Friday, April 02, 2010
Scientific comment trumps Britain's libel laws
The science writer Simon Singh won the right yesterday to use the defence of fair comment, in a landmark ruling at the Court of Appeal.
The strongly worded judgment by three of Britain’s most senior judges brings Dr Singh significantly closer to defeating the action brought against him by a group of chiropractors. The ruling also sets a precedent that could, in practice, make scientific criticism and debate exempt from claims of defamation by companies or organisations.
Dr Singh was accused of libel by the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) over an opinion piece he wrote for The Guardian in April 2008, suggesting that there was a lack of evidence for the claims some chiropractors make on treating certain childhood conditions, including colic and asthma.
The BCA alleged that Dr Singh had, in effect, accused its leaders of knowingly supporting bogus treatments.
In May last year, Mr Justice Eady, in a preliminary High Court ruling in the dispute, held that Dr Singh’s comments were factual assertions rather than expressions of opinion, which meant that he could not use the defence of fair comment.
However, Lord Judge, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Neuberger, Master of the Rolls, and Lord Justice Sedley ruled that Mr Justice Eady had “erred in his approach” last May and upheld Dr Singh’s appeal. Dr Singh described the ruling as “brilliant”, but said the action had cost £200,000 and two years of his time “just to define the meaning of a few words”. He added: “At last we’ve got a good decision. So instead of battling uphill we’re fighting with the wind behind us.”
The written judgment said that the original decision threatened to silence scientists or science journalists wishing to question claims made by companies or organisations. It said: “This litigation has almost certainly had a chilling effect on public debate which might otherwise have assisted potential patients to make informed choices about the possible use of chiropractic.”
Asking judges to rule on matters of scientific controversy would be to “invite the court to become an Orwellian ministry of truth”, the judgment said.
In a statement issued after the ruling, the BCA expressed disappointment and said it was considering whether to appeal to the Supreme Court to overturn yesterday’s ruling. “This is not the end of the road ... Our original argument remains that our reputation has been damaged,” it said.
The BCA can now either appeal to the Supreme Court, proceed to trial and challenge Dr Singh’s defence of fair comment, or withdraw its case. A BCA spokesman said that board members would decide in the coming days.
The judgment was hailed as a victory by those campaigning for the reform of libel laws. Tracey Brown, director of Sense About Science, said: “In fighting this case, Simon has shone a light in a very dark and unpleasant corner of our legal world. It is clear from this ruling that senior members of the judiciary have added their weight to the need for libel reform.”
Last month Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, said he was committed to a swift reform of libel laws, should Labour win the election. He said a stronger public interest defence was needed and expressed concern over “libel tourism”, in which British courts are being used by litigants from abroad to take advantage of rules that are seen as being favourable to claimants.
In England, the burden of proof rests on the defendant, who must establish that what has been reported is true. In the United States and most European countries, the party bringing the case must prove that it is false.
Peter Wilmshurst, a cardiologist, is being sued by an American company in the English courts, over his criticism of a heart implant trial and several US publications have said that they intend to withdraw from the British market.
Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat science spokesman, said that yesterday’s “sensible” judgment was not a substitute for reform of the law. “It is no kind of justice for a scientist to spend £200,000 and two years of his life just to get halfway through a case,” he said. “The political parties must now all commit to reform of the law to free scientific speech and responsible journalism from the threat of penury.”
Colin Blakemore, a neuroscientist at the University of Oxford, said: “This decision is a very significant step in the efforts to prevent the British libel laws being used to stifle legitimate criticism of unjustified claims about science and technology. The public will be the ultimate beneficiaries of Simon Singh’s brave campaign.”
The fat lady must learn to be a little thinner
We cannot justify subsidies for culture – the best will find a paying audience and the rest must go the wall
Can we just bypass the “is it art?” debate? It’s a giant, misshapen rollercoaster- type thingy, with a sort of sub-Eiffel Towery feel. It may or may not symbolise the twisted dreams of our country’s financial capital or Man’s doomed striving for the sky on his meandering path towards the grave. Or something. But let’s just call it art and be done.
The Anish Kapoor-designed, ArcelorMittal Orbital will soar above the London Olympic Park, dividing opinions, enraging taxi drivers and garnering nicknames. Personally, I love 84 per cent of it — the bit that was paid for by ArcelorMittal, the company owned by the steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal, which is spending up to £16 million on it. I am substantially less enamoured of the £3.1 million bit that we are paying for. Could it just be a few feet shorter with the company picking up all the bill?
