Number of the Month

July  2005

Guardian of truth

When a campaigning newspaper carries a red front page banner proclaiming “The truth about…”, it is a pretty good bet that you are about to be told some whoppers. When the paper is the Guardian and the subject is Global Warming, betting does not come into it.

The Guardian supplement, coincidentally out just before the G8 summit, is one of the most masterful examples of mendacious propaganda you are likely to come across. There are thirty six pages featuring every technique in the book. There are barely a couple of incontestable paragraphs in the whole production (and they were contributed by Fred Singer).

A fine example of selectivity is the historical account, which seeks to provide a smooth progression from the work of Arrhenius to the modern age when “scarcely a week goes by without a major study of climate change.” Unless you were looking for it, you would not notice the lacuna between the 60s and 80s, which was when environmentalists were trying to sell us the new ice age. Of course, according to believers that never happened. Pity about the printed record!

There is a whole page of graphics illustrating unsupportable predictions:

Not only are we going to have both drought and floods (as if we had not had them before) but we are supposed to forget that malaria once was endemic, right up to the Arctic Circle (including Britain in the Little Ice Age)

Here is a superbly crafted example of the false comparison:

Water Vapour accounts for 60% of the natural greenhouse effect….Carbon dioxide accounts for 62% of human induced global warming.

The strange world of Moonbat et al. is revealed in all its glory. It has often seemed that George Monbiot lives on a different planet from the rest of us. Here is his view of the media attitude to the Warmers:

…they broadcast furious attacks on environmentalism, such as Channel 4's series Against Nature and BBC2's Scare Stories. Most of the newspapers, with an eye on the interests of their proprietors and advertisers, followed their example.

On the back page Oliver James seems to have had a similar experience:

In the case of Anglo-Saxon peoples, for example, we live in a rose-tinted bubble of positive illusions, highly defended from reality.

Somehow that does not seem to accord with the unrelenting gloom and scaremongering that the rest of us experience, a tiny fraction of which has been reported in these pages. Note the way that the word reality is used to represent what is at best pure conjecture.

A clever move was to give Fred Singer the opening piece in a page of personal opinions and follow his sweet reason with no fewer than seven avid pieces from true believers. It made Fred look like a lone eccentric lost in a consensus. It is always notable that so many of the experts, always the first to throw about ad hominem attacks of financial interest, actually owe their living to the faith. Paid acolytes to a religion are unlikely also to be good servants of science.

One could go on, but it is almost all there on the web site for your delectation.

01/07/05

Bucking the trend

A neat little footnote to our June number of the month appeared in The Times of July 1st.  Road deaths are at a record low following a further decrease, but fourth worst in the league table is Richard Brunstrom’s North Wales area, which managed an 18% increase in deaths.

02/07/05

The ultimate

At last the Government has come up with a truly socialist policy that has everything – rationing, snoopers, identity cards, an unworkable giant computer system, micro-management of people’s lives – and it’s all based on the Global Warming myth.

Labourites have never got over the nostalgia for the truly socialist post-war Government. This was the austerity period, when the rationing was more onerous than it had been during the war. Government snoopers were everywhere, making sure that nobody was indulging in forbidden trade. Rationing disappeared almost overnight when we got rid of that Government, but those of us who are old enough to remember it have spent our whole lives paying back the debts run up by the overweening bureaucracy.

Interesting, too, that this latest proposal should prompt the Daily Telegraph at last to come up with a leader that tells it how it is. About time!

03/07/05

Eight

Last month’s number seems to have an unusual persistence. We have had Live 8 (multimillionaires standing on a stage telling ordinary people to give their wages and pensions to tyrants and corrupt bureaucrats) and then G8. The barrage of propaganda, particularly about global warming, that has preceded this event, has reached absurd proportions. The Times of July 5th has two pages of exaggerated (to say the least) claims, which make its editorial look almost reasoned. The absurd ritual of  world leaders gathering together produces little result, other than an opportunity for anarchists to vent their spleens and an ego trip for the participants. Between them these two events have virtually monopolised the media.

