Saturday, April 21, 2007
Even though Barb and I now are usually alone Friday nights, we still try to have a Shabat .. a little chicken, some challah and .. well just the four of us, .. Moshe the dog and Tsono the cat included, watch some TV read books, and then enjoy a shared warm bed. Some parts of getting old are wonderfuil.
But this Friday night we decided instead to go to a talk. The talk was supposed to be by Riyadh Lafta, an Iraqi epidemiologist who published a study in the Lancet, estimating the frequency of deaths as a result of the Bush Blunder. The epidemiology goes on and collateral deaths are a serious issue to most Americans, but the US government somehow manages to not publish meaningful figures. Dr. Lafta was invited to our campus by Amy Hagopian and all seemed well until the US government with the compliance of the British government refused to grant Dr. Lafta a visa or even allow transit through Heathrow so that he could land in BC and speak at Simon Fraser. Amy Hagopian of the UW quickly arranged a speech by Les Roberts, one of the co-authors of the original study.
This Soviet/'South African style repression of free speech really pissed me off so we decided to go to the protest. Seemed like an apt use of Shabat since we always pause during the candles to wish peace to people we know are working for peace. .
Well worth the time. The talk was simulcast from Simon Fraser in BC because the fall back plan had been for him to speak from there with a video link to Kane Hall. Some of the collaborators on the project were at the British Columbia site and joined in the discussion.
Roberts was very impassioned. His anti-Bush war persona was perhaps too strong . Much more important was the case he made for the accuracy of the Lancet article and the frightening story of Bush efforts to repress even this little morsel of truth. Better than Challah .. worth blessing Amy for making this happen.
To be honest the numbers are not all that surprising. The Lancet data showed something like a doubling of the normal death rate, hardly a surprise. In contrast our government claims, with no data in a reviewed journal and no support from any outside agency, that the increase in deaths is only 10%. 10% is absurd! What benefit is there to our country by this sort of stupidity? Goebbels was more successful at propaganda than Msrs. Bush and Rove.
To make matters worse, the "media" ... the same media derided by the Fauxistas and Limbaughs as "left" has in its typical cowardly way insisted on "balance." What is balance? Science is not "balanced" because science requires always taking a critical view. A balanced view is not the same thing as a critical view. In the "mainstream media" balance means finding the rare voice of opposition, even if the voice is a small minority and lacking in expert credentials. In this case, the media got scientists without skills in population science or statistics to offer criticisms.
The worst of it is this derogatory cartoon in my photo, treating the investigators of this peer reviewed study as illiterate peasants. What all this does point out, however, is the deep problem for for debate of any paper. Roberts told us about the lengths the NY Times went to t find an epidemiologist who would criticize the Lancet study. The obfuscatin over global warming is all to familiar. That said, Dr. Robert's arguments ad absurdam that the official estimates of 10% make no sense. How can we hear day by day the Baghdad morgue is full and its cemeteries no longer able to accept burials if this is true? Goebbels understoof the gig lie. So did Stalin. Neither, however, had this well developed anility to use a "democratic" media to distort the truth. It seems to me that the scientific community is cowardly of they do not stand up to this Stalinesque behavior.
During Dr. Roberts talk I felt he hurt his case by adopting the persona of the radical antiwar activist. Certainly this must cost the study some credibility, but he would be less than honest if he did not declare his allegiance.
I was also disappointed by the audience. Lots of (older) familiar faces and very few students. A few hajib clad muslims but no openly Jewish folks,gays, or even the Young Democrats. Equally sad, though to be expected there were no obviously publican folks either. The official UW leadership was notably absent as well. Sad.
It is also too bad the talk was not in the med school. Dr. Roberts is no creature of some leftish peace movement. He is a professor of epidemiology at Hopkins. Given the relevance of his message to our students future patients, esp. to veterans who return with post traumatic stress, but possibly because some of the students will end up serving as medics if we can not find a way out.
Other disappointments: the audience was nealry racially pure. A few Asian faces, maybe 1 or 2 African faces. Apartheid is alive and well in liberal America. My other concern was that some folks objected to my being there as a photographer. I try hard to be unobtrusive. Unfortunately my SLR is not totally silent but I use NO flash. However,l objecting to cameras is wrong .. just as it was wrong of the Publicans to not want me at the Rove affair. Photography is part of free speech. If anything it is sad that the official media, the same folks who go to absurd lengths to find some "balance "to the Lancet paper, were not there.
Click here for more images.
Posted by SM Schwartz at 12:38 PM