Dawkins vs democracy

Opinion piece originally appeared in Red Pepper on 22 May 2013.

Richard Dawkins, professional atheist and Twitter provocateur, has branched out beyond his recent foray into Muslim journalist-baiting to offer his recommendations for parliamentary reform. Following Labour ex-minister Frank Field’s call for the new Archbishop of Canterbury to give up the 25 seats the Church of England appoints to the House of Lords, and have the seats awarded instead to people from civil society, Dawkins burped out a series of tweets saying that these seats should be given to scientists and other ‘elites’.

‘Replace Lord Bishops by (elected) heads of Royal Society, British Academy, Roy Coll Physicians, Royal Academy etc,’ he tweeted, adding: ‘I want to be operated on by elite surgeons, flown by elite pilots, have my car fixed by elite mechanics. Why not elite electors of Lords?’

Each of these colleges of presumably godless elites would select their own representatives to the upper chamber, a suggestion that was met with a chorus of approving retweetage from the atheist brigadier’s amassed troops of skeptics, secularists and science fans.  Continue reading →

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The TB drugs don’t work

This article was originally published on the Nature News blog on 17 October, 2012. 

The good news is that tuberculosis prevention efforts appear to have broken the back of the spread of the disease, according to the World Health Organisation’s latest annual report on the scourge, with new cases of TB falling by 2.2% between 2010 and 2011. The mortality rate has decreased 41% since 1990 and access to TB care has expanded considerably since the mid nineties, when tuberculosis was declared a global emergency by the UN body, with the WHO estimating that some 20 million lives have been saved since 1995. Continue reading →

Austerity for the people, welfare for the banks

I co-authored this article with Andrew Bowman, a research fellow with the University of Manchester’s Centre for Research on Socio-cultural Change (CRESC) and Financial Times blogger, originally published in Red Pepper in August 2012. 

While the eurozone teeters on the brink, construction work is underway in Frankfurt’s financial district on new headquarters for the European Central Bank (ECB). Due for completion in 2014, the 185 metre tall, futuristically designed skyscraper will have double the office space of the ECB’s current residence, the Eurotower. It embodies the expectations for the future of the single currency from the one institution that has no future without it.

As the drama of the financial crisis has unfolded over the past five years, press coverage and political debate has tended to focus predominantly on the actions of national political leaders. At many points, however, the back-stage central bank officials have been the most influential actors.

Nowhere is this truer than with the ECB. With EU decision-making processes incapable of reconciling national and pan-European interests, and in the absence of a fiscal policy for the eurozone, the ECB has filled the gap.  Continue reading →

North Carolina Sea Level Rises Despite State Senators

News article appeared in Scientific American in June, 2012.

Could nature be mocking North Carolina’s law-makers? Less than two weeks after the state’s senate passed a bill banning state agencies from reporting that sea-level rise is accelerating, research has shown that the coast between North Carolina and Massachusetts is experiencing the fastest sea-level rise in the world.

Asbury Sallenger, an oceanographer at the US Geological Survey in St Petersburg, Florida, and his colleagues analysed tide-gauge records from around North America. On 24 June, they reported in Nature Climate Change that since 1980, sea-level rise between Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and Boston, Massachusetts, has accelerated to between 2 and 3.7 millimetres per year. That is three to four times the global average, and it means the coast could see 20–29 centimetres of sea-level rise on top of the metre predicted for the world as a whole by 2100 ( A. H. Sallenger Jr et al. Nature Clim. Changehttp://doi.org/hz4; 2012).

“Many people mistakenly think that the rate of sea-level rise is the same everywhere as glaciers and ice caps melt,” says Marcia McNutt, director of the US Geological Survey. But variations in currents and land movements can cause large regional differences. The hotspot is consistent with the slowing measured in Atlantic Ocean circulation, which may be tied to changes in water temperature, salinity and density.

Read the rest of the article on the Scientific American website.

Brussels task-force exploring restoration of Greek monarchy

This satire was originally intended to be an April Fool’s story for the EUobserver, but due to some editorial hiccups, it was never published. I’d planned on putting it up here straight away, but the best laid plans of mice and men, etc., etc. Anyway, it seems it might still be worth a laugh given what’s happening at the moment, despite some of the poll numbers being out of date.

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The EU is exploring a possible restoration of the Greek monarchy, should an unclear general-election outcome produced a period of extended political instability, EUobserver has learnt.

A three-man working group in Brussels has been quietly tasked with taking soundings of Crown Prince Pavlos, the heir apparent of Constantine II, the last king of Greece, as to whether the 45-year-old yachtsman and investment banker would be willing to assume power under such circumstances. Continue reading →

EU bans GM-contaminated honey from general sale

News article originally published in the Guardian on Wednesday 7 September 2011

The European Union’s highest court on Tuesday ruled that honey which contains trace amounts of pollen from genetically modified (GM) corn must be labelled as GM produce and undergo full safety authorisation before it can be sold as food.

In what green groups are calling a “groundbreaking” ruling, the decision could force the EU to strengthen its already near-zero tolerance policy on genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Bavarian beekeepers, some 500m from a test field for a modified maize crop developed by Monsanto – one of only two GM crops authorised as safe to be cultivated in Europe – claimed their honey had been “contaminated” by pollen from the plant.

The European court of justice found in their favour, a ruling that should offer grounds for the beekeepers to claim compensation in a German court. Continue reading →

The ninth art meets the fourth estate

Feature originally published in Red Pepper in the January 2011 edition.

Tracing the emergence of comic-book journalism

Traditional print journalism may be in crisis, with once‑mighty, agenda-setting oak trees of national and regional newspapers in fear of felling. But elsewhere, the bright green buds of a new form of journalism are sprouting. Comic-book journalism, or, as it is called in France, ‘BD reportage’ (from les bandes dessinées, the francophone term for the ‘ninth art’ – comics), is flourishing.

Take just a few recent developments among the many that herald the arrival of the form.

In 2009 Joe Sacco, the cartoonist author of the groundbreaking Palestine and Safe Area Gorazde, won a Pulitzer for his latest work, the 430-page Footnotes from Gaza, an Exposé, a genuine scoop, about two under-reported massacres that took place during the Suez crisis. Continue reading →