Yawn.

Heatwave – progress report

Readers who monitor the British media might wonder why they have stopped talking about the weather and have turned to discussing the African drought. The reason is that, as in May, the beginning of July has turned out to be unusually cold. Here in the Blackmore Vale, folk have turned their central heating back on, as temperatures have fallen down to 7.1°C. Don’t worry, though; as soon as it warms up a bit the Ministry will send us all their valuable document on how to survive the heatwave and no doubt the BBC will repeat their documentary that coincidentally carried the same name. Pity about the conjunction with G8, but that’s weather for you.

05/07/05

Cause for optimism

This from our man in Puerto Rico (Jaime Arbona)

I'm beginning to believe that the human-forced global warming myth, scare etc. has peaked. Many  indicators  of this have appeared during the past year, even if the Kyoto treaty was finally approved.

1. The M&M issue has significantly weakened (if not debunked) the infamous hockey stick

2. There have been many recent papers that tend to indicate that climate change is mostly natural.

3. There seem to be many more scientists than in the past that are willing to voice their skepticism.

4.  The EU is showing increasing signs of recanting (heck they can't meet their own targets) and the G8 summit seems to be in turmoil. I think we will see some surprises there.

5. Some EU Commissioners seem to be having second thoughts.

6. The recent French and Dutch votes against the EU constitution have thrown a monkey wrench (or is it a spanner?) into the works.

7. The Russian Academy of Science and the US counterpart have thrown some cold water over the fabled consensus of the science academies. Seems there was another May-mess there.

8. And now the House of Lords, too.

I usually don't pay much attention to "feelings" and "hunches" but I'm sort of "sensing something in the air" as if a page has been turned or maybe as if some type of threshold has been crossed. The renewed popularity of nuclear power (even by some greenies who seem desperate) tends to point to this, too. Who would have believed that several years ago?

What do you think?

Answers to the Forum please.

Potential for disaster

So London has been awarded the 2012 Olympic Games. Whatever possessed the IOC to give it to the firm that gave us the Millennium Dome? Of course, our Tone as a salesman is a genius and a consummate actor. He does humble brilliantly (if emetically) while Chirac can only do arrogant. Many of us knew the Dome was going to be a disaster when Mandy banned the Union Flag. It is not that we are all that attached to a coloured bit of cloth (as some Americans seem to be) but that it was an indication that they were building a temple to PC. Our fears were dramatically justified by the scenes on the opening day, when hundreds of “celebrities” were stranded waiting hours for the inadequate and monopolistic public transport.

The one consolation is that there is still time to remove this bunch of incompetents before they do too much damage.

The insignificance map of Britain

The latest manifestation of epidemiological excess wowed the media and gave them excellent opportunities to round up their usual suspects. It was the Cancer Map of Britain. Cluster theory made visible and all based on Relative Risks in the range 0.5 - 1.5, or in some cases 0.9 -1.33.

 

Break

11 a.m. Stopped writing here, as news of the London bombs came through. There seems to be a horrible inevitability about it. First reaction is to condemn all the complacency and lying (about, for example, the number of illegal immigrants in Britain).

07/07/05

Resumption

Three days later and the media have said everything that could be said about the pointless acts of terror. There were all shades of opinion, from the mawkish to the downright offensive. Your bending author resorted to exorcising a few ancient and personal demons here.

Eye of the beholder

In general it is Number Watch policy to ignore sniping on the blogosphere, because it only gets you into arguments of ever decreasing circles, but this comment from the Randi  Forum has a certain mystical quality that might appeal:

Honestly, from the FAQ, it looks just like another one of these "if-it's-not pro-free-market-it-ain't-science" site...

