Thursday, 18 January 2018

What is the Big Issue, the Litmus Test? Mass Immigration versus the Sexual Revolution - Secular-Alt-Right versus Christian Revivalists

It strikes me that there is a distinct division between the secular and religious anti-Leftists (groups who often get bracketed-together due to their sharing an enemy).

The secular 'Right'* (including most of the Alt-Right) regard mass immigration to The West as the most important current issue; that issue which needs to be addressed first and with the greatest urgency.

In contrast, Christian anti-Leftists (such as myself) regard the sexual revolution as the most important current issue.

(Although I also argue that this is an issue that cannot be effectively addressed until after there has-been a Christian revival - thus a religious awakening is the issue that needs to be addressed first and with the greatest urgency.)

So the seculars and Christians are applying a different Litmus Test.

The secular Right often judge Christians to be soft on immigration, hence covertly Leftist; while the Christians regard the secular Right as wobbly on the sexual revolution - often advocating extra-marital promiscuity - and therefore as in-essence Leftist.

Since there can only be a single priority; Immigration versus the Sexual revolution makes a useful Litmus Test to evaluate the true status of an anti-Leftist.

*I use scare quotes around the word Right, because I regard the secular Right as being in fact a variant of The Left - since their ultimate judgment is in terms of hedonic satisfactions. Both are materialists/ positivists; and the only significant difference between the Secular 'Right' and the mainstream Left is a disagreement concerning the best or most effective ways to maximise happiness or minimise suffering during mortal human life. Whereas the Religious have a different ultimate evaluative reference that goes beyond the gratifications of mortal human life: i.e. for Christians the salvation of the soul and its progress towards greater divinity.

The English radical tradition - Christian versus anti-Christian motivations

Over at Albion Awakening.

Also, an interesting question from William Wildblood concerning Holman Hunt's Light of the World: is it the best depiction of Christ by an English painter?

Freud, not Marx, destroyed the USA (then The West)

The devastation wrought by Freud, and by Freudian-inspired psychotherapy/ counselling, on the USA is all the greater for being almost unappreciated. Indeed, it could be said that modern political correctness-/ social justice warrior-type Leftism is the product of Freud - not of Marx.

(There is very little socialism or communism in the USA - and what is regarded as such, is nothing-like the primarily economic system devised by Marx and his followers.)

I realised some time ago that professional psychotherapy was an essentially immoral activity. But I did not properly appreciate how far it had gone in the USA until I realised on a month long visit that, of the people I met (mostly academic faculty, doctors and graduate students) all but one had had, or was still having, professional psychotherapy.   


My contention is that the New Left - the mid-nineteen-sixties Leftism of identity politics, rather than economics - began in the USA, and an essential element in this was the mid-twentieth century domination of Freud among the US ruling elites. From the US it spread to the rest of the West. 

In a nutshell: from the summer of 1967, Freud replaced Marx at the core of international Leftism.

Nowadays, Leftism is a purported system of therapy. Leftism is ultimately evil; but with the sixties New Left the excuse for Leftism changed; it changed from economic (alleviation of poverty) to therapeutic (alleviation of victimhood).

The increasingly totalitarian society we inhabit is justified by its therapeutic benefits. The Establishment are really keen on psychotherapy and therapeutic conversations for all, so is the mass media, so are the arts?  

Since I became a Christian, I can understand the damage of Freud and psychotherapy more clearly - because a simplified and weaponised version of the psychodynamic approach has substantially replaced Christianity in both public and private discourse.


There are many horrible effects. Psychotherapy hollows-out a person. A heart-less superficiality of character is one - that bland, fluent, unconvincing affect which dominate US public life. The analysis of all human situations in terms of therapy - so that politics has become (by its own account) a kind of giant psychotherapeutic machine supposedly designed to alleviate human suffering.

Perhaps primarily, psychotherapy is what induces the victim mentality - because psychotherapy regards psychological problems as primary, and traces the roots of problem to 'other people' - indirectly, and all the more effectively for it, therapy always implies that that ultimately everybody is a victim.

To engage in psychotherapy is to internalise victimhood; and when psychotherapy is applies at a social level it discovers one after another, then another victim group. 


Of course psychotherapy does not really work as a medical treatment; and of course sexual relationships between therapists and clients are extremely common/ normal. But all this merely clarifies that what the Freudian perspective actually does is not what it purports to do.

What Freud does is promote the mind-set, indeed the primary metaphysical assumptions, which are desired by the secular Left.

And, although psychotherapy is spectacularly un-successful at curing illness, or making people happier - it is extremely effective at inducing bedrock, deep-rooted, self-validating Leftism both in individuals, and - mainly - in culture.


Wednesday, 17 January 2018

What is the biological cause of modern Western insanity?

From a biological perspective, I would regard the current Western insanity as a 'mismatch' problem - Man is a social animal; human ancestral societies were always religious, therefore Man evolved to function in a religious context.

But modern Western societies are non-religious/ anti-Christian. Man is not adapted to live in a secular society. Men are psychologically un-equipped for atheism.

Modern Men thus find themselves in an alien, incomprehensible, meaningless social environment - social reality is unreal, the human mind is disconnected from human society - therefore the inhabitants of modern Western societies are insane*.

*By insane I mean some combination of qualitatively behaviourally maladapted, unable to do reality-testing, behaving in an un-understandable way, having deranged emotions that reduce reproductive success, suffering a fragmented and non-consecutive stream of thinking.

(Note: The above is a biological explanation, based upon scientific models; which means that - even if correct - is is partial and distorted. It is not an ultimate explanation.) 


The bureaucratic solution to Life

I have previously blogged about the serious problem of loneliness in modern society - loneleiness as the modern 'poverty'.

Well, Problem Solved.(Edited)

Theresa May has appointed the country’s first minister for loneliness in order to tackle the misery endured by around nine million Britons. Tracey Crouch will take on the role on top of her current job as Sports minister.

As well as announcing the new minister, Mrs May said a cross-government strategy to find ways to stop people feeling lonely will be published later this year. She said: For far too many people, loneliness is the sad reality of modern life. I want to confront this challenge for our society and for all of us to take action to address the loneliness endured by the elderly, by carers, by those who have lost loved ones, people who have no one to talk to or share their thoughts and experiences with.”

…a ministerial lead for loneliness who will work with the Commission, businesses and charities to shine a light on the issue and pull together all strands of Government to create the first ever strategy. We should all do everything we can to see that we bring an end to the acceptance of loneliness for good.

The Office for National Statistics will help to devise a method of measuring loneliness and a fund will be set up to allow Government and charities to find innovative ways to deal with the problem across all ages, backgrounds and communities. Ms Crouch said: "I am sure that with the support of volunteers, campaigners, businesses and my fellow MPs from all sides of the House, we can make significant progress in defeating loneliness".

What should we do first? (Given that Western populations are insane...)

There is a lot of competition in the public arena (including the mass media and the discourse of major institutions - i.e. the linked-bureaucracy) about what should be the priority for what to do, what action to take...

All of them are wrong. Indeed, the more urgent and necessary the action you propose, the more it argues against any kind of campaign to rectify it. Of course, most of the priorities proposed are clearly insane - like the international multi-trillion dollar campaign to stop 'climate change' by reducing CO2 emissions.

But even the calls to address real and important problems fail to notice that the causal factor this is same insanity that led to the climate change scam.

