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Evil Systems vs. Evil Individuals

By Sara Scarlett
October 2nd, 2014 at 4:30 pm | No Comments | Posted in BBC, Crime

Another day, another war and I’ve been thinking a lot lately about evil systems versus evil individuals. When it comes to doing evil, individuals that carry out, or are perceived to be carrying out, evils are more readily demonized than systems that carry out larger evils. Take, for example, Hitler versus the Soviet Union. Despite the number of dead in the Soviet Union surpassing the number of dead in Nazi Germany, Hitler is demonized in a way that the Soviet Union is not. I’ve often wondered why this is. Could it be that the qualitative nature of Hitler’s actions were more evil than the nature of the Soviet Unions actions? I don’t think that passes scrutiny. The qualitative nature of the Holodomor is just as horrific, in it’s own way, as the Holocaust was. The only difference is responsibility for the Holocaust is pinned on one individual and the responsibility for the Holodomor is pinned on the Soviet Union, a system, rather than just Stalin.

I get the sense that the international community is more eager to chase down evil individuals than evil systems. Even on a state-level, we are far more eager to chase down individuals rather than reform rotten systems. That’s been shown to be true especially in the wake of the historic sex offence scandals. Individuals are demonised in the national papers in a way that rotten systems rarely are. It’s a cop out. It’s just easier that way but what’s easiest is rarely what’s right.

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Hat tip: “Bias at the Beeb?”

By Editor
August 16th, 2013 at 12:30 pm | No Comments | Posted in BBC

Hat tip: Here is a very interesting report compiled by the Centre for Policy Studies looking at BBC online reporting of think tanks. The report appears robust, relying on objective quantitative methods to examine reporting slant.

And the results are pretty conclusive. BBC bias is there for all to see.

If you are a left-leaning think tank you are more likely to be reported without qualification or described by the BBC as “independent”;  if you are a right-leaning think tank then you are much more likely to receive a “health warning” ( an indicator of the think-tanks ideological viewpoint e.g “right of centre think tank Y”).

The report also finds that coverage in The Guardian is a much stronger predictor of coverage by the BBC than is coverage in The Daily Telegraph. (That might be explained by just how many Guardian newspapers the BBC purchases).

The findings and conclusions are not new. But the approach taken by the author of this report appears to be far less subjective than previous studies, making these findings much more compelling.

Of course at face value there is a bit of a “so what?” about it. As the CPS recognises “…who, apart from the think-tanks themselves, really cares if the IPPR is more likely to be referred to as “independent” than the Centre for Policy Studies?” But issue here is that these findings could well be indicative of a much wider problem in areas of BBC reporting where slant is harder to measure. That should set a lot of people thinking.

If you find yourself with time over the weekend, this 14 page report is well worth a read.

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The BBC: Taxation Without Representation

By Sara Scarlett
July 2nd, 2013 at 10:29 pm | No Comments | Posted in BBC

Another day, another BBC scandal. Other than the enormous payoffs to axed staff there is also the small matter that the BBC has wasted £300 million on the failed digital archive and huge logistical misjudgements like moving to Salford and the handling of the new HQ. Despite my criticism of the Beeb, I have to admit that I love the BBC. What makes me so unhappy is that £300 million could have bought a lot of the quality programming that I love and, instead, it was frittered away.

The BBC is funded by a tax in all but name yet we really only have a slight and indirect democratic say on monumental decisions like said move to Salford a.k.a. the bane of every talking heads life. I have previously commented on this blog that the BBC should be turned into a cooperative rather than simply sold off piece by piece. Even if this idea never happens, isn’t it right to ask for a little democratic say in the BBC?

In it’s current form the BBC is taxation without representation. The eagerness of the BBC to squander this type of money is deeply worrying and because of this big logistical decisions should be put to a ballot. Taxation of this magnitude should not come without any democratic accountability in a modern, free society.

Why I Hate ‘Neutral’ News

By Sara Scarlett
May 7th, 2013 at 10:05 am | No Comments | Posted in BBC, News

I hate ‘neutral’ news outlets and yet they don’t exist.

That’s because every news outlet has a bias. That is inevitable. The only news outlet that comes even near to having no bias is Drudge Report and let’s face, it’s not a text heavy site…

News doesn’t have to be neutral any longer. We don’t all get our news from the same 2 or 3 radio or TV channels anymore. We pick and choose from hundreds of thousands of web, tv and radio outlets and gravitate to the ones that fit our innate bias and preferences.  We like having our own prejudices reaffirmed.

Because of this, I would argue that it would be better if news outlets just stopped trying to be neutral. BBC News has a bias and because they think they’re not biased, they’ve ended up with a bias they’re not aware of. This vexes me so much more than outlets who have biases I don’t agree with.

The Daily Mail and Fox News are unabashed about having a bias and they do what they do very well. They are incredibly good at engaging the people who consume news from them. These individuals return again and again to their outlets. It appears to me that the reason Fox News became as aggressive as it is was because other news outlets were so adamantly calling themselves neutral when they weren’t. Most journalists in the US are liberal arts graduates, have a moderate liberal bias and, until the inception of Fox News, lacked seemingly all introspective analysis.

I think the reason deliberately biased outlets work so well is because admitting your bias gives you freedom. If I were told to write a neutral article on China’s ‘one child’ policy it would be a lot harder to write than if I wrote an article on China’s ‘one child’ policy with my own bias (I think it’s abhorrent, if you were wondering…).