Footnote (for the numerate)

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
 Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring
Alexander Pope –  Essay on Criticism

Our Man in Puerto Rico found this criticism further on from the one mentioned above :

"I have no problem with that. You can often find some good stuff on this kind of site. It just require a careful read, or you'll get annoyed by the connotations of the text. At least I was quite annoyed at the use of "density function" in the case of Poisson"

There is no difficulty in using the concept of a density function for discrete cases if you are prepared to apply delta functions (or delta distributions as some mathematicians call them). There are many problems in physics in which you have to proceed from the discrete to the continuous case, which make some form of combined theory necessary. The rigorous way is to eschew density functions altogether, use the distribution function and apply the Lebesgue-Stieltjes integral (see for example Cramér, Mathematical methods of statistics). This allows you to use the same formula for the discrete and continuous cases.

Clearly you cannot do this when trying to explain to the relatively lay reader. You have to harness the familiarity with histograms. Although it is non-rigorous, portraying the discrete distribution as blocks of area equal to the probability enables you to deal with convergence problems (binomial to normal, discrete to continuous etc.)

An example of where such problems came to a head was given earlier. In order to challenge certain dominant theories, it was necessary to measure charges on sub-microscopic particles. These were of about 10,000 electrons. It had been claimed that the discrete and continuous theories for the multiplication process did not converge, which was absurd. This was how the paper quoted in answer to correspondence came about.

10/07/05

Five years on

I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.
Prufrock

Leaving aside any thoughts of triskaidekaphobia (which, incidentally gave us the very first number of the month) it is time to observe the birthday of Number Watch (and, as it happens, its author).

They say that a mixed feeling is seeing your mother-in-law drive over a cliff in your new car, and it is mixed feelings that this anniversary engenders. Of course, the fact that the earth has completed an integral number of orbits has nothing to do with anything, but such is the way of human thought.

Who would have thought that, five years on, the site would be receiving over a thousand hits every day? It had been tried out in May 2000, an afterthought to the private publication of Sorry, wrong number!, as a limited circulation among colleagues, but the encouraging response prompted an investment in Microsoft Front Page ® for a trial run on the intranet. It was clearly not going to be the sort of thing that could be published in the name of the University, so a private hosting contract was taken out with Hosting UK, a happy choice, apart from one unfortunate incident that caused the author to be cut off from the outside world for some days. The counter was set at zero and three months worth of early rants were uploaded. The counter turned out to be an irrelevance, since very few readers return via the front page.

Much is owed to Junkscience.com, not only did it provide an outlet for the book in the USA, when there was no mechanism for accepting payment from abroad, but it placed a permanent link and took to mentioning occasional contributions,  also with links. A mention on that site is worth at least 1,000 extra hits.

On a personal level the anniversary is slightly deflated by the fact that your bending author has been in the intervening years beset by two afflictions – arthritis and Gordon Brown. Arthritis is the very devil, which gradually robs you of all the things that make life worthwhile – sport, making music etc. It was an unexpected blow when the degeneration reached the neck, leading to a need to ration computer time. One thing that suffered was answering e-mails; so apologies for all the lack of response, though the messages are all read and (mostly) appreciated. Still, looking on the bright side, arthritis is just Nature’s way of telling you that it is time to become part of the food chain. Gordon Brown robs you of what you have worked for and destroys all your careful planning; so the idea of taking early retirement to live cheaply in the West Country proved somewhat delusory. As a result Number Watch owes much of its continued existence to a small band of supporters, a couple of them quite generous. The fact that some people are prepared to put their hands in their pockets is also an enormous encouragement to feel that the effort is worthwhile.

Incidentally, the nom de plume of your bending author was explained back in November 2001. It is still not much appreciated in America, where people are more direct and have not been exposed to the tradition of the English Essay and the likes of Elia (no not Kazan, the other one).

The other great bonus has been the acquisition of new friends, even though one has never met them, and there are dozens of regular correspondents from all over the world. It would be invidious to start naming a few of them, but a special tribute must be made to Our Man in Puerto Rico (Jaime Arbona). As has been mentioned before, OMIPR acts as your bending author’s Jiminy Cricket and even spots when a quotation has been attributed to the right poet but the wrong poem. He is so quick off the mark that most readers do not see the real clangers.

