Bothered By Midgies 392

In 13 years of running my blog I have never been exposed to such a tirade of abuse as I have for refusing to accept without evidence that Russia is the only possible culprit for the Salisbury attack. The abuse has mostly been on twitter, and much of the most venomous stuff has come from corporate and state media “journalists”. I suppose I am a standing rebuke to them for merely being stenographers to power and never doing any actual research, but that hardly explains the visceral levels of hatred exhibited.

Today they are all terrifically happy and sharing amongst themselves a lengthy twitter thread by a Blairite and chemist called Clyde Davis in which they all say I am “owned” and my article disproven. There are two remarkable things about this thread.

The first remarkable thing is the remarkably high percentage of those who are sharing it with commendations who are mainstream media journalists. Last I saw was George Monbiot five minutes ago, but there are dozens. I suppose it is important to them as validating their decision to support uncritically the government line without doing any actual journalism.

The second remarkable thing is that the thread they are all sharing misses out almost all my side of the conversation. An objective observer might think that made it hard to say who “won” the argument. To be fair, that is probably not deliberate but appears to be a result of how twitter does threading. Here I reconstruct by paste the thread with my responses. It may give a better idea of whether Mr Davis completely “destroys” my article, as the “professional” journalists are all claiming. And as Mr Davies is critiquing my article, perhaps you might refresh yourself on that first here.

Neither my reply nor Davies’ rejoinder are included in the thread which the mainstream “journalists” are circulating. Note that Davies responds to being challenged, with a riposte which is untrue. The OPCW have never changed their position on the physical existence of “novichoks” from the position I gave and referenced in my article. By contrast, Mr Davies gives no reference for his claim the OPCW has changed its mind. Personally I find it problematic that somebody like Mr Davies who blusters so loud on scientific method, responds to a challenge to his position with an apparent invention.

It is indeed true that Porton Down (which here means the British government), however, have changed their position since 2016 when, as I again demonstrated in my article with references, they said there was no evidence for the physical existence of “novichoks”. Now apparently they have said not only do they have one, but it is indubitably Russian. If a “novichok” is indeed in the possession of Porton Down, of course scientists, like diplomats and the others involved, will change their position on the existence of Novichoks. As will I. But that, in any sense, that will prove it is of Russian manufacture is a totally different question.

Then along came the man who really did put me to shame. A Mr Kevin Smyth who completely demolished Davis with a simple polite question:

That part of the exchange is also missing from the thread being circulated so gleefully at the moment.

So what does Davies tell us in this article delivered by twitter which “demolishes” my article.

1) Davies acknowledges that until recently Porton Down and OPCW doubted the physical existence of “novichoks”. He says they have now changed their minds. [Porton Down has indeed undergone a remarkable change of mind in the last week , but the OPCW has yet to see the evidence].
2) Davis states that chemists can tell if a compound corresponds to one of the “novichoks” described by Mirzyanov, but Davis specifically accepts that does not prove Russian manufacture.
3) Davis nevertheless states strongly it is Russia because he believes Russia has form and motive.

Nothing here can remotely be said to be conclusive. The question that puzzles me, is why are so many mainstream media journalists gleefully seizing on this series of tweets as a destruction of the need for sceptical inquiry? A possible answer:

1) Davies by claiming credentials as a chemist conforms to the corporate media urge for an appeal to authority. He validates the government line and he is a chemist. He can throw in the names of chemicals and molecular diagrams. That kind of thing impresses journalists. That he explicitly admits the chemistry cannot prove Russia did it, is apparently irrelevant.
2) Davies thus provides a smokescreen of respectability by which they can continue to advance their careers by cutting and pasting the government line without question.

In fact, all of Davies’ “chemistry” in this exchange sets out to prove something which was never disputed – that chemists are able to identify whether or not a substance is one of the “novichok” compounds described by Mirzyanov. But as he published the formulae two decades ago, and has been living in the USA, and as the US dismantled and studied the Nukus plant, and as Porton Down had never seen any evidence the Russians actually succeeded in synthesising “novichoks, this in no way adds up to evidence of Russian manufacture. As Davies, to his credit, finally acknowledged when confronted by an interlocutor for whom he did not have automatic hatred.

I can’t say the midgies bother me that much. But they are interesting to study.

