Maurizio – Omnologos

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Richard Black Is Not Alone

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Anybody wondering how did BBC’s Richard Black manage to post as poorly argued a blog as today’s, wonder no more: a few hours earlier, BBC’s Duncan Kennedy from Rome wrote an article with a gem like this:

In Italy, politics has literally become a contact sport

Looks like Mr Kennedy is reporting despite showing little awareness of his surroundings: between 1947 and 2008, there have been more than 35 political/mafia massacres in Italy. And many more individual assassinations. A “contact sport” indeed.

If that’s the new standard of BBC journalism, expect Richard Black to dive ever lower.

Written by omnologos

2009/Dec/16 at 10:25:35

Posted in BBC, Italy, Journalism

Are The BBC Blogs In A State Of Confusion?

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I have just started to realise how many blogs there actually are at the BBC, even if most of them are extremely hard to find unless one takes a look at the “BBC News blogs” area somewhere in the rightmost column of some blogs.

For example I knew already of Richard Black’s blog, and there is a link to it in the BBC Science News page, but no trace at all in the “BBC blog network“. Or perhaps I am not looking hard enough.

Today I “discovered” Tom Feilden’s blog…only because Tom has sent a link to it to me. Nothing about it in the “blog network” either. In there, there is instead a link to the Climate Change “Bloom” blog, mysteriously abandoned since 29 July (hopefully the people over there have not been sent to a re-education camp 😎 )

If one goes to what might have been the “home” page for the BBC reporters’ blogs there appears a sad page that has been dead for three years (a terrible thing for a news organization, if you ask me).

And where people would actually look, the left column of every page, no link to any blog at all. Is the Corporation as such singularly uninterested in blogs of all things, one wonders?

Written by omnologos

2009/Sep/16 at 22:22:39

Posted in BBC, Blogging

From Deimocracy To Theatrocracy: A Sad Day For The British Press…..

with one comment

…isn’it, when most of the headlines during the past few years can be explained in a few words in a farcical radio show.

Here’s an excerpt from BBC Radio 4’s The Now Show, broadcast Friday 26 June 2009:

We do not really want change, we want villains for our national pantomime […] everyone says they want change but hate figures are basically more satisfying and they don’t entail having actually to do anything […] it is much easier to find a hate figure [like the BBC in Iran]

Goodbye deimocracy, the power of fear…hello theatrocracy?

Written by omnologos

2009/Jul/01 at 07:46:33

Text Of Complaint To The BBC About Prepackaged Militant AGW “News”

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(AGW: Anthropogenic global warming)

The following is the text of the complaint I have submitted via the BBC Complaints website. For a history of the BBC Australian Climate demonstrations imbroglio, follow this link:

Phil Mercer’s article about the Australian “National Climate Emergency Rallies” is much less likely to be about informing people than an advocacy piece for the fight against anthropogenic global warming (AGW). Thereby it contravenes the BBC’s stated values of being “independent, impartial and honest”.

It is not independent or impartial because Mr Mercer has published his article before being able to check its truthfulness in full, making a guess on the number of marchers based on what the organizers expected.

It is not honest because it is presented as “news” when it has clearly been pre-packaged long before anything had actually happened, with information that could not have been confirmed at the time (please note that as of now Reuters still talks of hundreds not thousands of marchers).

There is nothing in Mr Mercer’s article that could not have been written beforehand. I understand it could be standard journalistic practice, however I do not understand why the BBC would have had to rush forward without fact-checking. Given the absence of any picture of marchers in Mr Mercer’s article, one is left wondering if he has actually seen any National Climate Emergency Rally at all.

As a further note against the BBC’s impartiality on the topic of AGW in this particular circumstance, only the BBC and a few local media outlets have shown any interest in the “National Climate Emergency Rallies”. And all newsmedia including those from Australia have spoken about the marches several hours after Mr Mercer. Please note that I am not claiming the BBC reported manufactured news. That would have been fraud.

Instead, I am asking on what basis did the BBC found it necessary to rush this kind of news first, and without having had the time to check the contents of the article. That is not fraud. That is bias. And as a TV licence fee payer I have the right to question why my money would have to be spent in AGW advocacy, in direct contrast with the BBC’s own values.

