Saturday, January 22, 2011

In summation: Peter Hitchens vs. this blog.

Peter Hitchens is still not pleased with my reply to his comments. The first article regarding Mr. Hitchens and his views on marijuana is here. His reply to that, along with my rebuttal is here. Below, in red, are his most recent comments with my reply in black. I fear that this will need to be the last such public discussion as I do not wish to make the blog “Peter Hitchens, every day, all day.” There are many other issues to address and too much time on one makes Jack, or Peter, a dull boy.

On the question of the enforcement of laws against cannabis possession, the crucial information is not the number of arrests, but the sanctions applied to those convicted, and the number of cases actually proceeded against in the courts. In England, the great majority of persons arrested for cannabis possession are given an informal 'cannabis warning' which entails no penalty and no record of any kind, and has no legal status. (I can supply figures on request and recently published them on my blog in an item about Professor David Nutt and accuracy) In effect, the English authorities have abandoned attempts to prosecute or punish the possession of cannabis.

I do not claim to know the situation in every state or jurisdiction of the USA. We do know that Loughner, found by police in a car stinking of marijuana and in possession of drug paraphernalia, was merely sent on a 'diversion programme'. We also know that 'medical marijuana' is about to be permitted in Arizona. I think this gives a pretty clear picture of the real state of affairs. Laws can exist which are not enforced, and are in effect dead.

I addressed this in both my previous replies. Mr. Hitchens ignores the actual statistics about imprisonment in the US for marijuana use and continues to pretend the laws “are not enforced, and are in effect dead.” I wish that were the case. Even after I pointed out that 47% of the 1.8 million people arrested for drugs were arrested on pot charges, Mr. Hitchens continues to claim that the laws are not enforced. After I pointed out that a person is arrested for marijuana in the US every 38 seconds, Mr. Hitchens continues to say the law is, “in effect dead.” I wrote that in 1992 there were 342,000 people arrested for marijuana in the US and that by 2007 it had increased to almost 830,000. Approximately 12% of all federal prisoners are in prison on pot charges, 88% for mere possession. The evidence shows the law is enforced and that Mr. Hitchens’ assertion that it is not enforced is grossly in error.

The list of events provided at the end of my critic's post is not referenced, the events are not dated, and I have no idea of the detailed circumstances involved. It is at least open to question as to whether they give an accurate picture of law enforcement in the US in general, in respect of cannabis possession.

The events listed, which were of people killed in raids by the Drug Warriors, did have some links included. But, most importantly, it gave the names of the victims of the Drug Warriors. A simply Google search would turn up the news stories outlining the circumstances. Mr. Hitchens could find any one of those stories in a matter of seconds were he inclined to do so. I suspect he is not inclined to do so because it is best to selectively ignore evidence that contradicts one’s own views.

I mentioned my critic's error over my newspaper (which is in itself unimportant) to make the point that errors such as mine (over the confusion between Pima County and the town of Pima) are easy to make at a distance. My critic does not understand the way newspapers operate in Britain. I mistook a county for a city of the same name in the same state. These are comparable errors. I admit mine and regret it. He tries to argue that his (equally minor) error wasn't an error. This is significant, as we shall see, for my critic ( who also doesn't seem to have withdrawn his early and self-serving rush to judgement on this site that the politically incoherent Loughner was 'right-wing') is a little less rigorous about accuracy when it comes to himself, than he is with others.

His critic, me, does understand how papers work in the UK. He seems unaware that I did live in the UK for some time, along with other Commonwealth nations. Mr. Hitchens did more than confuse the town of Pima with the county of Pima. He also wrote that the shootings took place in the town of Pima and labeled the town council of Pima as “liberal” for passing an ordinance they were required to pass by law.

Second, I did not make an error regarding The Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday. Mr. Hitchens is adamant that they are separate newspapers; I insist they are two editions of the same paper. I listed the reasons for this including they are both called “The Mail,” both owned by the same individual, both run out of the same building, and share numerous staff members with each other (though editorial staff is separate) and are found on the same web page with no distinction between which is which.. That some staff is separate doesn’t mean other staff is not shared. One is the weekly edition of the Mail and the other is the Sunday edition of the Mail.

