Daily Archives: May 25, 2010

The Madness of Melanie Phillips

So, Dr Andrew Wakefield is now just plain old Andrew Wakefield after being struck off for – in the words of the Telegraph’s Tom Chivers:

[being] one of the principal authors of perhaps the stupidest and most unnecessary health scare of recent Western history… [and] for being “dishonest”, “misleading” and “irresponsible” in his research into the MMR vaccine and its purported links to autism.

If you want a wonderful comic-book account of the whole affair then go here and read this wonderful summary – pay close attention to the role that the media played in hyping up the non-existent link and making measles commonplace once again.

If you’re aware of this story then you’ll be aware of just how completely discredited both Wakefield and his ‘research’ is. You’d also probably expect an author of a book titled ‘The World Turned Upside Down: The Global Battle over God, Truth, and Power’ which is supposedly about our irrationality:

In what we tell ourselves is an age of reason, we are behaving increasingly irrationally. An astonishing number of people subscribe to celebrity endorsed cults, Mayan armageddon prophecies, scientism, and other varieties of new age, anti-enlightenment philosophies. Millions more advance popular conspiracy theories: AIDS was created in a CIA laboratory, Princess Diana was assassinated, and the 9/11 attacks were an inside job.

To be glad that rationality has won the day and Andrew Wakefield has been struck off. However, you then realise that the author of the above book is Melanie Phillips, and she is – for want of a better phrase – absolutely batshit insane. For starters, her book seeks to blame irrationality on:

the slow but steady marginalization of religion. We tell ourselves that faith and reason are incompatible, but the opposite is the case. It was Christianity and the Hebrew Bible, Phillips asserts, that gave us our concepts of reason, progress, and an orderly world on which science and modernity are based.

And that:

Without its religious traditions, the West has drifted into mass derangement where truth and lies, right and wrong, victim and aggressor are all turned upside down. Scientists skeptical of global warming are hounded from their posts, Israel is demonized, and the US is vilified over the war on terror—all on the basis of blatant falsehoods and obscene propaganda.

One imagines that Melanie Phillip’s arguments are undermined somewhat for her track record of drawing vastly different conclusions from the witnessing of any event. Her verdict on Andrew Wakefield being struck off is this short statement utterly bereft of any relationship to reality:

Following the risible kangaroo court set up by the General Medical Council Andrew Wakefield, the doctor at the heart of the MMR controversy, has now been struck off the medical register while his colleagues have yet to learn their own fate. This is a tragedy and a travesty. I believe a monstrous injustice has been done here, which has crucified the one doctor who tried to alleviate and prevent the suffering of a particular group of children and which has also betrayed their parents. The full story of how this sinister travesty was accomplished and the full range of people who were complicit in it — along with what it means for both medicine and public safety — has yet to be revealed. Over time, I hope this will eventually be achieved.

I’d suggest after reading the above statement we could all be justifiably skeptical that Melanie Phillips has anything rational to add to the topics of global warming, Israel and the war on terror. The worst thing is that this isn’t out of character for Melanie at all, she has a proud record of arguing ridiculous points.

Like, for example, claiming that the BBC’s decision to sack Carol Thatcher for her racist remark was:

a chilling insight into the totalitarian universe of the closed BBC mind… If the BBC had intended to convince the public that it had departed altogether from reality and common sense and resided instead in some alternative Stalinist universe, it could hardly have done a better job

Or, for example, claiming that a 13 year old father (who turned out in the end not to even be the father):

vividly reveals how our children are being abandoned and betrayed… And we all know why this is. A sexual free-for-all legitimated by the mantra of ‘lifestyle choice’, promoted from the top by narcissistic liberals and funded at the bottom by welfare benefits, has caused a catastrophic rate of family breakdown and fragmentation which is now repeating itself in an endless generational cycle

Or, for example, claiming that the increased deposits in sharia banking in the UK means that those banks accepting deposits are:

effectively endors[ing] the extremist ideology behind it of conquering the west for Islam

Or, for example, claiming that recent teenage pregnancy figures are evidence (even though with one odd exception teenage pregnancy rates are falling year-on-year) that:

Labour is doing nothing less than trying to reshape the sexual and moral behaviour of an entire society

Or, for example, equating a nurse being suspended for praying at work and a ‘private remark’ (what, it never left the confines of her head?) made by Carol Thatcher being reported with the UK:

sliding inexorably into a culture of control which would have been very familiar to the Stasi or the KGB

Or, for example, how turning away a slightly batty Dutch MP was a sign that Britain is:

sleepwalking towards cultural suicide… If anyone had doubted the extent to which Britain has capitulated to Islamic terror, the banning of Geert Wilders should surely open their eyes

If, after all this, you still think Melanie Phillips has anything sane or rational to add to any debate, then I’d politely suggest that you’re a bit mad as well.