If AGW is so important to you why don’t you rewrite your values accordingly?

Written by omnologos

2009/Jun/15 at 21:57:14

Fake “News” On The BBC…

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It’s even worse. It’s about CBBC, aimed at a younger audience…this is the complaint I have just submitted to the BBC:

The “Close encounter with a wild hippo” story is presented as a news item but it appears to be a classic case of a “shameless plug” for a TV programme.

Given your target is the CBBC audience, most of them below the age of 18, in all honesty you should have made the whole situation clearer.

Written by omnologos

2009/Jun/01 at 23:42:24

Posted in BBC

Gordon Brown Gone Ga-Ga

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What’s next? The UK Prime Minister speaking about Kate Moss? Hasn’t he got anything else to keep his mind occupied?

Written by omnologos

2008/Oct/28 at 23:52:29

BBC Website Humiliating Dwarfs (Again)

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UPDATE #2: Received e-mail from the BBC confirming they have changed the text as “an inanimate lump of rock cannot really be said to be humiliated”. On my part, I do not think there was any “bad” intention. Just a poor choice (mix) of words

UPDATE: No word from the BBC yet but the article has been retitled “‘Non-planet’ Pluto gets new class” and its overall tone much changed, addressing 95% of my concerns. There could still be the possibility to argue for more, but frankly it would be pointless and pedantic.
Thank you, whoever did the changes at the BBC

Complaint sent to the BBC website today:

In the article “Humiliated Pluto gets new classyou explicitly associate the word “dwarf” to “humiliation“, “demotion” and “relegation.

I am not saying we should all be “politically correct” all of the time, but the article’s author could have just said that Pluto had been reclassified as “dwarf planet“, with no reference to “humiliation“, “demotion” and “relegation“, WITHOUT losing ANY information.

Who would say that to be a dwarf is to have a lesser dignity?

Conversely, you could try answering this question: why did you feel compelled to use the words “humiliation“, “demotion” and “relegation“?

Imagine if cars were sorted by colour, and somebody wrote of them being “demoted to black” after being repainted!!

Written by omnologos

2008/Jun/12 at 09:52:55

Posted in BBC, Ethics, Pluto

Tagged with ,

A Case of the UK Police Steadily Improving Their Methods?

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Let’s celebrate the fact that the police in the UK are getting better at their job.

It’s either that, or time to cry.

Having killed Jean-Charles de Menezes, they “only” shot Mohammed Abdulkahar in the Forrest Gate fiasco.

This time around, at the end of media-staged dawn raids on homes in Slough, they “simply” “accompanied” 24 people to the nearest Police Station (too bad for those broken doors).


There is one thing in common though: dead, shot or arrested, all of the above were and still are completely innocent of the accusations that spurred British police into action in the first place.

In the nine days since the raid all but one child has been returned to the Roma community in Slough, according to a Romanian diplomat, and none of the 24 adults arrested at the scene has been charged with child trafficking offences.

In other news: despite strong evidence from British courts, the BBC, Channel 4, This is London/Evening Standard etc etc have decided not to correct their reporting about the Slough story. Just in case anybody were still left with the fantasy about “truthful” journalism

Written by omnologos

2008/Feb/14 at 23:14:03

Posted in BBC, Ethics, Journalism

Islamic Law: My Comment (and Picture) on the BBC News Website

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Maurizio Morabito - BBC News

Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has written an extremely insightful piece on “Islam and English Law“.

It is a lecture that everybody should read, as it is intelligent, thoughtful, humble, and single-handedly describes the basis for solving the Islamic Question in Western societies, once and for all.

It can also be seen as the inspiration for a re-writing of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, making it even more universal than it is at the moment.

Dr Williams goes at great lengths to analyse the possible drawbacks of allowing people to use Islamic (but not just Islamic) Law within the framework of English (secular) Law, and offers challenges and solutions to all circumstances. He even mentions the existing settings of Inuit Law, as an example.

I say, rarely I have seen a document more profoundly Christian, in the best possible sense of the word. And yet (or… of course!) reactions have been overwhelmingly negative!!!.

The number and virulence of the ill-informed attacks against Dr Williams is a clear indication of how much Islamophobia has now become ‘mainstream’.

