Number of the Month

February  2003

Tax and waste

It would be so refreshing were the nasty old cynics to be proved wrong occasionally, but it is not to be. We have commented in these columns frequently about the senseless waste of pouring billions of pounds of increased taxes into the bottomless pit that is the National Health Service Bureaucracy. The Chancer of the Exchequer’s relentless drive to find more and more funding for that morass of management has already provoked a collapse of the pensions industry and condemned millions to a future of grinding poverty and enslavement to the means test. The really big bang will not arrive until April when the National Insurance hike hits industry and workers alike at a low point in the economic cycle, already needlessly worsened by taxation and red tape. Our frequent predictions that little or none of this funding will reach the patients are confirmed by a pamphlet from the Centre for Policy Studies. The NHS is on the point of implosion, writes Dr Maurice Slevin, one of the UK's leading cancer consultants.

Slevin has seen at first hand the rapid decline of a once great NHS over the last 24 years. There are not enough nurses and ancillary staff. Bureaucracy and bad management are rife. Doctors and consultants are demoralised. Above all, the level of patient care is far too low.

Everyone (except the Chancer) knows someone who works in the NHS and is well aware of the demoralisation and despair that afflicts these dedicated people. In the NHS there are now eight managers for every ten nurses. No need to ask what they all do. They collect statistics and develop new and more creatively fraudulent ways of trying to demonstrate that Government targets are being met.

It is not as though the NHS is the only drain down which the taxpayer’s hard-earned is being poured. Also in the news at the opening of this month are windmills, coupled with the running down of the Nuclear power industry. Of all the lunacies inflicted on a groaning populace by New Labour, the desecration of one of our few great national assets, the landscape, must be one of the most egregious. Based on the global warming myth and the Kyoto scam that rides on its back, this destruction is all being done for no valid reason at all. The next generation of these ugly, noisy white elephants will be three hundred feet high and will destroy views for over 20 miles around. The madness of all this is clear in the numbers. The subsidies paid out of the electricity bills and taxes of ordinary people are enormous. Yet, because the wind is intermittent, it will be necessary to keep large amounts of conventional power plant on permanent standby. It is no wonder that the wind industry takes to behaving like the Mafia (incidentally, the notorious “We know where you live” threat was withdrawn after police action). The bribes handed out to farmers in Wales and crofters in the Scottish islands are big enough to cloud the judgment of these hard-pressed communities. The planning process had been withdrawn to prevent local opposition.

Why does Britain have to imitate the Dark State of Insanity rather than France, where the power is almost entirely nuclear? When the first Californian-style power cuts will occur is uncertain, but that they will is not. But that’s all right because, like McCavity, the New Labour Government will be long gone when the first deaths occur.
2/2/03

Footnote: review of The Solar Fraud posted 13/2/03

David and Goliath (round 3)

As we remarked back in November 2001, despite all the pornography and illiteracy, one of the splendours of the web is that a lone scholar can take on the tax-subsidy-rich academic establishment and win. John Daly took them on over the Nenana Ice Classic and demonstrated that the establishment case was all down to chartmanship. By the following May he was completely vindicated when the river behaved in a completely politically incorrect manner and the orthodoxy dropped it like a hot (or perhaps that should be cold) brick. The full analysis by another lone scholar, Miceal O’Ronain, was published as one of our guest papers. Daly had previously taken on the multi-millionaire darlings of the British Establishment, the Climate Research Unit, over, as he kindly put it, their lack of quality control, and won an extremely grudging correction. Now he has taken on the combined might of the Universities of Southampton and Tasmania.

Long ago, in the misty dawn of pre-history, when your bending author was a budding scientist, all scientists were sceptics; but then the universities were independent institutions. Any erroneous logical step or conclusion in a published paper would be leaped upon by some young bright spark and the correction would be recorded in the literature. Many of us obtained our first publications by spotting a faux pas by our seniors.  Now that the universities are nationalised and all sing from the same post-scientific hymn sheet as the establishment media, almost any claim can be made, as long as it conforms to the faith, without any fear of refutation. BUT there is still the web.

