Thursday 29 October 2009

Meat is Murder. Tasty, Tasty Murder.

Climate chief, Lord Stern of Brentford, has said that we should give up meat to save the planet from global warming.

While it's undeniable that rearing herds of animals for meat is bad for the environment, is vegetarianism the answer - or even an answer? This is not an entirely scientific response to Lord Stern but there are a few points more serious responses have missed that have occurred to my flu-addled brain.

In order to provide vegetarians with dairy products, cattle must be bred. But only females are needed for milk. The males will not be sent off to live out their lives happily in green pastures; apart from a few kept for breeding, they will be slaughtered. The same goes for male chicks in egg production. The bodies will have to be disposed of, either as landfill or by burning, both of which have health and ecology implications.

Apart from environmental issues, this also removes any moral high ground from vegetarians. What's more, in Veggie World, anyone who eats meat but not dairy would be forced into veganism. That's not just lactose intolerant Westerners but a large proportion of the population of Asia.

Veganism may be the only true moral position regarding the exploitation of animals. But it has its problems as vegans don't eat honey. The bees that produce honey also pollinate crops as well as wild flowers and other flora essential to a healthy eco-system. Wild bees are not enough. So if we all became vegan, the planet would be headed for disaster unless we all kept bees as pets (not such a bad idea).

What would Veggie World be like?

Pigs would disappear. Children would grow up learning about them as semi-mythical beasts from the past, along with dodos. Or possibly they could see them in zoos. People who overeat could no longer be meaningfully compared with pigs. The film Babe might be mistaken for a historically accurate tale of pig farming. Sheep and goats would go too, apart from a few breeds used for cheese. Breeding sheep for wool would probably end as wool is a non-essential fabric. All the religious iconography and symbolism about lambs would become obscure. The Lamb of God and the Good Shepherd would become empty images. None of this is necessarily a bad thing.

Humans aren't the only ones who eat meat. What would cats and dogs eat? If humans have to stop eating meat, feeding it to pets could hardly be justified. Apart from guide dogs and police dogs, man's best carnivore friend would become a thing of the past. Farmers wouldn't need dogs any more as there would be no sheep to herd. One Man and His Dog would never be seen on TV again. Nor would Crufts. Again, not necessarily a bad thing if it meant that Ben Fogle was on TV less. There would be no dog poo in the world either. The Andrex puppy would be no more. The Internet would no longer be flooded with pets in cute poses or dressed up in clothes. A whole section of the greetings card industry would be threatened; no more pictures of fluffy puppies and kittens.

Macdonalds would either go out of business or switch to making meat-flavoured veggie burgers. We'd all be eating a lot more beans to get our protein. Methane produced by farm animals farting is one of the contributors to global warming but six billion people farting constantly is not going to do the ozone layer any favours. Incidentally, rice paddies also give off methane.

We do eat more meat than is good for the planet and many of us eat more than is healthy for us but as far as vegetarianism being the solution - Stern really hasn't thought this through.

I now appear to have swine flu. The irony is not lost on me.

Sunday 18 October 2009

Pro-lifer 'victory'?

The pro-life and pro-choice lobbies are back in the ring as the Pro-Life Alliance have forced the Department of Health to hand over data on late terminations within 28 days.

Current media stories about termination range from the sensationalist Sun's headline about a 'career woman' who had 15 abortions in 17 years to the apparently more rational Telegraph article questioning the accuracy of worldwide abortion statistics which show that abortion rates do not decline when it is made illegal but more women die or are seriously affected.

The Telegraph's pro-life stance becomes apparent both in this article and in an article questioning whether late abortions are happening to create 'designer babies' - by terminating those with, for example, a club foot or cleft palate. It says that this is not happening for certain but repeats itself just to make sure the idea is firmly planted in the reader's mind that this could be the case and how terrible it would be if it were the case, even though it may not be - but it could be. The Telegraph also says:

But it is blatantly false that the release of the late abortion data need cause mental harm and distress to anyone. It should be fully anonymised, so as not to reveal the personal details of anyone involved, whether it be the doctors or the mothers. Up until 2002, when opponents of late abortion began to campaign against the practice, the statistics were published. No one was harmed. The DoH's use of the bogus* claim that the data could cause harm illustrates that the basis of their case is not protecting privacy or safety, but their desire to keep the issue out of public discussion.