392 thoughts on “Bothered By Midgies

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  • Grahame Jordan

    Thanks for this entertaining exchange.
    Even science itself admits nothing is definitively proven. Davis’s use of probability theory shows the weakness of his arguments; in critical thinking a ‘probable’ conclusion is not sufficient to claim surety – a valid argument is deductive with true, verifiable premises. Anyone claiming knowledge of the details in this incident should be open to scrutiny, and those claiming to understand the reasons and motives for it should wait for all possible leads to be extinguished. Even then, an independent accredited authority should publish it’s findings.

  • Sharp Ears

    Now Gilad Atzmon is being sued for libel in the High Court by the Campaign against Anti-Semitism aka Gideon Falter. He is fighting it and there is a crowd fund. He is a decent man who was born in Israel, did the compulsory service in the IOF but rejected all of it and came to the UK. He is also a talented saxophonist.

    The High Court is certainly being kept busy these days.

  • Sharp Ears

    Also off topic. Ahmed Hassan has been convicted at the Old Bailey.

    He hates this country. Ask why. Perhaps Bush and Blair could help with the answer.

    Small, shy and undoubtedly damaged, Ahmed Hassan attracted no end of kindness and sympathy when he arrived in Britain in the back of a cross-Channel lorry in October 2015, saying he was Iraqi and 16 years old.

    His mother had died when he was an infant, he said, and he had been six when his father, a Baghdad taxi driver, had been killed in an air raid. “He used to go to work and come back in the evening, and one day he didn’t come back.” At first he blamed the Americans for this calamity; later he said that he blamed the British.

    The staff at a hostel run by the children’s charity Barnardo’s were worried at how depressed Hassan appeared to be: at one point he spent three days in hospital, watched carefully as a suicide risk. Lecturers at Brooklands College in Weybridge, Surrey, recalled him as a disturbed young man who would snap pens and storm out of classes. “Traumatised, on edge and not very trusting,” said one. “Broken,” said another.’

    For how long will he be imprisoned? He will probably commit suicide. Judge Haddon-Cave is hearing the case.

  • GF

    It seems that the Kremlin poisoned the UK with the gas “Durachok” (durachok-very stupid fool)

    • Ray Dauncey

      Russia had no need to use Durachok in the UK, the British MSM had done the job for them many moons ago.

  • Iain McGlade

    Craig. I don’t know if it’s possible for you to do this, but I’ll ask anyway. To my mind there are reporters and then there are journalists. I’ve seen it first hand with campaigns that I’m involved with. Reporters just copy press releases, social media posts etc. Journalism is much more comprehensive than that and involves digging around and discovering a “truth”. Most reporters think they are journalists. Real journalists know that they aren’t.
    As our print media is dying on it’s arse, we get more and more reporters and less journalists.
    Stop calling them journalists as it only feeds their delusions.

  • Nod Bruce

    Mr Davies is incorrect in many ways.

    Mass spectrometry identifies the masses (duh) of substances and can perhaps identify a formula, but not a structure. It is the structure, not the formula which defines the properties of a substance. Spectrometry can say “100% Carbon” but cannot identify whether it is amorphous (charcoal / soot), graphite (lubricant) or diamond (not soot or lubricant!).

    A prion has exactly the formula of a normal protein – it will look identical to spectrometric / spectroscopic analysis – but one is essential to life the other lethal. LSD is inert if its helix is coiled the wrong way – but it’s still LSD.

    And the reaction products depend on structure too. Groups on opposite sides of a structure are unlikely to connect with the same molecules.

    Crick & Watson received a Nobel prize for their (& others’!) work on the structure of DNA. Why didn’t they just bung it through a spectrometer & save all the palaver?

    BTW I hate (and do not claim to be at all expert in) organic chemistry but I am trained in “instrumental techniques in analytical chemistry” with 10 yrs laboratory experience.

    • Philip Ward

      You are right about DNA and mass spectrometry: I suppose it might have told them it was made up of sugar phosphates and the four amino acids, but Watson Crick, Wilkins and Franklin new that already. But these organophosphates are so simple that mass spec could probably tell a better chemist than me what their structure is, given the empirical formula as well. But Craig’s critic completely gets the wrong end of the stick. What good is knowing the structural formula of a compound in identifying its place of manufacture?

