Save Our Bacon

Posted on March 07, 2013

Some shocking news has filled the airwaves, taken over our TV screens and dominated the BBC’s online news output. Across the nation, listeners, viewers and readers are struggling to take it in: bacon, pork pies, scotch eggs and sausages are quite bad for you.

I know, I was stunned, too. Who would have thought that salty, fatty, processed meat products were worse for your health than apples and Bran Flakes?

Sure, pig lobby groups (I suppose we should call them “Big Pig”) have been pushing that line for years but until I saw today’s evidence I  thought they were just squealing to protect their vested interest in not being sliced up thinly and eaten for breakfast.

Why is this considered news?At the start of the day we all knew that unhealthy foods were unhealthy and, after top billing from our national broadcaster, by the end of the day we will still all know it. Tomorrow perhaps we can expect groundbreaking findings that a kick in the groin hurts, followed by exclusive revelations of George Galloway’s slight scepticism about free market capitalism.

There is a distinct irony in medical researchers wasting years of their lives carrying out a mass study in order to tell us something we already knew about extending our life expectancy. At best there was an outside chance that they would crunch the numbers and announce that a terrible mistake had been made – that five portions of fresh fruit and veg is actually deadly, and we could only be saved by high doses of fried bread and black pudding.

Obviously if that had happened it would have been great news, and a genuine triumph for science that we could all welcome. But I doubt it was their motivation.

Instead, they seem to have purposely re-researched a well-established fact, with the sole aim of being able to publish it again. The BBC has kindly obliged to pass the message on, with the result that thin people with excellent life expectancy are loud-hailering in the nation’s face that we ought to shape up and stop being so disgusting.

You can almost taste their exasperation that the fry-up hasn’t yet died a fatty death, face down in a pool of its own egg and beans.

I severely doubt that today’s publicity will change anything in the national diet – other than perhaps boosting bacon sales by the constant looped video footage of butties. Show me someone who doesn’t know that bacon isn’t good for you and I will show you someone under the age of 5. Propaganda campaigns haven’t just scraped the barrel, they’ve hacked through its planks with a dented spoon – and yet they still aren’t working.

That people haven’t snapped to attention at the call of a Change4Life advert isn’t down to ignorance – how could it be, given the fortune spent on “public information” campaigns? It’s down to their personal choice to do things that are gratifying and enjoyable even at the well-known cost to their eventual lifespan. In other words, they’re exercising their right to choose how their own lives should be lived.

The failure of repeated attempts to turn us into a land of the uniformly fit and boring helps to explain why food nannying is moving away from pure propaganda and into the realms of bullying. The cries for a “fat tax” will grow and grow, and if we aren’t careful the nudges will turn it to shoves and then outright legislative force. All because the people won’t do what they are constantly told they should – and because those doing the telling are self-righteous enough to shift with ease from “you should” to “thou shalt.”

David “Mystic Meg” Tredinnick MP to judge Science and Technology

Posted on January 31, 2013

Back in 2009, at the height of the MPs’ expenses scandal, there were plenty of hilarious, infuriating and odd examples of politicians wasting taxpayers’ money. Some have become immortal – duck houses, moat repairs, Jacqui Smith’s porn claim and so on.

Sadly, one of my favourites has largely been forgotten – the case of David Tredinnick MP, who charged the taxpayer for the software and tuition required so he could become an astrologer. No, not an astronomer like Brian Cox or the much-lamented Patrick Moore – an astrologer. Think Nostradamus, carnival sideshow con artists and newspaper horoscope columns that say things like “As the new phase of Venus enters the Cancerian optimum, consider buying a scratch card – or a second hand Vauxhall.”

I wrote about it for the TPA at the time, suggesting the public might like to email Mystic Tredinnick and request he read their future, given that they had paid for his so-called education. He didn’t take it very well, and as far as I’m aware he never did agree to give out any lottery numbers in advance – though he did later agree to pay back the money he had claimed.

This wasn’t a one-off. As well as his taxpayer-funded foray into the territory of Gypsy Rose Lee, the Member for Bosworth has also pressed the NHS to fund homeopathy, claimed that “remote healing” via telekinesis works despite the total absence of evidence and argued that surgeons and police officers should plan their work according to the cycle of the moon.

