Saturday, 27 September 2008

Republicans create their own worst case scenario of positive discrimination

The Daily Telegraph wasn't all that impressed by Sarah Palin's CBS interview. What surprised me most was this:
Ed Rollins, who managed Ronald Reagan's landslide victory in 1984, said: "I would let her do fundraisers, I would send her to the party base. I wouldn't put her in many more interviews like this."
Palin is proud to have overtaken Hilary Clinton as the woman who's come closest to the President's chair (no lewd joke intended). We've had weeks of hearing about her family life, her busty side-kick type humour and her dress sense (there's Austrian news reports about her glasses, for goodness sake). She's the ideal Republican female: evidence that a woman can be successful in politics without demanding any silly little laws that might benefit her kind. Now it turns out that she can just about be trusted with a bake sale but should under no circumstances be allowed to talk about politics. How delightfully progressive.

Picture from stock.xchng

Oh, the humanities!

Ben Goldacre doesn't think much to humanities graduates which is why, for a fan like me, reading his column often feels like being kicked in the teeth by a favourite uncle. To alleviate the intense emotional damage caused by his blanket dismissal of my kind, I've been considering the wider implications of his - and other science bloggers' - pet hate.
There may be a deeply buried psychological trauma to blame; was he rejected by the school history club as a kid, or repeatedly stood-up by Shakespeare-loving French exchange students? Either way, his stated reason is that some humanities graduates work as journalists, that some of those write stories involving science, and that many of these stories contain errors or misrepresent the facts. As generalisations go, this is more than a bit crude. What he's describing is a group of media professionals entrusted with the dissemination of information to the general public, who couldn't give a monkey's about accuracy, scientific or otherwise. To label these people "humanities graduates" is a moronic and offensive kind of joke, on a level with saying "Irishman" when you mean "idiot", and it sounds more idiotic and childish the more you say it.
The humanities are not by definition unscientific. What we may be dealing with here is confusion of the words science and scientist, both referring to "The Sciences", and the word scientific, meaning "the scientific method". The way I understand it - and I welcome correction - a person striving to achieve scientific accuracy should collect as much data as possible, include all information in their analysis regardless of whether or not it supports their ideas, consider and seek to eliminate all possible causes of error in their method or argument, and then present the information for peer review in such a way that someone could do exactly the same as you: look at the same source data (whether it's results from a trial or secondary literature) and apply exactly the same approach from start to finish. Different academic disciplines may use different forms of data but the attention to accuracy, the disclosure of source material and method, and the willing exposure to ruthless criticism should be the same in all 'good' researchers (and that applies to everyone, from schoolchildren to life-long enthusiasts carrying out investigations in garden sheds).
There are 'bad humanities' examples aplenty, just as there is 'bad science'. Those who seek to discredit all scientists by using a few examples (like banging on about doctors carrying out experiments in Nazi concentration camps) are considered twunts by science bloggers. Quite right too, but a little less hypocrisy would be nice.
Am I getting too worked up over a harmless in-joke? Well no, actually, because there are serious issues at stake. Goldacre's column in the Guardian has changed a lot over the years I've been reading it. It used to be a collection of short "look at these idiots" anecdotes, misleading labels and stupid statements by media 'experts'. It's now a very serious criticism of the way pseudoscience is becoming increasingly indistinguishable - for the lay person - from the real thing, through a combination of manipulative charlatans and lazy, sensation-seeking reporting. It's now less of a science blog and more of political / media studies / cultural / history of ideas blog. Solving the very serious problems that this decline of science (or whatever we should call it) is causing, for example the fact that so many HIV sufferers in Africa are choosing herbal remedies over anti-retroviral drugs, will take more than just scientists. We need people who have spent years studying the history and culture of the communities to explain exactly why they are so ready to believe that western drugs companies want to kill them. We need linguists, diplomats, social policy experts and other humanities graduates to combat the sophisticated anti-drugs propaganda.
We need people from all backgrounds to read Goldacre's column and the badscience blogs and to become just as outraged by the issues they investigate. We need humanities graduates to pitch in to solve those social problems made worse by bad science. Repeatedly wiping you knob on their collective reputation isn't the best start.


