Number of the Month

June  2005


To those who complained about the lack of action here at Numeric Towers, there is no excuse, but the reason is that your bending author has been out planting vegetables. Ironically, while the BBC and the Ministry were cooking up their Heatwave scares,  the BBC's veteran gardening correspondent was reporting from the Chelsea Flower Show "I have been coming to Chelsea for 37 years and this is the coldest May I have known". They had to bring in radiant heaters to bring the flowers on.

Einstein on consensus

It is appropriate that, on the centenary of his annus mirabilis, Albert Einstein should have the last word on the new wave of consensus science. Regular number watcher John Brian Baker found this:

In 1933, Adolf Hitler's Nazi party seized control and with them came the systematic persecution of Jews and of political opponents. As a Jew and a socialist, Einstein was a target of the Nazi secret police. Mass meetings were held in Berlin denouncing Einstein's theories and "Jewish physics". A book One hundred authors against Einstein was published - he remarked that if he had been wrong then one would have been enough!

Correspondence received

Re: grumpy old men Jane Barnett – Middlx University.    Why can’t you be more positive about other people’s research?  You sound a typical skeptical grumpy old man yourself and as my daughter took months to do this serious research for her PhD you are only showing yourself up by being critical.   I’m not an academic, nor want to be, but your attitude just shows you up for what you are and I’m glad she hasn’t any stupid old men like you at her University.    It’s a pity you haven’t anything else to do but pull other people to bits.  I can’t be bothered to read any more of your ridiculous site and wonder whether anyone else feels sorry for you.  You sad bastard.


The power of gross statistical fraud

The tobacco-banning movement has finally reached the stage of the last push in England. It is remarkable that it has taken so long, considering that it is driven by the combined forces of the political correctness movement, the zeal of the converts with a fear of their own cravings, those who get their kicks out of ordering others around and the socialist love of banning things.

If the age of science ever returns, the story will provide the classic example of the use of junk science to enforce a policy; though that is unlikely, as history is written by winners. The scientific basis of most of the claims comes from two studies, by the CDC and the EPA. The preliminary results of both were embarrassing: the CDC study showed that smokers lived longer than non-smokers, while the EPA one showed that passive smoking was harmless. The CDC solved their problems with a sequence of statistical fiddles, the most egregious of which involved treating all eighty and ninety year old smokers as having died prematurely of their habit. The important one, however, was the EPA so called meta-study. They had spent four years developing an anti-tobacco policy when someone pointed out that they did not have any evidence that smokers caused harm to others. Their reaction to this has been covered frequently in these pages and the associated books, as well as widely elsewhere. The most astonishing was committing the statistical crime of changing the level of significance part way through a study, and reducing it to a level that is a record low, yet still achieving only a ludicrous RR of 1.19. The product of these studies were the baseless claims the 400,000 Americans die from smoking each year and 3,000 die from passive smoking. The British zealots  reduced these figures pro rata for population and then characteristically added a bit for luck. Some of the attempts by at evidence the zealots who have taken over the BMA are quite ludicrous. The efforts to rewrite history to cover up any challenges to the so-called evidence are legion (e.g. the vilification of the heroic Judge Osteen).

The proposed English smoking policy is classic Old Labour, with an unnecessary proliferation of ugly notices, criminalisation of an innocent minority, draconian policing with yet more burdens imposed on local authorities and hence more taxes, plus the recruitment of snoopers. Above all there is the irrelevance. We noted back in February 2001 how Labour back-benchers packed the house for the hunting ban and then walked out when serious matters were to be debated. We have national disasters in such areas as hard drugs and violent crime, yet we are going to dissipate resources on catching people having a quick drag. People have always taken pleasure in persecuting minorities, but in the world of PC some minorities are more persecutable than others.