We’ve got to stop thinking of bias as a dirty word. Bias used to be synonymous with poor quality but I don’t know if that has ever truly been the case. Jezebel has a strong liberal (US) bias but it’s content is usually incredibly novel and high quality. BBC News has a liberal bias and it’s decline is painful to watch… Channel 4 News is similarly biased and is increasingly impressing me with it’s depth and quality. The Times and The Sun are both owned by the same owner, both hold a right-leaning bias but are of noticeably different qualities.

If you’re not neutral don’t pretend to be. Forgo the pretense and strive for quality.

Minimum pricing – policy based evidence

By Guest
November 28th, 2012 at 9:42 pm | No Comments | Posted in BBC, health, pseudo science

Based on the output of the English media, one could be forgiven for not having noticed that Scottish ministers appear to have shelved minimum alcohol pricing ostensibly due to legal challenges. It will be unfortunate if minimum pricing is shelved solely on the basis of illegality because the lessons to be learned from the attempts to justify it via policy based evidence will then once again go unheeded.

We hear much talk of evidence based public health policy these days but what we actually get is “evidence” concocted to suit policy. The public health industry seems utterly incapable of delivering honest, objective, scientific evidence and the media contributes to the problem through lazy uncritical reporting combined with establishment bias. This was typified by the BBCs response to being caught out making wild claims about the number of lives minimum pricing would “save” amongst pensioners.  Rather than investigate the obviously questionable reliability of its source, the BBC simply accepted a lower but no more credible number.

The BBCs source was The University of Sheffield, which has now received involuntary taxpayer funding from two governments and a public broadcaster. On each occasion the motive has been the gathering of policy based evidence and it appears that neither the politicians nor the media appear to care how dubious the quality of that evidence is provided that it suits their purpose.

Petr Skrabanek in his 1994 work The Death of Humane Medicine cited Nobel laureate Irving Langmuir from 1953 when making a case against the “science” that underpins public health. He wrote that it “accepts evidence not according to its quality but according to its conformity with a foregone conclusion”. It seems that his wise observations have been ignored because the ersatz science that provides the “evidence” for policy interventions is nowadays more prevalent than ever. The University of Sheffield study provides a classic  example of this anti-science in which every supportive scrap of data, however poor in quality  is treated as “conclusive” or adding to a “growing body of evidence” and every contradictory piece as “flawed”, “controversial” or “in need of further research”.  Evidence at odds with the authors’ predetermined conclusions is often simply ignored. Take for example evidence statement 13:

“There is consistent evidence to suggest that alcohol consumption is associated with substantially increased risks of all-cause mortality even in people drinking lower than recommended limits, and especially among younger people. High levels of alcohol consumption have detrimental effects. The evidence is more equivocal, however, where it relates to establishing cut-off points for lower risk versus harmful levels of consumption. There is an ongoing controversy as to whether or not there are beneficial (cardio-protective) effects at low levels of alcohol consumption.”

This statement is an extremely misleading interpretation of the available evidence. There is no excuse for this form of words appearing in a document paid for by public funds and intended to guide politicians who are not versed in the subtleties of public health disingenuity. Hiding behind theoretical and contestable risk factors, the authors peddle the scientifically improbable but politically powerful concept of “no safe level” whilst ignoring a large body of evidence showing teetotallers to have lower life expectancy than moderate drinkers.  I could write extensively about the “controversy” they refer to but Christopher Snowdon already covered it in some detail.

Unfortunately this is not an isolated example in a production that goes to extraordinary lengths to provide policy based evidence.  The other “evidence” statements display a similar lack of objectivity and, despite using the Household Survey data provided by the ONS as a basis for much of their modelling, the authors ignore it when considering consumption at the population level.  They open their section on areas for possible future research (and of course more taxpayer funding) with the typically convoluted sentence:

Given the trends in consumption over the past ten years it is unlikely that a ‘do nothing’ policy would result in no change to the consumption of alcohol in the population.

It is hard to tell, but I think that they are trying to say that consumption is trending up so government MUST act. This is a remarkably inept statement to make in the middle of a trend that, according to the ONS has seen household consumption decline by 20% in a decade without any significant government intervention.

I find it hard to understand why politicians continue to pay homage to what Skrabanek described as healthism despite the huge flaws in the “evidence” that underpins it being repeatedly exposed. Perhaps Skrabanek gives some insight into the reasons when he writes:

Politicians find the facile rhetoric of healthism rewarding. It increases their popularity at no cost, and it enhances their power to control the population. It meets no resistance from the opposition, who promise to improve the ‘health of the nation’ even more.

Robin Fox, former editor of The Lancet describes Skrabanek as a “humorous man of immense culture and learning” in the Preface to The Death of Humane Medicine and despite not completely agreeing with Skrabanek’s pessimism, goes on to add that he “speaks many truths that we should heed”. I cannot help but feel that the world would be a better place if politicians, journalists and others did heed the words of this humorous, cultured medical man above the strident clamour of the health zealots. After all, without aggressive healthism there would be no need to insult our intelligence with pseudo-scientific policy based evidence and I sincerely doubt that the public would bemoan redundancies amongst the social “scientists”, non-practicing medics and psychologists who contribute to its socially divisive message. I doubt that these commenters on the BBC’s umpteenth plug for minimum pricing would mind at all:

For anyone who empathizes with Bauer and /or who is interested in a more liberal and less miserable future I recommend reading Skrabanek’s book which can be downloaded for free here.

By Chris Oakley. Chris’ previous posts on Liberal Vision include:  Alcohol is Old News – Minimum Pricing for Digestives is the “Next Logical Step” , Soviet Style Alcohol Suppression Campaign Called for By Public Health Activists , Alcohol Taxation: The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth Lies, damn lies, statistics &…

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