Posts Tagged ‘Cardiff University’

BBC Claims of Impartiality Shattered as Another Newsman Joins May’s Campaign Team

July 8, 2017

The Beeb constantly answers any criticism that it is biased towards the Tories by repeating its claim that it’s impartial, bound by its official charter and so on. Anyone writing to the Corporation to complain about its egregious bias, such as against Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour, as shown in its coverage of the last general election and the barrage of lies and sneers long before by Laura Kuenssberg, John Pienaar et al are given this standard reply. The Beeb, you are sanctimoniously and haughtily told, is above suspicion, so you should go away and mind your own business.

Mike, as he reminds us, received one of these letters when he complained about the Beeb’s bias. So have many of his commenters, after they complained. Buddy Hell, over at Guy Debord’s Cat, got a similarly sniff missive from the Corporation when he did.

But the bias is real. Researchers at the media units at Edinburgh, Cardiff and Glasgow universities concluded that the Beeb was far more likely to interview Tory MPs and financial experts, and accept their comments, than talk to Labour MPs and trade unionists. Barry and Saville Kushner, in their book, Who Needs the Cuts, described how they were moved to campaign about austerity partly by the way the Corporation uncritically accepted the need for its savage cuts against the poor and working class. They cited one example where a leading trade unionist was effectively shouted down by a BBC presenter on the radio when he dared to say that they were unnecessary and the arguments for them didn’t hold water. The proles were getting uppity and questioning the impeccable logic of their lords and masters, and so had to be shut down.

You can hear the same claim of impartiality repeated ad nauseam on the Beeb’s own public relations programme, Points of View, where the Beeb takes a look at the letters its received about its programmes. Private Eye has criticised this many times over the years as simply an exercise for allowing the BBC to answer its critics while playing very fast loose and with the actual evidence. For example, if one programme comes under fire from a section of the public, the Beeb will cites correspondence it has received in support of the programme. However, it won’t mention the actual volume of correspondence it has received on the issue. So if it receives, say, 30 letters of complaint about a programme, and only two or three letters of support, those two or three letters will still be trotted out, along with a few remarks from the show’s producers, to give the impression that opinion was equally divided when it was anything but.

As for political bias, when this is raised the BBC will trot out the remark that all administrations have felt that the BBC was biased against them. This is probably true. Way back in the 1990s under John Major the Tories were constantly screaming how the ‘left-wing BBC’ were biased against them. They do the same today, on website like Biased BBC, where right-winger – and often extreme Rightists – whine about how the Corporation is pro-Islam and full of ‘cultural Marxists’.

These claims of impeccable impartiality were seen to be increasingly threadbare this week, as two more of the Beeb’s news managers vied with each other to join Theresa May’s team. The two candidates for the post of head of May’s communications team were Robbie Gibb, the head of the BBC news team at Westminster, and editor of the Daily and Sunday Politics, and John Landale, the deputy political editor at the Corporation. Landale, it seems almost needless to say, is another Old Etonian. One of the previous heads of communications for the Tories was Craig Oliver, another newsman from the Beeb. Oliver was responsible for revamping the News at 10 at organising the coverage for the 2010 Election.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/07/05/pro-tory-bias-confirmed-as-bbc-news-men-vie-to-be-theresa-mays-comms-chief/

In the end, Gibb got the job. Well, he is the brother of Tory politico Nicolas Gibb, the former chief of staff for Tory Francis Maude, and was best man for another Tory candidate, Mark MacGregor. He was also the vice-chair of the Federation of Conservative students.

Other Tories, who have found agreeable posts at the Corporation include James Harding, who is head of news and current affairs across the Corporation. He’s another Murdoch employee and a friend of George Osborne. Then there’s Andrew Neil, who was editor of the Sunset Times under Murdoch, a chairman of Sky TV, and chairman of the Press Holdings Group, which own the Spectator. Among the commenters on Twitter, who remarked on this latest blatant link between the Beeb and the Tories was Owen Jones, who reminded his readers that Cameron, Boris Johnson and George Osborne all took their spin doctors from the Beeb. Another commenter, Will Black, said that with the numbers of Tories at the Beeb, the news should be written off as a Tory election expense, rather than be paid for by the licence fee.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/07/07/proof-of-dodgy-link-between-bbc-and-tories-robbie-gibb-is-theresa-mays-new-communications-chief/

This latest move of a high-ranking newsman at the Beeb makes it even more difficult for the Corporation to deny that it has a right-wing bias. Although I have no doubt that they won’t stop trying. Expect more guff about how the corporation is utterly impartial and above reproach, even when the careers of editors and presenters and the content of the news itself screams otherwise.

The Tory, Privatise Enterprise Cure for Stressed Teachers: Electrostimulate their Brains!

July 3, 2017

Everything about this says Bad Science, as in the book by Ben Goldacre. And ‘bad’ in every definition of the word. Not only wrong scientifically, but also morally. But it’s what you get all too often with the Tories in charge.

Mike over at Vox Political has today posted up a piece commenting on a story in today’s Torygraph, hyping the use of an electronic device, the Alpha-Stim, which Leigh Academies Trust are offering to their staff at seven secondary schools, seven primary schools and a special educational needs school in Kent to treat the symptoms of stress amongst their staff. The Torygraph says that the device is the size of a mobile phone, and works by sending micro-pulses of electricity to the brain to stimulate the production of alpha waves. This supposedly helps relieve anxiety, depression and sleep disorders. The Trust is offering it along with other therapies. The extract Mike includes in his piece quotes one Peter Caunt of Nottinghamshire Healthcare Trust, who says ‘We know this type of therapy works’ before going on to say that the question is whether it is cost-effective.

Mike compares it to the shock treatment used on very disturbed people, which works by burning out part of their frontal lobes. He states that he personally knows people, who’ve had it done, and they have not been the same afterwards.
He asks why the schools management company isn’t trying to solve the problem by making teachers’ lives less stressful.