    • Jamie

      I think the development of NMR and IR spectroscopy plays a big part in the modern determination of the molecular structure these days. Not around in the early 50’s when DNA structure was being determined of course.

  • James D

    Before arguing what was used, how it was done, and whodunit…is there any PROOF that these two people have actually been poisoned or come to any harm?
    MSM headlines keep flip flopping from ‘murdered ex spy’ to the ‘attempted murder of’.
    If they have then it’s on to the other questions.

  • Singh

    So the chemist takes one of his arguments greatest weaknesses attempting to make it a strength.

    That the Russians wanted to be the chief suspects!

    Well of course they did, which state wouldn’t wish to be vilified on the world stage, to take an inevitable hit to its economy and international standing, who wouldn’t enjoy the imposition of yet more sanctions, and finally who could say hand on heart they don’t secretly want to have their assets frozen? Not a euphemism.

    That a state assassins first priority would be to put as much distance between the state and the evidence should be patently obvious.

    The Chemists suggestion that it would help to scare Russians at home is frankly ridiculous, after having inevitably thought about it for some time if this was the best he could offer, it does show the question around motive is the most tricky for the bullshitters. The other suggestion, wishing to scare poor old Blighty cos she’s got no mates is equally if not more risible.

  • Anatoly Dragan

    Old Major cleared his throat and began to sing. As he had said, his voice was hoarse, but he sang well enough, and it was a stirring tune, something between Clementine and La Cucaracha. The words ran:
    Beasts of England, beasts of Ireland,
    Beasts of every land and clime,
    Hearken to my joyful tidings
    Of the golden future time.

    Soon or late the day is coming,
    Tyrant Man shall be o’erthrown, And the fruitful fields of England
    Shall be trod by beasts alone.

    Rings shall vanish from our noses,
    And the harness from our back,
    Bit and spur shall rust forever,
    Cruel whips no more shall crack.

    Riches more than mind can picture,
    Wheat and barley, oats and hay, Clover, beans, and mangel-wurzels
    Shall be ours upon that day.

    Bright will shine the fields of England,
    Purer shall its waters be, Sweeter yet shall blow its breezes
    On the day that sets us free.

    For that day we all must labour,
    Though we die before it break;
    Cows and horses, geese and turkeys,
    All must toil for freedom’s sake.

    Beasts of England, beasts of Ireland,
    Beasts of every land and clime, Hearken well and spread my tidings
    Of the golden future time.
    The singing of this song threw the animals into the wildest excitement. Almost before Major had reached the end, they had begun singing it for themselves. Even the stupidest of them had already picked up the tune and a few of the words, and as for the clever ones, such as the pigs and dogs, they had the entire song by heart within a few minutes. And then, after a few preliminary tries, the whole farm burst out into Beasts of England in tremendous unison. The cows lowed it, the dogs whined it, the sheep bleated it, the horses whinnied it, the ducks quacked it. They were so delighted with the song that they sang it right through five times in succession, and might have continued singing it all night if they had not been interrupted.

  • Istvan

    If ‘Porton Down’ just showed the mass spectra obtained of the samples without any structural formulas that would count as a piece of evidence to many of us.

  • Philip Ward

    This diagrams this chemist put in his tweets are from the Wikipedia article on Novichoks. They are hardly definitive. And he never answers the question Craig poses about how can Porton down say the stuff they have is from Russia when they have no Russian control sample with which to compare it. Saying that all samples of the stuff have the same chemical formula just demolishes his own argument. Even Jeremy Corbyn says it’s about the trace impurities, but even then a sample from the same, known source ( indeed, batch) would be needed.

  • SP

    I strongly suspect the poison came from Russia most probably in Skripal daughter Yulia luggage a day before poisoning. It could have been case of mishandling the smuggled chemical by Sergei Skripal, or an attempt to poison him by his or his daughter Moscow acquaintances.
    But I doubt it is “Novichok” and there are reason to suspect that the FOLIANT program was a KGB fake.
    It might have been the same substance as the poison used in 1995 killing of Russian banker Ivan Kivelidi. The poison was synthesized by the chemist Igor Rink and sold to Chechen fighters in 1990. According to prosecution, it was later resold to the Vladimir Khutsishvili. The Khutsishvili just published copies of chemical expertise and chemical formula is different from what was published by Vil Mirzayanov. But at the time, they did not have big enough sample to use NMR and formula is a scientific guess from mass spectrometer analysis and IR-spectra.