The reason the Department of Health stopped publishing the data in 2003 was precisely because someone was harmed and perhaps because they feared, given the merciless nature of the campaigning, that others would be. The Reverend Joanna Jepson, who had a cleft palate, saw a report that a pregnancy had been terminated because the foetus also had one. Her action led to a campaign against the doctor involved by the UK Life League. His name, address and photo were published and he was forced to defend himself at a press conference.

The Telegraph's pro-life stance is reiterated when it concludes: The ProLife Alliance and its barrister Paul Diamond are to be congratulated on taking the matter to the Information Tribunal, and winning.

The Christian Insititute also claim a victory.

On the other side of the fence, the Guardian becomes a prophet of doom, citing what is happening in Oklahoma and questioning if it could happen here: Women seeking abortions in Oklahoma are to be forced to reveal an array of personal information, such as the state of their relationships, how many children they have and their race, which will be posted on an official website.

Two years ago, Oklahoma passed a law barring public funds from being used for abortions with the exception of rape or incest. The effect has been to prevent virtually all hospitals in the state from carrying out terminations because they are unable to prove that some part of the procedure has not been subsidised by public money.

More moderately, in a joint statement, Brook and the Family Planning Association said:

We are dismayed by this decision.

Whatever anti-choice groups aim is in seeking the data to be released, the potential for individual women and doctors carrying out the procedure to be identified is deeply worrying and unethical.

We strongly encourage Department of Health to challenge this decision in the High court for the sake of the few vulnerable women that will be affected.

Both sides are firmly entrenched but if, as the pro-lifers claim, this data will not be used to target people, what do they want it for?

The Pro-Life Alliance's press release says: We extend our thanks to everybody who helped in the case and we trust the outcome will be of benefit to all those working in prolife organisations. Shedding more light on the practice and reality of abortion in the United Kingdom is essential if we are ever going to impact significantly on the law and bring about change. One of the 'witnesses' they thank is Anne Widdicombe.

While not all pro-lifers are religious, the vast majority of them are. As I wrote in the summer, the Christian Medical Fellowship is already playing fast and loose with 'facts' about abortion, which will either give you cancer or make you insane, apparently. This is not predominantly a public health issue or even a legal issue, it is a religious one.

Even if individuals will not be targeted, the new information is not going to be used to promote open, rational discussion, it is going to be used, by the people who have demanded it, as propaganda. If it were going to be used in the public interest for unbiased debate or scientific enquiry into the practice and reality of abortion , then pro-lifers would already be having un-emotive, open-minded, fact-based discussions. They would not be hailing the latest development as a victory if they did not think they were going to find ammunition in the data.

The Telegraph goes down the conspiracy theory route, saying that the DoH is trying to keep late terminations out of public discussion. If it is, then it has signally failed as shown by debates and articles around the time of parliamentary discussion on changing the time limits on terminations.

The pro-lifers talk as if late terminations were widespread, trying to whip up support for their campaign, casting anyone who has such a termination as putting vanity before life with mentions of designer babies and doctors who carry them out as little better than cosmetic surgeons. Playing the disability card is manipulative as it provokes a strong reaction in many areas of society.

However, official statistics show that they are very rare. In England and Wales in 2008, the total number of abortions was 195,296 (a fall of 1.6% on the previous year). Of these, 90% were carried out before 13 weeks. A late abortion counts as anything over 24 weeks. In 2008, these made up 0.1% or 124 of all abortions. (For information, 91% of all abortions were NHS funded.) This is not to say that such small figures make late termination of no importance, but let us keep some perspective here.

The campaign to protect the foetus shows no humanity towards the parents. There is no consideration of how hard it must be for a woman who has carried a foetus for that long, or for her partner and family. Women needing terminations can be very vulnerable and any promotion of the idea that they are doing something terrible can harm them, creating a climate of fear, shame, judgement and isolation.

Doctors must be able to carry out their work, women and their partners must be able to make choices without fear of pressure, public exposure or action taken against them. Based on the evidence of the past, pro-choice groups, advisory clinics, and anyone capable of humane objectivity are right to be concerned.

*In the light of one current legal case, the Telegraph might want to be careful about using the word 'bogus'.