For example, continued mass migration to the UK will destroy the nation, obviously: it is an excluse for totalitarianism, obviously - and especially when the mass immigration mostly comes from where it does, and includes the people it does.

But this is such obvious common sense that the causal factor cannot be that people don't realise the facts of the situation - it is that we have an insane population.

The more vital and urgent the action - the most clearly this fact demonstrates that the problem is deep, fundamental.

Insane, in the sense that the populations in the West have inverted priorities, based on inverted values (Good is evil; evil is Good). Now of course this situation has been led by the Establishment; but there is now little or no push-back. The masses are complicit, supportive of insanity, resistant to sanity...

Western populations are by-now deeply insane due to deep-rooted, foundational, metaphysical materialism/ positivism/ scientism... which means they/ we reject any possibility of meaning, purpose, objectivity.

Of course our societies are strategically insane - and many of the people who assume that they have seen-through the propaganda to the truth about this are equally insane at the deep level (they are merely insane about different things).

We must address the insanity first, because we cannot expect good results from implementing the understanding, priorities and methods of an insane population. All action plans are a distraction from that priority.

Think about it. Do you ask for advice about priorities and action-plans from someone who is talking to hallucinatory voices and who thinks they are Napolean? Or from somebody who believes that they are actually dead, their insides are rotted away and that they caused World War II? Or from somebody who gabbles rapid nonsese 24/7?... That is the modern Western population - just look at us, listen to us. Is it reasonable to expect discernment and strategy from people such as we are. here-and-now? No. The problem is the insanity. First the insanity must be cured; only after the insanity has gone, can we start taking notice.

Unless the casue of our prevalent insanity, the underlying problem of materialism, is addressed; then all actions will merely be the implementation of insanity.

This is a consequence of the corruption of all those who control and contribute to public discourse.

Don't be distracted.


Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Evil during sleep


People holding the materialistic view of life have no idea to what man is exposed between going to sleep and waking. He is actually exposed to these beings who persuade him in his sleeping state that good is evil, and evil good. The moral order on Earth is bound up with the human etheric body, and when man sleeps, he leaves his moral achievements behind him on the bed. He does not pass over into the state of sleep armed with his moral qualities.

From a 1922 lecture by Rudolf Steiner

This passage, which I encountered in a book collected some of Steiner's writings about sleep, stuck in my mind and triggered reflection on the topic of evil dreams.

Sometimes - quite often - I behave in a evil way during my dreams. In one sense this is hardly surprising, because I (like everybody) have much evil in my heart; so why wouldn't it come-out in dreams?

Furthermore, if dream experience is - as I assume - an aspect of the experience of our mortal lives, then the point is how we respond to these experiences. Dreams may provide experiences which can be good for us, or turned-to good - but which are (thankfully) absent from waking life. If we respond well to these experiences, then we will move towards divinity during our lives (i.e. theosis).

On the other hand, if we respond wrongly, then we will move away from divinity - and this was encouraged by the 'Freudian' idea that the evil we do in dreams is evidence of fundamental hypocrisy, and proof of each of us being 'really' depraved - dreams reveal the true self.

Steiner disagreed:

You may recently have seen in the newspapers some interesting and thoroughly well-founded statistics. It was stated that criminals in the prisons have been found to have the soundest sleep of all. Really hardened criminals are never tormented during their sleep by bad dreams or the like. This only happens when they dip down again into their etheric bodies, for it is there that the moral qualities lie. It can much more easily happen to one who is striving to be moral, that through the constitution of his etheric body, he carries over something into his astral body and is then tormented by dreams as the result of comparatively trifling moral lapses. But generally speaking it is a fact that man does not carry over at all, or only to a very slight extent, the moral constitution he acquires during earthly existence but is exposed during sleep to the beings just referred to.

So, Steiner suggests that spiritual progress during waking life is not carried-over into dreams; indeed there is a sense in which there is a reciprocal relationship whereby the better the waking Man, the more evil he experiences during sleep. (This made me think about how CS Lewis, a good man, was terribly plagued with nightmares.)

But Steiner goes further in attributing some dream evil to demonic (specifically Ahrimanic) beings. He says that awake-good people (at least during this consciousness era) are especially exposed to these ultra-materialistic anti-spiritual beings whose aim is to prevent men taking the next developmental step.

It isn't clear to me from this lecture - but often Steiner sees Ahrimanic beings as providing the challenges and threats - the necessary resistance - which modern man needs in order to grow.

If Steiner's view is broadly-correct, then it seems we must continue to suffer the misery, fear, disgust and shame of evil dreams - for our own ultimate good. The point is not to stop, ignore or be afraid of these dreams; but properly to understand them, and constructively to learn from them.

Evil is an attribute, a positive thing: it is the motivation to oppose Good

There is a vast, confusing and un-helpful literature that argues evil is not 'a thing' in an of itself, but merely the absence of Good, the 'privation' of Good...

But evil is a thing - what's more a very simple and clear thing: evil is the opposition to Good.

An evil an evil motivation is one that intends to oppose the Good, and evil act is one that opposes Good, and evil entity is one that actively and overall opposes the Good.

Clear enough? Simple enough? It should be.

While it may be difficult in practice to discern Good and evil - the theory can and must be absolutely clear, simple and unambiguous. 

At the largest and most abstract level: God's creation and God's aims for creation are Good; to be evil is to oppose creation and its aims: evil is to be anti-creation; evil is to be against Men becoming sons and daughters of God. 

In one summary; evil is what opposes the true, the beautiful, the virtuous and the harmony of these. Thus, evil is to excuse, support, propose, advocate, impose that which is false or dishonest, ugly or vile or sin-advocating.

And the greatest evil is inversion - the re-labelling of evil as Good, Good as evil - it is this inversion that makes Western modernity the most evil society ever; that fact that we sneer-at and smear beauty, truth and virtue; that we advocate and coercively-impose lies, ugliness and sin on the pretence that these are Good.

What makes is evil is quite objective; and is that evil is done officially, by our laws and regulations, by education and Establishment; that evil is subsidised propagandised and celebrated; that the mainstream mass media (which occupies and addicts most of the people most of the time) is overall and strategically working for evil and against Good.

To be evil is therefore a thing, and that thing may be active, strategic, explicit...

Of course, nothing in practice is wholly-evil - because the negation of all Goods would be instant and total destruction.

But evil properly-understood as a motivation and a goal is not just common, to serve the agenda of evil with effort and dedication... this is not just a concrete reality but evil is here-and-now common, normal, approved, rewarded, mainstream...


Monday, 15 January 2018

Direct knowing compared with perception, feelings and abstract models

I think we need a metaphysics of direct knowing - so we may escape from the incoherent, self-contradicting, auto-destruction that is modern metaphysics.

(We need not feel guilty of 'wishful thinking' when we reject an inadequate and nonsensical metaphysics! This is something our culture ought to have done 200 years ago, and only eight generations of inattention and inadequate concentration has defended the absolute garbage that passes for 'scientific' or 'rational' or 'realistic' thinking in modern, mainstream public discourse.)

The physical world we learn of by sensory perception - and this imposes itself upon us: perceptions happen-to-us, and we are therefore passive in relation to them. Nonetheless, we also know that sensory perceptions are unreliable (we experience illusions, misinterpretaions, hallucinations etc), and differ between individuals (and within one person, over time) - so sensory perception cannot be a fundamental basis for life.

