Author Archives

Brian Hughes

Oughterard

[I ripped this audio file from a tweet by one of Ireland’s alt-right anti-immigrant underbelly accounts. I don’t feel obliged to give credit here. Fair usage etc. You can find it yourself.]

Ireland’s increasingly organised hard-right moron brigade have been wetting themselves silly since a meeting in Oughterard went viral yesterday, where one of my local members of parliament went along and opened his racist mouth.

The biggest irony is that the people who whipped up hysteria in Oughterard were themselves, in the Irish parlance, “blow-ins”.

Wednesday’s meeting was organised by known operatives — reactionary alt-right provocateurs — who have been doing this type of thing around the country. They are following a playbook used by fascists in Hungary, Russia, Italy, Turkey, even in the United States, where political speech is taken out of the mainstream and targetted at left-behind, largely non-metropolitan, communities. Fears are stoked, genies are released from bottles, and scapegoats are targetted.

Eamonn VIDF has posted an important thread outlining their activities. Please read it all:

The people of Oughterard have been played. The politician who made the racist speech has been played. He’s a patsy. A pawn. A gullible mouthpiece playing his part. And he sits in our parliament.

Ireland. We have a problem.

oughterard

* * *

Of course, that doesn’t mean that what this guy said should be ignored. His speech was replete with tropes and cliches, and is worth a takedown. We can all do with a playbook.

So here are the bones:

“Our Taoiseach [Prime Minister] three weeks ago said he’d take an extra two hundred, er, what they call ‘migrants’ from Africa…”

The people concerned are, in fact, asylum seekers, not migrants.

Wednesday’s meeting had been called because of an apparent government plan to refurbish a disused hotel in the village of Oughterard in order to provide asylum seeker accommodation. Calling asylum seekers “economic migrants” is, of course, an error of the deliberate kind.

The particular asylum seekers mentioned by the Taoiseach were a group of men, women and children rescued from the Mediterranean in August by the charities Médicins Sans Frontières (MSF) and SOS Méditerranée, including babies as young as one year old.

“These are economic migrants.”

No. To repeat, they are quite clearly asylum seekers, not migrants.

“These are people who are coming over here from Africa to, er, to sponge off the system here in Ireland.”

No. Again. According to MSF, these people were fleeing the war in Libya, where they faced ill treatment, arbitrary detention, and torture. When rescued after getting into difficulties in the Mediterranean, they were suffering from severe dehydration and malnutrition. They don’t want to sponge off any system. They just want to be alive.

“I know people who I’ve brought all over the county of Galway trying to get housing for. They’re [waiting] seven, eight, nine, ten years…”

Ireland’s housing shortage has emerged largely because of prolonged economic policies that have failed to provide livable infrastructures and appropriate social safety nets during the past two decades.

Not least this was because of the inflationary policies pursued by this politician’s very own party during the pre-crash splurge years of the Celtic Tiger, a party whose policies he would surely be personally familiar with, given that he served as its Chairman and, for eight months, its Leader.

Apart from one parliamentary term, his own party was in Government from 1989 to 2011. Does he really think that if our nation’s roads, schools, health services and housing stock are all so poorly resourced, it’s because of asylum seekers?

“…Let the Minister know the fear — and it is the fear factor — that this is going to bring on this village. Because we don’t know. We don’t know these people that’s coming in.”

We do. We know that they are a small group of asylum seekers fleeing war and torture in Libya, most of whom are under the age of 18, some of whom are babies, who — while malnourished and dehydrated — were rescued from certain death at sea by a globally respected NGO. That’s “these people that’s coming in.”

“I can guarantee you. It’s not the persecuted Christians and Syrians coming here.”

Religion. Seriously?

At this point we can note that this politician campaigned (unsuccessfully) against the repeal of Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws last year, positioning himself firmly at the fringes of the country’s social policy culture. He was even one of a rump of Catholic fundamentalist parliamentarians who tried to block the referendum from being held in the first place, implying that he favours democracy except when it seems the majority might vote against him.

(Amusingly, the party he once chaired was called the “Progressive “Democrats“!)

As with many pro-life politicians, it seems this guy is all about protecting life when it is in the womb, but less interested when said life is running around rural Irish villages praying to the wrong god.

“It’s the people, the economic, er, refugees that’s coming in from Africa that’s trying to get across the Mediterranean and ended up in EU, and ended up in Ireland, and ended up in Oughterard, where you don’t have the schools, you don’t have the doctors.”

But if they were Christians fleeing from ISIS, the schools and doctors would then somehow be able to cope?

I’m beginning to think that the guy might not be making any sense.

“A big city, a major city can absorb three hundred refugees, but not a small town like Oughterard. So I’ll say one thing to everybody in this room here tonight: work together, stick together, and we will work with ye, and I want the politicians here to give that same commitment here tonight…”

But, er, he’s a politician.

“…that we will work to ensure that this does not happen, and it’d destroy the fabric of Oughterard.”

TL;DR: Keep the Africans out, at least the non-Christian ones. Because fear. And votes. Don’t forget to vote for me. Don’t you know there’s an election next year?

It is worth bearing in mind that already in Ireland, a number of hotels earmarked as asylum centres have been subject to middle-of-the-night arson attacks.

irishtimesleitrim

Irish Times, Feb 2019

* * *

The irony here should not be lost on the residents of Oughterard.

It is not asylum seekers who have come from outside, imposed themselves on their quiet village, caused disruption, intimidated the locals, and left people scared of their surroundings.