One of the successes of Number Watch appears to have been the FAQs, and it is particularly gratifying that they seem to be widely used in schools and colleges. There is a delicate path to be trodden between mathematical rigour and perspicuity, which has been occasionally overstepped, but as the great Lina Lamont says “If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, it makes us feel as though our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'. Bless you all.”

The bad news is that the situation that Number Watch was created to combat has got considerably worse. In particular, the anti-science eco-theological campaign, which was then both inchoate and chaotic, is now more systematic and organised. It has stormed and occupied the very citadels of science at the highest levels. Who would have thought five years ago that none other than the Royal Society would be coordinating the suppression of scientific debate, or that Russia would provide the last bastion of academic freedom?

The contrast between the reality and the myth is ever growing. Zealots such as Friends of the Earth promote draconian and economically disastrous legislation, while out in the real world the data show that there is no warming happening at all. Scaremongers, often calling themselves epidemiologists, grossly abuse the statistical method and are loved for it by the journalists. Successful campaigns, such as the antismoking one, are based on deliberate and outrageous statistical fraud. They compound the offence by inventing ludicrous one-sided balance sheets and wholly imaginary death tolls, which they inflate on the basis of no evidence at all (the imaginary body count for passive smoking in the UK has now risen from 1,000 to 12,000, which is four times more than those frauds at the EPA claimed for the whole of the USA). The medical profession, indeed, has abandoned any pretence of having a relationship with science, as is shown, for example, by its footling salt scare. People calling themselves science journalists write in complete and careless ignorance of their subject, failing to distinguish, as one minor example, between power and energy.

The cause of real science is maintained by a small band, many of them emeritus professors, who were educated when all scientists were trained to be sceptics. A few brave souls like Benny Peiser raise their heads above the parapet while still in harness, risking their chances of research grants and therefore promotion. By the way, lovers of scientific truth should sign up for The Cambridge Conference Network if they have not already done so.

Time to move on! It is all getting a bit maudlin, but then what is life if you cannot have a good maudle every now and then?

Unholy alliance

The Times is much exercised about the most recent excess of zealous legislation from the unelected bureaucrats of the EU. There are no fewer than three opinion articles about the new ban on hundreds of vitamin supplements. It is quite beside the point that these products are completely useless to almost everyone. In a free country, which the UK used to be, people are entitled to indulge in their own follies. The sinister background to all this, however, is the relationship between the bureaucracy and big industry. Small firms cannot bear the costs of the required tests (mainly the sacrifice of thousands of rats on the altar of epidemiology) so they are put out of business.

Number Watch got it wrong about Mad Margot’s murrains. The plague is not of pests and diseases, but of large companies charging monopoly prices for the new replacements for the traditional and efficient treatments. Bureaucrats do not like small businesses; they make the place untidy, while big businesses can afford to maintain permanent lobbyists in Brussels and ensure smooth cooperation.

It’s a nasty old Kafkaesque, Orwellian continent.

13/07/05

The epistle of Paul to the innumerate

The inevitable about turn on speed camera policy was heralded by a full page article in The Times Speed camera U-turn as 500 sites rejected. Why was it inevitable? For the simple reason that the Government’s policy was to promote an exponential growth of camera numbers.

You do not need to be a mathematical genius to be able to deduce that if you feedback a fixed proportion of the income from speed cameras to buying more speed cameras, their numbers will increase exponentially. It is an example of the most basic form of differential equation (first order) that used to be taught in schools. Eventually you will have more cameras than people. It had already reached the absurd level at which cameras were looking for sites rather than sites looking for cameras.

The fact that the subsidiary article in The Times actually mentioned Regression to the Mean is a breakthrough for real science and a triumph for one lone web campaigner. Paul Smith on his Safe Speed web site has pursued the illogic of speed cameras with a great persistence, first noted here in January 2003, which has finally paid off.

