Category Archives: Skepticism

We must separate church and state

In England, our constitution is blighted by an ancient theocratic hangover. Time to sweep it away and bring England into the 21st century!

We’re not Iran, but our constitution does have a theocratic structure. I think this holds us back, impedes us, like an old invisible injury. Like a subtle poison in the blood, it quietly harms us. Most people seem unaware of it. Even Hazel Blears, who recently said that we are a secular democracy.

Yesterday a seminar was held at the UCL Constitution Unit to mark the launch of a book on the issue by Bob Morris. Church and State in 21st Century Britain is a meticulous analysis of the situation. No such study can be entirely neutral, but Morris seems to have no religious agenda; his aim is to point out that establishment is at odds with the principle of religious equality, making it “anomalous to the point of unsustainability”. He is wary of the term “disestablishment” but he does advocate the big reform – ending the monarch’s need to be Anglican.

In his presentation yesterday he said that reform would ideally come from the church itself. Otherwise it is likely to have reform thrust upon it, in a way it cannot control. So it is in its interest to lead the process. He acknowledged that here is little sign of this willingness as yet, but seemed hopeful that a fresh look at the issue might change that.

In the discussion that followed three Anglican representatives spoke. Each offered a slightly different flavour of the old conservative line: that it would be perilous to mess with our ancient constitution, that it might unleash an aggressive secularism. None admitted that there was a problem here that had to be faced.

These speakers confirmed my view that the Church of England looks very nice and liberal from a slight distance but at heart its philosophy is high Tory: tradition is sacred, those who want to tamper with it are dangerously shallow. I know of almost no Anglican who has said anything different, who admits Morris’ basic point that reform is necessary, so that we can have a constitution we can really affirm, and participate in, rather than an alienating relic from the imperial past. One exception is the Oxford theologian George Pattison, who has recently called for a more honest debate within the church (in an article in The Church Times). It is worth noting that Rowan Williams has failed to start the debate; he has allowed the reactionary position to become stronger – a piece of major political cowardice.

Might reform come from elsewhere? Of course the secularist lobbies advocate it, but in a sense this is unhelpful: it makes it seem an atheist cause, and so strenghtens the hand of the Anglicans, who scarify with the prospect of a Dawkinsish tyranny. Ideally it would come from a political movement that was also Christian, led by a new Cromwell figure.

Why is disestablishment not a mainstream liberal cause? It baffles me frankly. Why is it hardly ever mentioned by the columnists of this paper, except as a quick aside? To my mind it is the very essence of liberalism, that church and state should be separate. This is the English revolution that we have never quite had. It is the way to a new sort of political participation, a new sense that we are citizens of a modern state. Other aspects of constitutional change, and other liberal causes such as CCTV, DNA database and ID Cards are pathetically small-fry compared to this.


Muslim faith school fails to meet standards

A TEAM of experts will be sent in to monitor the overhaul of a primary school which has been strongly criticised in the most damning inspection report ever issued by the Department of Education.

The unprecedented move follows a litany of shocking revelations contained in an inspection report into the North Dublin Muslim School in Cabra, which is housed in the former School for the Deaf.

Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe last night said the standards of management, teaching and learning at the school were “unacceptable” and that child protection policies were “inadequate”.

The findings — the most critical of nearly 3,000 inspection reports issued by the department — are set to cause alarm within Ireland‘s 32,000-strong Muslim community.

The report — seen by the Irish Independent — will be officially published tomorrow. It reveals:

  • Taxpayers’ money given to the school in the form of grants since it opened in 2001 is unaccounted for;
  • The quality of teaching of English, Irish and maths is “poor” or “very poor“, with teacher morale “very poor“;
  • Sanitary facilities are “inadequate;
  • The school is in breach of several pieces of legislation;
  • The school refuses to implement the music curriculum.

Separate correspondence, also seen by the Irish Independent, reveals that the school failed to pay around €37,000 it owed to the department.

To recover some of the money, the department withheld payment of the capitation grant in June 2008 and threatened to do so again recently.

