Number of the Month

December  2007

Classical scaremongering nonsense

As often seems to happen, the printed version of the Telegraph is somewhat more sensational than the internet version. The former carried the headline

Cooked food is linked to cancer in women

The clue for those in the know is the phrase “linked to”, which is sub-editors’ code for “Yes, we know it is rubbish, but it might sell a few extra copies.”

And rubbish it certainly is! For a start it is based on a data dredge. The Trojan Number is 120,000, but the number giving rise to the claim is around 200. The exposure to the target substance, presumably anecdotal and based on a single dietary questionnaire at the outset, acquires enough precision to enable the sample of 300 cases to be divided into two classes. We do not know how many diseases and target substances made up the matrix of connections, but three diseases are mentioned here. Interestingly, no correlation with breast cancer was found, as has been the case before, even though the dreaded chips (French fries) have been the object of scares and, of course, scams by Californian lawyers. At least the epidemiologist involved betrayed some signs of conscience “It is important that these results are corroborated and confirmed by other studies before far-reaching conclusions can be drawn.” On this occasion a bit of common sense also emerged from Cancer Research UK:  “Women shouldn't be unduly worried by this news, It's not easy to separate out one component of the diet from all the others when studying the complex diets of ordinary people.”

How tasteless to launch this particular scare in Belgian Frites Week, it’s bad enough to have their nation falling apart, without their national dish coming under threat from the junk pushers. This one has been coming up regularly in the pages of Number Watch for over five years, so it has the look of a hardy perennial.

Old friends

The Telegraph’s current junkfest also embraces one of our favourite recurrent items, the birth month fallacy. Now they are getting really ambitious and are including all sorts of correlations with different seasons of the year. Naturally, the opportunity is not lost to include a picture of a celeb. It would not be the same either without the appearance of the doyen of such investigations, Richard Wiseman, who provided our first ever Number of the Month over seven years ago.

The noble sacrifice

But the junkfest to dwarf all other junkfests is taking place in Bali. Again the Telegraph headlines differ. The print edition tells us

15,000 fly to paradise isle to save the planet

while the internet version is more circumspect. The likes of Al and Arnie will, of course, be travelling by private jet, as the fundamental rules of DAISNAID dictate. Doesn’t it make you feel good to know that your humble efforts and the taxes they attract have contributed to this essential work, and that a mere 15,000 people are prepared to make the sacrifice of time and effort on our behalf? There will always be those who carp at the needs of our superiors for a certain amount of comfort, but Government spokesmen justify the expense because ministers will need to hold private meetings at all hours. Odd, though, that such reasoning does not seem to apply to the rest of us when we put in our expenses claims. It is perhaps also rather untimely that the global warming theory has been blown out of the water by recent discoveries of errors and adjustments that have been uncovered in the measurements that purport to support it, but worry not, our friends in the media will ensure that hoi polloi will never get to hear about it.

God's in His Heaven, All's Right With the World.



Apologies for yet another bout of egocentric hypochondria, but a number of people have asked and this is easier than replying to all those e-mails.

It has not been a good year. Flattered to be offered a free flight and accommodation to be guest of honour at a conference, I broke my self-imposed embargo on flying in September last year. I cannot claim that I did not know what to expect. Eight years ago I wrote the following in Sorry, wrong number!

Let it not be supposed that the EPA are the only group at it. Before I turn to the subject of smoking on aeroplanes, let me declare an interest. I have been twice quite seriously ill with lung infections after long distance flights, ending up attending hospital and having a cocktail of antibiotics and steroids. My GP practice told me that this had become a common phenomenon. The destination was immaterial. Only the overnight flight was significant. I consulted friends in the airline industry and learned that since the introduction of non-smoking flights the airlines had cut back on the filtering and refreshing of air, thus saving substantial amounts of money. A senior flight engineer told me that with my susceptibility I should avoid non-smoking flights. Fat chance! Unless I want to go to Japan.

