Daily Archives: May 17, 2010

Climate body chief defends use of ‘grey literature’

The head of the UN’s climate change panel has defended the use of unproven science to justify climate change by saying the “grey literature” cannot be ignored.

Telegraph | May 14,  2010

By Richard Alleyne

Dr Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has been under fire since a report from the charity the WWF was used to make claims about reductions in ice on mountains.

In particular it included the erroneous claim that the Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035. It was said to be 300 years out and led to accusations that the organisation was cherry-picking evidence to justify its claims.

In a hearing at the InterAcademy Council, an organisation of the world’s science academies which is conducting an independent review of the processes and procedures of the IPCC, Dr Pachauri described the inclusion of the glacier claim as “human failure” which should not have happened.

But the IPCC’s chairman said there was a need to use information which was not from peer-reviewed scientific journals, because in some places that was the only research that had been done.

He said the media and other sections of society had misunderstood the role of such information, labelling it grey literature, “as if it was some form of grey muddied water flowing down the drains”.

Dr Pachauri said academic work being done by bodies including the International Energy Agency, the World Bank, national governments and charities “cannot be ignored”, but had to be closely examined to make sure it was robust.

He said the mistake about the glaciers should have been picked up by the authors of the section of the Fourth Assessment report in which it was included, or by its reviewers.

He said there had been comments, which can be made about the assessment by contributors or governments before the report is published, but “they were not very specific in this regard”.

He told the hearing in Amsterdam: “Somehow it just missed everybody’s attention.

“It is in my view a human failure which happened a few times, we just have to make sure something like this doesn’t happen once again.”

At the time, the IPCC was forced to apologise for the mistake, which blew up amid efforts to secure a new global agreement to tackle rising greenhouse gas emissions.

The row added to the furore surrounding the publication of emails from the University of East Anglia which suggested that scientists were trying to conceal data that questioned the case for man-made global warming.

However, Dr Pachauri said the mistake was buried in the 1,000 page report and did not get used in the much-shorter summary which is written for use by policy-makers.

And he said: “We have been less than adequate in informing the public that, yes, there was an error but that does not take away anything from the fact the glaciers are melting at a very rapid rate.

“This is where our communication skills need to be enhanced.”

Even if the Himalayan glaciers did not melt by 2035, glaciers around the world were in decline, with water supplies predicted to fall and the melting ice contributing to sea level rises, he said.

“Although there was this error, there’s a whole lot of valid information and assessment on glaciers which we can only ignore at our own peril and the peril of generations yet to come,” he said.


Beware the bin snooper next door: Residents asked to report neighbours for putting rubbish out too early

A council is urging householders to snoop on fellow residents and fill in ‘diary sheets’ to log incidents – the same way it tackles violent anti-social behaviour

Daily Mail | May 17, 2010

By Chris Brooke

Residents are being asked to report neighbours for ‘environmental crimes’ such as putting their bins out too early or late.

A council is urging householders to snoop on fellow residents and fill in ‘diary sheets’ to log incidents – the same way it tackles violent anti-social behaviour.

Such ‘crimes’ can be committed by putting bins out at the wrong times or leaving them in the wrong place.

Householders could face a £100 fixed penalty notice or be fined up to £1,000 in court for leaving rubbish next to a bin or blocking a path with a bin.

The clampdown, by Hull City Council, has provoked a furious reaction, with residents insisting they won’t do officials’ ‘dirty work’ for them.

It sent letters to residents of one street after complaints that rubbish had been dumped and wheelie bins left out for days on end.

The letter, from environmental enforcement officer Jeanette Bailey, is headed: ‘Don’t turn a blind eye to environmental crime in your neighbourhood.’

It states that illegally dumped rubbish has the ‘potential to cause a nuisance and pose a health risk to you and your family.’

Residents are asked to put their wheelie bins out no earlier than 7am and collect them back in before 7pm.

The letter warns lawbreakers they will be prosecuted, adding: ‘If you see anyone committing this or anything else you believe may be environmental crime, please complete and return the enclosed diary sheet or contact us immediately.’

But many residents accused the council of going ‘over the top’. Chris Shaw, 37, said: ‘That’s what the Hitler Youth were told to do – inform on everybody. I won’t be filling in any of their crime sheets or reporting anybody.’

Jeff Highley, 65, said: ‘If the council want to prosecute people they should come down and do their own dirty work.’

Earlier this year it emerged families face stricter recycling demands, tougher fines and having to use smaller wheelie bins under new waste disposal targets.

Tighter controls on how much rubbish households can leave out are on the way, following new proposals agreed between town hall chiefs and Whitehall.

Town halls which fail to meet the targets will be fined under a system devised by the Department of Communities and Local Government.