Critical

The patron of the school, Imam Yahya Al-Hussein, said the report was too critical and a bit “over the top”.

He said the current board of management, appointed last November, inherited the problems and was trying to solve them. The former board chairperson Shahzad Ahmed was unavailable for comment last night.

The draft inspection report says that no financial accounts are available since the school opened and there is little physical evidence of where state grants have been spent.

The current acting principal (the fourth since it opened) has still not completed the probationary process. All the mainstream teaching staff resigned last June and the board made 12 new appointments. No member of the teaching staff had completed the probationary period at the time of the inspection on November 28 — only four of them are fully qualified within the Irish system.

The report says that the school is unable to provide support for newly qualified teachers or those experiencing professional difficulties.

Several policies that relate to the care, welfare and protection of children have not been drawn up. The school is in breach of the Education Welfare Act (2000) and of the Rules for National Schools.

The report says there are no policies on attendance; child protection; social personal and health education and on the duties of special needs assistants. The Relationships and Sexuality Education programme has not been implemented. There are no plans for assessment; for English as an additional language; for visual arts, physical education; drama and music.

The North Dublin school is one of two schools catering for the Muslim community. Pupil numbers there have fallen significantly since 2006, the report says. However, the report found inconsistencies between class roll books, the attendance book and the register of pupils.

Since 2006 almost 3,000 inspection reports have been published by the department on its website. There are two kinds of reports: single subjects; and Whole School Evaluation (WSE) such as that prepared for the North Dublin Muslim National School.

The inspectors review the quality of school management, school planning and the quality of learning and teaching. There have been a few very critical reports, mainly at post-primary level, but none come anywhere near this one in terms of the directness of the language and the criticism.

It represents a significant step change in the approach taken by the department whose lawyers checked and double checked the report before agreeing to its publication.

– John Walshe Education Editor


Watch out – that engineer could be a terrorist!

WHO becomes a terrorist? An MI5 report leaked to London newspaper The Guardian in August 2008 concluded that there is no easy way to identify those who become involved in terrorism in the UK because there is “no single pathway to violent extremism” and that “it is not possible to draw up a typical profile of the ‘British terrorist‘ as most are ‘demographically unremarkable'”.

The extraordinary lengths the German authorities went to after 9/11 to track down potential terrorists are a stark example of how useless profiling can be. They collected and analysed data on over 8 million individuals living in Germany. These people were categorised by demographic characteristics: male, aged 18 to 40; current or former student; Muslim; legally resident in Germany; and originating from one of 26 Islamic countries. Then they were sorted into three further categories: potential to carry out a terrorist attack (such as a pilot’s licence); familiarity with locations that could be targets (such as working in airports, nuclear power plants, chemical plants, the rail service, labs and other research institutes); and studying the German language at the Goethe Institute.

With the help of these categories authorities whittled the 8 million down to just 1689 individuals, who were then investigated, one by one. Giovanni Capoccia, an Oxford-based political scientist who analysed this case, reported that not one of them turned out to be a threat. All the real Islamic terrorists arrested in Germany through other investigations were not on the official “shortlist” and did not fit the profile.

Does it follow, as some scholars now think, that anyone, given the right conditions and the wrong friendships, can end up joining a terrorist group? Not entirely. We found that engineers are three to four times as likely as other graduates to be present among the members of violent Islamic groups in the Muslim world since the 1970s. Using a sample of 404 Islamic militants worldwide (with a median birth date in 1966), we tracked down the education of 284. Of these, 26 had less than secondary education, 62 completed secondary education (including madrasas), and 196 had higher education, whether completed or not. Even if none of the cases where we lack data had higher education, the share of those with higher education would be a hefty 48.5 per cent.

The next move was to find out what they had studied – and we tracked down 178 of our 196 cases. The largest single group were engineers, with 78 out of 178, followed by 34 taking Islamic studies, 14 studying medicine, 12 economics and business studies, and 7 natural sciences. The over-representation of engineers applies to all 13 militant groups in the sample and to all 17 nationalities, with the exception of Saudi Arabia.