He wonders if the real reason is that the company’s bosses want to turn their staff into compliant little teaching zombies, who won’t complain, because they’ve had their conscience burned out of them along with the stress.

He also makes the point that the Trust used to be headed by Frank Green, who was appointed to a two-year stint as schools commissioner by Michael Gove. This shows the strong connection between the company and the Tory party.

The device should, apparently, be used for 20 minutes each, but some teaching staff are using it twice or three times. So Mike asks the obvious question of what kind of teachers they’re like afterwards.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/07/03/the-tory-cure-for-stressed-teachers-is-electrocute-their-brains/

Everything about this is highly dubious. It looks very much like something straight out of the accounts of bad, if not pathological science, from the pages of Ben Goldacre, Martin Gardner and others. Ben Goldacre, you may remember, wrote a book, Bad Science, about this kind of nonsense a few years ago. the Sceptic, Martin Gardner also attacked bad and pernicious science a few decades ago in his Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science. This looks like a prime example of it, to go with other, earlier pseudo-sciences like eugenics, lobotomies, Lysenkoism, Nazi ‘race science’ and monkey glands.

As for electro-convulsive therapy, it was devised by a German Jewish doctor, who fled Nazi Germany to Fascist Italy. Deciding that it could be an effective method of treating the mentally ill, he started by testing it on tramps he and the authorities rounded up off the street. Adam Parfrey published an essay on it, ‘Gimme Shock Treatment’, in one of his books on the extremes of belief in 1990s America, Apocalypse Culture or Cult Rapture. That essay made it very clear just how nasty it was.

It’s still used, but proper medical professionals only resort to it in the case of severely disturbed people, where there really isn’t much choice.

And everything known about the brain should say that tinkering with it, unless you know exactly what you’re doing, is an appallingly bad idea. The brain is the most complex structure in the known universe. Modern neuroscience has succeeded in identifying which parts of the brain produces which mental function, but even so, there is a vast amount we don’t know. Raymond Tallis, who is a Humanist and former neurologist and neurosurgeon, wrote a book, Aping Mankind, with the aim to show that much human thought and mind couldn’t be reduced to neurological functions. He stated clearly that he wanted to show that thinking was ‘as mysterious as walking on water’. Given the vast complexity of the brain, and its vulnerability, it really is stupid and dangerous to mess around with it in this manner.

Remember a few years ago, when many doctors started to worry about possible brain damage caused by putting mobile phones next to your ear? They were afraid of the health risks posed by putting what is a microwave source next to your brain when talking on the phone.

It also reminds me of the ‘feedback cult’ of the ’70s. This also noted the connection between alpha waves and mood. It therefore encouraged people to hook themselves up to special monitors, which registered their alpha waves, and then learn how to control them and so altered their mood, all for supposedly beneficial purposes. That was also debunked some time ago.

The alpha-stim also sounds to be me like something that escaped from the Human Potential labs in the ’60s and ’70s. The Human Potential movement was one of those weird movements based on psychology that emerged in the 1960s, promising to bring people fulfilment and happiness through their programme of therapies. It still survives in various forms, and developed strong links with corporate capitalism, to the point where its detractors have called it a corporate mind control cult.

Adam Curtis devoted a programme to it in his documentary about the legacy of Freudianism, The Century of the Self, over a decade ago now. And what the programme revealed about it was truly chilling. The movement and its doctors managed to convince the medical profession to let them try to treat a selection of patients suffering from schizophrenia. The treatment consisted of dosing these poor souls up to the gills with LSD, and then attaching electrodes to electrify their brains. And all the while they were taught to repeat to themselves, ‘I am comfortable in myself’.

They interviewed one poor young woman, who’d been a victim of this nonsense. The treatment was a horrible, ghastly failure. It was perhaps a mercy that the woman said that she couldn’t remember much about it now, except that sometimes she had it done several times a day. It was this kind of appalling medical experimentation that the producers of Classic Star Trek took solid aim at in the episode ‘Dagger of the Mind’.

As for this latest rubbish, it also reminds me of an episode in Star Trek: Deep Space 9, when Doctor Bashir is called on treat Garak, the station’s Kardassian tailor and spy. Garak, like many other Kardassian secret agents, had a device implanted in his brain to stimulate his pleasure centres, so he could get through being tortured. Garak, however, has become so miserable that he started using it recreationally, and so has become addicted. Bashir has no choice but to find out what he can about the device, and try to remove it from his friend.

Which all sounds dangerously close to what’s going on here, with the exception that it’s teachers being treated with it, not alien spies.

I am really not at all surprised that it’s the Tories, or a company that’s associated with them, that’s peddling this nonsense. The Tories just love pseudoscience. I’ve reblogged stuff from Kitty S. Jones and other disability bloggers about the model of sickness devised by Unum and their pet psychiatrists at Cardiff University to have people thrown off benefit and declared fit for work, has been roundly debunked by other medical professionals.

And a little while ago, Private Eye in its ‘Rotten Boroughs’ column took a pot shot at a Tory-controlled council in Kent or that part of the world, where the local authority had cut council services, but was funnelling tens of thousands of pounds to a company headed by one of its female members, which specialised in using Neuro-Linguistic Programming or some other kind of dodgy therapy to offer spurious treatment to council staff.

Which, again, sounds very much like what’s going on here.

And then there was the case of the Leaderene herself, Maggie Thatcher. Thatcher was into Ayur Veda, a system of alternative therapies brought to the world by one of the dodgy Indian gurus, who rocked up here in the 1960s. Thatcher treated herself to baths, where along with the water there was a weak electric current. Obviously, she thought it would do her some good. I’m quite sure there were many others, who wish the voltage had been somewhat stronger.

This looks to me very much like a potentially harmful pseudoscience. As for Caunt’s statement that ‘we know it works’, that’s what Tory spokespeople have said about work improving people’s mental health, and other mental professionals, not to mention normal, ordinary people without a financial or ideological stake in it, pointing out that it’s rubbish. And I’ve no doubt it’s the same here.