It was a nice glib little result, proving from a historical source that sea levels have risen dramatically since the eighteen-forties. No one was going to challenge it for two stark reasons. First, it conformed with the tenets of the Global Warming Gospel, so to gainsay it would bring charges of heresy down on the head of the transgressor. Second, to do so would require meticulous research, which, since the demise of scholarship, has not been an activity that earns brownie points and government grants. Enter John Daly with his perverse attention to detail. Judge for yourself.

Of course, the establishment institutions will get all the media coverage and the lone scholar will be ignored, but there is still something rather splendid about his defiance, which, if the world ever returns to sanity, might yet some day be recognised.
3/2/03

 Home thoughts from abroad

I have been studying how I may compare
This prison where I live unto the world
Richard II

 Although Number Watch attempts to survey the international scene, it maintains a certain emphasis on British stories. This is, of course, prompted by pure patriotism. Our nonsense is just as good as anybody else’s nonsense.

Nevertheless, as the old song says “It’s the same the whole world over”. A read through Alan Caruba’s State of the Nation address, for example, will have a haunting familiarity for those who have followed the Number Watch commentaries on the state of New Labour Britain. Likewise, Aaron Oakley shows that the same climate of absurdity prevails in the antipodes

Good news from the other side of the pond, however, is that James Randi’s invaluable book "An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural" is now available on the web.

Anyway, back to Caruba. Not for the first time, he pre-empted a piece that was forming in your bending author's mind in his latest diatribe about The Great Hydrogen Myth. Suffice it to add two brief bullet points:

Driving a hydrogen fuelled vehicle is sitting on a hydrogen bomb: not a thermonuclear one, but one hell of a bomb all the same. Imagine one of those hundred vehicle motorway pile-ups when every vehicle carries a tank of hydrogen. A petrol leak is bad enough news, but hydrogen is the most mobile material in nature.

The hydrogen only takes the place of a battery. It has to be manufactured, since it is too reactive to exist in the natural state. To manufacture it you have to use electrolysis and put in just as much energy as you take out (plus the wastage). So you have gained nothing, as you still have to use the energy sources you had before. HYDROGEN IS NOT A SOURCE OF ENERGY, IT IS AN ENERGY TRANSPORT SYSTEM.

Sick

1,000 is the fine in pounds (or three months in prison) for farmers who fail to provide toys for their pigs. This is not a spoof. It is in all the local papers in Wiltshire, whence Number Watch comes. It arises from an EU directive, gold plated by British bureaucrats. Even Compassion in World Farming were appalled. The really sick part is that it will not apply to the former next door neighbour of your bending author, who lost his home as well as his pig farming business owing to the ludicrous mishandling of the foot and mouth crisis, when the disease did not even reach our part of Wiltshire. 

Beat that one, America!
5/2/03

Footnote: Our man in Puerto Rico took up the challenge and offered this and this. Sorry Jaime, no contest! Those laws might be silly, but ours was imposed by the same Gestapo who broke into people's homes and dragged out their pets to be killed, who took pot shots at pregnant ewes as they climbed over the mound of corpses of their former companions. Only the name was changed to protect the guilty. Now that is sick.

You can’t keep a good man down

Our old friend Nigel (thousands to die) Hawkes has made it to the front page of The Times again. Close shaves beat death by a whisker is the jolly sub's natty headline. If you want an example of classical junk epidemiology look no further than this. The relative risks quoted are 1.7 and a particularly pathetic 1.3.

The whole exercise is clearly a data dredge, which ends up with a conclusion that amounts to nothing less than self-parody. The only accidental association they could come up with is between frequency of shaving and death by stroke or heart attack.

Would you believe that Nigel Hawkes once wrote an article in The Times entitled Do we care about the truth? (February 19, 1999), which your bending author celebrated in Sorry, wrong number! and recommended for every science journalist's desk?

