Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Thou shalt be "Fair and Balanced"

One of the reasons I am utterly unimpressed by journalists is their strict adherence to the "present-both-sides-equally"-doctrine. They have convinced themselves that to be neutral, objective or whatever a "good reporter" is supposed to do, one should always give equal time to opposing voices. Especially, when there is no serious debate among experts. In short, if science says HIV causes AIDS your duty as a journalist is to include somebody asserting this is not true. Not only that, but to give both views equal weight. The same principle holds true for Holocaust denialists, Flat earthers, the infectious-disease-promotion-movement, et cetera.

Then, an article appeared in the Chicago Tribune that dismissed the validity of claims there is such a thing as Chronic Lyme Disease (CLD) by presenting the current scientific consensus which refutes that notion, and as such evades the "mislead-your-audience-at-all-costs"-doctrine. Because of the quality of their reporting PalMD notes:
It starts with a piece in the Chicago Tribune by Patricia Callahan and Trine Tsouderos.  The award winning pair have been among the few reporters to consistently “get it right” about alternative medicine. Tsouderos is well-respected among critics of quackery for her willingness to look at the science and report the truth, without resorting to false balance*.  Callahan and Tsouderos’ investigation into the dangerous and deceptive practices of alternative autism doctors, practices that include chemical castration, won cheers from those  screaming out against this unethical mistreatment of children.  These reporters have got the bona fides amongst both journalists and scientists.
Observing the article not using this doctrine, Orac writes:
One exception to this profoundly annoying pattern (if you're a skeptic) has been the journalism of Trine Tsouderos, who with Pat Callahan, has produced over the last year or two a number of excellent, science-based stories on the anti-vaccine and its associated "autism biomed" movements, including an expose of Boyd Haley's "rebranding" of an industrial chelator as an autism treatment. She's even taken on "America's doctor," Dr. Oz. As a result, she's been demonized by cranks, up to and including having her face crudely Photoshopped into a picture of a Thanksgiving feast in which she and various others whom the merry band of anti-vaccine loons at Age of Autism view as enemies were portrayed as sitting down to a meal of dead baby.
Astonishingly, this article is than attacked by Paul Raeburn, former senior editor for science at Business Week, former science editor at the Associated Press, author of three science books, and director of a university science journalism program, for ..... not adhering to the "Fair-and-Balanced"-principle. Quoth Orac:
Boiled down to its essence, Raeburn's complaint is the opposite of what we skeptics, scientists, and supporters of science-based medicine complain about all the time about journalists, namely that Callahan and Tsouderos did not fall into the trap of false balance, did not give undue credence to pseudoscience, and did not "tell both sides" as though they had equal or roughly equal credence.
An identical observation regarding the “lack of balance” can be found in PalMD's response:
When it comes to truth, it doesn’t matter how Paul Raeburn perceives the process.  A medical fact is a medical fact, and while he may not like the way they came to their conclusion, the truth remains. 
It does not matter which "controversy" you prefer, there will always be experts, and many more non-experts, that disagree with the consensus. However, a few lone wolves do not a scientific debate make! This is what any competent journalist should convey to his/her audience. As long as those journalists are insufficiently capable of drowning out the noise the general public can't help but be misinformed. At present it has become annoyingly clear that without this massive failure of journalism we would not have an organisation like Wikileaks.

Update: Corrected grammar in last sentence.

Update II: To prove my point Javier Moreno, for El Pais, observed:
As Simon Jenkins of The Guardian wrote earlier this month, power hates to see the truth exposed. I would add that above all, power fears the truth when the truth doesn't fit its needs. I knew immediately after I received the first call from Assange that Friday in late November that EL PAÍS had a great story on its hands, and that it was our duty to publish it.
But despite our concerns, there was something that all of us involved in the process never doubted for an instant: we had a responsibility to the democracies that we live in to publish the story. Revealing the truth is the touchstone of true journalism, and the reason we get out of bed in the morning.
And, as if he had read this blog, he denounces the meme I described before:
It is the prerogative of governments, not the press, to bury secrets for as long as they can, and I will not argue with this as long as it does not cover up deceitful acts against citizens. But a newspaper's main task is to publish news, and to seek out news where it can find it. As I said in a recent online chat with EL PAÍS readers, newspapers have many obligations in a democratic society: responsibility, truthfulness, balance and a commitment to citizens. Our obligations definitely do not, however, include protecting governments and the powerful in general from embarrassing revelations.
Update III: New post on our trustworthy media here.

Monday, 20 December 2010

The new troubling toy

After acquiring my new toy I soon discovered a major problem: I am unable to get iTunes to transfer a selection of my extensive music-collection. Despite iTunes being absolutely annoying, with the VLC-player app it does enable me to transfer video-files. Not sure watching films is so great, but I do use it for documentaries and episodes of Coupling, Blackadder, et cetera.

Still not content because I was unable to use the mp3 part more trouble was ahead. A few weeks ago my facebook-app refused to upload pictures. Then, last week the toy even refused to synchronise alltogether. The upstart started telling me it needed to be restored to factory settings. Not in the least planning to do that I asked Dah Google for advise.

Apparently I am not the first to encounter this nuisance. One of the solutions suggested was working around iTunes by installing CopyTrans™ (formerly CopyPod). Indeed, that worked. With some tweaking the toy finally wanted to synch with iTunes again. After securing my contacts I updated the firmware. Yes, iTunes wants to synchronise again.

Added benefit, for the first time I am now able to copy music without using iTunes. And yes, it sounds great. Part of the wishlist for Christmas is a new set of headphones so I can better enjoy the experience.

Update: If you need some apps for your toy, here are some suggestions.

Update II: Have now discovered how to "reboot" the iPhone, and am happy to announce it is updated to the latest firmware (july 2011).

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Pay no attention to the man behind the screen

One of the most frustrating things to me is the absolute inability, or is it unwillingness, of journalists to recognise what the story they report is about. This is the theme of this blog: I try to encourage people to seek out information and always question what is being told, i.e. "what basis is there for these claims?" Unfortunately people are easily misled, and information presented by journalists is inherently unreliable. The most recent example of what is wrong with our ability to ascertain the facts is the publication by Wikileaks of documents that are embarrasing to the US. As usual the incompetent and obfuscating characteristics of the media, that are supposed to adequately inform us, engage in their typical method of protecting those in power.

