Facetious jests … it’s about all these drug ‘experts’ are good for

A veritable potpourri of negativity today from Peter Hitchens. Take this, on the Bafta winning Brit-flick Slumdog Millionaire:

“Be warned. This is not a ‘feelgood’ film and should never have been sold as one.”

Which is quite a claim for someone who hasn’t seen the film, advised by people who haven’t seen the whole film. I would heartily recommend to anyone thinking of going to see a film that they check with the BBFC – the British Board of Film Classification – before they go. Had Peter’s correspondents done so, they would have discovered the reason why the film has been given a 15 certificate (SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE is a drama about a young street lad who wins the Mumbai version of ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’. It has been classified ’15’ for strong language and violence. “), and might have been less surprised by the strong language and violence they saw. They might not have liked it any more, but it’s probably better to inform yourself and decide not to see a movie than it is to go in ignorant and leave less than half-way through, deciding on the basis of the bit you’ve seen what the general feel of the film is.

Talking of ignorance:

“I’m quite prepared to consider the possibility that his [Darwin’s] theory (welcomed by all kinds of nasty people because it licensed their genocidal projects or freed them from guilt) may conceivably be true. But I do get tired of bossy people ordering me to believe in it. I also get cross when I’m told by Darwinist bigots that if I dare to doubt Darwin, then I must believe in the literal truth of the Bible. I don’t. Like everyone else, I have no idea how the realm of Nature took its present form.”

A couple of things strike me about this. Once more it seems I have missed one of the dictatorial memos that so circumscribe poor Peter’s life – I can’t recall ever having been ordered to belief in the literal truth of the Theory of Evolution. However, if forced to choose between a viable, evidence-based theory which is central to our understanding of molecular biology, genetics, epidemiology, conservation biology, horticulture, biogeography and many if not all other areas of the applied biological sciences and any other theory, I know which one I would opt for. Given that we can observe evolution in cell cultures, so can be absolutely certain in individual cases how Nature (sic) took its current form, I think we can fairly safely claim knowledge in general. Peter is right that refusing to accept Darwin’s theory as correct does not leave him obliged to accept Biblical literalism as the only alternative, but I would be more comfortable with Lamarkism¹ than with his professed gleeful obtuseness. It’s one thing to say the Earth is flat, quite another to say that the evidence doesn’t allow you to call the debate either way.

Just to round things off, how does that brave defence of open-mindedness sit next to this:

“That’s the reason for his [Professor David Nutt, Charmian of the Government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs] babyish scribbling, facetiously comparing people who swallow poisonous Ecstasy tablets with people who ride horses. … Anyone who thinks this is a subject for facetious jests ought, in my view, to go to Hell.”

It’s worth remembering that the comments Peter objects to are the evidence-based position of a Government appointed expert and leader in his field, made in a peer-reviewed academic journal. Peter’s not quite ordering the scientific community to believe in his position, but if discussing risk now merits eternal punishment he’s not offering much of a choice. I realise it must be hard to be consistent across two separate 100-word mini-articles, especially on a weekend, but it’d be nice if Peter could be inconsistent without being rude.


¹ Sorry, sneakily corrected a typo yesterday without flagging it up, and have felt a little guilty ever since. This was originally spelt ‘Lemarkism’, which is wrong. Apologies for the error, and for trying to correct it on the sly.


Strange Ontology: Week beginning 9th February 2009

Original research

9th February

Smoking cannabis ‘increases the risk of aggressive testicular cancer’

A report on: Daling et al. (2009) Association of marijuana use and the incidence of testicular germ cell tumors Cancer doi: 10.1002/cncr.24159

10th February

Vitamin pills ‘won’t make you live longer’, study reveals

A report on:Neuhouser et al. (2009) Multivitamin Use and Risk of Cancer and Cardiovascular Disease in the Women’s Health Initiative Cohorts Archives of Internal Medicine 169:294-304

11th February

New test offers fresh hope in fight against prostate cancer

A report on: Scher et al. (2009) Circulating tumour cells as prognostic markers in progressive, castration-resistant prostate cancer: a reanalysis of IMMC38 trial data The Lancet Oncology doi:10.1016/S1470-2045(08)70340-1

12th February

How walking can cut your risk of colon cancer by 25 per cent

A report on: Wolin, Yan, Colditz and Lee (2009) Physical activity and colon cancer prevention: a meta-analysis British Journal of Cancer doi: 10.1038/sj.bjc.6604917

Breast cancer rates drop as women turn their backs on HRT

A report on: Parking (2009) Is the recent fall in incidence of post-menopausal breast cancer in UK related to changes in use of hormone replacement therapy? European Journal of Cancer doi:10.1016/j.ejca.2009.01.016

Causes in brief

10th February

Boy with baffling illness so rare it does not have a name is cured by his PARENTS

“‘There are about 100 children suffering from DBA [Diamond Blackfan Anaemia] in the UK, and one of the features of this condition is that they have a great risk of developing cancer, particularly leukaemia and bone cancer but also many other cancers.”

Just one carrot could change a tubby child’s life

“Obesity leads to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer and unhappiness.”

Children as young as 10 offered shopping vouchers to give up smoking

“The campaign group [Ash] welcomed the voucher scheme, with a spokesman insisting: ‘Although it is encouraging that smoking rates are going down with youngsters the younger the person taking up smoking the higher the risk of disease such as lung cancer.”

11th February

Indian inventors create a ‘healthy’ soft drink… made from cows’ urine

“The cow is sacred to Hindus and the RSS [‘Hindunationalist’ organisation] has already promoted its urine as a cure for everything from liver disease to cancer.”

13th February

She was fat, facing 40 and wanted her husband to fancy her again. So how did Rachel turn her life around in three months?

“As the doctor explains that the fat I’m carrying around my middle (my waist is 36in) is potentially life-threatening, I feel sick with worry. It seems your waist is the most dangerous place to carry fat, because it can eventually fur up your vital organs, causing diseases such as diabetes and cancer.”

14th February

‘Will you marry me?’ asks Jack, as Jade Goody is told she has only months to live

“Only 15 per cent to 30 per cent of women with stage 4 cervical cancer will live longer than five years.”