This is just bad science, which is being hyped by company that obviously finds it cheaper to have their staff trying to make themselves less miserable by running electricity through their brains, than actually trying to do something more positive and concrete to improve conditions for them.

Pretty much like British society as a whole, where instead of offering real guidance and support to the unemployed, their harangued and demeaned by Jobcentre Staff through stupid, nonsensical models of unemployment and disability supported as government policy.

Vote for Corbyn to Stop the Work Capability Tests

June 8, 2017

This is the text of another of my table-top pamphlets, this time against the notorious Work Capability Tests. These were also introduced by New Labour at the behest of Unum and other private healthcare providers.

These are not objective tests to assess who is well enough to support themselves. They are simply a callous, bureaucratic mechanism for throwing people with disability off the benefits they need to support themselves. These have included severely disabled people, including terminal cancer patients in comas!

This iniquitous system has been retained and expanded by the Tories – David Cameron and his Lib Dem lackey, Nick Clegg, and now Theresa May.

It is killing people. As I’ve mentioned far too many times before, about 600 + people have died in misery and despair after having their benefit withdrawn due to these tests. Stilloaks, Johnny Void, Mike at Vox Political and DPAC have put together lists and videos putting names to faces, to show the human reality of these statistics – whose mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters were killed thanks to the Thatcherite insistence of cutting down on welfare.

The number of people, who have died after having been assessed as ‘fit for work’ is well above ten thousand, though the true figure may never be known. Mike and the other disability activists, who tried to get the figures were blocked by IDS and the DWP at every turn when they tried to get them.

Jeremy Corbyn has also promised to end workfare.

So vote for him. Don’t let the Tories kill more disabled people under the pretence of saving money.

Stop the Work Capability Test –
Before More People Die

by David Sivier

One of the very worst policies introduced by various governments as part of their campaigns to dismantle the welfare state over the past decade has been the Work Capability Test. This was introduced by New Labour in October 2008 along with a new benefit for the disabled and long-term sick, the Employment Support Allowance, which replaced Incapacity Benefit. The Work Capability Test is intended to show if the person claiming benefit really cannot work. It consists of questionnaire, in which boxes are to be ticked in answer to particular questions about the claimant’s health and disability. 2Ten of these tests were on the claimant’s physical health, and another ten are on their ‘mental, cognitive and intellectual’ fitness. There may also be a brief physical examination. The tests are performed by medical doctors working on behalf of a government outsourcing company. This was given to the French company, Atos, but the company was forced to terminate its contract a year early in 2014 following public anger at the system’s incompetence and maladministration. The contract was then given to an American company, Maximus. The tests may be repeated as often as the JobCentre Plus decides. If the disabled person scores low in the tests, they are judged fit for work. They lose their ESA and are told to apply for Jobseeker’s Allowance.

The tests are based on a monograph, The Scientific and Conceptual Basis of Incapacity Beneft, by Gordon Waddell and Mansel Aylward, of 2005 and a succeeding work, Is Work Good for Your Health and Wellbeing? By Gordon Waddell and Kim Burton. They were also strongly influenced by a 2001 New Labour conference, in which Aylward was a contributor, Malingering and Illness Deception. These led in turn to the publication of a Green Paper in 2006, A New Deal for Welfare: empowering people to work – an independent assessment of the arguments for the proposed Incapacity Benefit reform. Both Waddell and Aylward were professors at the Unum Provident Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research at Cardiff University, which was funded by the American insurance giant from 2004-9. The Work Capability Test uses a form of Bio-Psychosocial model of assessment, developed in America by Unum Provident. This model of assessment is considered to have been devised by George Engel in 1977. In 2006 a paper produced by Professor Christopher Butler and his colleagues attacked the model as ‘wanting’ and inadequate. Waddell and Aylward’s 2006 paper has also been attacked and discredited by Emeritus Professor Alison Ravetz.

Unum, and pseudo-medical testing actually became part of the disability benefits system twelve years or so prior to the Waddell and Aylward’s paper, in 1993, when the-then Conservative Health Secretary, Peter Lilley, introduced tougher testing designed to evaluate whether claimants were totally incapable of work. They had previously been awarded benefit if they were unable to do their job. Lilley considered that this approach was to open to sentimental interference by doctors, and so set up an ‘Incapacity benefit medical valuation group’, whose members included Dr John Le Cascio, the second vice-president of Unum Corporation. Lo Cascio had recently been seconded to its British branch, Unum Ltd, based in Dorking in Surrey. In 1994 Lo Cascio was appointed to train the British doctors charged with carrying out the tests by the Benefits Agency Medical Services. New Labour claimed that the purpose of the Work Capability Tests has been ‘to get people back into work’. This was always a misleading claim. New Labour had a ten-year plan to remove one million people from the 2.8 million receiving disability benefits. Their Secretary of State for Health declared ‘We know that being in work can be good for your wellbeing’, echoing the title of the paper by Waddell and Burton. 13 Years before that, Lilley introduced the tests with the aim of cutting £2 billion from the benefits bill.

And Unum itself regarded the benefit cuts as a great commercial opportunity. In their report in 1994, Chairman Ward E. Graffam was enthusiastic about ‘exciting developments in Britain’, saying ‘the impending changes to the State ill-health benefits system heralded in the November 1993 Budget will create unique sales opportunities across the entire disability market and we will be launching a concerted effort to harness the potential in these.’