  • Barliman

    God, that Davies man is verbose to the point of having verbal diarrhoea.

    The last case I saw that bad had just done a line of cocaine.
    Differential diagnoses anyone?

  • Regula

    They are shilling for the government who pays their wage via BBC etc. Not belonging to the government approved mainstream means hunger these days, as they would lose their job. The obligation to shill for the government is the US insistence to control the narrative of what people believe. And the UK so wants to be part of the US importance, it has not scruples to oblige its journalists to join the US MSM views.

  • Andrew

    George Galloway tweeted:”IF only #Russia had access to #Novichok WHY would they choose that weapon to mount a terrorist attack in England? Might as well leave a pair of snow covered boots at the scene of the crime and scrawl Vlad woz Here on the nearest wall! THINK!”

    This man, Clyde, and all others against you don’t seem to have much knowledge of how false flags are planted and cannot think beyond what they have already concluded. Motives are there and false flags usually happen when there are several levels of profit. It just happens to be the last phase of the war in Syria and we get another call from Nikki Haley to strike Syria, which happened several times in response to so-called chemical attacks. I was waiting for it, but did not expect it to happen in the UK. As if Putin would use such a method to kill, on the eve of elections, a former irrelevant agent, and then did not succeed. There are other levels relating to the end of the Russia probe around collusion being declared over without result and the next day the whole hysteria shifts to the UK. Another factor has been the ongoing Nord Stream II oil pipeline from Russia to the EU which the US does not want (nor does Poland and some others).
    Carl Jung described the lowering of the mental level in mob psychology and how this then prevents people from thinking and rushes of their own unconscious motives and feelings dominate. Secret services who know how to play this are very good at it and the media in the West are no longer run by independent journalists. It is tragic to see how the US and UK always manage to play on these instincts of the masses and it works: the Wesley-Clark message about going to war with a host of Middle Eastern countries is unfolding after using the usual demonising of the leaders, then the black propaganda and lies are used, false flags planted and the mobs go along with it time and time again (who cares about Iraq, Libya, Syria, Sudan, Yemen etc.).
    Thank you, Craig, for standing up to these low level, non thinking types who cannot help themselves and have no integrity to even allow due process to take place.

  • Sergey

    He opened his bag as he spoke, and tumbled onto the floor a wedding-dress of watered silk, a pair of white satin shoes and a bride’s wreath and veil,
    all discoloured and soaked in water.
    “There,” said he, putting a new wedding-ring upon the top of the pile.
    “There is a little nut for you to crack, Master Holmes.”

    “Oh, indeed!” said my friend, blowing blue rings into the air.
    “You dragged them from the Serpentine?”
    “No. They were found floating near the margin by a park-keeper. They have been identified as her clothes,
    and it seemed to me that if the clothes were there the body would not be far off.”
    “By the same brilliant reasoning, every man’s body is to be found in the neighbourhood of his wardrobe. And pray what did you hope to arrive at through this?”

    Arthur Conan Doyle
    “The Noble Bachelor”

    If it was the poison of a fugu fish, we would know for sure that the Japanese are guilty

  • DAvid Livingston

    I too have a degree in Chemistry and am wondering how this other chap got his. Science is based on know facts not suppositions about supositions .

  • Macon Richardson

    I’m amused at Clyde Davis’ use of the term “balance of probabilities”. In American legal parlance “balance of probabilities is called “preponderance of the evidence”, a more instructive term in this case. The term is only used in civil law, not criminal law and means simply that more than 50% of the evidence has been presented by one litigant.

    In this matter, two people have been poisoned and it is asserted that the poison used was one described by Soviet scientists decades ago. That is all the evidence presented by the Russians-did-it side. You present evidence that the developer of the putative poison has lived in the USA for many years and that the “poison” could be made by anyone with some knowledge of chemistry and a proper laboratory. In any civil court (not to mention any criminal court) any honest judge would issue a directed verdict in your favor. End of story. Clyde Davis’ assertions are foolish. Unfortunately, he grandstands before a foolish audience.