Officials might claim that he had nothing to do with the decision, but there is evidence otherwise. When your bending author was cited on Paul’s web site as having supported the point about regression to the mean, it resulted in a letter from a Government official, via the University, asking whether the claimed support was valid. There was an implied belief that it was an invention. The reply confirmed the belief that the criticism based on Regression to the Mean was correct.

Mathematics aside, any policy that mindlessly pours money into an activity is going to produce a cohort of parties with an interest in promoting it; most notably the egregious Richard Brunstrom and his ilk, but also those for whom it provides a nice little earner. Speed cameras provide one of the largest contributions to the Number Watch inbox from all over the world. They owe their birth to the bureaucrat's distaste for the Sorites paradox and love of thresholds.

Incidentally, The Times article carries an interesting graphic with a fine example of chartmanship in the form of a suppressed zero.

15/07/05

The swing of the pendulum

‘In any investigation, my Bunter, it is most damnably dangerous to have a theory.’
‘I have heard you say so, my lord.’
‘Confound you – you know it as well as I do. What is wrong with the doctor's theories, Bunter?’
‘You wish me to reply, my lord, that he only sees the facts which fit into the theory.’
‘Thought-reader!’ exclaimed Lord Peter bitterly.
Dorothy L Sayers, The footsteps that ran.

It swept the media. Here is the BBC version:

The General Medical Council has struck off paediatrician Professor Sir Roy Meadow after his "misleading" evidence in the Sally Clark case. 

The GMC announced on Friday that Sir Roy had been found guilty of serious professional misconduct. …

For anyone with a modicum of training in probability theory, Meadow’s sin was grievous. He had used the product rule for probabilities without ascertaining that he was dealing with independent events, coming up with a probability of two cot deaths in one family as one in 73 million. That was our number of the month for January 2003. The unfortunate woman in the case was actually acquitted because of the withholding of other pathological evidence, but the fact that an expert witness could stand up in court and make such a preposterous claim in an area in which his expertise is self-evidently zilch, and have it accepted, points to a pathological condition in the legal system.

Of course, it swings both ways, and swing is the operative term. A section of Sorry, wrong number! is entitled The cot death catastrophe. The expert at that time was one Dr Alfred Steinschneider. The doctor had a theory, that cot death was related to bouts of apnoea. Eventually this theory was exposed as junk, but not until it had created a whole new lucrative industry for apnoea monitors. He was ultimately involved in the case of a mother who had lost five children. Here is part of the account from Sorry:

They were always at a particular time early in the day, they were always at a time shortly after the father had left to go to work. Every baby died while they were in the exclusive custody and control of the mother, while the last two babies spent the vast majority of their short time on earth in the presence of doctors at a hospital where nothing ever happened to them; yet both babies died the day they were released to their mother.” 

Twenty-two years after Dr Steinschneider had first written about her family tragedy, Waneta Hoyt was arrested for murder. On 23rd March 1994 she confessed to the killing of her five children. Once she had lawyers, she retracted her confession, so the case had to be proven. Dr Alfred Steinschneider testified that the last two children had suffered from apnoea and that it was so severe that they had needed to be resuscitated. The nurses refused to corroborate his claim and, indeed, said they had expressed fears that the children were going home to be murdered, while there was nothing in the hospital records to support him either.

In every case of alleged infanticide until then Steinschneider’s paper had been quoted. Child abuse is, of course, a very emotive subject, about which the establishment/ media complex would oscillate between one extreme and another. Earlier the pendulum had been at the other extreme. From Sorry again:

Tip of the iceberg

This is a rather more sinister version of “more research is needed.” It is often used by professional alarmist to create a panic from a minimal amount of evidence. The classic case was the Cleveland child sexual abuse scandal of 1987. A team of paediatricians and social workers invented a plague of family child abuse and as a result 121 children were snatched from their families. Suddenly every parent in the country was a suspected abuser, since this could only be the tip of the iceberg. By the time the public inquiry started a year later 98 of the children has been returned home, scarred for life. The social workers resented the fact that they were (quite rightly in my opinion) pilloried for this catastrophe.