Here's an example of the humanities graduate comments in Goldacre's blog. I admit it's only a few words but I've never seen him qualify it properly: Make your own ID. It's also a really good article, of course.

Here's a good explanation of the difference between scientists and people who just try to sound like them: The Epiphenomena of Quackery

And here's a recent example of rubbish reporting of a non-story where all journalistic skills seem to have been disregarded: Nine in 10 women 'cheat' to look good . You don't have to be any kind of graduate to know that this bit makes no sense:
The poll also revealed the perils of attempting to look beautiful.
Top of the list was the visible panty line, followed by smudged mascara and unshaven legs.
Yes, my legs are hairy due to vain attempts to increase my feminine wiles through 'cheating'. Pillocks.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Matthias Rath's websites: Concerns


Angryyoungalex has looked into the claims that the records of the IG Farben trial are being purposefully buried. Results here.

In my previous post I described a close-knit group of websites for various campaigns, initiatives, awards etc. all of which have been set up either partially or entirely by the Dr Rath Health Foundation. Having looked at yet another other official Dr Rath site this morning (clearly this is what Sunday lie-ins were made for), I've decided there's enough *ahem* interesting aspects to fill a whole book. I'll just stick to the points I was planning to make yesterday:

  • There seems to be a deliberate attempt, through repeated use of the phrase "the Auschwitz Survivors", to suggest that the foundation have been singled out for an official award from a group representing all former prisoners of Auschwitz. I've carried out several searches, including on the official website for the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum. There's a brief mention of the hospice foundation stone being placed but nothing on Rath or the "Relay of Life" award.

  • The relationship between the small group of Auschwitz survivors and the Dr Rath Health Foundation could be described - depending on what you've read elsewhere - as anything from ironic to utterly sick. If reports of his actions in Africa are accurate then "profit before life" would be a fitting mission statement. Although I should probably add here that his foundation is reported to have distributed dietary supplements for free, not to make a profit, and this statement appears prominently on
    All profits from the sales of our natural health programs go to the Dr. Rath Foundation.
    This Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to research and education in natural health worldwide.

  • The scale and complexity of this operation is staggering - to accuse regulated medicine of deliberately murdering countless patients, to gather 'proof' that World War II was started by a pharmaceutical company, to warn us that the 'oil and drug cartel' ruling the USA and France are planning a nuclear war (either before November 4th 2008 or October 2007, depending on the website) or that subjecting dietary supplements to "unreasonable and arbitrary risk/benefit assessments" is a danger to democracy - all of this is an impressively wide range of goals. There have been other organisations in history who adopted a similar approach and they've rarely changed the world for the better.

  • All the websites I looked at were well designed and had their own, individual style. Clearly, a great deal of effort has gone into widening the foundation's online presence; buying appropriate domain names, choosing the right message, the right pictures and layout, adding content from other sites in a different format etc. There are campaigns to appeal to various different groups of concerned citizens. Decisions have clearly been made about whether the links between sites should be obvious or hidden. For example, Profit Over Life has a link to the Avenue to Life funding appeal whereas visitors starting at the Avenue to Life site would only know that 'Dr Rath Health Programs' have bought a tree. There are also significant differences between different language versions of the same sites. For example, the foundation's German site doesn't seem to mention the 'award', or at least not as prominently as the English version.

  • Opponents of Matthias Rath could view this creeping network of semi-independent campaigns website as a cross between a hydra and Voldemort's horcruxes. Should it come to the point where legal action is taken against Matthias Rath, dismantling this massive operation could be an impossible task. If the man is removed but others pledge to carry on work in his name... this is how new religions form.

  • Before I get too carried away with Da Vinci Code style international plots, I have a small legal concern too. The Avenue to Life site is calling for donations from English speakers without providing information about the project in English. The project is a memorial - and it's excellent that a memorial is being built to those who helped escaped prisoners from Auschwitz - but it will also be a working hospice. Before they collect more donations for the project, they should make it clear - in all relevant langauges - how the hospice will be run, who will pay for the staff and equipment, whether treatment will be provided for free, and who will provide the medication required by the terminally ill residents.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Matthias Rath: An online self-portrait

Matthias Rath has been in the news this weekend after ending a long-running legal dispute against the Guardian and columnist Ben Goldacre. Having read quite a lot of what other people say about him, I thought I'd take a look at what he says about himself. The results were something of an eye-opener.