In March, the growing threat of a stealth tax on our rubbish was exposed by startling figures which showed that more than 2.5million homes now have bins fitted with microchips to weigh their contents.

Lying your way to the top: How tale-telling toddlers could turn out to be political leaders, executives and bankers.

Daily Mail | May 17, 2010

By Fay Schlesinger

For parents driven to distraction by their children’s little white lies, here is the good news.

Far from being a sign of future problems, research has shown that children who fib from an early age are more likely to become high-flying leaders, executives and bankers.

The complex brain processes involved in formulating a lie are indicators of a toddler’s intelligence, it is claimed.

So the next time your son or daughter denies having touched the chocolate biscuits despite the suspicious brown smears around their mouth, there is no need to worry, according to researchers.

A study of 1,200 children found that a fifth of two-year-olds are likely to tell lies, rising to 90 per cent from the age of four.

This figure increases further until children reach their lying peak at 12.

But no link was found between telling porkies and a tendency to cheat in exams or commit fraud in later life.

Dr Kang Lee, director of the Institute of Child Study at Toronto University, examined children aged two to 17.

He said: ‘Parents should not be alarmed if their child tells a fib.

‘Their children are not going to turn out to be pathological liars. Almost all children lie. It is a sign that they have reached a new developmental milestone.

‘Those who have better cognitive development lie better because they can cover up their tracks.

‘They may make bankers in later life.’ Lying shows that children have developed ‘executive functioning’  –  a complex juggling act which involves manipulating several brain processes to keep the truth at the back of their mind, Dr Lee said.

Surprisingly, children’s aptitude for fibbing was not influenced by strict parenting or a religious upbringing, the study showed.

Dr Lee enticed children to lie by telling them not to peek at a purple Barney toy dinosaur placed behind their back.

He then left the room for one minute  –  giving them ample time to look, while their reaction was filmed. Nine out of ten did turn round.

But when asked by the tester, the majority denied it.

While the study found the most deceitful age was 12, the propensity to fib dropped to about 70 per cent once the children had turned 16.

Scientists: “Inefficient” sex will no longer be used to make babies in just 10 years, as couples turn to IVF

Life begins: A scientist is pictured screening sperm for use in in vitro fertilisation (IVF), but will take over as the main way for couples to conceive?

Daily Mail | May 17, 2010

By Daniel Martin

Couples will stop having sex to conceive babies within a decade and use IVF instead, scientists said yesterday.

They say 30-somethings will increasingly rely on artificial methods of fertilisation because natural human reproduction is ‘fairly inefficient’.

It means that in future, sex will be nothing more than a leisure activity  –  the latest blow to the Christian idea that the role of sex is to produce children.

If the experts are right, it means the sci-fi world of books such as Brave New World, in which all children are born in ‘hatcheries’, could soon be closer to reality.

And it raises ethical questions over whether greater use of IVF will lead to eugenics, with couples screening out characteristics they regard as undesirable.

The startling vision of the future comes from John Yovich, a veterinary doctor from Murdoch University in Perth, Australia.

He believes IVF can ease the pressure on couples who have delayed having children to pursue a career, because going for the test-tube option will be more effective than trying for a baby naturally.

Even young adults have no more than a one-in-four chance every month of reproducing through sex. Among the over-35s, this falls to one in ten.

This compares to the near 100 per cent success rate that Dr Yovich believes will be possible with IVF within ten years.

Dr Yovich, co-author of a new report in the journal Reproductive BioMedicine, said: ‘Natural human reproduction is at best a fairly inefficient process.

‘Within the next five to ten years, couples approaching 40 will assess the IVF industry first when they want to have a baby.’ He based his hunch on the fact that in cattle, IVF works almost every time. He said there was no reason that success rate could not be replicated in humans.

His co-author, fellow Australian vet Gabor Vajta, said test-tube embryo production in cattle was 100 times more efficient than natural means. He said there was no reason why IVF in humans should not become 100 times more efficient than sex.

At present, IVF has only a 50 per cent success rate  –  among the most healthy couples.

Gedis Grudzinskas, a Harley Street infertility specialist, said: ‘It wouldn’t surprise me if IVF does become significantly more efficient than natural reproduction, but I doubt whether you could ever completely guarantee that it would work.’

In Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel Brave New World, human reproduction has been done away with and is replaced by a hatching process, in which groups of identical children are produced from surgically-removed ovaries and incubated in bottles.

BBC director hails journalism as PR at Royal Institute of International Affairs

BBC director general, Mark Thompson, today backed research suggesting that the corporation’s journalism output is more important to the country’s image overseas than the UK government.