After all, it was only a hop across the North Sea to Gothenburg. I might have to pay for it with some coughing and a bout of antibiotics and steroids, but it seemed worth the risk. One fine morning, I walked a couple of miles across that city from the hotel to the conference centre, with only a short beer break. Little did I know that this would be the last time I would walk more than a hundred yards (and that with a stick). I was already developing a fever on the return journey and a flat battery on the first plane meant that I would spend most of the day in airports. I must have looked ill, because people helped me off the train when I arrived back in Wiltshire. Subsequently, I had about ten different antibiotics, some of them by infusion and injection in hospital, all to little avail. Among the little visitors I have hosted have been coliforms, pseudomonas, moraxella and H Influenzae. I had some difficulty in persuading the medics that these episodes were always accompanied by a flare up of arthritis. But this week I had a session with the surgeon who gave me a new hip fourteen year ago,who confirmed that such infections are indeed associated with arthritis. He told me of one patient (as it happens a young airline pilot) who was reduced from vigorous health to being a cripple in a matter of weeks, due to an infection with moraxella. It turns out that, among other damage, one knee joint has deteriorated to the point of needing replacing, if I am to regain any mobility and freedom from pain, but the question is will my condition allow such a major operation? That is being considered by the experts.

I was once rather sceptical on the subject of chronic fatigue, but not any more, and this is the point relevant to the stuttering performance of Number Watch this year. Unless you have experienced it, it is difficult to explain how the simplest task (such as sitting at the keyboard to write this) can seem daunting. Whether it is the infections or the more than a dozen different pills I now take (or a combination of the two), the result has been a substantial loss of drive.

The great irony is that my fifteen minutes of fame occurred right in the middle of it all, when Rush Limbaugh discovered the warmlist. I have had to turn down a number of invitations to write pieces or take part in discussions. The backlog of unanswered e-mails is dispiriting. I have become a reluctant recluse. The worse part is the sudden influx of book orders. To add to the tragicomedy my partner in this small enterprise, my wife, has had a couple of bouts of pneumonia recently. We will give priority to the orders that have been prepaid through the web site and hope to restart mailing when the seasonal collapse of the mailing system is over. Grovelling apologies to those who have been waiting! They must think we are embezzlers. We have to face the possibility that the trade orders will never be dealt with. It is likely that the books will go out of print fairly soon, unless we can find a publisher to take them on, just at the moment of success.

Always look on the bright side of life. I still hope to be present to report on the annual Numby awards.


Greenflation – hush!

We coined the term Greenflation back in May 2006 and revisited it at the beginning of this year. Now global recession is beginning to bite and the threat is serious, which makes the universal conspiracy of silence even more egregious. Newspapers and television commentators talk about inflation as though it were a mystery, when it is merely the outcome of deliberate policy. Green taxes filter through the economy, but in the end they are always paid by the ordinary punter. Green prohibitions, such as the prevention of development of new, realistic energy sources, will also end up being paid for by the masses, some with their lives (in the inevitable power cuts). Since the establishment are taking care not to explain it to them, people do not understand that remote policy decisions, such as building vast arrays of useless, heavily-subsidised wind turbines, always end up with a raid on their own pockets and the risk of worse. The subsidies for biofuels have led inevitably to a substantial rise in food prices, but people are too ill-informed to see the connection, because they are not being told by the media.

Today we simultaneously have the other negative force of recession . This was largely caused by governments ignoring the excesses going on in the banking world. In Britain it partly took the form of failing to protect the mutual societies and letting the carpet baggers persuade their short-sighted members to turn them into third rate banks, such as Northern Rock, thus selling their birthright for a mess of pottage. One of Gordon Brown’s characteristic changes was to make the bank regulation system so complicated that in the end it was nobody’s responsibility.

