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Wednesday 1 August 2012

Bloggers think

and MSM journalists don’t.

A Professor Muller has just released non peer reviewed papers on the BEST surface temperature project the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (Best) project, led by Prof Richard Muller, has published its final results.

I’m not going to write about that little piece of trickery as others more qualified than me are already ripping his methodology apart. Anyway I digress.

A journalist, who Blogs at the Daily Telegraph has supposedly read the paper says we should read it and believe it because Professor Muller is an “expert”. The journo, a Mr Tom Chivers, reckons we should take the paper as read. Below is his line of reasoning.

The trouble is, there's no avoiding it. As a non-climate scientist, I have to accept certain things on authority, as I do with all expert knowledge. This is an argument from authority, but we all do it, and it's vital: if I had cancer, I'd accept the authority of the oncologist and the body of knowledge of the oncology community, rather than try to guide my own treatment with information I'd found on the internet.

He’s trying to make the point that an expert should always be trusted. Why? Have they never been wrong.

After all for hundreds of years the reasoning was that the Earth was flat, and the Sun orbited the Earth. That was the expert belief at the time. Consensus by experts should only be proven by repeated testing of the theory.

Let me give you a case in point.

Helicobacter pylori (Stomach Ulcer to you and me) was for many years believed by the medical profession to be caused by stress and spicy foods. The believed consensus at the time. (They were the experts or so they thought).


Helicobacter pylori was rediscovered in 1982 by two Australian scientists, Robin Warren and Barry J. Marshall as a causative factor for ulcers.[28] In their original paper, Warren and Marshall contended that most gastric ulcers and gastritis were caused by colonization with this bacterium, not by stress or spicy food as had been assumed before.[29]

The H. pylori hypothesis was poorly received,

It took a further fifteen years before the consensus was finally overturned. And finally.

In 2005, the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to Dr. Marshall and his long-time collaborator Dr. Warren "for their discovery of the bacterium Helicobacter pylori and its role in gastritis and peptic ulcer disease."

Now I have some knowledge of this illness. Last year I suffered from various symptoms such as upset stomach, burning sensation in the stomach, lack of appetite, and occasional vomiting. When I visited my doctor he initially dismissed these symptoms as a minor stomach upset. However I had researched my symptoms and they were far more indicative of something more than a minor stomach upset. I refused to accept his diagnosis and he reluctantly agreed for blood tests to be undergone.

A week later I was diagnosed with an infection of Helicobacter pylori. If I hadn’t questioned the expert, who knows what would have happened? I might be blogging from a hospital bed. Or God forbid, dead. (Mind you Mrs FE would probably have welcomed my demise). 

Moral of the story Tom: Even experts can be wrong. Don’t blindly believe everything you’re told by press release. Question it to an inch of it’s life. That’s what makes a great journalist rather than a mediocre one.