Crikey: Contrary to the suggestion in yesterday’s piece “The Newspoll numbers the Australian won’t print” (yesterday, item 2), Crikey now accepts the assurances of The Australian editor in chief Chris Mitchell and Newspoll chief Martin O’Shannessy that after Newspoll conducted polling last weekend that involved the calculation of figures on Federal voting intention, those results were never offered to the paper by Newspoll nor sought and then withheld by The Australian. We apologise for any suggestion that The Australian may have withheld that polling in the interests of furthering a political agenda.

Climate change:

Michael O’Hara writes: Re. “The coalition need Howard’s pragmatism on climate change” (yesterday, item 1). While reading Bernard Keane’s article I was reminded of similar comments following the Republican referendum. Bernard Keane refers to people against climate change as “primarily older, conservative, low-income, poorly-educated voters”. I remember a map shown in media following the referendum that illustrated the demographic correlation between the no-republic vote and areas of low tertiary qualification.

The assumption is, if you disagree with an educated person then you are incapable of balanced judgement and unable to follow sensible decision processes. The referendum didn’t fail because of poorly educated constituents, it failed because not enough work had been done to set out coherent, viable alternatives that could justify a change to the existing system.

It is this kind of intellectual elitism that destroyed what was a very strong move towards becoming an independent country, and it is a roadblock to any positive action on dealing with the issues of climate change. It is only reasonable for people to be cynical towards calls for massive change when there are pitifully few clear pathways of action being presented by their representatives or mainstream commentators.

To date we have all been inundated with arguments that there actually is no climate change; that climate change will be so dramatic that society as we know it will cease to exist; that such a potentially urgent issue can be dealt with by implementing a carbon credit system based on “no change” and that the country’s biggest revenue earner (bad, bad coal) is an evil that must be stopped. Why shouldn’t the average person be cynical?

“Rational argument” fails when a layperson is confronted with daunting statistics, expert studies and shadowy vested interests and ideologies behind them all. In such circumstances, it is logical for the uninformed to sit back and ask that the experts set out the pro’s and con’s and for the politicians to work through the balance of sector versus society impacts, including what is possible and what is not.

The non-expert simply wants to know what changes can be made, that they will be material and effective and how it will impact on them. Until commentators and politicians achieve this there will be no broad consensus — just cynicism on the part of the ‘denialists’ and massive frustration for those concerned about the impact of climate change.

Some in society are not able to give voice to their uncertainty with change but that doesn’t make their caution dumb.

Peter Lloyd writes: Kathryn Mullner (yesterday, comments) asks for evidence of the consensus on climate change. I too wondered about this for a long time. Doing research for someone else, I found this.

Putting aside opinions expressed by people who are, or claim to be, scientists and drilling down to the nitty-gritty: the peer-reviewed scholarly research projects, it is clear that the evidence is indeed overwhelming.

It is a sad indictment of the level of scientific illiteracy in our society that areas where there is no real controversy — evolution is another — are simply churned around in a general state of ignorance.

I blame the fact that there’s been no decent scientific TV since the death of Julius Sumner Miller, the axing of The Curiosity Show, and the effective retirement of Sir David Attenborough.

Charlie McColl writes: What’s with Bob Carter on Four Corners and Bill Kininmonth all over the Weekend Australian‘s sea level rise story? What’s happened to “Australia’s best known geologist”, Professor Ian Plimer?

Referring to his book (p. 311), I note that Plimer can’t explain sea level rise without agreeing to warming. He’d love to find another explanation but it just ain’t there. He seems least uncomfortable with a 2006 Earth and Planetary Science Letters sea level rise figure of 1.4 mm per year comprised of 1.0 mm per year from melting of global land ice reservoirs and 0.4 mm per year from thermal expansion of the oceans.

The reader, sceptic or other, can do the maths. But why did the Weekend Australian have to make a crusty north coast NSW beachcomber look like a mug in budgie smugglers? Why not measure the exact height of the Sydney Harbour Bridge above Mean Sea Level (MSL) and compare today’s numbers with the 80 year old engineering records from the construction site.

Go on! Let’s see what’s really happened to sea levels right in Sydney Harbour.