Truth is stranger than fiction

In the light of the current craze for lists of the greatest, compiled from viewers’ votes, your bending author once began a parody in which people voted for greatest philosopher, but abandoned it as too far fetched. Now the BBC (who else?) has done just that and more. Not only are we able to vote, but we can have the guidance of thoughts from the inevitable celebrities, such as tele-bimbos and disc jockeys. We live in a world in which nothing has any validity unless it has the democratic approval of those who are stupid enough to pay for a premium phone-call to register their vote. In the list of top novels, all the titles were by coincidence ones that had been recently adapted for television or film. The abysmal cultural tastes of the Prime Minister, as exemplified by his honours lists, have set the standard for the downward slide of the national culture. Nothing is acceptable unless it has the approval of the masses, as guided by the celebrities who are the bastions of the culture. No wonder the eco-theologians have been so successful in shouting down the remaining few adherents to the scientific method. Their message is simple and understandable to the undiscerning majority, unlike the counter arguments that are based on science and mathematics.  No doubt the promoters of the BBC’s philosophy series had the loftiest motives for popularising the work of the great philosophers, but treating them like the entrants to a Miss World competition simply diminishes them. The passion for ranking things that are not measurable diminishes us all.

Watch out for the chance to vote for the World’s Greatest Physicist.


Talking of celebrities, it was noticeable how the Global Warmers, while serenely ignoring the criticisms of the other emeritus professors, fell into a panic when one of them turned out to be a television personality. A Google of Bellamy and poppycock produces 1170 hits.


My brane hurts

…where ignorance is bliss,
‘Tis folly to be wise.
Gray, Ode on a distant prospect of Eton College

The Number Watch crapometer is broken again, with the pointer wrapped several times round the end stop. It is all the fault of number watcher Mathew Iredale, who submitted this item.

What is it with these authors of pseudo-equations? Are they innumerate half-wits or dedicated con-men? Have they actually heard of concepts such as coefficients or dimensional homogeneity?

As if that were not enough, we have a recrudescence of the old stand-by scare, which was last raging six years ago, while Sorry, wrong number! was in the writing. It was then being touted by one Al Gore and his opposite number Old Two Jags. How do people work year in year out as science reporters without an iota of appreciation of relative magnitudes getting through to them? Of course, it was the Independent that made the biggest meal of it.

There a couple of quotes to treasure:

Stephen Reilly, a spokesman for the trust, said it was "scary" that half of Britons were not aware household power consumption contributed to climate change.

That includes your bending author.

Dishwashers left "on" at the end of their cycle consume 70 per cent of the power used when they are running.

Oh yeah? What do they do with it?

Professor David Barron comments:

What staggered me was the assertion that we are contributing to the problem by leaving kitchen appliances - cookers, dishwashers and washing machines "on standby", instead of "switching off at the mains". One can only assume that the civil servants and journalists involved have no experience of a real kitchen. My cooker consumes power whilst I'm cooking. Then it's off. Same for the dishwasher. OK I have a very minor problem with the washing machine. It doesn't have a "power on-off" button, so - mea culpa - it remains powered up when not washing. (Mains socket is inaccessibly located behind the fridge freezer.) Whilst in this state it is drawing power to illuminate a 2mm neon indicating "mains on". Now, as a lapsed physicist, I know that the power drain of a 2mm neon is so small as to be un-measurable without sophisticated equipment. Without doing the calculations, I can say with some confidence that over the twenty-year life of the machine, the power drain of that neon is less than the power used on one wash cycle. (Trouble is that these arts-educated people don't understand that it's motors and heaters that draw real power. And as I've remarked before, every one of South West Train's new Desiro trains draws at least a megawatt from the third rail every time it moves. And a Eurostar draws 18 megawatts. That's a lot of videos on standby.)

Returning to the electronic devices, we are told - shock, horror! - that a video on standby consumes 85% of the power of a video in operation. So? 85% of a small amount is an even smaller amount. And the video may well be on standby because you've set the timer. And even if you haven't, if your video is like mine, it will forget the time after two or three minutes of no power. 
Finally we come to computers. Well, if I'm paying for "always-on" Broadband, I want an "always-on" computer. (So if I'm "sleepless in Seattle " I can click the mouse and be there.)  But again, the technology-ignorant Arts people don't understand the sophisticated power-management features of modern computers. So, my desktop is left on. But after 15 minutes or so of no activity the screen goes off. A bit later, the hard disk stops spinning. And a bit later the whole system goes into sleep mode. No doubt consuming a few milliamps, but nothing to cause you concern when you contemplate all the other demands on your Southern Electric power feed.

