Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Oppressive British libel laws again

Drug giant General Electric uses libel law to gag doctor

General Electric, one of the world’s biggest corporations, is using the London libel courts to gag a senior radiologist after he raised the alarm over the potentially fatal risks of one of its drugs. The multinational is suing Henrik Thomsen, a Danish academic, after he described his experiences of one of the company’s drugs as a medical “nightmare”. He said some kidney patients at his hospital contracted a potentially deadly condition after being administered the drug Omniscan. GE Healthcare, a British subsidiary of General Electric, has run up more than £380,000 in legal costs pursuing Thomsen.

“I believe the lawsuit is an attempt to silence me,” he said last week. “It’s dangerous for the patient if we can’t frankly exchange views.”

The company admits its product has been linked to serious side effects in some patients, but said Thomsen accused the company of suppressing information in a presentation at a scientific congress in Oxford in October 2007. A summary of Thomsen’s presentation for the High Court writ, provided by GE Healthcare, appears to show that it was an even-handed account of his clinical experience.

When asked by The Sunday Times to highlight any part of the presentation that explicitly stated wrongdoing by GE Healthcare, a spokeswoman for the company was unable to do so. The writ states that the defamation may have been “by way of innuendo”.

His case will trigger a fresh row over the draconian use of Britain’s libel laws to stifle scientific debate and silence critics. Thomsen now refuses to discuss the possible risks of the drug in any UK public forum. Evan Harris, a former hospital doctor and the Liberal Democrat science spokesman, who is leading the parliamentary campaign to reform the libel laws, said: “It is hard to conceive a stronger public interest than scientists and clinicians being able to discuss freely their concerns about drugs or devices used on patients. Libel laws should not be used in this way.”

More than 48m doses of Omniscan have been given worldwide and it is safe for the vast majority of people. It is one of a number of “contrast agents” containing the potentially toxic metal gadolinium, which are used to enhance images for magnetic resonance imaging scans. Omniscan and other products have been linked with a skin condition in kidney patients, known as nephrogenic systemic fibrosis. Sufferers can be confined to a wheelchair and may even die from related causes. Regulators in Europe and the US are now taking action over the potential risk from Omniscan and two similar products.

Five people in Britain have died from possible side effects after being administered Omniscan, according to the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency. Patients have launched legal actions in America involving more than 170 deaths where it is claimed Omniscan and similar drugs may have been a factor. Safety problems with the drugs have been highlighted in the US by the independent investigative news organisation ProPublica.

Paul Flynn, the Labour MP, said, “It is a scandal that a company should take action against someone acting in the interests of patients.”

GE Healthcare said it had launched a libel action against Thomsen as a “last resort”. It is also suing Thomsen for an article in a medical magazine published in Brussels, but he said his name had been put on an article that he had not written. The company said it encouraged scientific debate, but had to act when it was publicly defamed. It said it had worked hard to uncover incidents of any side effects from its drug, which may have inflated the number of cases linked specifically to Omniscan. It added that the product was safe for more than 99% of patients.


How I failed Britain's citizen test (the questions were mostly about political correctness and how to claim benefits...)

As one of Britain's top historians, Dominic Sandbrook has impeccable credentials, including a first-class history degree from Oxford and a prize-winning PhD from Cambridge. And as the author of two hugely acclaimed bestsellers on Britain, he ought to know as much as anybody about the society we live in. But when the Mail asked him to sit the official test for those wanting to become British citizens, the results weren't what he expected...

Two thousand years ago, the proudest boast in the Western world was the phrase 'Civis Romanus sum' - I am a Roman citizen. To don the toga of citizenship was not merely a sartorial privilege: it meant that the wearer could vote in assemblies, hold property, stand for public office and defend himself at a public trial. The citizen even had the right of immunity from certain taxes, and, like St Paul, the right to be beheaded instead of crucified.

