Thursday, October 27, 2005

Private Eye

There's an article in Private Eye this week which appears to be subtly (as a brick) suggesting that Nick Cohen ("Nick Incoherent") is a drunk. Is this just by way of revenge for him suggesting that everyone should sue them for shitting the bed over the MMR/autism link (from our scientific correspondent: "not what you might call Paul Foot's finest hour"), or is it based in some sort of fact? Nick has always struck me as more of the New Puritan type, but I'm not exactly in the loop. Answers in plain cover to the email address on the right.

6 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cohen is much fatter in the face in real life than that old wolfish pic he uses on his vanity website. Such fatness often comes in middle life from drink taken, but maybe he's just hitting the blintzes harder.

10/28/2005 01:08:00 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Where's the Friday forecast?!

Cohen's going to be the Volker/Senate report, surely?

10/28/2005 04:45:00 PM  
Anonymous bruschettaboy said...

hmmm he already did that in the Standard, but it's got to be a runner.

10/28/2005 07:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Backword Dave said...

A dig at Private Eye in one of the filler pieces perhaps?

Here's the whole thing (from p22). "Nick Cohen" is bylined "Science correspondent" which is certainly a reference to Sunday's column. They've used his Observer photo.

"For months certain papers have been suggesting that there is a possible connection between alcohol and drunkenness. I say this -- what utter tosh! I have been drinking all day and, as I sit down to write my column, there is no sign whatever that it has had any rhubarb on my trouser press. Furthermore, I am going to sue anyone who says that I am habitually drunk and cannot hold my custard (cont p. 94)

I think for the Eye, accusing a journalist of crapulence is about as libellous as calling Patrick Steward bald. I think they're going for two other targets: they're accusing him of a willingness to say black is white, and pomposity.

It's standard Eye style; and not Nick's at all (I don't recall him ever using an exclamation mark). I was about to add "or use the first person in that pub bore intimate way" but I suppose Sunday's column is a bit of a first that way. (I may be wrong.) It does have his tendency to blame the media (himself excluded) but that's as rare in Fleet Street as acne is in the Fourth Form, so, again, I doubt that's personal.

I don't have kids, but I have a psycology degree, so I know a bit about autism, and I'm largely convinced that's a genetic condition. OTOH, so is sporting excellence. Look at Ian Botham's son, Liam, who seems to have inherited excellent eye-rest-of-body co-ordination, physical courage, bloody-mindedness, and basic muscle tone from his dad. That doesn't mean that his professional rugby career doesn't owe something to his environment. Still, what I know about autism seems to show that environmental factors play no part whatever in its occurence, and it's there from conception, like eye colour. So I think Nick, and Private Eye, and the Mail were extremely foolish in following the Lancet's publication of a study with an extremely small sample size (and a very unconvincing hypothesis), and anyone who knew about autism or genetics could have disabused them pretty smartly.

10/28/2005 08:38:00 PM  
Anonymous bruschettaboy#1 said...

hmmm, I'm personally of the view that there is a connection which has been observed by lots of people over time between autism and problems in the gut and that Wakefield's kids did have measles-related gut problems, so it is at least possible that those 12 cases might have been cases of MMR-related autism (I think it's quite unlikely that "autism" describes a single disease rather than a set of related symptoms).

On the other hand, it is quite obvious that there isn't a universal epidemic of autism and Wakefield had to search far and wide for those 12 cases, so it's equally obvious that the risk factor is low. So I'd blame Wakefield for massively building his part, wouldn't blame the Lancet for publishing the original study, wouldn't blame Private Eye for following the story, would blame Private Eye for sticking with it after it was obvious it wasn't a runner and wouldn't blame Nick for spending £140 that he had to spare. And in a larger sense, I'd assign ultimate responsibility for the whole panic to a government and scientific apparatus that had repeatedly pissed on their chips with respect to telling fibs to the public about health scares, and then asked us all to eat said chips.

(I'd also point out that there were lots of scientists on telly around that time saying things that they must have known were a bit dodgy; specifically, claiming that epidemiological studies had "proved" that MMR was "safe" when there was no way that any epidemiological study could have proved any such thing a) in the time b) given the intrinsic difficulty of proving a negative, statistically and c) given the intrinsic difficult of proving anything at all about a rare effect. The fact that these talking heads must have known they were telling white lies came through in their body language and caused a lot of people, including Nick, to assume that they were telling black lies).

10/28/2005 10:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"For months certain papers have been suggesting that there is a possible connection between alcohol and drunkenness. I say this -- what utter tosh!"

That's a riff on the connection between the London bombings and the war surely? I think Mr. Cohen was of the "they're in no way related" persuasion.

10/29/2005 11:35:00 PM  

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