Now it has come to my attention, via The Geek Manifesto, that not only is the Parliamentary equivalent of Paul Daniels still going, but he has been elected onto the Science and Technology Select Committee. This is an MP who not only believes in just about every debunked alternative therapy going, but who openly and repeatedly places anecdotal evidence above statistical studies. The ability and the willingness to assess and weigh evidence is the foundation of science – and yet science policy will now be studied by someone who rejects the very concept of what is and is not evidence.

One of the Select Committee’s upcoming Inquiries is into the way clinical drug trials are carried out in the UK. Will the people really be best served by someone who rejects the evidential proof that homeopathy does not work?

It doesn’t take David Tredinnick’s crystal ball to see that this is a car crash waiting to happen.

Jowell’s office goes off message on the NHS

Posted on February 08, 2012

Labour are running a concerted “Drop the Bill” campaign against the Health and Social Care Bill. In today’s PMQs, David Cameron cast it as an attempt to save Ed Miliband’s leadership rather than save the NHS, which it may be, but nonetheless it’s a big issue for Labour on the attack and a potential weak point in the Government’s armour.

The left have long been good at raising a Twitter mob for online attack campaigns, but in Tessa Jowell’s office it’s gone a bit wrong today.

Tessa’s political adviser Jessica Asato tweeted this morning, calling on people to “back the Bill” to “save the NHS“. Slightly off message for a Labour campaign trying to , err, sink the Bill which they claim will destroy the NHS.

She’s since ‘fessed up to the error – but it’s not exactly a shining highpoint for Ed’s flagship campaign…

How an Organ Mortgage system could solve the donor shortage

Posted on August 03, 2011

Organ donation is back in the news, with the creeping advance of so-called “nudge” theory resulting in the introduction of a question in the Driving Licence application process (to which the only answers are “Yes” and “Maybe later”). Would-be organ recipients are understandably keen to see more organs donated while libertarians fear that the state may move towards compulsory harvesting of organs to solve the shortage – both of which are perfectly legitimate points of view.

There is a clear problem, in that there aren’t enough organs for all the people who need them. The question is how best to increase the supply to meet the demand.

Unsurprisingly, I think “compulsory donation”, ie organ harvesting, is unacceptable. My body belongs to me in the most fundamental way possible, not to the state to do with as it wishes.

Nudging, as is being tried with the new Driving Licence question, is insidious in its approach, pushy and – I suspect – will prove to be either ineffective or only effective for a short time.

The ASI’s Sam Bowman has raised what is widely viewed as the only other option – a free market for the sale and trade of human organs. The PR problems around the idea are endless, though – the first mention of it makes people freak out and become hysterical, citing flawed assumptions about the richest getting help rather than the sickest or the idea that the poor could be somehow forced into making sales that would harm them in the long run.

But what if there was a different, less risky and more publicly acceptable way to increase the levels of organ donation?

Let’s call it the Organ Mortgage (or perhaps the Orgage, if you enjoy a portmanteau word).

You’re an ordinary Joe, or Jane. For whatever reason, you want or need some more money – perhaps to go to University, or to send your kids to University, or to go on holiday or whatever.

So you take out an Organ Mortgage, signing up to donate your kidneys, or lungs, or the whole lot at the point of death. What do you get?  You get given a wad of cash there and then. What do you give? Well, literally nothing at all until you die, at which point however many of your organs you’ve mortgaged are donated to someone else who needs them to stay alive.

You can increase the amount of money you get if you are willing to enter a contract to live to a particular standard of health – for example, to not smoke or take heroin.

What would the practical results be? Financially, the payouts would be somewhat smaller than in a pure sell-my-live-organ-right-now situation, because the NHS would be taking a gamble that you wouldn’t live until you were an untransplant-worthy 126 years old, or that you might get so badly splattered by a falling piano that nothing could be salvaged.

However, the argument about the poor and needy harming their health in return for money would be irrelevant, because you would keep all of your organs as long as you were alive. For that matter, the incentive to get a higher payout if you agree to avoid particular unhealthy activities would have a knock-on positive health effect for the donor without the need for the compulsion or nannying that our society currently resorts to.

It may well be a slower solution that would take slightly longer to solve our supply problems than the unpalatable idea of allowing the state to pillage people’s bodies might, but it seems to me a far preferable one. It offers the opportunity to treat and heal more people, to provide new assets and opportunities to those who are poor without harming their lives or health, and potential to improve the health of the nation through free will rather than bans, taxes or bullying. So why not?