Nadine Dorries: an enemy of science?


11:15 am - May 19th 2009

by Martin Robbins    


      Share on Tumblr

Recently, Nadine Dorries is emerging as a prominent figure in Tory politics, and since Conservatives are almost certain to be in power by this time next year that’s bad for people who support evidence-based policy, because her relationship with science and rational thinking has been rather fraught.

Dorries’ influence in the party was demonstrated in Prime Minister’s Questions on April 22nd, when dozens of other Conservative MPs sacrificed their opportunity to ask a question in order to allow Dorries to demand a personal apology from Gordon Brown over smeargate. This backfired so badly that Dorries achieved what no amount of Labour spin has been able to in recent months – she made Gordon Brown look good as he brushed her aside.

Topping this gaffe took some doing, but Dorries managed it on Question time on May 7th, during a discussion about Trident (at 5:18):

“Tridents are not weapons of mass destruction”

Well, if that’s true then I hope they kept the receipt. But it’s easy to make fun of television gaffes. More serious are the attitudes that Dorries expresses in her approach to scientific issues, which range from misguided to the sorts of ravings you might hear from a conspiracy theorist. The best (or worst) example of this is the record of her behaviour over abortion.

Ben Goldacre was an early and prominent victim of Dorries’ anti-science bent. Back in October 2007 he wrote an article looking at the role of evidence in the abortion debate, and examining some of the dubious data presented to the Commons committee on science and technology by Professor Wyatt. This data happened to support Dorries’ views, and she responded rather angrily – not with any discussion of the evidence, but by ranting:

“There should be an enquiry about how this information got into the public domain and as to whether such a personal attack represents a serious breach of parliamentary procedure.”

There was of course no such breach as Ben himself pointed out – the information was publicly available – but the episode gave a good taste of Dorries’ reaction to the open discussion of scientific evidence.

During the debates on abortion that followed, a whole stream of demonstrably false claims came from Dorries. They included the fairytale “hand of hope” story that she helped to propagate across the web; the incorrect suggestion that the NHS didn’t do abortions after 16 weeks; and the false assertion that charity Marie Stopes International supported her policy views.

One major “victim” of this behaviour was the Trent study, a scientific study that showed no increase in survival rates for infants born before 24 weeks. Dorries completely failed to understand this research, first dismissing it as an “insult to the intelligence of the public”, then when realising that simply ignoring it wasn’t working attempting various comparisons with other studies, all the while failing to understand either the data or the valid conclusions.

It’s not just scientific studies that are mangled. Opinion polls too have a tendency to mysteriously alter in the hands of Dorries, as Tim Ireland noted last year. Dorries made the claim that three quarters of the public specifically supported a 20 week limit on abortion – a claim unsupported by the cited The source for this claim was cited as ComRes poll, which gave a figure of 15%. As a somewhat frustrated Dawn Primarolo noted in a debate on the subject:

“The hon. Lady has asserted many things to be facts that are not.”

For Nadine Dorries, it is a recurring pattern of behaviour, and one complemented by a more sinister characteristic, which is a tendency to resort to dark conspiracy theories to explain her failure to deal effectively with scientific committees in Parliament.

“It could all be a complete coincidence, but I think it may go someway towards demonstrating how biased and infiltrated the BBC is. Except, it’s not just the BBC. It’s Parliament and universities at the highest level; and the BMA, the RCN, the RCOG and every organisation, which has an opinion which can influence policy. The pro-abortionists had their day and remained unchallenged for too long.”

Yes, in the world of Nadine Dorries the fact that pretty much every medical authority disagrees with her doesn’t suggest that her views on health might be wrong, but that in fact the medical establishment are part of some vast conspiracy against her, a conspiracy that has infiltrated the highest levels of our public institutions. A conspiracy that could only be orchestrated by the lizard people themselves.

But to be fair, Dorries’ paranoia is understandable: I’m sure it must feel very unfair when even the evidence itself is biased against you.

(Ffwd to 5min in to hear Dorries on Trident)

——–
Got ideas for next week’s post? Find me on Twitter: @mjrobbins.

    Share on Tumblr   submit to reddit  


About the author
This is a guest post. Martin Robbins works in R&D, solving scientific problems for a small software company while finishing off his Ph.D., which covers immune system simulation and complexity. He blogs at Lay Science
· Other posts by


Story Filed Under: Blog ,Conservative Party ,Science ,Technology ,Westminster

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.


Reader comments


We’ve got our very own Sarah Palin. Yaaayyyy :) :) :)

Ha ha, yeah, I resisted the urge to shout “Sarah Palin” in the piece, but too true.