Now all the women involved are invariably described in the media as innocent. Let us hope that this is correct, but the courts have a difficult task in such cases and the attitude of the legal system to “expert witnesses” does not help. At the risk of overdoing the self quotation, here are another couple of quotes from Sorry:

I was called in as an expert witness  at a late stage in a case involving industrial instrumentation. The other side had moved that their expert witness should be the only one to give evidence. I looked at his statement. It began “I studied electronics at Southampton University”, and I felt there was something strange about the wording. My secretary had the job of looking after the departmental archives, so I asked her to look this chap up. It transpired that he had failed his second year examinations and had been asked to leave. This tells us something about the arrogance of lawyers. They would not allow an unqualified person to practise at the bar, so why to they take expert evidence on measurement from someone who is not a chartered engineer or physicist?

and

Norman Birkett was appearing for the prosecution in this case in 1931, in which Rouse was charged with the murder of an unknown man, whose charred remains were found in Rouse’s burnt-out car in circumstances calculated to suggest that the victim was Rouse himself. Part of the evidence for the Crown was the slight but significant looseness of the joint at the tank end of the pipe leading to the petrol tank of the car. 

The expert witness for the Defence was one Arthur Isaacs, a “practical engineer” claiming experience of relevant conditions, but making no claim whatever to qualification as a “theoretical engineer”. He went into the witness box to say that in his experience he had found that extreme heat could cause a loosening of a nut, owing to the distortion of the metals in cooling off. The cross-examination went as follows:

“What is the coefficient of expansion of brass?”

“I am afraid I cannot answer that question offhand.”

“If you do not know, say so. What do I mean by the term?”

“You want to know what is the expansion of the metal under heat?”

“I asked you what is the coefficient of expansion of brass.  Do you know what it means?”

“Put that way, I probably do not.”

“You are an engineer.”

“I daresay I am.  I am not a doctor, nor a crime investigator, nor an amateur detective.  I am an engineer.”

“What is the co-efficient of expansion of brass? (pause) You do not know?”

and so on.

Which brings us back to speed cameras.

In the cases that gave us last month’s number, the expert witness called by the police was the managing director of the company that imported the devices. It is apparent that he had little idea of what went on inside them. In a proper legal system the defendant should be entitled to subpoena the algorithms used. It is the easiest thing in the world to write a few glib lines of program for the internal microprocessor on the basis of some half baked idea. It is often done by people who have not the slightest acquaintance with the basics of discrete signal processing theory. Yet, if it produces a number on a display the courts are prepared to accept it as evidence (even though it detects a wall going at 58 mph).

16/07/05

Ted Heath

So, oft it chances in particular men,
That for some vicious mole of nature in them,
As, in their birth--wherein they are not guilty,
Since nature cannot choose his origin--
By the o'ergrowth of some complexion,
Oft breaking down the pales and forts of reason,
Or by some habit that too much o'er-leavens
The form of plausive manners, that these men,
Carrying, I say, the stamp of one defect,
Being nature's livery, or fortune's star,--
Their virtues else--be they as pure as grace,
As infinite as man may undergo--
Shall in the general censure take corruption
From that particular fault: the dram of eale
Doth all the noble substance of a doubt
To his own scandal.

Hamlet

Our Hampshire village pub was the Greyhound. Occasionally a chauffeur driven car would pull up and an elderly man would climb out. He was on his way from London to his house in Cathedral Close, Salisbury. He would buy a round of drinks, accept one in return and enjoy a chat and a few jokes with the locals. He was jolly, charming and self-effacing. This was the real Ted Heath. One village wag clapped him on the shoulder, saying “Ted, I wish you were still Prime Minister. When you were in charge, I only had to work three days a week.” Those famous shoulders went up and down in that characteristic laugh, which was later described as “mirthless”.