We are deep in an era of big public works of art and expensive subsidies. The four arts councils for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland receive £521 million of taxpayers’ cash and £168 million from the lottery.
Total spending on culture in the UK amounts to 1 per cent of the NHS budget. But taxpayer-funded art, unlike brain surgery, is a luxury. Art is a glorious and welcome by-product of a healthy, capital-creating economy. Our economy is as crooked and twisted as Kapoor’s tower, in no shape to fund anything except recovery.
We know that cuts must come and that the public finances need more than flaccid pre-election political promises to kiss the deficit better. Every time that cuts are mooted, those who are about to be cut bleat: “Cut if you must, but don’t cut me!”
But it’s no use insisting that the arts are too small to count — unless we scrap old people or illness, the small bills need scrutinising as much as the big ones. We must count the pennies.
Those in favour of taxpayer-funded art base their argument on two pillars — the notion that a life without art is a dull, spiritually undernourished one, and the more topical argument that the creative economy is a thriving one that will help to pull the country out of its fiscal doldrums.
The problem with arts subsidies, however, is that it’s difficult to escape the notion that the poor are subsidising the leisure pursuits of the rich. At the Royal Opera House this week for Janácek’s The Cunning Little Vixen, it seemed utterly absurd that the well-heeled audience was subsidised in any way by the taxpayer. Spiritually nourished this crowd may have been; poor it was not. Yet the Royal Opera House is one of nine organisations receiving £5 million or more a year from the Arts Council — the others include the National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the English National Ballet.
A survey by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport found that only 40 per cent of those in the lowest employment bracket attended an arts event in the past year compared with 84 per cent of those in the highest. As a report by the Adam Smith Institute points out, the DCMS has a pretty loose definition of art, including street arts and any “live music performance”.
The Arts Council is quick to respond to accusations of elitism by insisting that it works hard to bring art to the people. But if the people really want art, they can find it and they can pay for it. Voluntarily.
The DCMS announced yesterday a £50,000 grant for a charity called Culture24 to develop smartphone apps that allow people to find the nearest art. In the event that you must know, without delay, the whereabouts of the nearest Picasso, this is for you; £50,000 may be a tiny sum, but if there’s a market for this app, it will be made. If not, why is the Government supplying this middle-class toy?
So if we start with this ridiculous app and move on to scrap all government spending on art, what will happen? Will cultural Armageddon follow? Defenders of subsidy argue that it would mean the end of “innovative” art. But too often “innovative” is a euphemism for “rubbish”. A snobbishness pervades the cultural sector that dictates that popular art is less worthy than difficult or experimental stuff — small wonder that so many within the Establishment are terrified at what bald market forces might say about what they produce. If you can’t find the funding to put it on, and no one wants to see it, perhaps — just perhaps — it isn’t very good.
Excellence would survive. The Mountaintop, the surprise winner of Best New Play at this year’s Olivier Awards, received no subsidies. It succeeded because it was good.
The argument that the creative industries require subsidies because they contribute to the economy is a circular one. Taxpayers fund art that generates profit that pays tax to fund art. Eh? Besides, out of every £1 given by taxpayers to fund the arts 10p goes on administration. How many of the much cited economic powerhouses in the sector are subsidised and how many the product of unaided cultural entrepreneurs?
American art and culture thrive despite the lack of subsidy. The US is also the birthplace of crowdsourcing creatives — where those who are passionate about art meet on the internet and contribute to projects. One dollar makes you a shareholder on trustart.org. The difference is that the dollar is voluntary, not creamed off by the taxman.
Charities, private philanthropists and new forms of crowdsourced funding could fill the gap left by the taxpayer. Great art is no stranger to patronage — Leonardo da Vinci happily pocketed Medici gold, Shakespeare relied on the patronage of the court. The relationship is symbiotic — the artist is fed and the provider of capital gets reflected glory and status. It is only in the postwar era that arts patronage has been monopolised by the State. Let Mr Mittal have all the glory of mutant trumpet tower. And let the State keep its cash.
I can understand why people are passionate about this, and why special interest groups are so vocal. I would like to argue the case for some cash to be thrown at really important art — ie, the stuff I like. But that would mean funding opera, young writers and free museums but allowing ballet and most installation art to face the wolves of unfettered market forces — and that makes no sense at all. In the arts debate, head must rule heart and fiscal ruthlessness must prevail.
DO DEMOCRATS COMMIT HATE CRIMES AGAINST BLACK REPUBLICANS?
