How?

Shout at your spouse and risk losing your home: It's just the same as domestic violence, warns woman judge

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Sham painful supernova

Everyone knows the old Mark Twain quote, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes“. Today we have a weirdly literal example of that.

A couple of days ago, the Australian news site news.com.au ran a story which claimed that the star Betelgeuse was going to go supernova in 2012, that its explosion would light up the sky, that it would burn so brightly that we’d have two suns, and that the explosion would tie in with the old 2012 Mayan prophecy BS.

Pretty quickly, astronomers like Phil Plait and Ian O’Neill wrote responses to the article, pointing out that while an exploding Betelgeuse would be spectacular, it would still be less bright than the moon (so no two suns), it would be too far away to have any effect on the planet, and we have no way of knowing whether Betelgeuse would explode tomorrow or in a million years.

Guess which line the British papers have gone for?

The Daily Mail runs with Earth ‘to get second sun’ as supernova turns night into day, complete with a still from Star Wars (because that’s a movie that had two suns in it!) while The Telegraph has ‘Second sun’ on its way. Both claim that “scientists” have predicted the 2012 supernova, but as far as I can tell, no-one’s done any such thing. The scientist quoted by news.com.au actually just made perfectly sensible comments about what supernovae are – the only connection to 2012 is randomly thrown in by the journalist who wrote the piece, Claire Connelly.

For a full debunking, either of the blogposts linked above is worth reading, as is news.com.au’s own apologetic follow-up, Betelgeuse ‘not likely to explode in 2012’.

Of course, it won’t be long before this story – devoid of context and rebuttals – gets pride of place on 2012 conspiracy sites, and then the whole vicious cycle will begin again.

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It doesn’t snow in the summer

RAIL bosses made the farcical decision to take two de-icing trains out of service at the height of the big freeze, it emerged yesterday.

Hmm, you’re right, Express, that is a bit farc…

The locomotives were away for their annual service when the Arctic weather swept in.

Oh, you mean they were already being serviced before the big freeze started? Still, as the Express says, they should have serviced them in the summer, not the wint…

Network Rail said the two trains were 55 years old and were sent away at the end of the summer to be upgraded.

The process took longer than expected and “extra resources” were brought in from unaffected parts of the network. The company has 30 trains across the country responsible for keeping the railways free of ice.

Oh. In short, here’s a more accurate first paragraph:

RAIL bosses made the decision to take two de-icing trains out of service at the end of summer.

Shocking.

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The Mail says is the IPCC is wrong. In fact…

Today’s misleading climate change story, courtesy of the Mail: Alarmist Doomsday warning of rising seas ‘was wrong’, says Met Office study.

Alarming predictions that global warming could cause sea levels to rise 6ft in the next century are wrong, it has emerged.

The forecast made by the influential 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which would have seen cities around the world submerged by water, now looks ‘unlikely’.

A Met Office study also rules out the shutdown of the Atlantic Ocean’s conveyor belt, which would trigger Arctic winters in Britain like those seen in the film The Day After Tomorrow.

Okay, before I point out everything else that’s wrong with this: The Day After Tomorrow is about as accurate a depiction of climate change as The Matrix is of computer programming. Regardless of what the climate does, we won’t actually have entire cities buried under frozen tsunamis, roamed by packs of wolves.

So, was the IPCC wrong? In their AR4 report (the one in question here) they said that over the 21st century, sea levels will rise by between 18 cm and 58 cm. In Daily Mail terms, that’s between 7 inches and about 2 feet (p. 45, which is p. 23 of the pdf, annoyingly). A 2 foot rise this century is rather a lot less than a 6 foot rise this century. Where did this error come from?

According to the report, beyond 2100, sea levels could rise higher – the theoretical maximum looks to be something between 7 and 10 metres – but that’s not what the Met Office study, “Summary of Post-IPCC AR4 work“, is about.

The Met Office says:

  • The relationship between temperature and sea-level rise is non-linear and the range for 21st century sea-level rise remains uncertain.
  • Some evidence that sea-level rise by 2100 may exceed the 95th percentile AR4 model-based projection of 59 cm.
  • Evidence that a rise significantly above 2 m by 2100 is very unlikely.

Median projections for 2100 under ‘business as usual’ scenario: AR4 model range of sea-level rise for this scenario was 0.21–0.59 cm. However, some of the newer evidence suggests that a sea-level rise of 2 m cannot be ruled out, but an increase of more than 1 m is currently viewed as unlikely.

So in fact, the Met Office says that the IPCC may have underestimated sea level rises, not overestimated them.

