Episode 59 – 12th November 2010


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Twitter Joke Trial Implications (1:25) by James Firth
Leo Behe Interview (6:22) by Salim Fadhley
Remembrance Day (14:46) by Pete Hague
Response to Pete (21:54) by Liz Lutegendorff
Starwisp (26:18) by Sean Ellis
Defending Big Pharma (33:09) by Adam Jacobs

Follow-up links:

33 thoughts on “Episode 59 – 12th November 2010

  1. I agree with Liz – as a borderline pacifist and certainly not a nationalist I still wear a poppy to remember the sacrifices in Europe – a reminder that war is sometimes unavoidable.

    Also I wear a poppy to support the servicemen. It’s not their fault that governments might chose to fight unjust or misguided wars. It would be extremely illiberal to hold a decision a soldier made as young as 17 – to join up – against them as they leave the army physically or mentally scarred after enforcing the will of the government of the day.

    Also I don’t see remembrance as mutually exclusive with other campaigns, such as ending child poverty or preventing western armies causing undue civilian death tolls in overseas war, but it’s a fair point that these causes get less coverage than remembrance.

    I can wear a poppy to remember all casualties and sacrifices whilst taking my concerns about the legality and justness of war to the people who lead us into these wars.

    Call me naive but my poppy doesn’t yell “I heart the British war machine!” It is a subtle acknowledgement of the complex nature of war and sacrifice.

    Besides, if the centre ground abandons the poppy it would become the preserve of the nationalists.

    I guess what I’m saying is that if you want to make the poppy a symbol of the far right, you can make it so by painting it a symbol of the far right. Which it’s not.

  2. Liz, James, thanks for the responses.

    Liz: I don’t disagree with the mission of the British Legion – caring for former soldiers in its itself a worthy thing – my concern is with the media culture surrounding the poppy, and the use of it as propaganda by the very same government that sends young men to war and then fails to properly support them and their families once they are no use to the state.

    James: Given your statement, why not wear a white poppy instead?

  3. Pete,

    RE:Media Racism, did you not see the days of extended coverage given to the boxing day tsunami or the more recent floods in Pakistan?

  4. I see a white poppy as a bit of a fudge, since like Liz explained in her report the red poppy was never intended to be about war, but sacrifice, with its heritage helping to support returning servicemen and the flower chosen as the plant which grew on the grave of the dead.

    If as I do one doesn’t fundamentally see the poppy as a symbol of war, rather as a symbol of the effects of war, then there’s no problem wearing a red poppy in the first place.

  5. Nick: The coverage of these events is absolutely dwarfed by the coverage of 9/11. Hell, its absolutely dwarfed by the coverage of Jade Goody’s illness and death. Even if you consider the latter as some noble attempt to put a human face on cancer – its still showing the same kind of bias I am talking about.

    James: Well we will have to disagree on what it symbolises then. This is a hazard of mass deployment of symbols, they will always mean different things to different people and thus not convey a consistent message.

  6. Pete: True, but then most scientific stories are dwarfed by the coverage given to Jade Goody. Also, despite being dwarfed by 9/11, the coverage given to the Pakistan Floods still dwarfs many ongoing situations closer to home, such as the plight of many of Britain’s homeless (particularly at this time of year.) Furthermore, its just as easy for ethnic minorities to get the kind of senseless media coverage given to Jade – just look at the likes of Ashley Cole. The race card just feels cheap, and doesn’t really get to the heart of the issue.

  7. I really enjoyed both Pete and Liz’s contributions and could see the points on both sides. One aspect that wasn’t mentioned is servicemen and women who signed up after 2002, when it was obvious they would be deployed in Afghanistan or Iraq. I have a lot of sympathy for conscripts forced to fight in world wars, national service youngsters sent off to Suez and Kenya, and even servicemen and women who after years of relative peace suddenly found themselves on a troop carrier heading for the Falklands. But people who signed up for the armed forces after 2002 knew exactly what they were getting into, and to some extent were attracted by the thrill of combat. I’m not saying they should be denied the benefits of the British Legion’s healthcare and financial support, but I don’t think their ‘sacrifice’ needs to be honoured in the same way as the conscripts and others involved in earlier conflicts.

  8. Nick,

    Race is still a factor, and worth mentioning, although admittedly it tends to be a secondary factor to nationality. I don’t see how its ‘cheap’ or unrelated to the issue.