  • Dave Llewellyn

    The thing about a mass spectrometer is it can pick up tiny bits of impurities used in the synthesis as its practically impossible to make a 100% pure substance. These tell tale signs can show how the synthesis was done. An example of this is with the manufacture of methamphetamine. An NMR scan of methamphetamine with traces of iodine or phosphorous would be more likely to have been made in the US or Mexico in a criminal laboratory whereas if these traces did not exist it would almost certainly have been made in a professional laboratory using precursors that are a lot more difficult to get on the black market. This would help to prove the origin of the chemical. I agree that there are things that look very like the Iraq WMD deja vu beginning to appear all over the press.

    • likbez

      This is what a false flag operation is about: you need to carefully plant impurities that point to the desired target.

      Compare with Vault 7. Can it be chemical Vault 7 available somewhere?

  • Peter Mo

    The anti Russia propaganda industry I believe was geared up to mobilize on an expected East Ghouta gas attack. OK the “industry” would not be privy to the details of such a false flag. But could it be they have gone off prematurely by assuming this Salisbury “event” was the intended pretext.
    Certainly there appears a degree of pre planned organisation in the response to this false provocation

  • Ben Brink

    My chemistry background is laughable (B in high school, D in college) and the only “legal” course I took was called Sociology of Law.
    The Romans had the line “Cui bono?” The rough translation (10th grade Latin) is “Who benefits?”
    Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is an honor graduate of the KGB’s foreign branch. It stands to reason he wouldn’t hesitate to have an ex-spy assassinated if he thought it served the Russian interest. But in this case, what is that interest?
    I’m a major fan of Prime Minister May. What arouses my suspicions here is the refusal to this point of Her Majesty’s government to submit samples of the poison to independent 3rd-party analysis.
    Due to nearsightedness, I never served in the U.S. Army; had I the common sense of a goat, I would have served in the Navy Supply Corps. I’ve NEVER been antiwar, but DO oppose no-exit, no-win wars. The British public has a great deal of historical experience with such conflicts. Could this affair be the prelude to yet another? Thank you all.

  • Sebastian

    All good publicity, persistent trolls can be very much more sincerely flattering to you than to the people in their echo chamber that their aiming at ingratiating themselves with.

  • Philip O'Gorman

    Nice, gentle tease about “right wing nutters”! The already miniscule sense of humour deployed by most big-State leftists tends to desert them completely when they are reminded how much common ground their ideology has with Fascism. As for debating style, this chap probably regards politeness as some sort of bourgeois chicanery and further evidence of wickedness.
    Rather depressing to speculate on how many of his kind rose to power and influence in the media, higher education and the CS during the Blair and Cameron years and even more depressing to then reflect on May’s utter uselessness.

  • Cathra

    ‘Balance of probabilities’. Clever sounding language but basically what it means is, ‘my guess is’.

    Love his initial stream of tweets, setting up his credibility as a chemist by posting chemical formulas. I guess this is supposed to impress people.

    Keep going Craig, you’re doing a great job.

  • Jeremy Belcher

    Dear Sir,
    Continue doing the right thing; we fully support you. The truth can stand examination.
    All the very best,
    J. Belcher

  • Stephen Sadd

    Good on you Clyde for standing up for the “truth”! I’m an Aussie that has been listening to this sort of propaganda rubbish from Western Imperialists AGAINST Russia, ALL my life, and this includes WMD in Iraq that was used by the Western Scientific Community of WHORES, who like you said in your editorial, change their tune as the heat rises or lowers! Very convenient!
    All the West has done by this is TURN ME against my own Government and the rest of the stinking criminal cabal! What the UK did was a clear provocation against Putin, and Russia. The UK has DECLARED WAR against Russia, they want to be very careful about that, the Russian Bear has now been awoken,!!

    • Jon

      I’ve never heard of that website before, so I’ve no opinion on it. I wonder if it accepts user-supplied “content” uncritically – many unfunded or limited-funded sites take that approach. The author, one James Felton, seems to be quite busy elsewhere on the web, saying much the same thing.

      Thus, the piece may not be the fault of “IFL Science” – Mr. Felton is merely keen for his view to be heard in many quarters.

