Death by committee
Memories of our cocktails of numbers last year in January and December from The Times, 4th May:
What the story does not mention is the thousands victims who had their operations cancelled or delayed because the money was spent on this fiasco.
Apologies for being repetitive, but as said last month about fly sprays "This is such an illustrative example; advice from a committee of self appointed experts, action by ministerial decree, with no debate and no appeal". It is also illustrative of much of today's legislation. Politicians shoot from the hip and put together shoddy, ill thought out acts and decrees, then wonder why things go wrong.
Even more remarkable is the insouciance of the man responsible for all this suffering and death. From the inside pages of the same edition:
THE Government’s chief adviser on vCJD has admitted that he would be happy to have his tonsils out with the traditional surgical equipment.
Peter Smith told The Times he was satisfied that the risk of catching vCJD from the instruments was negligible compared with the benefits of the surgery.
Professor Smith’s admission raises the question as to why ministers banned traditional equipment in the first place and spent £25 million on cheap disposable instruments that have been linked to two deaths and scores of injuries. It also suggests that there is no need for the continued use of the equipment in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Professor Smith, chairman of the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (Seac), said yesterday: “It is a theoretical risk (of catching vCJD) and there has been no transmission by this route so far, so my guess is that (were it medically necessary) I would go ahead and have it done.”.............
Here's another story they won't tell you. Remember all the fuss about the Nenana Ice Classic last November? Well you are not supposed to. The Global Warmers will drop this proxy like a hot brick after the Tanana River officially went out on May 7th, 2002 at 9:27 p.m. What a strange thing to happen after what CRU declared to be the record high first quarter for global temperature! Miceal O'Ronain has been keeping Number Watch up to date on this matter since he first predicted that the classic would be late on March 30th.
Here is Miceal's version of the data. Not much global warming there!
Miceal's full report is given here.
And there's more:
From Planet Ark:
- Italy, which saw an unexpected surge in electiricty demand last winter,
could face power shortages if new generating plants are not built soon,
the head of the national grid said.
"Peak electricity consumption shot up to a new high last winter and new plants are needed to cope with the rising demand," Pier Luigi Parcu of the Gestore Rete Trasmissione Nazionale (GRTN) told a conference.
Electricity demand in Italy is growing at about three percent a year.
But peak demand last winter rose to about 52,000 MW compared with 49,000 MW the previous year, leaving a margin of 2,700 MW of spare generating capacity.
"We were surprised by this increase, it was bigger than we expected," he said, adding it was caused by an unusually cold winter.
It has certainly been a strange "record warm winter".
State of the Nation
The numbers tell it all - rising violent crime, a shambolic transport system, by far the worst health service in the civilised world, ever rising taxes, constitutional government in shreds etc. Never fear, the British Government is imposing a clampdown.
On what are they clamping down? Wait for it. Compost Heaps!
The press took a largely satirical view. The piece by Jane Owen in The Times (May 6) Beware: steaming heaps ahead was particularly enjoyable. It comes to something when even the press notice that the Government is simply absurd. Unfortunately, no numbers have been given, so we do not know the dangers compost heaps pose to life and limb.
This all poses a new dilemma. It was easy enough hiding our T-bone steaks and Roseclear. We now even have new stashes of fly spray. But how do you hide a compost heap?
The story also goes to show what happens when government is exercised by diktat and not debate. One part of the Government is imposing draconian fines on composting and another part is trying to encourage it as a fine example of recycling.
Talking about recycling, here's a nice one from The Times ( May 6)
The science of sacking
Judge not, that ye be not judged
Note for American readers: this piece is about soccer and the people mentioned are incredibly important.
Wow, that looks really scientific! And coefficients to three decimal places! This new formula, which looks so impressive to the ordinary punter, is in fact old hat. It is known by various names, depending on your discipline: exponentially weighted mean, leaky integrator, single-pole low-pass filter etc. Here is a version of it as described by your bending author:
That was in a book called Laboratory On-line Computing published in 1975 and it was old hat even then. So what is the good doctor's contribution to the sum of human knowledge? He has chosen the single parameter, the response time, which he has set at 7.75 matches, and also a threshold for the weighted average at 0.74 points per game.
Your bending author, being a simple engineer, would test such a process with a basic test pattern ( the step). Assume that a team lost the final eleven matches having won all the previous ones. It does not need a computer to establish that there would be two consequences:
(a) they would probably win the championship
(b) they would sack their manager.