The Bank of England has actually acted outside its Brownian remit, which is solely to deal with inflation, in joining the world effort to solve the “liquidity crisis” by reducing interest rates, while the spectre of inflation haunts it in the background. But this inflation is no accident. It has been deliberately engineered by Green politicians and bureaucrats in undemocratic organisations like the EU and the UN. Only in the last week we have heard calls in Bali for a wholly meaningless world carbon tax, while Brown crept shamefully into the ceremonial chamber, when all but he had left, to sign away Britain’s last vestiges of control over its own destiny, making its parliament even more of an irrelevant superfluity than it was before.

Economic collapse is the sole end and purpose of Green policy. They are determined to drag the rest of us kicking and screaming into the new Stone Age and, thanks to their media cronies, we are letting them do it.

Footnote: The likes of the BBC and the UN have been obliged to notice the rise in food prices and guess what: it is due to climate change. They even have to acknowledge the contribution of biofuels, but these, of course, have nothing to do with government regulations and subsidies; they are caused by the rise in oil prices. Clever of all those farmers to anticipate the movement of international prices at seed sowing time! And, of course, the oil price has nothing to do with the Greenies suppressing home grown energy supplies and forcing reliance on the unstable parts of the world.


The seventh annual Numby Awards



The names of the glamour spots of the world have a magic of their own, Acapulco, Bali, Monte-Carlo etc., and so it is with the Balls Pond Road. As Christopher Robin said about his favourite stair, there is no other place quite like it. The riotous colours of the plastic raincoats and umbrellas lent it an even more heightened allure, as once again the animated throng converged on the legendary Assembly Rooms above the Take Away Kebab.

The Chairperson of the awards committee was Lord Delpus, the Labour billionaire peer who built a used car empire from nothing after he left Eton. He is best known for leading the campaign to replace the statue on the column in Trafalgar Square with one of Tony Blair. He had hoped to spring a surprise by introducing his spiritual leader as guest of honour, but a problem arose over the absence of a suitable landing strip for the Reverend Gore’s private jet. Negotiations to build one in Highbury Fields or Clissold Park broke down owing to local opposition. Apparently people did not understand how the carbon and tree loss would be offset by the purchase of trees for planting in Bolivia by one of Mr Gore’s companies. His Lordship reluctantly abandoned the project but called for ministers to make changes in the national compulsory school curriculum so that such ignorance would become a thing of the past.

In introducing the ceremony, the Chair said that it in Britain it had been the year without a summer, as the climate models had accurately forecast. He went on to pay tribute to the wonderful economic performance of the Government, which would ensure a prosperous new year for everybody.

The awards were handed out by Lady Effluvia Coldbottom, Deputy Chair of the National Spoon and Fork Regulatory Authority. She enthusiastically endorsed the sentiments from the chair. As tradition requires, the recipients were not actually present to receive the awards, but were represented by proxies appointed by the committee. It is therefore gratifying that proxies have now become an important component of post-modern science.

First on the agenda was a new award, funded by the Zen Buddhist Temple of Neasden, which was for Koan of the Year. The committee was unanimous that it should go to Richard Black of the BBC for a radical koan that had provoked a great deal of meditation, namely What do sceptics really believe? As is often done the trophy carried an etched inscription, this time a quotation from Thomas Henry Huxley:

The improver of natural knowledge absolutely refuses to acknowledge authority, as such. For him, scepticism is the highest of duties; blind faith the one unpardonable sin.

A special award for corporate creativity goes to the Liberal Democratic Party, who by dint of the application of meta-mathematics managed to turn an 11% decrease into a quadrupling, hence proving the occurrence of global warming.

A giant step forward in New Labour’s campaign to realise the Orwellian dream was the first provision for the formation of a secret police to spy on ordinary citizens going about their business. That this should find its basis in an imaginative crusade of political correctness only goes to heighten the significance and is a pointer to the future. The Orwell Memorial Trophy therefore goes to British parliamentarians who resisted the temptation to think for themselves. The engraved quotation on the trophy was

The object of persecution is persecution. …. The object of power is power.

In continuation of the Orwellian theme, the award for services to Newspeak went to David Milliband. No further explanation is needed.