Incidentally, before the inevitable claims of bias, I do plan to look at some Labour figures ahead of the election too. My ultimate plan is to to a sort of Bad Science Assessment of the main parties, although how far I get with that I’m not sure…

I feel real pity for Nadine Dorries.

She’s clearly not very bright. She ‘knows’ that abortion is wrong and sees all of this ‘evidence’ and tries to bring it to light. Other people then shoot the evidence down and respond with proper evidence discounting her views. She doesn’t understand what they say. they send her links to these long scientific articles with lots of long words and ideas she isn’t familiar with. Then she realises that people are laughing at her and the debate is going against her.

Obviously this can’t be anything to do with those articles people sent her. I mean… look at the picture of the baby’s hand!

So clearly there must be a conspiracy at work.

Dorries fails to understand the way that science works and the way that people debate issues and make decisions. Because all of these things escape her she sees volition and conspiracy behind what is simply the cut and thrust of debate and discussion. she knows she’s right but nobody else is acknowledging it and so they must all be in it together… why else would everyone ignore her?

I actually feel almost sorry for her. Never has it been so obvious when a politician was out of their depth.

…you also failed to mention the fact that she didn’t realise that she was on a select committee and so failed to turn up to it.

…and that she incriminated herself when trying to deny flipping by pointing out that she hardly spent any time in her official primary residence.

…and that she thought that she was completely vindicated when it turned out that she had submitted expense claims for a hotel room in the name of “N Dorries” she had not in fact used. Still got us to pay for it though didn’t you Nads?

I think “enemy of science” is a trifle unfair, Nadine seems to have trouble with systematic rational thought in general. I think “Nadine Dorries : Enemy of Thought” might be more accurate.

Imagine this women being a minister inside 12 months.

I mean just look at that picture! She has the same glazed and slightly nervous expression that you find in overbred pedigree dogs.

Why did the Conservative put her up for Question Time twice within 6 months?

If I remember correctly, Will Self called her out for lacking a grasp of basic economics.

Makes you wonder what’s wrong with the other 150 or so backbenchers?

Will Self vs. Nadine Dorries?! OMG, why was I not informed?

*youtubes*

…you also failed to mention the fact that she didn’t realise that she was on a select committee and so failed to turn up to it.

As previously reported here, this was less likely to be incompetence than a result of her obsession with abortion – once the committee changed remit and name so it was no longer going to be useful to her personally, she lost interest in it completely.

9. Richard (the original)

She would have more luck if she was to simply make a moral case against abortion. At least that would be a question of ethics rather than scientific evidence. If the anti-abortion movement has any sense they’ll disown her.

I suspect the Tory high command will have a quiet word with her if she continues to make a tit of herself.

@Richard: “She would have more luck if she was to simply make a moral case against abortion.”

Totally agree. While I disagree with them, I have sympathy for anti-abortionists who have the courage to argue a straight-forward moral case against abortion, and there are very valid concerns about e.g. the number of abortions taking place. When Dorries misrepresents science, she does the debate a disservice, whichever side of the fence you’re on.

Well we laugh at Nadine Dorries now but I can see a point, sometime in the next 10 years where she might well be part of a government.

At the moment we’re seeing the tail end of Labour’s talent pool. People like Blears would never have got cabinet position back in ’97 but after 12 years in power the old performers have alienated themselves from the leadership or disgraced themselves and the net for talent has to be spread that little bit wider. So you get a kind of managerial death spiral whereby people are promoted and then sacked and each progressive sacking makes the government that little bit weaker and that little bit more gaffe prone.

10 years from now once the Eton clique have all disgraced themselves and the lesser talents have been over-promoted and sacked I can imagine David Cameron thinking that the comparatively photo-genic and media-hungry Dorries might do rather well as a junior minister for something non-vital. Especially if she manages to keep her trap shut and prevents all the pent-up stupid from gushing out all over that nipple-coloured outfit she wore on Question Time the other night.

We’ve got our very own Sarah Palin.

That’s an insult to Sarah Palin.

I reckon she’ll be in right at the start – some sort of junior role. She obviously has a fair amount of influence and support in the party, and I bet she plays well to the religious right, so I reckon she’ll get something.

Cameron has made a promise that one third of ministers in his government will be women.

Given that at present women make up 9% of Tory MPs, it seems Ms Dorries will be a government minister within a few months.

Palin or Dorries, there’s a debate to be had.

15. the a&e charge nurse

Isn’t it an old adage that we all have prejudices and it is simply a question of finding the correct ‘evidence’ to support them?