Alternatively, if they won every third match but lost the rest they would
(a) be relegated
(b) keep their manager.
Time was when the term Cambridge Mathematician really meant something and a Science Correspondent could do a simple calculation to check his story, but then they would have better things to occupy their time.
Storm in a tea cup?
I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
T S Eliot; The love song of J Alfred Prufrock
Epidemiologists get so wrapped up in their own particular bandwagon that they do not realise that they are rocking the boat for their colleagues (well, why should they have a monopoly on mixing metaphors?). A piece heralded by the BBC (Heart attack victims 'should drink tea') was the usual mishmash of marginal statistics. The Trojan Number in the study by Dr Kenneth Mukamal and colleague's at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre in Boston, US, was 1,900 people, mainly in their 60s, who had suffered a heart attack. A quaint BBC slant on this story was the introduction “Research by doctors in Israel found heavy drinkers - those who drank more than 14 cups of tea a week - had a 44% lower death rate than non-tea drinkers in the three and a half years following their heart attacks. Moderate tea drinkers - those who consumed less than 15 cups a week - had a 28% lower rate of dying over the same period”
By the time they had counted the deaths four years later, the Trojan Number had dwindled to 313. We may deduce that the numbers in each category were respectively 77, 99 and 137. Good enough for epidemiology.
But what are we to make of the follow up comment? There was little difference between patients in terms of education, income, and their exercise, smoking and drinking habits, which could generally be responsible for variations in mortality rates.
Heavens to Betsy, as the Junkman might say, are they telling us that the demons of the health establishment are insignificant after all? Either that or they are telling us that they happened upon a group of patients with remarkably consistent attitudes towards the naughty things in life.
The researchers believe that antioxidants, known as flavonoids, could be responsible.
Just so we don’t get the wrong idea, the BBC adds a quote from its own source:
Belinda Linden, head of medical information at the British Heart Foundation, said healthier lifestyles were key to avoiding heart disease.
She said: "The BHF recommends lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of heart disease. Including flavonoids in your diet is just one step in the right direction.
"Giving up smoking, taking more exercise and adopting a healthy lifestyle should be a priority."
If you look up the BBC link you will also discover that tea may protect against Parkinsons, could prevent cancer and appears to improve the function of artery walls.
TCEFFE DNA ESUAC
Drinkers earn more, says professor was a headline picked up by much of the media. There is a positive correlation between drinking and income, which is treated as a causal mystery. Why should drinking improve your earning capacity? There is no mystery. The purpose of much of taxation is to remove temptations from the lower classes. In the UK taxes are used to ensure, for example, that the inferior classes do not clog up the roads. What kind of ivory tower do some of these professors live in? Have they never heard of Hogarth and Gin Lane "Drunk for a penny, dead drunk for twopence"? The poor, given the chance, take to drink like a duck to the proverbial. That was why the Gin Act of 1736 was implemented.
There is a nice little coda to the Yahoo story:
The economics don has just been given more funding to research the alcohol/earnings link.
But Professor Auld warned that the findings should not be used as an excuse to drink your way up the career ladder.
How rarely is (presumable) intelligence accompanied by common sense.
“Scientists” in Birmingham have come up with a new slant on Trojan Numbers . It is the number of questionnaires sent out to frequent business fliers, 1000. It was all about in-flight risks of DVT, which, as we have seen, are the same as the risks anywhere else. The number of responses was 120. Now, by this stage, most of us ordinary faint-hearted folk would already have given up for fear of eliciting such headlines as 88% of business travellers can spot a load of old cobblers when they see one. Not our heroes, however, who pressed on regardless. Only nine business travellers took no precautions against DVT with 80% (why can’t they just say 96?) taking precautions such as stretching their legs, taking aspirin and drinking more water. The one precaution most of them failed to take was cutting down on alcohol.
Hang on a minute! Haven’t we been frequently told that alcohol reduces the probability of blood clots (see here for example)? So, not only are they being asked about precautions for an at best theoretical risk, they are being asked if they avoid a palliative.
Hold on to what we have so far.
1. A questionnaire was issued and attracted a derisory 12% response.
2. As far as we are told none of the respondents suffered from any disease whatever and no disease was studied.
3. They were asked what precautions they took against a risk that was purely theoretical.
4. Particular emphasis is given to the precaution of avoiding an agent that would probably reduce the risk, if it exists.
