Simon Singh: Is There Anything He Doesn’t Know?

Singh by Josh
Singh by Josh

Congratulations to Simon Singh. Not only is he Britain’s third most famous celebrity mathematician after Carol Vordermann and Johnny Ball but he is also, it seems, a supremely persuasive debater. His fluent performance in last week’s Spectator global warming debate was adjudged by both Andrew Neil and Spectator editor Fraser Nelson to be the best of the evening.

As Nelson noted in a Tweet:

Simon Singh @slsingh makes superb defence of climate orthodoxy. It’s the “don’t think trust experts” argument, but delivered brilliantly.

Singh chose to take offence at this, prompting Tweets of sympathy from fellow travellers including columnist David Aaronovitch and BBC talk radio host Simon Mayo. To put Nelson in his place, he fired off what he apparently considered to be the five killer questions which proved his point entirely:

1. Do you agree that increases in CO2 and other greenhouse gases lead to an increase in the global temperature?

2. Do you agree CO2 levels in the atmosphere have increased from 280ppmv to 380ppmv (35%) during period of industrialisation?

3. Do you agree that the Earth’s climate has warmed by 0.6 degrees in the last 50 years?

4. Do you agree human contribution to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is major factor in the warming over the last century?

5. Do you agree best scientific predictions estimate further rise of 1.1 to 6 C over 100 yrs based on good (not perfect) models?

Er, can anyone else detect in Singh’s response the sound of Punxsutawney Phil, scrabbling his way out of his little groundhog hole for the billion and first consecutive day in a row?

Let’s have a shot at answering them for him.

1. No. This remains an unproven hypothesis, predicated on assumptions of positive climate feedbacks which exist only in computer models not observed reality.

2.  Yes, CO2 levels have certainly risen in that period, but correlation is not causation. And in any case, CO2 levels have continued to rise since 1998 when there has been no global warming.

3. Possibly, though the unreliability of the temperature data sets which have been artificially adjusted by politicised, parti-pris institutions like NOAA and the CRU makes it hard to be sure.

4. No, this remains at best an unproven hypothesis.

5. No: almost every word of that sentence is based on politics not science. The models are hopelessly flawed and inevitably so given that climate is a chaotic system. Even if they were accurate and the 6 degree rise is looking increasingly implausible greater warmth will, on balance, be good for the planet. It’s global cooling we should fear far more.

Do I know all these answers (suggested improvements welcome, by the way) because I’m the most brilliant scientist of my generation who could have solved Fermat’s Last Theorem in five minutes if only I could have been arsed? Why, no. I’ve become acquainted with this really very basic, entry level climate science using a technique I practised occasionally on my Oxford English literature course known as “reading.”

“Reading” is a good way of learning stuff. Singh ought to try it some time, as perhaps ought his celebrity chums Aaronovitch and Mayo (who claims to have quit reading the Spectator because of its ‘anti-science bias’.) It really would make all the difference to their understanding of current thinking on Climate Change.

That list of killer questions brandished by Singh as his ne plus ultra of scientific authority? Well it might just about have passed muster  five years ago, when the public was still treating films like An Inconvenient Truth as if they were the Sermon on the Mount.

But since then, there have been one or two changes.

Books like this and this have been written.

Sceptic sites like this, this and this have acquired critical mass.

Stories like this have broken.

This isn’t to say that it is compulsory to believe every word they say. (Though I’ve yet to read a successful refutation of Andrew Montford’s book, for example) But what is utterly, credibility-shreddingly, intelligence-insultingly risible is for people like Simon Singh to stand up in a public debate hall and act as if none of them has ever happened.

Yet this is just what Singh did in the Spectator debate. (And what the rest of the Warmist establishment continues to do too: watch this space for an account of the University of East Anglia’s desperate attempts to silence this column).

He resorted to that last refuge of the scoundrel: the Appeal to Authority.

The reason you should believe in AGW, he argued, is because most of the world’s expert scientific bodies do. Since Simon Singh apparently so reveres the thing he calls “science” (but which I would call the ruling science establishment hegemony: something altogether different from the disinterested pursuit of knowledge which I believe “science” properly is), let me invoke two great scientific thinkers to put him back in his box.

