In his September 23, 2008 column in The Guardian, George Monbiot calls Christopher Booker a charlatan. He is writing about Richard Wilson’s new book, Don’t Get Fooled Again. In it, he lambasts Christopher Booker’s denial of the well-known hazards of asbestos exposure to humans.
So what can you say about a man who makes the same mistake 38 times? Who, when confronted by a mountain of evidence demonstrating that his informant is a charlatan convicted under the Trade Descriptions Act, continues to repeat his claims? Who elevates the untested claims of bloggers above peer-reviewed papers? Who sticks to his path through a blizzard of facts? What should we deduce about the Sunday Telegraph’s columnist Christopher Booker?
Don’t Get Fooled Again contains a chapter on Booker’s claims about white asbestos. Since 2002, he has published 38 articles on this topic, and every one of them is wrong. He champions the work of John Bridle, who has described himself as “the world’s foremost authority on asbestos science”.
Armed with Bridle’s claims, for the past six years he has waged a campaign against asbestos science. White asbestos cement, he maintains “poses no measurable risk to health”. He contends that “not a single case” of mesothelioma – the cancer caused by exposure to asbestos – “has ever been scientifically linked with asbestos cement”. A paper commissioned by the UK’s Health and Safety Executive, he says, “concluded that the risk from white asbestos is ‘virtually zero'”.
White asbestos (chrysotile) is less dangerous than brown or blue asbestos. But, while there is uncertainty about the numbers, it still presents a risk of mesothelioma, which depends on the level of exposure. People exposed to a high dose (between 10 and 100 fibres per millilitre per year (f/ml.yr)) have a risk (around two deaths per 100,000 for each f/ml.yr) of contracting this cancer. Only when the dose falls to less than 0.1 f/ml.yr does it become “probably insignficant”. But Booker’s columns contain no such caveat. He creates the impression that white asbestos is safe at all doses. The paper he misquotes also cites five scientific studies of exposure to asbestos cement, which record “high levels of mesothelioma mortality”.
Two years ago, John Bridle’s misleading CV and dodgy record were exposed by the BBC. So has Booker changed the way he sees “Britain’s leading practical asbestos expert”? Far from it.
For several years Booker has been waging a similar war against “warmist alarmists”, by which he means climate scientists, attacking Michael Mann for publishing a paper that shows (alongside scores of other studies) that global temperatures do indeed follow the famous hockey-stick pattern: a moderate long-term cooling trend terminating in a sudden upward bend. Mann, Booker told his readers, had been “selective … in his new data, excluding anything which confirmed the Medieval Warming”. How did Booker trip up so badly? By using the claims of unqualified bloggers to refute peer-reviewed studies.
Under their guidance he routinely mistakes weather for climate and makes claims about the temperature record that bear no relation to the studies he cites.
But for the Wikipedia Professor of Gibberish, this patron saint of charlatans, even the seasons are negotiable. Booker remains right, whatever the evidence says. It is hard to think of any journalist – Melanie Phillips included – who has spread more misinformation. The world becomes even harder to navigate. You cannot trust the people who tell you whom to trust.
Conclusion: Booker appears to be something of a quack.