As always, the intrepid reporter notices those juicy bits about Julian Assange's life. Which, regardless of the topic, generate more stories than the initial disclosure of fraudulent, criminal or misleading behaviour by the powerful. Commenting on the media's interest in diverting attention with ad hominems Greenwald remarked:
... what I do know -- as John Cole notes -- is this:  as soon as Scott Ritter began telling the truth about Iraqi WMDs, he was publicly smeared with allegations of sexual improprieties.  As soon as Eliot Spitzer began posing a real threat to Wall Street criminals, a massive and strange federal investigation was launched over nothing more than routine acts of consensual adult prostitution, ending his career (and the threat he posed to oligarchs).  And now, the day after Julian Assange is responsible for one of the largest leaks in history, an arrest warrant issues that sharply curtails his movement and makes his detention highly likely.
While all this titellating stuff is unfolding The New York Times is still unable to call torture torture. As Greenwald reports that:
the NYT in its article on brutal detainee abuse steadfastly avoids using the word "torture" to describe what was done, consistent with its U.S.-Government-serving formal policy of refusing to use that word where U.S. policy is involved.  By stark contrast, virtually every other media account uses that term to describe the heinous abuse of detainees chronicled by this leak, the only term that accurately applies:  see The Guardian ("American military documents that detail torture, summary executions and war crimes"); BBC (US "ignored Iraq torture"); Politico ("a devastating portrait of apparent U.S. indifference to a pattern of murder and torture by the Iraqi army").  BoingBoing appropriately mocks the NYT's increasingly humiliating no-"torture" policy by creating a euphemism-generator.
The role of the media as defender of the powerful is evidenced by the reaction to these documents. Greenwald compares it to the response by Nixon to the Pentagon Papers and notes:
Predictably, just as happened with Ellsberg, there is now a major, coordinated effort underway to smear WikiLeaks' founder, Julian Assange, and to malign his mental health -- all as a means of distracting attention away from these highly disturbing revelations and to impede the ability of WikiLeaks to further expose government secrets and wrongdoing with its leaks.  But now, the smear campaign is led not by Executive Branch officials, but by members of the establishment media.  As the intelligence community reporter Tim Shorrock wrote today on Twitter:  "When Dan Ellsberg leaked [the] Pentagon Papers, Nixon's henchmen tried to destroy his reputation. Today w/Wikileaks & Assange, media does the job."
And commenting on statements by Howard Kurtz maligning Assange:
You will never, ever hear people like Kurtz, or John Burns, using these kinds of disparaging insults for any American political or military official with actual power -- not even (especially not) the ones whose "delusions" about Saddam's nuclear clouds and team of mad chemical scientists and alliances with Al Qaeda caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent human beings, the displacement of millions more, and human suffering and misery on an unimaginable scale.  As Burns explained, with those people:  "You build up a kind of trust. It's not explicit, it's just there. And my feeling is that it’s the responsibility of the reporter to judge in those circumstances what is fairly reportable, and what is not, and to go beyond that, what it is necessary to report."
In what I consider a surreal reaction The Guardian reports that:
A Fox News contributor and former state department adviser has accused WikiLeaks of conducting "political warfare against the US" and called for those behind the whistleblowing website to be declared "enemy combatants" so they can be subjected to "non-judicial actions".
Apparently free speech applies only to those in power. Then there is the article The Washington Post and WikiLeaks, by Scott Horton, which details some significant revelations such as:
... the disclosure of a Fragmentary Order (“Frago”) authorizing soldiers not to investigate cases of torture that do not involve coalition forces is extremely important. It counts as evidence of high-level policy to countenance war crimes and violations of the prohibition on torture, which requires not only investigation but also intervention. Recall this astonishing exchange that occurred between Rumsfeld and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Peter Pace at a DOD press conference in November 2005. Pace stated “it is absolutely the responsibility of every U.S. service member, if they see inhumane treatment being conducted, to intervene to stop it…” Rumsfeld interrupted and contradicted him, but Pace stood his ground. He was reciting well anchored military doctrine. He was also overruled by Rumsfeld.
Responding to the "blood on his hands"-meme, Horton said:
When pressed by the Senate Armed Services Committee, Secretary Gates was forced to admit that these claims were hyperbole—“the leak… did not disclose any sensitive intelligence sources or methods.” Gates went on to acknowledge that there was no evidence of any informant being killed or threatened or even requesting protection as a result of the WikiLeaks publications. Why then has the Post editorial page decided to ape agitprop that the Pentagon itself has all but retracted? Maybe they don’t read their own paper.
He continues:
After looking through the latest WikiLeaks document dump, she writes that she is now persuaded that “top American leaders lied, knowingly, to the American public, to American troops, and to the world.” Tellingly, her piece appears not in the Post but in the Daily Beast, and she’s supplemented it with a detailed review of the documents involved at Foreign Policy.
The possible benefits of what we have learned so far are summarised by Kevin Jon Heller, while Johann Hari stresses its importance. In light of that consider the response to evidence of possible war crimes, or the destruction of evidence regarding the torture regime. For some very important reason investigating, let alone prosecuting, those involved did not generate the amount of zeal we now experience towards Assange whose alleged crime constitutes of fascilitation of publishing information detrimental to those used to being beyond (judicial) scrutiny. Wikileaks has brought the ever present propaganda into the sunlight. That, of course, cannot stand. Hence the hysterical legal and rhetorical response. Interestingly, those opposing Wikileaks face the Gordian knot of how to prosecute Assange without criminalising journalism alltogether.

The game of politics, as evidenced above, is comparable to, and dependent on, the anti-science movement. For both accurate and factual information is anathema to their ideological and egocentric position. Once the spread of misinformation, if not lies, is exposed like magicians they lose their lure. It should therefore come as no surprise that both groups abhor transparancy and reject accountability. Since the main stream media no longer adhere to what Lord Northcliffe said:
"News is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising."
any organisation exposing those that take advantage of us, by insisting we should stay uninformed and vehemently try to convince us we should ignore the man behind the curtain, has my support.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Guide to Christmas shopping

Its that time of the season when we are searching for the finer things in life. Well, at least I find myself in the midst of that that age-old conundrum: what do I buy? As I did in the past you will find I present some ideas for your shopping lists. You can start at The Times for a Christmas Gift Guide, or The Guardian for Unique Christmas gift ideas: Luxury gifts for men, which is part of their Christmas gift ideas. Nice stylish articles at The Sydney Morning Herald can be found in their Christmas gift guide 2010. Subsequently try The Observer which discusses the 10 best Christmas whiskies, as part of Observer Food Monthly's complete guide to Christmas, while The Independent offers us the 50 best winter reads. More luxurious stuff are suggested by The Age in their Christmas Gift Guide. In The Miami Herald you find Dave Barry’s Guide to Holiday Gifts. Also Esquire has Gifts to Give If You're Broke: The $25-and-Under Guide. Go to Film.com for a more cinematographic type of gift: Gift Guide: Film Memorabilia, DVDs, and Toys, and Gizmodo can help the more nerdy types with Gizmodo's Gift Guides.