I’m grateful to Nicholas Hallam at Bishop Hill’s blog for drawing them to my attention:

When men are established in any kind of dignity, it is thought a breach of modesty for others to derogate any way from it, and question the authority of men who are in possession of it. This is apt to be censured, as carrying with it too much pride, when a man does not readily yield to the determination of approved authors, which is wont to be received with respect and submission by others : and it is looked upon as insolence, for a man to set up and adhere to his own opinion against the current stream of antiquity ; or to put it in the balance against that of some learned doctor, or otherwise approved writer. Whoever backs his tenets with such authorities, thinks he ought thereby to carry the cause, and is ready to style it impudence in any one who shall stand out against them. This I think may be called argumentum ad verecundiam.

John Locke, “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding”, Book 4, Chapter XVII, 19


Today, the appeal to the authority of experts is sometimes excused by the immensity of our specialized knowledge. And it is sometimes defended by philosophical theories that speak of science and rationality in terms of specializations, experts, and authority. But in my view, the appeal to the authority of experts should be neither excused nor defended. It should, on the contrary, be recognized for what it is an intellectual fashion and it should be attacked by a frank acknowledgement of how little we know, and how much that little is due to people who have worked in many fields at the same time. And it should also be attacked by the recognition that the orthodoxy produced by intellectual fashions, specialization, and the appeal to authorities is the death of knowledge, and that the growth of knowledge depends entirely upon disagreement

Karl Popper, Author’s Note, 1993, The Myth of the Framework

Some readers may detect a soupcon of withering contempt towards Singh and his kind in this particular blog post. I wonder what else he expects when he refers to climate change sceptics as “Muppets”. Unless Singh can raise his game and actually engage with the argument rather than bullying his opponents with the help of Sleb Twitter pals and his Ipse Dixit logical fallacies, I think we all know who the real muppet is.

Related posts:

  1. Simon Singh’s for the joy of solar energy
  2. The curious double standards of Simon Singh
  3. The Spectator’s editor agrees: the only way out of this ghastly Euro fudge is OUT
  4. RealClimategate hits the final nail in the coffin of ‘peer review’

2 thoughts on “Simon Singh: is there anything he doesn’t know?”

  1. John D says:3rd April 2011 at 12:56 amHey James, maybe you should retitle your article as “James Delingpole: is there anything he does know?” given your performance on the BBC documentary…
  2. Nige Cook says:3rd April 2011 at 8:05 amThe man dismissed in Socrates’ Apology, according to Plato: “οὖτος μὲν οἴεταί τι εἰδέναι οὐκ εἰδώς, ἐγὼ δέ, ὥσπερ οὖν οὐκ οἶδα, οὐδὲ οἴμαι”.“This man, on the one hand, believes that he knows something, while not knowing. On the other hand, I – equally ignorant – do not believe.”

    This fine distinction between peer-reviewed crap and proved facts is clearly explained by Professor Richard P. Feynman’s address, “What is Science?”, presented at the fifteenth annual meeting of the National Science Teachers Association, 1966 in New York City, published in The Physics Teacher, vol. 7, issue 6, 1968, pp. 313-320:

    “You must here distinguish – especially in teaching – the science from the forms or procedures that are sometimes used in developing science. … great religions are dissipated by following form without remembering the direct content of the teaching of the great leaders. In the same way, it is possible to follow form and call it science, but that is pseudo-science. In this way, we all suffer from the kind of tyranny we have today in the many institutions that have come under the influence of pseudoscientific advisers. … We have many studies in teaching, for example, in which people make observations, make lists, do statistics, and so on … They are merely an imitative form of science … The result of this pseudoscientific imitation is to produce experts, which many of you are. … As a matter of fact, I can also define science another way: Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.”

    Pseudoscience, not science, is the consensus of expert opinion; pseudoscience is defended by fashion, mud slinging, etc.