From Richard Wilson’s blog, here is a compilation list of the Christopher Booker columns:
1. C. Booker, ‘Billions to be spent on nonexistent risk’, Sunday Telegraph, 13 January 2002 –
2. C. Booker, ‘“Unnecessary” asbestos bill will top £8bn’, Telegraph, 27 January 2002, //www.telegraph.co.uk/news/1382802/Christopher-Bookers-Notebook.html
3. C. Booker, ‘The great asbestos cull begins’, Sunday Telegraph,
10 February 2002,
4. C. Booker, ‘Substance abuse’, Sunday Telegraph, 3 March 2002,
5. C. Booker, ‘Asbestos claims on trial’, Sunday Telegraph, 21 April 2002,
6. C. Booker, ‘Asbestos scare costs homeowners millions’, Sunday Telegraph, 19 May 2002,
7. C. Booker, ‘Scaremongers cost industry billions’, Sunday Telegraph, 30 June 2002,
8. C. Booker, ‘No ceiling to the asbestos scam’, Sunday Telegraph, 18 August 2002,
9. C. Booker, ‘Tories challenge “sneaky” asbestos legislation’, Sunday Telegraph, 25 August 2002, //www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1405310/Christopher-Bookers-Notebook.html
10. C. Booker, ‘Our costliest law must wait’, Sunday Telegraph, 8 September 2002,
11. C. Booker, ‘The $350bn scam’, Sunday Telegraph, 15 September 2002,
12. C. Booker, ‘We put the brake on the costliest law in British history’, Sunday Telegraph, 20 October 2002, //www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1410696/Christopher-Bookers-Notebook.html
13. C. Booker, ‘Commons drubbing fails to stop our costliest statute’, Sunday Telegraph, 27 October 2002, //www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1411381/Christopher-Bookers-Notebook.html
14. C. Booker, ‘A blast from Burchill’, Sunday Telegraph, 10 November 2002,
15. C. Booker, ‘Smallholders lumbered with petty regulation’, Sunday Telegraph, 17 November 2002,
16. C. Booker, ‘HSE blunders in new law’, Sunday Telegraph, 7 December 2002,
17. C. Booker, ‘How much longer will the HSE tolerate this racket?’, Sunday Telegraph, 16 February 2003, //www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1422214/Christopher-Bookers-Notebook.html
18. C. Booker, ‘Home “written off” in mix-up over asbestos’, Sunday Telegraph, 9 November 2003,
19. C. Booker, ‘The BBC helps to sex up the asbestos threat’, Sunday Telegraph, 1 February 2004,
20. C. Booker, ‘Let’s not spend £8bn to get rid of this stuff ’, Sunday Telegraph, 16 May 2004,
21. C. Booker, ‘Keep the asbestos hysteria flying’, Sunday Telegraph, 23 May 2004,
22. C. Booker, ‘EC offices get a clean bill of health – for £1bn’, Sunday Telegraph, 8 August 2004,
23. C. Booker, ‘HSE has second thoughts on asbestos rip-off ’, Sunday Telegraph, 13 November 2004,
24. C. Brooker, ‘“Frivolous asbestos claims” are a serious matter for Names’, Sunday Telegraph, 20 February 2005 – no longer
available on the Telegraph’s website at the time of writing. A pay-for-view version is archived here: //www.highbeam.com/doc/1P2-8928598.html
25. C. Brooker, ‘A dangerous level of asbestos inexpertise’, Sunday Telegraph, 10 October 2005,
26. C. Booker, ‘Fatal cracks appear in asbestos scam as HSE shifts its ground’, Sunday Telegraph, 11 December 2005,
27. C. Booker, ‘No, Winifred, the “asbestos in the organ” scam is not “very rare”’, Sunday Telegraph, 15 January 2006,
28. C. Booker, ‘Environment Agency shows its asbestos ignorance’, Sunday Telegraph, 5 February 2006,
29. C. Booker, ‘The bizarre death-by-drawing-pin scare’, Sunday Telegraph, 9 April 2006,
30. C. Booker, ‘The Environment Agency turns a livelihood to rubble’, Sunday Telegraph, 16 April 2006,
31. C. Booker, ‘The asbestos sting goes on’, Sunday Telegraph, 25 June 2006,
32. C. Booker, ‘When we are dead and buried we will be hazardous waste’, Sunday Telegraph, 16 July 2006,
33. C. Booker, ‘Great asbestos scam faces a revenue loss of £½bn a year’, Sunday Telegraph, 6 August 2006,
34. C. Booker, ‘The BBC falls for the asbestos scam’, Sunday Telegraph, 15 October 2006,
35. C. Booker, ‘Why would the BBC have a go at the asbestos watchdog?’, Sunday Telegraph, 21 October 2006, //www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1532048/Christopher-Bookers-Notebook.html
36. C. Booker, ‘BBC bites watchdog again’, Sunday Telegraph, 2 December 2006,
37. C. Booker, ‘Asbestos – The most expensive word in history’ – Daily Telegraph, 6 November 2007 //www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/main.jhtml?xml=/earth/2007/11/06/eaasbes106.xml
38. C. Booker, ‘Farmers face £6bn bill for asbestos clean-up’, Sunday Telegraph, 25 May 2008 //www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2008/05/25/do2502.xml