Friday 16 October 2009

Freaky Physics

There's a very odd story about the large hadron collider at CERN in the Telegraph, New York Times and other places. It proposes a solution to why the multi billion dollar collider has encountered so many problems - it is sabotaging itself from the future. From the future.

The strangeness begins:

Holger Bech Nielsen, of the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, and Masao Ninomiya of the Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics in Kyoto, Japan have suggested that the hypothesized Higgs boson, which physicists hope to produce with the collider, might be so abhorrent to nature that its creation would ripple backward through time and stop the collider before it could make one.

This implies that nature has some sort of consciousness or is at least a self-regulating system, able to stop us screwing with it too much like a universe-wide Gaia theory. These are proper scientists, with PhDs and everything. My O level physics and Humanities PhD qualify me to say: Huh? Freaky stuff happening with time?

The scientists have said that "It must be our prediction that all Higgs producing machines shall have bad luck,” . In an unpublished essay, Dr. Nielson said of the theory, “Well, one could even almost say that we have a model for God.” It is their guess, he went on, “that He rather hates Higgs particles, and attempts to avoid them.

OK, this I can handle. No, we do not have a model for God here (and which god would that be?). If this unidentified god hates Higgs particles, why did he make them in the first place? Or is he some sort of second-rate god who didn't make the universe and spends his time trying to jump out of the way of particles like the fat kid in PE class during dodge ball? He seems pretty happy to let us screw up the Earth - is there something out there in the cosmos that he wants to protect? His collection of Franklin Mint plates, perhaps?

The article continues: While it is a paradox to go back in time and kill your grandfather, physicists agree there is no paradox if you go back in time and save him from being hit by a bus. In the case of the Higgs and the collider, it is as if something is going back in time to keep the universe from being hit by a bus.

Something? Is that a scientific term?

What is going back in time? We all know that the only thing which can do this is Doctor Who (preferably in his David Tennant incarnation). Is he messing with the LHC to stop the Daleks getting their hands on it - is that the terrible thing that would happen? There are no doubt some Star Trek time-travel scenarios I could quote if I knew them, but I have a life.

The two physicists have proposed that CERN engage in a game of chance, a “card-drawing” exercise using perhaps a random-number generator, in order to discern bad luck from the future. If the outcome was sufficiently unlikely, say drawing the one spade in a deck with 100 million hearts, the machine would either not run at all, or only at low energies unlikely to find the Higgs.

As far as I am aware, luck is not a scientific concept. And it's very different from a reaction caused by something we do in the present rippling forward into the future and then bouncing back, which would be an entirely physical effect.

Either it's science or it's supernatural - god and luck are not science. They are throwing your hands up and saying "Search me, guv."

On the other hand, if they are right, then a large part of the physics we know is wrong. Maybe we can have warp drive, transporters and Tardises after all. But they might want to stop talking about God and luck if they want to have any credibility.

Wednesday 14 October 2009

Simon Singh wins the right to a full appeal: UPDATED

Simon Singh was granted the right to a full appeal at the Courts of Justice this morning by the presiding Judge, Justice Laws, in the on-going libel case started by the British Chiropractors Association.

The judge overturned*, the original judgment by Justice Eady on Simon's use of the word 'bogus' in a Guardian article to describe claims by chiropractors to treat certain childhood illnesses. He said that there was no question of the good faith of the appellant (Simon) who wrote what he honestly believed with the purpose of serving the public interest. *[Edit: not overturned, but effectively reversed]

Laws also questioned whether Eady's ruling could have serious implications for the application of Article 10 of the Human Rights Act, which concerns freedom of expression, and said that there was a disproportionate burden of proof on the appellant.

He also commented that the 47 pages of written evidence presented in Simon's defence were on the 'voluminous' side.

The BCA, who were informed of the decision in advance, did not show up.

Simon's case will now go to full appeal, probably in the spring - just in time for the next Chiropratic Awareness Week.

I was there representing the National Secular Society, which defends freedom of expression and evidence-based rationalism.

After the hearing we all re-convened at the pub for a celebration.

The full legal details can be found at Jack of Kent's blog.

Update: The BCA's response.

Update: A fuller response from the chiromancers (sorry, chiropractors):

Dr. Simon Singh has been granted permission to appeal against the decision of Mr. Justice Eady. As the Claimant is not permitted to be represented in a hearing of this nature, the Judge of the Court of Appeal, Lord Justice Laws, did not have the benefit of being able to consider all the issues, nor indeed, has he heard any argument from the BCA.