Simon Mansfield, publisher of TerraDaily.com and SpaceDaily.com, writes: The problem with Clive Hamilton and crew is that they fail to see that their own extremist positions on climate change are simply the mirror to those of the wacky Czech President Vaclav Klaus.

The hard green left is incapable of seeing the irony that in this debate the warmists are as bad as the denialists. Reality will be somewhere in between, and the response will have to be a similar compromise. If global warming is as bad as Clive says it is, then we are going to have to adapt as much as reduce the Co2 impact.

The core problem I have with the dogma of Clive Hamilton and co, is that it ignores the immediate environmental actions we need to take in Australia — that over the long term will have an impact on climate — and that’s water, land and forest management across eastern Australia.

These are the issues impacting us today and which need action today. But instead we are offered endless reruns of the end of civilization mantra and so no one bothers anymore with these boring mundane issues that are our immediate national responsibility to act upon.

The real lesson of the age of enlightenment was that we can redefine a problem and discover and invent entirely new solutions to a problem or need. And for Clive and co to dismiss anyone who does not follow his dogma as been an uneducated dill proves my original point — that Clive Hamilton is as much an obstacle to a solution as Barnaby Joyce is. Both are extremists who should be ignored.

GM corn:

Jack A. Heinemann writes: Re. “GM corn still approved here despite Europe, Kiwi concerns” (yesterday, item 10). I’ve read the story on high lysine corn and wish to enquire what the basis for the label “anti-GM campaigner” was. I am a genetic engineer with an active laboratory using these techniques.

I’ve never been against GM per se, but I have advocated for far higher standards of safety demonstration in food and environment.

Footloose:

Tim Abrahams , Australasian Podiatry Council, writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 8). Yesterday Crikey published the following tip:

Applicants for the CEO role with the Australasian Podiatry Council received the job details along with the comment “Your confidentiality is requested with respect to the content of these documents, as is the confidentiality around your application for the position” — problem was all the people who’d emailed seeking the information on the role were sent the email at once — not BCC’d but all in the “To” section with their names and email addresses for all to see … Oops.

20 applicants were sent an email, not all the applicants (now over 100). When the mistake was realised, and apology email was immediately sent to the same 20 applicants (as a Bcc) within seconds (some one hour after I had made the mistake).

So while still a major ” oops ” on my part, being unprofessional and not respecting the privacy of those 20 people, less than one fifth of applicants is not “all” applicants.

US Health:

Martin Gordon writes: Re “Rundle: a win to Obama, but the Senate battle awaits” (Monday, item 5). The narrow passage of the health bill through the US House of Representatives is remarkable for the extent of division in Democrat support.

A reconciliation between a Senate version which Senators Baucus (Dem) and Grassley (Rep) have worked on which extends coverage, restrains costs and is affordable and the House version will be challenging as Nancy Pelosi seems to be is stupidly partisan.

The irony is that the US could have had a public health system 40 years ago, provided by the Republican the Democrats love to hate Richard Nixon. The obstacle then was Democrat Ted Kennedy, who even himself regretted his short-sighted obstruction.

Now 40 years on, he is dead and the US is still fiddling about on health.

The Great Wall of Rupert:

Don Cummins writes: Re. “Dear Rupert, this is how the internet works. Google it.” (yesterday, item 5). Methinks you obsess too much about Rupert and his firewall around (in this case) the Wall Street Journal.

Did the WSJ (or for that matter any of the economic pundit papers here,) predict the GFC? So what is their value? The fact is that economic commentaries are nearly always “after the fact” explanations and show how long a road is in front of economic theory before it can assume the title of a science.

As for Rupert’s papers in particular and newspapers in general, it is not the changing nature of information delivery which is killing them but rather their content competition. The Melbourne evening Herald died long before the internet and Rupert’s papers are dying — not because the internet is taking his readership — but rather because the content of his papers is so biased and annoying that people stop buying.

We buy Crikey because it has an irreverent, cocky, approach to news which means I might find something in here which shakes me up a bit. If the Herald (or The Australian) still did that I’d still buy it.

The Middle East:

Michael Reich writes: Re. “Times changing rapidly in the Middle East” (yesterday, item 14). Time may be rapidly changing in the Middle East but the one state solution is a throwback to the early part of the last century.