Update: You might want to follow Santa on his journey this Christmas.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Freedom of speech: clarification

A few days ago I suggested accountability for those that intentionally spread lies that cause harm to others. In comments marko makes several good points. Nonetheless, they do not apply to what I wanted to say. To avoid any misunderstanding let me clarify. Freedom of speech has nasty side-effects. In an attempt to protect us against them I offered two solutions:

First, limit what people can say. marko offers good arguments as to why this is a problematic approach. That is why I concluded this should not be done. So far, we agree.

Second, make people accountable for the consequences of their right to say whatever they want. Again, some convincing arguments appear to make this route untenable. That is, if you would make this about any influence (film, book, painting) causing others to interpret that as a call to arms.

This is not what I intended, nor said. Just to be sure, I am talking about the willful spread of misinformation, lies, and propaganda with the intention to advance ones ideology while explicitly rejecting contrary evidence. Not infrequently do we see explicit advise to do, or not do, certain things. This ,of course, should be allowed, but if people act on those lies, and this causes harm, the abuse of freedom of speech should result in accountability.

Unsurprisingly the anti-science brigade is mostly inspired by religion. To cite Holy books as origin for unsupported beliefs -refusing to vaccinate, rejecting global warming, opposing evolution, et cetera- is one thing. To go out and tell people not to use condoms because some imaginary friend tells you to is quite another. Aside from the fact that I have not found the exact part where it says "being gay is a sin," "vaccination is evil," "the earth is 6000 years old," "Darwin is wrong," "Galileo is wrong," .......... (you get my drift) once you start evangelising the gospel "science is bad, ideology is good" you are responsible. Especially when you are shown the error of that proposition on numerous occasions: i.e. condoms do protect against STD's, vaccines save lifes, the earth is not flat.

To illustrate my view on accountability: randomly shooting your M16 is allowed. However, if a neighbour gets shot, because you are standing in the middle of the street while doing that, you will be criminally charged. Like bullets, words are dangerous and therefore require responsibility in its user. There can be no misunderstanding, my suggestion applies only to promoting unsupported, and discredited, opinions which are detrimental to our health. If this is still ambiguous to you, look at the following:
  1. Infectious disease promotion movement: vaccines are evil, and germ theory denial, resulting in re-emerging of preventable diseases,
  2. Alt-med works and is harmless: incorrect, since it both delays adequate treatment with therapies that do not work, and has serious side-effects,
  3. HIV-denialists: obstructing prevention and adequate treatment,
  4. Smoking does not cause cancer: after introducing a smoking ban a sharp decline of cancer and coronary-disease, 
  5. Abstinence only prevents pregnancy and STD's: incorrect, it actually causes the opposite, it increases the risk,
  6. Global warming is a hoax: discredited propaganda claiming we do not need to invest in better energypolicy, resulting in increased dangers to our planet, 
  7. Killing in defence of The Truth: murder is always a reliable statement when you are incapable of explaining why ideology trumps reason,  
  8. Shouting fire in a cinema: irresponsible behaviour in general,
  9. War on Drugs: stressing the evils of drugs while ignoring the sociological drama and the risks of alcohol and tobacco,
  10. Muslims want to kill us: as argument why the War of Terror is merely self-defence, and no, they help us, (compare: McCarthyism)
  11. There were WMD's: ignoring evidence to the contrary this caused hundreds of thousands to die, and millions became a refugee, 
  12. Torture is the only way we can win: an age old, and utterly nonsensical, argument which is dissected here,
The above examples are just that: examples. The list goes on and on. In all these cases, time and again, the ideological claim has been proven wrong. To cite an article in the European Journal of Public Health:
    All of these examples have one feature in common. There is an overwhelming consensus on the evidence among scientists yet there are also vocal commentators who reject this consensus, convincing many of the public, and often the media too, that the consensus is not based on ‘sound science’ or denying that there is a consensus by exhibiting individual dissenting voices as the ultimate authorities on the topic in question. Their goal is to convince that there are sufficient grounds to reject the case for taking action to tackle threats to health.
    This is referred to as denialism. The article identifies five characteristics:
    1. The identification of conspiracies. When the overwhelming body of scientific opinion believes that something is true, it is argued that this is not because those scientists have independently studied the evidence and reached the same conclusion. It is because they have engaged in a complex and secretive conspiracy.
    2. Fake experts. These are individuals who purport to be experts in a particular area but whose views are entirely inconsistent with established knowledge.
    3. Selectivity, drawing on isolated papers that challenge the dominant consensus or highlighting the flaws in the weakest papers among those that support it as a means of discrediting the entire field.
    4. Creation of impossible expectations of what research can deliver. For example, those denying the reality of climate change point to the absence of accurate temperature records from before the invention of the thermometer. 
    5. Use of misrepresentation and logical fallacies.
    That is what I object to. Nobody should be allowed to invoke freedom of speech and transform it into the right to disseminate lies. It is in these situations I propose accountability for irresponsible behaviour. The active promotion of (medical) disinformation leads to increased morbidity and mortality, which is evident to every reasonable person willing, and able, to understand the difference between fact and fiction. Claiming to be presenting factual information when it clearly involves refuting established science is not comparable to writing books or making cinema.

    No, I am not advocating a witchhunt. It would still be required to present evidence that harm -i.e. HIV infections, epidemics of infectious diseases, hatecrimes, et cetera- is linked to what was said by denialists. However, if such a causal effect can be proven why should the anti-science movement not be liable in the legal sense?

    Concluding, I am against prohibiting specific views, but would make those that irresponsibly -as in: choosing ideology over reason- promote dangerous behaviour accountable for the resulting harm. Freedom of speech comes at a price!

    Update: The right to lie gives us this.

    Update II: Regarding alternative medicine it is possible to take a more legalistic approach, Brennen McKenzie just started a series on the topic:
    When I write or talk about the scientific evidence against particular alternative medical approaches, I am frequently asked the question, “So, if it doesn’t work, why is it legal?” Believers in CAM ask this to show that there must be something to what they are promoting or, presumably, the government wouldn’t let them sell it. And skeptics raise the question often out of sheer incredulity that anyone would be allowed to make money selling a medical therapy that doesn’t work. It turns out that the answer to this question is a complex, multilayered story involving science, history, politics, religion, and culture.
    What I hope to do in this series of essays is look at some of the major themes involved in the regulation of medical practice, particularly as they relate to alternative medicine. I will begin by touching on some of the general philosophical and legal issues that have defined the debate among the politicians and lawyers responsible for shaping the legal environment in which medicine is practiced.
    Update III: Yet another example of the freedom of misinformation.

    Update IV: Using Bush's card-trick here is the denialism deck of cards.

    Update V: The right to mislead claims yet another victim.

    Monday, 1 November 2010

    Vaccine Unawareness Week

    November has arrived and the infectious-disease-promotion-movement has its "Vaccine Awareness Week." Therefore they are being offered a less Halloween inspired week of science-based information regarding vaccines. Probably they are not interested in a rational debate because the willfully blind ignore information contradicting their ideology. This inoculates them against the current correcting "misinformation week"-week. So, this week supporters of critical thinking attempt to reach the worried and misguided adherents of the anti-science crowd. Articles promoting critical thinking can be suggested at Science-Based Medicine:
    Many of our fellow science bloggers are on board as well. We will use this site at aggregate as many science-based posts about vaccines and public health as we find. If you have or know of any that are not listed, please let us know in the comments and we will add it.
    The first posts are already on-line. Steven Novella deconstructs the propaganda surrounding flu vaccines while Orac revisits a previous post:
    About seven months ago, I encountered a profoundly intellectually dishonest set of graphs done by Obomsawin that were designed to demonstrate that "vaccines didn't save us."
    I note that, not only have the graphs not been changed as far as I can tell, but Dr. Obomsawin is scheduled to give a webinar tomorrow evening (exactly 24 hours from now, actually) entitled Graphic Reality: The Charting of Truth in which he is apparently going to argue the same old nonsense that "vaccines didn't save us."
    Orac notes that he:
    intended for a while to go back and revisit Obomsawin's remaining nonsense. Somehow I just never got around to it. As you may recall, in my original post I didn't deconstruct all of his graphs and how deceptively he used them. Vaccine Awareness Week might be the perfect opportunity to rectify that oversight.
    Please visit the above mentioned aggregate site frequently this week for more. You may also be interested in what immune response is, since this is what vaccines attempt to augment. Some background can be found here.

    Update: Red flag? Mercola will help us fight those scientists. All you need to do is buy something from him.

    Update II: Collecting articles trying to protect us against the infectious-disease-promotion-movement Liz Ditz makes it easy for us to follow these posts.

    Update III: At Science-Based Medicine Harriet Hall adds:
    Physicians, has a feature called AFP Journal Club, where physicians analyze a journal article that either involves a hot topic affecting family physicians or busts a commonly held medical myth. In the September 15, 2010 issue they discussed “Vaccines and autism: a tale of shifting hypotheses,” by Gerber and Offit, published in Clinical Infectious Diseases in 2009.  
    The article presented convincing evidence to debunk 3 myths:
    1. MMR causes autism.
    2. Thimerosal (mercury) causes autism.
    3. Simultaneous administration of multiple vaccines overwhelms and weakens the immune system, triggering autism in a susceptible host.
    Next is Steven Novella who analyses the history of chicken pox and the fairy-tales from the anti-vaccine brigade, and Orac shows another example of crank magnetism.

    Update IV: The current endeavour is noticed in New Zealand by Skeptics in the Pub. Information on Vaccination Safety and Quality is available at the WHO website and EBM-first offers us some valuable links. More on influenza, effectiveness of vaccination and its risks, are discussed by Science-Based Pharmacy. Also, I found an old, but sadly still relevant, article there which was a response to the misinformation spread by those who prefer the return of preventable infectious diseases. As an aside, in Canada there already was a National Immunization Awareness Week earlier this year. Striking is an article written by Dr. Jay L. Wile. In his own words:
    He is best known for the "Exploring Creation with..." series of textbooks written for junior high and high school students who are being educated at home.
    With this background I was pleasantly surprised to read:
    Because people in California are refusing the whooping cough vaccine in large numbers, whooping cough is rearing its ugly head there. Children are needlessly becoming sick and dying, and we have the misinformation spread by anti-vaccine people to thank for it.
    Pretty amazing. Then there is the nice overview "Not Dangerous, and Irresponsible to Opt-out of" by Todd W. Finally, for those wandering the intertubes, here is a guide to evaluate trustworthiness of websites.

    Sunday, 31 October 2010

    Freedom of speech

    Most countries in the West guarantee freedom of speech, because everybody should be able to express their opinion, however flawed. If we then counter the misleading and incorrect statements with facts people will be able to recognise ideology for what it is. At least, that is what I was thinking in the past. That principle I have come to doubt.

    The past decade we have seen the rise of the anti-science movement, the decline of quality in journalism, and use of sophisticated techniques by those Merchants of Doubt. This means that public discourse (about science) is dominated by ideology, and monetary, driven arguments.