The world of the body is known by feelings - that is, by our awareness of emotions (emotions being our brain's monitoring of inner body states). Feelings also impose upon us - like perceptions, we are over-whelmed by feelings - we are (mostly) passive in face of feelings. Yet we know that feelings are evanescent - they fade, they change, they are different between different people at different times - feelings cannot be a fundamental basis for life.

Currently, the mainstream highest conscious understanding of things; and the basis for public discourse, is abstract models. Abstract models are simplified and selective simulations of reality - and they are the currency of what passes-for rationality - I mean such word-concepts as the ideals of equality, happiness, suffering; education, wealth, violence; health, justice, virtue... And the models used in managment, science, law, the military etc. In public discourse such abstractions are given 'operational definitions' which we know-for-sure are incomplete/ biased/ wrong... but we treat abstract models asif real because (we are assured) there is nothing else.

(Modern public discourse is intrinsically coercive: based on compulsory assertion that TINA... There Is No Alternative - i.e. no alternative is allowed, no alternative will be taken seriously, any proposed alternative will simply be ignored - the current abstract model is mandatory.)

Thus it is facile to demonstrate that all the current, available bases for public discourse, for Life, are certainly-wrong, and lack any coherent basis - except for the assertion that there is nothing else better.


But there Is something else better; there is a coherent metaphysics which could serve as a solid basis for Life, and for public discourse - which is that there is a single reality that we can each of us know directly.

By directly I mean unmediated - and not by a chain of unreliable perceptions, or by contingent feelings, or by means of incomplete biased models.

Direct, in fact, entails identity - to know directly universal single reality, entails that the knower is (to that extent) joined-with and becomes a part-of that reality. Direct knowledge entails participation in reality... (And this is where Owen Barfield's term comes from.)  

Participation is not with the whole-of reality - but a part of it (real and direct - but partial - participation) ... Thus our direct knowing is real, but (extremely) incomplete and biased... that is, direct knowing is partial, and that partiality is not a microcosm of the whole.


So we have the possibility (by definition, by metaphysical assumption) of real knowledge of reality - real truth; but incomplete and distorted... But over time our knowledge of truth can get greater and we can learn more of the context hence increase its representativeness.

We have a personal perspective, and we have had limited experience; therefore we do not have all truth about everything - and to know fully any specific truth requires knowledge of how it fits into everything...

Different individuals will grasp different portions of the total reality from different perspectives, and with different degrees of completeness - hence disagreement between individuals is to be expected. But over time, individuals will tend (spontaneously) to converge on the single true reality.

Furthermore; although our knowledge may direct and correct, when we communicate this knowedge to others we are back in the realms of perceptions, feelings and abstractions - and this is another source of inter-individual disagreement. 


The above coherent metaphysics is possible - but it cannot be forced upon anybody; it must be chosen.

Metaphysical assumptions cannot ever be proven - they are assumptions (and assumptions are necessary for proof).

Metaphysical assumptions are not supported by evidence, so don't look for any! Because they are assumptions (and assumptions are necessary to define the nature and status of evidence).

So we must choose to assume metaphysics - and when we are contradicting the metaphysics that we have unconsciously-absorbed from society and unthinkingly reproduce - then we must consciously choose our metaphysical assumptions.


This seems strange - it may seem bogus. Because perceptions, and feelings force-themselves upon us - and we are used to being compelled to accept abstract models on the basis that 'there is no alternative' - it seems artificial, contrived, dubious for us consciously to choose-to-assume the fundamental basis of our reality; to assume the nature of reality.

But that is what we must do if we want to have a coherent metaphysics. 


Direct knowing is active, not passive; it is individual not groupish; its objectivity (sameness between individuals) is a product of multiple individual increases in knowing - as they spontaneously converge on the underlying singleness of reality.

When there is (honest and well-motivated) disagreement, the answer is simple: all individuals should attain more knowledge - because as individuals attain more knowledge, they will agree more.

And because communication is inherently indirect; there is an important sense in which each of us must (sooner or later) learn and know for himself.


The future is individual, the future entails greater knowledge, the future is chosen... it is more-and-more conscious. And it is unbounded - since (form our individual finite perspective, and with finite experience) there is always more to know.

Such a Life is intrinsically-creative - because to know is to participate, and all knowing is individual.


Sunday, 14 January 2018

The meaning of death, and life - conscious knowing of the realities

Some say death is the primary issue for Men - in a sense it is; in another sense our understanding of death is entirely dependent on our understanding of life.

Because how can we have anything meaningful to say about death until after we know what it is? What happens when people die?... Well, the meaning of an individual person's death - its timing and circumstances - surely depends on that what that specific person's life was for.

Any answer to this question of death - what makes a death good or bad - immediately references back to the larger context of life - death happens in a context of first being-alive; so we can't know about death until we know about life, its meaning and purpose; what our life has to do with us.


Neither death not life are abstractions - they come down to personal events. My life is the primary event, my death happens after my life...

We cannot forever keep kicking the can down the road: that is we cannot live on the basis of means being substituted for ends, or by pretending to regard means as if they were ends... I mean it is insane to live 'for' some value like education, fitness, health, money, power... while continually deferring the question of 'for what?'. Education to do what? Getting fit to do what? 

With respect to dying - values such as dignity when dying are obviously usually good - but clearly not absolutes (many valuable things are undignified - like giving birth to a child). Peacefulness when dying... okay, but as-such peacefulness is just an evanescent emotion - it is good to be peaceful so that we can... what?

And that which peacefulness may assist is dependent on the meaning of death, and of life.


Such questions as the meaning of death and life are mainstreamly regarded as unanswerable, or a matter of opinion... But that is to prejudge the issue as meaningless.

To know that they are unanswerable is to assume as a matter of conviction that they have no meaning - if they had a meaning, it could potentially be known and then there would be an answer.

To regard the meaning of death and life as a matter of individual opinion is to assert that there is no meaning - since opinions change, and are manipulable, culturally dependent; most people's opinions are shallow and worthless...

To regard the meaning death and life - My death and My life - as matters of opinion; is to have an already-formed conviction that life is meaningless - and therefore death too. 


Can we, personally, ever know what our own life is for; and therefore potentially understand the meaning of our own death?

To ask that question is to answer yes - implicitly; If there is to be meaning. To have a meaning that we can't possibly know, would be a meaningless situation - which is incoherent.

Yet if knowing the meaning of death and life is important, perhaps vital - why don't we all already know it?

Well, let's say we do already know it - implicitly; and our job is to make this explicit. Part of the meaning and purpose of life (among those of us who are aware of these issues, who think-about these issues) is precisely the becoming-conscious of that which (perhaps) everybody implicitly but unconsciously already-knows.


But why would we have to achieve this, and by effort - over time?

The best reason for a gap between implicit and conscious knowing would be that positive effort over time, decision, choice... was the only way it was possible to achieve conscious knowing.

Could it be that some things can be built-into us; but other things can't - and can only be achieved by our own personal efforts, choices, will etc.

And that life is perhaps (partly, but significantly) about this process of getting-more-conscious?

(I mean my life, not everybody's life who ever lived - including the majority of people who died in the womb or as infants or in other ways. But my life, and yours who read this.)

And conscious about death too? I presume so. Whatever we think about dying needs to be in a context of the meaning and purpose of death; and what we think about dying can only be coherent if there is indeed meaning and purpose to death.


The meaning and purpose of life and death are therefore not abstract - and they are personal. They are personal, but they are a matter of reality, not of opinion.