The Met Office never called the IPCC “alarmist”, they never said the IPCC “was wrong”, and even if the upper limit of an IPCC estimate had been rounded down, that wouldn’t make it wrong. It would just mean that we were to able to put more accurate upper bounds on sea level rise. This is all quite clear in the Met Office study; surely “Daily Mail Reporter” has to have read this report – and the IPCC report – to write this story. There’s no way such a massive error could have crept into this story.

The Mail accuses the IPCC of being alarmist and wrong. Perhaps they should look in the mirror first.

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Clear as mud

There’s a product called Joint Mud which the Express is wholeheartedly bigging up today. Apparently, it’s mud you rub on your joints which supposedly stops the pain of arthritis and improves joint flexibility; or so they claim.

This product is important, the Express says, because “The launch comes after a weekend expose revealed the NHS wasted £59million over four years on the anti-arthritis food supplement glucosamine sulphate, which does not work.“* Well then, I sure hope this Joint Mud works instead!

The Joint Mud site unfortunately doesn’t link to any of the studies to measure how effective the cream is. Instead, they simply give two very brief abstracts of studies:

Clinical Study # 1 – Results in 18 Minutes

“When used in accordance with intended package directions, Joint Mud demonstrated statistically significant reduction of joint problems by an average of 74% within the first 18 minutes with a maximum of 89% improvement reported after a single application.

Clinical Study # 2 – Long term results in 28 days.

“When used in accordance with intended package instructions in 28 days Joint Mud improved Joint Flexibility, Muscle Flexibility and Range of Motion by greater than 239%. Also, over the four week study, the number of applications needed to achieve the desired joint relief decreased from three times daily to twice a day”.

There’s no mention of how the studies were controlled or what placebos they used – after all, rubbing a cold cream into your joints normally soothes them anyway, regardless of how many organic essential oils your cream contains.

Nor does it say anywhere what improving range of motion and flexibility by “greater than 239%” means. Does this mean people went from being able to move their knees by 20° to 67°, or just from 1° to 3°?

I know what you’re thinking. “Aren’t you being too harsh on them? After all, they’ve at least released some clinical data, even if it is completely useless cargo cult science? I’m sure there’s nothing else dodgy about this product!”

Well first of all, let’s see which doctor the Express quotes to promote the product:

Dr Mark Binette, of Greek Island Labs, which produces Joint Mud, said: “I’ve been practising medicine for over 21 years and have never seen a product with such staggering results. I believe Joint Mud will help millions of people deal with aches and pains.

“I have seen impressive results in patients suffering from pain in their knees, back, hips, shoulders, hands and fingers.”

So the guy who sells the product is also the guy whose testimony they rely on to show the product works. Never mind, I’m sure Dr Mark Binette can be totally unbiased and impartial about a product he sells.

Secondly, check out the testamonials on the Joint Mud site:

I’ve had joint problems in my elbows in my knees for several years now. I was introduced to Joint Mud, I put it on and 18 minutes later I can totally feel the difference.

I’d applied the Joint Mud as instructed and within 18 minutes or so, I was feeling the results.

I’ve suffered from a really bad hip problem for several years now. I was introduced to Joint Mud and found that it works in about 18 minutes.

I was introduced to Joint Mud and at first, I was skeptical but I went ahead and tried it. Within 18 minutes, I saw tremendous results.

It’s all natural, put it on the joints where you have problems and within 18 minutes, you’re going to have tremendous results!

Funny how everyone found the product worked in exactly 18 minutes, isn’t it?

In the same vein, at the time of writing there were four comments on the Express‘s article. All four comments were posted by people who had never used the site before, three of whom claim to live in Aberdeen. Bear in mind this is a product that has not yet been released in the UK yet, so it’s unlikely three Aberdeeners and a Londoner have had a chance to try the product yet.

All four comments were posted within hours of the article going live, with the three supposedly from Aberdeen being posted between 2:03 AM and and 3:34 AM. There must be a lot of insomniac Express reading arthritics in Aberdeen!

The company that makes Joint Mud, the inaccurately named “Greek Island Labs”, is based in Arizona. Arizona is currently 7 hours behind the UK, meaning that, Arizona time, the comments were posted in the early evening – a much more convenient time to be posting on the Daily Express website.

Now, far be it from me to criticise a product promoted by Cascada, Bruno from Strictly, and David Hasselhoff’s daughter, but does that strike anyone else as odd?

* I can’t actually find any such exposé anywhere online. Curiously though, Greek Island Labs have previously promoted their products as an alternative to glucosamine, which makes me wonder how much of a part they played in writing this article.

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The Express and The Mail step into the ring! Only one can leave! FIGHT!