So unworldly, these emeritus professors!

Comment added by Barry Holland:

I have heard a lot recently on the TV and Radio about the amount of power being used by Televisions on Standby.  The most recent was on Radio 2 lunchtime on Thursday 23rd June.  A professor, whose name I missed, said " we dont want to confuse things by using kilowatt hours....." and went on to use CO2 equivalents in double decker buses and claim that turning the TV off would save me at least 50£ per year.
 However this prompted me to look at the manual for my own television, a five year old CRT JVC AV 28WFT11EK.  The standby power consumption is 0.8 watt.  When in use it uses 115 Watts.


Of ritual and sacrifice

Why do they bother, you might rightly wonder, these people who drum up campaigns like the no standby one? Why do they go to the trouble of thinking up such terrible porkies about the numbers involved and then haranguing the populace with them?

The reason is that the global warmers, like any other religious group, feel the need to propagate the faith and add to their membership. Most religions develop the process of sacrifice. It is designed to create commitment. Once people have given up something for the sake of a belief they are less likely to renege. The punter who has bought a duff device to save fuel drives more conservatively and hence makes it a self fulfilling prophecy, rather than admit to himself that he has been sold a pup. It is a rule that grifters learn at their mothers' knees - get the mark comitted.

Likewise, all religions develop ritual. It is a way of locking people into the faith and providing a constant reminder of its doctrines. The householder who goes religiously around the house switching off things at the mains is reinforcing his beliefs. The fact that he has to put up with the inconvenience of the video recorder losing its memory only serves to underline his commitment. It is a sacrifice and apostasy would mean that it has been made for nothing.

Energy is at the heart of the Green’s campaign to take humanity back to the New Stone Age. They vehemently oppose every attempt to exploit new energy sources (except the useless, but iconic, intermittent ones). For many of them it is an alternate route to the promised land of socialism, the revolution having failed. Danny the Red (Cohn-Bendit) is now Danny the Green, and leader of that faction in the European Parliament. Most people, however, cannot see the connection. Oddly enough, red-green is the most common form of colour blindness.

People use the principle of sacrifice to exploit others. Television evangelists wax rich with donations from the gullible public, who actually feel good about it.

Donations to Number Watch may be made at the index page.


Bluff called

The progress of the Hockey Stick has been an interesting spectator sport. Mann et al not only arrogantly dismissed the results of centuries of human knowledge (history, art, entomology, archaeology etc.) but they made strenuous efforts to ensure that no critiques of their methods were published. Your bending author has never received an answer to the simple question of how a technique of linear algebra (principal component analysis) can be applied to systems (e.g. plant growth) that are demonstrably non-linear. The alacrity with which the IPCC seized upon the claims and changed their charts brings back memories of a nervous lecturer of half a century ago, who immediately rubbed everything off the blackboard as soon as a hand was raised in query.

Now we learn (via Climate Audit) that the House of Representatives has called for the details of methodology, which have been so coyly hidden, to be revealed.

Nice one!


Some previous Mannly comments:

The new inquisition tightens its grip


The man who mistook his bathtub for a hockey stick

The new lords of misrule

The third annual Numby Awards





So predictable

Extract from Sorry, wrong number!, published in 2000:

Chapter 3 A gallery of fallacies

… … …

Personal attacks (argumentum ad hominem)

It is a characteristic of people taking weak logical positions that they attack the person presenting an argument rather than argument itself. Typically SIFs will dismiss all critics of their position as being in the pay of the tobacco /chemical/alcohol or fuel industries.