The reality of meaning and purpose in my life, your life, every life - is there. Meaning is there, whether we know it or not.

And our task (yours and mine - but not everybody's task) is to become explicitly, consciously aware of that reality.


(But whether or not we want-to, or can, communicate that consciously-known reality to some specific other-people, under the prevailing constraints of time, space and personal interest and attitudes... is a very secondary matter.)


Saturday, 13 January 2018

'Restorer of the Eternal Light' - by John Fitzgerald

...Whatever we choose to do, it is less opinion and debate that is required and more thought and reflection. We have become fixated, to a degree, on political procedures and solutions. But there is a pre-political level of myth and intuition which drives the direction a society takes at a more fundamental level. It's all about the kind of stories we tell ourselves and the stories we believe to be true or false. We need to return for a while to the primal, archetypal level of things, then tune back in to the land we have become alienated from, and listen to the story it's telling us. Where does it want to go? What does it want us to do? Then we can step forward into the future in confidence and clarity of mind. 

Maybe what emerges from our time in the wilderness will appear strange and unsettling. The Russian Orthodox priest, Fr. Andrew Phillips, has proposed on his blog (www.orthodoxengland.net) the dissolution of the UK and its replacement by another acronym, IONA - The Isles of the Northern Sea. He wants Westminster to become the site of a devolved English Parliament and for central government to relocate to the Isle of Man, an island rich in British mythological lore and within sight, as it were, of all four countries. 

It could well be that such a radical reimagining of who we are is exactly what is needed to propel us out of the current impasse. But nothing authentic or original will come to the surface without contemplation and stillness. We have to get beyond the head level - into the heart, the imagination and the guts. Argument and counter argument will get us precisely nowhere. We'll be stuck at the level of cliché forever, more and more dependent on the market and the state (and increasingly technology) to provide us with answers to problems we don't have the imaginative capacity to deal with any more....

Read the whole thing at Albion Awakening

Friday, 12 January 2018

Don't try to 'strengthen' your thinking...

The path of attaining to Rudolf Steiner's objective of Pure Thinking, or alert and aware clairvoyance (what Barfield terms Final Participation and I have dubbed Primary Thinking) is something I have often seen described as a practice of 'strengthening' our thinking.

This is usually approached by a series of exercises devised and prescribed by Steiner - which amount to exercises aimed at single-mindedness, concentration and broadening of subject matter.

But, the history of Anthroposophy indicates that these exercises are a failure. At the very least; the results are slow and modest - and they seem not to lead to a transformation of thinking.

I would advocate discarding the language of strengthening, and indeed any 'effortful' attempts at deepening thinking; because the effort is almost-inevitably coming-from and directed-at the wrong thing/s.

There is no need for strength, there is no need for concentration; Primary Thinking is quite natural, it is always going-on - we 'merely' need to attend to it... That 'merely' is in fact usually very difficult to do, but this is not the kind of difficulty that can be overcome by conscious-striving; more by 'allowing'...

Allowing the Real Self's thinking to come to awareness and deciding that its natural and spontaneous thinking is valid. Is - indeed - direct knowledge of reality.

Read the whole thing at the Owen Barfield Blog


Monkey Magic!

Sandy, Monkey, Tripitaka and Pigsy

For inexplicable reasons, I have become a-bit-obsessed with the medieval Chinese adventure story Journey To the West (apparently the East Asian ubiquitous cultural equivalent of the King Arthur legends in the Anglosphere); which I uncomprehendingly and ironically often sampled as an undergraduate* via the (very-) dubbed BBC series Monkey, illustrated above and sampled below:


Apparently, in the 1970s bushy sideburns were sufficient to indicate a monkey - why not?

This series was - mostly - a case of 'so bad it's good' - but also it has many endearing aspects: its heart is in the right place, and there is a genuine folk-wisdom thing going-on. The very amusing narration, in a totally-OTT 'oriental' accent, also includes quite a lot of genuine Buddhist wisdom!

I also watched, with enjoyment, a 2015 movie of the first part of the story called The Monkey King; which includes a remarkable and moving (and monkey-like) performance of Monkey by a certain Donnie Yen.  


To give all this some grounding - I am currently well-into Monkey, the classic abridged 1942 translation of Journey to the West by the great Arthur Waley - which opened this universally known story to an English speaking audience.

Gripping, amusing and delightful!

*I must also admit that the actress Masako Natsume, who plays the (male) monk Tripitaka, was another significant reason for watching - since she had one of the loveliest faces I have ever seen. Sadly, she died just a few years later, of leukaemia.


The archetypal library


...Was, for me, a single small room in the village, with stacks only around three walls, and not full height or complete at the back - yet it seemed full of discoveries once I had 'graduated' to the adult sections (aged 14). Furthermore, merely for the trouble of filling-in a card, I could order... anything! from inter-library loans.

The next step-up was the Bristol City Library, which was essentially endless - the problem being to decide which of the inexhaustible riches, I should borrow on this particular day... The only problem being a two hour round trip to get there and back.

(It was only seven miles away, but the buses were very infrequent, unpredictable, and slow...)

Probably no other library since has been qualitatively a step-up for me; all university libraries being experienced as variations on the Bristol library... but they have often been superior as places to read, study, and have a coffee.

I have a similar love for second-hand bookshops (not so much for new bookshops) - but good libraries have the great advantage of a higher number of worthwhile books, and a higher ratio of worthwhile to worthless ones.

Of course beautiful libraries have an extra dimension - although the beauty of a library is a different thing from architectural beauty - it is more a matter of niches, than of overall effect.

My current favourite is the Literary and Philosophical library in Newcastle (above) - which is a pleasing early 19th century building, and well provided with various niches. A good place for treading-water among the stacks, and fishing for (or being hooked-by) who knows what...*

Where it all began... Thanks to the legendary 'Mrs Everson', Librarian

*Does anybody - without Googling - recognise this garbled reference to a favourite story?

Thursday, 11 January 2018

'Loadsamoney' in the Lab

I just found this transcribed somewhere on the interweb - it comes from the era when I used to write regularly for New Scientist - starting in 1987 and continuing for about five or so years until the Forum editor (Martin Alder; who liked my stuff) moved to take over The Veterinary Record - where he still rules; and NS pretty-much stopped taking freelance writing...

Whether this piece was actually published in New Scientist or elsewhere, I cannot remember; but by the note at the end about my job, this must have been written between late 1988 to autumn of 1989.

'Loadsamoney' was a catchphrase of a Harry Enfield character who performed on an improvised comedy show, late night on Fridays - he was an unskilled slapdash plasterer on building sites, who boasted of making 'loadsamoney' while doing a shoddy job...

Things have, of course, gotten much, much worse in science than I envisaged at this time.

LOADSAMONEY IN THE LAB

Bruce Charlton*

It’s hard to keep up with the changing criteria for scientific excellence these days. It seems no time since ‘Loadsapapers’ was the hero of the hour, and he was bad enough, but now that ‘Loadsamoney’ is top dog I am beginning to mourn our old hero’s passing.

To recapitulate: the problem we all face is to decide (for the purposes of implementing The Cuts) who is a good scientist and who is not; in order to be able to make up tables of research ability using some kind of numerical measure. The answer is that the best measure of scientist excellence in a given field is based on deep knowledge of the subject and of the individuals involved. There is no better measure than this. It is the bottom line. Unfortunately, we don’t have that information and if we did then people would still disagree on it. That is life, and it is how things are; but it isn’t what is required.