For a while now, the Express has been running it’s “Time for Change Crusade“, in favour of Britain changing to Single-Double Summer Time (SDST) so we are 2 hours ahead of GMT in summer and one hour ahead in winter – equivalent to moving time zone by one hour from Western European Time to Central European Time (CET) (previous posts on the subject here) . A few weeks ago, The Sun too declared that it too wanted to “save Britain from Daylight Robbery“. Well, now a rival has stepped up to the plate;* via the medium of Peter Hitchens, the Mail has begun its “British Time Campaign” to stop the UK moving to CET (or “Berlin Time”, as they call it in flagrant violation of Godwin’s law).

Both sides are sadly up to their usual tricks in favour of their position to ludicrous extents – the Daily Express claims they have the backing of 29 million people based on a survey of a few thousand while the Daily Mail claims that people who support the change are useful idiots to some sort of evil “Bratwurst-eating” Frankfurt conspiracy.

So, in the interests of fair debate, here are the facts, laid out in as neutral a way as I can:**

Read the rest of this entry »

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Sex lives of the potato lesbians (and everyone else)

Apologies for the title.

“Nosey council chiefs were accused of losing the plot yesterday after applicants for allotments were quizzed about their sex lives”, says the Express today. “A survey attached to the application form asks would-be gardeners about their race, religion and sexual orientation.” Note to “Daily Express Reporter” – sexual orientation ≠ sex life. Knowing whether someone is gay or bisexual or straight tells you no more about their sex life than whether they’re single or in a relationship. Anyway.

City of Lincoln Council bosses are also keen to know if they think lesbians should be allowed allotments, too.

Really? The council was unsure whether or not lesbians should be allowed allotments? Ok, fair enough, if that was true that might be a legitimately scandalous story, though not for the reasons the Express thinks. Of course, it’s not. As ever, none of this story actually holds up to scrutiny.

Read the rest of this entry »

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The Mail’s latest antivaccine scare

Old habits die hard, and for the Mail that means no matter how many times their stories are debunked, their antivaccination scaremongering will never end.

Today’s Mail on Sunday carries the story “Experts admit swine flu jab ‘may cause’ deadly nerve disease“. Note how the phrase “may cause” is in quotes – odd, since the experts in question didn’t use the phrase. In fact, they said the opposite.

The Mail‘s story comes from a routine newsletter from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) called Drug Safety Update, which carries news about safety tests, urgent recalls, new drugs and so on. One of the articles in this month’s update explains the infrastructure that the MHRA put in place to monitor adverse reactions to the swine flu vaccines Pandemrix and Celvapan. Not especially gripping stuff, especially since the conclusion they come to is:

It was evident from our analyses early in the vaccination programme, including similar analyses across the EU, that there was no clear indication of a large increased risk of GBS [Guillaine-Barré syndrome] similar to that seen with swine flu vaccines in the US in 1976. To date, there remains no confirmed evidence to indicate that Pandemrix or Celvapan is associated with an increased risk of GBS.

Of course, this is a scientific document, and any proper scientific document includes caveats. So, sure enough, it continues:

However, given the uncertainties in the available information and as with seasonal flu vaccines, a slightly elevated risk of GBS following H1N1 vaccines cannot be completely ruled out. The benefits of vaccination would still outweigh any small vaccine-attributable risk of GBS.

That first sentence is what the Mail builds the article around entirely, ignoring completely the second. Just as they did with the Royal Society’s climate change advice a few weeks back, they take one statement out of context from an earlier document, in this case a leaked letter from the Health Protection Agency – “There is no evidence to suggest an increased risk of GBS from the vaccines being developed to fight the current pandemic” – compare it to another out-of-context statement made more recently – “Given the uncertainties in the available information and as with seasonal flu vaccines, a slightly elevated risk of GBS following H1N1 vaccines cannot be completely ruled out” – and claim this represents a U-turn in opinion.

Without the original letter itself, which the Mail curiously neglected to actually quote from when it “leaked” it, I can’t know for sure what the HPA actually said. However, going just on that one, out-of-context sentence, here’s a more accurate summary of the change in medical opinion:

2009: “There is no evidence to suggest an increased risk of GBS from the vaccines being developed to fight the current pandemic

2010: “To date, there remains no confirmed evidence to indicate that Pandemrix or Celvapan is associated with an increased risk of GBS.

Guillaine-Barré syndrome is a terrifying condition, but for the Mail to pass that fear on to vaccines that have been proven to be safe is not just misleading but downright harmful. This article has come out in mid-Autumn, just at the time when the NHS’s seasonal flu vaccination scheme reaches its peak. If even one person decides not to get the jab because of this article, that’s one more potential infection this winter. One more potential flu death.

Shame on the Mail.

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