Number of the Month

February 2002

Let the bandwagons roll

Media hysteria is on a high at the moment. The big story in the UK is the “MMR causes autism” scare. A number of correspondents have noted the silence of Number Watch on this matter. The only reason is that, as yet, there are no numbers to get a handle on. The author of the scare, one Dr Wakefield, blew his credibility at the outset in publishing by press conference a result based on just twelve cases. The subsequent contributions seem to combine the post hoc fallacy with ad hoc theorising. Unfortunately for the population at large, his opponents, the UK government, have also blown their credibility with their inept handling of such disasters as BSE, CJD and Foot and Mouth. The chattering classes are the ones who are opting out of the vaccination programme and, as a result, the first outbreaks of measles have occurred in widespread locations. What these people tend to forget is that it is not only their own families’ health they are playing with. An infected child is a danger to the likes of unborn children and vulnerable adults. There is triumph among animal rights thugs after they managed to prevent a new primate research laboratory at the University of Cambridge; precisely the sort of establishment that would help to resolve such dilemmas.

As advertised here the particularly stupid mobile phone scare rolls on. Believe it or not, those damned nematodes are back. This time we learn that they become increasingly fertile when subjected to microwave radiation. What this, even if believed, has to do with human health is a mystery, but if your cat is a mobile user make sure she gets the worming pill regularly.

As we suggested last month, obesity has become the new tobacco for the scare industry. (Feb 6th) found about a dozen stories, but the most poignant was that John Banzhaf, who created that nice little earner Action on Smoking and Health, is now threatening to take out lawsuits against restaurants. That should boost the tidy salary ($175,000) he pays himself from ASH.

As for all the newer and ever tackier global warming stories, your bending author is getting bored, so see Junk Science, John Daly and CO2 science in the Links if you do not yet feel overdosed. Furthermore, if anyone doubts that this is all religious zealotry rather than real science see here.

Domestic announcement

If the updates to Number Watch get a bit patchy over the next month or so, it is because we are on the move. Your bending author is preparing for the long trek west (from Hampshire to Wiltshire) and much time will be spent loading the covered wagons and preparing defences against marauding bands of epidemiologists and climatoligists on the way. With any luck communication with the outside world will be re-established some time in March.

Carnot's circus

Reader Frank R Borger notes this piece from the New Scientist:

Microchip can turn heat into electricity

10:20 05 February 02

Duncan Graham-Rowe

A microchip that can transform heat into electric current is now working on a lab bench at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US. Its inventors say it could harness heat from a car's engine and provide power for its electronics, charge laptop batteries by recycling heat from the computer's microprocessor, or simply bask in the baking desert sun generating electricity…………….

Now, you would think that someone purporting to be a science journalist would recognise a thermocouple or thermopile when it hit him in the face. As it happens you can make such things more effective by using various alloys of silicon in combination on a chip to optimise the thermo-electric coefficients. Your bending author has experimented with them, but in reverse to produce micro-refrigerators. Nevertheless, all such devices are constrained by a fundamental law of nature discovered by Carnot. This states that the maximum efficiency is determined wholly by the temperature difference between the heat source and the heat sink. Whatever the magic chain reactions the researchers manage to harness, if they get greater than the Carnot efficiency they have undermined the laws of physics and the result is chaos. Take your pick, but Number Watch backs physics.


Our correspondent in Puerto Rico points out that there is a more credible description of the device here.

Spam, Spam, Spam and Spam

 One of the increasing daily chores for your bending author is the deletion of a dozen or so junk e-mails every morning. The most annoying aspect is that they are all from the USA and do not apply here in the UK. A more frightening aspect is the number offering credit, especially to those who are not credit worthy. As we noted as far back as last July, personal debt is one of the numbers to watch out for, and a ticking bomb that politicians choose to ignore. On British multichannel television a large proportion of the adverts offer even more credit to those in debt trouble.

Sometimes, however, a junk item offers a little passing entertainment. Here is one that, apart from a few blatant lies, poses an interesting question.