So the first compromise was made. Even if we are not competent to judge the scientists' quality we can look at the publications. Even if we can't judge the quality of the publications, we can count them. Good scientists will publish lots of papers because they are clever and work hard and bad scientists will not because they are lazy and/or thick! Notice the accumulation of approximations in the reasoning. Still, this managed to convince some of the people for some of the time and led to the birth of 'loadsapapers' as the paradigmatic successful scientist. He ruled the roost throughout most of the sixties and seventies.

The next hero did not last so long, probably only for the first half of the eighties. He was called 'Loadsacitations’. The logic ran that there was no point in writing ‘loadsa’ papers if nobody was reading them, or if having read them, they ignored them. It was important that a person's research made a big "impact" on their field. How could you find out about this.

Well, once again, if you were an expert in the area and knew the principal workers then you would know as well as anybody could. But this runs into the same problems as before, it subjective, it is not quantitative and it is too slow and expensive to gather the data. So we got citation counting whose logic is that if you receive lots of mentions in the references to others people's papers them you are a good scientist. If they don't mention you for whatever reason then that is bad. The even lazier version of this method is to find out the journals whose papers usually get frequently cited and call them ‘high impact’. If you publish in these journals then your work will probably be cited a Iot, which means that it is probably having a lot of influence in some way, which means that you will probably be a better scientist. Again the chain of approximations building up as we go.

People fairly soon got fed up with a system which defined the greatest biologist of the century as the man who devised a neat, accurate and quick method of measuring protein. And scientist were under a tight squeeze for cash. All this in a society where the entrepreneur was the model: the person who made money full stop. It didn't matter how, it didn't matter what was done with it - the point was to make the money.

And so ‘"loadsamoney’, the Harry Enfield character who flaunts his wealth, gave up plastering and moved into science. Instead of being judged by papers or by citations, scientists are now judged by income. Research funding is the thing: how much external funding you are 'drawing in'. The stars are the ones who get the Megabucks from the big funding agencies. If you get lots of money, the logic runs, then you must be good.

Money is, of course, quantifiable; but more important it is something which we would all like. It is, so far as doing scientific research goes, a definitely Good Thing. Well, like all of these measures, there is some truth in it. Some truth. But not enough, because of the circularity which is set up. Money = good scientist = more money = even better scientist. It is hardly exaggerating to say that, at present anyway, people are not looking further than the money! When the time comes to judge by results we will probably have a different measure of excellence anyway.

It's time to caIm down a bit and remember what this whole quality measurement exercise is actually for. It is to select the best. We simply have to accept that no formula can do this for us: neither a simple formula nor any complex, weighted and balanced formula either. Nothing is better than the judgement of a single well informed person, and nothing can be. It is as blankly simple, and as infinitely complex as that.

The latest news is that ‘Loadsamoney’ has left science. In fact he left after his first pay cheque. He couldn't believe that he was expected to administer multi-million dollar research grants without any allocation of time, in addition to an increasing teaching load, on less than l5K a year and, to cap it all, without tenure!

* Dr Bruce Charlton MD MA is senior demonstrator in the department of physiological sciences in the medical school at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne.


We need a post-mortal utopia to guide us

Man cannot live without some reasonably-clear notion of the good society - and for most people mostly that relates to what happens after death.

It seems to me that different people, in different times and places - have, individually on average - different utopias.

These hopes can be seen in variety of hoped-for outcomes in the various religions (and ideologies)...


Some hope for oblivion after death; some for bliss without self-awareness (just-enough awareness to experience bliss).

Some for a world of pure thinking - others for a world without thinking: a world of pure feeling... 

Some for a kind of static situation of perfection; others for a dynamic and creative situation.

Some for autonomy, independence; others for deeper and permanent relationships.

Some for eternal marriage and heavenly families - others to escape marriage and get-away-from their family.

Some for endless and unbounded creativity; others for an end to the need for it.

Some to gratify their desires; others for a harmonisation of their desires with those of God.

Some hope to live in a Heavenly City, with many specific roles and jobs and responsibilities, tailored to each willing individual - while others yearn for the simple, unplanned individuality of a spontaneous, small society.

Some hope that Heaven will be perfectly organised, down to the smallest detail; others that Heaven will be an end to organisation.

**

What sense can be made of all this? Is there one Utopia, one Heaven - and by-that-time, it will be the Heaven that everybody wants (even though they don't want it now).

Or is this all nonsensical wishful thinking - and the entirely of Mankind has been deluded throughout history until modern times, places and people? Really there is nothing-but nothing-ness - no meaning - either randomness, or mechanical determinism, or nothing at all.

Or who knows? Who cares? What can we do about it anyway? 


The answer I favour is that God, as both creator and loving Father, has a Heaven that he wants for us - and hopes that we also will want... by the time that decision arrives; but that God also provided many other outcomes and destination (many 'Heavens') according to the deepest and truest wishes of each individual person's heart.

If, therefore, we get what we want, and we get to choose... we ought to reflect more than we do, in more depth and detail, on what we really want from utopia.


NOTE ADDED: This is partly prompted by the observation that some people in this world, perhaps a lot of people, don't appear ever, at any time, to want what God has to offer them - and this makes me wonder why they are incarnated. Of course, there are those who are corrupted to evil... but there seem to be others who simply don't want Heaven. It strikes me that there may, for example, be some pre-mortal spirits who have decided that this whole conscious-life thing is a thing they don't want to persist with... It may be that, in some fashion, incarnation is a 'route' for such spirits to reach what they most aspire to (oblivion, Nirvana or whatever...); just as incarnation is in a very different way a route to death, resurrection and eternal life of the kind that Christians most hope-for.


Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Is it possible to write a great song with only TWO chords?

Answer: Yes! (If you are Gilbert and Sullivan...)


The five rhythmic-phases of my typical Daily Life (circadian consciousness)

Note: I'm afraid I can't be bothered to provide full links today - if any of the terms are unfamiliar, and you are interested in finding out more, just use the Blogger word search facility in the top left corner of this page. Just to note this post is an extension of the idea of undulation.

1. The morning is the time for Primary Thinking - Final Participation. I rise at 5.30 typically; and if any time is going to be possible on a given day to attain this highest (and most divine) of consciousness states, then it is mornings: up until about 10.00 or so. That's when I do my best thinking, by far (assisted by note-taking, the notes generally being discarded soon after) - and when I sometimes feel consciously that I am thinking from my Real Self. This is the time for Intuition (coming from within).

2. From around noon to the evening I am in the mainstream, modern Consciousness Soul state - that is, I am conscious mainly of my-self and more-or-less feel cut off from the world, from other people. And the self I am conscious of is not the real-self but one or another of the superficial and functional selves, learned by interaction with experience, inculcated by The World.

3. In the evenings I tend to sink into the Original Participation - that is an un-conscious, passive state of immersion in The World. I may respond strongly to external situations, arts and people, but in a kind of trancelike and only semi-conscious sort of way. A somewhat 'shamanic' and imaginative state of affairs - and perhaps a time for Inspiration (coming from without).

4. Deep sleep is, of course, wholly passive and completely cut-off. There is no consciousness at all - it is a kind of vegetable life. This is absolutely necessary; but what really is going on, I don't know. To come-out from deep sleep is to feel its importance - clarified, refreshed, re-booted!