Atos immediately decided that three-quarters of those in receipt of benefit were fit for work.16 Between the introduction of the tests in October 2008 and February 2012, the Department for Work and Pensions made over 1.36 million decisions on whether to award ESA following the administration of the tests on claimants. It declared 794,000 sick and disabled people ‘fit for work’. From the very beginning, the tests were criticised as being vastly inaccurate, and the treatment of claimants under it as cruel and degrading. ‘We Are
Spartacus’, a network of disability researchers and campaigners, denounced the way claimants were ‘wrongly assessed, humiliated and badly treated’. In response to repeated requests by disability campaigners, the DWP finally released the figures for the number of people dying over 11 months in 2011 while in receipt of ESA. 10,600 people in total had died. Of these, 1,300 had died after being taken off benefit following the decision that they were ‘fit to work’. Some of the people, who have died, committed suicide in despair at having their income terminated. One of these was a 47 year old man, who took a drug overdose. Others experienced a deterioration in their mental health due to the stress of assessment. Between 2008 and 2014, there were 600,000 appeals. This constitutes a third of all assessments, and in 2012-13 there were 465,000 appeals, with a success rate of 39 per cent. In some areas, lawyers had a success rate of over 80 per cent overturning decision by Atos against the claimant receiving benefits. 60 per cent of those, who had successfully appealed had scored zero. That is, Atos had declared them entirely fit for work. In 2013, however, the Conservative government took the decision to end legal aid for claims for welfare payment, which meant that fewer people would be able to afford to take the government to court.

In America, Unum Provident was fined $31.7 million in a class action lawsuit in California in 2003 for running ‘disability denial factories’. Two years later in 2005, John Garamendi, the California Department Insurance Commissioner, fined the company $15 million, declaring ‘Unum Provident is an outlaw company. It is a company that has operated in an illegal fashion for years’. The insurance commissioners of 48 American states had made a settlement with the company by 2006 that required it to review 200,000 claims and pay a $15 million fine. In 2008 the American Association of Justice declared that the company was the second most discredited insurance provider in America.

Despite public anger at Atos’ conduct of the Work Capability Test for ESA, the government in 2012 awarded the company another contract, worth over £400 million, for assessing whether disabled people were suitable for the Personal Independence Payment that was scheduled to replace the Disability Living Allowance in 2013. The Disability Living Allowance provided the handicapped with up to £130 per week to help them look after themselves. This was mostly awarded to help people cook, wash, and assist those with mobility problems. In the three years from April 2013 to 2016, this is to be phased out and replaced with the PIP, which is designed to get people back into work. The government was determined to cut spending on the PIP by twenty per cent during these three years, after the number claiming DLA rose by 30 per cent to 3.2 million people between 2002 and 2011. This was expected to throw 500,000 people off disability benefit.

As with their administration of the ESA fitness to work tests, Atos has proved to be less than efficient in its administration of the PIP. Those applying for the benefit may have to wait months before being notified that they are entitled. The cancer charity, MacMillan Cancer Support, stated that there were serious delays in the approval of payments. As well as leaving the terminally ill without this benefit, it also meant that they were unable to claim other vital benefits with which PIP was linked. As a result, some were forced in their desperation to take out loans from payday loan companies, which have a truly exorbitant interest rate. The number of problems with ESA dealt with by Citizens Advice rose by 54 per cent from 2011 to 2012, when the bureaux dealt with 450,000 of them.

Paul Farmer, the head of the mental health charity, Mind, criticised the tests for failing to consider the effects of mental health on people’s ability to work. In an interview with the Guardian in 2012, he said

The system is based on assumptions that claimants need to be forced back to work, rather than supported on their own terms, and that those not well enough to go back to work are somehow perceived as scroungers. These attitudes only serve to further damage individuals’ mental health and increase the time until they may be ready to return to work.

Richard Hawkes, the chief executive of Scope, another disability charity, stated that the tests ‘should be more than an exercise in getting people of benefits. It should make sure disabled people get the specialist, tailored and flexible support they need to find and keep a job.’ The House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee condemned the tests, stating that the system was so flawed it needed to be completely overhauled.

Guy Standing in his A Precariat Charter states that governments have been able to cut benefits for the disabled far more than for other groups, because they are a minority and so there is likely to be fewer objections to their treatment and lost votes. He also recommends that any firm hired by the government to provide services for the disabled should be bound by three commitments. The first should be to the disabled themselves; the second should be to the government; and the third should be to the whole of society, as the rest of us could be next. The employment contract awarded to such outsourcing firms should include penalty clauses requiring them to compensate the disabled claimant directly when they do not award them the correct benefits. This compensation should be much more than the benefits the disabled person did not receive. They should also be penalised for their mistakes. This would be a start, but it is not enough. The problem lies not with the companies administering the tests, but with the whole system of tests itself. The cause of the problem is attitude of successive governments, from John Major’s Conservatives, through Blair and Brown’s New Labour and then the Conservative-led governments of David Cameron, that the disabled should automatically have their benefits reduced, regardless of the poverty and hardship involved. The goal should be to provide benefits to support the poor and disabled, rather than cuts intended to reduce the tax burden for the rich. The Work Capability Test and the poverty and stress it inflicts should be stopped. Now.

Jimmy Dore Mocks New York Times Add

February 3, 2017

In this short segment from the Jimmy Dore Show, the American comedian and his team rightly tear into an add for the New York Times. The newspaper has been running an ad campaign with the slogan ‘The truth isn’t cheap’. This provokes mocking laughter from Dore and his team, who comment that the lies come free and are posted above the centre line. He also makes a pointed comment about Judith Miller, one of the Time’s journalists, getting a job with Fox News. He also states that in the case of the NY Times, the truth definitely isn’t free, as if you tell it, it could cost you your job. The segment ends with the comedians attacking various Democrat politicos for not protesting against Trump as much as they should, and stating that they need to ‘drain the swamp’ on their side of the House because of the terrible state the Democrats are in.

Dore is quite right to attack the Times, and its specious claim to truthful journalism. In fact, the newspaper has acted as the conduit for government lies, especially during the run up to the Iraq Invasion. The editors of the American radical magazine, Counterpunch, Patrick Cockburn and Jeffrey St Clair, have published a series of articles about the way the Times carried the lies from the Bush administration about Saddam Hussein’s non-existent ‘weapons of mass destruction’ in order to whip up popular support for the invasion. And one of the few journalists on the newspaper, who did try getting the truth out, was summarily sacked.