    But there is also scientific evidence supporting my doubts. Research by Brendan Nyhan et al. which shows that people are not correcting their ideology based views when confronted with contradictory evidence. Their study shows something called "backfire effect," which stands for the observation that
    corrections actually increase misperceptions among the group in question.
    NPR aired a discussion with Brendan Nyhan. While commenting on a more recent study in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology Ben Goldacre observes:
    What do people do when confronted with scientific evidence that challenges their pre-existing view? Often they will try to ignore it, intimidate it, buy it off, sue it for libel or reason it away.
    The classic paper on the last of those strategies is from Lord, Ross and Lepper in 1979: they took two groups of people, one in favour of the death penalty, the other against it, and then presented each with a piece of scientific evidence that supported their pre-existing view, and a piece that challenged it; murder rates went up or down, for example, after the abolition of capital punishment in a state.
    The results were as you might imagine. Each group found extensive methodological holes in the evidence they disagreed with, but ignored the very same holes in the evidence that reinforced their views.
    After discussing the study he concludes:
    When presented with unwelcome scientific evidence, it seems, in a desperate attempt to retain some consistency in their world view, people would rather conclude that science in general is broken.
    Jonathan M. Gitlin, for Ars Technica, reviews studies by John Bullock of Yale, and the above mentioned by political scientists, Brendan Nyhan of Duke and Jason Reifler of Georgia State. An explanation for refuting facts that contradicts ideology might be cognitive dissonance. This may hinder rational debate on so-called controversial topics.
    It seems to suggest that this effect might lead to problems when it comes to efforts to educate people about controversial or politically charged topics; I'm thinking here of climate change or evolution skeptics, both groups that have been targeted by think tanks and interest groups with vested interests in challenging accepted facts. It also points to the rationale behind media outlets like Fox News or Air America, where ideologues can have facts that support their world view continually reinforced. Sadly, that's bad news for anyone who's interested in honest and open public debate.
    Yet another study, by David Gal and Derek D. Rucker, When in Doubt, Shout!
    Paradoxical Influences of Doubt on Proselytizing shows that:
    people whose confidence in closely held beliefs was undermined engaged in more advocacy of their beliefs (as measured by both advocacy effort and intention to advocate) than did people whose confidence was not undermined.
    Reviewing this article Tom Jacobs, for Miller-McCune, notes:
    The notion that shaken beliefs leads to increased levels of advocacy can be traced back to Leon Festinger’s 1956 seminal book When Prophecy Fails. It examined a cult whose members believed in their leader all the more strongly and began actively advocating on his behalf even after his predictions of catastrophe failed to materialize.
    Gal and Rucker set out to replicate Festinger’s findings and use more recent psychological research to determine precisely what drives this dynamic.
    Their conclusion leads him to observe:
    This helps explain why political rhetoric has ratcheted up during a time of rapid societal change. In a logic-driven world, the shattering of long-held assumptions such as “the U.S. will never be attacked on its home soil” or “the value of my house will never decrease” would lead to a thoughtful period of reflection and re-evaluation. In our world, it leads one to actively advocate one’s pre-existing beliefs all the more passionately.
    So, in contrast with conventional wisdom, the Tea Partiers may not be true believers so much as they are people who have had their confidence in the system shaken. To overcome any distressing doubts, they have reaffirmed their convictions by loudly attempting to persuade others. As Gal and Rucker put it in the title of their paper: “When in Doubt, Shout!”
    In short, as Tom Rees puts it:
    Although it is natural to assume that a persistent and enthusiastic advocate of a belief is brimming with confidence, the advocacy might in fact signal that the individual is boiling over with doubt.
    The same mechanisms appear to be present in the entire denialism-movement. Just look at the rhetoric used by the and-still-alternative-medicine-works-crowd, vaccines-are-dangerous-crowd, evolution-is-just-another-belief-crowd, HIV-does-not-cause-AIDS-crowd, earth-is-flat-crowd, global-warming-is-a-hoax-crowd, US-does-not-torture-crowd, without-abolishing-civil-liberties-the-terrorists-will-win-crowd, voter-fraud-threatens-democracy-in-the-US-crowd, et cetera. These studies show part of the psychology behind the vehement opposition to (scienctific) fact. This obsessive denial of science is why I call those that promote, and those that are susceptable to, the above the anti-science movement. Whatever the reason, if science is not compatable with ones personal beliefs the irrational discard science.

    Recently, following years of denying the efficacy of vaccines, we have seen the return of many preventable infectious diseases. With horrible consequences.This is a result of the right people have to say whatever they want, however irresponsible. But, freedom of speech does not stand for the right to mislead and/or lie, i.e. perpetrate a scam. Today it is used to protect the salespitch of conmen and populists among us and not to promote reasonable public discourse.

    More and more I am inclined to think that this willfull spread of misinformation, if not overt lies, should be corrected. In medicine prevention is becoming increasingly important. Why not apply that principle to public discourse? Two possibilities come to mind. One, we should disallow speech which is evidently at odds with science, i.e. the earth is flat, HIV does not cause AIDS, vaccinations are evil, et cetera. The second would be to hold the anti-science crowd accountable for the consequenses of their advocacy. We should prosecute the infectious-disease-promotion-movement for increased morbidity, if not mortality. Does the law not mention reckless endangerment? See the article by attorney Jann Bellamy for details:
    Those who breach their duty to avoid the spread of communicable disease may be liable to those injured for damages.
    In short, those advocating an absolute right to freedom of speech must acknowledge the consequence of that principle and allow accountability when this right damages other individuals.

    Update: It appears I was not clear enough in outlining what qualifies as reckless, to accommodate here is a clarification.

    Update II: Another detailing the difficulties in opposing the anti-science crowd is Amy Tuteur who reviewed an article on pseudoscience in relation to the internet and noted:
    Minimizing cognitive dissonance requires selective exposure, seeking out information sources that confirm existing beliefs and avoiding sources that undermine those beliefs.
    Her conclusion:
    The authors and publishers of pseudoscience books and websites are quite upfront about their determination to minimize cognitive dissonance by restricting the free flow of information. Only information that supports a predetermined point of view is allowed. Anything else must be deleted. To the extent that any real scientific papers are discussed, they are limited only to those that can be easily refuted. The rest of the vast scientific literature is ignored.
    Update III: Apparently this obstacle to rational discourse was also discussed by Watching The Deniers.

    Tuesday, 19 October 2010

    Correcting "misinformation week"-week

    The Ministry for the promotion of infectious diseases has anounced a “Vaccine Awareness Week” from november 1-6. To counter the spread of the denialism-virus by the we-need-no-stinkin'-science-crowd David Gorski has suggested an antidotum. As Steven Novella writes:
    we will be posting science-based information about vaccines, and countering anti-vaccine misinformation throughout the week. Look for these posts on Respectful Insolence (Orac has also announced the event), here at NeuroLogica, and on Science-Based Medicine.
    The team supporting science consists of the people at Science-Based Medicine and Neurologica, Orac, PalMD, Tod W., and Science Mom. If you are resistant to the denialism-virus because of a predilection for the scientific method you can follow their contributions through their pages or via Twitter using hastag #vaxfax. Naturally, should you be suffering from, and willing to be vaccinated (pun intended) against, the promote-ignorance-at-all-costs-virus you are more than welcome too.

    Update: Other participants are Science-Based Pharmacy, and Scott Gavura, and Skepacabra. Seed Magazine offers an explanation as to why people are unwilling to vaccinate:
    As Sam Harris argues in his new book The Moral Landscape, we have a bias against sins of commission rather than sins of omission.     
    This means that the consequences of action are perceived as morally worse than those of inaction. Even if the result is the same. In the manufactroversy surounding vaccination
    they see the government or meddling doctors causing autism—a sin of commission. But parents who don’t get their children vaccinated and end up causing a measles outbreak are only committing the lesser sin of omission.
    Humans are also naturally biased to favor their own children over others’ kids, and to prioritize present dangers (like the growing autism crisis) over remote ones (like the dim memory of measles). Other biases may be in effect as well. Powerful biases such as these are difficult to overcome, but perhaps as we begin to see more and more potentially deadly outbreaks of preventable diseases, public opinion will change. Our attention to the question of autism might then be redirected towards research on effective treatments—but sadly, only at the cost of serious illness in children who might have been protected by vaccines.
    While CNN reports on yet another victim, Matthew Lacek, of the infectious-disease-promotion-movement. And in 2008:
    Measles—a highly contagious disease-causing virus—is making a comeback in the U.S., thanks to parents fears over vaccines. Fifteen children under 20, including four babies, have been hospitalized and 131 sickened by the red splotches since the beginning of this year in 15 states and the District of Columbia, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
    According to Scientific American. But hey, we all know vaccines are evil.

