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December 28, 2011

BMJ bias

Criticising the BBC’s clumsy efforts to achieve balance in its science coverage, a British Medical Journal editorial, claims that when there is only one reasonable scientific view, presenting the opposing case gives a false impression of uncertainty. Two good examples, astronomy v. astrology and round v. flat earth, could easily have been followed by evolution v. creationism, but instead we got is global warming man-made or not. That’s just point scoring by pretending your opponents are as mad as flat-earthers.

Sure there is a near scientific consensus that global warming is anthropogenic, but it is not as settled as disbelief in astrology, a flat earth or creationism. And the real controversy, what to do about it, is very far from settled. The BMJ think we should impoverish ourselves, or the poor Chinese, in the hope of preventing further warming, but many other sensible people believe we should speed development so we can better adapt. The BBC should stay “balanced” on this a little longer.

A nearby editorial in the same issue provides a fine example of BMJ balance on socialised medicine. Swedish Pirate Party supporter Waldemar Ingdahl tells us how the Party began with the policy of removing copyright protection for music. It was apparently such an easy sell to file-sharing teenagers that they now have two Euro MPs; no-one feels sorry for Bono. Next they want to nationalise pharmaceutical research and manufacture. Here’s what he has to say.

“Thanks to universal health insurance, government subsidies account for most of the income of drug companies in Europe. Only 15% of this income actually goes into research, with most of the remainder being spent on marketing. Instead, governments should allocate 20% of today’s drugs bill directly to the universities for research. More funds should produce more research findings. Without the need for drug companies to undertake the research themselves, there would be no need for medical patents to protect their investment. The price of drugs would drop if they were manufactured in a competitive market, rather than by patent protected monopolies. People in developing countries would also benefit because their governments wouldn’t be forced to buy expensive patent drugs.”

Why stop there? Let’s nationalise the food industry. No more waste on advertising, and tasty luxuries. The government could ration out just the right amount of healthy stuff, and sort out obesity and malnutrition at a stroke. The same with cars, houses and holidays. Private companies, producing only what free people are prepared to pay for, are so wasteful. Central planning could allocate things so much better.

I bet dear Waldemar thinks the outpouring of grief for Kim Jong Il was genuine.

Jim Thornton

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