Roman citizenship has long been an inspiration to us here in Britain. And in 1850, when Lord Palmerston took us to war with Greece over the alleged harassment of Don Pacifico, a Gibraltar-born British citizen, he famously insisted that a British subject, whatever his background, must have all the rights of his classical forbears. 'As the Roman, in days of old, held himself free from indignity when he could say Civis Romanus sum,' thundered Palmerston, 'so also a British subject, in whatever land he may be, shall feel confident that the watchful eye and the strong arm of England will protect him against injustice and wrong.'

Sadly, any chance that Gordon Brown might take Britain to war if I were cheated by a Greek waiter has now disappeared. For this week I had a go at the latest version of the Home Office's UK Citizenship Test, a multiple- choice exam that all applicants must sit if they want to become British citizens.

Devised by David Blunkett when he was Home Secretary, the test costs £34, takes 45 minutes and involves 24 questions. Those taking the exam need to study a special textbook, Life In The United Kingdom, which you might expect to have everything you need to know about our national culture - though you would be wrong.

When the test was launched four years ago, the Government claimed that it represented a 'more meaningful' way of allowing people to become British citizens. Former Home Office minister Tony McNulty even insisted that it was the ideal measure of applicants' 'preparedness to become citizens', although he ominously added that it was 'about looking forward, rather than an assessment of their ability to understand history' - a typical bit of New Labour indifference to the past.

In any case, I was so confident that I would pass that I attempted double the usual number of questions, convinced I would sail through with flying colours. My feeble score in the UK Citizenship Test - just 27 right answers out of 48 - shows I lack 'sufficient knowledge of life in the United Kingdom'.

But while I applaud the Home Office's efforts to get immigrants to learn a few basic facts about their new country, I wonder whether this is really the best way to do it. For like so many exams, their test is essentially asking candidates to regurgitate their textbook - in this case, a monumentally soporific and politically correct one.

To look back through the Home Office's questions, in fact, is to get a very bizarre and skewed version of Britishness. It is nice to see that they ask applicants to name the year of the Gunpowder Plot and the date of St George's Day. But most of the questions betray a weird obsession with immigration, multiculturalism and the intimate workings of the welfare system. It beggars belief, for example, that to become a British citizen, I would need to know exactly how many refugees from South East Asia have settled here since 1979 - but not the name of a single Shakespeare play or Dickens novel.

Weirdly, I would also need to know by heart the percentage of practising Muslims in the UK, the number of seats we hold in the European Parliament, the proportion of people who have ever taken drugs, and the ages at which children take SATS, as well as details of the Government's New Deal.

As it happens, I got all of those questions wrong. I also made a mess of the statutory paternity leave, the maximum hours that a 15-year-old can work during the school week, and the exact minimum wage for 21-year-olds - though I did at least know where Scousers come from.

My guess is that with the possible exception of some particularly obsessive bureaucrat, very few born-and-bred Britons would manage to pass this test, let alone get all the questions right. What the examiners want is merely the regurgitation of their welfare and immigration-obsessed textbook - even though most of their cherished facts can be found on the internet in seconds. Immigrants should certainly be taught about our history, culture, traditions and customs, which are almost entirely absent from the Home Office's handbook.

But the truth is that citizenship, as the Romans understood, should be earned, not taught. Membership of a community is not something that can be tested by multiple-choice questions; it should be demonstrated through charity and voluntary work, membership of church organisations and political parties, or participation in local clubs and activities. It should be a reward for months of service, not for hours revising the world's dullest textbook. Citizenship should be the ultimate prize, recognising a newcomer's commitment to his adopted homeland.

But if all you need to get it is the ability to remember the difference between the Jobseeker's Allowance, an education support grant, then who among us will still be proud to say 'Civis Britannicus sum'?


