Tuesday, June 13, 2017

A cause for concern

I've heard that a dinosaur is going to be excavated from Smokejacks Quarry (the location in which Baryonyx was found) by Jamie Jordan of fossilgalore. This is a cause for concern. Firstly, although Jordan claims to be a "self-taught palaeontologist" he is nothing of the sort. He has carried out no original research, has never published any paper in any scientific or academic journal, and never (to my knowledge) attended or contributed to any scientific conference. It is clear from visiting his web site that he has very limited knowledge or understanding of the subject, and lacks the experience and understanding to carry out such an excavation in a careful and scientific manner. He is asking members of the public to pay for the privilege of helping with the excavation with no regard to their experience or competence. I don't know how he managed to get permission from the owners of Smokejacks Quarry to embark on this excavation, but is is worth noting that he has obtained permission to collect, and even been given specimens from pits in the Peterborough area with the claim that he represents a museum. He doesn't. "Fossil galore" is a shop, not a museum. I have little doubt that the scientific value of what may be an important specimen will be largely lost through inexperienced and incompetent excavation. Legally there is nothing which can be done to stop him, but by spreading the word to pit owners and operators perhaps he can be prevented from gaining such permissions in the future. This is beginning to have some effect around Peterborough though contacts between members of the Stamford Group and museum volunteers and landowners. This is not an attack on commercial collectors. Many of them understand the scientific value of the specimens they collect, and are very skilled in the preparation of their material. However, I don't know of any who would refer to themselves as palaeontologists, "self-taught" or not, unless they have made a significant contribution to science. This not an attack on those without formal qualifications in the subject. It is possible to learn, to carry out research and to publish without such qualifications - as is the case with my own research. However, I was only able to achieve what I have with a lot of support, help and advice from palaeontologists, and because I quickly appreciated when dealing with them that I was profoundly ignorant of the subject and needed to learn a lot before I could make any scientifically valid contribution to the field. I am part of the team of Peterborough Museum volunteers who recently excavated a new plesiosaur specimen from one of the Oxford Clay brick pits. We were meticulous in recording every scrap of bone, photographing everything in situ, and using photogrammetry to record 3D models of the excavation stage by stage. This is how such excavations should be done. Archaeologists have the luxury of the legal right to stop work on developments if archaeological finds are made, and even have funding to support their excavations. Palaeontological finds such as this dinosaur can be excavated by anyone provided they have permission from the landowner regardless of their expertise or competence. In many cases fossils are exposed by erosion on the sea shore, and in such cases it is more important to recover the specimen to prevent its destruction than to insist on legal niceties, but in the case of quarries there is no such imperative. It's about time that palaeontologists had the same rights as archaeologists to reduce the risk of important specimens being lost to science.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Inefficient NHS

We are told that the NHS is inefficient, and that the best way of improving efficiency is to break it up and privatise the profitable parts.
Let's think about that.

We have what is by some metrics the best health system in the world- debatable perhaps, but there can be no reasonable doubt that it is up there with the best. In terms of spending, both as a proportion of GDP and per capita cost it is one of the cheapest in the developed world.

Surely that makes it very efficient?

Of course it's not perfect, and of course there are inefficiencies. Nobody can reasonably claim otherwise. However, the idea that it can be made more efficient by selling parts of it to private corporations is ludicrous. That is the USAian model, which has created the most expensive and crassly exploitative system in the world, and which drives tens of thousands of families to bankruptcy each year. That is the model our political masters want to push on us. But of course, they have no real interest in efficiency- unless that is measured by the ability of corporations to make money from our illnesses.

Here's an idea: why not increase public spending on health to the same levels as France, Germany or the Nordic countries. After all, we are constantly being told how rich we are, and how our economy is the fifth biggest in the world. Use that extra money to improve and integrate health and social care, to support the training of medical professionals rather than relying on those trained elsewhere. Look at what we do well, and build on that rather than selling the best parts to the bidder with the closest ties to some cabinet minister.

I have had treatment recently at Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham. It is a large NHS hospital, one of the best in the country. I needed an MRI, which was carried out in an NHS facility - a scanner housed in what is little more than a portakabin tacked onto the main body of the hospital. Treatment was carried out in a very fancy, and to my architect’s eye clearly rather expensive private facility within the larger hospital complex.

The main difference between the NHS and the private facility is that the receptionists in the private facility wear more makeup, and that they are a bit less efficient in communicating with patients than the NHS.

What bugs me is that the money to build that fancy building comes from the NHS budget, and will in the long term be clawed back - no doubt under some preferential deal which gives it priority over other spending to make sure that the profits of the healthcare company are preserved.

That privatisation make things more efficient may be political dogma, but it is a myth. As numerous instances have shown us, in many cases it makes things more expensive and less efficient. Just look at our rail services.

It is a tactic employed by politicians and pushed on them by a handful of wealthy and greedy individuals to starve public institutions of funding so that they perform badly, then claim that the only solution to this inefficiency is to sell them off. History shows us that the level of public spending ends up being significantly higher than it was before privatisation. It makes the billionaires richer, but at the expense of the rest of us poor mortals who pay the taxes which support it.

 Given the shenanigans surrounding the appointment of Teresa May as prime minister - and I can only wonder who was pulling the strings behind that “efficient” change of leadership - and the attacks on civil society which are being promoted by her government I worry about the future of our county.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Can one be a creationist and a Christian?

Some creationists insist that one cannot be a Christian and accept the findings of science in respect of evolution. The fact that most of the world's Christians find no conflict between their faith and the findings of science, and the over 12,000 signatories to the 'Clergy Letter' suggests rather strongly that this is not the case. However, it *does* lead to another question:

Can one be a creationist and a Christian?