Dr. Singh has used this case as a platform to argue that science writers should be immune from the law of libel and be free to write what they please.
[No he hasn't] Ever since the Eady decision of 7th May 2009, he has engaged in a high profile media campaign to assert that the BCA's action is a restriction of the freedom of speech. It is nothing of the sort.

The BCA supportes and would never seek to stifle legitimate open scientific debate
[legitimate meaning 'not critical of the BCA'?] . However, this action is actually a simple libel claim based on the fact that the BCA was maliciously attacked by Dr. Singh in the Guardian newspaper. When given the opportunity to retract his words and apologise, Dr. Singh refused. This claim has been brought to restore the good reputation of the BCA and that of its members.[Good luck with that]

Dr. Singh may now put his case before a full Court of Appeal. Here the BCA will, for the first time, have the opportunity to present its case. The BCA remains confident that once in possession of all the facts the presiding judges will refuse the Appeal.

And comment on it here.

And an excellent article by Allen Green (Jack of Kent's alter ego) here.

Update: The BCA has now changed its press release to remove the possibly libellous accusation. The words 'maliciously attacked' (in bold above) have been replaced by 'libelled'. They have now pretty much run out of feet to shoot themselves in.

Monday 12 October 2009

Is nothing sacred?

It's National Chocolate Week (although in my world, that's every week) and the purveyors of something that looks like chocolate but smells considerably worse are trying to muscle in. Is nothing sacred?

Russell Grant has consulted his astrological charts and listened to the voice of the cosmos to come up with a list of which chocolate is best suited to each star sign. According to him, my star sign - Libra - likes the finer things in life and is likely to choose soft and smooth chocolate fillings preferably wrapped in a heart-shaped box to share with their partner. Hand-made chocolate moulded in novelty shapes will amuse this chocolate lover.

No. I like large bars of dark chocolate, preferably Green & Black's Maya Gold or Cherry. Or anything by Paul Young of Islington (I would never normally advertise in my blog but this is chocolate and all normal rules are suspended).

Novelty chocolate shapes? Yes - chocolate shaped like a very large bar of chocolate. Oh and Russ, I don't share my chocolate with ANYONE. My ideal partner is a diabetic.

To capture the diet market, or possibly to guilt-trip anyone overweight, there is a chocolate face mask being advertised for Chocolate Week. According to the advert, Cocoa is packed with antioxidants to smooth skin, macadamia nut oil moisturizes, and almond oil reduces imflammation. Let's ignore all the research that has found anti-oxidants do sod all, then. [Edited to add: now there is some evidence that they may increase the chances of developing type 2 diabetes]

And why would your face be inflamed in the first place? Perhaps from weeping because some bugger bought you this stuff instead of the real thing. Eminence Organic Skincare Mousse Hydration Masque costs £36 for 60ml. That's a teeny tiny pot with a very big name.

In my local supermarket today, £36 would buy:
78 packs of Minstrels or Maltesers
90 Mars Bars
36 packs of Fox's double chocolate cookies
240 Fingers of Fudge
and I don't even want to think about how many Gü chocolate puddings or I'll have to go out and buy some.

According to Mintel, people in the UK ate £3.5bn worth of chocolate last year - that's £57 each person. Is that all? If that's an average, there must be an awful lot of babies who aren't onto solids yet.

Mintel have also found that sales of dark chocolate almost doubled in the UK between 2005 and 2007. A (female) senior market analyst at Mintel said: Although dark chocolate is still high in sugar, it is rich in antioxidants and is lower in fat than milk chocolate. Dark chocolate now has the reputation of being a healthier alternative to other chocolate. Again with the anti-oxidants. Let's make it absolutely clear - THEY DON'T WORK. Anyone would think chocolate was one of your five a day. If dark chocolate is 'healthier', that means you can eat more of it, right?

Chocolate is not now nor has it ever been good for you (although it is cheaper than Prozac). But it is one of life's essentials. And in case anyone's interested, it's my birthday this week. Good timing.

Tuesday 6 October 2009

Motes and beams

Skeptics have pretty good antenna in areas like the paranormal, 'alternative' medicine, bad science and dodgy journalism. Scientific methodology and the vocabulary of doubt come easily.