Oh dear!
6/2/03

Or a good school

In the annals of numerical nonsense one name stands out  above all others, the Harvard School of Public Health. Over the years, one of its master mariners consistently steering his junk through the the sea of  statistical  hogwash has been Ichiro Kawachi, MD. So, as a collector of dubious  deductions, when you see his name among a list of authors you know you will find something to savour. He it was who loaded the guns for the passive smoking witch hunt by creating something out of nothing.

Thus when AOL came up with the headline Mr Angry could live a longer life and quoted the lead author as Patricia Mona Eng it looked as though it would be an ordinary run of the mill bit of absurdity. True connoisseurs, however, looked at the usual long list of authors on the original paper and spotted the name that meant that this was going to be a bit of vintage speciosity. Sure enough, the relative risk on which this was all based was 0.56. The real refinement, however, is in the level of significance (relative risk: 0.56; 95% confidence interval: 0.32–0.97), which means that there is a one in twenty chance that the relative risk is practically unity. That is if you ignore all the other questions of dubiety, such as this being part of a data dredge based on anecdotal evidence. Nice Trojan Number, 23,522, but they do not tell us how many actually developed the diseases mentioned in the two years of the study. Perhaps somebody who can afford the subscription to the full paper will tell us.
7/2/03

Politics aside

Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.
Henry IV, part II

 Number Watch has done its share of guying the Great Leader, Tony Blair, mainly over his ridiculous numerical targets, his attachment to junk science and, above all, his part in the holocaust that involved the pointless slaughter of millions of innocent farm animals. Then there is his absurd court, populated by Tony’s Cronies. The most egregious of these, Derry Irvine, hit the headlines again this month, when he was given a pay rise equal to the annual salary of the average teacher (subsequently withdrawn with embarrassment all round). A figure of fun right out of the pages of Wodehouse or Gilbert and Sullivan, the Lord Chancellor owes his preferment to having been the pupil-master of the socialist leader and her husband. All the targets have been quietly abandoned, but the Great Leader is still coming up with new ones, the latest being a 50% reduction in the asylum seeker problem by September. Ring a bell? Last year he promised a similar reduction in street crime by September. We seem to have missed the announcement of the result of that.

Having said all that, there was still something uncomfortable in watching the confrontation of the PM with Jeremy Paxman and a hostile audience in a BBC debate about the prospect of war against the Iraqi tyrant. Paxman is the sneering face of New Labour BBC. He plays the same one-sided game that lawyers play in court, with carefully prepared traps for the victim of interrogation, who does not know what is coming next and is gulled into contradicting himself. The audience, carefully selected to be hostile, offered a series of gratuitous insults to the Prime Minister. One grinning oaf addressed him as the Hon Member for Texas North and Mr Vice President, which Paxman duly repeated. Blair put on a brave show, but he achieved little and failed to recover any of the dignity of office that he has inherited and largely squandered.

Like most of the commentators, Number Watch has no means of ascertaining whether the coming war is just, lacking access to the necessary intelligence (a nice double entendre). War is a terrible alternative and it is inevitable fact of history that the appeasers will always be dominant, but listening to the opposition, which is most of the New Labour establishment as well as the old socialists, one has to keep reminding oneself that it is all about a tyrant who mass murders his own subjects with mustard gas and sarin and who has twice invaded neighbouring states. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the matter, the way to conduct a debate on a most serious matter is not to offer gratuitous personal insults, even if they are preceded by the weasel words “with all due respect”. Face to face rudeness is now one of the trademarks of New Labour BBC, yet another reason to regret the desecration of Lord Reith’s wonderful creation.
10/2/03

Coincidence

Reader Grant Perkins writes:

Just spotted that the recent item about shaving and heart attacks/strokes, based on 'data' for 2438 men from South Wales is rather close to the the 2512 men from South Wales analysed in Nov 2001 for the report on men with short legs who have a propensity for heart disease and diabetes. Both are related to long term monitoring projects (allegedly) and one wonders if perhaps they are based on the same records (or do people just monitor a lot of men in South Wales?). Both reports were from Bristol.