  • Michael Eisenscher

    If I recall my mystery novels correctly, an investigation of a crime examines motive, means, method and opportunity. Much attention has been given to the means and to some extent to motive, but I’ve not seen any report of or discussion about the method of delivery. How was this poison administered without (a) drawing attention, and (b) contaminating the person delivering it. As for opportunity, was the nerve agent administered in the park or elsewhere? How quickly does the nerve agent incapacitate the victim? How were both victims poisoned without either being aware or raising alarm about the other? How long does it take from exposure to incapacitation? How much expertise would be required to administer the poison without the perpetrator poisoning her or himself?

    Regarding motive: what do the Russians have to gain to commit such a crime, given what they have to lose? Given all the possible ways to assassinate someone, why chose a nerve agent? If the objective was to throw fear into others, who are the others? If it is dissidents inside Russia, the state has ample alternative traditional means for intimidating or silencing them. If it is potential other turncoats not yet gone public, any other means of assassination would accomplish that effect. If simply for revenge, why put the state interests at risk simply to execute a turncoat agent?

    If the crime is a false flag action, who would have the motive, means, method and opportunity? Motive seems pretty straight forward. We are seeing the consequences that would presumably be the effect intended. Besides state actors, what others might have motivation, means, method and opportunity? What about a non-state actor like organized crime (inside or outside Russia)?

    I think it is fair to presume that the Russian government and Putin personally would not be interested in taking the kind of heat that would predictably arise in the wake of this crime. So if he/it is the perpetrator, there would have to be a really important reason to be prepared to endure the very predictably backlash that would ensue as a consequence? What was the assassination intended to accomplish that is of such magnitude to take that risk?

    Has anyone seen a reliable report or analysis regarding method and opportunity?


  • Kieren Ladner

    As a newcomer, or infrequent visitor here, I offer my sincere thanks for these articles. I have been citing “lack of evidence” until I am blue in the face, and have been intermittently on the outs with my significant other as a result. He is generally a determined skeptic, but has swallowed just the sort of line that Davies is spouting. I saw with horror how the Syrian Gas Attack story built up, even though what evidence there was pointed in other directions than the government. The DNC “hack” scenario had more holes than cheesecloth. There is a nightmarish feeling, watching a propaganda juggernaut take form and grow, with just about all journalism (Amy Goodman!) buying into the demonization of various countries, based on the words of the likes of Clapper. I wrote the following in the political section of a tiny, obscure forum, It states some of the things which really dismay me, just now.

    “My concern is that I have watched, through many sources, the progress of,

    “Could it be that…..?” morphing into
    “Of course it is!” with regard to all things alleged about Russia.

    Certain pieces of evidence were never produced, even though they were critical to the assertions. Case in point is the DNC servers. It has been said that the DNC “never allowed” the FBI access to the servers, relying instead on CrowdStrike to provide evidence.
    This has always seemed bogus to me. Since when do enterprises involved in investigations get to be gate keepers for key evidence? Further, as I understand the legal system, if the FBI had wanted access they would have gotten it. This leaves serious questions, such as “leak versus hack” unanswered.

    Then there is the immediate rise of smear campaigns against those who question the rush to judgement. Questioning quickly got the inquirers labeled as “useful idiots for Putin,” if the accusers were being kind; or “paid stooges for Putin,” if they were letting it all hang out. Ad hominem attacks are well-known diversionary tactics, and we are still awash in them.

    Now, we witness the stampede regarding the UK nerve agent attack. Once again, key evidence is being withheld by the government. Instead, we have, “This agent was developed by the Soviets, so its use must be by the Russians.” Never mind the UK chemical weapons site just up the road. Never mind that the formula is widely known.

    Just as with the allegations of Syrian government use of sarin, one should ask “cui bono?” In both cases, those assumed to be the perpetrators had the most to lose, while the primary accusers have the most to gain. See White Helmets.

    Once again, I have no automatic trust for the motives or actions of any Great Power, be it Russia, the US, or the UK. My alarms go off when there is a concerted effort to lock in one narrative without direct evidence. These alarms get louder when professional liars like James Clapper set the tone with pontification on Russian “genetic” compulsions. Those descriptions could apply to the spook wing of any major country, including this one.

    This whole topical area is the cause of much personal domestic discord for me. My partner got very upset with me last night, partly over the concept that nothing, and no players, in such messy situations should be taken at face value. “Can’t believe anyone” was unacceptable.

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