What could a reporter and sub-editor make of such vacuous material? Fear not! Sheer professionalism will prevail, as we see in The Times Business Travel Section, May 16th:
This is what now passes for research in Britain’s nationalised universities. Any school kid could send out a questionnaire and group the results (many do). Let us hope that most of them would have more commonsense than to headline a result that isn’t there. All we have is a few anecdotes about people’s in flight habits (well, 12% of them anyway) in response to a media scare that so far has yielded no substance. The anti-alcohol lobby is just part of the wave of political correctness that has swept through Britain’s nationalised universities in the glow of having seen off tobacco.
In the bad old days, when British universities were independent and consuming more than their share of Nobel prizes, they were awash with alcohol. Now they are awash with documents detailing alcohol policy.
The article continued:
Dr John Townend, the project supervisor (What, there were more than one of them?) and a consultant cardiologist at University Hospital, Birmingham, said: “Awareness of DVT is high and many passengers are trying to minimise the risk — however, there is a discrepancy between knowledge and action.
“An alcohol limit could be introduced or the free alcohol, which is offered on every flight with BA, could be withdrawn. Several passengers commented that although they knew to reduce their alcohol intake, they did not because it was free and made the flight more enjoyable.”
However, no individual airline is likely to risk losing a competitive edge by banning booze. Such a move is likely to need government legislation.
So, there we have it. A pseudo research project, based on a media scare, that did not have anything to do with the real disease or the identification of causes, or anything else real for that matter, followed by the inevitable progression to a call for draconian Government action to limit the public’s right to do anything that meets with PC disapproval. It is the sort of thing that gives non sequiturs a bad name.
WHO is sick?
Hope you did not miss the inevitable intrusion of the WHO into the above fable. As ever, Steve Milloy comes up with a timely comment on Fox News:
The World Health Organization reported last week that 5,500 children die every day from consumption of food and water contaminated with bacteria.
So why is the WHO worrying about obesity, French fries, cell phones, "economy class syndrome" and — worst of all — augmenting its own bureaucratic sprawl?
Oh no, not again!
Just when we thought that another silly little Swedish scare had come and gone, this happened:
This is not just your ordinary Swedish rubbish. This is genuine British rubbish, a completely different kettle of fishiness. It is, however, all based on the same concentration fallacy and those damned tumour-prone rats.
Number Watch confidently predicts that it will all be completely ignored by the public at large, who seem to have developed a remarkable blend of detachment and commonsense about all these foolish food alarums and excursions, so they will carry on consuming the products they always have. Journalists and “the scientists”, on the other hand, inhabit a different world of fantasy.
Imagine the scene at a secret British laboratory. All is calm, and white-coated workers go quietly about their daily tasks. Suddenly the harsh sound of the klaxon fills the corridors. Over the loudspeakers comes the call to action – Bandwagon Alert! Bandwagon Alert! Immediately all is turmoil and the formerly serene corridors are teaming like a disturbed ants nest. Senior staff rush to the briefing room, where the Director is already at the podium waiting to address them.
“Those damned Swedes have beaten us to a major scare. We have to mount a damage limitation exercise. Jones, warm up the mass spectrometer. Smith, get the decks cleared in the press release section. Brown, send some of the girls out to the supermarkets and fish and chip shops to get samples.”
Meanwhile, at the offices of the Daily Express everyone is milling about, trying to get the morning edition ready, when suddenly there is that momentous cry “Hold the front page! Major scare coming in.”
The giant presses grind to a halt. All the flurry is instantly frozen. Groups of men lounge about, trying not to betray the tension inside them. There is an unearthly hush, broken only by someone playing Lili Marlene on a mouth organ. Someone drops a spanner and everyone jumps out of their skin, but the deadening silence is quickly restored. Suddenly the harsh ring of a telephone. A sub editor walks in, unsuccessfully trying to maintain a calm demeanour, then shouts “Scramble! Scramble!" He strolls with studied casualness over to the bench where the Editor is sitting and bends to whisper in his ear. "I'm afraid, Sir, It’s crisps and chips this time!” “My God!” says the Editor “This is the Big One! Green, warm up the hyperbole polishers. Allan, ready the precautionary principle packers. Walters, round up the usual suspects, The Food Standards Agency, Health and Safety Executive, Consumers Association, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, World Health Organisation; in fact anyone good for a scary quote. Now move! Move!”
And they all lived happily ever after.