Racists! That incendiary charge hurled by Democrats at Tea Party activists protesting against ObamaCare was shown to be totally false by Jack Cashill in his article "A Closer Look at the Capitol Steps Conspiracy".
Given the Democratic Party's 150-year record of racist rhetoric and racial violence - from the days of slavery until today - it is astonishing to see Democrats sanctimoniously playing the race card. A display of unmitigated gall describes how Democrats are falsely comparing anti-ObamaCare protestors to the anti-civil rights racists of the 1960's who were Democrats. Democrats get away with this racial hypocrisy because they know with absolute certainty that the true history of civil rights has long been buried, and the racism exhibited today by Democrats against blacks, particularly black Republicans, will be ignored by the mainstream media.
For instance, the liberal media expressed no outrage and not one word of condemnation was uttered by any Democrat after SEIU (Service Employees International Union) thugs attacked Kenneth Gladney, a black man. Gladney was beaten, kicked and called a racist name while working as a vendor at a health care reform town hall meeting in St. Louis on August 6, 2009 called by U.S. Rep. Democrat Russ Carnahan.
The assault was a calculated attempt to intimidate and silence Tea Party protestors and town hall activists. On the morning of the Gladney attack, the White House presented to Senate Democrats a "battle plan" to quell the protests. The advice given to the Democrats by the White House was to "punch back twice as hard", and the first casualty was Kenneth Gladney. In the emergency room of the St. John's Mercy Medical Center, Gladney was treated for injuries to his knee, back, elbow, shoulder and face suffered in the attack.
The six people arrested in the Gladney case, including a Post-Dispatch reporter, were charged with mere misdemeanor ordinance violations, with a total of ten charges spread out among the six offenders. Not one Democrat rushed to a microphone to denounce the attack against Gladney as a "hate crime".
Based on the lack of any outrage by Democrats over the Gladney beating, it seems that the newly enacted "hate crime" legislation pushed by Democrats would not apply to cases of hateful brutality against black Republicans. The Hate Crimes Prevention Act was signed into law by President Barack Obama on October 28, 2009 and is designed to punish crimes of violence against people because of their race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.
At the core of why Democrats are feverishly painting conservatives and Republicans as racist, especially Tea Party activists, is the need to divert the public's attention away from the fact that President Barack Obama and the Democrats in control of Congress are slowly and deliberately transforming America from a free society with a representative form of government into a socialist dictatorship. A move applauded by the Cuban Communist dictator Fidel Castro.
Obama is now governing as a hard-core leftist, after campaigning for president as a centrist. His cynical charade was designed to convince the majority of white Americans to vote for him, the very citizens Obama now castigates as racist.
What Obama and the Democrats are ignoring while trying to silence protestors with charges of racism is the fact that average American citizens are angry because they do not want socialism. They understand that ObamaCare and Obama's out-of-control spending will produce massive deficits, high costs for consumer goods and fewer jobs. Citizens have tried to communicate this message to Obama and the Democrats in every way possible, from protesting in record numbers to historic votes against Democrats in New Jersey, Virginia and Massachusetts.
Obama and the Democrats have chosen, at their peril, to ignore the will of the people and enact the economy-wrecking ObamaCare with one-party rule, bribing unprincipled Democrats with sleazy deals.
The powerful video posted on YouTube called "America Rising: An Open Letter to Democrat Politicians Patriotic Resistance" implores Americans to hold Democrats accountable in the 2010 elections.
A video posted on YouTube called "We The People" provides an inspiring call for us to take back our country from the socialists.
In the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., this call is made for all Americans to unite, engage in nonviolent civil disobedience and vote in November to stop the Democrats from shredding our Constitution and governing without the consent of the governed.
History shows that during the 1960's Democrats used racist slurs and brutality against Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a Republican until the day he died, and other nonviolent activists who were trying to stop the Democrats from denying civil rights to black Americans. Today, Democrats are using similar reprehensible tactics against conservatives and Republicans, especially black Republicans, who are trying to stop the Democrats from stripping civil liberties from all Americans.
While claiming to be racially sensitive, Democrats use racist invectives to denigrate black Republicans, demeaning them as "sellouts", "Uncle Toms", "House Negroes", "House N-word", or worse. The list of black Republicans attacked by Democrats is long and includes RNC Chairman Michael Steel, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, General Colin Powell and Justice Clarence Thomas.
On the left-wing Internet website called "The News Blog," Democrats posted a doctored photograph of RNC Chairman Michael Steele while he was the Lt. Governor of Maryland and running for a Senate seat. Democrats depicted Steele as a "Simple Sambo" with a blackened minstrel-style face, nappy hair and big, think red lips. The cartoon caption read: "Simple Sambo wants to move to the big house". This contemptible racist stereotype is the same one Democrats used to demean black men during the era of slavery and segregation.