  9. Pete,

    There are many other factors as well. In the 9/11 example one of the most obvious reasons for the blanket coverage was that it was an attack on two of the most prominent skyskrapers in the world in a city full of TV cameras and english-speaking journos. The simple logistics mean that it is inevitable that it would receive more coverage than a disaster in a distant rural area, far from anyone who is able to report it. Also, a disaster will always get more news coverage than an ongoing situation, generally regardless of ethnicity or nationality. As above, a bomb in an Iraqi market or a tidal wave devastating distant Thailand or Sri Lanka will inevitably get more coverage the ongoing plight of the British homeless. Highlighting race as key factor simply feels like a cheap smear.

  10. Building on that, i thought i’d number crunch. The poppy appeal raised a record £30m in 2007. The appeal After the 2005 Tsunami raised £300m.

  11. Nick,

    You are not accounting for the difference between how many British troops are lost in contemporary war and how many were killed in the tsunami. This is the kind of bias I am talking about.

    Also, you should at least assume good faith on my part; when I say I have noticed a racial aspect to media bias then right or wrong you should take that as my honest opinion, rather than an attempt at a ‘cheap smear’

  12. @Jim – I wouldn’t say that all would be some sort of trigger happy recruits. There are many families with military service traditions that they’d be honoured to uphold, even if they knew they’d be heading into active combat. As well, I’d go into any recruiting office or even TA office and have a look at the cultural make up. For some its still a job, a dangerous job but one that will look after their families and provide them a better quality of life and opportunities that they might not find elsewhere.

    @Pete the one thing that I agreed with you a lot on was the media surrounding the military – especially with war dead. From someone who studied a lot of WW1 and WW2 history, the massive gulf between casualties is staggering. I think someone gave the figure to me once that the Somme was like 9/11 happening every 10 minutes [/vague]. The thing that remains the same is when you compare civilian casualties which is abysmally under-reported when compared to the coverage of the soldiers who have died.

  13. As someone whose great grandfather died in World War I and whose grandfather landed on the Normandy beaches at D-day, going on to meet my grandmother after helping to liberate her home city of Antwerp, I have like Liz to admit to personal bias and I must also say that that I agree with her entirely. I’ve visited the battlefields of both wars, and the massed graves are hugely sobering. The Menin Gate in Ypres is one of the most humbling places I’ve ever been, and acts to me as a reminder that the lessons of these conflicts should not be forgotten.

    The poppy has much deeper symbolic roots than just the current conflicts in which British servicemen are fighting and dying, and it seems to me that by focusing on modern events Pete is rather missing the point.

    If you think that politicians are abusing the poppy for modern political ends, then by all means fight against that. If you feel that other world issues deserve a bigger media profile then fight for that also. If you see racial bias in the media then bring that to people’s attention.

    I’d agree that these are worthy causes and that they are under-represented in modern British society as compared to that of the British legion. What I cannot see is how fighting any or all of these of these fights would be a reason to decide not to wear a poppy. They are independent areas of humanitarianism and compassion and not mutually exclusive.

  14. Pete and Liz,
    I enjoyed both of your articles, and want to put emphasis on two points.

    The first is the conflation between honouring sacrifice (in particular those who have difficulty returning from war) and supporting war. Both of you avoided this sort of equivocation, but political parties of all types almost go out of their way to blur the distinction. The poppy is on the blurry line – I wear my Anzac pin (similar concept) both to honour my two grandfathers and remind myself of the idiocy of the British politicians who created the “Anzac legend” in the first place; to see British politicians wearing poppies makes me cringe. By my book you don’t get to show a symbol of the tragic stupidity of your own institution at the same time as you perpetuate it.

    The second point is in direct response to Pete. Sacrifice and tragedy may overlap, but they are not the same thing. War and Tsunami are both destructive, but people don’t choose to be hit by the Tsunami. (Not claiming that everyone in a warzone chooses to be there, but the soldiers are there by choice). This deserves recognition, and given what a terrible job our societies have done in giving that recognition in the past, a little bit of over-emphasis ought to be encouraged.

  15. I avoided mentioning the World Wars because I didn’t want to muddle the debate; in my view there is quite a bit of whitewashing between the wars that actually happened and the wars we are collectively asked to remember. That is a completely separate topic.