The first part of this post sets out the route I took through the various websites, with several illustrative extracts. The second part (probably a separate post, this is turning out to be very long indeed) explains why parts of this made me slightly uneasy, to say the least. I've tried, as far as possible, to stick to facts and direct quotes, though it's been extremely tempting to jump to conclusions along the way.

The trail:

A large banner on the Dr Rath Health Foundation website reads:
Recipients of the "Relay of Life" from the Auschwitz Survivors

This sounds like an excellent achievement and one worth finding out about. The page this links to explains how a group of more than 30 survivors of Auschwitz and other concentration camps proposed their own constitution for Europe at a ceremony in Auschwitz in November 2007. here are some extracts from the constitution (full document here):
Today, the building of a New Europe occurs at a time when, we, the „witnesses of time” are still giving our testimony as to the consequences of the disregard for human lives and the needs of people. Our lives were shaped at the time when human life did not have any value and the slave was needed only for his labor. The absolute owners of a human being were not so much SS-men but the robots of money and power from IG Farben Auschwitz.
The most fundamental human rights are the rights to health and life. These rights are not only threatened by military conflicts, but also by corporate interests and their increasing attempts to exploit the human body and knowledge of it as their exclusive property and source of profits.
Our health and our bodies are the most valuable goods we have. They must not be exploited as a marketplace for patented drugs or any other form of commercialization. The expansion of diseases as markets for drugs is unconstitutional. Any healthcare system based on these principles and promoting them should be outlawed.
The genetic information of all plants and the food that has been growing in our fields and gardens for millennia belongs to all mankind. Manipulation and alteration of the genetic code of plants with the goal of patenting them and creating global market monopolies bears the danger that our food supplies are controlled by corporate interests. As with health and life, the monopolization of food leads to the control of entire societies.
The reason why these fundamental human rights are not yet universally accepted and applied is the principle of patenting. Patents are the economic instrument of inflating returns on investments for entire industries including those industries that directly affect human health and life.

The "Auschwitz Survivors" (as capitalised on the original banner) presenting their ideas for an EU constitution sounds like interesting and important news but I don't remember hearing much about this at the time. Maybe I just wasn't paying attention. The award sounds impressive though, and the recipient clearly considers it worth shouting about. Strangely enough, a Google search has yielded no information on other individuals or organisations to have been given this award, as both hits lead back to this website.

The Dr Rath Health Foundation wasn't just marked out for a special mention at this conference, they took a very active part in it:

The conference was jointly organized by the Dr. Rath Health Foundation a long time critic of the pharmaceutical business with disease. For their work in the service of humanity this organization also received the “Relay of Life” from the survivors of Auschwitz, with the symbolic request to carry the remembrance of Auschwitz into the future.

In his speech Dr. Rath stated that the same corporate interest groups, namely the oil and drug cartel that already prepared WWII, are now openly discussing WWIII – including nuclear holocaust. “After the exposure at this conference these plans can no longer be executed.”

At the bottom, we are invited to go to for more information. At first I was surprised to find exactly the same text, just with the well-known photograph of the "Arbeit Macht Frei" gates of Auschwitz above it. However, this was easily explained by the copyright notice: "© 2008 Dr. Rath Health Foundation". On other pages we can find Matthias Rath's speech, photos of the event, and a speech by Helena Wisla, President of the Auschwitz Hospice Foundation (probably about the constitution, although it's in Polish, with no English transcript).

Hospice? There's a link to that too. Blast, it's all in Polish.

Another google search turns up the website Avenue to Life:

A new website offering you the unique opportunity to participate in a worldwide project to help preserve the memories of the people who survived the WWII concentration camp at Auschwitz. By filling in the registration form on this page, and donating to the Auschwitz hospice fund, you can learn about history directly from those who experienced it and, in so doing, help carry their ‘relay of memory and life’.