Written by omnologos

2008/Feb/08 at 19:55:24

Posted in BBC, Christianity, Ethics, Islam, UK

Tagged with ,

China and the BBC Warming Bias

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Shameless self-promotion of my “China and the BBC Warming Bias” blog over at the “Omniclimate – The Unbearable Nakedness of CLIMATE CHANGE” site, in which I compare the BBC attitude towards reporting heatwaves vs snowstorms.

Very shortly:

July 2002: Chinese heatwave is caused by “the increase in vehicles on the roads, which raise street temperatures

One year ago: Warm, dry weather in north China “linked to climate change“ (page is chock-full of climate change links)

Today: “China is struggling to cope with its worst snowfall in decades” (not one climate change link in sight)

They didn’t even care to mention that severe snowstorms have affected the very areas that were experiencing “climate-change-related” drought last year…

For more thoughts on the AGW bias at the BBC:

Written by omnologos

2008/Jan/31 at 22:05:30

Why is the BBC Biased Against Climate Change Sceptics?

with 4 comments

Letter sent to Richard Black, Environment correspondent, BBC News website

Dear Richard

I am not sure what you’ve set yourself up to show regarding “climate sceptics“, in the week “ahead of the launch of the IPCC’s synthesis report for 2007“.

First you treat the “sceptics community” as if it were some kind of monolith, or a political party (“Unravelling the sceptics“, Nov 12).

May I respectfully remind you that it is the Anthropogenic Global Warming proponents that need demonstrate their proposition, not the other way around.

In science, there’s usually only one way to agree, but lots of ways to disagree with something.

So what is “in the fringe” is as varied as it gets: outside the mainstream you will find those honestly doubting the Accepted Truth, alongside people with dodgy goals, and of course plenty of nutters.

It is not for the honest sceptics to answer for the dishonest ones, or for the fools.

And even among those sincerely disbelieving the IPCC’s claims, there will be quite a large range of opinions. That’s because they are not mainstream.


Today (Nov 14) you have published another baffling article “Climate science: Sceptical about bias”  where you argue almost nobody provided you with evidence backing the accusations the “science itself is against” climate sceptics.

First of all it is a rather naive accusation you’ve decided to argue against. How can “science itself” be against scepticism of any sort?

At most, it would be the scientific Establishment that will show reluctance in admitting being wrong.

Anyway, in that article you proceed lamenting the dearth of evidence, only then to dismiss the biggest of it all, Nature’s rejection of Stephen McIntyre’s and Ross McKitrick’s rebuttal of Michael Mann’s Hockey Stick.

Please do make up your mind: either you are looking for evidence, or you are not looking for evidence.

The fact that you were looking for small stuff should not prevent you from seeing the big “elephant in the room”.

Also if you decide to mention something only to state that it “has been so well documented elsewhere” can you please insert at least a link of where that “elsewhere” is. It’s full of links on all BBC news pages, you know, so there must be a chance for you to help your readers investigate further, at least your own claims.

By the way, are you aware that the BBC and the IPCC have themselves pretty much rejected the Hockey Stick?

Look at this graph from one of the “In Depth” pages

That graph resembles no Hockey Stick anybody will ever want to play with. Looks more like a wide-bodied, irregular golf club…


And finally since you like challenges, how about this one: can you please point me to a page on the BBC new website showing present evidence for climate change?

I do not want to see one of the many lists of things that may, could, perhaps will happen.

All I can find is “Climate change: The evidence” that speaks of tiny raises in temperature, centimeters of melting ice and millimeters of rising seas.

You must admit it does not look like the clearest of cases.


Richard Black has responded. Here my reply to his private message. All text below is of course mine.

(about lack of evidence for anti-sceptic bias)
You’re missing something very important there. Let me try to convey the message with a made-up report:

“Women are not much at risk of domestic violence”, journalist Mr Red reported today. “I have sent a questionnaire to many of them but few bothered to respond. There is little evidence to support that claim”.

(about what “warmers” are finding out in the “real world”)
The real-world stuff is what I am studying at the moment.

In the AR4-WG2 documente there is a map repeated several times (eg fig 1.9, p 116) with numbers and percentages for observed physical and biological changes.