It is the alt-right agitators who have done so, the Facebook fascists, Ireland’s unapologetically racist keyboard warriors, the people for whom Nazi salutes are an appropriate insult to liberal snowflakes.

This is not an organic resistance to progressive values and a fair and equitable society. It is an organised one.

And it requires an organised response.

* * *

>>Read next: What the alt-right are privately saying about their “important work” in Oughterard

My letter to the BMJ regarding their lax editorial approach to bogus therapy paper

Here it is. I think it is pretty self-explanatory (nonetheless, I have added some additional context below the fold):

Date: Sep 11, 2019
To: <Fiona Godlee>, Editor in Chief, BMJ

RE: BMJ’s scientifically and ethically indefensible decision about Bristol’s Lightning Process study

Dear Dr Godlee,

First of all, thank you for the work that you do as editor in chief of the BMJ. I do not at all mean this as faint praise. While my colleagues and I have expressed our concerns, I believe it is important to note that editing a journal is not always easy. Editors play a crucial part in the production line of science and your own contributions, and those of your editorial colleagues, need to be acknowledged.

Secondly, I feel obliged to add my voice to those others who have written to you about the paper “Clinical and cost-effectiveness of the Lightning Process in addition to specialist medical care for paediatric chronic fatigue syndrome: randomised controlled trial” and, particularly, the associated correction that was published.

You will be familiar with the details of our concerns as outlined in previous emails.

From my own perspective, I have been investigating the issues around controversial therapies and human factors (i.e., error risks) in research for nearly two decades. You will be aware that expectancy effects and confirmation biases are very problematic in clinical therapy research in general. They create particular chaos with therapies that are controversial to begin with.

The so-called ‘Lightning Process’ is undoubtedly one such therapy. In fact, it comprises a number of modalities that are normally classified as pseudosciences. It is based largely on so-called Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), which is a completely discredited practice. The creator of the ‘Lightning Process’ is an advocate and provider of several pseudoscientific therapies (e.g., cranial osteopathy; applied kinesiology; hypnotherapy). All told, there is nothing to suggest that the ‘Lightning Process’ is a promising clinical modality. It has no scientific plausibility; it exists because commercially-minded providers of pseudoscientific treatments have successfully identified a market for it. In that regard, it occupies the same space as, say, crystal therapy.

In offering that description, I do not intend to be pejorative. I merely wish to point out that any hypothesis that the ‘Lightning Process’ is effective for any condition constitutes an “extraordinary claim.” By all means should extraordinary claims be tested. Studies of crystal therapy, for example, should be conducted. However, you will appreciate that in science, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Research purporting to establish the efficacy of the ‘Lightning Process’ needs to exhibit a truly compelling evidentiary standard. The claims made inherently challenge our mainstream understanding of human biology. If the ‘Lightning Process’ is in fact shown to work, we will need to re-write our physiology and neurology textbooks.

On the face of it, the evidence contained in this particular paper is far from extraordinary. In fact, as per your own published correction, the study bypassed the normal requirement for prospective registration. This immediately raises the red flag of reporting bias. The evidence accrued from the paper cannot be relied upon because the authors were able to select to report it, without pre-registering their intentions.

In short, confirmation bias was not prevented. Your request to the authors that they tell you whether or not they were biased is very insufficient.

The data produced in light of this procedural and methodological lapse by no means meet the standard of “extraordinary evidence”.

As I understand it, this paper would not have been published had you known about its irregularity at the time of initial review. Therefore it should not be published now. Therefore it should be retracted.

A serious problem with not retracting this paper is that its existence will strongly encourage other researchers to play fast and loose with pre-registration, in the knowledge that their findings can still be published in a BMJ journal. The paper will stand as a high-profile exemplar of ambiguous editorial commitment to scientific rigour.

Kind regards,

Professor Brian Hughes, PhD, FPsSI
School of Psychology
National University of Ireland, Galway

For context, my email is part of a now lengthy correspondence following an Open Letter to the BMJ arising from the correction of the ‘Lightning Process’ paper. I was one of several international scientists to co-sign the original letter, which called for the paper to be properly retracted. Afterwards, several individual signatories provided their personal perspectives as I have done above.

It is worth noting that I deliberately focused on the matter of confirmation bias, as it reflected a point that I felt would benefit from greater emphasis and about which I feel well qualified to comment. 

However, there are a number of other problematic issues relating to this paper. These include the very poor methodology employed in the study, where (again) self-report methods are relied upon in the absence of adequate blinding in a clinical trial. This makes the study wholly unreliable, and raises questions about the quality of peer review used by the journal.

In short, why exactly did the journal fail to pick up on such an elementary methodological weakness?

People will have varying opinions about why this happens so frequently. I have written before about how some fields come to be characterised by mass incestuous deference to eminent researchers and their acolytes, and about how unpoliced pandering frequently diminishes the quality of science by neutering peer review. 

I suspect I will need to write about that issue again…

…and again…

and again.

For those interested, you can find out more information about the so-called ‘Lightning Process’ here

Psychology in Crisis: My interview with the ‘Medical Error’ podcast

Here I am discussing psychology, the replication crisis, medical error, CFS/ME, the PACE Trial, political collapse, human extinction, and more…

‘Medical Error Interviews’ is a podcast out of Canada, hosted by Scott Simpson. See all the details, including all the episodes of ‘Medical Error Interviews’, on Podbean.

You can also support the podcast on Patreon.

 

%d bloggers like this: