Hoax-ception

Busted: Purported Guardian hoax by prankster Godfrey Elfwick was itself a hoax [Updated: Guardian editor has denied my request for more info about the paper’s vetting procedures for anonymous contributors – more after the jump]

Last month, the Guardian published an anonymous article about how its author was nearly turned into a racist after being exposed to right-wing views online.

Shortly after the article was published, online social justice parodist Godfrey Elfwick, who last year duped the BBC World Service into allowing him to denounce Star Wars as “racist and homophobic” during a live radio broadcast, claimed authorship of the article.

In support of his claim, Elfwick shared an image of a Microsoft Word document on his computer with a similar title, but dated weeks before the Guardian article.

godfrey-elfwick-wordpress-file-screenshot

He also shared a print out of the article with his name on the byline.

godfrey-elfwick-guardian-article-print-out

Perhaps owing to his success at hoodwinking the BBC, many on Twitter – including award-winning American writer and leading New Atheist Sam Harris, whose views on Islam are cited in the article as having helped lead the author to nearly becoming a racist – seemed to accept Elfwick’s claim of authorship at face value.

The episode proved to be a lesson in confirmation bias.

For Glenn Greenwald, an American journalist whose work on Edward Snowden won a Pulitzer Prize in 2014, the article confirmed his long-standing belief that the New Atheism movement is little more than “a cover for Islamophobia,” and on Twitter accused Harris of engaging in “hatermongering against Muslims.”

glenn-greenwald-guardian-sam-harris

Meanwhile, Harris used Elfwick’s unverified claim to question Greenwald’s credibility.

sam-harris-glenn-greenwald-guardian

A couple of weeks ago, I asked the Guardian to comment on whether Elfwick authored the article, as claimed.

On Tuesday, I received the following response from Readers’ Editor Paul Chadwick, stating he is “confident about the authorship of the article” and that the version shared by Elfwick on Twitter is “markedly different in several ways” to the draft originally submitted to the Guardian for publication.

From: Readers’ editor (Guardian) <guardian.readers@theguardian.com>
To: **** <****@aol.com>
Subject: Re: Question about Anonymous Guardian article re: possible hoax
Date: Tue, 13 Dec 2016 15:45

Dear Dean Jones,

Thank you for your email.

The Guardian has stated in response to specific media enquiries that it is confident about the authorship of the article.

I have separately looked into the matter and can assure you that the claim of authorship made on Twitter is not supported by the evidence offered on Twitter by the person claiming authorship.

In its original format the material submitted to the Guardian for the article is markedly different in several ways from what was claimed on Twitter to be a print out of the article as submitted by its author.

I can understand why the Guardian has taken the approach that it has taken to this matter. You would agree, I’m sure, that there is no point encouraging trolls by paying them attention.

Thanks again for making contact.

Paul Chadwick
Readers’ editor

Guardian Readers’ editor’s office
Guardian News & Media

While he didn’t quite manage to pull the wool over our eyes, Elfwick’s claim raises an interesting question: without being able to verify the identity of the author, how do we know the article isn’t a hoax?¹ Maybe that was the point all along.

Updated, 12/01/17: Last month, I asked Guardian Readers’ Editor Paul Chadwick about his paper’s vetting procedures for anonymous contributors, stating my concern that “without being able to provide demonstrable evidence that an article is genuine, you open the doors to false claims of authorship.”

Here is his January 3, 2017 response:

From: Readers’ editor (Guardian) <guardian.readers@theguardian.com>
To: **** <****@aol.com>
Subject: Re: Question about Anonymous Guardian article re: possible hoax
Date: Tue, 3 Jan 2017 19:20

Dear Dean Jones,

Yes, there are processes for vetting contributors, but I am sure you will understand that if they are to maintain their effectiveness it is counterproductive to detail them.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Chadwick

Readers’ editor

Guardian Readers’ editor’s office
Guardian News & Media

¹Prior to Elfwick throwing his hat into the ring, Twitter users were already questioning the article’s authenticity.

Butter, Meat and Free Speech

The BMJ won’t retract “controversial” dietary guidelines article by New York Times best-selling author/journalist Nina Teicholz

Yesterday, the BMJ officially announced that it won’t retract a “controversial” 2015 article by investigative journalist Nina Teicholz, author of NYT best-seller The Big Fat Surprise.

Following a lengthy investigation lasting over a year, the BMJ said that two independent reviewers “found no grounds for retraction,” and that Teicholz’s criticisms of the methods used by the 2015 US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) “are within the realm of scientific debate.”

051716-teicn-0169_5x7_v3

Author/Journalist Nina Teicholz

As reported on this blog and The Sidebar (my US blogging buddy Peter M. Heimlich’s crack investigative journalism blog), Washington-DC based advocacy group the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) – in bed with prominent members of the DGAC – aggressively campaigned to get the article retracted.

Bonnie Liebman

source

Leading the charge was CSPI’s Director of Nutrition Bonnie Liebman, who in her September 23, 2015 opening salvo called the article an “error-laden attack” on the 2015 DGAC report:

The DGAC’s advice is consistent with dietary advice from virtually every major health authority [but] Teicholz would have us believe that only she, not the dozens of experts who systematically reviewed the evidence for these health authorities, has the smarts to accurately interpret this evidence.

One month later, a letter organised by Liebman was sent to the BMJ highlighting what it claimed were a number of factual errors with Teicholz’s article.

The letter, which was signed by over 180 credentialed professionals including a number of prominent faculty members at major universities, plus all 14 members of the 2015 DGAC, urged the BMJ to retract the article on the basis that it harmed the journal’s credibility.

However, the credibility of the letter was itself soon called into question.

As reported by the Guardian in April, none of the signatories interviewed for Ian Leslie’s acclaimed article, “The Sugar Conspiracy” – including Dr. Meir Stampfer, an influential Harvard epidemiologist – were able to name any of the “trivial” errors with Teicholz’s article, with one even admitting he had not read it.

Frank Hu MD PhD MPH (source)

But the most explosive revelation came in May, when Peter – with help from my sweetie Kelsi White and I – exposed efforts by another Harvard epidemiologist, DGAC member Dr. Frank Hu, to solicit European signatures to Liebman’s retraction demand which resulted in a chain e-mail exchanged by European medical professionals and university faculty.

You can read more about that, and other related items, via Peter’s blog herehere and here.

Accompanying yesterday’s announcement, the BMJ has issued four corrections (plus three clarifications) of the 11 purported errors highlighted by the CSPI, but Editor in Chief Fiona Godlee said the journal is standing by Teicholz’s article:

We stand by Teicholz’s article with its important critique of the advisory committee’s processes for reviewing the evidence, and we echo her conclusion: ‘Given the ever increasing toll of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, and the failure of existing strategies to make inroads in fighting these diseases, there is an urgent need to provide nutritional advice based on sound science.’

Via the BMJ’s press release, Teicholz thanked the journal for its support:¹

I am very grateful to The BMJ editors for their profound commitment to verifying the facts of my article and for their professionalism and integrity throughout this process. I am also grateful that they are providing a space for rigorous scientific debate, especially on a subject so important to public health. I hope the original intention of that article can now be fulfilled—to help improve nutritional advice, so that it is based on rigorous science. This will help us to better combat nutrition-related diseases that have caused so much human suffering around the world.

In a separate statement, Liebman doubled down on her position, claiming that the BMJ has “stained its reputation”:

The BMJ has stained its reputation by circling the wagons around Nina Teicholz’s discredited and opinionated attack on the science underpinning the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The BMJ corrected or “clarified” 7 of the 11 errors cited by the letter from more than 180 scientists requesting a retraction, and failed to respond to the remaining four. (The clarifications are thinly veiled corrections.) It’s startling that despite this long list of corrections and clarifications—including several that undergirded the article’s attack on the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report–the journal nevertheless stands by the article’s conclusions.

¹Teicholz’s full response is available to read by clicking here.

Blurred Lines

UK prosecution service fudges the statistics on rape

Earlier this month, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) released its annual Violence Against Women and Girls crime report.¹ Via a press release, the CPS claimed that it was “convicting more cases of rape…than ever before,” with “a rise in the rape conviction rate [from 56.9] to 57.9 per cent.”

Despite the CPS’ own admission that it “does not collect data which constitutes official statistics as defined in the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007,” figures from the press release were reported in several mainstream newspapers, including the Guardian and the Telegraph.

the-guardian-violence-against-women-and-girls-crime-report

However, a close look at the report itself reveals that the rape conviction rate includes “cases initially flagged as rape [but] where a conviction was obtained for an alternative or lesser offence” and where a rape charge is subsequently amended.”

For example, the report states that there was a total of 2,689 rape convictions for the financial year 2015-16, yet according to statistics from the Ministry of Justice (MOJ),² there was only 1,297 rape convictions for the calendar year 2015 – a disparity of 1,392.

My questions:

• How many cases initially flagged as rape were later charged or convicted with a lesser crime? How many where the conviction was amended altogether?

• How many convictions were obtained in the period prior to the start of the financial year 2015-16? How many after the calendar year 2015?

Those are questions for a statistician better qualified than a C-grade maths student such as myself. In the meantime, I’ll ask the CPS about its methods of recording statistics and blog the results.

Stay tuned.

¹The report is also “inclusive of data on men and boys.”
²MOJ data “only includes cases where the final conviction was for rape.”

Silencing Science: The War on Nina Teicholz

Prominent Harvard prof/researcher Frank Hu solicited European colleagues to sign/circulate demand for BMJ to retract article by author/journalist Nina Teicholz – she says her article criticized a fed gov review headed by Hu

This item is reported by me, crack US (Atlanta, GA) reporter Peter M. Heimlich, who’s cross-posting at his world-beating website, The Sidebar, and my gf, Kelsi White. Given the content of the story, our “hands across the water” effort seems fitting.

Sleep_Frank_Hu

Frank Hu MD PhD MPH (source)

On Monday Peter reported how Barbara Millen PhD, chair of the 2015 US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), and USDA executive Angela Tagtow tag-teamed an effort that resulted in author/journalist Nina Teicholz being kicked off a panel at a national food policy conference held last month.

Teicholz is a high-profile critic of the DGAC’s methodology and findings (which have been widely criticized by medical experts and organizations).

It’s not the first time Millen tried to muzzle Teicholz. 

Last November, Millen signed a public letter to the BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal). The letter demanded the retraction of a September 23 article by Teicholz which – you guessed it – criticized the methodology and findings of the DGAC.

Claiming Teicholz’s article was riddled with errors” – a claim disputed in a recent Guardian article (see below) and elsewhere – the letter was organized by the DC advocacy nonprofit, Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

E-mails obtained via a public records request (click here to read) show that another DGAC member, Dr. Frank Hu, a prominent professor/researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health, asked a colleague to sign and circulate the retraction demand which resulted in a chain letter exchanged by European medical professionals and university faculty.

Bonnie Liebman

source

It started with an October 31, 2015 Dear Colleague” e-mail in which CSPI executive Bonnie Liebman asked dozens of nutrition science professionals to sign the letter.

The next day, Hu e-mailed this to Prof. Miguel Miguel A. Martinez-Gonzalez at the University of Navarra, Spain:

Hi Miguel,

Would you like to sign the attached letter to retract the BMJ article? if so, please email Bonnie Liebman.

I would greatly appreciate if you can ask your colleagues in Spain and other European countries to sign the letter. I think it is extremely important to retract the terrible BMJ article for the sake of science and public health.

Many thanks

frank

Miguel-Angel-Martinez-Gonzalez-coordinador-trabajo_MILIMA20150915_0031_26

Miguel A. Martinez-Gonzalez (source)

Later that day in this e-mail (slightly re-formatted for ease comprehension), Martinez-Gonzalez copied Hu on an e-mail he sent to about 20 colleagues, stating Yes, of course, Frank.”

From: Miguel Ángel Martínez González
<mamartinez@unav.es>
Date: 1 November 2015 at 11:36
Subject: Fwd: Letter to BMJ re Dietary Guidelines–Please respond by Nov. 3
To: Antonia Trichopoulou <atrichopoulou@hhf-greece.gr>,denis.lairon@univmed.fr, Katia Esposito <katherine.esposito@unina2.it>,giuseppe.grosso@studium.unict.it, Federico Jose Armando Perez Cueto Eulert <apce@plan.aau.dk>, “ligia.dominguez”<ligia.dominguez@unipa.it>, Matthias Schulze <mschulze@dife.de>, Iris Shai <irish@bgu.ac.il>,elliotb@ekmd.huji.ac.il, dario.giugliano@unina2.it, Angeliki Papadaki <Angeliki.Papadaki@bristol.ac.uk>, Arne Astrup <ast@nexs.ku.dk>, ricardo.uauy@lshtm.ac.uk, jose luchsinger <luchsin@hotmail.com>, Nikolaos Scarmeas <ns257@cumc.columbia.edu>, Christian Carpéné <Christian.Carpene@inserm.fr>, Olle Melander <olle.melander@med.lu.se>, boeing@dife.de, Marc Molendijk <m.l.molendijk@fsw.leidenuniv.nl>, Adriano Marçal Pimenta <adrianompimenta@yahoo.com.br>, Helfimed Study UniSA <Dorota.Zarnowiecki@unisa.edu.au>
Cc: Frank Hu <nhbfh@channing.harvard.edu>

Yes, of course, Frank.

I’m forwarding to my friends and colleagues this invitation to sign the attached letter:

I have read the full version of the attached letter and I agree to include my sign on it. I endorse its full content and the request to the BMJ to retract the journalist’s article.

Dear colleagues,
if you agree, you can send an email to Bonnie Liebman <bliebman@cspinet.org> with a similar content to what I have written above in blue font.

I would thank you all very much if you are so kind as to ask also to your friends from different European countries to sign the attached letter for the sake of science and public health.

Best regards,

miguel

Miguel A. Martinez-Gonzalez
University of Navarra-CIBEROBN
www.unav.es/preventiva
www.proyectosun.es
www.predimed.es
www.predimedplus.com
www.ciberobn.es
Research Gate

Here’s one of the recipients of Martinez-Gonzalez’s pass-along…

Angeliki Papadaki

…who obligingly added another link in the chain letter which she states was instigated by Frank Hu”:

From: Angeliki Papadaki [mailto:Angeliki.Papadaki@bristol.ac.uk]
Sent: 01 November 2015 12:48
To: Arne Astrup; Saris, Wim; Inge Huybrechts;manios@hua.gr; Inga Þórsdóttir; Andy Ness;susan.jebb@phc.ox.ac.uk; Agneta Yngve; Sibylle Kranz;lmoreno@unizar.es;
clare.collins@newcastle.edu.au; Antonis Kafatos; Jayne Woodside; Janet Cade; Dianne Ward
Subject: Fwd: Letter to BMJ re Dietary Guidelines–Please respond by Nov. 3

Dear colleagues,

Please see attached a suggestion for a BMJ retraction letter, instigated by Frank Hu at Harvard. We were asked to circulate the letter for signatures.

If you agree, please send an email to Bonnie Liebman (bliebman@cspinet.org) with a similar content to the below, in blue font, and circulate to your colleagues.

I have read the full version of the attached letter and I agree to include my sign on it.
I endorse its full content and the request to the BMJ to retract the journalist’s article.

Kind regards,

Angeliki

Why did Hu encourage colleagues to demand a retraction of what he called the terrible BMJ article for the sake of science and public health”?

We don’t know because he hasn’t responded to multiple inquiries.

2016-05-05_090024

source

But here’s what Nina Teicholz e-mailed Peter yesterday:

My BMJ article was a critique of the science used in formulating the 2015 DGA expert report. Frank Hu chaired the review on saturated fats, which I critiqued in a number of ways: it did not consult the “Nutrition Evidence Library” per standard USDA practice, and although the studies covered in the review had conflicting and contradictory conclusions regarding whether saturated fats do in fact cause death from heart disease, the review nevertheless concluded that the evidence on this point was “strong.” (Neither of these facts is disputed as part of the retraction request.) The question of whether sat fats cause heart disease has, over the past 5 years, undergone tremendous re-analysis and challenge, yet the Hu review did not reflect that ambivalence. In effect, it did not comprehensively review the most current science on this subject.

So was Dr. Hu making a good faith effort to address “an article riddled with errors” or was he attempting to censor a high-profile critic?

If he made himself available, along with that question, I’d ask him for a reaction comment to this section from Ian Leslie’s lively and informative April 7 Guardian article about the nutrition science wars:

In September last year [Teicholz] wrote an article for the BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal), which makes the case for the inadequacy of the scientific advice that underpins the Dietary Guidelines. The response of the nutrition establishment was ferocious: 173 scientists – some of whom were on the advisory panel, and many of whose work had been critiqued in Teicholz’s book – signed a letter to the BMJ, demanding it retract the piece.

Publishing a rejoinder to an article is one thing; requesting its erasure is another, conventionally reserved for cases involving fraudulent data. As a consultant oncologist for the NHS, Santhanam Sundar, pointed out in a response to the letter on the BMJ website: “Scientific discussion helps to advance science. Calls for retraction, particularly from those in eminent positions, are unscientific and frankly disturbing.”

The letter lists “11 errors”, which on close reading turn out to range from the trivial to the entirely specious. I spoke to several of the scientists who signed the letter. They were happy to condemn the article in general terms, but when I asked them to name just one of the supposed errors in it, not one of them was able to. One admitted he had not read it. Another told me she had signed the letter because the BMJ should not have published an article that was not peer reviewed (it was peer reviewed). Meir Stampfer, a Harvard epidemiologist, asserted that Teicholz’s work is “riddled with errors”, while declining to discuss them with me.

See also: Voice in the Wilderness, my May 18, 2016 recap of how the DGAC in cahoots with other prominent nutrition scientists tried to gag Teicholz.