Monday, 2 May 2016

Dodgy cancer research

If you give money to a cancer research charity, how much of it is likely to fund useful and reproducible research? Not much is my conclusion after reading this article in PSI.  

The U.S. government spends $5 billion every year on cancer research; charities and private firms add billions more. Yet the return on this investment—in terms of lives saved, suffering reduced—has long been disappointing: Cancer death rates are drifting downward in the past 20 years, but not as quickly as we’d hoped. Even as the science makes incremental progress, it feels as though we’re going in a circle...

...The deeper problem is that much of cancer research in the lab—maybe even most of it—simply can’t be trusted. The data are corrupt. The findings are unstable. The science doesn’t work.

To anyone with a scientific background the problem of irreproducible research is entirely believable. Laboratory research can be a messy business where every detail is not recorded and even the people may change over time.

...In other words, we face a replication crisis in the field of biomedicine, not unlike the one we’ve seen in psychology but with far more dire implications. Sloppy data analysis, contaminated lab materials, and poor experimental design all contribute to the problem...

...Begley blames these failures on some systematic problems in the literature, not just in cancer research but all of biomedicine. He says that preclinical work—the basic science often done by government-funded, academic scientists—tends to be quite slipshod. Investigators fail to use controls; or they don’t blind themselves to study groups; or they selectively report their data; or they skip important steps, such as testing their reagents.

The whole article is worth a read even if you don't have a scientific background. Scientific research can be so complex that the person who records absolutely everything is the exception rather than the rule. Yet shoddy and irreproducible research still has to be paid for. 

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Life without Tony

There are a couple of interesting numbers over at

Number of years since Labour last won a working majority without Tony Blair - 50

Number of years since Labour last won a majority without Tony Blair - 42


Ken Livingstone said he regretted sparking a storm over anti-Semitism in the Labour Party but insisted it was a "nonsense" stirred by "embittered Blairites" to undermine Jeremy Corbyn.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Labour’s antisemitism

The Labour antisemitism row rumbles on and on.

The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, has said the past week has been dreadful for Labour, and that Ken Livingstone should apologise for the hurt caused by his remarks linking Hitler and Zionism.

Speaking after Labour announced an independent inquiry into antisemitism in the party, McDonnell said he wanted to prove that Labour was a party that tackled discrimination, but admitted the furore that led to both Livingstone and MP Naz Shah suspended may have cost it votes.

It seems to go with the Corbyn territory. Presumably it is also a consequence of electing Muslim MPs who may be tempted to dish out what they see as visceral appeal to those who elected them. The signals don’t have to be as crude as Naz Shah’s, but if one stoops so low as to tread that path then they have to be recognisable. In my view we’ll see more of it if Corbyn stays. The man's a fool.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Kim's firework show

I see Kim Jong Un is still trying to cheer us up with his missile circus.

Seoul: North Korea tried and failed to test fire two powerful, new mid-range ballistic missiles on Thursday, ahead of a landmark party congress that opens next week, South Korean media reported.

The Yonhap news agency said the North made a second attempt to fire a Musudan missile in the evening, after a similar test in the early morning ended with the missile plunging to earth.

The Musudan is believed to have an estimated range of anywhere between 2,500 and 4,000 kilometres (1,550 to 2,500 miles). The lower range covers the whole of South Korea and Japan, while the upper range would include US military bases on Guam.

The missile has never been successfully flight-tested.

So that range of between 2,500 and 4,000 kilometres is rather closer to 0 kilometres. It all makes one wonder if there is any such thing as intelligence. Maybe the jury is out on that one but on the whole I think intelligence is one of those myths we cling to with such fondness.

After all, what on earth goes on in a chap like Kim's head? Where does he think he is going? Where does he think he is taking North Korea? Why is he so fat and what is that hairstyle all about? Deep questions I think you'll agree, but not easy ones to answer this side of eternity. Especially the hairstyle.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Plague graves

Five crude gravestones lie by the side of a path on the hillside above Curbar village in Derbyshire. Approaching four hundred years old, they are the graves of the Cundy family, all killed by a local outbreak of plague in 1632. The stones were overgrown and invisible for years until a local woman located and uncovered them in the thirties.

Just above Curbar is a footpath across the fields to Baslow. About 300 yards along this path are the Cundy Graves. The Great Plague came to Curbar in the 17th century, although 30 years prior to the more famous Eyam Plague. The Cundy family were from nearby Grislowfield Farm and perished in 1632. It is not known who buried the family but Thomas and Ada Cundy together with their children Olive, Nellie and young Thomas each have a slab carved with their initials.

I hope the kids died first. What a morbid thought that is, but I hope they did. Not that it matters now. Below is a closeup of Ada's grave.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Creeped out by the masses

Penetrating article from Brendan O’Neill in spiked. In his view the political left now favours the EU because it has become in O'Neill's words radicals for the status quo.

The thing driving these radicals for oligarchy is distrust and even disdain for the living, breathing practice of democracy. The further removed the left becomes from ordinary people, the more it sees aloof institutions or cliques of experts as the best guarantors of progressive change. The story of the modern left is one of utter disappointment with the little people. It is creeped out by the masses, whose passions and interests it simply does not understand. Where the left is increasingly identitarian, anti-growth, eco-obsessed and sneering about modernity, ordinary people remain stubbornly interested in jobs, growth, making ends meet, having more and more stuff, and seeing people as people rather than as identities. This chasm between the left and everyday people explains the left’s move towards being pro-state, pro-welfarism, pro-expertise and pro-Brussels: it doesn’t trust Us, and so it turns to Them, to try to secure a few social reforms.