Do you use a cell phone?
Are you aware that the electromagnetic waves that come
from your cell phone are directly related to brain cancer!


Cell Phones are commonplace in todays society. 
Now the truth is coming out.  For years scientists have
raised concerns over the health risks involved in using a
cellular phone.  In Europe cell phone manufacturers are required
to print a warning label on all phones.  Similar to cigarettes in
the U.S.  Soon Motorola and Nokia will be printing these warnings
on their American phones.

We sell a product that reduces the electromagnetic waves by 99%.
Best of all our product is only $9.95. 
Your safety is obviously important.  Be safe and take a look at
our product.  It is brand new, easy to use, fits every cell phone,
and is very affordable.   

If you are interested in cell phone safety or would like more info
about our New Cell Phone Anti-Radiation Shield please email me at

 [email protected] with the subject "safety"

The question is – if the electromagnetic waves are reduced by 99%, how does the phone communicate with the network?

Boom, boom

At least something is booming in Britain. Home Office numbers (The Sunday Times February 10th) show that crime street crime has “soared” by 26% in nine months. It makes a change from all the sinking numbers in public services; transport is a shambles, the health service drowning in a bureaucratic mire, education reeling from one Government initiative to the next. On a recent visit to his home country, the great leader instructed the Number 10 Delivery Unit (not, you note, the former democratic and parliamentary institutions) to come up with new policies to combat crime. It is now five years since the same gentleman was promising a Government that would be” tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime.”

Americans, coming as they do from a less civilised society, do not understand our attitude to our criminal classes. They must have been bewildered when the nominal Foreign Secretary Jack (man of) Straw made a rare international intervention to express concern for the welfare of the terrorist prisoners in Cuba. In Britain, you see, we know how to look after our terrorists. We give them offices in Westminster and six figure expense accounts. Likewise, we are very careful to protect our burglars from violent householders, whom we slap in jail if they refuse to hand over their property with good grace.

The tragedy and farce of New Labour is that what they think are the solutions constitute a major part of the problem. The more initiatives, auditing, targets, league tables, layers of bureaucracy, unelected advisers, boards of cronies etc. they apply, the worse things get. No matter how much money they wrench from the suffering taxpayers (watch the next budget) to throw at the problems, they can only get worse. We remember with affection the New Labour election signature tune “Things can only get better.”

Talking of budgets, the other set of numbers that is exciting the media concerns pensions. They seem to find this new disaster surprising. The first big stealth tax that the Chancer of the Exchequer invented was the massive raid on pension funds. Then there was a little thing called FRS17, a treasury diktat on accounting procedures that caused chaos in private sector pensions and led to public sector bodies to try to get special dispensation. Coupled with the repression of manufacturing industry this has now produced a situation in which people cannot even look forward to the opportunity of a timely retirement from the bureaucratic nightmare that is today’s workplace. Of all the disasters that an incompetent, unthinking and corrupt Government has foisted on its suffering people, this will be the most enduring.  It all brings to mind one of the sets of laws quoted in Sorry, wrong number!

The Laws of Thermodynamics for laymen

1. You cannot win
2. You cannot break even
3. You cannot get out of the game


Panic in the Streets!

Oh, my God! The Earth is slowing down. It must be true, because it is predicted by a computer model. What is going to happen to us? Will we all fall off? Even though it is only microseconds a year, it must be important, or the Belgians would not be paying their scientists all that money to produce the material for press releases and the BBC would not be paying Alex Kirby all that money to produce his report. It must have something to do with the dreaded global warming because the headline says so, even though there is no perceivable link. Anyway they have added a picture of windmills, which must be significant. We are all doomed, doomed!

Footnote (added by Phil Uttley)

It seems that Alex Kirby is unaware that the increasing length of the day has been common knowledge to physicists for many decades. The piddling increase of 0.1 milliseconds a century claimed by the Belgian scientists is not as impressive as the 1 millisecond/century increase caused by the tidal evolution of the Earth-Moon system - something which is somewhat better understood than our climate.