There seems to be an unhealthy vein of cynicism developing among the readers of Number Watch. Where do they get it from? Another regular correspondent has started his own web log.
11/2/03

 Drip, drip, drip…..

It’s like the Chinese water torture. Despite the overwhelming evidence that it is a non-event, those who make a living out of the global warming myth never relent. New Labour BBC highlights the latest report from the Sustainable Development Commission. This auspicious body is headed by Jonathon Porritt, who has long been one of Britain’s leading advocates of the Green economic suicide policy. Ever since the UK was suckered into the Kyoto scam, while other signatories remained immune, the nation has been bent on destroying its industry and even its landscape. The USA was only saved from similar lunacy by the fortuitous defeat of Al Gore.

There are two major Institutions in the UK that feed off the myth. The first was the Hadley Centre, set up by Margaret Thatcher as part of her battle against the coal miners and the oil sheiks. It currently employs around 100 staff and uses two Cray T3E supercomputers. Most of its funding comes from contracts with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), other United Kingdom Government departments and the European commission. As it states in its main aims, its very existence is predicated on the assumption that the hypothesis is a reality.

The second is the Tyndall Centre, which claims: The Tyndall Centre is a network of more than 200 UK researchers evaluating the social, political and economic dimensions of options to slow the rate of climate change and minimise the risks caused by climate change. Our research goes beyond the question, "Is it happening?", to ask "What can we do about it?". We are solutions oriented and our research results aim to be local, national and global in reach.

These institutions are the very antithesis of what scientific research used to be about. Not for them the patient testing of hypotheses to destruction as required by the principles of falsifiability, pioneered by the likes of Karl Popper. They owe greater allegiance to Lewis Carroll’s Bellman – “What I tell you three times is true.” Their idea of scientific debate is to call for their critics to be “ignored and pilloried” (simultaneously?). Their livelihoods depend upon maintaining a constant level of anxiety and they use a whole range of techniques, from worthless computer models to absurd proxies. A fine example of the latter is the increase of malaria in Africa, ignoring the fact that their friends in the environmental campaign have forced through a ban on DDT.

Anyway, the event that prompted this tirade was yet another little piece in The Times – Britain’s weather to warm up even faster by Anthony Browne, Environment Editor (Feb 12th). Interestingly, it was tucked away in an obscure corner of the paper. Is even The Times beginning to tire of the endless repetition? Of course, it prompted a response from Michael Meacher, the Environment Minister, whose mastery of his brief we celebrated recently. In the article we are told Britain’s temperatures could rise faster than at any time in the last 10,000 years. Funny how the predictions keep drifting up and conform to the weather we have been having lately. The recent wet spell has coincided with wet winters being a new part of the computerised scenario.

Like  inveterate gamblers, the warmers keep raising the stakes hoping to recoup their losses. With the sunspot cycle and El Niño in decline it will be interesting to see whether even their reliance on urban heat islands will save their bacon. Meanwhile the satellite record and those from well-maintained US surface stations trundle along unperturbed.

Lysenko is alive and well and living in Canada

Didn’t we almost have it all
Whitney Houston

How many major myths can you pack into one scientific paper? Junkscience.com spotted a beauty from Alberta. Not only have they observed an apparent genetic change in a species of squirrel, but it took only 15 years. Old Charles Darwin would have been a bit surprised that the attrition of the survival of the fittest could act so quickly, but this work owes more to Lamarck than it does to him.

But that is not all. The researchers have put the change down to – wait for it – Global Warming. And what was the scientific tool that enabled them to make this breakthrough? It was – wait for it – a computer model. Yet another proxy vote for climate change.

Footnote (from Sorry, wrong number!)

Trofim Denisovich Lysenko was a peasant plant-breeder, a protégé of Stalin, and therefore all powerful during the Stalinist period. He was a proponent of Lamarckism. Lamarck was an 18th century French scientist who developed a discredited theory of evolution long before Darwin. In this, evolution occurs because organisms can inherit traits that have been acquired by their ancestors. Thus if giraffes find they can only survive by eating leaves high up on trees, they stretch their necks to reach the leaves and this stretching and the desire to stretch gets passed on (somehow) to later generations. As a result, a species of animal that originally had short necks evolved into a species with long necks. 