Our finding holds up quite well in another sample of 259 Islamic extremists who are citizens or residents of 14 western, mostly European, countries, and who have recently come to the attention of the authorities for carrying out or plotting a terrorist attack in the west. Although this sample contains far fewer people with higher education than the older members of the first group, nearly 6 out of 10 of those with higher education are engineers.

We also collected data on non-Muslim extremists. We found that engineers are almost completely absent from violent left-wing groups, while they are present among violent right-wing groups in different countries. Out of seven right-wing leaders in the US whose degrees we were able to establish, four were engineers: for example, Richard Butler, the founder of the neo-Nazi group Aryan Nations, was an aeronautical engineer, and Wilhelm Schmitt, leader of the right-wing, extreme anti-government, pro-localism group known as the Sheriff’s Posse Comitatus, was an engineer with Lockheed Martin. Among the total membership of the Islamic groups, however, the over-representation is still much higher.

This could be a coincidence: if the group founders are engineers they would also be more likely to recruit other engineers via their educational or professional networks. This explanation only works up to a point. It does not explain why engineers are over-represented in groups in which the founders were not engineers, or why the founders of groups that were not in contact with each other were often engineers.

Why engineers? Everybody’s first reaction is that they are recruited for their technical proficiency in bomb-making and communications technology, but there is no evidence for this. A tiny elite tends to do the technical work in these groups, and jihadist recruitment manuals focus on a personality profile rather than technical skills.

So we are left with two hypotheses: either certain social conditions impinge more on engineers than on other graduates, or engineers are more likely to have certain personality traits that make radical Islamism more attractive to them. Our best guess is that the phenomenon derives from a combination of these two factors.

With engineers in the Middle East we have very intelligent, ambitious students who have found it difficult to find professional satisfaction, both individually and collectively in their desire to help their countries develop. Graduates of very selective degree programmes, they may have endured relatively greater frustration in a stagnant and authoritarian environment.

The fact that engineers are not over-represented in Saudi Arabia offers some support for this, for, alone among the countries of origin of terrorists, Saudi Arabia has had a shortage of engineers and has thus offered better employment opportunities. However, even in western countries and south-east Asia, where labour market opportunities are better for all graduates, engineers appear relatively more attracted to violent Islamist groups than other graduates. Why is this?

We reckon that something else is going on, something at the individual level, that is, relating to cognitive traits. According to polling data, engineering professors in the US are seven times as likely to be right-wing and religious as other academics, and similar biases apply to students. In 16 other countries we investigated, engineers seem to be no more right-wing or religious than the rest of the population, but the number of engineers combining both traits is unusually high. A lot of piecemeal evidence suggests that characteristics such as greater intolerance of ambiguity, a belief that society can be made to work like clockwork, and dislike of democratic politics which involves compromise, are more common among engineers.

So the bottom line is that while the probability of a Muslim engineer becoming a violent Islamist is minuscule, it is still be between three and four times that for other graduates.


Can religion really save the world?

Tony Blair is not the first person to think that religion will decide the fate of the modern world.

“The 21st century”, said André Malraux, at the height of the Cold War, “will be religious or it will not be at all.” But can they be right? When we look round the world today, the presence of religion in any conflict seems to make it more intractable, and bitter. Our instinct is to take the principle out of conflicts and turn them into pragmatic disputes, susceptible to reasonable resolution.

That is certainly the approach the Tony Blair’s “peace process” took in Northern Ireland. Many people will feel that the answer to religious wars is less religion, not more of the “right” sort. But there are two problems with this approach. The first is that secularism is losing prestige in the places where wars are actually under way. There’s not enough of it about to quench the fires. The second is a very simple question: if secular common sense doesn’t start disputes, what makes us think it can end them? Perhaps the kinds of dispute for which people will kill, and die, will always have a religious dimension.


Vicar’s ban for sending sex texts

A Church in Wales vicar has been banned from office for sending text messages of a “sexual and intimate nature” to a teenage girl.