    Professor Irving L. Janis, “Victims of Groupthink,” 1972, p. 197:

    “Eight main symptoms run through the case studies of historic fiascoes. … The eight symptoms of groupthink are:

    1. an illusion of invulnerability, shared by most or all the members, which creates excessive optimism and encourages taking extreme risks;

    2. collective efforts to rationalize in order to discount warnings which might lead the members to reconsider their assumptions before they recommit themselves to their past policy decisions;

    3. an unquestioned belief in the group’s inherent morality, inclining the members to ignore the ethical or moral consequences of their decisions;

    4. stereotyped views of enemy leaders as too evil to warrant genuine attempts to negotiate, or as too weak and stupid to counter whatever risky attempts are made to defeat their purposes;

    5. direct pressure on any member who expresses strong arguments against any of the group’s stereotypes, illusions, or commitments, making clear that this type of dissent is contrary to what is expected of all loyal members;

    6. self-censorship of deviations from the apparent group consensus, reflecting each member’s inclination to minimize to himself the importance of his doubts and counterarguments;

    7. a shared illusion of unanimity concerning judgments conforming to the majority view (partly resulting from self-censorship of deviations, augmented by the false assumption that silence means consent);

    8. the emergence of self-appointed mindguards – members who protect the group from adverse information that might shatter their shared complacency about the effectiveness and morality of their decisions.”

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Simon Singh’s for the Joy of Solar Energy

Tonight, as I’m sure you’re all aware Simon Singh Britain’s third most famous celebrity mathematician after Carol Vorderman and Johnny Ball appears at the Spectator debate speaking in defence of the great AGW meme.

I do hope his spirits havent been dampened by the recent news that the government is planning to slash subsidies for large-scale solar installations.

The proposals would reduce the tariff for roof-mounted schemes of more than 50 kilowatts by 39pc to 49pc and the tariff for stand-alone schemes may be reduced by more than 70pc.

The  reason I mention this is that Simons entrepreneur brother Tom who runs the Tom Singh Family Trusts appears to be quite heavily exposed to the solar industry.

Entrepreneur and retailer Tom Singh has purchased a stake in solar power developer and producer mO3 Power.

Singh, who is the founder of high street retailer New Look, will become a non-executive director of mO3 Power after buying into the company during its second investment round.

His stake in the company has not been disclosed but a statement says it is a ‘substantial investment’.

Tom Singh Family Trusts, which made the purchase on Singh’s behalf, have interests in a range of sectors including retail, real estate and renewable energy.

mO3 Power develops, builds, owns and operates a number of large-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) panel parks in the Midlands, southern England, East Anglia and south Wales.

mO3 Power chief executiveKen Moss says: ‘[Singh] has demonstrated a clear and deep understanding of the solar PV sector and the importance of increasing electricity generation from renewable resources.’

Let’s hope for Simon’s sake it adds extra passion to his oratory at the Spectator debate. After all, he wouldn’t want to let down Big Brother, would he?

Related posts:

  1. The curious double standards of Simon Singh
  2. Simon Singh: is there anything he doesn’t know?
  3. Treating Islam with special reverence is cultural suicide and just plain wrong
  4. We need to talk about wind farms…


The Curious Double Standards of Simon Singh

Because mathematics?Singh

I know I promised yesterday that I wasn’t going to post about that ruddy Horizon documentary again but I’m afraid my hand has been forced by Simon Singh.

Yes, Simon Singh as in the popular mathematician and bestselling author of Fermat’s Last Theorem. And also, more germanely to this story, the recent victim of an expensive libel action brought against him by the British Chiropractic Association (BCA). The BCA eventually dropped its action – but not before Singh had run up £200,000 in legal costs. Though some it his lawyers will be able to claim back, he’s still likely to lose £60,000 of his own money as a result of his brave, principled decision to fight the case rather than cave in earlier.

I hugely respected him for what he did. He won a victory (albeit a financially Pyrrhic one) not just for himself but for all those of us who trade in robust opinion and who believe that English libel laws are outrageously biased in favour of vexatious complainants, which is why we have unfortunately become a haven for libel tourists, some of them representing unspeakable causes.

As he said afterwards:

“English libel law is so intimidating, so expensive, so hostile to serious journalists that it has a chilling effect on all areas of debate, silencing scientists, journalists, bloggers, human rights activists and everyone else who dares to tackle serious matters of public interest.”

