Friday, January 20, 2012

Tim Blair and money well spent

Remember Tim Blair?

Yep, he’s still merrily blogging away, irrelevantly but happily cocooned within his protective layer of fans, well-wishers and TrollDelay™.

Tim recently announced to his fawning followers...

Remember the great big terrifying Gulf of Mexico oil disaster of 2010? No? Well, neither does the gulf.

Followed an exulting quote from the Wall Street Journal reporting that, although “many scientists predicted that a significant amount of the resulting chemical pollutants would likely persist in the region’s waterways for years ... those scientists were wrong.” (Tim’s emphasis.)

You see, apparently those clueless scientists had, unlike Tim, failed to predict that a “fortuitous combination of ravenous bacteria, ocean currents and local topography helped to rapidly purge the Gulf of Mexico of much of the oil and gas released in the Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010.”

Tim does this exulting thing from time to time. December 2010...

Remember the Gulf of Mexico oil spill? The worst environmental disaster in decades? The worst in US history? That just keeps getting worse? It was no big deal.

Followed an exulting quote that “the ecosystem of the Gulf itself turns out to have suffered remarkably little damage.”

Indeed, given the extent of the disaster (which, lest we forget, tragically killed 11 oil workers), who could be unhappy about a result like that? I know I’m happy and relieved.

Relatedly, it was reported yesterday that the disaster looks like costing BP a total $41 billion. The company will be budgeting to cover these costs for years to come.

Of that $41 billion, a figure was cited a while ago of $13 billion for “oil spill response” costs related to cleaning up the environmental damage. The rest all goes on compensation, law suits and fines.

I don’t know who could reasonably argue that BP’s $40 billion isn’t money well spent to keep Tim and his merry band of jokers feeling good about themselves.

Labels: ,

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Webber and the Medicare Safety Net

There’s been some sloppy reporting in the press recently regarding criticisms by the former head of Medicare’s Professional Services Review board, Dr Tony Webber, of rorts and abuses in Australia’s public health system. Dr Webber has estimated that $2-3 billion are “spent inappropriately” annually.

A claim given particularly lurid prominence in most media reports is that the Medicare Safety Net had been used “to subsidise cosmetic procedures, including surgery for ‘designer vaginas’ at $5000-$6000 each.”

Really? As in, subsidised directly under the benefits schedule?

Well, no, actually...

Here’s Dr Webber quoted in The Australian:

Denouncing the system he helped oversee, Tony Webber claims Medicare is “riddled with misdirected incentives” for doctors, that payments worth up to $140 to GPs for writing care plans have created “opportunities for a bonanza” and that the safety net has been used to “subsidise cosmetic procedures such as surgery for ‘designer vaginas’ at $5000-$6000 each”.

Now Webber quoted in The Age:

He says he is aware of instances where the Medicare Safety Net had been used “to subsidise cosmetic procedures, including surgery for ‘designer vaginas’ at $5000-$6000 each”.

Now here’s Webber writing in the primary source, his article in the Medical Journal of Australia:

During my time as Director of Professional Services Review, the Safety Net was used in effect to subsidise cosmetic procedures such as surgery for “designer vaginas” at $5000–$6000 each.

Attentive readers will notice both The Australian and The Age omitted to quote two rather important words; i.e., those cosmetic procedures were “in effect” subsidised under the Medicare Safety Net.

The import, I believe, of what Dr Webber actually wrote is that the “open-ended nature of the Safety Net” permitted opaque arrangements under which such cosmetic procedures could be effectively, albeit indirectly, subsidised without administrative detection. (See paragraph 9 here.)

But the sloppy quoting, by both the above papers, promotes the impression that such cosmetic procedures have been somehow directly subsidised, as if under the MBS.

Note, however, that The Australian at least made reference to Webber’s “open-ended” criticism of the Safety Net, albeit several paragraphs down from the ‘designer vaginas’ quote; whereas The Age omitted that “open-ended” bit entirely.

Webber’s article is worth the read. Note also, he doesn’t “denounce the system he helped oversee,” as hysterically reported in The Australian; he actually quite seems to like it but wants it fixed.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

CSIRO and internal peer review

A “peer-reviewed” CSIRO study has apparently found “much stronger public support for wind farms than media coverage of the issue would suggest.”

Naturally a news report like that would demand scrutiny down at Southbank, where Andrew Bolt only yesterday gleefully reported a study from Spain that suggested Spanish wind farms “might” kill millions of birds annually.

Sure enough, Bolt seized upon a detail in that news item that a CSIRO scientist (and deputy director) was “one of the reviewers of the report.”

“Pardon?” Bolt asked. “CSIRO peer reviews its own work?”

Smitham may well be a meticulous reviewer, but having peer reviewers so close to the authors does not seem to me to be a wise way to guard against group-think.

That's a fair point — not withstanding Bolt’s motives in querying this CSIRO study are as predictable as his accepting, on face value, the Spanish bird-kill study.

So, come on Andy! You're a journalist, aren't you? You can contact them to... you know, find out the troooth!

It took me all of half a minute to google that CSIRO project team’s particulars, then a couple of minutes to shoot off an email to the designated contact person asking for clarification. By this afternoon, I had my answer.

Bolt, in an update to his post, seems to have tentatively settled on his own answer, suggested by one of his readers — it was simply a case of "misreporting".

He’s wrong.

I was informed that CSIRO reports are generally reviewed by CSIRO staff who aren't part of the specific project team, but who have expertise in the field, and who will frequently have had experience reviewing work by other scientists outside of the CSIRO. Further external review may be solicited if the work is to be published in external journals.

There it is, Andy — scooped ya! Thanks for the lead.

So yes, it's possible that such a process of ‘internal peer review’ (as my CSIRO contact frankly put it) could make the CSIRO’s work prone to something like “group think”. It would require a rigorous regime of internal checks and balances to address that risk.

If that isn’t already the case, then beefing up the review processes for their published work would certainly improve the CSIRO brand.

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Urinal humiliation policy leaked

In a barely coherent and historically confused on-air rant, US shock jock Mark Levin tries to enunciate unofficial US military policy in the ‘war on terror’:

Let this be a lesson to every one of you subhumans who plots against America and tries to kill American citizens. We don’t give a damn who you are! We don’t give a damn what you believe! And we don’t give a damn if you’re offended! Because we’re going to hunt you down and kill you and then humiliate you after you’re killed!

Got it?

Yep... got it! — Those marines who urinated on corpses of Taliban fighters they’d just killed are not ‘bad apples’ in an otherwise noble enterprise. No, they’re the embodiment of what Levin and his ilk would like to see as the norm of behaviour in our warrior caste.

But while Levin speaks for the shit-scared and clueless, others such as Sebastian Junger at the Washington Post endeavour to understand what has happened to ‘us’.

I spent a year, off and on, with a platoon of US soldiers in the Korengal Valley of eastern Afghanistan... At one point a Taliban fighter had his leg shot off during a firefight and was crawling around on the hillside, dying, and the men I was with cheered at the sight. That cheer deflated me. I liked these guys tremendously, but that celebration was just so ugly. I didn’t want them to be like that.

I do feel for our warrior caste, being torn as they are between ‘enlightened’ standards, and what people such as Levin “want them to be like.” It’s not enough that they are put in harms’ way in a hopelessly flawed enterprise. They’re also subject to deeply conflicted expectations of cosseted ignoramuses in the media.

Labels: , , , ,