I’m well aware that Dore is an American, commenting on an American newspaper, but this also has implications over here. Since Donald Trump’s elections we’ve had organisations like the BBC state that they are going to set up special taskforces and departments to critique and refute ‘fake news’. The Beeb, however, has stated that it will confine this to the internet, and not take on the fake news coming out of Fleet Street. While there is a problem with racist fake news on the internet, the most pernicious lies are those retailed by the mainstream media. Like the New York Times and Fox News in America. In the case of the latter, media researcher found that 75 per cent of the news broadcast by Fox was actually false. Watching Fox News actually makes you less informed than if you didn’t watch it. And the same could be said for the right-wing media over here, comprising the Murdoch press and the rags owned by Paul Dacre, Dirty Desmond and the rest of them. And this also includes the Beeb, which has a very definite right-wing bias. The Beeb’s news programmes do not like anyone challenging the idea that austerity is somehow necessary, as shown by Barry and Saville Kushner in their book, Who Needs the Cuts. Researchers at Edinburgh, Cardiff and Glasgow Universities have shown that the Beeb prefers to accept the views and give coverage to Conservatives and business leaders than members of the Labour party and trade unionists. And this is quite apart from the grotesque and flagrant anti-Labour, anti-Corbyn bias of La Kuenssberg.

Never mind the New York Times. The British media also desperately needs a few well-placed sneers at its pretensions to tell the truth. And that means the Beeb and the Times, as well as well-worn targets like the Scum.

TYT: Actor James Cromwell Blasts Oil Police Thugs and Corporate Media

November 27, 2016

This is another clip from The Young Turks about the protests against the oil pipeline at Standing Rock. In this piece, James Cromwell, the Hollywood actor, talks to The Turks’ Jordan Cheriton about how the thuggish behaviour of the rozzers at Standing Rock and the way the protests have been completely ignored by the mainstream corporate media shows the racism against Native Americans. When there are demonstrations elsewhere, the cops react decently. They arrest people, but don’t usually attack or maltreat them. Here it’s different. And this shows the racism against Native Americans. He also notes that when there are protests and riots in the east, the mainstream media are there. But they’re not covering this protest, with the exception of The Young Turks, because they’re really controlled by the oil companies and the bottom line of not doing anything that would upset their sponsors. The only way to be informed in this country [America] is by people looking it up on YouTube. The clip ends with another Native American chant, which I believe must be in the Sioux language, against the pipeline.

Cromwell’s appeared in a number of Hollywood blockbusters. I remember him from Star Trek: First Contact and Deep Impact. He’s not the first big name Hollywood actor, who’s lent their voice to Native protests. Marlon Brando also did so in the 1970s, when he joined one of the peoples on the West Coast defending their fishing rights against another company. Cromwell is also right about people turning to the internet to see what’s really going on. This applies to both left and right, though sometimes people from radically opposed parts of the political spectrum look at the same news sources. I was talking the other day to someone, who clearly viewed themselves as a supporter of small government, who also watched RT as well as Fox News.

The mainstream media and the Beeb in particular are complaining about the way their ability to shape the political consensus is breaking down. They moan that it is making people more polarised in their opinions through people of different political views watching only the news channels that share their opinions. But the underlying problem is not addressed or even acknowledged. The mainstream media has a very pronounced corporate bias. Cromwell describes how it works in America. Over here in Britain, where we supposedly have the impartial BBC, the Corporation is still biased. Books and studies have been published, most recently by Cardiff, Edinburgh and Glasgow universities, showing that the Beeb is very much biased towards the establishment. They are far more likely to interview Conservative MPs and managing directors than Labour MPs and trade unionists, and when they do, they are far more likely to accept automatically the views of the Tories and businessmen as being true. And I’ve quoted Barry and Saville Kushner, the authors of Who Needs the Cuts?, how they were constantly infuriated by the Corporation’s automatic assumption that cuts were necessary and the way BBC announcers and reporters shouted down Labour leaders and politicians, who dared to contradict them. And the other year Mike reported how the Beeb was very definitely not reporting on the massive demonstration against its bias that was occurring on its very doorstep. It did report it online, but definitely not as an item on the television.

If people are abandoning mainstream media, it’s because that media is flagrantly biased. It therefore deserves to lose viewers until it corrects this.

New Book on BBC Bias

November 18, 2016

Looking through the Cheltenham branch of Waterstone’s today I found a new book on institutional bias at the BBC. It’s Tom Miller’s The BBC and the Myth of Public Service Broadcasting. I didn’t buy it, but glancing at the blurb on the back cover, it seemed to be about how the Beeb is biased towards power, and the establishment.

This really should come as no surprise to anyone. Despite the frothings of the right, which claims that the Beeb has a liberal bias, Edinburgh, Glasgow and I think, Cardiff University have studied the Beeb’s news bias, and found that it is significantly biased towards the Right. The two Scots universities found that it was far more likely to talk to Conservative MPs and businessmen, than to Labour MPs and trade unionists. The Kushner brothers, in their book, Who Needs the Cuts? state that they were prompted to write the book because of the way the Beeb and the rest of the media automatically accepted, quite uncritically, that the cuts were needed. When trade unionists appeared on the Today programme on Radio 4, and said that the cuts weren’t needed and were harmful, he was interrupted by the presenter. And then there’s Laura Koenigsberg, who is outrageously and blatantly biased. But you mustn’t accuse her of beings so, according to the Graoniad, because if you do you are only doing so because you’re a misogynist. Rubbish. People are criticising her because she is biased, and she’s a disgrace. It has nothing to do with her gender. Another of the Beeb’s reporters, who is also flagrantly biased is Nick Robinson. Remember how Robinson and his team careful cut footage of a question and answer session with Alex Salmond, the leader of the SNP, during the Scots Referendum? Robinson asked Salmond about whether he was worried that the main Scots financial firms would move down to London if Scotland gained independence. Salmond said no, and explained why he believed they wouldn’t. The Beeb then edited the video, first to make it appear that he evaded the question, and then claimed he hadn’t answer it all. I’m not fan of the SNP and its attacks on the Labour Party, but Salmond had answered the question, calmly and fully. It was pure falsification, a lie of the type you’d expect from the state dominated media in eastern Europe under Communism, for example. But it didn’t come from a wretched totalitarian dictatorship. It came from the Beeb, which is constantly congratulating itself on how ‘impartial’ it is, and what a world leader in quality broadcasting it constitutes.