    Update II: The fruits of years of being educated by irrational fanatics, as CNN tells us:
    Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, has claimed the 10th victim in California, in what health officials are calling the worst outbreak in 60 years.
    Luckily, pertussis is not as dangerous as vaccinations are.

    Wednesday, 8 September 2010

    The "I am Galileo"-argument

    One of the endearing traits of the anti-science movement is the cornu copia of logical fallacies they feel proves their point. It does not matter whether they refute global warming, promote the spread of infectious diseases, think giving water (shaken, not stirred) is practising medicine, insist evolution is a plot by evil fascists, or dismiss any other part of science that conflicts with their ideology. Part of their modus operandi is the use of arguments that to any rational observer make no sense at all. Confronted with this array of illogical arguments I have tried to find an explanation for why these people hold on to views that are demonstrably false.

    While reading about yet another incarnation of the science-is-nothing-more-than-religion-cult I remembered my internship at the department of Psychiatry. There I was told that the main characteristic of a delusion is holding on to evidently incorrect ideas while no evidence presented will ever be sufficient to abandon that view. As such I imagined that part of the denialist-syndrome is some form of delusional disorder. And indeed we can recognise several subtypes.

    Not infrequently the reasoning incorporates the belief they are Galileo. The argument in general goes like this:
    1. There is a global conspiracy by scientists to keep "The Truth" hidden and simultaneously spread misinformation,
    2. The anti-science movement only wants to expose those policies,
    3. Because of that scientists are persecuting these "sceptics,"
    4. For having a dissenting view to that of The Church Galileo was persecuted,
    5. The science behind Galileo's observations turned out to be right,
    6. The fact Gallileo was persecuted proves the anti-science movement is right.
    This is referred to as the Galileo fallacy, or gambit. Any rational bystander would be impressed by the sheer number of statements incompatable with common sense and logic.
    1. What evidence do they offer for this conspiracy?
    2. What evidence supports their opposing view?
    3. Since when is requiring to adhere to the scientific method persecution?
    4. Claiming to be comparable to one of the greatest minds in history is at best a tad arrogant.
    What these "sceptics" fail to notice is that Galileo made observations based in science, something they invariably refuse to do. Since his conclusions contradicted religious dogma, i.e. ideology, the Church attacked him. His findings were opposed not on their merits but by appeal to authority: the bible. Enter the anti-science brigade. The mere fact their stance is rejected too proves they, like Galileo, are persecuted. Wrong. They clearly misunderstand the meaning of the word.

    The truth, as opposed to "The Truth," of the matter is that they fail to produce any scientific evidence, which Galileo did. Pointing this out is not equal to persecution. This alone makes the comparison risible. Second, even if they were being persecuted it does not prove they are right. Many have been persecuted in the past but I doubt the Shoah had anything to do with Jews offering dissenting scientific theories. Or, as Robert Park observed:
    To wear the mantle of Galileo, it is not enough to be persecuted: you must also be right.
    Third, they ignore any evidence contradicting their view, which the Church did also. This suggest they should invoke the Church and not Galileo. Last, by equating yourself to one of the greatest minds in history to justify ignoring the vast majority of scientists is more than slightly delusional. Of course, we do have examples (how many can you cite?) of Galileo-type situations. But most of the "alternative views" turn out to be simply wrong. Every time such a "dissenting voice" is adopted by the mainstream it adheres to the rules of the game. Something the anti-science crowd vehemently opposes. Their position is akin to playing tennis with your feet. Just like the pro-science movement those you oppose will object to you using your feet because in tennis that is not supposed to be done. How many people would accept the defense: "well I am special therefore I should be allowed to ignore the rules?"

    Nevertheless the anti-science movement refuses to subject themselves to our current rules of the game of science. Strangely enough when they are then told this means their claims are unscientific (i.e. not tennis) they scream persecution. For some reason they feel the stringent rules science has adopted should not apply to them because they are inherently special. Umm. No. The entire crux of science is there are no special cases or individuals. Everybody has to abide by what is called the scientific method. Being Galileo does not suddenly remove that burden from you.

    Thinking of Godwin's law I would suggest there should be a Galileo's law: invoking Galileo in any (scientific) debate instantly proves your position is inherently unscientific.

    Update: Just discovered Galileo was wrong.

    Update II: Responding to the suggestion Galileo was wrong here is a review of what he was saying by Ethan Siegel while Orac adds his two cents.

    Sunday, 29 August 2010


    Rational people know, and abhor, the pandemic involving the denialist-virus. We now appear to have an attempt by Liz Ditz (Twitter) to bring those valliant people opposing the anti-science movement together in what is called ScienceMobsters. Some of them you may recognise from my blogroll. This science promotion movement is, as Liz explains here and here, the result of:
    a series of tweets from Homeopathyinfo (http://twitter.com/homeopathyinfo/).
    The ensuing debate made her compile a list of potential candidates. The criteria for inclusion are:
    * science / reality based
    * Forthright about challenging pseudoscience (homeopathy, chiropractic for anything other than low back pain, reiki, etc.)
    The secret society members, and related things, can be found at #Sciencemob. At present it appears to focus on nonsensical medical claims, though global warming and evolution are not excluded. Suggestions for new members you can  leave at the Sciencemob Twitter feed. My blogroll has some good candidates so Liz:)

    Friday, 20 August 2010

    The infectious-disease-promotion-movement

    Numerous blogs, this one included, have written about the pernicious effect Andrew Wakefield has had on vaccination levels in children. He singlehandedly was able to get nearly irradicated diseases reintroduced by claiming this highly effective method of preventing disease causes autism. This summer the infectious disease promotion movement suffered a setback when British General Medical Council (GMC) ruled against him. Since his adherents suffer from both a delusional disorder and the Dunning-Kruger effect, they may want to read about statistics in medicine, his downfall has not been the boost for vaccination rates less intellectually challenged people had hoped for. The legacy of his misbehaviour is a decreased herd immunity which still kills. Joseph Albietz remembers the death of a child:
    He was unvaccinated, but that was because of his age.  He was part of the population that is fully dependent on herd immunity for protection, and that is exquisitely prone to a life-threatening course once infected.  
    The failure of maintaining herd immunity makes him observe that:
    the medical community in general is delusional if we think we can resolve the public health threat posed by the undercurrent of distrust in the vaccination program on our own.  No number of studies, consensus statements, or ad campaigns by the CDC, WHO, AAP, AAFP, etc (not to mention countless blog posts) will be sufficient to maintain the public trust in the vaccination program.  We need public support as well.