Now, there is an extremely large majority of “data samples” coming from biological changes in Europe (28,115 out of a total of 29,373). Furthermore: of those 28,115 “biological European data sets”, 89% are “consistent with warming”. In other words, 3,093 “biological European” changes (11%) are “NOT consistent with warming”. That is almost three times more than the total 1,177 number of observed changes outside of “biological European” and “consistent with warming”.

I still think the “warmers” need to demonstrate their case better than that.

(about the lack of skeptical articles in mainstream scientific publications)
Aren’t you arguing ad autoritatem there…

And don’t you know, when people publish for example on “Energy&Environment”, we are told that it’s not good enough.


Written by omnologos

2007/Nov/14 at 22:44:32

BBC to Cut 10% of the Newsroom

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London, 19 Oct (MNN) – BBC News w ll be cut y 10%, Directo General Ma k Thompson nnounced.

W do not beli ve there wi l be much of change for ur users”, Mr hompson ad ed.

After al it is a mino ity amount nd 90% will s ill be ther after the cu s”. Asked if f rther redu tions will e done in the uture, Mr Th mpson appe red tentat ve. “Well, we h ve done sev ral experi ents about hat, but res lts are not lear”. “I s pp se t i po si le o c t a mu h a 33%”, e co cl de , “b t r m 50% o w r s t e l y e o e c u t r r d c i e

Written by omnologos

2007/Oct/19 at 20:05:05

Posted in BBC, Humor, MNN

Power Lines, Cancer and the Meaning of Statistics

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Another day, another bunch of medical results draped in statistics. What is the right way to interpret them?

This article on Power Lines and Cancer provides the basic tools. In a sentence: take with a grain of salt all results based purely on statistics, where the risks or the benefits are less than 300%.


Do overhead Power lines cause cancers, especially leukaemia in children?

Like in a “Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern” match of oratorical tennis, two sides of a supposedly scientific debate have not been able to get down to a reasonable conclusion after 30 years of research.

One month, we are told that Science has demonstrated that Power Lines induce leukaemia and other diseases. Cue schools asking for pylons to be removed; and people selling their houses before values start sliding down.

The following month (or year), we are told that scientific studies have shown that the danger, if it exists, is not discernible at all. Cue schools asking for pylons to be removed anyway. And so on and so forth.

How can one make any sense out of this? After all those children either get, or do not get leukaemia. Should that be a matter of debate?

In an era where Science appears to be tugged in all kinds of directions (think of the MMR vaccine debate; the forecasted disasters of Climate Change; the purported obesity epidemic), an analysis of the Power Lines and Cancer debate can teach important lessons on the limits of translating Science into Policy; the need to exercise critical thinking, also about “Authorities”; the perils of letting the media interpret the world for you; and the danger that scientific analysis, endlessly manipulated by unscrupulous hacks and pressure groups, will be used to dent our freedom.

The Science

Studies on adverse effects of electromagnetic fields have been concentrating recently on Power Lines and Mobile Phones [2]. Power Lines are a source of electrical and magnetic fields in their proximity and these can interact with biological material [8]. However, for the frequencies and strengths involved with overhead Power Lines, there is no indication from laboratory studies of any negative effect, for example on rats or cell cultures.

An alternative line of investigation is through epidemiological studies, using statistics to identify adverse effects if any. For example, an increase on the incidence of diseases in children living near Power Lines (“cases”), compared to children living far away from them (“controls”).

Results are usually provided in terms of Relative Risk (RR), the ratio between the percentages of people developing an illness among the “cases” and among the “controls”. A value of 1.0 for RR means there is no difference between cases and controls. A value less than 1.0 indicates that the “cases” are safeguarded against the illness more than the general population. A value above 1.0 is evidence that the “cases” are at greater danger to fall ill than usual.

For example, the RR of developing lung cancer is around 40 23 for habitual (male) smokers. In other words, a smoker’s chance to get lung cancer is 2,300% that for a non-smoker.

The first report on higher leukaemia rate for children living near high-voltage Power Lines is the Wertheimer & Leeper study of 1979 and another by Savitz et al. in 1988 [2]. Much work has been done afterwards by organizations such the US-based Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) mostly disproving the findings above. The United Kingdom Childhood Cancer Study UKCCS (UKCSS) found no evidence for increased “risk for childhood leukaemia, cancers of the nervous system, or any other childhood cancer” in reports in 1999 (about electricity supply), in 2000 (proximity to electrical installations including Power Lines) and 2002 (electric fields in general) [5].