The one thing a politician needs is luck. History dealt Heath a losing hand and ironically dealt his successor a winning one. The card that made all the difference was OIL. One Prime Minister had an oil crisis on his hands, with prices more than trebling, while the other had an oil bonanza, with the North Sea rigs coming on stream.

Heath had to wrestle with uncontrollable inflation and militant trade union leaders who were determined to exploit to the end the weapon that fate had placed in their hands. He was made to appear weak and vacillating as his policies twisted and turned in attempts to solve the insoluble crises. He lost the election on “who controls the country?” and the trade union leaders wreaked their havoc throughout the life of their own promoted Government, finally bringing it down in the Winter of Discontent. Thatcher was ultimately able to thrash them, thanks largely to the economic gift that providence had placed in her hands.

The obituaries were not friendly. The Times was at best off hand, while the Conservative leaning Telegraph was positively hostile. For Ted had a blind spot, which was Europe. He had it for the best of reasons, the horror of his experiences in the Second World War, but it clouded his judgement. Not only did he allow his friend Georges Pompidou to carve him up in the negotiations for entry, but he concealed from the British People the implications of the agreement, which included the devastation of the agricultural and fishing industries and the emasculation of the Mother of Parliaments.

Nevertheless, he was still a giant among men, in contrast to the present incumbent. He was a man of culture, a fine musician and a sportsman who brought back the Admiral’s Cup. His public persona was unfortunate, but the denizens of that village pub would not have recognised the description of a cold, graceless man described in the obituaries. He clearly loved to relax in the company of ordinary people. He had been treated with contempt by his luckier protégée, and was unable to put on a false face in response. Yet, freed of the cares of office he was a witty and accomplished speaker (without notes) who graced the parliamentary scene far more than he was given credit for.

When he left the pub someone would always say "What a nice bloke!"

Old Superheroes never die

Inveterate number watcher Ian Reid was watching BBC television when none other than Finger Man, Dr John Manning, appeared; he who has adorned this web site and a book associated with it. He is still flogging the same digits, but now has the benefit not only of a BBC programme, but one with sex in the title. What more could a scientist ask?

19/07/05

With one bound he was free!

No wonder our poet was inspired to praise the prowess of Gordon Brown. It was like one of those silent film serials, where the hero is tied up over a pit of alligators suspended from a burning rope. You wonder all the week how he is possibly going to escape; then he emerges unscathed with little or no explanation, ready to get on with the next adventure. Our Gordon was going to break his Golden Rule. The air was alive with the clucking of his chickens coming home to roost. He was going to break his golden rule of balancing the budget over the economic cycle. So, what did he do? He simply moved the goalposts by pushing back the date of the start of the economic cycle.

It was a brilliant exploitation of the endpoint fallacy, beloved of global warmers and obesity scaremongers (who, in Britain, take as a start point 1950, when the population had endured a decade of starvation).

The New Labour Government must be a bit surprised themselves by how easily they get away with it. They exploit the most blatant falsehoods and frauds and seem simply to walk away from them unscathed, whistling and spinning as they go.

It will be interesting, if painful, to see how long Brown manages to keep the balls in the air. You cannot continue a process of moving resources from the wealth generating sector of the economy to the wealth absorbing sector without something breaking.

20/07/05

Richard Doll

The obituarists were out in force following the announcement of the death of “The epidemiologist who first demonstrated the link between smoking and lung cancer.” Fulsome accounts were recorded by The Times, The Telegraph , the BBC and most other media outlets. At least some of them had the decency to mention the existence of Austin Bradford Hill, who has of late been largely written out of history. Not many people have the opportunity in life to determine the direction of a new science. On the passing of Hill, Doll was poised to do just that. He had taken part in the first (and possibly the last) rigorous study of the effects of smoking. Hill had laid down the robust criteria that would have to be met for an epidemiological study to provide convincing evidence, which was in effect his bequest to Doll. Doll stood alone and authoritatively at the crossroads of a new science. Unfortunately for human society he chose the left hand path, kicked over the traces and embraced standards of statistical significance far below those prescribed by his mentor. This all came to a head in the book The causes of cancer, co-authored with Richard Peto, which was all based on the logical fallacy of begging the question.