The Reverend David Waters, vicar of Gelligaer, near Caerphilly, went before a disciplinary tribunal last year.

The tribunal recognised the 61-year-old was “suffering from a mental illness” when he sent the texts.

The ban is to remain in force until he provides medical opinion he is no longer at risk of repeat behaviour.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Church in Wales confirmed: “The Reverend David Waters was referred to the disciplinary tribunal of the Church in Wales, in respect of an allegation of conduct giving just cause for scandal or offence committed during his time as an incumbent in the parish of Gelligaer.

“Having admitted the offence, Mr Waters has been inhibited (prevented) from holding a licence or obtaining permission to officiate in any diocese in the Church in Wales.”

‘Scandalous and offensive’

The Church in Wales said that at the Cardiff tribunal last October Mr Waters admitted, through his solicitors, that he had sent texts to the girl on various days before 31 May 2007.

A Church in Wales statement read: “The matter was heard in Cardiff on 31 October 2008 when, through his solicitors, the respondent admitted the offence that on various days before the 31 May 2007 he sent to a teenage female person under 18 years of age, inappropriate text messages, in that they contained words or phrases that were unseemly and of a sexual and intimate nature. He further accepted that such conduct was scandalous and offensive.”

The ban will stay in place until he can provide the written medical evidence to a bishop that he is no longer at risk of repeat behaviour.

At that stage, the church said, it would be up to the individual bishop to decide whether the ban should be lifted.

The church said it felt the ban was sufficient punishment, as no criminal offence was deemed to have taken place, and the incidents did not prompt a police investigation.

“However, it is clear that the Church in Wales took this matter very seriously, which is why he was suspended from his post in 2007, and the matter was referred to the tribunal,” added a spokesperson.

Technically, Mr Waters still holds the title of priest, as he has not been “defrocked”.

However, the tribunal’s decision means he is unable to officiate in any churches that come under a Church of Wales diocese until the ban is lifted.


McTimoney Chiropractors told to take down their web sites

The Quackometer reports;

This letter has been issued from the McTimoney Association to all its members…

Date: 8 June 2009 09:12:18 BDT

Subject: FURTHER URGENT ACTION REQUIRED!

Dear Member

If you are reading this, we assume you have also read the urgent email we sent you last Friday. If you did not read it, READ IT VERY CAREFULLY NOW and – this is most important – ACT ON IT. This is not scaremongering. We judge this to be a real threat to you and your practice.

Because of what we consider to be a witch hunt against chiropractors, we are now issuing the following advice:

The target of the campaigners is now any claims for treatment that cannot be substantiated with chiropractic research. The safest thing for everyone to do is as follows.

  1. If you have a website, take it down NOW.

When you have done that, please let us know preferably by email or by phone. This will save our valuable time chasing you to see whether it has been done.

  1. REMOVE all the blue MCA patient information leaflets, or any patient information leaflets of your own that state you treat whiplash, colic or other childhood problems in your clinic or at any other site where they might be displayed with your contact details on them. DO NOT USE them until further notice. The MCA are working on an interim replacement leaflet which will be sent to you shortly.
  1. If you have not done so already, enter your name followed by the word ‘chiropractor’ into a search engine such as Google (e.g. Joe Bloggs chiropractor) and you will be able to ascertain what information about you is in the public domain e.g. where you might be listed using the Doctor title or where you might be linked with a website which might implicate you. We have found that even if you do not have a website yourself you may still have been linked inadvertently to a website listing you or your services.

CHECK ALL ENTRIES CAREFULLY AND IF IN DOUBT, CONTACT THE RELEVANT PROVIDER TO REMOVE YOUR INFORMATION.

CHECK OUR PREVIOUS EMAILS FOR SPECIFIC ADVICE AND KEY WORDS TO AVOID.

KEEP A LOG OF YOUR ACTIONS.

  1. If you use business cards or other stationery using the ‘doctor’ title and it does not clearly state that you are a doctor of chiropractic or that you are not a registered medical practitioner, STOP USING THEM immediately.

