Sunday, 1 October 2017


The true story of Frank Gatland, pilot and escaper in World War II

Ten years after his death at age 90, Gatland’s son Arthur has published his life story.

ESCAPE – THE BEST SPORT EVER was written by Frank Gatland DFM many years after the war ended, after he had returned to life as a farmer in South Auckland, New Zealand. He wrote his story for his family and close friends after they became interested in his other life, on the other side of the world, on the wrong side of the wire, and sometimes looking at the wrong end of the barrel.

Gatland travelled to Europe searching for people who had helped him during his numerous escape attempts, collecting old photographs and memorabilia, re-visiting sites along his escape routes, and jotting down important events as he travelled. ESCAPE – THE BEST SPORT EVER was written as only Frank Gatland could write it – humble, down-to-earth, matter of fact, but still one of the most gripping books I’ve read in a long time.

Frank Gatland volunteered for the Royal New Zealand Air Force in 1941, trained on de Havilland Tiger Moths in New Zealand, sailed to the United Kingdom for advanced training before being posted to fly Sterling heavy bombers. His career as captain of the Sterling was distinguished but short. He and his crew were shot down over occupied France in 1942.

Frank was the last to bail out from the doomed aircraft, and although injured, he managed to avoid capture for ten days. It was the first of five escape attempts, each one a feat of endurance in a hostile territory, a hostile climate, and a battle of wits against those who sought to capture him. In his book, Gatland pays tribute to those who risked their own lives to help him in his bid to return to England and active service.
Arthur Gatland (left) at the book launch

In his second escape attempt Gatland did better by walking towards Switzerland for 14 days. On another attempt he was caught after four days riding trains. Gatland never gave up with his escape plans and never despaired after getting caught. He was finally freed by the British in May 1945 after they overran the German lines.

Back in New Zealand Frank Gatland settled for life on the farm with his war bride Anne. In 1960, the Gatlands, Frank and Anne and their five children, became involved with the Auckland Gliding Club where they were known as the Gatland Gliding Club. The family had three gliding instructors and two glider tow pilots. Frank was also served as chief flying instructor and club president. Frank’s son Arthur, who published ESCAPE – THE BEST SPORT EVER, flew solo on his sixteenth birthday, had a long career with the RAF and Air New Zealand, and is currently an Air New Zealand flight simulator instructor for Boeing 777 and 787 pilots. Arthur’s own career would make a wonderful book.

I rate ESCAPE – THE BEST SPORT EVER as five-star reading.

For book sales, email Arthur Gatland at

Saturday, 30 September 2017


Is peer review really the Holy Grail of science?

For 300 years peer reviewed papers have served science and scholarly publishing without question, until recently. In the words of Wikipedia, peer review works like this:

Peer review is the evaluation of work by one or more people of similar competence to the producers of the work (peers). It constitutes a form of self-regulation by qualified members of a profession within the relevant field. Peer review methods are employed to maintain standards of quality, improve performance, and provide credibility in academia. Scholarly review is often used to determine an academic paper’s suitability for publication. Peer review can be categorized by the type of activity and by the field or profession in which the activity occurs.

In a nutshell, peer review helps validate research findings submitted to science journals for publication. The journal will invite other scientists and researchers to comment on the paper before deciding to publish it. The review may take one of several forms. The single blind review is one in which the name(s) of the reviewer(s) are hidden from the author. In a double-blind review the reviewer’s and author’s names are not disclosed. Finally, there is the open review in which the author and reviewer are known to each other. Each review type has its own advantages and disadvantages and there is no perfect system. Personal bias can, and often does, play a part, and the author, whether the name is revealed or not, can often be identified by the writing style or topic, and a reviewer may be influenced by the standing, or lack of standing, of the author.

Acceptance of established scientific principles can change over time and an author with a paper revealing new discoveries may often receive an adverse review from a reviewer who supports the status quo or simply goes with the consensus opinion. History is full of discoveries that were harshly criticized by the establishment but later became mainstream thinking.