Leftist hatred of Israel

Exclusively siding with the Palestinians or the Israelis is counter productive. The Canadian national media is not as neutral as they'd have us believe-check the numer of articles listed in this site, for starters. Chances are if the organization is left leaning, their editorials, news reports, special programs will not take the side of the Israels and in many cases they will join their leftist brothers in siding with anyone but Israel.

One must ask, in all honesty, if newspapers which are biased or perhaps even agents of left leaning propaganda, should be found in Ontario schools, where young impressionable students are trying to develop a world view based upon sobriety of opinion and not on spin?

Many Jews believe the left hates Israel. Unfortunately this lament is largely based on reality. Most radical leftist groups today oppose the very existence of a Jewish state in the Middle East. And as the recent federal parliamentary debate showed, many representatives of the centrist Australian Labor Party (ALP) also hold little sympathy for Israel. See here.

Historically, orthodox socialism has always been opposed in theory to Zionism and other forms of Jewish nationalism. However, at least prior to 1967, this leftist anti-Zionism was balanced by a genuine concern for Jews as an oppressed group. It would never have occurred to the early left to denounce Zionism as a racist ideology because Jews were themselves the foremost victims of racism.

The 1967 Six-Day War changed everything. The left discovered the Palestinians, and the romance with the PLO began. Israel was stereotyped as a powerful oppressor state and a tool of western imperialism involved in suppressing the national rights of the Palestinians.

Leftist anti-Zionism soon spread beyond the radical left to mainstream social democratic parties. In 1974-75 the Australian Union of Students motions calling for the liquidation of Israel.

The antisemitic rhetoric used at the United Nations Conference in Durban and the various proposals for academic boycotts of Israel suggest an increasing leftist hostility not only to Israel, but also to Jewish supporters.

The anti-Zionist left also ignores the differences between the Palestinians and other commensurate resistance movements.

Few on the left are willing to take into account the views of those who are victims of terrorism. The left prefers to ignore the potential genocidal implications of what it advocates.

As usual when Israel fights back at terrorists, Canadian leftists are lining up behind the men in the masks and suicide vests. But no one has disgraced himself — and his organization — quite so much as Sid Ryan, president of the Ontario section of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)... Where, we ask, were the CUPE boycotts against academics from Russia, China, Sri Lanka, or any of the many other nations whose battles against terrorists have resulted in a far greater civilian toll?Nowhere. On this file, Mr. Ryan and his fellow CUPE leaders care about demonizing only one country: the Jewish state. There’s a name for that kind of bigotry, isn’t there? Remember to speak its name plainly next time you meet a CUPE Ontario employee.


Australia: "Merry Christmas" makes a comeback after Council dumps "Seasons Greetings" signs

COUNCILS have turned their backs on political correctness, reinstating the "Merry Christmas" greeting to its rightful place. Parramatta Council, in Sydney's west, has taken down its "season's greetings" banners in favour of posters wishing "Merry Christmas". The move came after the council produced Christmas cards and 50 banners for five years without mentioning Christmas once.

Councillors believe the politically correct banners reflected "a secular view of Christmas" instead of the "traditional Australian view of Christmas". "Our community is fed up with this erosion of the true meaning and essence of Christmas through this ridiculous pre-emptive surrender of the real Christmas on the basis it may offend someone," councillor Michael McDermott said. "All we do is offend the great majority of our residents by this politically correct nonsense and watering down of the historically accurate view of Christmas. "This is not some puerile statement, it is a debate that our communities need to have about the essence of Christmas and the manner in which political correctness is used to attack and erode it."

He put forward a move to reinstate the phrase "Merry Christmas" on banners, websites, booklets, leaflets, and for Christmas events, as well as to cover the words "season's greetings" on all banners within the Parramatta CBD with "Merry Christmas". Staff were asked to design a range of banners that illustrated "the traditional notion of Christmas, and the nativity version and traditional Christian notion of Christmas".

A council spokesman said four new "Merry Christmas" posters would be hung at selected sites and new Christmas banners would be made next year.



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 is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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