Among those “serious matters of public interest”, you might imagine, would be Climate Change. Urged on by the increasingly doom-laden pronouncements of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s governments are presenting taxpayers with the biggest bill in history to deal with a threat they call Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW). Besides costing the global economy trillions of dollars, the threat of AGW has been used to justify everything from biofuels (which have led to the destruction of rain forests and increases in food prices, especially damaging to the world’s poor) to the blighting of countryside with wind farms and solar panels (which have wreaked havoc with economies including Spain’s). None of this is a matter of opinion and conjecture. It is provable, solidly back by much evidence and I have written about it many times on this blog – with sources and references, which anyone is free to check up on by revisiting my archive of posts.

Yet in the opinion of Singh, the worldwide Climate Change industry is the one area where the robust scepticism and empiricism he professes to believe in just doesn’t apply. Apparently, the job of a journalist is just to accept the word of “the scientists” and take it as read that being as they are “scientists” their word is God and it brooks no questioning or dissent. That’s it. Finished. There’s a “consensus” on global warming. It’s immutable and correct. And anyone who disputes it is a vexatious denier informed by nothing but ignorance and who deserves nothing other than to be hounded and bullied and abused by the Guardian, the Independent, the BBC, Simon Singh’s Twitter mob, Ben Goldacre’s Twitter mob, and the shrill nest of paid-for trolls who infest the comments below this blog not to present a reasoned case but merely to disrupt and offend.

Well I’m sick of it.

What sickens me is the hypocrisy of people who claim to be in favour of speech, claim to believe in empiricism, claim to be sceptics yet refuse to accept room for an honest, open debate on one of the most important political issues of our time.

And just this afternoon, Simon Singh – purported defender of free speech; enemy of junk science – joined the ranks of those disgraceful hypocrites with a message on Twitter.

(Yeah I know a lot of your say “Why bother with Twitter”. But Singh speaks to a reasonably large audience of 14,500 followers. His views influence people’s opinion, so it matters)

Here’s what he Tweeted:

Sorry, but @JamesDelingpole deserves mockery ‘cos he has the arrogance to think he knows more of science than a Nobel Laureate

Is that the message Singh really took from the BBC’s Horizon documentary? When did I ever make that claim?

I have no doubt whatsoever that Sir Paul Nurse knows more about genetics than I do. It is, after all, where the field in which he won his Nobel prize. As for science, sure, Nurse has the advantage over me there, too. He has a PhD. He’s a science graduate and I’m an arts graduate. But then I’ve never pretended otherwise. My case is not that I “James Delingpole have taken a long hard look at the science of global warming and discovered through careful sifting of countless peer-reviewed papers that the experts have got it all wrong.”

What I am saying, and I say almost every day, is that the evidence is not as robust as the “consensus” scientists claim; that there are many distinguished scientists all round the world who dispute this alleged “consensus”; that true science doesn’t advance through “consensus” and never has; that the Climategate emails threw the peer-review process into serious doubt by demonstrating how eminently corruptable it is; that there are many vested interests out there determined and able to spend a great deal of money by making out that the case for catastrophic, man-made global warming is much stronger than it is. And on these specific issues I can reasonably claim to be better informed than Sir Paul Nurse, regardless of how many PhDs he has, because I’ve spent much more time than he has researching them and because they are not issues which require an exclusively scientific knowledge to understand. They just require the basic journalistic skill of being able to read and analyse.

Yet despite apparently knowing nothing more about me and what I do than he has learned from a heavily politicised BBC documentary, and maybe heard from his mob of Twitter bully chums or read in the Guardian, Singh feels able to decide that Paul Nurse is right on this issue and I’m wrong. Well I don’t call that an evidence-based argument. I call that dishonest, thoughtless and – given the high ethical standards Singh claims to represent – outrageously hypocritical.

I would be genuinely impressed – and even more surprised – if Singh himself, and all those of his Twitter chums who’ve been harassing me with vile messages, were prepared to read this piece to the end, consider what it says and respond thoughtfully. I don’t mind the occasional ad homs: they have their place in an argument. But if ad homs (and Appeals to Authority: eg “Sir Paul Nurse has got a Nobel prize and you haven’t, ergo he is right and you’re wrong…”) are all you can muster, then it says much for the poverty and ignorance of your cause.

You can disagree with me all you like on whether or not you think global warming is man made; on how much we should spend to deal with it; on whether mankind is a cancer on the earth or a force for good; on any number of issues. But what I can’t abide any more is what has been happening all this week, irresponsibly orchestrated by Sir Paul Nurse, the BBC and their dishonest, ferociously lopsided “documentary”: the frenzied witch-hunt of a journalist and blogger who has done no more than journalists and bloggers should be doing in a free and open society.

