A general record of my ongoing battle with all forms of nonsense.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

A Rather Weak Reply from Leicestershire CC Library Services

I received this rather weak reply from Library Services.  It was quite impressive that she actually spent the time to visit the libraries and look at the book, chat to collegues and then completely ignore the points I was trying to make.

Thank you for your letter of 20th November, and your comments on the new Oadby Library. I am pleased that you think it is fantastic – we are very proud of it.

You make some very clear points about the stock there, and thank you for these.  I have spoken to the buying team, a customer service librarian at Oadby and visited the library to look at the stock myself before replying to you. 

We do attempt to avoid bias in all areas of our stock and to represent all viewpoints, within the law of the land. We have to be selective in what we buy as we have a limited budget and there are many thousands of books published in any one year. In the case of Alternative Medicine there is certainly no deliberate “anti-science basis”. In the Health and Well-being section, there are titles on lots of areas, including mainstream medicine. Not every title we stock is on the shelf at any one time, as they will have been borrowed. We do stock material that is popular with our library users and is reflected in the number of times they have been borrowed. Books which are not in stock in Oadby Library may be available in other libraries across the network, and can be requested. We will also borrow titles from across the country through the Inter-Library Loan services to enable borrowers to have access to any title they wish, if it is available. 

We do try to satisfy our users requirements, if we can. I hope this is helpful. 

Thank you for your interest, 

And my response:

I thank you for your reply of 24th November 2008, however I wish to point out that none of the issues I raised were responded to.

My issues are as follows:

  • There is huge bias against the current scientific consensus in areas such as alternative medicine and the paranormal, to the point that there appear to be a total of zero books supporting the scientific consensus on the subjects.

  • That some of the information in some of these books is potentially dangerous to the reader, to the point where making the claims would be illegal if made by a practitioner.

  • That by promoting books in exact opposition to the scientific consensus, the library is spreading ignorance on extremely important matters such as health.
You mentioned that the library has lots of books on mainstream medicine. However, this was irrelevant to my point – I was discussing alternative medicine. The books on alternative medicine are ones with incredible bias – thankfully most of the books on mainstream medicine support the scientific consensus otherwise I’d be complaining about those too.

Though you have said there is no deliberate bias, having seen my letter and visited the library you are no doubt now aware of significant bias – even if it is not deliberate. However, you have failed to say what, if anything, the library service plans to do about it. I’d like a response on the following:
  • Does the library even acknowledge that the bias exists?

  • Does the library plan to do anything about this problem?

  • If so, what?

I look forward to your reply.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

The Woo Promoters of Leicestershire County Council

I've always been slightly annoyed by the mumbo-jumbo department in the local library.  While I can understand it in a bookshop (their only job is to sell books), a library should be a centre for spreading knowledge - not superstition.

All the books I could find on psychic ability promote it as something that exists.  All the books on alternative medicine are extremely positive about it's efficacy. There is no critical thought whatsoever.

Finally I got round to (trying to) get something done about it.  With, so far, the predictable lack of success.  Of course that won't stop me trying.  To be honest, I love the argument.

Below are my series of letters to Leicestershire County Council Libraries.  I'll carry on adding to this post as they continue to go back and forth.

Reader Development Team
929-931 Loughborough Road

Dear ,

The new Oadby Library premises look fantastic, and the longer opening hours will mean I will be using the library much more often. I have a few comments, however, on the book selection.

The Oadby Library has an excellent selection of non-fiction books on the subject of the Holocaust.

In the photo below there are 2 piles of books from the Oadby Library. On the right are all the books I found relating to the Holocaust that support the view taken by historical experts. On the left is the pile of books promoting the pseudo-history that the Holocaust did not happen. There are zero books in this pile.

I completely agree with this approach, but why doesn’t the library provide books showing both viewpoints? There are many Holocaust-deniers out there, so why is the library not providing for their views too?  I’d hope that the answer to this question is that it is the library’s responsibility to help educate. Providing books promoting Holocaust denial would be mis-education, and therefore not only a wilful neglect of the library’s responsibility, but a deliberate attempt to spread ignorance.

Why doesn’t the library take this same approach throughout its non-fiction section?

Unlike your excellent Holocaust section, the Oadby Library has some sections where:
  • The selection of books relating to specific subjects is extremely biased.
  • The bias is drastically in opposition to the scientific consensus.
  • Some books provide false information that is potentially harmful to the reader, in some cases to the point where it would be illegal to provide the same information in an advertisement.
  • That in health, the science-based information is mixed up with the information proven to be false by science.
From a brief browse around the library, I have found significant bias against the scientific consensus exists within the following subjects:
  • Alternative Medicine
  • Nutrition
  • Psychic Ability
  • Ghosts
However, to keep this letter to a (semi)readable length I’m going to tackle Alternative Medicine and Psychic Ability only.

Alternative Medicine
The pile of books on the left goes against the scientific consensus. The pile on the right is in favour of the scientific consensus. There are zero books in this pile.

Within the health section, there are books on both “conventional” and “alternative” medicine. Science is extremely important in being able to determine which medicine (alternative or otherwise) works and which does not. While the “conventional” medicine books are generally good and based upon science, why is there so much anti-science bias on the subject of “alternative” medicine?

There are many excellent books available on this subject:
  • Trick or Treatment?: Alternative Medicine on Trial, by Simon Singh & Edzard Ernst
  • Bad Science, by Ben Goldacre
  • Suckers: How Alternative Medicine Makes Fools of Us All, by Rose Shapiro
  • Placebo, by Dylan Evans
  • Snake Oil and Other Preoccupations, by John Diamond
  • Snake Oil Science: The Truth About Complementary and Alternative Medicine, by R. Barker Bausell
Some of the alternative health books on the library shelves make specific claims about alternative health products that:
  • Have no evidence for their efficacy whatsoever.
  • Have been conclusively shown to be false by scientific experiment.
  • Would be illegal for an alternative health practitioner to advertise or claim.
  • Are potentially dangerous to the reader if they believe them.
The book “Family Guide to Complementary and Conventional Medicine” is particularly dangerous. Not only does it give advice that would be illegal to be given by a practitioner under consumer protection law, but it also makes claims that would be illegal under The Cancer Act 1939:

Psychic Ability
The pile of books on the left goes against the scientific consensus. The pile on the right is in favour of the scientific consensus. There are no books on the right. 

There are many fantastic books on the subject of psychics supporting the scientific consensus. Why is there such extreme bias? There are many excellent books available that cover the subject:
  • The Full Facts Book of Cold Reading, by Ian Rowland
  • The Truth about Uri Geller, by James Randi
  • The Naked Quack: Exposing the Many Ways Phony Psychics and Mediums Cheat You! by The Psychics
  • "Psychic" Wendy
  • The Psychic Mafia, by M.Lamar Keene & Allen Spragg
  • Deception and Self-deception: Investigating Psychics, by Richard Wiseman
  • Flim-Flam, by James Randi
  • Confessions of a Medium, Anonymous
  • Guidelines for Testing Psychic Claimants, by Richard Wiseman
  • Tricks of the Mind, by Derren Brown
  • Why People Believe Weird Things, by Michael Shermer
People have different opinions on what is true and what is not. For this reason, we have science. Science has no interest in people’s opinion - it is only interested in the dispassionate search for what is true.

The library does not have books denying the Holocaust in its history section for good reason - it would be against the library’s function if it was to help spread such ignorance.

I’d like to ask why, in sections on psychic ability and alternative medicine, does the library take the exact opposite approach?

I look forward to your reply.