Thanks to Lysenko many real scientists were sent to the gulags or simply disappeared. Lysenko rose to dominance at a 1948 conference in Russia when he denounced Mendelian thought as “reactionary and decadent” and declared such thinkers to be “enemies of the Soviet people.” He also announced that his speech had been approved by the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Scientists wrote public letters confessing the errors of their ways and the righteousness of the wisdom of the Party, or they were dismissed. The result was not only the decline of Soviet biology, but also its agriculture. Lysenko is still admired by creationists and oddly enough his ideas appeal to another intolerant regime, political correctness. Modern versions of his ideas appear frequently in the media. 
12/2/03

Déja vu all over again, again

Another great scientific rediscovery! The headline in Nature tell us Dangerous levels of toxins miscalculated Potential pollutants and poisons may be beneficial in low doses.
Here is what your bending author wrote in Sorry, wrong number! three years ago:

It turns out that DNA is extremely fragile and DNA lesions occur in cells at an astonishingly high rate (see Jaworowski in What Risk?). All organisms, including human beings have developed efficient methods of repairing the damage, otherwise there would be no life left on Earth. Despite this well-known fact, major scares have been generated by the fallacious extrapolation from high doses to low ones. In reality it can often be demonstrated that low doses of toxic substances and radiations can have beneficial effects (hormesis). Jaworowski gives examples in the case of ionising radiation where authors have ignored clear hormetic effects in their own results. The fact is that small doses of radiation are good for you. The evidence is overwhelming (over 1000 scientific publications). Even back in the Manhattan Project in 1943 it was found that animals exposed to radiation lived longer and had more offspring than uncontaminated controls. Yet all this has been ignored by the regulatory authorities. The EPA, for example, continues to pursue the chimera of radon in the home.

What Risk? Edited by Roger Bate is published by Butterworth-Heinemann ISBN 0 7506 3810 9. It is available from ESEF.

 Liberty: Death by a thousand cuts

Refrain to-night,
And that shall lend a kind of easiness
To the next abstinence: the next more easy;
For use almost can change the stamp of nature.
Hamlet

 It was not long ago that the authorities would at least go through the motions of statistical fraud to justify their impositions. Now they just invent the numbers to suit their purposes.

One of the subjects that bring Number Watch large amounts of e-mail from all over the world is the question of speed cameras. There were great statistical shenanigans this month over the vast income that these devices are now producing in the UK amid official claims that they save lives, based on carefully selected statistics. According to David Cooper, a correspondent to The Times (Feb 14th), the number of camera prosecutions went like this:

whereas the number of fatalities went like this:

 

Apologies for the apparent chartmanship, but with a true zero you would see no variation at all.

Cooper asks the question “Will the UK still be a democracy when its Government prosecutes the entire population?”

The other great official celebration on St Valentine’s day was the ban on tobacco advertising. That was claimed by the Minister responsible to save 3,000 lives a year.

The British Medical Association welcomed the ban, which Vivienne Nathanson, head of its Orwellian-named Science and Ethics Committee, said it had been urging for 40 years. “The next step must be a complete ban on smoking in public places because passive smoking kills at least 1,000 non-smokers every year,” she said. “The statistics speak for themselves: 120,000 people die each year from smoking. Half of all the people who smoke will die from tobacco-related causes.”

Three big lies in three small sentences. At least the EPA and the CDC went through the formality of fiddling the statistics before they made their claims. The BMA, which has long abandoned any connection with real science, simply makes them up as they go along.

Of course, socialists love bans; they are the very stuff of life to them. Each ban makes the next one easier. You start off with the easy ones, like the ban on hand guns as a knee jerk reaction after a particularly nasty atrocity, then beef-on-the bone during a bout of hysteria, but where does it end? Voting against The Party?