Clearly we can’t trust Dorries (for the reasons highlighted by Martin) but is she any more of a Tom Pepper than most other MPs in the lower chambre?

Think about the extra billions of £’s being pumped out by the treasury, for example – does anybody really understand the ‘science’ underpinning these risky decisions, I mean is there any evidence at all?

The lizard people have got a lot to answer for, I tell you.

Religious right? This isn’t America. All Nadine has got going for her is that she is popular among some rightwing loons who spend too much time on their blogs – if this is a litmus test for who becomes a Tory minister, even a junior one, then we are doomed. Douglas Hogg MP for Housing Minister?

@Richard: “She would have more luck if she was to simply make a moral case against abortion.”

Not really, although she’d wouldn’t be quite such an object of derision if she stuck to playing the morality card.

Moral arguments against abortion, particularly those rooted in religious belief, just don’t fly with the vast majority of the public. Most of the polls I’ve seen – and I’ve seen plenty – put public support for the kind of strict prohibitionist approach favoured by the Catholic Church and all manner of fundamentalist nutjobs, at no better than 8-9% compared to a steady 60-65% public support for the provision of safe, legal, abortion services.

Ultimately, a majority of the British public – on the mainland – have reached the conclusion that there is no moral argument that can be put forward that would justify the return of the backstreet abortionist, which explain why Dorries and those like her have resorted to cribbing wedge strategies from the US anti-abortion movement and lying about the science.

@Simon: “Palin or Dorries, there’s a debate to be had.”

A debate? No, that’s just one of the circles of hell that Dante neglected to mention.

@A&E “Clearly we can’t trust Dorries (for the reasons highlighted by Martin) but is she any more of a Tom Pepper than most other MPs in the lower chambre?”

Maybe. Maybe not… but ordinarily the Select Committee system tends to work pretty well and the majority of MPs do act in good faith. The old S&T committee did a sterling job and its replacement, the IIUS committee seems to have kept up the good work and has been helped along considerably by the Tories putting up a number of new members who do take a genuine interest in the committee’s work.

@Rayyan: “Religious right? This isn’t America. All Nadine has got going for her is that she is popular among some rightwing loons who spend too much time on their blogs”

She also has huge support within the party, which is why I suspect she’ll be doing quite well next year.

@Martin I think that’s indicative of how unrepresentative the Tories are of the majority of people in the UK, and how sad it is that thanks to Labour’s implosion they will be elected into Government anyway. I suppose they’ll use her to trumpet other causes to rally the base, like fox hunting etc. Que depressante!

@Martin: “She also has huge support within the party, which is why I suspect she’ll be doing quite well next year”

The Palin comparison gains strengh. Both popular with their ‘base’ but with limited cross-over appeal.

Sarah Palin – Almost a heeartbeat away from being in charge of ‘new-clear’ weapons.

Nadine Dorries – Doesn’t think nuclear weapons are a big deal.

However, if this anti-politics mood carries on, they could both be in charge within a decade…..

22. Lilliput

Where’s LfaT?

That Trident line is an absolute belter.

You know you’re in trouble on Question Time when the audience just laugh at you.

@Rayyan “Religious right? This isn’t America. All Nadine has got going for her is that she is popular among some rightwing loons who spend too much time on their blogs”

She is apparently also getting some advice and/or support from dodgy religious people.

http://www.bloggerheads.com/archives/2008/05/nadine_dorries_4.asp

25. redpesto

Jonathan M:

I can imagine David Cameron thinking that the comparatively photo-genic and media-hungry Dorries might do rather well as a junior minister for something non-vital.

1 – just keep her well away from DCMS or education for starters (My money is on International Development, especially if Cameron can be persuaded into a UK version of the ‘Bush doctrine’ re. overseas aid and sexual health)

2 – She’s clearly the dumbed-down successor to Ann Widdecombe (who does adhere to the moral position against abortion)

@14 the difference is that nobody knows whether or not the Treasury’s economic plans will work, but we *do* definitively know that Dorries’ claims are lies.

I think that’s indicative of how unrepresentative the Tories are of the majority of people in the UK

So, so true.

28. Richard (the original)

“Moral arguments against abortion, particularly those rooted in religious belief, just don’t fly with the vast majority of the public”

Maybe not but at least she wouldn’t be open to mass fisking.

29. Shatterface

Ben recently ran an article called ‘Experts say new evidence helpfully confirms pre-existing social prejudice’ (a title surely worthy of The Onion?) about the way the media data-mine scientific purposes and politicians are no different.

