Archives for posts with tag: RTE

My last blog post brings me nicely to a recent debate on climate change on RTE Prime Time (an Irish current affairs programme).

On the panel were Kevin Humphreys (Junior Minister in the Dept of Social Protection), Ray Bates (Adjunct Professor at the Meteorology and Climate Centre in UCD), Oisin Coughlan (Friends of the Earth) and Eamon Ryan (Green Party).

While, I think, two of the panelists (Humphreys and Coughlan) did creditably well to represent their positions, the other two, Bates and Ryan, were awful, and for two different reasons.

Maybe I should get the worst of them out of the way first. Eamon Ryan came across as shrill, ill-tempered and preachy. He butted straight into other people’s talk time, listened to no-one, waved his hands and acted like a small boy in a sweetshop whose parents wouldn’t buy him a pack of bonbons. He might feel really, really, really strong about this issue (and I don’t blame him for that), but his style completely overruled content on the night. Humphreys only had to roll his eyes a few times, and Miriam O’Callaghan to politely reprimand him, for us all to realise that Ryan’s emotions had let him down badly. He should be long enough in this business by now to realise that dogmatism and rudeness does you no favours in a TV debate, nor does it help the credibility of your party.

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Eamon Ryan in full flight

On the opposite side, Ray Bates was a model of civility and patience. He was considered. He didn’t lose his temper. Which was unfortunate, because Ray Bates was, by far, the most problematic person on the panel.

Now, to be fair to Bates, he is not what I would call a First Degree Denier. He accepts anthropogenic climate change (ie. we’re responsible for it), but he disputes how bad it’s going to be and how long it will take.

Bates took pains to advertise his scientific credentials. Indeed, He mentioned them a few times. But what I heard was something slightly different than what I might expect most scientists to say. He spent his time picking some IPCC findings that suited his argument: that the margin of error was greater in 2013 than in 2007, or that 2015’s warming was less in the higher atmosphere than the lower atmosphere, or that climate models were out by a factor of 3. Pick, pick, pick. It’s like he was reading all the data, then looking for a small number of anomalies that he could use for the purposes of spreading uncertainty. That’s curious.

So here’s the thing. If you are fairly clueless on the details of global warming like most of us are, you would be left with the impression that all scientists have the same viewpoint as Ray: that they think it’s serious, but it’s not something to worry about too much. He was the only person on the panel with real scientific credentials – others were political and activism based – so that lent his view a certain amount of gravitas in the circumstances.

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Prof. Ray Bates – climate models are the best we have, but sure, we can pick and choose.

But the fact is that he is very much out of step with most of his peers around the world. It’s not because they are all have some chip on their shoulder, or he’s not invited to the right parties; it’s because they are reading the data differently to him. The issue really is more urgent than he is making it out to be. After reading John Gibbons’ article about him, I tend to concur with the view that he is somewhat more protective of the Irish agricultural position than a totally independent actor should really be. I think he has an ideological position in this matter – otherwise why such a pro-agri stance? Why use the airtime to water down the findings in favour of the status quo?

I’m unhappy that Bates was the only scientist that RTE could find on this subject, because he badly misrepresented the scientific position on this. RTE needs to start getting away from the climate denier spokespeople – who are always available to talk – and start hearing more from other scientists who can better speak to the likely downstream issues caused by a rapidly warming world.

 

Professor Austin Darragh spoke to Marian Finucane on the radio last Saturday. Professor Darragh, now in his eighties, is one of the most esteemed members of the medical profession in Ireland. His prolific career, spanning 6 decades, is a case study in productivity and enterprise. He has been a pioneer in both the academic world and the business world. More recently, he has devoted significant time to understanding crippling issues such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

In a wide ranging interview, he made two claims that had me scratching my head.

He is concerned about immunisation, particularly in children. He believes that a lot more work needs to be done to understand the linkage between the whooping cough vaccine and allergic syndromes such as asthma and eczema.

He believes that antibiotics are a principal cause of CFS. The thinking goes like this: our cells contain mitochondria, which are bacterial organisms. Mitochondria generate energy that feed the cells. Antibiotics kill bacteria, and therefore, while killing “bad” bacteria, they will kill mitochondria too. Therefore the cells do not get the energy they need. Therefore people feel fatigued. Therefore, CFS.

I am not an expert in medicine, and I have not done any research into these issues, but to my mind these are pretty serious statements. If they are completely factual, backed up by proper scientific research, then these are hugely important medical breakthroughs. The CFS claim is truly revolutionary, as I have not heard anything like this from mainstream scientific commentators: in fact, I have frequently heard the opposite.

If the claims are not backed up by proper evidence, then what he is saying is enormously irresponsible. Both areas: childhood immunisation and CFS, are fraught with stratospheric levels of emotion and an almost zealous disregard for the truth. The science behind the claims of the most vocal of the advocates is either non-existent or flatly contradictory. Children throughout the developed world have fallen ill and died as a result of the questioning of immunisation. Fear mongering about the use of antibiotics, on the basis that you might get CFS, could have equally serious consequences. Making public factual claims about things that are merely hypotheses, serve as a huge distraction and may divert badly needed resources and time from more promising areas of research.

On the claim that CFS is called by the death of mitochondria, then how come we all don’t have CFS after a course of antibiotics? How come chronic users of antibiotics don’t all have CFS? How come you can safely administer antibiotics to small children and the elderly? What is the research? What alternative views exist and what research has been conducted into alternative claims? None of this was explored in the interview, but it would be interesting to know more.

I encourage you to listen to the radio programme and to draw your own conclusions. The relevant part of the interview begins at the 26:16 minute mark.

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