Well, it’s biased towards the right, and more and more people are waking up to that fact, as this book appears to show.

Vox Political: Oxford University Now Has ‘Voodoo Science’ Explanation for ME

October 29, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political has this article reporting an article in the Torygraph, claiming that Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis isn’t actually a real, organic disorder, but entirely psychological, according to academics at Oxford University. They believe it can be treated through positive thinking and exercise, recommending our old favourite, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. Mike’s article begins

This is appalling. Oxford University academics are trying to tell us that sufferers of chronic fatigue syndrome (otherwise known as myalgic encephalomyelitis, or ME) can make themselves better by positive thinking.

Oh – and exercise. Have you ever tried to get an ME sufferer to do more exercise?

It seems we are heading back to the days when the condition was dismissed as “yuppie flu”.

The research so easily fits in with what the DWP and its cronies at Unum, Atos et all have been saying that This Writer half expected to see one or all of them credited as funders for the project – and was more astonished to find that it was actually funded by the Medical Research Council which, on the face of it, actually seems to be respectable.

The full article can be read at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/10/28/voodoo-therapy-is-not-the-cure-for-chronic-fatigue-syndrome-oxford-university/.

This seems to be just one part of the more widespread issue of the corporate funding and corruption of science. The pseudoscientific studies advocating CBT as the miracle cure for acute illnesses leading to unemployment have come from a department at Cardiff University set up by the very businesses, like Unum, pushing them. It’s a good question, not mentioned in Mike’s article, whether the academics at Oxford university have similar connections to those business groups.

The title of Mike’s article also recalls Ben Goodacre’s book, Voodoo Science, which is all about dodgy scientific claims based on spurious or flawed research. Since Maggie Thatcher, university science departments have been forced to work with private industry in order to receive funding. At one level, you can understand the reasoning – to get value for money in terms of innovations that can be developed into marketable products. On the negative side is the discouragement of blue-sky thinking, and the promotion of inventions and products that will benefit industry, but not the public.

And this is definitely one of the latter. You should also ask whether the scientists making the statement that ME is purely psychological have produced research that has passed peer review. In order for scientific research to be considered respectable and reliable, it has to be published in a peer-reviewed publication. That means that other scientists working in the field, or related fields, have read the article and concluded that it is good science, rather than gibberish. One of the problems of contemporary science is that it much of it seems to be driven through press release and publicity, rather than more conventional avenues of publication. For example, a few years ago, you will remember, there was massive publicity surrounding the discovery of a fossil lemur, which was held to be one of humanity’s oldest primate ancestors. The two palaeontologists making the discovery released the news in a press conference in New York. The Beeb devoted a documentary to it, and even David Attenborough was drawn, though he later excused himself by saying that if you listened to his commentary careful, it was properly non-committal and littered with ‘perhaps’ and ‘maybe’s. Then came the news a few days or weeks later that the discovery was scientific nonsense. The creature wasn’t an ancestral lemur, but a type of tarsier, and so not a direct part of the line of evolutionary descent leading to humanity.

And that’s only one example. There are have been many others, mostly in the field of genetics. I’m sceptical when scientists claim that they have found the ‘gene’ for such and such a psychological disorder, such as schizophrenia, or aspects of human sexuality, like the much touted ‘gay gene’. I don’t doubt that in many cases there is a genetic component, but genetic inheritance alone does not necessarily result in a particular syndrome or psychological condition or sexuality. For example, a little while ago scientists announced that excessively violent criminals had a particular mutant gene. There was therefore a genetic reason why some crims were so violent. Another genetics scientist wrote into one of the newspapers reporting the finding to pour a bit of cold water on the ‘discovery’. Pschopathically violent criminals might have the gene, but so do half the population generally, so do probably many of the people you’re working with at the office. So, not quite the explanation for criminal violence that it claims to be, then.

Now it may be that the research on ME in the Torygraph is fine and respectable, but more than a little scepticism is warranted, especially as this is in an area, in which government and big business are pouring vast sums in order to cut the welfare budget and boost corporate profits. Just because something’s published in the broadsheets and claims to be science doesn’t mean that it’s as well established as Newton’s Laws or Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. And this in particular looks like prize rubbish.

The approach the authors of this research recommend is actually quite dangerous. Go down through the comments to the article to find first-hand accounts from people with the disease or similar illnesses on the dangers they have suffered from treatments like that recommended by the scientists of the Oxford study. From their experiences, I’d say that this looks like well-argued, but dangerous pseudoscience.

George Berger on Gordon Waddell and the Origins of the Work Capability Test

February 9, 2015

A few weeks ago I blogged about a piece on Mike’s site, Vox Political, by Mo Stewart describing Unum’s role in formulating the fitness for work test. This is the prize piece of pseudoscience used by the DWP and Atos to deny people welfare benefits on the grounds that, no matter how ill or disabled they are, they are still somehow ‘fit for work’. In the most extreme cases, this has resulted in terminally ill people having their disability benefit removed and blandly informed that they will have to be reassessed. Just in case, you understand, that they get better.