Director general backs research suggesting journalism output is more important to country’s image than UK government

guardian.co.uk | May 11, 2010

by James Robinson

The BBC director general, Mark Thompson, today backed research suggesting that the corporation’s journalism output is more important to the country’s image overseas than the UK government.

Thompson used a speech to the Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House in London to argue that the BBC’s news operation is crucial to the high regard in which Britain is held abroad.

He cited research commissioned by the BBC which found that four out of five opinion-formers in four countries said that the corporation made them think more positively about Britain.

That places the BBC above the Premier League, overseas aid and UK pop culture in a list of the most influential British institutions. The research was conducted by Human Capital and will be published later this year.

“They were shown a list of different British organisations and initiatives and asked whether they made them think more or less positively about the country: the British Council, the UK government, UK government foreign aid, and so on, and the BBC,” Thompson said.

“No fewer than 80% of people asked said that the BBC made them think more positively about the UK, by the far the highest of all the British institutions mentioned,” he added.

One in five respondents said the armed forces made them think more positively about Britain.

Thompson told the Chatham House audience that the vast majority of opinion-formers overseas believe the BBC’s values and standards reflect well on Britain.

“The BBC continues to enjoy a level of trust from audiences across the world which is unique among international news-providers,” he said.

Thompson added that a global increase in the number of news broadcasters has made the BBC’s reputation for impartiality and objectivity more valued than ever.

“Around the world, people want access to the cool-headed, fair-minded spirit of Britain – and the BBC – at their best”, he said. “The independence and quality of our international news offer is paramount and sacrosanct. Its integrity and reliability is the platform on which every other reputation is built.”

The BBC-commissioned research is based on responses from “opinion formers and consumers” who watched BBC news content, including the World Service, in Egypt, Pakistan, Turkey and Kenya.

It found that 79% of respondents agreed with the statement that the BBC helped people from different cultures and countries understand each other better, with almost two thirds (63%) believing that the corporation helped to create a stable and more secure world.

The research also found that most respondents still believe state broadcasters overseas are mouthpieces for their respective governments. Many more also concerned that supposedly independent news providers are serving commercial or political agendas.

Thompson argued that the BBC’s overseas journalism is more relevant than ever. “In a world where in-depth international reporting is increasingly restricted to a handful of agencies and to news providers who are directly under the influence of sovereign governments and who have no tradition of editorial independence, the BBC’s journalism, its ability to put people on the ground and keep them there over years, is more, not less, important than it used to be,” he said.

Google Private Data Collection Angers European Officials

Google claimed it was a mistake and the result of a programming error

NY Times |  May 15, 2010


BERLIN — European privacy regulators and advocates reacted angrily Saturday to the disclosure by Google, the world’s largest search engine, that it had systematically collected private data since 2006 while compiling its Street View photo archive.

After being pressed by European officials about the kind of data the company compiled in creating the archive — and what it did with that information — Google acknowledged on Friday that it had collected snippets of private data around the world. In a blog post on its Web site, the company said information had been recorded as it was sent over unencrypted residential wireless networks as Google’s Street View cars with mounted recording equipment passed by.

The data collection, which Google said was inadvertent and the result of a programming error, took place in all the countries where Street View has been catalogued, including the United States and parts of Europe. Google apologized and said it had not used the information, which it plans to delete in conjunction with regulators.

But in Germany, Google’s collection of the data — which the company said could include the Web sites viewed by individuals or the content of their e-mail — is a violation of privacy law, said Ilse Aigner, the German minister for food, agriculture and consumer protection. In a statement Saturday, her ministry demanded a full accounting.

“Based on the information we have before us, it appears that Google has illegally tapped into private networks in violation of German law,” Ms. Aigner said. “This is alarming and further evidence that privacy law is a foreign concept to Google.”

Johannes Caspar, the data protection supervisor for Hamburg, who is leading the German government’s dealings with Google on the issue, said the company’s revelation of illegal data collection would be taken up by a panel of European national data protection chiefs that advises the European Commission.

“This is a data scandal of a much larger magnitude,” Mr. Caspar said. “We are talking here about the large-scale collection of private data on individuals.”

He declined to speculate what action European officials might take.

Mr. Caspar said he had inspected one of Google’s Street View recording vehicles at the company’s invitation this month and had noticed that the recording device’s hard drive had been removed. When he asked to view the drive, he said he was told he couldn’t read the information anyway because it was encoded. He said he pressed Google to disclose what type of information was being collected, which prompted the company to examine the storage unit.

“I am glad that this cat-and-mouse game with Google is finally over,” Mr. Caspar said. “I hope now that the company does what it says it will do.”

Over the weekend, Germany’s federal commissioner for data protection and freedom of information, Peter Schaar, asked Google to let an independent regulator examine one of the hard drives to determine how much data had actually been collected on individuals.