The PCC Idea of ‘Resolved Complaints’

Looking through the Press Complaints Commission’s recently resolved complaints you become aware of just how unsatisfactory such resolutions often are for the complainant. The PCC and editors seem to think it is enough to merely remove offending articles, rather than actually attempt to offer any kind of redress or explanation.

Take the example of teacher Michelle Smith who complained to the PCC that the Daily Mail had:

published a story about a personal photograph that was uploaded to her school’s website by mistake. She said the article contained inaccuracies and was generally misleading to readers as it failed to explain the full circumstances behind the taking of the photograph

This complaint was resolved – according to the PCC – ‘when the newspaper removed the online article and photograph’. No mention of investigating the inaccuracies, no right of reply for the victim, merely the removal of the article. Is this really satisfactory? If you search for ‘teacher Michelle Smith’ on Google you can still find the outraged headlines from both the Daily Mail and The Sun (to whom Michelle Smith also successfully complained), complete with the first paragraph of each article. Should you then click on the link to either the Daily Mail article or The Sun article you end up with a 404 error page, stating that the content is no longer there.

You do not get informed that the article has been removed following an upheld complaint made to the PCC. You are not informed of why the offending article has been removed, nor given the right of reply from the victim. You merely end up with the conclusion that the page has been mislaid, rather than purposefully removed because of shoddy journalism.

Next up Amanda Platell writes the following about Heather Mills in November:

Why does she roll up one trouser leg to show her prosthetic limb, yet leaves the other one covered? Not still milking the sympathy vote, are we pet?”

Luckily Heather Mills was able to issue a response through other media outlets to this question:

“She says I kept my trouser leg rolled up to show off my prosthetic, UNTRUE, It was rolled up so Bob Watts the prosthetic could see the alignment and work out why i could not do crossovers without catching my blade and falling over.

“If the lazy woman did her homework she would understand how near impossible it is to skate with one limb to raise money for a needy charity programme.

“And she would know this was a private lesson, no cameras allowed, someone obviously sneaked a pic and she presumes the worst, how about a face to face Ms Platell?”

But even so, how many Daily Mail readers would have found this alternative media response, seeing as it was not covered in the Mail? The PCC say the issue was resolved when the Mail removed the offending article from its website and ‘sent a private letter of regret to the complainant’. Why is it that a public entity like a newspaper is allowed to apologise in private? Why was Amanda Platell not publicly rebuked for such a malicious, pathetic and completely untrue swipe at someone?

Organisations also receive the same treatment. Wellington College complained about Daily Mail coverage of an alleged assault at the college, claiming it was ‘inaccurate and misleading’. Again, rather than attempt to investigate and if necessary correct the coverage, they simply removed it from their website and ‘marked its cuttings library to ensure that there would be no future reference to it’. Is this really enough? To not publicly acknowledge the removal of an article gives the Daily Mail readership the impression that the Daily Mail is largely infallible as a source of news. In reality, things are very different, but you’ll only know that if you spend your time trawling the PCC website looking at just how many articles are removed without any sound at all from the Mail website. No explanation, no apology, no right to reply. The inaccuracies of purposeful misleading of its readership just disappears into the void.

It also again raises the issue of just why should editors bother to adhere to the PCC Editor’s code of practice, when the only result of publishing inaccurate articles is their quiet removal from the website? The original article still scored Internet traffic and raised advertising revenue, essentially archived content of low level attraction such as the above stories have no revenue value to the Daily Mail, so all the PCC really achieve is helping the Daily Mail prune past stories from their website.

It has been suggested by the excellent Mediawise (more about them will be appearing on this blog in the next few weeks) that newspapers should have dedicated places to post details of PCC rulings / resolved complaints etc against them, both online and in print editions, so that readers can readily find out what their newspaper has been up to recently. This seems more than reasonable and that editors do not voluntarily do this demonstrates still further how utterly unwilling the press actually is to even get into the spirit of self-regulation.