The most important recent scientific epidemiological results for Power Lines and cancer have been published in June 2005 by Professor Gerald Draper of the University of Oxford’s Childhood Cancer Research Group [4]. In the study:

• Children within 200 m of high-voltage Power Lines had a relative risk of leukaemia of 1.69
• Those between 200 and 600 m had a RR of 1.23. This is not compatible with current knowledge on biological effects of magnetic fields. At 200 m, fields from Power Lines are less than the average fields in homes from other sources.
• RR appeared to decrease with distance. There is less than 1% probability that this finding is purely due to chance (an estimate usually indicated with “p<.01”)
• No excess risk for other childhood cancers correlated to proximity to lines

Conflicting interpretations

At first glance, there may be something about children leukaemia, likely associated to proximity to Power Lines. Still, there is no known mechanism, and the relative risk is minimal. As pointed out in the editorial accompanying the Draper article, Power Lines may account (if they do) for no more than five cases of disease per year in the UK, compared to more than 200 children dying because of traffic accidents, and 32 in house fires [8]. Furthermore, there is no indication of effects for any other form of cancer [5]. This means that at present there is no incontrovertible data clearly indicating a cancerous danger in power lines for children and adults.

But it is not possible to design a study proving the negative, that Power Lines do not cause any risk of cancer. The consequence is that the public controversy is likely to stay with us for the foreseeable future. The diversity of comments to the Draper study is in fact truly remarkable [4].

Take for example the opinion of Denis Henshaw, Professor of Human Radiation Effects at the University of Bristol [3] (my emphasis): “[Draper’s] latest findings not only strengthen further the evidence that children living in proximity to high voltage power lines are at increased risk of childhood leukaemia, but in finding effects up to 600 metres away they invoke electric field corona ion effects as a possible causal mechanism”.

Professor Henshaw, whose work is funded by the charity “Children with Leukaemia”, goes as far as stating that “this may be the tip of the iceberg […] in terms of the many other illnesses also associated with magnetic fields such as adult leukaemia, adult brain cancer, miscarriage and depression”.

Which side is “right”? The “Authority” of the “Authorities” is not an answer: because Science is not about following the Authorities; and there are well-known scientists and organizations either side of the debate. Among those skeptical of any cancerous danger in Power Lines, the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (2001); the International Agency for Research on Cancer (2001); the U.S. National Institutes of Health (2002); and the U.K. National Radiological Protection Board (2004) [8].

Obstacles on the road to a good Policy

Where Science cannot reach, opinions start kicking in, and competing interests maneuver to cajole us in one direction or the other. In the case of Power Lines and Cancer, the controversy has indeed been “sustained by uneven reporting on this issue by the mass media” and “lay-oriented books that allege that there has been a conspiracy to conceal the health risks of power-frequency fields” [8].

“Uneven reporting” is visible on the BBC News Website. Again in response to the publication of the Draper article [1], there is an article that presents the issue in scarier traits at first: “leukaemia rates are significantly higher among children who live close to power lines”.

It then progressively mellows “In the past, evidence suggested that low frequency magnetic fields, generated by high voltage cables, may be implicated in some way – a theory which hasn’t been endorsed by [Draper’s] Childhood Cancer Research Group” before ending with “we also spoke to Dr David Grant, director of the Leukaemia Research Fund. He told us he thought the higher incidence of leukaemia near pylons was a coincidence”.

Statistical indicators are explained poorly and in an alarmistic manner. For example, a Relative Risk of 1.69 is described as a 69% increased probability to develop leukaemia. Such a reporting is mathematically right, conceptually wrong and frankly misleading. Is there as 400% growth in increasing one’s savings from £1 to £4? Yes, but it’s still just £4. Moreover, as explained below, values of RR less than 3 seldom are considered worth of note in epidemiological studies.