A great clear out of paper prior to moving turned up a forty year old note book. Two of  the entries, of unknown origin, seem particularly relevant to some of the matters covered in Number Watch:


We, the willing, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much for so long with so little that we are now qualified to do anything with nothing.

The stages of a project

1. Enthusiasm

2. Depression

3. Panic

4. Search for the guilty

5. Punishment of the innocent

6. Rewards for the non-participants

 Green for danger!

A shock for those who thought that nitrates were the excessive fares charged by cab drivers out of hours. Researchers at Glasgow University (yes, them again) claim that nitrates in vegetables could be the cause of a rise in cancer of the gullet or, on a closer reading of the story, they have formed a hypothesis that they aim to test with the aid of a chunk of taxpayers’ money.

This seems like a good time to launch our new scam scheme, following on the success of Water Concern. So here it is:

People for the Ethical Regard of Vegetables

How would you like to be separated from your nether regions, plunged into a boiling cauldron of oil or water and then eaten?

How would you like to have your genitalia cut off and used to decorate churches, houses and the bosoms of human females?

How would you like to have your unborn children put in a mill and ground up over the corpses of related species?

How would you like to have your head cut off so that people can play football on you?

And it’s a matter of your own health. Do you realise that leguminous vegetables such as peas and beans fix deadly nitrogen from the air, which could give you cancer?

Act now! Send a large cheque to the Number Watch Cayman Island account to become a member of PERV. In return you will receive a free catalogue of synthetised proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and fibre (no fat, of course) with price list. Leave the flowers where they are in the field. You know it makes scents.

Sleep of the dead

To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end 
The heartache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation 
Devoutly to be wished

1.1 Million! Now that is what your really call a Trojan Number. Several correspondents drew attention to the claim that too much sleep will kill you, and quite rightly. It made big headlines in all the British dailies and of course at the BBC. The proposition is self evidently absurd to other than the likes of Californian psychiatrists and popular journalists. So how did over a million people come to take part into a study of the effects of sleep on their life expectancy? The answer is, of course, that they didn't. It is all part of someone else's data dredge. When a pride of lions makes a major kill, there is always a pack of jackals skulking in the background waiting for the opportunity to pick some flesh off the remaining bones. The big beasts in the Junkle are the cancer experts, who are able to attract big money from the State and charities for their researches. While you are getting people to answer questionnaires you might as well pack as many questions as you can get anecdotal answers for. The great bonus is that, if you are working at the levels of significance common in epidemiology, you are going to get a fortuitous result one in every twenty combinations of cause and effect; especially if, as here, you are audacious enough to publish on the basis of a risk ratio of 1.12. Add to that the extreme value fallacy and you have guaranteed academic fame and fortune. Your bending and obscure author is, of course, only jealous.

Number of the month - a fat four

Last month Number Watch said of the new obesity bandwagon - "Watch out for dutiful epidemiologists 'proving' that it causes every known ill of mankind, as do tobacco and alcohol." As we saw in the opening piece this month, this bandwagon is already really rolling. Almost every British newspaper picked up and front paged the story headlined in The Times as Diabetes reaches fat white teenagers. It would have been more impressive if such a discovery had been made before the bandwagon started rolling, but now we know the nature of the beast. All over the world epidemiologists are looking for dire consequences of obesity. Let us not diminish the fact that being a fat kid is a personal tragedy, but these media pundits propagating the new scares are the very same people who scared parents into making their children housebound lumps in the first place. The usual catch phrases spill out with regularity - highly disturbing, worrying trend, the thin end of a very large wedge, frightening potential long-term impact, a time-bomb ticking away waiting to explode etc.

How many cases was this disaster based on? Just four, which as we know nowadays constitutes a cluster.

Domestic notice. As adumbrated above, Number Watch will be incommunicado for a while. If the ancient computer (a thing of shreds and patches) survives the trip, normal service will be resumed in early March.


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