The award for an outstanding feat of modernisation goes to Patricia Hewitt, who oversaw a revolution in doctors’ training, thus adding to her many achievements and putting those uppity junior doctors in their place.  She received a bar to her medal for creating the best GP service in the world.

The award for Nuisance of the Year was close fought between several candidates. There was Martin Durkin, whose film The Great Global Warming Swindle revealed a shocking irreverence for The Consensus that in another age would have resulted in burning at the stake for heresy. Similarly, newcomer Sandy Szwarc with her Junkfood Science Blog spread a dangerous lack of alarm about food scares and, in particular, the anti-obesity campaign. Christopher Booker and Richard North attempted to undermine the very basis of modern government with their book Scared to Death. The award, however, went to Kristen Byrnes. As her ladyship remarked when handing out the award, this marks a dangerous failure of the US education system. When young people start thinking for themselves, where will it end? Gore forfend that such a phenomenon should occur in Britain.

The award for Neologism of the Year goes to the wife of Graham Dawson for this addition to the dictionary:

Acairasthenephobia, Ah-kai-ras-then-eh-phobia, n, a fear of falling ill out of hours (Gr negative prefix A; cairo (or  kairós) - right time; asthenes - ill; and phobia, qv).

Her ladyship pointed out that this disease, though widespread, is caused by purely imaginary fears, as it is well known that England (thanks to Numby Laureate Patricia Hewitt) has the best out-of-hours service in the world. A lout at the back, who called out “What about Penny Campbell?” was quickly escorted from the premises by the ushers.

There is no doubt that the political event of the year was the imposition of the smoking ban in Britain. The award for Dogged Determination goes to ASH. They refused to be deflected by such irrelevancies as reason, tolerance, science or fact, but drove towards their goal, inventing and increasing numbers of unnamed corpses as they went. Their opponents, foolishly relying on rational argument, completely misjudged the state of the isolated hothouse that is the House of Commons. They have thus created a wonderful precedent for others who would suppress that inconvenient abstraction of human freedom.

The principle award for Phenomenon of the Year went to James Hansen. There has been nothing like him since the Old Testament went to press. Further comment would be to gild the lily.

A small group within the extensive organisation had been lobbying for an award to the Number Watch Poet in Residence, Walter de la Plage.  Now that the subject of his masterpiece has reached the highest office in the land it seemed appropriate to some. However, on investigation it transpired that all is not well chez Walter. He was already very upset to be overlooked for the post of Poet Laureate, but when the present holder of that post came out with a work of such transcendental and haunting genius as A song for Jonny, he realised that he could never reach such heights of poesy, lost all motivation and went into a decline. He was last seen sleeping on the Victoria Embankment clutching a bottle of rough cider.

The ceremony could not close without a further tribute to Tony Blair and his legacy. The meeting stood in silence to meditate on that glorious legacy with particular reverence for the ultimate legacy.

Number of the month 15,000

This is the modest number of politicians, bureaucrats and retained scientists who endured the privations of an expedition to Bali, in order to save the planet, of which we ordinary people are so neglectful. We should all acknowledge our sins of omission and promise to purchase an appropriate number of carbon offsets from one of Mr Gore’s companies in repentance.

Number of the Year - 7

This was the Number of the Month for June and is the number of new laws generated by the Blair Government every day. They were almost all poorly drafted and at best irrelevant to the hopes and aspirations of a benighted populace. At worst they were affirmations of the Orwellian nightmare as the future of Britain. The Blair Government created over 100 new crimes and over 1,000 new misdemeanours, yet there is murder and mayhem on the streets and the people live in fear for their lives and property. The police are notable by the absence (except in an outbreak of political incorrectness). So, particularly to those Australians who have ignored this example and have evidently tired of stability and prosperity by installing a Labour Government, thereby cutting off another line of retreat for Britons, here is a quotation to end the year:

Beware how you take away hope from any human being.

Oliver Wendell Holmes

Link to Numbies

31/12/07 (just)



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