Perhaps, given that the page is from the Breakfast section, the BBC’s was a clumsy, rather misinforming attempt at eliciting controversy and comments from the audience (see form at bottom of page). That’s bad news for present-day Britain, where its media-conscious Government gives “insufficient weight to available evidence” placing “too great a reliance on unsubstantiated reports that often have their origin in the media” [12]

There is concern also reading on the bias of the published scientific literature. For example, a study done in Montecito [6] reported as much as seven cases of children with leukaemia or lymphoma around a school in the vicinity of overhead Power Lines. However, “five of the seven Montecito children […] attended the school. Of those five, two attended the school for a very brief duration, leaving only three with plausible cases for school exposures as a possible cause” [7].

The Montecito study is one of the scientifically flawed pillars behind the most famous “conspiracy” book, “The Great Power-Line Cover-Up” written by Paul Brodeur [10]. Mr Brodeur set out to demonstrate the cancerous effects of high-voltage power lines, and to denounce a world-wide conspiracy to keep such evidence hidden from the public.

Long rebuttals have been published since [7]. In a telling sign that there may have been a case of “investigative journalism with a purpose”, few if any opinions of the “conspirators” were either solicited or included in the book, leading to a commentator to state that “Brodeur’s criticisms of the people […] are no more than unsupported innuendo, gross exaggeration, and serious misstatement.” [7].

Dealing with epidemiological studies

Epidemiology is a powerful tool. It can even provide estimation on the likelihood that the outcome of a study is due to random coincidences, rather than an actual casual link. The Draper article cited above scientifically asserts that there is less than a 1% chance (“p<.01”) that such its findings are due to a random quirk in the measurements, instead than actual physical processes.

That 1% may appear a very low figure. On the other hand, it also means that among the epidemiological studies published every year with a similar p, one out of every 100 will on average report irrelevant findings.

Trouble is, we do not know which one. An epidemiological study like Draper’s may indicate a link childhood leukaemia-Power Lines. But there is always the possibility that by a run of bad luck, that study is the one out of 100 that “got it wrong”.

And with values of p around .05, incorrect findings will affect one out of every 20 of the great majority of Power Lines and Cancer studies. This problem is further compounded by the normal “reporting bias” (when “multiple studies are done but only some are reported” [8]). A result labeled with p<.05 may have no real meaning: when 20 or more measurements are performed, one of them will be randomly positive.

With other issues at play like “confounders”, (non-electromagnetic causes like traffic density and socioeconomic class); and “publication bias” (as “positive studies are more likely to be published than negative studies”) [8], epidemiology alone cannot suffice in understanding a phenomenon. What else is needed to complement it? Here’s a checklist [7]:

1. Epidemiology should find a strong association (i.e. a high value for RR, e.g. above 3)
2. A very specific disease should be involved (for example, one type of leukaemia)
3. There should be a consistency between studies and with data from laboratory work, cancer incidence trends and other sources. In fact, “when two studies with similar designs find different results and the differences cannot easily be explained or rationalized, neither study is accepted as definitive” [7].
4. The results should be preferably not involve a rewriting of biology and physics

Obviously, an enormous RR could be used to justify investigations on how to rewrite biology and physics. Vice-versa, a very plausible biological mechanism only needs a relatively low value for RR.

Future investigations?

As of June 2006 criteria 3 and 4 (consistency and plausibility) are still missing, and relative risks are no more than 1.5-2.5 (sometimes, they are less than 1.0).

More of the same types of epidemiological studies are unlikely to resolve anything [8]. Decades of laboratory studies have shown “little evidence of a link between power-frequency fields and cancer” even in “life-time exposure of animals”. And despite the increasing use of electricity, a 1993 report by the World Health Organization and an analysis for Sweden from 1960 to 1991 have found no discernible changes in leukaemia incidence in adults or children [7].

Perhaps it may be interesting to finally identify the role of the “confounders” [8]. But this may be like shooting in the dark: and there may really be no need to invest resources in trying to identify a link between Power Lines and Cancer.

Lessons learned

One side of the debate states that leukaemia cases do not depend on the presence of overhead power lines: because there is no evidence in that direction. The other side goes as far as to say that children, if not everybody, should be kept at distance from those same lines, in order to lessen the chances of getting leukaemia and other disease: because there is no evidence that power lines are safe.