Dr. Condoleezza Rice was the object of particularly vicious racist attacks by Democrats. In addition to several other appalling images of Dr. Rice produced by several Democrats, cartoonist Jeff Danziger denigrated Dr. Rice as an ignorant, barefoot "mammy", reminiscent of the stereotyped black woman in the movie "Gone with the Wind" about the slave era black woman who remarked: "I don't know nothin' 'bout birthin' no babies". This is the type of racist stereotype Democrats used to demean black women during the era of slavery and segregation.
A video was shot by WKRN Video Journalist Beau Fleenor at Tennessee State University in Nashville, Tennessee that shows Al Sharpton demeaning Gen. Powell and Dr. Rice, when Sharpton was asked to give his opinions about whether Powell and Rice were "House Negroes".
An article that appeared in a Portland, Oregon paper was one of many exposing how hardly a ripple of protest was made by black Democrats when Harry Belafonte publicly denounced Gen. Powell as a "House Negro".
Posted on the Internet is an article entitled "A Black Man, The Progressive's Perfect Trojan Horse" by black entertainer Lloyd Marcus exposing Democratic Party racism toward black Tea Party protestors.
The truth about Democratic Party racism can be harsh medicine, but is sorely needed to finally eject the race-baiting poison injected into our body politic by Democrats, the architects of modern-day racism. As stated by author Michael Scheuer, the Democratic Party is the party of the four S's: slavery secession, segregation and now socialism. A prominent pundit affirmed that the Republican Party is the party of the four F's: family, faith, freedom and fairness. Civil rights history details are in the NBRA Civil Rights Newsletter that is posted on the website of the National Black Republican Association.
Written out of our history books are the following facts. The Republican Party was started in 1854 as the anti-slavery party and, after the Civil War, Republicans amended the US Constitution to grant blacks freedom (13th Amendment), citizenship (14th Amendment) and the right to vote (15th Amendment). Republicans then passed the civil rights laws to ensure blacks could exercise their Constitutional rights, including the Civil Rights Acts of 1866, 1867 and 1875. After Democrats took control of Congress in 1892, Democrats passed the Repeal Act of 1894 that overturned civil rights legislation enacted by the Republicans. It took Republicans nearly six decades to finally achieve passage of civil rights legislation in the 1950's and 1960's pushed through by Republican Senator Everett Dirksen over the objection of the Democrats.
In addition to their reprehensible of record of fighting against civil rights legislation, Democrats have a long history of racial violence. Recorded by liberal professor Dr. Eric Foner in his book "A Short History of Reconstruction", is the horrifying fact that Democrats started the Ku Klux Klan in 1866 to lynch and terrorize Republicans - black and white. The Klan became the terrorist arm of the Democratic Party, killing over 2,000 black Republicans and over 1,000 white Republicans.
The violence against the 1960's era civil rights protestors was inflicted by Democrats. Democrat Public Safety Commissioner Eugene "Bull" Connor in Birmingham let loose vicious dogs and turned skin-burning fire hoses on black civil rights demonstrators. Democrat Georgia Governor Lester Maddox famously brandished ax handles to prevent blacks from patronizing his restaurant. In 1954, Democrat Arkansas Governor Orville Faubus tried to prevent desegregation of a Little Rock public school. Democrat Alabama Governor George Wallace stood in front of the Alabama schoolhouse in 1963 and thundered, "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever."
All of these racist Democrats remained Democrats until the day they died. One survivor from that era, Democrat Senator Robert Byrd, a former recruiter in the Ku Klux Klan, is still a Democrat and a prominent leader in the Democrat-controlled Congress where he was honored by his fellow Democrats as the "conscience of the Senate." It does not even make common sense to believe that after the Republicans spent over 150 years fighting the Democrats and won, the racist Democrats suddenly rushed into the arms of the Republicans. In fact Democrats declared that they would rather vote for a "yellow dog" than any one in the Republican Party, the party for blacks.
If our soldiers did and do voluntarily put their lives on the line to preserve our freedoms, then we can do no less. If Dr. King had the courage to fight for civil rights for blacks in the face of racist slurs by Democrats and threats of imprisonment or death, then we surely have the courage to stand up for our civil liberties in the face of such threats. This we owe to ourselves, our country and future generations..