    Like it or not, modern events are key to the poppy as a symbol; more so every year as the number of surviving servicemen from the World Wars decreases. Also, the memory of those two wars, especially the second where Britain through luck rather than moral judgement ended up on the indisputably ‘right’ side, is connected with modern wars by both politicians and to a lesser extent the British Legion itself, and this serves to legitimise them.

  16. Pete,

    Oh I have no doubt it’s your honest opinion – and perhaps you should expand on it with detailed facts and figures for a future report – but to insert it here it DOES just look like a cheap smear and without supporting evidence it doesn’t make a compelling argument against the poppy appeal.

    On the subject of the numerical context, i would ask how far £30mil would go in the UK versus how far £300mil in Thailand or Sri Lanka. Also, I would question how many countries will contribute to an international disaster fund vs how many countries will support the British legion.

    Furthermore, I believe the number of people is a bit of red herring. People will give to a cause they view as just, regardless of whether they’re helping a few hundred thousand or a few hundred million. At the end of the day, the British population have raised millions of pounds for charities (for both home and abroad) in recent years and the media have played a crucial role in this – from the annual children in need/comic relief appeals .

  17. Maybe I’m a weirdo, but the poppy doesn’t symbolise the “rightness” of any war to me. It serves as a reminder of the sacrifices made by so many at the whim of politicians and leaders throughout history. You could say that in this case I should wear a white poppy, but I prefer to fight the misappropriation of the symbol by continuing to wear my red version in its original spirit, which was one of peace, and by pointing out the hypocrisy of politicians that wear a poppy after voting for the Iraq war.

  18. Nick,

    The difference in purchasing power would have to be astronomical to make the numbers match up. It isn’t, and even if it was it wouldn’t matter because aid isn’t purchased in supermarkets. You seem to be grasping at straws here.

    The number of people is not a red herring, unless you consider human lives to have different values somehow.

  19. Pete,

    That’s a bit lame. You can’t really ignore the bulk of someone’s argument and then accuse them of clutching at straws. Again, how many countries will contribute to an international disaster fund? how many of those will fund care for injured British servicemen?

    And the number of people is still a red herring – the reasons people give to charities are many and varied and boil down to more than a cynical calculation of how many people are helped. I think this is a good thing too – unless we should disband all small charities that provide (much needed) support to relatively small numbers of people?

  20. Nick,

    The question you asked is entirely irrelevant, given my piece was about how people in this country distribute their public acts of mourning. Thats why I ignored it.

    I don’t think trying to help the largest number of people is cynical. I believe I have already explained why.

  21. All this talk of poppies and wars are we overlooking James’ perspicacious summary of #twitterjoketrial? It’s pretty clear as James puts it that governments could be on the verge of a massive over reaction in an attempt to control cyberspace. Or James himself could be on the verge of a hysterical over-reaction to a legal hiccup. Who’s right? There’s only one way to find out… (No, not fight. Abscent a time machine we’ll have to wait. And see.)

  22. Yes, sorry, my piece seems to have taken over a bit. The twitter joke trial is probaly more important and more relevant to Pod Delusion listeners.

    Oh, and Sean: Gliese 581g has not been confirmed as an exoplanet. Basically someone overstated their conclusions in order to be able to announce a notably Earth-like exoplanet. It hasn’t been debunked as a planet, but the consensus is the data does not *yet* firmly support its existence.

  23. I personally think this discussion of Poppies and planets is a deliberate diversion by an agent of Big Pharma to distract from the article by Adam. Some of the use of statistics there was a little dodgy …

    My biggest concern with trials is the lack of use of trial pre-registration services, and the big journals ignoring their own guidelines that require the use of pre-registration. It’s the only way to prevent a trial misrepresenting what the primary effect being measured is, and to ensure publication of negative as well as positive results. Comparing the declared purpose of the trial to the final published purpose isn’t a valid statistic if the sponsored trials are consistently failing to even register.

  24. In Flanders fields the poppies blow
    Between the crosses, row on row,

    by John McCrae, May 1915
    A canadian Doctor fighting for Canada, Poppies aren’t just British, Poppy!

