Uncommon Smackdown in the Commons

Very interesting first day of the new Parliament in Britain this morning, where some Labourites expressed their anger at the SNP—the Scottish nationalists who crushed Labour’s former stronghold up north and threaten to make Labour a permanent minority party—but which culminated in the Speaker of the House upbraiding the new SNP members for not being ready for prime time.  Just one minute long, and worth every bit:

Score another one for Iran: Shiite militias fill void left by Obama

The Washington Post reports that Iraq’s Shiite militias have launched an offensive intended to put a stranglehold on ISIS fighters in Ramadi by cutting off ISIS supply lines and besieging the city.

The Shiite militias in question are heavily influenced, if not dominated by Iran. The Badr Organization mentioned in the Post’s report, with its close ties to Iran’s elite Quds Force, is a good example.

Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi held the Shiite militias out of the recent battle for Ramadi because the Sunnis of Anbar province don’t trust them, and with good cause. He hoped that the regular army and loyal Sunni tribesmen would defeat ISIS. But without serious U.S. backing — e.g., American advisers on the ground during combat and American spotters to guide air strikes — they were unable to do so.

Thus, Iranian-dominated militias have been called in to succeed where Obama’s strategy failed.

Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter blames the fall of Ramadi on the Iraqi army’s lack of “will to fight.” The Iranian-backed militias are exploiting Carter’s impolitic statement. Their spokesman said this:

This is the army that you have trained for eight years. You worked for eight years and made them weak, through policies that were adopted by you. I say that the Iraqi army, supported by the popular mobilizations, do have the will to fight.

But implicit in this statement, and in comments by members of the Iraqi army who fought in Ramadi, is the idea that the army does, in fact, come up a little short in the “will” department. Hence the need for the “popular mobilizations,” i.e., the militias. As one soldier put it, the militiamen “fight with faith; we need their energy.”

This problem — call it the “fervor gap” — is inherent in President Obama’s strategy of defeating Islamic extremists through the use of more secular proxy armies. Other things being roughly equal, religious fanatics have the advantage.

To counter that advantage, the U.S. needs to ensure that other things aren’t roughly equal. We can do this by providing boots on the ground during the battle. If we don’t, then the armies we insufficiently support will look to religious fanatics for help — or else simply give up.

Either way, the U.S. will be the loser.

President Obama and his top advisers should have recognized the advantage that ISIS’s fanaticism gives it. He never has — not when he dubbed ISIS “the jayvee” and not when he concluded that it can be defeated by a less committed adversary aided by U.S. air strikes.

As a result, ISIS, far from destroyed or degraded, is advancing. And Iran, not America, is viewed by Iraqis as the one force that may be able to thwart it.

The most likely outcome is an Iraq controlled in some big parts by ISIS terrorists interested in attacking the U.S. and dominated in other big parts by Iran. That’s a very different Iraq from the one that existed when Barack Obama took office.

Behind Science Fraud, Chapter 4

Richard Horton, the editor of The Lancet, the pre-eminent medical journal that was stung by one of the worst science frauds of the last decade (Andrew Wakefield’s phony vaccine-autism link paper), has a fascinating note reporting on the conversations at a recent conference of scientists in the UK about the problems of scientific review. A few of his statements are genuinely eye-popping:

“A lot of what is published is incorrect.” I’m not allowed to say who made this remark because we were asked to observe Chatham House rules. We were also asked not to take photographs of slides. Those who worked for government agencies pleaded that their comments especially remain unquoted . . . this symposium—on the reproducibility and reliability of biomedical research, held at the Wellcome Trust in London last week—touched on one of the most sensitive issues in science today: the idea that something has gone fundamentally wrong with one of our greatest human creations.

The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness. . .

The apparent endemicity of bad research behaviour is alarming. In their quest for telling a compelling story, scientists too often sculpt data to fit their preferred theory of the world. Or they retrofit hypotheses to fit their data. Journal editors deserve their fair share of criticism too. We aid and abet the worst behaviours. Our acquiescence to the impact factor fuels an unhealthy competition to win a place in a select few journals. Our love of “significance” pollutes the literature with many a statistical fairy-tale. We reject important confirmations. Journals are not the only miscreants. Universities are in a perpetual struggle for money and talent, endpoints that foster reductive metrics, such as high-impact publication. . .  nobody is ready to take the first step to clean up the system. [Emphasis added.]

Half of the scientific literature may be untrue? Half! Cue Eddie Murphy.

Pretty clearly there’s a theme emerging here: the academic-scientific complex is as corrupt as a FIFA World Cup meeting. This is ought to be regarded as a crisis, but as Horton comments, “nobody is ready to take the first step to clean up the system.” (In fact, this sounds a lot like FIFA.)