The idea seems to be that you donate money to help build the memorial / hospice and a picture of a tree with your name under joins the others at the top of the screen. One of the six so far is Dr Rath Health Programs. That's nice of them. In fact, back on the hospice site we can learn (with the help of a Polish - English dictionary and a rudimentary knowledge of the grammar) that the Dr Rath Health Foundation are the third on the list of "Honorary memorial builders", right after the Italian and Japanese governments. Impressive stuff, and clear evidence that they deserve that "award".

For people who prefer to find out more before buying a virtual tree, there's handy links scattered around the site... all of which take you back to that page in Polish. It's actually not that bad though, as there's also a page in German, and - in common with all potential donors from the UK - that's a language I speak fluently. Here's my translation of the first few paragraphs (originals underneath, criticism from other German speakers more than welcome):

For half a century, the former prisoners of the concentration camp at Auschwitz have attested to the good which was born in the shadow and in the neighbourhood of the gas chamber. This has been achieved through every imaginable type of documentation - in the form of books, press articles, memorial plaques, and documentary and other films, but also through annual festivals, radio and TV broadcasts, and so on.

However, in the opinion of the former prisoners, all these tokens have not been capable of remembering the names of all those who provided life-saving, spontaneous help throughout the whole 5 years of the Auschwitz concentration camp's existence.

After taking off the prisoner uniform and returning to freedom, the former prisoners of Auschwitz still felt indebted to the inhabitants of the town of Auschwitz and the surrounding area because these very people had contributed to the fact that so many human lives were saved.

[...] In order to thank the inhabitants of the town of Auschwitz and the surrounding area who helped the prisoners of the concentration camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau, an initiative was started to build a memorial to them

Ein halbes Jahrhundert lang haben die ehemaligen KL Auschwitz- Häftlinge ein Zeugnis vom Guten abgelegt, das im Schatten und in der Nachbarschaft der Gaskammer geboren ist. Das geschah durch jede erdenkliche Art von Dokumentation - in Form von Büchern, Presseartikeln, Gedenktafeln und Dokumentar- und Spielfilmen, aber auch durch Jahrestagfeierlichkeiten, Radio- und Fernsehsendungen, usw.

In der Meinung der ehemaligen Häftlinge jedoch waren alle diese Zeichen nicht imstande, an alle Namen derjenigen zu erinnern, die lebensrettend spontane Hilfe geleistet haben, durch die ganzen 5 Jahre des Bestehens des KL Auschwitz.

Nach dem Ausziehen des Sträflingsanzugs und nach der Rückkehr zur Freiheit fühlten sich die ehemaligen KL Auschwitz – Häftlinge immer noch als Schuldner der Bewohner der Stadt Oświęcim und der umliegenden Ortschaften, weil eben diese dazu beigetragen haben, dass viele menschliche Leben gerettet wurden.

[...] Um der Einwohner der Stadt Oświęcim und der Einwohner der umliegenden Ortschaften, die den Häftlingen der KL Auschwitz und Birkenau geholfen haben zu gedenken, entstand eine Initiative, ihnen ein Denkmal zu errichten.

It goes on the describe the founding of the Memorial Hospice Foundation by the well-known Polish actor August Kowalczyk, who was brought to the camp in November 1940, escaped during an uprising in 1942, and survied due to the help of local residents. His tremendous efforts to maintain a dialogue between Germany and Holocaust survivors and to keep the memory of the events alive are well documented, (here, for example).

Further down the page we can see an artist's impression of the finished hospice, photographs of the building work so far, and a breakdown of the funding needed to complete the work. It explains that using a hospice as a memorial is a particularly potent symbol, being a place where "those who are ill and suffering can be helped in the last phase of their illness". The project had the support of Pope John Paul II and the foundation stone was laid by Polish President Aleksander Kwaśniewski. Unfortunately, the project seems to have run into serious financial difficulties.

