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Newsletter, January 2011 (Issue 182)

Letters to the Editor


Questioning the Society's Awards
From Margaret Hancock

Congratulations to the organisers of the Society's awards presentation evening at the Town Hall and to Bob Allen for his first class commentary. As usual I found myself agreeing with some of the judges' decisions and disagreeing with others! However this year I particularly disagree with some verdicts and I wonder if other members share my views.

First was the decision not to give an award to the excellent renovation of machinery at Isaac Lord's. A huge number of visitors were impressed by this project during Heritage Open Days and especially enjoyed the enthusiasm of John Jackaman who, with the help of his son, has spent hours working to bring this fascinating part of Isaacs' history to life.

Secondly was the Award of Distinction to IBC for the Giles Circus paving scheme. A laudable enterprise but is it really worthy of the top award? In his commentary Bob seemed to suggest that no award was given to Isaacs because the building had received a number of previous awards. Does this not also apply to paving schemes completed by the Borough or is my memory of earlier occasions inaccurate? Also, the Council is surely simply using funds received from Haven Gateway on town improvements that we have every right to expect. The work at Isaacs was completed at private expense and as a labour of love. What a pity that the Society's 50th anniversary year was spoiled for me by such seemingly unfair decisions.

Living Over the Shop
From Ann Petherick

As an Ipswich Society member and founder of the 'Living Over the Shop' project (1989 to 2007) may I be permitted to correct a statement by David Ireland in his February talk to the Society on 'The Challenge of Empty Homes'? David said, 'There are many empty flats above shops ... ' There are indeed some in every town but the great majority of vacant space over shops is exactly that- vacant space. The space is not in the form of habitable flats as it is rarely self-contained, has little in the way of services and facilities, and doesn't meet current building regulations.

This confusion between empty homes and empty space is highly damaging since the processes involved in bringing them into use are entirely different, and the continuing myth of thousands of empty flats over shops is sadly one which has bedevilled and undermined Government policy in recent years.

He is however absolutely right to say that work on space over shops was pioneered in Ipswich by Bob Kindred in the 1970s and it was my awareness of this work when I lived in the town which prompted me to set up the national' LOTS' programme, now sadly defunct.

Scientists and the Climate Debate
From M L Chelk

When Mr Brain replied to my letter in the July issue of the Newsletter he referred to the alleged manipulation of climate data, saying that the University of East Anglia had been vindicated of wrongdoing and such false impressions are at odds with the evidence. The evidence, however, is not in dispute. This shows that Professor Jones at UEA asked colleagues to delete emails received from him, devised means to withhold data that should have been provided under the Freedom of Information Act and used an unorthodox statistical technique to "hide the decline" in global temperatures. The Institute of Physics was highly critical of these activities. As governments have committed so many billions of pounds to schemes based on the hypothesis of global warming caused by human activity it is not surprising that there was a rapid reaction to deal with the public disquiet caused by the Professor's actions.

One of the disturbing features of the climate debate is that scientists who maintain the warming hypothesis regard those who do not share their view as enemies and cast doubt on their motives. That was the view at UEA and Mr Brain himself suggests there is a "perverse eagerness to find reason to doubt what is becoming increasingly evident." In The Times on 16 November Professor Jones claimed that many people "want to be deceived" because they fear having to sacrifice their high-emission life styles. There is clearly something wrong when scientists attempt to undermine opposing views not by science but by casting doubt on people's motives. There are many scientists who do not accept global warming. To my mind climatologists should make their case by publishing their data and methods so that it can be assessed by their professional peers and considered on its merits. If they have to fall back on allegations about other people's motives they should not be surprised if their conclusions are distrusted. Professor Jones also said that his next report in 2013 will arrive at the same conclusions as before although the evidence for this has still to be received.

Climatology is not the only area where questions have arisen about scientific practice. In medicine clinical trials are the basis on which the authorities decide whether pharmaceutical products are approved for general use and billions of dollars of sales are at stake in their review. Here we have the case of Dr Scott Reuben, a Massachusetts Professor of Anesiology and Pain Medicine, who has admitted producing fictitious research on drugs for pharmaceutical companies for thirteen years, publishing his findings in specialist scientific journals. These included Vioxx which is now known to cause fatal heart attacks and has been banned. In the USA there is also the practice of employing PR companies to produce research papers which academics then put their names to. Then there are the skewed results of research, where 80% of trials funded by manufacturers are favourable compared with 50% of trials funded by other sources. There are many ways of controlling the outcomes of trials and many ways of presenting the conclusions drawn. Bias and misconduct in science and the way the media report on them have now been identified as an area for research at Edinburgh University where Dr Fanelli has found that 5% of scientists admit falsifying the results of clinical trials, up to a third have manipulated data to improve results, and another third had observed misconduct in others. It is clear that scientists are subject to the same pressures and temptations as everyone else and we cannot assume that every scientist is to be trusted.

Mr Brain offered to send the letter he wrote me, three pages with two enclosures, to anyone interested but omitted to mention that I had sent him a four page letter with enclosures in reply. This too is available to anyone who may be interested.

    Front cover of issue 182 Cover, issue 182

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