If you wish to check this out for yourself go to and do a search on "Peter Hitchens." The Daily Mail includes all of Mr. Hitchen's columns on their site. They only do this for the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday. Clearly the Mail on Sunday is not an entirely separate newspaper but is seen by the Daily Mail as another edition of what they publish, just one distributed on Sunday. It should be also noted that the Daily Mail website, when it shows you articles by Mr. Hitchens makes no clear distinction that they were published in Mail on Sunday. They don't seem to think the difference is very significant, neither do I.

And nowhere have I “withdrawn” my “early and self-serving rush to judgment” on Loughner holding right-wing views. I see no reason to do that. My position was explained in detail for those caring to read it, both in my main blog posts and in comments. I said that Loughner’s views, as he himself explained them in his rambling tirades, were right wing. I also said that it was schizophrenia, not politics that caused him to kill. That is not retreating from saying his views were right wing. I never said his politics inspired the shootings, only that his politics, in his own writings, were right wing.

One difference between what I what I wrote and what others have written, is that I am absolutely convinced Loughner killed because he’s crazy, not because he’s right wing, or because he smoked pot. Others are looking for a scapegoat, in order to further their own political agendas. I am not. I do not think marijuana is to blame, as Mr. Hitchens does, nor do I think Loughner killed because of his politics, as many on the Left have claimed. Loughner killed because he’s crazy.

Why do I object to the way in which he portrayed my article?

Let's look at what he said:

"Hitchens argued ... that the cause of the shooting was marijuana."

No. I said it might be.

My words: "From this, and from many other things we already know about this man, it seems likely that he has lost his reason. Why and how? The most likely cause is Loughner’s daily cannabis-smoking habit. "

There is a bit of bait-and-switch in Mr. Hitchens’ reply. He says the argued that marijuana “might” be the cause, not that it is the cause. First, when you say something “might” happen you are stating a very high degree of uncertainty. The term “most likely,” on the contrary, means one of very strong certainty. Mr. Hitchens writes using terms that convey very, very strong certainty as to his theory.

Mr. Hitchens claimed the link between marijuana and “serious mental illness grows clearer every day,” and then calls libertarians supporting legalization “wicked” for denying this. I address the evidence that no such link exists; Mr. Hitchens ignores what I said on those matters. Hitchens said, with no equivocation, that “Loughner is a marijuana victim.” What does that mean, in this context, if not that Loughner is where he is today because of marijuana? He didn’t say Loughner “might” be a marijuana victim, nor did he use the stronger term “’most likely’ a victim of marijuana.” He said he “is” a victim, a term of absolute certainly.

And victim can only refer to the present state of affairs for Mr. Loughner if it is to have any meaning whatsoever. To say he is a “victim” merely because he smoked pot, with no connection to the current situation, is to strip the term “victim” of meaning. Hitchens meant to imply, and did, that Loughner is a “victim” because marijuana put him the situation he is in today.

Another expression of certainty, that marijuana causes mental illness, is Hitchens calling pot “the little packets of madness on sale in every school.” He didn’t say that these “might” be packets of madness, or are “most likely” packets of madness. There was no equivocation in his writing. He made similar statements as facts, which are not facts. For instance, he said that it is new that America “now has legal dope as well.” First, America does not have legal dope now. That is a gross exaggeration of the facts. And, if it did, it would NOT be new. The first regulation on marijuana came in 1906 in Washington, DC. The first state prohibition was in California in 1913. The first federal attempt to regulate drugs was the Harrison Act of 1914, but it was the Narcotic Act of 1925 that really put prohibitionist policies into effect. Prior to these regulations there was pretty much laissez faire regarding marijuana. Marijuana might be relegalized someday, but contrary to Mr. Hitchens’ claim it is not now legal nor would relegalization be the “first time” in American history for pot to be legal.

The difference between an assertion of proven fact, and a suggestion that something is likely is important to me, even if it is not to my critic.It is at least partly important because my critic assails me for (amongs other things) ' poor reasoning, 'hysteria' and 'paranoia'.

Mr. Hitchens again uses terms of great uncertainty to describe what he said; yet his original article did NOT express such uncertainty. Hitchens said the “most likely” cause of Loughner’s act was marijuana and that the evidence is mounting to prove a connection between pot and mental illness. He didn’t just suggest that might be possible but said it was the "most likely" reason: thus the reason at the top of the list, ahead of all others, including the one that Loughner might have been destined for schizophrenia all along, whether he smoked pot of not.