He was certainly entitled to the soubriquet of Father of Modern Epidemiology. If he had not granted his imprimatur to the lax standards adopted by that profession the world would be a very different place. The anti-tobacco PC campaign, based on gross statistical frauds by the EPA and CDC, would never have gained momentum. The recurrent health scares, promoted by the likes of the Harvard Nurses Health Study, would have been dismissed for the froth that they are. Newspapers would have been reduced to reporting actual facts about human health.

Was there ever a greater betrayal of a mentor by his protégé than Doll attaching his name to the Orwellian travesty of the Hill criteria produced by the anti-tobacco zealots of the BMA?

Nevertheless, it is quite an epitaph for anyone – he changed the world.

25/07/05

Variations on a theme

This comment from Our Man in Puerto Rico:

It seems that my bending author has some good company regarding Sir Richard Doll's shenanigans.

When offered some types of company solitude seems preferable.

Mathew Iredale finds some disarming honesty:

Depressingly, Bradford Hill isn't even mentioned in Wikipedia's section on Epidemiology: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epidemiology Although we are told about "the 1954 publication of the results of a British Doctors Study led by Richard Doll". Hmmm. 

The subsection Epidemiology as advocacy is particularly revealing. We learn that "the epidemiologist is not limited by the strict requirements for scientific accuracy." 

Ah, isn't he? That explains a great deal. 

Rather, we are told that "presentation of the data can take more artistic modes to engender behavior or perspective change." 

'Artistic modes to engender behavior [sic] change'? Translation: Altering the data to get people to do what we want them to do. Dreadful. 

Further checking reveals that he does have his own section: 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Austin_Bradford_Hill 

And a good quote from Peter Armitage: "to anyone involved in medical statistics, epidemiology or public health, Bradford Hill was quite simply the world’s leading medical statistician."

Still, doesn't atone for the bollocks in the epidemiology section. 

27/07/05

Number of the month 350

For the opening of yet another silly season to whom should we turn for the number of the month but Mad Margot herself. Realising that she was to European industry what a demolition ball is to a house, the Commission decide to move her sideways to take charge of public relations. Her first move, reported in The Times is to increase her staff by another 50 to 350. How many struggling European taxpayers does it take to keep that lot in luxury?

Anyway, the woman who saddled European industry with natty little schemes like forcing companies to give their secret recipes away to their rivals in Asia is now propaganding in her own inimitable style. This from Christopher Booker’s notebook in The Telegraph:

Margot Wallstrom, the EU's "communications" commissioner, tells the Financial Times that, as part of a new "action plan to improve communicating Europe", the Commission is to set up a "rapid rebuttal unit" to "counter false claims" about EU regulations. She yet again gives as an example the "outlandish story" that there is a law laying down that "cucumbers had to be straight".

If Mrs Wallstrom looked at Commission Regulation 1677/88 she would, of course, see that it is illegal to sell top-grade cucumbers unless they are "practically straight" (helpfully defined as "an arc not exceeding 10mm per 10cm length of the cucumber"). Naturally one cannot expect the Commission's propaganda minister to bother with the truth. But does it not say something about the Financial Times that it can still relay this kind of garbage without a blush?

It is good to see that Numby laureates live up to the reputation of that prestigious award. She was Woman of the Year in 2003.

Incidentally, the original meaning of prestigious was “juggling or deceitful”.

28/07/05

Index

moncler outlet usa Moncler outlet hermes outlet prada outlet gucci outlet dior outlet lv outlet chloe outlet