    The Force remains strong in the anti-science camp. Luckily Penn & Teller offered us another solution by spending an episode of Bullshit on the subject. Orac reviewed it for us, and has the video. Yet another approach is suggested by Joseph Albietz:
    In Atlanta, Georgia this September is a rather sizable (~40,000 people) convention called Dragon Con.  Our skeptic friends at Skepchick.org and the newly formed “Women Thinking Free Foundation” are launching their their “Hug Me! I’m Vaccinated” education campaign at Dragon*Con, and have organized a local pertussis vaccination clinic during the event.  In coordination with the local health officials, they are providing free TDaP vaccinations for any Dragon*Con participant, as well as information and educational materials.
    But as long as airhead celebreties keep falling for the denialism-virus ....... Sigh.

    Update: Another explanation for the importance of herd immunity is given by ERV.

    Update II: The importance of herd immunity is surprisingly lost on the anti-vaccination crowd. The Watchdog Institute reports:
    that waivers signed by parents who choose to exempt their children from immunizations for kindergarten enrollment have nearly quadrupled since 1990. California allows parents to opt out of some or all shots on the basis of personal beliefs, be it religious objections or distrust of the medical establishment.
    This causes Orac to observe:
    Failure to vaccinate also endangers the unvaccinated children as well. Last year, in fact, this risk was quantified in a study that found that unvaccinated children have a 23-fold elevated risk of catching pertussis compared with vaccinated children.
    That is, if you accept what physicians say about herd immunity. We all know they don't know as much about diseases as the average celebrity.

    Update III: What happens if others get infected because you object, for whatever reason, to vaccinations, i.e. you support the spread of infectious disease. The possible legal liability is discussed by attorney Jann Bellamy. The short version:
    Those who breach their duty to avoid the spread of communicable disease may be liable to those injured for damages.
    Update IV: If you still think the infection-promotion-movement is a harmless bunch of "sceptics" try reading about the harassment Amy Wallace was subjected to after writing an article called "An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All." Her experience with this witchhunt she explains here:
    Autism’s False Prophets, Dr. Offit’s 2008 book, opened my eyes to the risks of reporting on vaccines. Before I began working on my Wired story I read it, focusing at first on his straightforward description of what being a vaccine advocate had cost him. He’d been vilified on the Internet as a profiteer, a prostitute who serviced Big Pharma, and worse. He’d been physically accosted. His life had been threatened. Once, an anonymous caller had even implied they might go after Offit’s two children.
    What I experienced in the wake of my Wired story was similar in tone (although my child was spared). Like Offit, the vast majority of the feedback I received was positive, but the negative stuff would make your hair stand on end.
    Despite all this she does not regret a thing:
    My Wired piece was a chance to contribute in a meaningful way to a discussion that must be had.
    She ends the article with some suggestions for those interested in promoting rational debate. Another article, by Shot of Prevention, also mention the Watchdog Instute's investigation and the effect of not vaccinating on herd immunity:
    Perhaps more concerned parents should demand to know how many of their children’s classmates are coming to school unvaccinated.  As Dr. Mark Sawyer, pediatric infectious disease specialist at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego noted, “Un-immunized people in general contribute to any disease rates. As the rates of un-immunized kids go up, we are inevitably going to see more and more outbreaks of diseases.”  It is clear that a failure to vaccinate children attending school endangers us all.
    Then there is the CDC which estimated the number of deaths due to influenza. I wish there was a way to prevent those infections.


    Having travelled a few weeks through Norway there are some stories I wish to share that circumstances prevented me to write about before. Well known is the fearmongering surrounding mobile phones. New to me is the danger WiFi poses. Of course, whether the claim makes any sense is another matter. There is a school in Ontario where parents want the school to turn of the signal in response to, in essence vague and nonspecific, symptoms among the students. Quoth Steven Novella:
    From a basic science perspective, there is little plausibility to the notion that Wi-Fi radiation would have any health effects. The amount of energy that is absorbed by a person living in a Wi-Fi field is negligible - less than 1% of exposure from a typical cell phone and well below current safety levels.
    But he advances a different explanation for children getting ill during school hours:
    Stress alone is a sufficient explanation, but there may be others. For example, many students go to school sleep-deprived because they are staying up too late. This is not an issue on weekends and over the summer. Sleep deprivation is a good explanation for most of the symptoms being reported.
    He concludes this is another example of lack of critical thinking skills being at the basis of a "controversy." While Orac notes:
    Did it ever occur to them that complaining of feeling sick is a good way to get out of school for the day?
    Also, he stresses the always ignored maxim "correlation is not causation." Something invariably absent from the anti-science movement.

    Update: Dutch trees appear unaware of the above:
    A study by some Dutch scientists claims to have shown that WiFi kills trees [Study Says Wi-Fi Makes Trees Sick].
    Note the important advise on how to protect against this evil.

    Wednesday, 18 August 2010


    Since numerous people complained about the green letters on a black background I have been playing around with the lay-out. After experimenting I came up with the current version. Please let me know if it is easier on the eyes and whether this makes reading the blog less of a struggle (aside from the content).

    Tuesday, 17 August 2010

    Summer in Norway, again

    Having seen the mountains of southern Norway, last summer, this time I decided to travel across the arctic circle to see Nordland and its midnight sun. First, I went to see Lofoten, after which Kystriksveien followed. The trip traversing Nordland was about 2160 km, the distance on the ferries not included.

    Harstad/Narvik airport Evenes was my place of arrival in the North. From there I drove to Harstad for lunch in de 4 Roser. The brilliant thing was that there was a watertap and icecubes standing next to it. All free! You won't believe the amount of places I have been to that that refuse to give water with coffee. Only sporadically, like here, do you get free water served. For the technically inclined, they also have WiFi. Just ask for the password as you order your coffee/lunch/dinner. Having bought a new toy I just had to play with it! When I finished playing, and eating, I drove through Sortland, and Stokmarknes. While noting that in Norway the outdoors is subject to allemannsretten I put up the tent between Teigan and Taen on Hadseløya. Unfortunately, on my way there, I didn't find the intended site to have coffee: Uværshula.