Oh, and “endemicity”? No, I don’t think I want that to catch on.  Lamosity was enough of a stretch.

Memo to the Gas Industry: You’re Next

Lenin said capitalists would sell the rope with which they’d be hanged, which intersects Churchill’s famous definition that  “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.” Both of these came to mind a couple years back when the news leaked out that Chesapeake Energy had secretly given $26 million to the Sierra Club to boost the Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign that was compelling many utilities to switch from coal to natural gas. It was a perfect example of a “bootleggers and Baptist” coalition against open markets.

I thought it was a stupid thing to do at the time, but the motivation was easy to understand.  I recall a natural gas company CEO asking me what happened to their market, which had seen gas prices fall from around $14 per thousand cubic feet in the early 2000s to around $3 by the end of the decade.

“The answer is simple,” I said; “You’ve been too successful in bringing lots of new gas to the market.” It is amazing how often the law of supply and demand eludes corporate executives almost as often as it does liberals. This is the reason a lot of gas-intensive utilities supported the Waxman-Markey cap and trade bill in 2009, thinking the regulatory foot of government would tilt the playing field in their direction. This is short-sighted appeasement of the worst kind.

One of the many strengths of Michael Grunwald’s terrific piece in Politico today about the Sierra Club’s campaign to destroy coal is that once environmentalists succeed in strangling coal, they’ll go after natural gas next:

 “The Sierra Club wants to stop coal now?” Inhofe asked. “You’ll see, they’ll be after gas next.”

Long-term, he’s right.  While the Club accepted some donations from natural gas interests under Carl Pope, it is now formally committed to eliminating gas as well as coal by 2030, and it has helped block new gas plants in cities like Austin and Carlsbad, California. After its victory last week in Asheville, Beyond Coal vowed to keep fighting to overturn Duke Energy’s decision to build a new gas plant to replace its 50-year-old coal plant.

Memo to natural gas executive: You’re next. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

Where there’s corruption, there’s the Clinton Foundation

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Bill Clinton is unsurpassed at spotting and exploiting corrupt entities. This ability forms the subtext of Clinton Cash, Peter Schweizer’s expose of the Clinton Foundation.

If there is a corrupt government with which to engage in mutual backscratching, Bill Clinton will find it. Before long, a Clinton Foundation supporter will have obtained concessions from the government; Clinton will have obtained lucrative speaking fees generated by both the supporter (who will have made additional contributions) and the government; and the corrupt government will have obtained Bill Clinton’s public seal of approval plus (between 2009 and 2013) a friend at the head of the State Department.

It’s no surprise, then, that FIFA — the corrupt world soccer governing body just indicted by the Justice Department — has ties with the Clinton Foundation. The Daily Beast reports:

The Clinton global charity has received between $50,000 and $100,000 from soccer’s governing body and has partnered with the Fédération Internationale de Football Association [FIFA] on several occasions, according to donor listings on the foundation’s website.

That’s not all:

The Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee [which is organizing the 2022 World Cup], partnering with the State of Qatar, “committed to utilizing its research and development for sustainable infrastructure at the 2022 FIFA World Cup to improve food security in Qatar, the Middle East, and other arid and water-stressed regions throughout the world,” according to the Clinton Foundation website.

The cost of the two-year project is not listed on the Clinton Foundation website, but the Qatar 2022 committee gave the foundation between $250,000 and $500,000 in 2014. . . .

Why these contributions? Clinton had headed the U.S. bid for the 2022 World Cup. According to the Washington Post, he “spent two years traveling the world, campaigning with the likes of Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Spike Lee, trying to convince FIFA officials to bring the World Cup stateside.”

Unfortunately, Clinton’s efforts failed. FIFA awarded the World Cup to Qatar.

Like Eric Holder, who also pitched the U.S. bid, Clinton did not take his failure well. According to the Sydney Morning Herald:

Bill Clinton looked anything but happy as he strode into the Savoy Baur en Ville hotel in Zurich in December 2010. The receptionists could tell he was irritated, but had no idea just how angry he was.

After closing the door to his suite, he reached for an ornament on a table and threw it at a wall mirror in a fit of rage, shattering the glass. . . .

‘Clinton was fuming,’ said one well-placed source. ‘He felt humiliated and felt the decision did not make sense.’

The contributions to the Clinton Foundation described above were, it seems clear, an attempt to make things right with the Clintons. Unfortunately for FIFA, there was no “Eric Holder Foundation” to which to contribute.

This case doesn’t fit the classic Clinton Foundation paradigm. Usually the Clintons are at the heart of the corruption. This time, Bill Clinton was an outsider, undone by the corruption of others and ultimately settling for “chump change” as a consolation prize.