In 2006, the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine published this:
Peer review is at the heart of the processes of not just medical journals but of all of science. It is the method by which grants are allocated, papers published, academics promoted, and Nobel prizes won. Yet it is hard to define. It has until recently been unstudied. And its defects are easier to identify than its attributes. Yet it shows no sign of going away. Famously, it is compared with democracy: a system full of problems but the least worst we have.
Perhaps the most damning comment come from The Guardian:
Peer review is the process that decides whether your work gets published in an academic journal. It doesn't work very well any more, mainly as a result of the enormous number of papers that are being published (an estimated 1.3 million papers in 23,750 journals in 2006). There simply aren't enough competent people to do the job. The overwhelming effect of the huge (and unpaid) effort that is put into reviewing papers is to maintain a status hierarchy of journals. Any paper, however bad, can now get published in a journal that claims to be peer-reviewed.
Journals themselves can be biased and actively seeking research findings that suit the publisher’s bias and seeking reviews from reviewers known to also be biased. This makes a mockery of peer reviewing.
During the lifetime of this writer, many changes to CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation) have taken place. But each change found bitter resistance because the current method was developed by ‘experts’ and peer reviewed to give it extra authority. My introduction to CPR in the 1950’s, then known as artificial resperation, was to learn the Holger Neilsen technique for use in reviving workmates who had been ‘killed’ by contact with electric power transmission lines. We practised on ‘victims’ hanging in safety harness 30 feet above the ground. The rescuer would climb a ladder, secure his own harness, and perform the revival from behind the victim by moving his arms back and forth to fill the lungs and restart breathing. I never knew of a case where it worked, but it was a universally accepted technique. Present day first aid people would scoff at such an idea, but in its day the Holger Nielsen technique was only questioned by fools, sceptics and agitators. While peer review can help introduce revolutionary new scientific discoveries, it can also block the acceptance of new scientific discoveries.
Economist Professor George J. Borjas
Economics is a field where opinion and data are often disputed, always has been disputed and probably always will be disputed. It is a controversial area of learning. Professor George J. Borjas wrote in his blog:

I have a few pet peeves. One of them is how “peer review” is perceived by far too many people as the gold standard certification of scientific authority. Any academic who’s been through the peer review process many times (as I have) knows that the process is full of potholes and is sometimes subverted by unethical behaviour on the part of editors and reviewers.
Unethical behaviour? Some authors have even been caught peer reviewing their own work.
In recent years the peer review system has become such a shambles that some of the leading journals now knock back everything that doesn’t conform to their own pre-conceived idea of the world and the way it should be. This is the exact opposite of what peer review was supposed to achieve.
Holger Louis Nielsen, Danish Olympian
and creator of Holger Nielsen
artificial respiration
Mention has already been made of economics and CPR and how change has been opposed. Man-made climate change, and its dire consequences for the planet, has found widespread public acceptance. But, interestingly, it has found less acceptance in the academic community, particularly among meteorologists, climate scientists, geologists and historians. But they are largely shouted down by those citing peer reviewed papers.
Peer review is frequently used, by those claiming scientific backgrounds, to silence people who lack a PhD in some scientific discipline. On social media these people, and those citing their work, frequently lambast their critics as ignorant, or challenge them to list their own peer reviewed papers. The idea that anyone without a PhD and a peer reviewed paper is of no consequence, or is an ignorant meaningless individual, is repugnant.
I wonder, if John D. Rockefeller were alive today, would the ivory tower crackpots want to peer review his business plan and tell him it wouldn’t work because he hadn’t been to university. Astronaut John Glenn, author Mark Twain, and industrialist Henry Ford would have failed the PhD/peer review test too. To that list can be added William Shakespeare, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Richard Branson, Ted Turner, George Eastman and John Major. All dropped out of school before obtaining a degree. Are we to believe that government funded researchers are smarter than the successful men listed above? I don’t think so.
The New Zealand Tour Commentary
It is easy to write-off people who are uneducated. When I was growing up in rural Northland, New Zealand, I was fortunate to live next door to one of the wisest and most respected men I have ever known. He was in his seventies and was the most successful farmer in the district. He had taught himself to read and write, had a house full of books on every subject under the sun, and could talk with, or debate with, the best on any subject. After spending many hours, days and years in his shadow, I knew that a man or woman does not need to be educated to be a genius.
Peer reviews have become a joke. However, if someone genuinely desires a peer review on the future of the climate, my suggestion would be to take a wander down to your nearest seaside pier and ask a crusty old fisherman what he thinks about the future climate. He will tell it the way it is, the way it could be tomorrow, and beyond that summer will follow winter and winter will follow summer the way it always has, and always will.
One pier review will be worth a thousand peer reviews every time.

