Friday, 2 May 2008

More idiocy from Danny Penman of The Daily Mail

Dr Danny Penman, PhD writes articles for - among other publications - New Scientist and The Daily Mail. The fact that Danny has a PhD in a scientific subject and writes perfectly tolerable pieces for New Scientist leads me to believe that he understands the principles of scientific evidence, but this is by no means apparent from his articles in the Mail, which are unadulterated bullshit.

Ordinarily, I would chalk this up to the Mail being the Mail and pandering to the various idiocies of its readership, since it has no principles whatsoever and I'd leave it at that. However, something about Danny really pisses me off. He knows that he is writing misleading articles. He knows he is abusing the dubious trust placed in him by readers, particularly those who believe that his qualifications count for something. He knows he is spreading ignorance, and by extension suffering, and he doesn't care. He is only concerned with pumping out vapid articles, which the Mail gleefully hoovers up and plasters across its pages.

Shame on you, Danny. As much as I'm annoyed by the kind of credulous moron who sincerely believes in nonsense like reincarnation, soul transplants and so on, I have a special hatred for people like you who know better, but peddle that crap anyway.

Pick one of Danny's articles at random. I did - I picked this one on near death experiences. Danny accepts (in the article, I'm sure he doesn't personally accept it) anecdotes as unassailable evidence and dismisses skeptical views in a sneering tone.

For example, he relates an anecdote about a patient on life support who claimed to have had a conversation with his sister. His sister had died very recently, but the family had not told the patient of this. His doctor is quoted as saying:
"There was absolutely no way he could have known about his sister's death."
Really? And how could she know this? Did the family tell anyone in the hospital, at any time? Did they discuss it anywhere in the hospital where they might be overheard? It doesn't seem all that unlikely that in such a gossip-rife environment, the patient couldn't possibly have heard about it. But you know what? That is completely irrelevant anyway. The incident only seems weird because the sister was dead. If she had been alive and he claimed to have been talking to her when she wasn't there, everyone would have thought he was just going a bit loopy towards the end. The fact that she was dead makes people think something strange was going on, a tendency that Danny is all too keen to exploit in his usual sensationalist way.

He then talks about how it is "commonly accepted" by nurses that when someone sees a vision of a dead loved one, they will die shortly afterwards.
"Indeed, shortly afterwards, 75-year-old Peter Holland did die."
Well what a fantastic surprise. A gravely ill 75 year old man died, you say? Who could possibly have predicted that?

A similar story, Danny tells us, is 'typical'. But typical of what? Danny doesn't say. By definition, it is typical of similar stories, but Danny is implying that these stories are extremely common.

By contrast, he quotes a skeptic who says that these supposed phenomena are hallucinations, wishful thinking and coincidence. He agrees that some people might find them comforting but finishes by saying that doesn't make it true:
"I would love to be religious and think that there was a heaven - but it simply doesn't exist."
Danny's reply:
"Doesn't exist? Or hasn't yet been scientifically proven?"
Danny is being deliberately disingenuous here. He knows perfectly well that there is no proper evidence for any of this - including the existence of heaven. He knows that the burden of proof is on him and the credulous idiots making these claims. But he sweeps this under the carpet with this outrageous statement. We can confidently state that these things do not exist because there is precisely no evidence to suggest that they do. Presumably, he wouldn't use the same argument about the existence of the tooth fairy or father christmas, because that would sound silly. But he knows he can get away with it in this context.

Danny concludes with an astonishingly uncritical account of how 'spirits' exist and regularly participate in the process of dying. This is all based, naturally, on zero evidence and is shamelessly made up.

I think we can be pretty sure that Danny believes none of it. He's in it for the money and doesn't care who gets hurt in the process. He is happy to push civilisation just that little bit further back into the dark ages as long as it puts a few quid in his pocket. Bravo, Danny: you've managed to do away with both scientific and journalistic integrity in one swoop, you mealy-mouthed prick.

So come on, Danny. You seem the type to google your own name, so hopefully one day this will come up and you can explain yourself in public.

[Edit: I've just noticed that Danny is also featured on quackometer at http://www.quackometer.net/blog/2006/10/once-dismissed-as-hokum-guide-to.html, which lists some of his major malfunctions in the form of a set of rules for writing quack newspaper pieces. As it notes, Danny sticks very well indeed to all of these rules].

9 comments:

Michael said...

New Scientist has editors to check copy. Your assumption about Penman understanding the basics might be wrong :)

latsot said...

True, although it's hard to believe they would tolerate him for long if he continuously turned in the kind of credulous bullshit he writes for the Mail.

On top of this, Danny has a PhD in a proper subject from a proper university and everything. While this is no guarantee of anything much, unless his supervisor was particularly dishonest and his examiners especially lazy, he must at least be able to demonstrate some knowledge of how science is done.

But I take your point: I may very well be underestimating his stupidity :-)

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