Still, medical concerns aside, abortion is a moral matter and not something which will be decided in the laboratory.

I’m pro-choice but I didn’t reach that position through scientific reasoning – though I suppose that in a broader sense my respect for science is related to my contempt for the superstitions which lie behind much ‘pro-life’ discourse.

“Why did the Conservative put her up for Question Time twice within 6 months?”

Because she appeals to the quite large group of rather stupid people who think the Tory party is the party of morality. Someone mentioned Palin and it is very similar. Small minded, sanctimonious, very stupid hypocrites always play well with large sections of Right wing parties.

“I think that’s indicative of how unrepresentative the Tories are of the majority of people in the UK”

So true, and many of these suckers are soon going to discover that Call me Dave does not give a flying fig for 90% of the population. But it will be too late by then.

@shatterface I tend to agree that abortion is to some extent a moral matter. I think that’s why Dorries’ efforts on the issue annoy me – not only is she doing a disservice to the scientific debate by pushing junk science, but she’s also harming undermining the moral debate. Whichever side off the fence you sit on, she’s a pain in the arse.

@sally et al “I think that’s indicative of how unrepresentative the Tories are of the majority of people in the UK”

I can’t help but feel that it’s wishful thinking to dismiss the Tories as “unrepresentative”. The moment you start assuming that the rest of the nation shares your views, is the moment you start losing elections. A lot of British people are naturally right-wing – that’s why Labour lurched so far to the right to get elected in the first place.

32. Shatterface

That’s a fascinating article on culture specific syndromes you’ve got on your site, btw.

I do wonder if reducing the level of pay of MPs by abolishing the ACA and maybe giving them a flat in London OR telling them to slum it with the rest of us and pay for their second home out of their own salary, will result in MPs who either have less life experience or less education. Whilst this might be a good thing, and there isn’t a direct link between the level of education and intelligence, I would be loathe to let in any more people in the House of Commons who display the sheer stupidity and scientific ignorance of Nadine Dorries. Is it more a question of common sense, and that no matter how many universities you attend or “life experience” you have, you can still be a total idiot like her?

@Richard: “She would have more luck if she was to simply make a moral case against abortion.”

@Shatterface : “Still, medical concerns aside, abortion is a moral matter and not something which will be decided in the laboratory. ”

On abortion and morality. The committee inquiry covered by Ben Goldacre and referred to by Martin in this article was a scientific matter not moral. It was about lowering time limits for abortion and whether scientific advancements had made the case for this. The case was not made and much of the ‘evidence’ provided which claimed to show a scientific basis for lowering the limits actually came from religiously-funded organisations. Of course at Westminster those giving evidence did not have to declare their religious affiliation but luckily they were exposed here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2007/oct/15/sciencenews.medicineandhealth

Abortion is not just a moral matter, although I acknowledge that given the strength of feeling in society ‘morality’ should be considered. Instead, it is a public health issue. Approx. 67,000 deaths of women occur globally every year due to unsafe abortion. In Nicaragua where abortion is outlawed in all circumstances, health professionals have suffered the chilling effect where they are too scared to even perform routine gynaecological examinations in case they are charged with abortion. Nicaragua has been taken to the UN Committee against Torture on the basis of their abortion laws amounting to torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment: http://www.amnesty.org/en/for-media/press-releases/nicaragua-complete-ban-abortion-violates-torture-convention-20090515

So yes, if you consider torture a moral matter than the denial of safe and legal abortion services is also a moral matter.

But also pleased don’t be fooled. She is not using the scientific arguments rather than moral ones because she’s stupid (which of course she is but that’s another matter). This is a tactic used very successfully in the US – to chip away at the right to abortion by increment. Lowering time limits, reducing services, enforcing health professionals read out ‘warnings’ to women before a termination, ‘cooling off’ periods, parental consent, arguing against the licensing of drugs for chemical terminations with the regulators – all of these mount up to a restriction of rights and access to healthcare for women. And they are all being made by religiously motivated zealots.

I don’t think the UK will ever go the way of the US on the abortion issue, but there are definitely those out there that want the same debate started over here and have tried repeatedly to use the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill to do it. And its not gone away…

@NaomiMC Very well said.

@naomimc: “But also pleased don’t be fooled. She is not using the scientific arguments rather than moral ones because she’s stupid (which of course she is but that’s another matter). This is a tactic used very successfully in the US – to chip away at the right to abortion by increment.”

I think one of the signs of this is with her use of the opinion poll above, where she took a poll that actually supported quite tough restrictions on abortion (to <20 weeks, although I would dispute the polls motives and methodology since it was by Christian activists), and “sanitised” it to claim that the support was for 20 weeks.