One of the commenters on the piece was George Berger, who kindly informed me of his piece on the DPAC website tracing the origins of the fitness for work test in the bizarre theories of Gordon Waddell. Mr Berger commented:

It seems that the historical source is Waddell’s work on back pain and non-organic signs. That was imaginatively extended to “invisible illnesses.” The back pain work was heavily criticised by medical people in his specialism, yet he seems to have been protected by Aylward and maybe others. I did not know about the purely medical critique when I wrote this.

http://dpac.uk.net/2014/09/gordon-waddells-biopsychosocial-attack-on-disabled-people/

As you can see from the link, it’s entitled Gordon Waddell’s Biophysical Attack on Disabled People.

Gordon Waddell was a highly respected orthopaedic surgeon, who drew on George Engels’ holistic theories of the origin of disease. Engels believed that for patients to be made better, the healer should address all aspects of their condition, including its social and psychological components. Waddell, however, perverted this into the current government policy that sees patients as essentially malingerers. In his papers ‘Nonorganic Physical Signs in Low-Back Pain’ (Spine, volume 5, number 7, 117-125); and ‘A New Clinical Model for the Treatment of Low-Back Pain’ (Spine, volume12 number 7, 632-644), published in 1980 and 1987, Waddell stated that there were symptoms in lower back pain that had no physical cause. He believed these were entirely psychological in origin. These non-organic symptoms in turn produced depression, a feeling that treatment hadn’t worked, and encouraged the patient to adopt a ‘sick role’. Mr Berger quotes from Waddell’s 1998 book, The Back Pain Revolution, ‘that illness behaviour quite often ‘focuses on money and implies malingering,’ and that it ‘may depend more on… psychologic events than on the underlying physical problem’ (1998: 216, 227).’

George Berger states that Waddell’s scientific methodology is simply wrong, and that it was strongly influenced by Skinner’s Behaviourism, which in turn has been categorically demolished by none other than that great American radical, Noam Chomsky, amongst others.

Despite its falsity, it has been seized upon by New Labour and Tory governments determined to cut the welfare bill. Waddell’s ideas on pain and malingering were taken up by Atos at a conference in 2004. Another doctor, Christopher Bass, used his biopsychosocial theories to explain chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, chronic low-back pain, repetitive strain injury and non-cardiac chest pain, as all essentially psychological malingering. Waddell’s ideas were taken up by UnumProvident, the American insurance fraudster, whose head, John LoCascio, attended a conference at Oxford on malingering and illness deception. The corporation then set up the UnumProvident Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research at Cardiff University. Finally, in 2006 Waddell and A. Kim Burton wrote that ‘Work is generally good for health and well-being’, a line now repeated ad nauseam by the cretins now stuffing the DWP under Esther McVile and Iain ‘Tosser’ Duncan Smith.

There’s far more over in George Berger’s original article, and it’s definitely worth reading for anyone interested in a very scholarly destruction of this pernicious piece of pseudoscience.

Mo Stewart on Government, Quackery and Fraud by Unum Provident

January 21, 2015

Quack Tractors Caricature

Vox Political has a fascinating guest piece by Mo Steward, a long-time friend of the site. This describes the malign influence on the British government’s welfare policies towards the disabled by the American medical fraudster, Unum, and their pet academics, Gordon Waddell and Manzel Aylward. Waddell and Aylward were professors at a Cardiff University department, funded and explicitly named after Unum, who applied the biopsychosocial model of disease. This was used by Unum as the basis for refusing to pay out on its insurance claims in America. Stewart details how the scientific basis of Unum’s policies has been discredited, and the insurance giant named as the second biggest fraudulent insurance provider in America by the federal authorities. Waddell and Aylward’s report, which has formed the basis for subsequent government attempts to reform and remove benefit payments for the disabled, is also comprehensively discredited. It is more or less entirely self-referential, which means that basically its arguments are unsupported by anyone else.

It is rubbish.

This hasn’t stopped it influencing the British government since a conference on reforming welfare by New Labour in 2001, where the emphasis was on the perceived idea that people claiming disability benefits were malingering. This has shown to be untrue, not least in America, where Unum was branded a ‘disability denier’ by the federal authorities. Nevertheless, Unum’s role in government policy has persisted, not least because one of the New Labour politicos at the conference was the appalling Lord Freud, who subsequently defected to the Tories. The result has been that over ten thousand people have died, despite being described as fit for work by Atos. Mo Stewart gives the precise figures. The DWP has been so shamed by these figures, that they have refused to publish them for succeeding years. The policy has also been responsible for the rise in hate crime towards the disabled, who are now generally perceived by the public as malingering spongers.

Stewart’s article’s entitled: The influence of private insurance on UK welfare reforms – Mo Stewart. It begins

Here’s a timely article by Vox Political‘s friend Mo Stewart.

At a time when the main focus of attention appears to be on Maximus, the company taking over Work Capability Assessments, Mo says she hopes this will encourage people to deal with the real villains – UNUM Insurance.

Now let’s go over to Mo for further information about UNUM:

Much has been written about the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), including the fact that it was recently deemed as being fatally flawed by the Work and Pensions Select Committee1 (WPSC): ‘The flaws in the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) system are so grave that simply “rebranding” the assessment used to determine eligibility for ESA (the Work Capability Assessment WCA) by appointing a new contractor will not solve the problems, says the Work and Pensions Committee in a report published today.’1,2,3

The WCA was introduced by the New Labour government in 2008 and is exclusively conducted by Atos Healthcare until March 2015. The assessment is mandatory for recipients of Incapacity Benefit being migrated to the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and for all new ESA applicants. Following much controversy, Atos Healthcare announced that they are to withdraw early from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) contract to conduct the WCA.

The plan to ‘dismantle the welfare state’ was first suggested by the 1982 Thatcher government4 and has been relentlessly pursued by successive United Kingdom (UK) governments. Hence, in the Coalition government’s response to the select committee’s evidence,5 the Minister for Disabled People, Mike Penning MP, disregarded the very detailed information provided by the WPSC report3 that clearly listed the many serious problems still faced by those who must endure the WCA to access the ESA benefit.