Similarly, while purporting to quote from what I said, my critic wrote suggesting that I had said the following :' the smiling indicates "he has lost his reason." '

What I actually said was :"Look at the strange picture of the alleged killer Jared Loughner. He has just been arrested for a crime for which he could be put to death, if convicted. And he is smiling. From this, and from many other things we already know about this man, it seems likely that he has lost his reason."

My critic once again makes my conclusions harder, and my reasoning less cautious, than is in fact the case.Note, again, the conditional nature of the statement, the words 'it seems likely'. All my thoughts on this subject are expressed in this way. All my critic's summaries of them suggest a certainty which I did not express. Why? Because if he had reproduced what I actually said, his accusations of 'paranoia', 'hysteria', etc would have looked a little slender. Why cannot he just say that he disagrees with me, and explain why?

I did say I disagree with him and explained why. Oddly, it is the areas where I explained why I think Mr. Hitchens is wrong, that he completely ignores. I outlined why I think he is wrong that pot is all but legal in America. I explained why the evidence shows that there is no link between schizophrenia and pot use. Yet, in his replies, Mr. Hitchens never addresses those rebuttals. Apparently explaining why I disagree with him has no effect on him. His replies have not, to this point, addressed any of my explanations as to why he is wrong. He instead “pounds the table” and concentrates on minor points and not the substance of my rebuttal.

I agree that my critic doesn't directly state that my article was plagiarised. He manages, however, to suggest that it may be, being willing to wound but afraid to strike. Since he is such a stickler for accuracy in others, I urge him not to adopt this unlovely technique. The insinuation is without foundation, and an ad hominem trick which has no place in a serious discussion.

I said Mr. Hitchens borrowed an argument, not that he plagiarized. Kincaid’s article appeared first and used the same arguments. Kincaid, unlike Hitchens, actually tried to make more substantive claims about the link between pot and schizophrenia. I then replied to Kincaid’s piece and not to Hitchens, at that point in my article. I am not suggesting plagiarism, which would mean he borrowed Kincaid’s actual writing. I merely said he borrowed the argument. Similarly when it comes to business cycle theory I borrow Hayek’s insights, when it comes to guns I borrow the insights of John Lott, when it comes to religion, I borrow the insights of Mr. Hitchens’ brother, Christopher. We all borrow arguments and there is nothing wrong with that. Borrowing other people’s writing is plagiarism and a quite different.

He also attempts to attribute to me a claim made by someone else in a newspaper for which ( as it happens) I have never written . This is where it is slightly more important for readers to understand that the 'Mail on Sunday' has a separate staff and a different editor from the 'Daily Mail'. In this it is quite unlike the Sunday editions of North American daily newspapers. In any case, I am not responsible for, and cannot reasonably have attributed to me, claims made or opinions expressed by other writers in other newspapers. Or indeed by other writers in the same newspaper, if my critic wishes to persist in his mistaken belief.

He quotes as follows :"Hitchens' paper, the Daily Mail, has pushed this hysteria before. They previously said "a single joint of cannabis raises the risk of schizophrenia by more than 40 per cent." By the way the "more than 40 per cent" means 41 per cent. Why they couldn't say 41 per cent I don't know, other than the term they used sounds scarier. Percentages are funny things. For instance, if 50% of the population was going to die from cancer, and if going to Sunday School increased that risk by 41% it would mean that out of 100 people, instead of 50 dying then 70 to 71 would die. That is a huge increase. It is huge because the percentage is based on a large base."

I addressed this matter above. The Mail has a daily edition and a Sunday edition and has some staff that are different and some that are the same. They are two editions of the same paper. But, oddly Hitchens argues that he is not “responsible” for the other article in the Daily Mail. That’s fine and dandy, but then I never said he was responsible. Nor did I say he wrote the article, or wrote for that edition of the Mail. What I said was that the Mail “has pushed this hysteria before” and then linked to an article where the newspaper did precisely that. It is just to false to claim I tried "to attribute" to Hitchens a claim someone else made. I attributed the newspaper as the source, not Mr. Hitchens.