5. Dreaming sleep is conscious, but in another place altogether, and another time - a time in which vast amounts of experience may be compressed into very little time-as-measured-during-awakeness. This is a mostly passive consciousness, but in the 'underworld' (something like Jung's collective conscious, or the Ancient Egyptian 'dwat') - and it seems to provide necessary experiences that otherwise I would not have.

As dreaming sleep comes to an end, presumably having done its work, the dreams become repetitive and I then awaken; and it is best if I immediately get up and awaken fully. Dozing on beyond this point is boring, pointless; and sometimes leaves me too dulled ever to properly awaken the next day.


I seem to be stuck with this cycle of activity, purposive consciousness declining through the day, then the two types of sleep; and it is futile and indeed counter-productive to try and fight against it.

Best just to make the most of it...


Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Could Rudolf Steiner have become a Professor (instead of joining with the Theosophists)?

Rudolf Steiner looking 'Professorial'...

I always wondered why Rudolf Steiner did not (so far as I know) try to become a Professor; since the scholar's life would probably have suited him a lot better than being the leader of first Theosophical then Anthroposophical Society groups - and lecturing (on every topic under the sun) to the general public.

But as I consider the matter, I do not think a German Professorship would have been a possibility for Steiner - although I suspect that, if he could have developed sufficient proficiency in the English language, he would have walked-into a Professorship in the Anglosphere.

The first difficulty was that Steiner's editorial work on Goethe's scientific writings was controversial, and criticised for being insufficiently scholarly (lacking the usual scholarly 'apparatus'). Another problem was that Steiner was awarded his PhD from Rostock, which (I gather) was among the couple of least prestigious ('lowest standard') universities in Germany.

Then he did not proceed to work on his higher/ post Doctoral 'Habilitation' thesis - which was necessary to teach in a German university as a Privatdozent (an unpaid position occupied while waiting/ hoping for a 'call' from the Ministry of Education to occupy a Chair). Steiner also lacked the  private income or family backing, as well as the network of upper class supporters, needed to take this long-slow-risky career path.

Steiner's PhD was published in 1892 (Truth and Knowledge) and his magnum opus, the work of his heart, Philosophy of Freedom in 1994 - but both failed to attract approval, or even interest.

On the other hand, Steiner's qualifications and publications were extremely good by the standards of UK and US universities, and in that sense he could surely have obtained an academic job there, or in many other places other than Germany (which was without question the premier university system in the world, at that time).

But I presume Steiner either could not or would not move from the Germanic nations - he was consequently unable to make a living, despite trying a few careers. When the chance for paid lecturing came along, he grabbed it and made a great success of it.

Nonetheless, intellectually and spiritually speaking, I would have to regard it as a mis-step when Steiner allied with the Theosophical Society, and began to generate spiritual science in accordance with Madam Blavatsky's channelled revelations... He made a further error in getting 'mixed up with politics' from 1918, with his 'Threefold Society' ideas...

I think it took Steiner until 1924, and after he became terminally ill, before he began to rework his ideas in some very interesting (incomplete, not followed-up) directions in the Autobiography and Anthroposophical Leading-Thoughts/ Anthroposophical Guidelines...

A subject to which I will return soon, I hope.

But I regard it as a matter for regret that Steiner was, in a sense, 'forced' to make-a-living by becoming a spiritual leader - it would have been better for him if he could have remained a Dichter und Denker (poet and thinker) - a scholar-intellectual.


The uses and abuses of meta-analysis

The uses and abuses of meta-analysis
Bruce G Charlton

Charlton BG. The uses and abuses of meta-analysis. Family Practice 1996; 13: 397-401.

Abstract
Meta-analysis is a quantitative process of summary and interpretation which involves pooling information from independent studies concerning a single theme in order to draw conclusions. Greatly increased employment of meta-analysis is currently being advocated for clinical and policy decision making. However, the prestige of meta-analysis is based upon a false model of scientific practice. Interpreting empirical research is an extremely complex activity requiring clinical and scientific knowledge of the field in question; and teams of professional 'meta-analysts' with a primary skill base in information technology and biostatistics cannot take over this role. Meta-analysis is not a hypothesis-testing activity, and cannot legitimately be used to establish the reality of a putative hazard or therapy. The proper use of meta-analysis is to increase the precision of quantitative estimates of health states in populations. If used to estimate an effect, the reality of that effect should have been established by previous scientific studies. But the summary estimate from a meta-analysis can only be directly applied to a target population when the 'meta-protocol' and 'meta-population' match the target situation in all relevant particulars. These constraints can rarely be satisfied in practice, so the results of meta-analysis typically require adjustment—which is a complex, assumption-laden process that negates many of the statistical power advantages of a meta-analysis. Lacking any understanding or acknowledgement of the need for adjustment, most meta-analyses must be regarded as abuses of the technique.

Introduction

Meta-analysis may conveniently be defined as a quantitative method of pooling information from independent studies concerning a single theme in order to draw conclusions. It is a two-stage process of summary and interpretation.

Opinion regarding the technique ranges between extremes of approbation and disdain. Many commentators agree with Olkin that a meta-analysis of randomized trials constitutes the best form of evidence regarding therapeutic effectiveness.(1) Others have argued that it is motivated by a quasi-alchemical urge to transmute the base metal of inadequate data into the gold (standard) of validated fact, suggested that it is mostly a rather mundane and second-rate kind of intellectual activity and undeserving of high prestige, or simply erupted ''meta-analysis—schmeta-analysis!"(2,3,4)

I will argue that the critics of meta-analysis are closer to the truth than are the evangelists. Meta-analysis has its uses, and may occasionally be valid and applicable to real clinical situations, but these circumstances are so rare that most published instances of the technique must be regarded as abuses.

Meta-analysis based on a false model of science

All commentators emphasize the difficulty of performing a valid meta-analysis, but the reasons given usually reveal a false model of scientific practice.(5,6) Meta-analysis is often stated to be necessary due to the sheer amount of data generated by present-day research.(1,7) Scientific practice is implied to involve a process of pooling or combining evidence from independent studies, then drawing conclusions based on the weight of evidence. If this were the case, then summarization would indeed be crucial and valid inference would become more difficult as the volume of research increased. This justification for overviews and meta-analyses is principally one of enabling increased efficiency in data assimilation.(8) But this description of theoretical science is false.

In reality, the theoretical practice of science draws upon evidence from studies judged to be both relevant and valid—such studies are seldom common and usually well known to practitioners. This highly selected evidence is then taken into account in constructing and testing theoretical models which can be tested against experiment and observation.(9) Most would-be evidence tends to be judged irrelevant to this process, and is deservedly ignored—certainly bad evidence is not pooled with the good.

The ingredients which make up this process of qualitative judgement and inference have never adequately been described in explicit terms, and scientific practice includes much knowledge that is tacit, and implicit, learned by apprenticeship to other scientists and from experience working in the field. It can, however, be asserted with a high degree of certainty that the scientific process is not primarily a statistical one based upon summarization and combination of all relevant data.(3, 11)

Implicit assumptions of meta-analysis

Proponents of meta-analysis make much of the 'objectivity' of the technique, which derives from the explicit nature of its procedures when compared with most editorials, reviews and commentaries.(6, 12) The sheer quantity and range of sources of the cited literature in a meta-analysis may be very impressive. This is achievable partly because of advances in computer systems of information retrieval, but mostly by the employment of full-time research assistants whose job is to hand-search journals, network among researchers and (by other labour-intensive means) endeavour to unearth recondite and far-flung publications and projects. (1, 7, 13)

The accumulation of data into one place which precedes the statistical manipulations of meta-analysis is frequently unprecedented in a given field. This creation of a complete catalogue may be valuable in itself, especially if it reveals an obvious consistency or pattern to the data which was not previously noticed (although such an oversight is unlikely in a mature scientific discipline). Some authors regard this activity of 'overviewing' evidence as contributing most of the value of meta-analysis, and have suggested that analysis should not go further than identifying a qualitative consistency of results across relevant studies.(14) There is no methodological objection to this kind of elaborate and expensive literature survey, but when unaccompanied by original thought it constitutes a somewhat mediocre activity which bears the same relation to creative science that an undergraduate dissertation does to a PhD thesis.