But when it comes to other areas that are not obviously in the skeptic domain, the radar can fail and we can be as irrational and gullible as someone who believes their great aunt is talking to them from Beyond The Veil. There are areas where the appliance of science fails us.

It's not just true believers who allow faith and hope to triumph over reason. We are all more gullible than we like to admit and we all have blind spots. I will be the first to admit to this; I really do believe that one day I will find a mascara that will make my lashes five times thicker. And I'm a sucker for adverts about new brands of crisps.

We could all benefit from turning our skeptical eye inwards sometimes.

Skeptics buy shoes that are lovely but not quite the right size, consigning ourselves to months of plasters and the possibility of seriously lumpy feet. Skeptics really really need that huge screen TV when the money would be better spent at the dentist. We hope against all reason that our team will win or believe that we'll find a parking space in the middle of town on a Saturday night. How many times has the mother of all hangovers made us swear never to drink again? Is any of this rational, evidence-based behaviour?

We may laugh at adverts that say 'Pay attention, here comes the science' but we all buy body products. It's not just women whose rationality fails here - how many blades does a razor need?Are we loyal to our toothpaste brand because our double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled, peer-reviewed testing has proved it to be the best, because our mum used to buy it or because it's on offer? It's only toothpaste, after all. We may do comparison shopping for expensive things but for cheaper ones, convenience and habit often rule.

Technology is another area where rationality may fail. In some cases it fills a need, in others fashion and marketing create a 'need' and then feed it. Some upgrades improve functionality, some products improve efficiency or quality of life - and some do nothing more than run up the overdraft or stop you feeling old and left behind. It's technology, it's the future, look how shiny it is.

Then there is dieting. Skeptical methods may tell us that Atkins does not work and may well do harm but how many of us have failed to lose weight or put it back on again? We know how to lose weight, we know the science - calories in versus calories out - but reason fails in the face of pizza, beer and yes, crisps. And of course, some of us smoke.

How many good skeptics who are the first to spot confirmation bias or the ideomotor effect join a gym only to stop going after a couple of months while the cross-trainers we spent too much on get worn down the pub? The average monthly spend on a gym is £41. 95 and most gyms tie members in for a year. Some research shows that 80% of people stop going regularly - but are still paying - within eight weeks. Joining a gym is often an act of blind faith. The money could be better spent on other things - like shoes. Oh, and justify it any way you want, Wii is not exercise.

But it's when it comes to other people we're most likely to wander from the straight and narrow.

It's human nature to like people who are like us. There is good evolutionary sense in this, it bonds us to partners, kin and allies. We're much less likely to disbelieve or think badly of someone we like than someone we don't, even though common sense says this is nonsense. We cut friends more slack, ignoring or excusing flaws in people we love that drive us mad in others. Until the flaws start to really annoy us and we wonder how we ever found them charming. Or we wonder why they don't find our little habits so cute any more.

Instinct puts blinkers on everyone; a skeptic in love is no more rational than a true believer. The stats about how many marriages fail, how many people cheat and the costs of child support are bandied about in the media. But we hope, we have faith it will be different for us and we believe that this time we have chosen well because not to is to be cynical and alone. No one wants that and no one wants to take a step back and analyse someone's pros and cons before getting involved. Even if we did want to, instinct (or lust) would foil us.

Everyone succumbs to flattery sometimes, becoming willing accomplices in our own deception, wanting to be told that our bums don't look big in this, that the bald patch doesn't show or that size doesn't matter. Women pad their bras and buy magic knickers. Men put on a black T shirt, look in the mirror, suck in the gut and pat themselves on the back.

It's human nature; being completely rational and skeptical all the time is not possible - or even desirable. If we were, life would be pretty dull and predictable. Even Mr Spock couldn't be 100% logical and Data wanted an emotion chip so he could be a real boy.

We're all human, we all make mistakes, we all get fooled and fool ourselves. Nor should it be any other way, even if we do try to minimise the failures. Remember that Bible quote about motes and beams?

UPDATE: Some people are misreading this as excusing beliefs in the supernatural or 'alternative' medicine. Or that I'm saying all mistaken perceptions are equal so we should just shut up.