I should note that the Mail is a really sleazy newspaper, in my opinion. It mostly focuses on hysterical stories and celebrity gossip. It shouldn’t qualify as journalism. Its history is as pathetic as its current style. The publication was one of the few to openly praise Hitler and Mussolini and was sympathetic to the British Union of Fascists. Lord Rothermere said BUF leader, Oswald Mosley should be prime minister because he "is willing to act with the same directness of purpose and energy of method as Mussolini and Hitler have displayed." Science writer Ben Goldacre calls it “the home of the scare story.” Hitchens' piece on Loughner is a good example of such a scare story. Another example from the Mail was their distortion of the “sun rise” incident in Greenland, which I discussed yesterday. Light refraction caused it to appear as if there were some sun rise in Greenland two days earlier than normal. The Mail, contrary to the evidence, announced “the most likely” explanation was that the horizon was lower due to melting ice global warming. It was not the most likely one at all, but one of the least likely, and one that evidence easily disproved.

Or, get this “scare story” from the Mail Online. “World’s youngest pole dancer: Two-year-old boy’s shocking performance in New York park – under his mother’s proud gaze.” In typical sleaze fashion the Mail Online, which does publish Mr. Hitchens, describes the incident thus: “He grips the pole, gyrates his body then lies on the floor with his legs apart — all under the approving gaze of his mother.”

You would think he was doing a “pole dance,” as in a strip club. In reality there was a pole fitness exhibition in the park. People now use similar poles as a form of exercise and it has nothing to do with sex. The paper claims the boy “slides up and against it on his groin.” Video of the incident shows something that isn’t quite the way the Mail Online describes. As for it being “shocking:” shocking to whom? The audience in the park was laughing as this child tried to mimic the adults using the pole to work out. I suggest the video is not shocking, only that the Mail Online wants its readers to think it is shocking. The Mail Online implies this is “sexualizing” children. (See the video yourself below.) This is an indication of the kind of scare stories that is the currency of the Mail. I dare say that Mr. Hitchens original piece fits the genre perfectly.

As it happens I make no such claim. I refer only to the work of the noted British psychiatrist, Robin Murray, whose research on this matter is easily accessible to anyone interested. I recommend that my critic looks at what Professor Murray has to say.

In his most recent article my critic continues to suggest that I have made this claim about Schizophrenia, thus :'The question in the Loughner case is whether pot smoking caused him to become schizophrenic. There has been no evidence offered to show that to be the case, only wishful thinking on the part of the Drug Warriors enablers, such as Mr. Hitchens and Mr. Kincaid." And thus :'Even by his own theory, which I think is wrong, he says [ it is not clear in this passage who 'he' is, but it seems possible that it is meant to be me] that pot use doubles the risk of schizophrenia, that is from 1 to 2. He then equates that risk with the risk of lung cancer from smoking, which is actually 20 to 30 times higher. That is a tad bit dishonest. He doesn't give the actual numbers, he just implies they are equivalents. Why did he give that false impression?'(This passage also repeats a mistaken claim, explored below, about my comparison between the dangers of tobacco and cannabis).

My critic also manages to suggest that I posit that the risk of mental illness to cannabis smokers is equal to the risk of lung cancer for cigarette smokers. He asks "And are the risks equal as Hitchens implies?"

What did I actually say? This :'Not all cannabis-smokers lose their minds. And not all cigarette-smokers get cancer. But in both cases the risk is enough to cause concern.' It seems to me that nothing in these words 'implies' , let alone explicitly states that the risks are equal. It states that there is a risk. It makes precisely no claim about the size of it. In my view one person losing his reason because of cannabis use is cause for concern. I am not sure what my critic thinks, or how many people he is prepared to sacrifice on the alter of cannabis decriminalisation.

Odd, that when I list people killed by Drug Warriors, Hitchens dismisses it because it wasn’t linked, even if the names of people were listed and could be Googled. Yet, he never linked to an article by Murray, he merely says it exists. And I dealt with the argument Murray makes by noting that there has been no rise in rates of schizophrenia, even as pot smoking increased. Neither do rates of schizophrenia differ from nation to nation, regardless of the individual consumption of marijuana in those nations. The failure to see a rise in the rate of schizophrenia, over the last fifty years, in spite of greater consumption of pot, disproves the theory.