Nadine seems to be a focal point for the religious right (who contrary to an earlier commenter’s views are actually getting quite influential here) to try and push several different views into parliament, ranging from religious freedom laws to abortion to equality for homosexuals. In each case, she seems to act as the sort of thin end of a wedge, presenting slightly moderated versions of their agenda in a form that makes them palatable enough to gain a toe-hold in the Commons.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Links and stuff from between May 17th and May 19th - Chicken Yoghurt

    [...] Liberal Conspiracy » Nadine Dorries: an enemy of science? – 'Dorries’ paranoia is understandable: I’m sure it must feel very unfair when even the evidence itself is biased against you.' [...]

  2. Tim Ireland

    Now with added video goodness- Nadine Dorries: an enemy of science? http://tinyurl.com/p4axq7

  3. majsaleh

    Nadine Dorries is a monster that must be destroyed: http://bit.ly/Cf50g

  4. Blair Cowan

    RT @majsaleh: Nadine Dorries is a monster that must be destroyed: http://bit.ly/Cf50g

  5. Tim Ireland

    Now with added video goodness- Nadine Dorries: an enemy of science? http://tinyurl.com/p4axq7

  6. majsaleh

    Nadine Dorries is a monster that must be destroyed: http://bit.ly/Cf50g

  7. Blair Cowan

    RT @majsaleh: Nadine Dorries is a monster that must be destroyed: http://bit.ly/Cf50g

  8. Blair Cowan

    @samuelcoates Nadine Dorries is a monster that must be destroyed: http://bit.ly/Cf50g

  9. Tim Ireland

    RT @samuelcoates Nadine Dorries is a monster that must be destroyed: http://bit.ly/Cf50g

  10. Kirsty McHugh

    Excellent blog take-down of Nadine Dorries: http://is.gd/Cjfn (via @bloggerheads)

  11. PD Smith

    “Tridents are not weapons of mass destruction”: Nadine Dorries http://is.gd/Cjfn (via @kirstymch @bloggerheads)

  12. Blair Cowan

    @samuelcoates Nadine Dorries is a monster that must be destroyed: http://bit.ly/Cf50g

  13. Tim Ireland

    RT @samuelcoates Nadine Dorries is a monster that must be destroyed: http://bit.ly/Cf50g

  14. Kirsty McHugh

    Excellent blog take-down of Nadine Dorries: http://is.gd/Cjfn (via @bloggerheads)

  15. PD Smith

    “Tridents are not weapons of mass destruction”: Nadine Dorries http://is.gd/Cjfn (via @kirstymch @bloggerheads)

  16. In support of Nadine Dorries « Hundreds and Thousands (on the trifle of life)

    [...] Nad may be spectacularly stupid on occasion – ‘Tridents (sic) are not weapons of mass destruction’ and, as an ex-nurse, can’t appreciate that an anaesthetised foetus is a direct consequence of [...]

  17. I will defend Nadine Dorries’ right to make a total and utter berk of herself… - Chicken Yoghurt

    [...] Daily Telegraph lawyers take incoherent gobshite and toe-curling political embarrassment Nadine Dorries’ blog offline after she makes certain [...]

  18. Jackie McGhee

    http://is.gd/1d2UD – Name names or it didn’t happen. You’ve been caught out too many times already Dorries. http://is.gd/1d38I

  19. Jackie McGhee

    http://is.gd/1d2UD – Name names or it didn’t happen. You’ve been caught out too many times already Dorries. http://is.gd/1d38I

  20. Pete B

    @cjmckeon @T_P_W This is the woman who thinks Trident isn’t a WMD http://bit.ly/Cdyub

  21. Pete Bowers

    @cjmckeon @T_P_W This is the woman who thinks Trident isn’t a WMD http://bit.ly/Cdyub

  22. Tim Phillips-White

    RT @PeterBowers: @cjmckeon @T_P_W This is the woman who thinks Trident isn’t a WMD http://bit.ly/Cdyub

  23. Pete B

    @cjmckeon @T_P_W This is the woman who thinks Trident isn’t a WMD http://bit.ly/Cdyub

  24. Tim Phillips-White

    RT @PeterBowers: @cjmckeon @T_P_W This is the woman who thinks Trident isn’t a WMD http://bit.ly/Cdyub

  25. Alan Henness

    Could have been worse. Nadine Dorries is on the Select Committee, but didn't turn up. http://is.gd/53oQf http://is.gd/53oWR #evcheck





Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.