I do not see any reason to fear power lines. More in detail: for power-line-induced leukaemia to be actually happening, a small, yet peculiar but not impossible rewrite of biology and physics is necessary. We would need very hard evidence to back that up. And there are a lot of other causes of deaths that kill much more than 5 children per year in a country like the UK.

An opinion, but that is the whole point. The problem is if and how we translate a potential risk into a policy, a set of guidelines defining our course of action. If we leave the interpretation to interested parties and sensationalistic media, they will be in charge of regulating our lives in ways unwarranted by our own scientific data.

Do we have to evacuate all areas around power lines because there is some possibility that they will cause leukaemia? Or should we agree that it is much wiser to keep living our lives, unless something is ultimately proven dangerous? To put it simply: shall we move forward only if we can get an “all clear”? Alternatively, shall we stay put only if there is any clear danger in moving?

Are we for being very cautious, or ready to embrace progress? The natural answer for Humanity seems to be the latter. Our brains are hard-wired into recognizing and appreciating the novelties in our environment. From very early childhood, we find it natural to explore, investigate. And walk. Who among us would refuse to walk until checking the ground ahead at every step?

Some have suggested to resolve the controversy by implementing “Prudent Avoidance”, one kind of Precautionary Principle, “taking steps [of modest costs] to keep people out of fields, both by re-routing facilities and by redesigning electrical systems and appliances” [7]. For example, underground lines have been suggested. But they are expensive, and “difficult, time-consuming and expensive to repair […] (and they do break)” [8].

“Prudent Avoidance” is quite dangerous for a free society [12]. It may end up becoming the hijacking tools for vocal individuals and organizations to lock up resources that could be better spent in making everybody’s lives freer and easier, instead of in the futile attempt to eliminate all chance of risk.


The Power Lines debate is not just about electrical power, and is not just about personal choice. It is a matter of societal power.

The definition of the very rules governing our society is at stake: if the Ultra-cautious Party wins, it will be one of the first steps in the future prohibition of most of what it is new. After all, who can demonstrate that there is no danger at all in using WiFi to get to the Internet? Or that there are no negative consequences in distributing ideas through online magazines?


[1] Power lines and childhood cancer, Friday, 3 June, 2005, from the BBC Breakfast programme

[2] Michel Ianoz, ‘Biological And Health Effects Of Electromagnetic Fields’, IEEE EMC Society, 2004

[3] Reported in “Responses to the CCRG study of power lines and childhood cancer”

[4] Gerard Draper et al., ‘Childhood cancer in relation to distance from high voltage power lines in England and Wales: a case-control study’, British Medical Journal 2005; 330: 1290

[5] ‘EMFs and childhood cancer’, by the British company National Grid’s EMF Unit Public Information Line

[6] R Kreutzer et al., ‘Investigation of the Montecito Leukaemia and Lymphoma Cluster Final Report [Draft]’, California Department of Health Services, 1990

[7] R D Miller, ‘Unfounded Fears: The Great Power-Line Cover-Up Exposed’, IEEE EMBS Committee on Man and Radiation (IEEE, 1998)

[8] J Moulder, ‘Power Lines and Cancer FAQs’, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Wisc, U.S.A,

[10] P Brodeur, ‘The Great Power-Line Cover-Up’ (Little, Brown 1993)

[12] J Luik, “Risk vs. Liberty”, TCS Daily, 27 June 2006

Written by omnologos

2007/Sep/12 at 22:22:23

BBC: Last for News

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Either the people at BBC News are having a Seriously Bad Monday, or there is something fishy in the relationship between the BBC and British Airways.

(Alternatively: here some evidence of BBC incompetence and tardiness:)

British Airways has been forced to reveal that there is free upgrade to First Class available for you and your family, if you happen to die during the flight.

As of now (10:30AM GMT) , such piece of… news is absent from BBC News.

According to Google News, it is appearing in 45 other news outlets on the web, first of which was 21 hours ago.


I always find it suspect that the BBC News web site mostly finds lead stories in the morning, rather than randomly during the day. So much for being a leader in web-based news provision. The first-class-corpse episode just will make things look even odder…

As for Brutish Airways, why oh why am I not surprised to find them out once again with procedures taking precedence over common sense?

Written by omnologos

2007/Mar/19 at 10:38:36