To spell it out for them: try to see people as individuals, not as targets or sets of behaviours and beliefs to be corrected. You can't explain the facts to someone if you've already alienated them. A little empathy goes a long way.

Most people, on the other hand, got that first time through.

Saturday 3 October 2009

Doctor Jesus

Have you had enough of pain or illness? Have the doctors given up on you? Come to Doctor Jesus.

So says the flier being spread around Manchester at the moment by the Body of Christ International Ministries. Thanks to James Robinson for alerting me.

It also says:

A lady diagnosed with an enlarged heart was miraculously healed after she prayed for a couple of times. Hallelujah Jesus healed her!

This lady had suffered from hip arthritis for many years. The doctors said that it was due to old age and that nothing could be done. After prayer, she felt the pain leaving her. The next day there was no more pain in her hips, she could squat, ride her bicycle and walk in high heel shoes without pain.

Cancer Disappears!
A lump in the throat of a lady that the doctors believed was cancerous disappeared after she was prayed for in the name of Jesus. Doctors did several examinations and could not find the lump in her throat anymore. Glory to God! Lump disappeared! Cancer disappeared! Operation cancelled!

All three of these claims are possibly in contravention of the BCAP code of practice 50.27:
Marketers should not falsely claim that a product is able to cure illness, dysfunction or malformations.

It could be argued that prayer is not a product and Jesus is not a brand, despite the aggressive marketing. But they don't weasel out that easily because there is the Cancer Act, which would cover the third claim.

Section 4.1(a) 8 of the Act states that:

No person shall take any part in the publication of any advertisement -
(a)containing an offer to treat any person for cancer, or to prescribe any remedy therefor, or to give any advice in connection with the treatment thereof;

(8) In this section the expression 'advertisement' includes any notice, circular, label, wrapper or other document, any any announcement made orally or by any means of producing or transmitting sounds.

There is no conclusive evidence at all that prayer can cure. The US government has spent $2.2 million dollars over 5 years studying the effect of distance healing (prayer). Apparently positive results have proved flawed and in some cases people who knew they were being prayed for did worse - possibly because they thought they if they were being prayed for they must be on their last legs.

At best, acts of faith can have a placebo effect - which has been shown to work on pain but absolutely not to work in curing serious medical conditions. This would explain why the woman in the flier with painful arthritis was (allegedly) able to squat, ride a bike and wear high heels. All at the same time in some sort of circus act, I hope.

As to the woman with the enlarged heart, there is no mention of whether she was receiving medical treatment at the same time, which might just have done the job. For that matter, there's no mention either of whether Cancer Lady was having chemo. Ah, right - that's because Doctor Jesus did it. Hallelujah.

There is never any follow-up of people who have allegedly been cured or evidence of doctor's reports before and after the miracle. Even the Vatican, which is hardly the most scientifically rigourous of bodies, is very careful about accrediting miracle cures at Lourdes these days because they are aware of placebo and of the consequences of making unsubstantiated claims - in terms of bad publicity, if nothing else.

If Jesus can cure, why does he need to advertise? Why does he need the all-singing, all-dancing BCIM Healing Nights? Why can't he just cure anyone who prays to him? Why does he cure some but not others? Best not go there... Yes, let's go there. Because he does not exist and even if he did, anyone sitting at home praying and getting cured would not be fattening the coffers of the BCIM. By the way, if you're not cured, it's because your faith is not strong enough or because your suffering is part of God's Mysterious Plan. Not because the product is faulty. Nice.

This is a dangerous and misleading advert, suggesting that prayer can accomplish what science cannot. It may give people false hope or stop them seeking medical advice - or not until it's too late. People who are seriously ill or have a chronic condition can understandably be very vulnerable to being exploited and misled. That's how a lot of 'alternative' therapies operate.

The flier also says:

The testimonies speak for themselves!

No. Empirically tested, placebo-controlled, double-blinded, peer-reviewed evidence speaks for itself.

As to the 'science doesn't know everything' defence: it's not how much you know, it's how you know it. That's know rather than believe. Facts not faith.

I have reported them to the ASA.


UPDATE 12 October 2009
I also reported them to Manchester Trading Standards who contacted me today to say that MTS has 'advised' the Pastor both by phone and in writing about the Cancer Act and 'advised him not to distribute leaflets with such claims in future'.
We shall see.


See more here on the ASA ruling.