Footnote (by Alwyn Davies) If anyone wants an example of carefully selected statistics, there was a rise of 28% in deaths on Northants roads,  so the  police published the figure for Killed or Seriously Injured, a drop of 31% . It was, of course, all down to the cameras.

 Doomed, doomed, we're all doomed!

This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper
Eliot - The Hollow Men

That's it then, the great scientist whose mastery of his brief we have only just re-celebrated has announced the end of the world. Might as well take to the bottle or the ritual sword. What more can you say? As Francis Howerd used to exclaim - it is wicked to mock the afflicted. The trouble is that the afflicted in this case is afflicting the rest of us.
13/2/03

Wishful thinking?

Here is a headline to savour -  Meacher resignation hint over GM foods outburst. 

And the Banners march on

As we have previously remarked, it is gardeners who seem to bare the brunt of the green-socialist zeal of the EU. Would you believe that they are now going to ban railway sleepers (railroad ties) ? These have been much valued by gardeners, who have done a marvelous job of recycling items that would otherwise just be burnt. The "scientists" have decided that the previously safe level of 50 parts per million of benzopyrene in creosote is now unsafe. They have, of course, no evidence on which to base this conclusion. Yet another daft entry in our cancer list.

Rocket science

 Talking of railroads, this piece has been circulating by e-mail. Source unnamed.

The US standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 feet, 8.5 inches. That's an exceedingly odd number. Why was that gauge used?

Because that's the way they built them in England, and English expatriates built the US Railroads.

Why did the English build them like that?

Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that's the gauge they used.

Why did "they" use that gauge then?

Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they used for building wagons, which used that wheel spacing.

Okay! Why did the wagons have that particular odd wheel spacing?

Well, if they tried to use any other spacing, the wagon wheels would break on some of the old, long distance roads in England, because that's the spacing of the wheel ruts.

So who built those old rutted roads?

Imperial Rome built the first long distance roads in Europe (and England) for their legions. The roads have been used ever since.

And the ruts in the roads?

Roman war chariots formed the initial ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagon wheels. Since the chariots were made for Imperial Rome, they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing. The United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches is derived from the original specifications for an Imperial Roman war chariot. And bureaucracies live forever. The Imperial Roman war chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the back ends of two war horses.

Now the twist to the story...

When you see a Space Shuttle sitting on its launch pad, there are two big booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters, or SRBs. The SRBs are made by Thiokol at their factory in Utah. The engineers who designed the SRBs would have preferred to make them a bit fatter, but the SRBs had to be shipped by train from the factory to the launch site. The railroad line from the factory happens to run through a tunnel in the mountains. The SRBs had to fit through that tunnel. The tunnel is slightly wider than the railroad track, and the railroad track, as you now know, is about as wide as two horses' behinds. So, a major Space Shuttle design feature of what is arguably the world's most advanced transportation system was determined over two thousand years ago by the width of a horse's arse.
 16/2/03

Footnote (added by B Holland)
There have been many rail gauges over the years. 4feet 8.5 inches is widely used and is usually called standard, but there are many others still in widespread use.
Metre gauge can be found in many countries. 3feet 6inches for southern Africa and most of the Japanese network (Shinkanzen lines are standard). Russia and its old empire are 5 feet. Ireland is 5feet 3 inches. Spain and Portugal mostly 5feet 5inches. India and Argentina are mostly 5feet 6inches as is the B.A.R.T. system in San Francisco. And let's not forget dear IKB's 7feet and a quarter inch.

Footnote 2 (added by Frank Borger) This has previously been exposed as an Urban Legend.

Global Glitch

Is this the end of ratchet reporting of the weather? The British media have been trying to ignore the meteorological mayhem in America, but the BBC have now broken ranks and reported the politically incorrect record snowstorm.

Michael O'Ronain has been keeping Number Watch up to date. Here is his latest bulletin:

The snow is not stopping!

