Sunday, 29 August 2010

The Week in Tinfoil : Conspiracy Theory News in the UK, Aug 22-29 2010

...being a rundown of recent news stories involving allegations of conspiratorial behaviour, and of 'conspiracy theorising'. Maybe not the best day to do it, since I haven't had a chance to check all the Sunday papers, but still. I'm thinking Faraday Sunday might become a regular feature.

I'm hoping commenters can point out any errors or omissions; if so, I'll update appropriately.

Spurious Retraction Syndrome (or: do you really want to say it's straight out of a textbook?): Dr Hunt on Dr Kelly

There have been a few remarks about recent statements in the press by one of the pathologists in the Kelly case, Nicholas Hunt. Unfortunately Hunt chose the Sunday Times to speak to, so the first edit of his interview is behind the Murdoch paywall. angrysoba provided this excerpt from the Mail:

Dr Hunt says he found up to a dozen cuts on Dr Kelly's wrist, each around 2in to 3in long, one of which opened the ulnar artery. 'Some cuts were very shallow, some were deeper and deeper, which is typical of someone feeling their way. You have a knife, apply light pressure and realise that it actually takes a bit more effort and you get more bold as your resolve increases. It's one of the classic features of self-inflicted injury.' He adds that there was clear evidence Dr Kelly repeatedly dislodged clots or scabs to ensure he continued bleeding. 'His wrist was red so he must have been doing this for some time.'

which is notable for the fact that Hunt says some cuts were shallow, others 'deeper and deeper', thus implying what appears pretty implausible: that he was able to observe the order in which the cuts were made. Of course, the multiple cuts tend to indicate a suicide and progressively deeper cuts - but it's just a small example of the importation of conclusions into descriptions of data (see 'read-ahead', below).

A few other points:

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Piss, Wind and Twittery: Aaronovitch lashes out

More Twittering from Aaronovitch in the last hour or so, in reply to an interlocutor called Bensix. (I've removed all the twittery bits, placed 'tweets' in order, and joined them where they are clearly intended to be continuous):

BENSIX: Tim Wilkinson vs. @DAaronovitch...

DA: Yes, I particularly like the bit where Wilkinson suggests that Tom Mangold is a security service agent. Thanks for the spot.

Aaronovitch twitters, the world titters: more on David Kelly

Aaronovitch twitters:

Have just noticed that the police off. whose 'revelations' on Kelly were written up as new in Mail, had said it all in testimony to Hutton.

DC Coe's Evidence is easy to check- it takes just over 4 pages of the 112 generated by a 2¾-hour session, which I calculate to represent about five or six minutes.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Piss and Wind: David Aaronovitch on the death of David Kelly

…in Saturday’s Times (August 14, 2010)

There is no mystery over David Kelly's death proclaims the headline. Well, in one sense you might say that: no mystery, no esoteric ineffables, no transcendent unknown. Of course that is not the sense in which the headline is supposed to be taken – not officially – but it sounds a lot more plausible than ‘no room for doubt’, ‘no stone left unturned’ or ‘no unresolved issues’.

Because whether or not the uncritical reader might assent to the absence of ‘mystery’, there remains the small matter of a suspicious death and a flagrant failure to investigate it. There’s a stiltedness about ‘no mystery over’, too, perhaps suggesting that ‘mystery’ might have been substituted for some other word – but it's a bit early for idle speculation.

The lead line summarises Aaronovitch’s argument admirably:

A body, a knife, pills, a cut wrist - conspiracy theorists and campaigning doctors must accept the truth

Simple, hardheaded and tinfoil-free. No brains falling out of too-open minds here. Simple, like a stick figure.

A principle of simplicity in explanation is all very well as a tie-breaker between otherwise equivalent propositions, though its status is as much a matter of convenience as anything, and it is in practice irrelevant outside philosophical ontology and the most abstract reaches of theoretical science. Aaronovitch’s approach is more radical – simplicity of explanation actually justifies ending empirical inquiry, even dismissing great swathes of information. The difficult and complex data - the shading and sketchmarks that crowd Aaronovitch's stick figure - are banished, wiped away by a powerful new implement - Occam’s Eraser.

Every six months or so since 2004, a group of doctors or "medical experts" has written to the newspapers calling, in effect, for a new inquest into the death of Dr David Kelly, who died seven years ago this summer. Yesterday's letter in The Times, which received significant coverage, was different in so far as the names were mostly new, and the qualifications were more relevant. The content, however, was much the same.

Aaronovitch must get a really good discount on scare-quotes. I haven't been following the letters pages, but I doubt very much that Aaronovitch can produce an instance of a false claim to medical expertise. On the contrary, all those I've heard expressing doubt of the official narrative on medical grounds have been careful not to misrepresent their expertise, for example the first paramedics on the scene: "we're not medical experts. All we commented on was the amount of blood…"

Note "calling, in effect [i.e. not actually] for a new inquest": there was no inquest. By a peculiar and highly irregular process, the original inquest was adjourned since it was to await the outcome of the Hutton inquiry. This was odd since the relevant provision (the Coroners Act 1988 s17A(1)) was intended for mass deaths, and previous invocations had always been accompanied by a proper statutory public inquiry, not some half-baked setup like the Hutton job. In fact the coroner initially expressed what appeared to be disquiet at the informal nature of the proposed inquiry, in particular the lack of essential subpoena powers. Further, Hutton's terms of reference (‘circumstances surrounding the death’) seemed designed to look at anything but the matter in hand, which is indeed what it did, being largely a vehicle for Alistair Campbell to fuck (as he would say) the BBC.

But the key to the Hutton stitch-up was a really flagrant move: the inquest, having been adjourned pending the outcome of the inquiry, was reopened and the coroner leant on to perform the most cursory - token – inquiry, which was for all practical purposes conducted in secrecy. It was from this hurried and clearly inadequate source that a final death certificate emanated, which was then treated by Hutton as establishing suicide.