I'll try to get further paragraphs translated over the next few days but there are two other avenues to explore first, and very interesting avenues they are too. First of all, there's another official-looking hit for the EU constitution proposal. The address is, very impressive, and it's the site of the "European Referendum Initiative". There are seven language options on the front page. It's stated aim is for every citizen:

to have the right to vote in a referendum whenever significant changes to laws affecting them are made at either national or European level. In particular, we believe that all citizens should immediately be given the opportunity to vote in referendums on the Lisbon Treaty.

The petition from the "Auschwitz Survivors" has a prominent position here so this could be evidence that I'm just being pig ignorant when it comes to the big splash the conference must have caused. I wonder who wrote the website though... "© 2008 Dr. Rath Health Foundation". Hmmmm.

Here's an extract from the blurb about their other big campaign, "A Referendum for Natural Remedies":

Draconian laws, intended to ban information on many natural health remedies and their uses, are increasingly being introduced throughout Europe under the guise of the "protection of public health." This is being done despite the fact that millions of people die every year from chronic diseases such as heart attacks, strokes and cancer and that thousands of clinical and scientific studies already show natural remedies (including vitamin therapies) can prevent the occurrence of these diseases.
One more chance to break out of this maze of circular links. On the Avenue to Life site, one of the very few links takes you to This is an online academy, no less, containing "The Authentic Records from the Nuremberg Tribunal against the Oil and Drug Cartel", by which they mean the trial against pharmaceutical company IG Farben (maybe I should be more wary of adding wikipedia links, after reading what Matthias Rath thinks about them. On the other hand, as this entry references his own foundation's website it's probably more reliable than the rest). As this site explains, the evil activities of the "oil and drug cartel" is one of Matthias Rath's favourite topics and this site would certainly seem to confirm his view. Take this page, for example:

The US prosecution during the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunals made clear that neither the rise of the Nazis, nor WWII nor the holocaust would have been possible without the financial and logistical support of IG Farben.

Today, more than six decades since the end of WWII, mankind has yet to solve one of the greatest riddles: How come that none of the international organizations that set out to preserve the memory of this war and the holocaust has not pointed their fingers at these historic facts?

Until today these organizations chose neither to publish the important proceedings of the decisive Nuremberg trial against IG Farben nor the tens of thousands of pages of trial evidence connecting this chemical/pharmaceutical cartel to these crimes against humanity.
The purpose of this website is to call on the people of the world to go one step further and expose the economic interests that helped to finance the holocaust, those forces that used the hatred against the Jewish people and other ethnic groups as a tool for the psychological mobilization for a war of conquest and those groups that benefited economically from the holocaust. Among those economic interests one name stands out above all: the chemical cartel IG Farben.

There is a burning reason why the exposure of IG Farben Industries as the economic interests behind WWII is important now.

Today, in October 2007, the world may only be weeks away from another World War deliberately launched by the very same interest groups that brought the Nazis to power and sought to control the world then – the chemical/petrochemical/pharmaceutical investment business.

70 years after the political puppets of the chemical investment business launched World War II, their stakeholders today – namely George Bush (USA) and Nicholas Sarkozy (France) – are openly preparing a nuclear attack against Iran with the deliberate risk of throwing the world into a nuclear abyss.

Perhaps this other online archive is just a figment of my imagination then, anything seems possible now, but there's a more urgent question on my mind. In the face of such dangerous, well connected and clearly insane enemies, who would be brave enough to fund such a heroic archive of earth-shattering truths?

This online archive has been made possible by the Dr. Rath Health Foundation, a non-profit organization.

Not suprisingly, "Profit Over Life" links directly back to both "Avenue to Life" and "Relay of Life". How long, I'm beginning to wonder, before a certain foundation tries to claim "Life" as a trademark? Only joking, in fact I'm just trying to cover up the intense awe inspired in me by this one man: whether you want to explore both the horror and the humanity during the Holocaust, or destroy the democratic deficit within the EU or uncover the real reason behind the impending (or slightly overdue) nuclear world war, all roads inevitably lead to Rath.

Other links

Here's another of Rath's websites, this time it's not a foundation or initiative but an institute.

And for the sake of balance, here's some of the less glowing interpretations of Matthias Rath's achievements:




In fact, go to any "bad science" blog and you'll probably find a similar, completely justified, display of glee.