This is becoming ridiculous. I am seriously considering a protest rally at the Columbia University office of the GISS. My sign will read:

What Do We Want?
Global Warming!
When Do We Want It?
Now!

A second plan entails a class action law suit against the IPCC for not delivering on their promises.

In Baltimore Maryland they are now talking about breaking all records for the last several hundred years. In New York the storm is going to be in the top 5 and the snow is not stopping.
17/2/03

Careers Corner

Guest column by Dr Jason Lumpenvolk, Careers Officer at the Metropolitan University of Nether Wallop.

When the new graduates, proudly clutching their certificates for degrees in media studies and leisure management, come to me for careers advice, I always say “Look for the growth industries.”

So my message to young people today is “Why not become a bailiff?” With the Chancellor of the Exchequer creating bigger and more imaginative taxes each year, manufacturing industry tied up in red tape and people’s pensions disappearing into the wild blue yonder, the opportunities in the bailiff industry have never been better. In April the new National Insurance hike will come in at the same time as increases of Council tax of 20%. Personal debt has been increasing beyond all bounds and must come up against the buffers soon. Then there is dear old Ken Livingstone, the archetypal socialist, who has this month introduced his new congestions charge designed to keep the streets of London free for the bourgeoisie, the corporate and the political. The Mayor is familiar with the activities of bailiffs, as they once called on him, so he knows how their creative talents can contribute to the generation of income.

The career of a bailiff has many advantages. You are not just stuck in an office, but you get out and meet people. You have the satisfaction that you are taking your service out to the poor, the inadequate and the distressed. You are helping the Government raise funds to keep the vital National Health Service Management Team intact.

Footnote: “Red Ken” Livingstone was the leader of the Greater London Council in the eighties. Londoners did not vote from him as such, but he took over from the elected moderate leader in a Bolshevik-style coup. He took the council from one extreme to another, spending money like water on politically correct schemes. Londoners found their local taxes going to fund the likes of gay and lesbian ping-pong clubs. He proclaimed his defiance to Margaret Thatcher’s Government from his headquarters on the other side of the Thames from the Houses of Parliament. Thatcher proved she could outdo him in outrageous behaviour by dissolving the GLC and leaving London without government.

Times columnist Andrew Pierce found a nice little circular connection. The bailiffs who visited Livingstone for non-payment of his poll tax were taken over by Capita, a company that feeds off the excesses of the New Labour Government. Capita are the company charged by Livingstone with collection of the congestion charge. The successful organism learns by experience, so you have to hand it to Ken, he knew where to go to enforce his own “poll tax on wheels”.
18/2/03

 A-cup-a-cup-a-cup-a-cup-a-cup, ah!

The pellet with the poison’s in the vessel with the pestle. The chalice from the palace has the brew that is true.
The Court Jester

 Nigel (thousands to die) Hawkes has found another delectable Trojan Number to back up a scary headline High coffee intake can cause stillbirth. The BBC made do with Coffee pregnancy warning. The number was 18,478, but regular readers of Number Watch, who seem to have developed cynical tendencies, will want to know how many actually contributed to the headline. The answer is just eleven. The original paper from Denmark derives a relative risk of 3.0 from this number. On the face of it, in view of our discussion of relative risk, we should accept this as significant, but just have a look at the 95% confidence interval, which is 1.5 to 5.9. This is typical of what happens when you try to make deductions from tiny numbers. A range this large at such an undemanding level of significance is an indicator of nonsense.

The paper is a classic in many ways. It is a data dredge, but one that mainly looks at the usual suspects – coffee, alcohol and tobacco. What “researchers” choose to ignore when they do this is the fact these substances are notable stress relievers and their excessive use is a symptom rather than a cause. Most of us like coffee, but more than eight cups a day? This was the intake for which the causality was claimed.

Another classical feature of the paper is that it goes on to perform all sorts of adjustments on this tiny number. It is a particular delight that, after all the adjustments, the confidence interval becomes 1.0 to 4.7; so even at this undemanding level of significance it includes unity, which means no correlation at all.