One state solutions were all the rage after World War 1 when the colonial powers were re-drawing the boundaries of many countries in the Middle East and elsewhere. The prevailing philosophy of the time of creating a one state solution that fits all, by simply drawing a boundary that disregards the ethnic make-up of the populations (let the Sunni, Shiites and Kurds etc. sought themselves out) has in retrospect not proved to be a great success.

Similarly the one state solution to the Balkans problem has also been problematic. Bosnia and Kosovo now have majority Muslim populations and, if Loewenstein regards consistency as virtue, he should be agitating for a reunion of these states with Serbia so that the Muslims could then return to their cherished minority status.

The reconstitution of Yugoslavia from its now diverse constituent parts would be an ideal practice run for those whose delusions extend as far as support for a single state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict .

Iraq:

Jim Gobert writes: A recent article in NY Times reminds us of what we fought for in Iraq — to remove the shackles of oppression and liberate the minds of Iraqis so they can be filled with inane drivel like the rest of us.

Major General Jehad al-Jabiri, head of the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior’s General Directorate for Combating Explosives, who apparently claims to know more about bombs than anyone in the world, has ordered bomb detecting divining rods from the UK company Cumberland Industries.

Divining of water, metals and all sorts of other cool stuff is part of Australian bush folklore but such divining has never been proven in any controlled scientific study (Skepdic and the James Randi Educational Foundation have good overviews of divining quackery).

The Iraqi government has purchased some 1500 of these fraudulent products — the Cumberland Industries AED651 series — costing US$16,500 to $60,000 each; replacing sniffer dogs and visual inspection with cutting edge pseudoscientific buffoonery.

The Cumberland Industries website reveals the ADE651 basis:

By programming the detection cards to specifically target a particular substance (through the proprietary process of electrostatic matching of the ionic charge and structure of the substance) the ADE651 will “by pass” all known attempts to conceal the substance…

And claims it will penetrate lead, other metals and concrete. Sales will surely surge once Cumberland Industries receives their Nobel Prize for overthrowing much of modern physics and chemistry.

The divining rod apparently failed on October 25, when terrorists detonated two tons of explosives killing 155 people, undetected by the ADE651 inspection.

Perhaps those injured in such blasts could be treated with medical procedures with the same rigorous scientific basis as these explosives detecting divining rods — such as homeopathy, reiki or aromatherapy.

Slovenia:

Chris O’Regan writes: Re. “Meanwhile in Slovenia … democracy marches eastwards” (yesterday, item 13). Let me get this straight Charles Richardson — there’s no doubt that Slovenians are Slavs because you can’t understand their language? Not to be a pedant but the majority of the world’s population speaks languages that you don’t understand but only about 5% of it are Slavs.

More seriously, I think it’s drawing an extremely long bow to suggest that Australians or West Europeans have, however unconsciously, lumped Slovenians in with Russians in some generic “Slavic” mass. The first point to make is that at no point during Australian history can it be said that there was any form of popular sentiment about Slovenians at all – for the simple reason that most of us had never heard of them.

Secondly, Slovenians themselves have always considered themselves Westerners; Catholics whose formative history was tied up more with the Latin West than the Orthodox/Slav East. To talk about them having a “Slav soul” that in some meaningful way is shared with Russians is rather silly. Does anyone believe that modern Anglo-Australian culture is in any identifiable way “Germanic” as opposed to “Western/European”?

The development (or lack thereof) of democracy in Russia is best understood purely on its own terms, since there are very few countries, in Eastern Europe or elsewhere, to which the political history of Russia has a close parallel. But I hope you did enjoy your holiday.

Croakey:

Ben Harris-Roxas writes: Re. “Crikey costs trimmed, but not the attitude” (Monday, item 17). I was saddened to hear about Crikey deciding to discontinue its support for Croakey, the Crikey health blog. Croakey is probably the best public health blog *in the world*. One needs only look at other well known ones like Effect Measure, The Pump Handle, Global Health Ideas or Booster Shots to recognise that Croakey draws on a much bigger audience of contributors and focuses on real health issues and debates, rather than narrow, discipline-specific issues.