Mr. Hitchens doesn’t know who the “he” is that said pot use doubles the chances of schizophrenia. I should have been clearer there, but my original article said, “Kincaid claims “People who smoke marijuana are twice as likely to develop schizophrenia as those who do not smoke.” Remember that a good portion of my first article was not about Mr. Hitchens, but also include Mr. Kincaid’s similar claims. Oddly Mr. Kincaid also likes to cite Robin Murray as evidence for his attacks on the “drug lobby,” just as does Mr. Hitchens. However, numerous conservative anti-pot articles make the same claims as Hitchens and many claim the doubling. So, the reference is to the theory in general, more than to what Mr. Hitchens may think the increase is. Whether he thinks it is .4 or 1 he can explain himself. That is actually rather immaterial since no increase of any size has been detected.

Now, since my critic's attack is largely based on the suggestion that my article is unreasonable, short on logic and (he uses the expression twice, once in the headline and once in the text) 'paranoid' it seems quite important to me that my words, when examined are in fact cautious, conditional and reasonable. Yes, I know he made the link available, but as he well knows, there will always be plenty of people who will be happy to accept the poster's version of the article without checking the link. As for the use of the word 'paranoid', is my critic a qualified psychiatrist? Has he ever met me? Or must we conclude that the word was employed as cheap, ad hominem abuse?

In conclusion, Mr. Hitchens seems upset that my readers may not actually read his article, in spite of my linking to it. Well, that is not something I can do anything about. What I did do was give his rebuttal prominent display on my blog, twice. And in the original article I wrote I also added a link to his rebuttal. I dare say that is more than Mr. Hitchens does for his critics, but I could be wrong.

I also note that describing his arguments as hysterical and paranoid is NOT an ad hominem argument. I describe the arguments, not him. As I said, I don’t know him and don’t pass judgment on him as a person, only on his writing. Since I explicitly said I was not addressing him as a person, and since ad hominem quite literally means ‘to the man,’ a description of his writing cannot be an ad hominem attack.

Ad hominem is a form of argumentation that says you can’t believe someone because of who they are, or something personal about them. To say that their arguments are paranoid, hysterical, wrong, mistaken, in error, etc., is not the same thing. I laid out precisely why I think Mr. Hitchens was wrong. In other words, I did discuss the evidence, but in his rebuttals he oddly avoids all that material, as if it were never said. There is the maxim: “If you have the facts on your side, pound the facts. If you have the law on your side, pound the law. If you have neither on your side, pound the table.” I pounded on the facts, Mr. Hitchens pounded on the table.

We are now at the end of Mr. Hitchens’ second rebuttal to my reply to his original article. At the end of my reply to his first rebuttal I outlined several questions of fact that I thought he needed to address. They still need addressing. The most important is addressing why there has been no increase in rates of schizophrenia even as pot use increased. Such an increase should be apparent if the theory that Mr. Hitchens is promoting is correct. The absence of such evidence is a major hole in the theory. Mr. Hitchens has avoided that topic completely, in both his rebuttals. Similarly he has offered nothing to indicate that the “most likely” reason Loughner had mental problems was because he smoked pot. The links simply have not been produced and instead addressing factual issues, we got lots of table pounding.

While I do not feel that more space on the front page of the blog for this issue is warranted, Mr. Hitchens is free, like other readers, to post in the comments section. Or, he is most welcome to take the debate to the website, where his articles appear regularly. But, this blog has to move on to new issues, in order to avoid being tedious.

PS: In the comment section Mr. Hitchens left a reply suggesting that I should publish his comments without any reply on my part. That is a very odd way to have dialogue. He also says his comments are "still not posted on the thread concerned." The original post I made regarding Hitchens has a link to his comments which are published in full on the same blog. Mr. Hitchens complained that the blog only allows 5,000 characters in comments. That is true, and is the highest limit I can set, beyond that is out of my control. So he was being forced to send in multiple comments per reply. I gave his comments more prominence by putting them on the front page with all the comment in one post instead of three posts. He's still not happy. Well, he was given more space on my blog than I was given on his (zero), but still he complains. However, the idea that he should be allowed to say anything he wants, without a reply, is ludicrous, if not downright Stalinist.

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