Sunday, 24 September 2017


National hanging on as the largest party in a hung parliament

After a cliff-hanger, hard-fought campaign, Prime Minister Bill English’s troops trounced Labour by 10% and a margin of 13 seats in the provisional results of a few hours ago. But there will be no free pass for National to form a government. They will need to increase their seat holding from 58 to 61 in the 120-seat parliament, by joining forces with at least one other party.
Prime Minister Bill English

Meanwhile, the Labour Party with 45 seats will need the support of two other parties, if they are to form the next government. Labour will no doubt call on their traditional ally, the Green Party. But the Greens can only offer another seven seats – not enough to form a government. They will also need the support of the New Zealand First Party led by the divisive Winston Peters. His nine seats would give Labour the bare minimum that Labour leader Jacinda Ardern would need to form a government.

The far-right ACT Party has just one seat that will not be needed by National if it is to govern, and will be like a Christmas turkey joining the reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh, to the Labour Party. But even without ACT, the Labour Party will have great difficulty getting its two potential coalition partners to stop butting heads. If Labour has trouble with Santa with a team of turkeys and reindeer, imagine the blood and guts if New Zealand First were to get among them like America's National Rifle Association.

There is nowhere else for Labour to turn. All the other minor parties have been banished from Parliament with none polling more than 2.2% nationwide. In the final analysis, whoever forms the next government will have to work with Winston Peters, the prima donna of New Zealand politics since 1981. Winston is a hard-hitting master of political survival, negotiator extraordinaire, and political stuntman without equal.
Opposition Leader Jacinda Ardern

Peters and New Zealand First worked briefly with National some years ago, but it didn’t end happily. However, since then the MMP voting system and the coalition system of government has matured considerably and National has the most experience with it. 

National leader Bill English has to his credit eight years as Deputy PM and a year as PM, making him the most likely person capable of keeping Winston Peters in check. On the other hand, Labour’s Jacinda Ardern has just a few months experience as deputy leader. She is a personable young lady and a skilled debater who has turned her party around spectacularly in her seven weeks as leader. She may well survive to be a great Labour prime minister, after a future election. If she fails to form a government this time, it will be because of Winston Peters and New Zealand First.

National’s Bill English is an experienced politician and leader who has turned his career around since his 2002 election loss to Labour during his first term as leader. He became Deputy PM to John Key in 2008 and held the post until Key’s retirement in 2016. Early in the latest campaign, English appeared to falter and some people thought he was doing a re-run of 2002. Opinion polls put the two parties on a knife-edge with some even putting Labour marginally in front. As the campaign wore on, English rebounded, appearing more relaxed and confident. The experienced older leader shone through also as the nice family man, polite, sincere and sure-footed.
New Zealand First Leader
Winston Peters

The provisional election night results are listed below:

National Party          998,813 votes           58 Seats
Labour Party            776,556                       45
New Zealand First   162,988                        7
Green Party              126,995                        5
ACT Party                    10,959                        1
Opportunities Party   48,018                        0
Maori Party                  23,456                       0
ALC                                5,853                         0
Conservative                 5,318                         0
Mana Party                   2,775                         0
Ban 1080                       1,080                        0
NZ Peoples Party         1,631                         0
United Future              1,471                          0
Outdoors Party            1,333                         0
Democrats SC                 732                          0
Internet Party                464                          0

The highest polling candidate was Amy Adams for the National Party in the Selwyn electorate with 25,320 votes, while the lowest polling candidate was Wellington Central independent candidate Bob Wessex with just 14 votes. That’s not many miles to the gallon for Bob, but if he believed in what he was doing, whatever that was, good on him.

Meanwhile, the parties may take two or three weeks to sort themselves out into a government and an opposition while the current three-term National Government continues holding office in a caretaker role, until one leader can go to the Governor-General with the confidence of a majority of MP’s.

The 2017 New Zealand general election campaign was one out of the bag with no end of surprises, twists and turns, and shock resignations. The next three years could be every bit as interesting.


Friday, 22 September 2017


If Bibles were shot full of holes and holes were filled full of guns, the world would be a be a safer place.