    Next day I saw Svolvær, had lunch by Lofotenkatedralen, took the ferry Melbu - Fiskebøl to see Nusfjord. That night I camped by Selfjorden in Ramberg. To get there I had to negotiate a steep bridge. Since I never experienced the midnight sun it was a disorienting, yet mesmerising, thing to see. The sun amazingly does not go down. The lack of a sunset resulted in going to bed late.

    The next day my exploration of Lofoten continued on the E10, driving through Svolvær en route to the Lofotr Viking museum in Borg. Of course, in my mind no visit to Norway would be complete without it. The museum has the biggest chieftain's homestead excavated in Scandinavia, and a replica, Lofotr, of the viking ship Gokstad, that I saw in Oslo. Admittedly, it was a bit disappointing, so don't bother coming to the region just for that. Fortunately the road turned into a scene from Lord of the Rings with a towering mountain in front of me.

    The fishing village Å had a somewhat artificial atmosphere, though less than Nusfjord. As in: too much of a tourist attraction. Saving money and time I decided to take a roundtrip, through Kjerkfjorden, on the ferry from Reine. As opposed to the original plan to take a lengthy excursion to the maelstrom, or a whale- and/or eagle safari, or visiting a cave. That night I set up camp at Djupfjorden near Reine, where I found the almost perfect camping site. Secluded, and with a great view. To get there is easy, get out at the parking next to Djupfjordbrua (Djupfjord Bridge), walk five minutes towards the Fjord, and presto: magic.

    In the morning I returned to Svolvær, visiting both Henningsvær and Lofoten akvariet (Lofoten aquarium) at Storvågan. I then took the ferry to Skutvik, headed for the E6 so I could have dinner in Fauske. After dinner I slept at Nordnes Camp & Bygdesenter, which surprisingly has WiFi for the intrepid traveller with electronic gadgets.

    The next day, continuing to Sandnessjøen and Tjøtta to catch the ferry to the Vega Archipelago, I took a detour through Mosjøen to see Sjøgata. It is a nice historical street, and in it you will find Vikgården Landhandel og Kaffebu which is a brilliant place to have coffee, or lunch. The following ferry part did not impress me. Annoyingly, to some islands the last departure was scheduled at around 15:00h. Incredible, considering the amount of tourists that were trying to make a similar trip. The Norwegian Tourist Board may want to rethink their priorities. While arriving at least thirty minutes before departure in Tjøtta there were too many cars - it is a holiday season, so who could have known, to borrow this famous disingenious statement by certain politicians- leaving me stranded. Strangely enough the last ferry, of the week, from Tjøtta to Vega leaves at 18:00h on friday. The next one is not before monday. Therefore I had to make a massive detour via Forvik, to then catch the ferry at Anndalsvågen to Horn. There I finally caught the ferry to Vega. Some five hours later than planned I was able to reach Vega. Since it was too late for the shops to be open I made some food myself. In the morning I took a tour of the island as I did not have the chance earlier. There was the E-Huset in Nes, and also the impressive Stone-age walk. It shows the changes in sea level and human skills, mainly fishing, by the local people. The island turned out to resemble a postcard from the south pacific. Beautiful white beaches.

    Next stop, coffee, and Norwegian waffles with homemade rubarb and prune jam, at Vegstein before catching the ferry back.

    In light of the inability to explore Vega the previous day I had to reschedule, and so my visit to Ylvingen had to be cancelled due to the limited time available. Therefore, without stopping there, I made the same trip in the opposite direction. What is inexctricably linked to visiting the Vega Archipelago is de syv søstre mountain range on the island of Alsten. It is impossible not to notice. Be sure to read up on the mythology surounding it, and its connection to Torghatten Mountain.

    I travelled with the ferry from Søvik to in Herøy, crossed the bridge to Dønna, where I passed Dønnamannen on my way to see the view from Dønnesfjellet. That night the beach at Breivik was my campsite. From Bjørn I went to Sandnessjøen. Took the ferry in Levang to Nesna, continued for the ferry at Kilboghamn to Jaktvik. Ågskardet to Forøy.

    In Saltfjellet-Svartisen National Park I saw Svartisen, a collective term for the two glaciers Vestre and Østre. Slept at Bodøsjøen camping - a nice camping, but it would have been smarter to sleep closer (discovered it too late) to Saltstraumen, "the world's strongest tidal current," in Bodø, which is a massive whirlpool of fast streaming water. As it happened, I had to travel the same road  -nearly 30 km - three times. All to witness the maelstrom the next day. The phenomenon occurs every six hours. Back in the city centre I tried tørrfisk which, to me, appeared similar to lutefisk. The holiday ended with a brief visit to Narvik, and the stone-age engraving of some sort of deer, followed by an improvised midnight meal at Evenes airport. From there I took a plane to Oslo.

    From Oslo Bussterminal I took the bus to Telemark. There I visited several great spots. Of course the birthplace of skiing: Morgedal. It turned out a lot smaller than I had envisioned. Went to see the Eidsbog Stavkirke, had coffee at the picturesque Dalen Hotel, swam in the lake to just unexpectedly miss Selma, a distant cousin of Nessie. Not my cup of tea but in Seljord I noticed the annual Countryfestival.

    The short sightseeing tour ended with a stay in the Hardangervidda Nasjonalpark, in a hut close to the Haukeliseter Fjellstue. The scenery was stunning, fishing not so good. But all in all the sunny weather made it a success. Looked at the exhibition, and tried some homemade beer, at Nutheim Gjestgiveri (The art hotel in Telemark). Via Sandefjord I returned to Oslo to catch the plane home. That is, after a BBQ and a swim at the beach in Hvervenbukta.    

    As an afterthought, I found the roads of Nordland too narrow for my taste. The local "highway" is a small two-way street which barely has space for two cars. Combine that with a meandering mountain road and the very big trailers heading in the opposite direction are a truly frightening sight. Admittedly, driving for weeks on such roads has increased my confidence as a chauffeur, but I still prefer the wider roads in the south of Norway.

    Another unpleasant part of the trip was the horrendously insatiable hordes of stinging insects, yet more creatures mimicking the ones in Scotland. Luckily I did miss the local fauna, of the polar region, which turned out to be slightly too hospitable to other tourists.