However, the defining feature of meta-analysis is not enumeration but interpretation and proponents of meta-analysis claim that it can perform this key task of selection and analysis of independent studies by means of algorithmic procedures and statistical summarization.

Meta-analysis makes the underlying assumption that when the results of relevant studies differ, the true value lies 'latent' within the existing data but concealed from investigators: firstly, by their failure to overview the whole data set (including unpublished studies); second, by excessive random error in studies examined one at a time (due to studies containing too few subjects); and third, by the lack of an optimal arrangement of evidence. In effect, the 'scientific truth' is conceptualized as a pattern that, once revealed, is unambiguous in its relevance and applicability so that the implications of research are transparent to any observer.

Meta-analysis therefore assumes that the diversity (or 'heterogeneity') among relevant research studies is randomly distributed around the 'true' value, so that errors in one direction in one study will tend to be balanced by errors in the other direction in other studies and therefore that appropriate statistical pooling and averaging will tend to produce an error-free (or at least error-reduced) estimate of the underlying, unbiased, 'true' value. Meta-analysis is thus indirectly but crucially predicated on a view of scientific truth as social consensus.

But real scientific practice makes no such assumption about the random distribution of error between (or within) studies. Indeed, a more plausible assumption would be that most investigators tend to make the same errors in the same direction, and only a minority of the best scientists will perform studies to the highest standard. Instead of seeking consensus, the social structures of science have the effect (albeit an imperfect one) of subjecting studies to critical appraisal by the peer group, in order to winnow the wheat from the chaff.

The production of scientific knowledge is a process closer to 'trial by ordeal' than trial by opinion poll.

Meta-analysis usurps theoretical science

The meta-analytic view of science leads to an assertion that the relevant techniques for understanding evidence are essentially informational and statistical.

Therefore, meta-analyses tend to be organized, performed and published by teams with disciplinary backgrounds in epidemiology, computing and biostatistics— only secondarily supplemented by advice from workers in the substantive field being overviewed. This is in sharp contrast to the specific scientific and clinical expertise and experience considered a prerequisite for the actual performance of primary medical research.

The bizarre result is that meta-analysis implies that theoretical and empirical science should be done by two different sets of people with different disciplinary abilities. In effect, empirical research is to be done by scientists and clinicians, and the interpretation of this research is to be performed by the likes of epidemiologists and statisticians who will decide what inferences may be drawn from the evidence.

The above scenario would only be credible if advocates of meta-analysis could point to a successful track record of theoretical advance—which they cannot; or if the major difficulties in evaluating research were amenable to standardized evaluation of studies and adherence to correct statistical procedures—which they are not. The massive implausibility of the biostatistical approach to interpretation should be obvious to anybody who has experienced the difficulties of learning how to become a practising scientist. Interpretation is, perhaps, the hardest of all scientific skills to master. The ability to evaluate and compare research papers, and the capacity to use this to judge the current state of knowledge and frame hypotheses for future investigation, is a skill attained—if at all—only with effort and after a prolonged apprenticeship. The skill is also relatively specific with regard to subject matter.

The notion that scientific interpretation can be reduced to statistical considerations, checklists and step-by-step flow diagrams applicable to any problem at any time (1,8,13,17,19) would be laughable were it not becoming accepted practice in some circles. Inventories are not a substitute for substantive knowledge. Clinical experience and that partly trained, partly instinctive, understanding of causes and insight into mechanisms which comes from personally grappling with the primary process of research are both elements that have time and again proved crucial to medical science.(3, 4, 20-22)

Limitations of randomized trials

The limitations of a meta-analysis are dictated by the limitations of the epidemiological studies from which it has been assembled (on the basis of 'garbage in, garbage out')- Randomized trials are generally assumed to be the 'best' epidemiological evidence regarding therapeutic effectiveness, and the methodology most amenable to meta-analysis. (1, 23) Methodological constraints which apply to the randomized controlled trial (RCT) will therefore, mutatis mutandis, also apply to meta-analyses of other epidemiological techniques such as cohort and case-control studies, and surveys.(9)

The major limitations characteristic of 'mega-trials' (large, multi-centred trials analysed by 'intention to treat') (23, 24) derive from poor experimental control and biased recruitment. (21, 25) Mega-trials employ a deliberately simplified experimental design in order to maximize recruitment and compliance, both of subjects and of collaborating trial centres. Due to logistic and ethical constraints, trials are performed on a study population that is typically unrepresentative of any actual 'target population' to which their results might be applied.

Inherent in mega-trial design is that experimental protocols do not attempt to exclude or hold constant all known sources of bias, but instead employ randomization of large numbers of subjects to distribute these potential biases equally between comparison groups. Comparisons between allocated treatments will be unbiased but at the price of conflating several causal processes, and measuring 'intention' to treat rather than the effect of treatment. For instance, if age is an important confounder, mega-trials do not control for age, but randomize large numbers of differently aged subjects. The result is that the age distribution will tend to be balanced between allocation groups; but the effects of age will be conflated with the causal variable under study. The measured association will only be directly applicable to. a target population with the same age structure as the study population.(21-23)

Mega-trials should therefore be considered as descriptive and epidemiological in nature rather than analytical and scientific.(9,14-21) Indeed, although it is an experiment, a mega-trial can most easily be understood and interpreted as if it were a special kind of survey designed to compare the outcomes when two or more protocols are allocated to a group of subjects. Randomization ensures that the comparison groups have equivalent population characteristics, and the large number of subjects allows a high degree of precision in estimating the therapy-outcome association. Generalizing from a mega-trial also resembles generalizing from a survey because both procedures depend crucially on the study population being representative of the target population. A mega-trial does not, as a scientific experiment would, aim to isolate and measure a single causal variable linking a therapy and an outcome; the measured relationship between therapy and outcome is therefore an estimate of the magnitude of an association, not of a causal process. Consequently, mega-trials are not hypothesis-testing studies (21) - and a secondary mathematical summarization of trials, such as a meta-analysis, cannot be hypothesis-testing either.

Meta-protocols and meta-populations

We can now begin to delineate the legitimate uses of meta-analysis. The 'overview' stage is neither distinctive nor sufficient to define meta-analysis—quantitative interpretation is the crucial feature. Meta-analysis is essentially a method for pooling data in order to increase the precision of estimates. The summary statistic of a meta-analysis of RCTs therefore describes the (average) outcome of allocating a meta-protocol to a meta-population. Interpreting the summary statistic of a meta-analysis (i.e. 'applying' the estimate of effect) involves establishing that the meta-protocol and meta-population are comparable to the proposed intervention and the target population.