5. Be wary of ‘mystery shopper’ phone calls and ‘drop ins’ to your practice, especially if they start asking about your care of children, or whiplash, or your evidence base for practice.

IF YOU DO NOT FOLLOW THIS ADVICE, YOU MAY BE AT RISK FROM PROSECUTION.

IF YOU DO NOT FOLLOW THIS ADVICE, THE MCA MAY NOT BE ABLE TO ASSIST YOU WITH ANY PROCEEDINGS.

Although this advice may seem extreme or alarmist, its purpose is to protect you. The campaigners have a target of making a complaint against every chiropractor in the UK who they perceive to be in breach of the GCC’s CoP, the Advertising Standards Code and/or Trading Standards. We have discovered that complaints against more than 500 individual chiropractors have been sent to the GCC in the last 24 hours.

Whatever you do, do not ignore this email and make yourself one of the victims. Some of our members have not followed our earlier advice and now have complaints made against them. We do not want that to happen to you.

Even if you do not have a website, you are still at risk. Our latest information suggests that this group are now going through Yellow Pages entries. Be in no doubt, their intention is to scrutinise every single chiropractor in the UK.

The MCA Executive has worked tirelessly over the last week keeping abreast of development and contacting at risk members. We have decided that this is our best course of action to protect you and the Association at this time of heightened tension. This advice is given to you solely to protect you from what we believe is a concerted campaign, and does not imply any wrongdoing on your part or the part of the Association. We believe that our best course of action is simply to withdraw from the battleground until this latest wave of targeting is over.

Finally, we strongly suggest you do NOT discuss this with others, especially patients, Firstly it would not be ethical to burden patients with this, though if they ask we hope you now have information with which you can respond.

Most importantly, this email and all correspondence from the MCA is confidential advice to MCA members alone, and should not be shared with anyone else.

Please be aware that the office phone lines are likely to be busy, so, if you need our help, please send an email to the office and we will get back to you as soon as we can.

Yours,

Berni Martin

MCA Chair.

Best wishes,

Nicki

Stunning. What have they got to hide?

The McTimoney web site itself now just reads:

For all enquiries regarding McTimoney chiropractic, please contact :

McTimoney Chiropractic Association
Crowmarsh Gifford
Wallingford OX10 8DJ
admin@mctimoney-chiropractic.org
Tel : 01491 829494

The most stunning admission is that Chiropractors are told:

IF YOU DO NOT FOLLOW THIS ADVICE, YOU MAY BE AT RISK FROM PROSECUTION.

****************************************************************************************************

All the missing websites have been archived here: http://yaxu.org/tmp/chiros.html

Smashing job yaxu

PS Dont forget to sign the Simon Singh support campaign.

http://www.senseaboutscience.org.uk/index.php/site/project/333/


Should ‘alternative medicine’ be taught in universities?

The use of complementary therapies on the NHS will be explored in a More 4 documentary, which will reveal that £12m has been spent on homeopathy over the last three years.

Why does it matter? Homeopathy – where patients are treated with a diluted dose of the substance that caused their original symptoms – has been widely discredited as little more than “sugar pills” by scientists.

After a six-year campaign by Professor David Colquhoun at University College London, the last BSc in homeopathy was suspended by Westminster University in March after it failed to recruit enough students. Five homeopathy degrees have been scrapped since 2007.

But there are still plenty of complementary and alternative medicine (Cam) courses available in universities, and the NHS continues to offer a variety of therapies, including homeopathy, despite a lack of research evidence to show their effectiveness.

The Liberal Democrat science spokesman, Dr Evan Harris, says the NHS is wrong to spend money on unproven treatments and effectively to give them a “stamp of approval” by doing so.

But Dr Peter Fisher, of the Royal London Homeopathic hospital, argues that there is strong evidence that patients benefit in the long term.

What do you think? Should universities be allowed to run such courses, or the NHS to provide patients with these alternative therapies?