NYC Will Stop Paying the Poor for Good Behavior
An unusual and much-heralded program that gave poor families cash to encourage good behavior and self-sufficiency has so far had only modest effects on their lives and economic situation, according to an analysis the Bloomberg administration released on Tuesday.
The three-year-old pilot project, the first of its kind in the country, gave parents payments for things like going to the dentist ($100) or holding down a full-time job ($150 per month). Children were rewarded for attending school regularly ($25 to $50 per month) or passing a high school Regents exam ($600).
When the mayor announced the program, he said it would begin with private money and, if it worked, could be transformed into an ambitious permanent government program.
But city officials said Tuesday that there were no specific plans at this time to go forward with a publicly financed version of the program. In an announcement at BronxWorks, a nonprofit social services agency, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg pointed to a few examples of success: High school students who met basic proficiency standards before high school tended to increase their attendance, receive more class credits and perform better on standardized tests; more families went to the dentist for regular checkups.
But the elementary and middle school students who participated made no educational or attendance gains. Neither did high school students who performed below basic proficiency standards before high school.
“If you never fail, I can tell you, you’ve never tried new, innovative things,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “And I don’t know that this is a failure. I think it is, some things worked, and some things didn’t, and some things the jury’s still out on. And anything new you’re going to have that diversity of results.”
While payments to the families will end in August, researchers will continue to monitor them for three more years, to see if any behavior encouraged by the initial payments will continue. A final report will be issued in 2013.
The mayor has been applauded for his openness to innovative approaches to fighting poverty; one in five New York residents are poor.
But from the beginning, the program set off controversy. Conservative critics asked whether it was wise to pay people for simple behavior like going to parent-teacher conferences or doctor’s appointments; some liberals considered the approach condescending. The mayor, a believer in incentives in business and government, was determined to try it, but he avoided using public money initially.
The program was certainly expensive: Mr. Bloomberg and Linda I. Gibbs, the deputy mayor for health and human services, traveled to Mexico to learn more about Oportunidades, the welfare program there on which the New York City effort was based.
About $40 million in private donations, including from Mr. Bloomberg’s foundation, was collected to finance the effort, called Opportunity NYC Family Rewards. Two years into the program, more than $14 million had been paid out to 2,400 families. An additional $10.2 million is for operating costs, and $9.6 million for research and evaluation.
While most behavioral changes were not large, the cash provided to the families had a short-term effect: Those who participated earned, on average, more than $6,000 a year in the first two years. Largely as a result, those participating families were 16 percent less likely to live in poverty.
The families used the money to pay for basic living expenses, school supplies, electronic equipment and going to the movies, among other things.
More than 80 percent of the families were led by a single parent, 43 percent had three or more children and just over half of the parents held jobs. All lived in low-income areas in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan.
The program had a bumpy start, city officials and donors said. It was hard to recruit families from the beginning, said Margot Brandenburg, an associate director of the Rockefeller Foundation, the primary source of financing. “I think people were confused, and there was some amount of distrust,” Ms. Brandenburg said. “For some people it sounded too good to be true. It took a while to explain to people what the offer was.”
Ms. Gibbs said many families had been perplexed by the guidelines that were laid out for them. Cash payments were eventually eliminated for actions like getting a library card and follow-up visits with a doctor. “Too many things, too many details, more to manage in the lives of burdened, busy households,” Ms. Gibbs said, standing next to the mayor on Tuesday. “Big lesson for the future? Got to make it a lot more simple.”
The city has been somewhat sensitive about the results of the program. Ms. Gibbs and other city officials cautioned that the report released on Tuesday reflected only initial results, and said that they were in line with other early results from similar conditional cash transfer programs in Latin America. “There have never been these overnight, miraculous turnarounds,” Ms. Gibbs said. “These are programs that are working on deeply entrenched, long-term behaviors.”
One Brooklyn family who participated in the program said they collected more than $7,610 in two years. Janice Dudley and her 16-year-old daughter, Qua-neshia Darden, of East New York, said they received rewards for school attendance, good test scores and receiving regular medical checkups.
“It gives children the motivation to want to go to school because they know they’re going to get something back,” Ms. Dudley said, adding, “We might have a little problem next year when we don’t have money on the card.”
Mr. Bloomberg sounded philosophical on Tuesday as he spoke about the challenges that fighting poverty presents. “You always hope that you’ll come across a magic silver bullet, and you never do,” he said. “If there were simple solutions, somebody would have found them a long time ago. And you make progress incrementally, particularly if you’re trying to focus on some of society’s biggest problems.”
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here or Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.