The nature of a meta-protocol is defined by the methodological parameters of the pooled individual therapeutic interventions of constituent mega-trials. In other words, the meta-protocol is a 'virtual intervention' in an experiment whose experimental rigour is the lowest common denominator defined by the pooled deficiencies of its component studies (the level of control being defined by the lowest permitted level of control, not the average level of control). The meta-population is defined as that virtual group of subjects which has emerged after the overview population has been pooled from the component studies (with Or without statistical weighting of individual studies).

In order for the estimate of the therapeutic effect of a meta-protocol to be applicable to a target population, the meta-population must be a representative sample of the target population. This requires either that the meta-population be a randomly selected sample of the target population, or that the meta-population be created from a balanced blend of individual study populations where relevant causal variables have been measured and assembled in their proper proportion.

Clearly, the vast majority of meta-populations in published meta-analyses are not representative of the target population, or indeed of any real-world population, because meta-analyses are assembled from a group of individual RCTs the populations of which are each unrepresentative (biased) to a significant and undetermined extent.(25) Estimates cannot then be generalized to any actual population without adjustment. Adjustment will need to involve quantification and subtraction of biases. For instance, if an estimate has been confounded by biases in the age structure of the meta-population compared with the target population, then the magnitude of confounding by age will need to be investigated, quantified and its effects removed from the analysis.

It is insufficiently appreciated that the process of 'adjustment for confounding' is not a purely mathematical manipulation, but is a form of quantitative modelling of the consequences of uncontrolled causal influences on the study. Adjustment introduces new assumptions into the analysis—causal assumptions which require validation in independent studies. Adjustment will therefore diminish precision of the estimate, somewhat defeating the object of the meta-analysis.

Conclusion

Meta-analyses of mega-trials yield estimates that apply only to group averages, not to individual patients, due to the high level of within-group heterogeneity of subjects in mega-trials and other epidemiological studies.(21-23) This, in itself, means that a meta-analysis does not necessarily have any relevance to clinical practice. A bad meta-analysis, like any bad piece of research, may be useless or harmful; and, unfortunately, bad research tends to be more common than is good research.

But even accepting the population level of validity, a meta-analysis should be performed on independent studies each of which employs a qualitatively similar and therapeutically credible study design, and where the pooled trial population is representative of the target population. Such a situation of between-study uniformity is extremely rare.(26)

Furthermore, meta-analysis should not be used for testing hypotheses, but only for obtaining a more precise estimate of an effect which is already known to be present from well controlled, hypothesis-testing studies. This means that most meta-analyses are misuses of the technique. For instance, it is wrong (although common) to employ meta-analysis to determine whether a putative health risk is a genuine hazard, or whether a putative therapeutic intervention is genuinely effective. Meta-analyses cannot make qualitative distinctions in cases where causation is doubtful. The epidemiological data from which meta-analyses are constructed measure association not causation, and are not sufficiently controlled to isolate and test hypotheses.

Moreover, there are no valid, general-purpose algorithms nor statistical procedures for the interpretation of empirical research, so that most meta-analyses are underpinned by no more than the subjective opinion of investigators who are sometimes distinguished mainly by lacking the appropriate training, experience, approach and interest necessary to draw inferences from empirical research.

Meta-analysis, when all is said and done, is a technique with very restricted applicability to the clinical practice of medicine. In certain rare, well-understood and well-controlled circumstances it may provide an enhancement in the precision of estimates of group outcomes. But meta-analysis is always likely to mislead due the mismatch between its high statistical precision and low scientific validity.(3-9)

References

1 Olkin I. Meta-analysis: reconciling the results of independent studies. Stat Med 1995; 14: 457-472.

2 Shapiro S. Meta-analysis/Schmeta-analysis. Am J Epidemiol 1993; 138: 673 (abstract).

3 Rosendaal FR. The emergence of a new species: the professional meta-analyst. J Clin Epidemiol 1994; 47:1325-1326.

4 Feinstein AR. Meta-analysis: statistical alchemy for the 21st century. / Clin Epidemiol 1995; 48: 71-79.

3 Charlton BG. Management of science. Lancet 1993; 342: 99-100.

6 Charlton BO. Practice guidelines and practical judgement Br J Gen Pract 1994; 44: 290-291.

7 Chalmers T. Haynes B. Reporting, updating and correcting systematic reviews of effects of health care. BrMedJ 1994; 309: 862-865.

8 Mulrow CD. Rationale for systematic reviews. BrMedJ 1994; 309: 597-599.

9 Charlton BG. The scope and nature of epidemiology. J Clin Epidemiol 1996 (in press).

10 Cromer A. Uncommon sense: the heretical nature of science. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

11 Van Valen LM. Why misunderstand the evolutionary half of biology? In Saarinen E (ed.) Conceptual issues in ecology. Dordrecht: The Netherlands, 1982.

12 Friedenreich CM. Methods for pooled analysis of epidemiologic studies. Epidemiology 1993; 4: 295-302.

13 Dickerson K, Scherer R, Lefebvre C. Identifying relevant studies for systematic reviews. Br Med J 1994; 309: 1286-1291.

14 Thompson SO, Pocock SJ. Can meta-analyses be trusted? Lancet 1991; 338: 1127-1130.

15 Ahlbom A. Pooling epidemiological studies. Epidemiology 1993; 4: 283-284.

16 Ziman J. Reliable knowledge: an exploration of the ground for belief in science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978.

17 Thompson SO. Why sources of heterogeneity in meta-analysis should be investigated. Br Med J 1994; 309: 1351- 1355.

18 Victor N. Indications and contra-indications for meta-analysis. Clin Epidemiol 1995; 48: 5-8.

19 Oxnam AD. Checklists for review articles. Br Med J 1994; 309: 648-651.

10 Julian D. Trials and tribulations. Cardiovasc Res 1994; 28: 598-603.

31 Charlton BG. Mega-trials: methodological issues and clinical implications. J R Coll Phys Land 1995; 29: 96-100.

22 Horvitz RH. A clinician's perspective on meta-analysis. J Clin Epidemiol 1995; 48: 41-44.

23 Peto R, Collins R, Gray R. Large scale randomized evidence: large, simple trials and overviews of trials. J Clin Epidemiol 1995; 48: 23-40.

24 Yusuf S, Collins R, Peto R. Why do we need some large, simple randomized trials? Stat Med 1984; 3: 409-420.

23 Charlton BG. Randomized trials: the worst land of epidemiology? Nature Med 1995; 1: 1101-1102.

26 West RR. A look at the statistical overview (or meta-analysis). JRColl Phys Lond 1993; 27: 111-115.


Note added: I wrote the above 22 years ago, when I was a lecturer in Epidemiology and Public Health; and would judge that it is one of the best and most original things I have done in that line. The conclusion that meta-analysis is almost always bogus and misleading remains as correct as when it was published, but the relevance is now far greater since ignorant pseudo-scientific meta-analysis has all-but taken-over the medical, and indeed bioscientific and psychological, literature; and is routinely mis-used to evaluate causality, measure generalizable treatment and causal effect size, and as a basis for public policy and clinical guidelines. The hegemony of meta-analysis is thus an encapsulation of the corruption of science.  




The historical Merlin


In his book Merlin (2006) (extracted at Albion Awakening), Geoffrey Ashe gives a synthesised summary of story, prophecy, poems, archaeology and legends - and traces Merlin's lineage up to the present day.

Merlin emerges as an unique composite-individual, with a special significance for the island of Britain.