The Number Watch team of intrepid reporters has revealed a scandal that will scare the pants off you. Every newspaper in Britain covered the discovery of acrylamide in crisps and chips, none of them questioning the science behind the scare, but now Number Watch can reveal the story that they did not dare tell you. Acrylamide is explosive! The information was easy to find, you only have to look up the safety data. Why have you not been told this? Are the Government hoping that their policies will have removed the danger before there is a major incident? Well that won’t wash. They are only closing rural pubs at a rate of one a day and have barely touched the urban ones. Meanwhile, innocent drinkers (if there is such a thing in the world of PC) are not only at risk from passive chipping, they are in danger of having their heads blown off. The flash point of this deadly substance is a mere 84°C. This is 16°C less than the lowest temperature commonly used for cooking, so housepersons are in imminent danger as soon as they put a packet of oven-ready chips on to heat.
In the face of Government inertia, the Number Watch sponsored Phlogiston Research Unit at the Metropolitan University of Nether Wallop is preparing a multimillion-pound research grant application to investigate the dangers. It is up to you, the public, to ensure that it goes through.
For Peat’s Sake!
(Contributed by Prof David Baron)
Just watched a BBC2 program about the Chelsea Flower Show. Seems that in future, entrants will be disqualified if they use peat, or peat-based compost.
The environmental SIFs who want to ban peat from British gardens should go to Ireland. At Shannon Bridge they will see the power station that produces much of the country's electricity.
It is fired exclusively by peat.
Now I'm not sure how much peat British gardeners use in a year,but I bet it isn't more than a few days' consumption by the power station.
on the banks of the river Shannon, sixteen miles south of Athlone and close to
the historic centre of Clonfert and five miles from Clonmacnois, Shannonbridge
is the largest ESB peat station in the country.
The four other peat stations are situated at Rhode and Ferbane in Co. Offaly, at Lanesboro in Co. Longford and at Bellacorrick in Co. Mayo. Between them, the five peat stations produce enough electricity to meet almost 15 percent of the country's electricity requirements.
Paleface speak with forked tongue
When thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what
thy right hand doeth.
Your bending author has made clear his view that Britain is suffering under the worst Government ever, and it is no consolation that it is sustained by the weakest opposition ever. One of the worst of its defects is the high rate of making promises contrasted with the low rate of fulfilling them. One of the promises was to give us joined up government; yet, as we saw with compost heaps, more often than not one part of government seems to be undermining the efforts of another part. Of course, you can always rely on the Treasury to find little ways of impeding progress. They have done so recently with a change in the accounting rules that will mean savage cuts in some of the more basic sciences, such as taxonomy. It does not help that large chunks of the money allocated to the so-called environmental sciences are being hived off to fund politically correct fantasies such as the Global Warming myth.
On the day that the Great Leader chose to speak out in support of science, Times 2 (May 23rd) had a special feature on the parlous state of just one science, taxonomy. It is not alone in experiencing funding problems, but its decline over a decade from hundreds of scientists to a few dozen has been quite spectacular. The Times headline Squandering Darwins’s legacy seems to be particularly apposite.
To make it worse, the PM will shortly be flying off to Johannesburg for a junket known as the World Summit on Sustainable Development, where he will, no doubt, harangue developing countries to do more in support of conservation. It is all part of the longstanding political convention of DAISNAID (Do as I say, not as I do).
Another of the many areas in which the Government is destructively facing both ways is in clinical medicine. One part of the Government is promising a spectacular increase in the number of medical graduates, while another is causing a mass destruction of academic posts in the very same field. It all arises from the obsessions of the educational establishment with targets, league tables and bibliometry. In their sublime ignorance and arrogance they did not appreciate that clinicians tend not to write many papers. Too late, they discovered their error but had then spent the diminishing pool of funds.
Say I'm weary, say I'm sad,
Say that wealth and health have missed me,
Say I'm growing old, but add,
Jenny kissed me.
James Henry Leigh Hunt, Rondeau
Talking of DAISNAID, it is often accompanied by that other political convention PUTLIAR (Pull up the ladder I’m all right). The new draconian "environmental" tax on business drivers, for example, does not apply to Government ministers "as they have a difficult and demanding job to do." MPs have just awarded themselves one of the most generous pension schemes in existence, in addition to the spectacular series of pay increases they have enjoyed, all at the expense of the ordinary taxpayer, of course.