It’s extensively footnoted, so you can see that it is very definitely factually accurate. Unlike the rubbish spouted by Freud, Waddell and Aylward.

It’s at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/01/20/the-influence-of-private-insurance-on-uk-welfare-reforms-mo-stewart/ Please read it and get informed about the influence of this bunch of malign quacks on government policy.

This illustration at the top of this post is an etching by Charles Williams from 1802, The Tractors, satirising one particular brand of late 18th – early 19th century quacks. The beams coming from the woman’s mouth read ‘Half-Hints’, ‘Malignity’, ‘Destruction’, ‘Scandal’, ‘Envy’ ‘Hypocrisy’ and ‘Innuendoes’, all terms that could fairly be applied to the malign influence Unum, Waddell and Aylward have had on British government, and the way their fraudulent pseudoscience has destroyed the lives and dignity of the disabled.

The 18th and 19th century was the heyday of some of the most brilliant satirists and caricaturists wielding pen and ink. These men mercilessly skewered medical quacks and pompous, grasping and incompetent doctors, as well as other topics like the royal family and corrupt, mendacious and incompetent politicians. One can only guess what Gilray and Cruikshank would have done to Waddell and Aylward.

From 2011: Private Eye on Unum’s Role in Shaping Government Welfare Policy

April 10, 2014

This is from the Eye for the 11th – 24th November 2011:

McGarry Unum pic

Jack McGarry, Chief Executive at Unum.

Welfare Reform

Mutual Benefits

Tricky questions are again being asked about the profits American insurance giant Unum stands to make from its massive media push on income protection cover, promoted as the answer to the latest tough welfare reforms.

Pulling stunts like persuading six bloggers to live for a week on the current average benefit of £95 and then write about it, Jack Mcgarry, chief executive at Unum UK (pictured), earlier this year warned: “The government’s welfare reform bill will seek to tighten the gateway to benefits for those people unable to work due to sickness or injury. Each year up to 1m people in the UK become disabled and the reforms mean that working people will be able to rely less on state benefits to maintain the standard of living they were used to prior to their illness”.

Well, Unum should know. Behind the scenes it has been helping Tory and Labour governments slash the benefits of disabled and sick people for years – going right back to Peter Lilley’s social security “Incapacity for Work” reforms of 1994. Lilley hired John Le Cascio, then vice-president of Unum, to advise on “claims management”. Le Cascio also sat on the “medical evaluation group”, which – according to Professor Jonathan Rutherford in the academic journal Soundings – was set upt to design and enforce more stringent medical tests.

At the same time, the UK wing of Unum was launching what it boasted was “a concerted effort to harness the potential” from predicted cuts in benefits, urging people to protect themselves with a “long-term disability policy from Unum”.

The Eye first questioned Unum about the possibility of a serious conflict of interest back in 1995. Dr Le Cascio said he didn’t “feel that way” and wouldn’t have taken the government job if he thought there was a conflict. That, of course, was ten years before Unum was found guilty in the US of “systematically violating” insurance regulations and fraudulently denying or “low-balling” claims using phony medical reports, misrepresentation and biased investigations (see Ad Nauseam, last Eye).

Fast-forward 16 years, and plus ca change. Unum’s tarnished reputation has done nothing to diminish its influence here and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is still denying there’s anything amiss about Unum’s more meddling. In a lengthy reply last month to Norman Lamb, Nick Clegg’s chief adviser, the DWP neatly skirted questions about whether Unum was advising on welfare reform and about its unlawful activities in the US.

Yet Unum executives sat on both the mental health and physical function “technical working groups” set up under the Labour government in 2006, which reviewed and finally came up with the new, stricter “work compatibility assessments”, introduced for new claimants in 2008. In fact Unum and Atos, the huge French outsourcing company that holds the government’s multimillion contract to conduct the widely criticised assessments on behalf of the DWP (see in the Back, last Eye), were the only for-profit companies represented on the groups. Unum chief executive McGarry has now been appointed to the expert panel reviewing the sickness absence from work system announced by the government in February.

Prof Rutherford wrote that Unum had also been “building its influence” in a variety of ways over a number of years. He said that in 2001 Le Cascio was a key player at a ground-breaking conference at Woodstock near Oxford, title “Malingering and Illness Deception”. Malcolm Wicks, Labour work minister at the time, and Mansel Aylward, then chief medical officer at the DWP, were among the 39 delegates.

In the same year, Unum launched a public private partnership to act as a pressure group to extend influence in policymaking. And in 2004 it opened the £1.5m UnumProvident Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research at Cardiff University. (The Centre has since be renamed and Unum says it no longer provides any funding – no doubt because of claims that academic integrity could be called into question by its influence).

Unum has been lobbying, sitting on expert groups and hosting meetings at party conferences of all colours ever since. And lo and behold, in May this year, Unum’s then medical officer Prof Michael O’Donnell jumped ship to become chief medical officer at Atos. He barely had time to catch his breath before giving evidence to the Commons committee looking at the welfare reform bill.

But Unum is once again denying any conflict of interest “since our current work with the DWP and our marketing campaign are different”. It said its current consultation work is about helping people return to work and its advertising campaign was educational and does not support tightening benefit changes.

Meanwhile disability activists who have fallen foul and been forced to appeal cuts in DWP benefits based on flawed Atos assessments, and campaigning groups like Black Triangle, think the whole thing stinks and are urging MPs to investigate.

So Unum is, like Maximus, another private contractor hired to implement government welfare policies, a company with a history of corruption in the US. And like many of the other companies involved in the government’s welfare reforms, it helps formulate the very same policies from which it stands to make a profit. Meanwhile, the sick and disabled are thrown off benefits due to their advice. And, as you’d expect, they’ve even got a connection of the past masters of cruelty, fraud and corrupt influence, Atos.