Extract from comments at Climate Audit

The ad-hom-and-smear-campaign has started :-) 

Comment by Hans Erren — 6/27/2005 @ 4:26 pm 

So predictable – 2

In the opening paragraph of this month’s tirade mention was made of the unusually cold May in Britain. One of the results of this is that, when normal weather returns in June, all the grasses flower at once and we hay fever sufferers get a bit of the annual discomfort. Meanwhile, in preparation for G8, the media have been bombarding us with global warming propaganda. So here is how the annual Times hay fever page opens.

June 27, 2005

Hay fever sufferers endure worst June on record
By Valerie Elliott, Countryside Editor

THIS summer is already the worst on record for hay fever sufferers — and there will be no respite in the weeks ahead, scientists say. 

Higher levels of grass pollen caused by warmer, drier days as a result of climate change mean that more people are sufferring from sneezing, red and itchy eyes and wheezing. 


Can it really be true that the average Times reader has a memory duration of less than a month?

Roll up for the cock-up of the century

Simon Jenkins can be a two edged sword as far as the interests of number watchers are concerned, but every now and then he homes in like a guided missile on some modern absurdity. This he did in his Sunday Times article Masters of the universe give us a billion-pound computer fiasco.  A section of Sorry, wrong number! was on Great computer disasters, but they will pale into insignificance when New Labour’s latest essay into Orwellian authority hits the fan. This is the Identity Cards Bill.

The Sorry! piece five years ago included this sentence: The next one boiling up nicely was the NHS computer network. Here is Jenkins’ update on it:

The NHS computer was supposed to list everyone in the country with their various ailments so any doctor or hospital could treat them “on screen”. Nobody ever asked for this machine, which was supposed to start in 2004. It was a pure top-down sales pitch. The medical establishment pleaded naively that the cost not be met from other health spending. The price soared within a year to £2.3 billion and is now £6.2 billion, with no known delivery date. Every industry expert is screaming at Patricia Hewitt, the health secretary, to cancel it. She has not the guts. It was a “McKinsey project” and her boss dare not be seen wasting billions on his friends, money that might have gone on patient care. 

Of course, he gives other examples, but the sum truth is that the Government never gets a computer project right. They are routinely gulled out of great wodges of  the taxpayers’ money by a band of grifters calling themselves consultants, system designers, computer manufacturers etc.

The cost of this latest fiasco-to-be is actually going up before they have even started it. The successful organism learns from experience, but the new breed of career politicians do not have to face up to the consequences of their actions. Under the new Blair constitution even resignations are only temporary holidays, subsidised by the taxpayer, and total failure is rewarded by elevation to the new House of Cronies.

Which all bring us to Stephen Byers. Oh dear!

At least the politicians have contrived a way of reducing criticism of their numbers.


Number of the month - eight

Number Watch tries to maintain a policy of moderate language, but what do you do when you have a complete nutter in high office, who every summer comes out with  a policy dafter than the one before. Richard Brunstrom was justly dubbed by the Daily Mail The Worst Copper in Britain after his eruption in August 2003 (see Heroes of our Time, no 2). He surfaced again in June 2004 (see footnotes to that month). This summer's outing produced the headline Traffic officers must make eight arrests a month in the Daily Mail of June 26. The  Mail has amassed about two dozen stories on this particular hero. When he is not oppressing motorists he is advocating that all drugs should be legalised (makes you wonder what he is on).

His latest wheeze is to turn his police officers into bounty hunters by awarding them "points for pulls". Regardless of the actual occurrence of offences, the Burglar's Friend will subject his officers to investigation if they fail to reach prescribed targets. As the corollary to Brignell's Law of League Tables tells us "what you measure is what you get". Even the honest policemen, who would not dream of fitting up an innocent person, will be subjected to pressures. Not only is it known that subconscious motivation can steer measurement errors in the "right" direction, the instruments used have just the right sort of failure modes to enable this to happen. The man is completely lacking in moral integrity, he is the ultimate Single Issue Fanatic and he ought to be stopped. He will not be, because he is bringing in stealth taxes to maintain Gordon's bureaucratic army.

Whatever happened to British justice?



We trust that you did not miss the 58 mph wall in the last link. Now that's what you really call modern measurement!



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