In a blog posting written late Saturday on his official government Web site, Mr. Schaar, who is also a member of the panel that advises the European Commission on privacy and data protection issues, questioned whether Google’s collection of the data was a simple oversight, as the company has maintained.

‘‘So everything was a simple oversight, a software error!” Mr. Schaar wrote. ‘‘The data was collected and stored against the will of the project’s managers and other managers at Google. If we follow this logic further, this means: The software was installed and used without being properly tested beforehand. Billions of bits of data were mistakenly collected, without anyone in Google noticing it, including Google’s own internal data protection managers, who two weeks ago were defending to us the company’s internal data protection practices.”

“I think this is going to damage the company irreparably,” said Simon Davies, the director of Privacy International, a London-based group of privacy advocates from 40 countries. “Three years ago the company was wearing a halo. But over the past year it has moved substantially in the direction of being perceived as Big Brother.”

Kay Oberbeck, a Google spokesman in Hamburg, said the company was in contact with data protection officials in Germany and in the rest of Europe to address their concerns. He disputed the notion that Google was recklessly collecting private information, saying the company’s services were meant to let users control what information is made public.

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Vatican to court: Priests are not our employees

The document describes how church authorities should deal procedurally with cases of abuse of children by priests, cases of homosexuality and bestiality.

MSNBC | May 16, 2010


VATICAN CITY – The Vatican on Monday will make its most detailed defense yet against claims that it is liable for U.S. bishops who allowed priests to molest children, saying bishops are not its employees and that a 1962 Vatican document did not require them to keep quiet, The Associated Press has learned.

The Vatican will make the arguments in a motion to dismiss a federal lawsuit on jurisdictional grounds filed in Louisville, Kentucky, but it could affect other efforts to sue the Holy See.

The Vatican’s U.S. attorney, Jeffrey Lena, said it will include a response to claims that the 1962 document “Crimen Sollicitationis” — Latin for “crimes of solicitation” — barred bishops from reporting abuse to police.

Lena said Sunday there is no evidence the document was even known to the archdiocese in question — much less used — and that regardless it didn’t mandate that bishops not report abusive priests.

Lena said the confidentiality imposed by Crimen did not trump civil law and was applied only in formal canonical processes, which bishops had the discretion to suspend if there was a conflict with reporting laws.

“It is important that people — particularly people who have suffered abuse — know that, contrary to what some plaintiffs’ lawyers have consistently told the media, the canon law did not bar reporting of these crimes to the civil authorities,” Lena told the AP.

‘Smoking gun’ document?

The document describes how church authorities should deal procedurally with cases of abuse of children by priests, cases where sex is solicited in the confessional — a particularly heinous crime under canon law — and cases of homosexuality and bestiality.

The attorney behind the Kentucky case, William McMurry, said in a recent e-mail that the document is “a smoking gun.”

“It’s evidence of a ‘written’ policy that demands no mention be made by a bishop of priest sex abuse,” he said. “Since our case, and no other, is about holding the Vatican accountable for the bishops’ failure to report to civil authorities, any policy that gags the bishop is relevant and material.”

The Holy See is trying to fend off the first U.S. case to reach the stage of determining whether victims actually have a claim against the Vatican itself for negligence for the failure of bishops to alert police or the public about Roman Catholic priests who molested children.

The case was filed in 2004 by three men who claim they were abused by priests decades ago and claim negligence by the Vatican. McMurry is seeking class-action status for the case, saying there are thousands of victims across the country. McMurry also represented 243 sex abuse victims who settled with the Archdiocese of Louisville in 2003 for $25.3 million.

The Vatican is seeking to dismiss the suit before Pope Benedict XVI can be questioned or documents subpoenaed.

Its motion is being closely watched as the clerical abuse scandal swirls around the Holy See, since the court’s eventual decision could have implications for a lawsuit naming top Vatican officials that was recently filed in Wisconsin and another one in Oregon is pending before the Supreme Court.

The Vatican is expected to assert that bishops aren’t its employees because they aren’t paid by Rome, don’t act on Rome’s behalf and aren’t controlled day-to-day by the pope — factors courts use to determine whether employers are liable for the actions of their employees, Lena told the AP.

He said he would suggest to the court that it should avoid using the religious nature of the relationship between bishops and the pope as a basis for civil liability because it entangles the court in an analysis of religious doctrine that dates back to the apostles.

“He (McMurry) wishes to invoke religious authority to construct a civil employment relationship, and our view is that it’s an inappropriate invitation to the court to consider religious doctrine,” Lena said. “Courts tend to avoid constructing civil relationships out of religious materials.”

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