WE'RE living in a new era, one in which fact is increasingly displaced either by falsehoods ("alternative facts") or opinion disguised as news.

Recently the TV news reported that the amygdala of the brain had been identified as the mediator of emotions. Therefore, the newsreader contended, this might be the source of stress that causes heart attack and stroke.

In fact, the amygdala's role in emotions was known for many decades. High-carbohydrate diets, genetic predisposition and inactivity are the etiology of heart attack and stroke, not stress. This was a sugar industry concoction — fake news, if you will.

The TV news reported that a British study has shown that anti-depressants work successfully in the overwhelming number of patients with depression. Good news for the pharmaceutical industry but not quite true.

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They may work for severe acute depression, not so well over the long term, or for mild depression. Ironically, the item featured an endorsement from a man who is still taking anti-depressants after five years. Is that success?

If more ironies are to be mined, our newspaper (Chronicle, March 10) highlighted a study from MIT that shows falsehoods having a far greater and speedier reach than fact on social media.

The same edition of the paper featured an opinion piece bylined by Peter Wilson in the national news section. Mr Wilson is an unabashed cheerleader for the CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership), the successor to the declared-dead TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) agreement.

Donald Trump killed the TPP, as United States participation had been a requirement. It's been revived by 11 nations with alleged "fixes" to its problems.

In making his argument favouring the new treaty, Wilson disposes of the opposition by falsely labelling them "anti-free trade activists" whose alleged anti-free trade position is the basis for opposition to the Investor State Dispute Settlement provisions.

His sentence goes on to disparage the opposition's position as "using [emphasis mine] the ISDS to claim New Zealand was 'selling its sovereignty'." The statement is less factual than a slick rhetorical exercise in disparagement of the possible validity of criticism.
The rest of the piece has a similar relationship to fact — that is, distant and distorted, as Mr Wilson either looks at the ISDS provisions through rose-coloured glasses or is simply ignorant of how it works.

His claim that ISDS disputes are resolved by "a neutral arbitration panel" doesn't hold water. A corporation ("investor") can claim damages where locally made protections inhibit prospective profit, then take our country to binding arbitration before an offshore court. The conclusion that Mr Wilson's version of a neutral arbitration panel can compensate a foreign investor (read major corporation) "but can't punish the state" would be laughable even if it were true. The truth is that it's not the state but the citizen-taxpayers who are punished for their right-doing, like protecting land and waters — their sovereignty, so derided by Wilson.

That's not free trade but corporate protectionism.
This present deal, like the old one, has been kept secret despite Labour's promise of transparency.

From the Government's few releases, the provisions most hazardous to our national health — the ISDS apparatus and the intellectual property provisions extending medication and other patents for decades — have not been eliminated. They have merely been suspended.

There they sit like the sword of Damocles over our heads. Those side-letters between countries are of little protection if a multi-national corporation wants to exploit its opportunities; or if President Trump, with his typical change of mind, jump the US and its corporate juggernaut back in.

From this perspective, the pact is neither "comprehensive" nor "progressive".
And if Mr Wilson's stenography, at least, is accurate, and Trade Minister David Parker said "there is very little risk of New Zealand being sued", then somebody has been drinking the Kool-Aid.

W S Gilbert said it best: "Things ain't always what they seem, skim milk masquerades as cream."

Jay Kuten is an American-trained forensic psychiatrist who emigrated to New Zealand for the fly fishing. He spent 40 years comforting the afflicted and intends to spend the rest afflicting the comfortable.