Importantly it provides the only public space where broader public health and primary health issues are debated by different groups. For example, it has been the only place in the media where the implications of the potentially seismic changes recommended by the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission have been discussed at any length. I can’t think where I was get this perspective from if Croakey folds.

Croakey also deals with health as a social, public administration and political issue, rather than the usual lifestyle-supplement and media-release-rehash way that most of the media covers it. It is making a real contribution to the public debate of health issues and you’d be surprised how far its reach goes.

Croakey brought me to Crikey. I tried the free trial a couple of years ago but Guy Rundle and Bernard Keane’s pieces, good though they are, weren’t enough to entice me to subscribe. Thanks to Croakey I now endeavour to read through most of the daily emails and follow most of the Crikey contributors on Twitter.

Crikey represents good value to me as a consumer as it’s news I won’t get elsewhere. If Croakey folds, Crikey won’t become irrelevant to me. It will simply become less valuable.

Elizabeth Harris writes: I was disappointed to read that you will not longer be providing financial support for specific health reporting. My colleagues and I have found the blog and updates provided by Croakey to be very valuable in health fields that are generally under-reported.

As you are aware the next 12 months will see significant changes in the orientation of health services towards prevention and Primary Health Care and the introduction of Primary Health Care Organisations. These changes are far more profound than contemporary reporting would suggest — although some people are starting to think this may not just be talk, e.g., the meeting on SuperClinics. This is likely to increase as the reports are endorsed and acted upon. For example the December COAG meeting is thought to be considering the transfer of aged care and community health services to the states.

I think this is probably not the best time to reduce your investment in independent health, particularly health policy, reporting.

Prostate cancer:

Tony Costello writes: Re. “Nerve-sparing surgery for prostate cancer in trouble” (20 October, item 12). Simon Chapman’s ill informed, over simplified article on the complexity of prostate cancer screening and treatment begs rebuttal. Chapman is a sociologist whose website shows he has expertise in “semiotics of cigarette advertising”. He makes unwarranted attacks on prostate cancer testing and robotic surgical treatment. His website is devoid of demonstratable expertise in prostate cancer issues.

Prostate cancer, the commonest male cancer, kills annually 3000 men in Australia. The number of men needing to be screened to save lives is very similar breast cancer. It is surely better for a man to know his prostate cancer risk and have a diagnosis made so he can tailor a rational approach to therapy or no therapy. Treatment decisions about cancer can only be made once a cancer is diagnosed. To deny a man an opportunity to obtain this information disempowers him.

Chapman’s second assertion is that robotic computer technology is used in prostate cancer surgery for surgeons’ benefit and not patients’ benefit. This based on a single appalling article recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Perhaps a more energetic student could have performed a Medline search and found that there are over 500 articles on the risks and benefits of robotic prostate cancer surgery.

This JAMA article did not even distinguish robotic from keyhole laparoscopic prostate cancer surgery, which is now abandoned. A more rigorous and less tendentious literature search would have unearthed my data on 400 Australian patients which was peer reviewed and published June 2009 in the European Journal of Urology (highest rating urology journal internationally). This showed significantly improved outcomes in the three parameters which count, i.e. cancer control, continence and erectile dysfunction.

The introduction of robotics in urologic and other surgery has brought 10X better vision and digitized hand movements for improved dexterity. This surgery is now extraordinarily safe for patients, requiring only a 24 hour hospital stay, avoids blood transfusion, and returns the man to his employment in two to three weeks.

Maybe we should return to the days of chloroform anaesthesia and large abdominal incisions. There are some self evident truths in medicine which eventually hopefully will dawn on pontificating luddites such as Chapman whose aim seems to keep Australian men in the dark regarding diagnosis and management of their most prevalent cancer.

Pedant’s corner:

Chris Harrison writes: Re. Yesterday’s editorial. You used the phrase “for free” in yesterday’s editorial. The preposition “for” is incorrect and superfluous. “Free” is sufficient. I’ve noticed for some time Crikey writers have been using the phrase more and more, even hardened journalists.

Alas, “for free” is being used increasingly by all media. How about Crikey maintains good grammatical standards?

No, I’m not a pedant. I just like correct grammar.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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