Those who can come up with reasoned riposte – or indeed an apology, and that means especially you Simon Singh – I will respect.

Those who cannot are ought to look into their hearts and ask themselves: “If my cause is really so powerful and right and true, how come its response to any kind of criticism is not to engage with it through argument but merely to try to silence it with censorship, appeals to authority, crude character assassination and establishment cover ups?”

Related posts:

  1. Simon Singh: is there anything he doesn’t know?
  2. Simon Singh’s for the joy of solar energy
  3. The curious rise of bottled water
  4. RealClimategate hits the final nail in the coffin of ‘peer review’

7 thoughts on “The curious double standards of Simon Singh”

  1. Richard Treadgold says:30th January 2011 at 8:32 amJames, I had to congratulate you when I noticed just now that your “Curious double standards” article at the Telegraph has achieved a remarkable 2100+ comments (and rising). Many of them are not worth the ether onto which they’re posted, but the mere fact that such huge numbers of your opponents consider your article a suitable pennant beneath which to quarrel magnifies your reputation.

    They are a tribute to your writing skills. Writing is learning. Readers don’t understand that, thinking that they are the ones doing the learning; neither do the argumentative, seeing nothing but the bickering they relish. Only the thoughtful know how much must be learned every time words are set down to be read.

    Your writing is perceptive, fearless and enthralling. To read it is to know you, your subject and myself a little more.

    I hope you keep up your fine work.

    Warm regards,
    Richard Treadgold.

  2. Bronny says:30th January 2011 at 3:48 pmWell, I’ll point out that quantity does not mean quality, 2100+ posts or not. This was a really petty article and makes the author sound like a petulant child. Dr. Singh’s libel case was to make sure discussion can be had without fear of legal reprisals, something from which we will all benefit. But you mention it and then mangle it up in statement about only scientists being able to discuss science based issues. No-one is suggesting those not qualified to high heaven should not have an opinion, but if I had to decide on a consensus reached on a complex scientific issue by a room full of scientists and the consensus reached by a room full of Heat readers then I know which I’d have greater faith in. Unless the topic was about whether Jordan looks better blonde or brunette of course. I do believe that peer review is an essential process in assessing validity of arguments, and the ability to understand the context of the arguments being made and even the precise meanings of the words used. Consensus is a process which does exists within all sciences, however, the very nature of scientific research is not to just to prove that something does work but also to advance evidence that previously accepted statements as not now working and are invalid. It should be about constantly challenging the status quo.

    I am a scientist, but not one qualified in the area of climate variations, but should I want to learn more about the arguments then I know which publications I’d turn to to get my facts. Unfortunately Mr Delingpole many people don’t appreciate that just because you have a lot to say on the subject that you don’t necessarily know anymore than anyone else, and a blog on the web is really not the best way to get the facts on the subject (by those on either side of the argument). By helping to create a pretty nasty environment in which global warming is discussed you are really not doing anyone a favour, and perhaps, just perhaps, it is because you don’t have the rigourous background as the scientists against which you rally. It is this tone and attitude which makes you a vexatious denier not what you are saying. You contribute to an atmosphere where absolutes are stated as correct and discourage people to listen to the “enemy”, which helps absolutely no-one. Science benefits from real discussion, not from sticking your fingers in your ears singing “I’m not listening, I’m not listening”. Scientists are not doing the best job they could do at explaining why the consensus, as it stands, states a certain process is occuring – that’s something they need to deal with. However, I don’t find that your attitude in any way helpful to addressing this issue.

    As for this petulant article anyone can read back on Twitter and see that Dr Singh quite clearly proposed an opportunity for you to discuss the issue of AGW in public, on the record, with experts in the field (because he acknowledges he is not an expert in this field, just as you aren’t). You say “What sickens me is the hypocrisy of people who claim to be in favour of speech, claim to believe in empiricism, claim to be sceptics yet refuse to accept room for an honest, open debate on one of the most important political issues of our time.” and yet he proposed the opportunity for such open debate, but you had your fingers in your ears singing “I’m not listening” and then rushed off to write a really unnecessary and petty article, further riling up the others with fingers in their ears.