  25. Drew, I think you might be a little unkind by lumping all politicians together and declaring their wearing of poppies as cringeworthy. A reasonable minority voted against the Iraq war, and around a third of MPs today find themselves MPs for the first time. I think many members of parliament are likely to be sincere in their use of the symbol rather than abusing the tragedy of war for political ends.

    A Thorpe – I’m not sure if that’s sarcasm there but I think it’s right to be worried about what I see as a trend towards regulation, however it did strike me after voicing the piece that maybe #twitterjoketrial is far less an assault on free expression online than the country’s shockingly oppressive libel laws.

  26. Although I agree with Pete’s assertion that the press displays a clear bias as to what gets reported and what doesn’t, I feel he picks the wrong target in Remembrance Day – and by extension the Royal British Legion – to demonstrate this. Why not pick on something far less worthy, such as the incessant X-Factor coverage or the latest story of some footballer found cavorting with a prostitute? But even within a fairly narrow field, the press show an extraordinary amount of reporting bias. Take war reporting, for example.

    The news media is perversely fascinated with the concept of the “Glorious Dead”. Week after week, the news is filled with stories of service men and women laying down their lives in heroic service to their country. Compare that with the tiny number of stories covering those service men and women who suffer great harm, both physical and mental, in service. I think it’s fair to say that this group of people are, by and large, ignored by the press: an inconvenience – or worse, an embarrassment – to be sidelined and forgotten about.

    The reason I buy and wear a poppy is not for the dead – although I think their sacrifice should be honoured – but in some small way to help those who survive and are forgotten. Perhaps others who buy and wear poppies have different reasons, perhaps some only wear them for reasons of public image? It doesn’t really matter, however, as every poppy sold goes to help somebody.

    Although I would much prefer more complete and responsible coverage of the conflicts Britain is engaged in by the news media, if the current level of reporting around Remembrance Day encourages more people to buy poppies, then I think that’s a good thing.

  27. Nobody has yet mentioned the thing that makes me refuse to wear a poppy. I give every year to the British Legion and I don’t feel that I need to wear a poppy saying “look everybody, I’ve given already, so f**k off”.

    That is what social pressure to wear a poppy leads to. It is no better than the cheap gits wearing red noses on their cars five years after the first red nose day. Give money to a worthy cause and don’t blather on about it like you’re chuffed with yourself. There were plenty of poppy wearers who ignored the two minutes’ silence (a dignified display of support and respect) last Thursday.

    Having said that there are, of course, many people with a personal connection to the services who want to wear a poppy and I utterly respect that but you know what? I can’t pick you out from all the lined up losers wearing last years poppy below their smug grins. I actually believe that charitable donation should not demand display in this fashion.

  28. Drew, you’re right that pre-registration of trials is hugely important, but sadly there wasn’t time to talk about it in my piece.

    However, is there any evidence that Big Pharma are being evil here? Sure, not all trials are pre-registered, but as with all the other ways in which Big Pharma are accused of being evil, it’s not just Big Pharma who are not doing as they should. My own experience is that Big Pharma are pretty good about pre-registering their trials (although this is all quite new, so any data more than about 3 years old are not going to be much use), but I don’t have any data to hand on whether Big Pharma are better or worse than anyone else.

    Do you know of any?

    And which of the statistics in my piece were dodgy?

  29. TJ Williams,

    You are right that part of the problem is wearing your charitable donations on your lapel. Thing is though, humans are social creatures and charities know that this sort of campaign gets them a lot of money.

    I don’t begrudge the British Legion their attempts to raise money for a specific cause – society needs groups with particular interests – I simply noted the fact that this cause attracts support and attention that is massively disproportionate to the need of those it helps.

  30. Drew, were you being serious when you said some of my statistics were a bit dodgy? I don’t think they were, but we’re all human and it’s always possible I’ve overlooked something.

    What do you think was dodgy? Would be happy to have another look if you can be more specific.

  31. Adam,
    No, not that serious. I only really meant that you can’t measure concealment using public data, and that the statistics you used skirted around the fact that most published trials aren’t pre-registered, so main evil that the commercial pharma are accused of isn’t interrogated by the data you presented.

  32. Ah, I see. Thanks for clearing that up.

    Is it true that most published trials aren’t pre-registered? Do you have data for that? And more to the point, is it up to date? Trial registration is pretty new, and data from 5 years ago are unlikely to be much use now.

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