Sunday, July 17, 2005

No Platform for Fascists? 

Other filthy Guardian readers will have noticed a 'sassy' article by trainee journalist Dilapzier Aslam in last Wendesday's Grauniad. Well, it turns out that young Dilpazier is a member of fascist organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir, which believes in the formation of a global caliphate state and at least two of the 7th July suicide bombers had associations with it. HuT are banned in Germany, Holland, Turkey, Syria and just about every other country they operate in. HuT have also been banned from taking part in the UK Students' Union movement for at least a decade - I remember they were used by the SDLP as a justification for keeping Sinn Féin banned in Queen's Students Union back in those days.
The Guardian are defending Aslam on the basis that HuT are not banned in the UK. The BNP are also not banned in the UK, but they have views roughly as unsavoury as HuT's and I don't see the Guardian appointing a BNP member journalist somehow.
One thought, however. Do you remember when the Socialist Workers' Party would leap around with 'No Platform for Fascists' and 'Sack this Nazi' banners everytime some fruitcake Hitler-worshipper got a job somewhere or was allowed to speak on a platform? Does anyone fancy picketing the Guardian's offices with those very same placards? Just a thought...

Saturday, July 16, 2005

A Truly Appalling Vista 

People with long memories will recall the decision of Lord Denning in deciding to ignore evidence that the Birmingham Six had been both beaten up and stitched up by the West Midlands police, when he famously said were the police to be found guilty of beating up the Birmingham Six in custody, it would open up an 'appalling vista'. An appalling vista where people might realise that sometimes that some policemen, on occasions, lied, cheated and tortured. To Denning that was a considerably greater evil than allowing people to rot in prison for years for crimes they didn't commit. It was the classic remark of someone for whom defending the establishment - or in any case his establishment of small town lower-middle class England - was more important than justice.

This crossed my mind when reading The Lancet's reaction to the Roy Meadow case. The Lancet feels that Denning's referral to the GMC 'should never have taken place' based on the evidence of the Sally Clark trial and the two appeals.

OK, let's be very clear about what Roy Meadow did at Sally Clark's trial. Roy Meadow said that there was a 1 in 73 million chance of a second natural cot death in a family the Clarks' socio-economic background dying naturally of cot death. His sums were a bit wrong. The actual probability is 1 in 77. Only out by a factor of a million or so...

Let's not forget the other people whose lives were ruined - Donna Anthony, Angela Cannings, Trupti Patel, not to mention the 5,000 or so children taken away from their families and put up for adoption because of misdiagnosised suspicions about cot death. Let's not forget that much of this misdiagnosis came because of misplaced fears about the spurious "Munchausen's Syndrome By Proxy", a syndrome discovered by Meadow and for whose acceptance he vigorously evangelised. Let's not forget how much that has contributed to the current culture in this country where adults are almost expected to want to do harm to children.

But The Lancet doesn't think any of this amounts to serious professional misconduct. I mean, like, what the hell would amount to serious professional misconduct, then?

But the fascinating thing is that they don't dispute any of the facts of the case. They worry instead that it could bring the system down, just like Denning did.

I'd say a child protection system that takes 5,000 kids away from their families for no reason is doing the exact opposite of what it's supposed to do. I'd say a judicial system that sends people to prison on the basis of uncorroborated 'expert' evidence needs a good boot up the backside. And to me that presents a truly appalling vista.

(PS - don't you think Richard Orton The Lancet's editor who fancies himself as a bit of a controversialst would have learned something from his role in the Andrew Wakefield MMR scandal?)

Why the experts aren't always right 

When somebody suggests that a debate ona given issue isn't needed because the 'experts' are all agreed, I suggest you refer them to this 1999 BBC News story on Professor Sir Roy Meadow's 'discovery' that cot death was a big scam to cover up widespread child abuse. Utterly fawning coverage by the BBC, which was to be fair only reflective of the general tenor of coverage at the time, both in the lay and the medical media. Why was he believed for so long?

Why did he do it? Did he just like being on TV a lot? Or did he really believe what too many of us believe, which is that many, maybe most adults, are out to harm children in some ways?

I'd like to think some good would come from this tragedy. I'd like to think that the families who had their lives destroyed to validate somebody's crackpot theories didn't suffer for no reason. But nobody wants to learn the lessons of this case because that might involve us asking ourselves some deep questions about the paranoid, negative, hypocondriac society we've created for ourselves. If an 'expert' tells us we're doing something bad, or there's some massive, dark, hidden tragedy unfolding which only they can see, then we're only too quick to believe.

I'll tell you one thing, it was Roy Meadow, and not the women whose lives he ruined, who shared personality traits with Baron Munchausen.

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