This bit of typical political self-serving is even more unpalatable than most, since MPs have stood by while the pension hopes of most Britons have been dashed. It all began with the Chancer of the Exchequer and one of his earliest and shabbiest stealth taxes, in which he raided pension funds for five billion pounds a year. Until then it had been a convention that pensions were not double taxed. You paid tax on the pension, but not on the investment. Most of his other stealth taxes fell on industry, while it was in the throws of what we are not supposed to call a recession; so the return on investment was reduced even further. The net result is that pension funds are in disarray. Companies, sensing that the Government does not really care about pensions, have been quick to abandon final salary schemes and replace them with a fixed contribution gamble. Now there are calls for the pensionable age to be raised to seventy, when ageism in industry makes it difficult to get a job at fifty.
One of the measures of the quality of a society is how it looks after its more vulnerable members, and indeed pays due respect to its elders. The condition of the elderly in Britain is now worse than it has ever been since the foundation of the welfare state (The old age pension was introduced in 1908). Most people who move in ordinary society don’t need numbers; they know of many cases of personal tragedy. Anyway, at the end of a long article detailing the sorry state of affairs The Times gave some numbers (we refrain from arguing about the definition of poverty):
And it is getting worse
2.5 million old people in the UK live below the poverty line.
· More than 180,000 old people are physically abused in their homes every year.
· Ten care homes close every week.
· Last year more than 12,000 care beds were lost.
· Every 24 seconds an old person falls victim to crime.
· The decomposing bodies of 1,000 old people are found in their homes every month.
· More than 21,000 old people are living in hostels for the homeless.
Of course, the Chancer of the Exchequer, being unlike his leader a good socialist, likes nothing better than locking up a substantial proportion of the population in a means-tested benefits bondage. Old people now find their dignity surrendered to a welter of forms and intrusions. Many of them are threatened by the Inland Revenue if they cannot cope with the impossible self assessment forms. Others forgo their benefits entitlement rather than get locked into a bureaucratic nightmare, which adds advantage to the Treasury, who weep crocodile tears while they pocket the money. As The Times says, it is getting worse. The present generation of workers are finding the prospects of a comfortable retirement receding into the distance. It is a great shame for, as this author, who as a young man dreaded it, can attest, retirement is wonderful. All the clichés that retirees come out with (such as there not being enough time in the day) are absolutely true. If your bending author had not taken early retirement he would still be mindlessly filling in forms for bureaucrats, instead of enjoying creating mischief with disreputable books and web pages, as well as being self sufficient in vegetables and all sorts of other other real activities.
For an increasing proportion of the population, however, retirement is a pitiful conclusion to a hard life. The Nanny State keeps telling them that if they give up everything enjoyable they can live practically for ever. Oh yeah?
Which all leads nicely to the next day's story:
A matter of life and death
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more; it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
At last someone (the Office of National Statistics) has published the statistics that people really want to know, not just life expectancy, but healthy-life expectancy. It is one of those areas where ordinary people show a lot more common sense than all the health gurus and Nanny State apparatchiks. People in pubs commonly comment on the latest health nagging “But I don’t want a long life, I just want to retain a bit of dignity as long as possible.” The attitude of the Nanny State has been “You will live longer whether you want to or not.” The statistics were gathered to enable ministers to apportion health funding, but they told us more than the new Puritans wanted us to know.
Of course the media seized upon the newsy bit, which was regional variations. People in the South of England have a both longer life and longer healthy-life than those in the North; so that is what made all the headlines. Most intelligent observers will be unsurprised by this (see, for example, the piece Policemen can be bad for your health in Sorry, wrong number!).
The crucial information was, on the whole, lost in the small print. An ONS spokesperson said: "Healthy life expectancy in England is increasing, but not by as much as life expectancy. People can expect to live more years in 'not good' health." Many people (this author included) have had the experience of parents who lived longer than they wanted to. This is why much of the “be miserable and live longer” propaganda is received with such cynicism. If it is your wish to go in for self-flagellation and living by the modern Ten Commandments, all well and good, but if you wish to enjoy the good things in your life, you should be entitled to without being harangued by the do-gooders who believe you have a duty to hang on to the bitter end. The very State that urges you to live as long as possible also, by neglect, acts to ensure that those extra years will be as painful and undignified as possible.
The media have been full of stories recently about desperately ill people requesting the right to die with dignity, a request that is routinely refused by the judiciary. Medics routinely ignore the second half of the updated first commandment – Thou shalt not kill, but needst not strive officiously to keep alive. A figure in the pop world observed, on being told that each cigarette would take five minutes off his life, "So what? It's five minutes off the end."
The BBC version notes – Overall, the average life expectancy across England is 77.5 years, meaning that on average a person can expect to suffer 9.2 years of ill health at the end of their life. So we have a rather sombre
Number of the month 9.2