The number eleven mentioned above is actually the observed number. We can deduce from the figures given that the expected number would be four. Thus the excess, upon which the claim is based, is in fact seven. If this sounds familiar, we had seven in October 2001 for parenting linked to asthma. Also in Sorry, wrong number! we have sections on The Magnificent Seven and Return of the Magnificent Seven. It is astonishing how consistent these epidemiologists can be.
21/2/03

Footnote: For oldies who found the heading vaguely familiar, the full lyric is here.

Tall stories and addled eggs

We are the champions
Queen

When it comes to the efficient production of epidemiological junk there is no place like Harvard. They now tell us that tall men are more likely to get prostate cancer (RR = 1.23 to 1.43).  Their real pièce de résistance, however, is the Harvard Nurses Health Study. This applies the methods pioneered by Henry Ford to the mass production of statistical nonsense. The papers pour out at intervals from one week to one month, not a respectable risk ratio among them.

Of course, our old friend Nigel (thousands to die) Hawkes can be relied on to get excited at each of these effusions. Now they tell us that eggs may cut the risk of breast cancer (relative risk 0.82). Unfortunately, so do hot dogs with the same relative risk, which is hardly a politically correct result, but naughty butter carries a risk of 1.06. You have to admire their nerve.

Number of the month 101,881

Here is how the ever watchful  Christopher Booker reported it in the Daily Telegraph:

Last month Lord Stoddart of Swindon asked the Government how many regulations Brussels had issued since Britain joined the European Community in 1973. This means diktats which, unlike directives, are immediately binding. Lady Symons, the deputy leader of the Lords, gave year-by-year figures showing the total as 101,811. In answer to Lord Stoddart's request that details of these laws be made available, she said "given the volumes of regulations involved, it would incur disproportionate cost" to inform members of the British Parliament what laws have been imposed by a higher level of government.

So what they are telling us is not only are there over 100,000 laws that must be obeyed, but they are not going to tell us what they are. They are not even going to tell our representatives in Parliament.

Not even Kafka, Orwell or Lewis Carroll came up with that one. Believe it or not your bending author was an enthusiastic Europhile at the birth of  Number Watch three years ago, but the exercise of actually looking at what the EC get up to has brought about the realisation that the EU is the greatest peace time disaster ever to have been inflicted upon the benighted islands.

Power mad!

The evil that men do lives after them,
The good is oft interred with their bones.
Julius Caesar

It is fortunate that in democracies bad government is usually a transient phenomenon, but there are some areas in which bad government afflicts succeeding generations. One such area is long-term borrowing. The post-war Labour government, instead of knuckling down to the task of ensuring that the nation could earn its living, chose to borrow money from the USA on usurious terms that have blighted the lives of Britons ever since. The present Government is borrowing on a grand scale (including hire purchase disguised as the Private Finance Initiative) and like its post-war predecessor is diverting the funds into an overweening bureaucracy. Another important area is energy. Decisions on energy policy come into effect ten or twenty years after they are made. The way to cripple a modern state is to cut off its energy supply, as various oil crises have demonstrated.

The basics of a sound energy policy are quite simple:

1.      Energy should be obtained from a variety of sources, lest one should fail.

2.      There should be a reliable and continuous source to service the base load.

3.      There should be further instantly available sources to accommodate demand surges.

4.      Unpredictable and intermittent sources should be avoided.

5.      Policy should not be decided by trends, fashions or religious convictions.

The British Government’s White paper of this month fails in all these respects. It represents a craven obeisance to the Green desire for a return to the Stone Age. It is driven by the science fantasy of the global warming myth. It makes no decision on the vital investment needed in nuclear technology to guarantee the servicing of the base load in future. It ensures that the country will be beholden to other nations for the provision of this most vital resource, assuming that their goodwill continues uninterrupted. It diverts even more precious research funds into academic organisations that are little better than propaganda machines.

The arithmetic that damns so-called renewable energy is perfectly simple, yet the nation’s prosperity is being hocked to pay for entry into the Solar Fraud.

 

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