    I suspect this is more about your pride and the Horizon programme than you feeling bullied by the mob, but that is unbelievably selfish of you considering the importance of the global warming debate. Perhaps next time you put fingers to keyboard you could consider whether it can make a positive contribution to society and not whether it can help correct one of your petty ego niggles.

  3. Nige Cook says:30th January 2011 at 10:19 pm“Scientists are not doing the best job they could do at explaining why the consensus, as it stands, states a certain process is occuring – that’s something they need to deal with.” – Bronny

    What struck me was the arrogance of everyone except James in the BBC’s Horizon: Science Under Attack programme. Sir Paul asks the American NASA “expert” about climate change models and is shown a double screen comparison of weather forecasting a few days ahead with actual satellite data (no proof that the same model is valid for predicting climate a hundred years hence). The BBC edit it as much as possible to prevent the viewer seeing the differences, instead focussing on the American guy saying “seeing is believing”.

    The same guy also tells Sir Paul that he “doesn’t know” why critics of climate science doubt the effect of CO2 on climate (itself a remarkable admission, since if I don’t bother to learn and refute/correct for criticisms, I expect to be fired), then he suggests lamely with a shrug that he “think” the critics worry about the “details of the temperature record, or the carbon record”. Er, good guess.

    If he had bothered to research the objections further, he might actually find why the computer model is no use: (1) the tree-ring growth temperature data is all suspect because tree growth depends on cloud cover, pollution (including “natural” volcanic dust and chemicals like sulphur dioxide) and rain as well as air temperature, and (2) increased temperatures cause increased evaporation, which isn’t going into increased low level air humidity (according to measurements since the 1940s), so apparently is going into increased cloud cover instead. This usually reflects sunlight back, regulating climate.

  4. Nige Cook says:31st January 2011 at 10:31 amJames, can you sometime write something about the fraud in superstring theory, please? It’s a perfect analogy to the history of the global warming groupthink scam. The best place to start is with Dr Peter Woit, :

    “For the last eighteen years particle theory has been dominated by a single approach to the unification of the Standard Model interactions and quantum gravity. This line of thought has hardened into a new orthodoxy that postulates an unknown fundamental supersymmetric theory involving strings and other degrees of freedom with characteristic scale around the Planck length. […] It is a striking fact that there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever for this complex and unattractive conjectural theory. There is not even a serious proposal for what the dynamics of the fundamental ‘M-theory’ is supposed to be or any reason at all to believe that its dynamics would produce a vacuum state with the desired properties. The sole argument generally given to justify this picture of the world is that perturbative string theories have a massless spin two mode and thus could provide an explanation of gravity, if one ever managed to find an underlying theory for which perturbative string theory is the perturbative expansion.”

    – Quantum Field Theory and Representation Theory: A Sketch, Dr Woit, 2002 arxiv paper,

    Please see Dr Woit’s continuing blog exposing lying hype, Not Even Wrong. His latest post is “Is the Multiverse Immoral?” which contains the very telling comment from the “Crackpot Index” inventor, Dr John Baez:

    “Maybe a branch of science is ripe for infection by pseudoscience whenever it stops making enough progress to satisfy the people in that field: as a substitute for real progress, they’ll be tempted to turn to fake progress. One could expect this tendency to be proportional to the loftiness of the goals the field has set for itself… and to the difficulty its practitioners have in switching to nearby fields that are making more progress.”

  5. Bert says:1st February 2011 at 3:09 amJamie

    After you have seen off the ‘warmists,’ and have put exposed the deceit of string theory, please could you set the record straight on the conspiracy that the earth revolves around the sun. Then could you prove that England’s third goal in the 1966 World Cup Final never actually crossed the line?
    What a hero you are.. What a man!

  6. Nige Cook says:1st February 2011 at 10:05 am“please could you set the record straight on the conspiracy that the earth revolves around the sun”


    It’s just a hoax that the sun is the centre of the universe. Einstein’s relativity says that there’s no preferred frame of reference: the laws of physics work for either a sun-centred universe or an earth-centred universe.

  7. Pingback: Climate change and the traditional skeptics: An opinion study « Shub Niggurath Climate

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