Nonetheless, it’s not much of an exaggeration to say, as a reader wrote to me, that the FIFA-Clinton story represents the grand convergence of the most corrupt sports organization on earth with the most corrupt American political family ever.

Obama DOJ indicts world soccer governing body, but why?

FIFA, the governing body of world soccer, has taken a huge and well-deserved hit. The Department of Justice announced the unsealing of a 47-count indictment that charges 14 FIFA officials with racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering conspiracy.

Meanwhile, Swiss authorities announced an investigation into the awarding of the next two World Cups to Russia (2018) and Qatar (2022). In addition, they raided FIFA’s headquarters in Zurich and arrested several top FIFA officials (but not the corrupt president, Sepp Blatter).

I have denounced the absurd decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, and I rarely mention FIFA without attaching the word “corrupt.” FIFA deserves to be investigated and, almost certainly, prosecuted.

I can’t help but wonder, though, why the Justice Department chose to use its “prosecutorial discretion” to pursue FIFA. The U.S. is a soccer backwater. These days, to be sure, there is plenty of money to be made here through the sale of rights to televise the World Cup, as well as through marketing. And it’s easy to believe that corruption surrounds such broadcasting and marketing deals.

But this seems like small potatoes in the scheme of things. Why is the Obama administration devoting scarce resources to bring justice to world soccer? Why not leave it to the Swiss?

The answer may lie in the most important recent intersection of FIFA and U.S. — the decision to award the 2022 to Qatar rather than the United States.

The Obama administration vigorously pursued the World Cup. Our lead pitchman was none other than Eric Holder, who went all the way to Zurich in pursuit of the Cup. I understand that he was in the audience (along with Bill Clinton, about whom more in a follow-up post) when FIFA announced that Qatar would be the host.

Having already failed, notwithstanding his personal intervention, to land the Olympics for Chicago, I doubt that President Obama took his FIFA failure well. Nor is it likely that Eric Holder enjoyed striking out in Zurich. These guys take things personally.

Is the DOJ’s indictment of FIFA retaliation for its “snub” of Obama and Holder? I suspect so.

Behind Science Fraud, Chapter 3

Our first installment in this series took note of the NY Times op-ed by Adam Marcus, managing editor of Gastroenterology & Endoscopy News, and Ivan Oransky, global editorial director of MedPage Today (both are co-founders of retractionwatch.com), but now they’re back with another, longer piece at Nautilus that goes into more detail, and offers more shocking examples (such as the Japanese scientist who fabricated a whopping 183 papers that got published), about science fraud.

After reviewing the painstaking work that unraveled several serial fraudsters (it’s great reading if you have the time), Marcus and Oransky get down to business:

But this [careful statistical review of the raw data] is an approach that requires journal editors to be on board—and many of them are not. Some find reasons not to fix the literature. Authors, for their part, have taken to claiming that they are victims of “witch hunts.” It often takes a chorus of critiques on sites such as PubPeer.com, which allows anonymous comments on published papers, followed by press coverage, to generate any movement.

In 2009, for example, Bruce Ames—made famous by the tests for cancer-causing agents that bear his name—performed an analysis similar to Carlisle’s together with his colleagues. The target was a group of three papers authored by a team led by Palaninathan Varalakshmi. In marked contrast to what later resulted from Carlisle’s work, the three researchers fought back, calling Ames’ approach “unfair” and a conflation of causation and correlation. Varalakshmi’s editors sided with him. To this day, not a single one of the journals in which the accused researchers have published their work have done anything about the papers in question.

Sadly, this is the typical conclusion to a scholarly fraud investigation. The difficulty in pursuing fraudsters is partly the result of the process of scholarly publishing itself. It “has always been reliant on people rather than systems; the peer review process has its pros and cons but the ability to detect fraud isn’t really one of its strengths,” Yentis says.

Publishing is built on trust, and peer reviewers are often too rushed to look at original data even when it is made available. Nature, for example, asks authors “to justify the appropriateness of statistical tests and in particular to state whether the data meet the assumption of the tests,” according to executive editor Veronique Kiermer. Editors, she notes, “take this statement into account when evaluating the paper but do not systematically examine the distribution of all underlying datasets.” Similarly, peer reviewers are not required to examine dataset statistics.

When Nature went through a painful stem cell paper retraction last year, which led to the suicide of one of the key researchers, they maintained that, “we and the referees could not have detected the problems that fatally undermined the papers.” The journal argued that it took post-publication peer review, and an institutional investigation. And pushing too hard can create real problems, Nature wrote in another editorial. [Emphasis added.]

Remind me again why exactly are we supposed to trust the journal article review process?