The reason why there is an “evolutionist”/creationist debate is that creationists claim that their religious dogma is supported by science, and are demanding that it should be taught as science in science classes. If they were not making this demand there would be no issue. This is not a debate between science and religion - after all many scientists, including many evolutionary biologists, are are also religious believers. So if we are to believe creationists, this is a scientific debate.

It is clear from even a cursory survey of how creationists “debate” this issue that their position has nothing to do with science, and everything to do with religious dogma. It is also clear that creed is founded on the outright falsehood that their religious dogma is supported by science.

This is not a good start.

Moving on, we come to looking at the way they pursue their agenda. There are numerous books, magazines and web sites promoting different versions of creationism. It’s worth noting that within that wide tent there are many different sets of beliefs, many of which are mutually exclusive. There are creationists who believe that the earth is 6,000 years old, creationists who accept the findings of science in respect of the age of the earth but think that God has meddled with the evolution of life, 'intelligent design' creationists who hide their religious beliefs behind scientific-sounding verbiage, creationists who believe that the Biblical account of creation refers to six days of 24 hours, creationists who believe that the 'days' of creation are thousands or millions of years long. There are Moslem creationists, Jewish creationists and even Hindu creationists.

The only shared belief seem to be that “evolution” - which is defined in various non-standard ways - is false, and that no matter where evidence and logic may lead, Mankind is not an ape.

I first encountered creationism as a teenager with a passion for collecting fossils, and read Duane Gish’s “Evolution: The Fossils say No!”. At the time I was an enthusiastic participant in Pentecostal churches, and was strongly pre-disposed to take on board an alternative explanation for the evidence with which I was already familiar which is compatible with the Bible. Reading Gish's words shattered that illusion. Several times when reading Gish’s book, and with a far smaller grasp of the subject than I have now, I seemed impossible that he did not know that what he was writing was an outright falsehood. I have read many more creationist publications since then and it seems inescapable that creationists are not only promoting falsehoods, but in many cases doing so with the knowledge that they are false. I’d call that lying.

When I first set up my web site, plesiosaur.com, I was flamed by creationists for having the effrontery to dismiss supposed plesiosaur carcases as modern sharks. Some of the emails I received were extremely abusive, expressing sentiments which are downright disgusting. In response to this I set a section of my site to the analysis of creationist web sites (plesiosaur.com/creationism). I’ve presented my analysis of a dozen or so such sites, and in every case have identified many distortions, misrepresentations and outright falsehoods.

I have invited creationists on numerous occasions to demonstrate that I am incorrect in any of the instances of dishonesty I identify, but no creationist seems to have the slightest interest in doing so.

I've invited creationists on numerous occasions to post a link to a creationist source which is not riddled with misrepresentation, distortion and outright falsehoods, but no creationist seems to have the slightest interest in doing so.

I've invited creationists on numerous occasions to post a link to any "evolutionist" site which is riddled with misrepresentation, distortion and outright falsehoods, but no creationist seems to have the slightest interest in doing so.

From this I conclude not only that creationist sources are dishonest, but that creationists know that they are dishonest but find such dishonesty is acceptable provided it comes from their own kind. Coming as it does from those claiming the moral high ground it is utter hypocrisy.

Although most creationist sites simply repeat the same old arguments without bothering to check their accuracy, some of the falsehoods could only have been written in the knowledge that they are false and with the intent to deceive. Here's a very clear example of this:

Taken from an article by Tas Walker and Carl Wieland entitled "Kamikaze Ichthyosaur".

"The scientist who discovered it, Dr Achim Reisdorf, was interviewed in depth in a German-language publication that is sympathetic to the Bible. It is fascinating to watch him wrestle with the evidence, while trying to hold that the sediments were deposited over a million years"

Originally published on the "Answeres in Genesis" web site, the article can now be found on the "Creation Ministries International" web site here: creation.com/kamikaze-ichthyosaur

The German article in a publication called "Faktum" makes no mention of Achim Reisdorf "wrestle with the evidence", and his paper on the find to which the Faktum article refers explains the timescale over which the specimen in question - a partial ichthyosaur - was preserved. The mode of preservation is very familiar to anyone who has collected vertebrates from Liassic rocks, and is explained by the soft, soupy substrate of the sea floor at the time the animal died.

So when Walker and Wieland write that "it is fascinating to watch him wrestle with the evidence" they are describing something which they had not witnessed and to which their source makes no mention. Reisdorf has co-authored a paper in which he gives a detailed account of how this specimen came to be preserved. It presents no problem for geology or palaeontology. The sediments were not laid down over "millions of years" - as the 'Faktum' article explains.

In other words, they invented this to deceive their target audience into thinking that there are problems with the scientific explanation when no such problem exists. I call this lying.

You can find a more detailed analysis of the article here: plesiosaur.com/creationism/swissichthyosaur/

Then we come to the behaviour of creationists in how they communicate their message. Setting aside the content-free nature of their arguments, the fact is that they refuse to look at the evidence from the natural world on which science has built theories which explains how it’s origin and behaviour. Bearing in mind that this is the world they believe their God created, it seems that they can maintain their beliefs only by denying the aspects of that world which show that they are wrong. I suggest that this is not only intellectually dishonest, but spiritually dishonest and logically inconsistent.

So the behaviour of creationists is dishonest. They build their case on distortion, misrepresentation and outright falsehoods. The deny the reality of the universe they believe their God created. They denigrate the faith of Christians who don't share their particular dogma. They accuse others of lying without evidence, showing that they hold themselves exempt from the commandment against bearing false witness.

Jesus told us to judge men by their fruits. Given the fruits of creationism, how do you think we should judge creationists? Does their behaviour meet the standards Jesus asked of his followers?

I suggest that the only conclusion we can draw is that creationists are not Christians.