Number of the Month

November 2009

Junk science meets junk politics

The big story in the UK is that the Government’s drugs advisor has been sacked. The medical establishment’s position on this subject is seriously contaminated by Political Correctness. Consider this table, recreated from a sidebox that does not seem to appear in the Telegraph online version:

Annual number of deaths

Tobacco

114,000

Alcohol

5,000 to 40,000

Heroin, Morphine Methadone

944

Cocaine

147

Amphetamines

83

Ecstasy

40

Solvents

45

Cannabis

16

Pretty dramatic, Eh?

But take a look at the small print:

Figures refer to 2004 where a substance is mentioned on the death certificate, except alcohol and tobacco, which are annual estimates.

It is the old junk science ploy of mixing chalk and cheese. Whether any contributor to death is mentioned on the death certificate is largely a matter of taste and discretion. It is almost certainly grossly understated and has been shown, for example, to vary from country to country.

The big numbers come from “estimates”, which means epidemiology or worse. These numbers are pure fantasy. Take the one for tobacco. Oddly enough, when Number Watch first described such fabrications in 2001 the heading was Halloween Horror Story. As then, the extrapolations are worse than worthless: they are deliberate, cold-blooded misrepresentation. The British medical establishment has been mired in such PC manipulations for years (see, for example, The BIG liars, 2004).

Of course, the Government's position is also nonsensical, but that goes without saying.

02/11/09

Death certificates

It appears from subsequent discussion and comment that the point about death certificates was not made clearly enough in the above. Here are two separate paragraphs from Sorry, wrong number!

Mortality  statistics hide a lot of risk  that is relevant to most of us. Suppose you die of heart failure after ten years of dementia? You contribute one unit to the statistics of mortality . They say nothing about the quality of life you had. The causes that medics write on death certificates are really quite arbitrary. Someone who has had ten years as a human vegetable with Alzheimer's  is quite likely to be recorded as having died of heart failure, which most of us die of in the long run.

………

In fact, heart failure appears on death certificates far more often than is justified. In Britain it helps doctors to avoid the trauma of having to deal with the Coroner. The same constraints do no apply in some other countries; so we have a whole industry set up to explain why heart disease is more prevalent in Britain than in France , when the most likely explanation is the whim of the doctor signing the death certificate.

And here are two more from The epidemiologists

Coronary heart disease has since become a favourite with the scaremongers and food fascists. Most doctors will put it on the death certificate in the case of a sudden unexpected death. The main reason this is done in Britain is that it is a way of avoiding the trauma of dealing with the coroner. In fact, when research has been done on the basis of post-mortems it has been found that such a diagnosis is wrong in more than half the cases. Ravnskov (see Bibliography) quotes considerable evidence that fashion as much as anything else determines the tendency to blame heart disease. For example, faced with the same written evidence American medics were 33 per cent more likely to diagnose heart disease than British ones and 50 per cent more than Norwegian ones. There are endless stories about the correlation of fat consumption and heart disease. In fact the disease correlates better with factors such as sales of TV sets and the local rate of tax.

……

We have already noted that Ravnskov quotes evidence that about half the death certificates citing CHD are wrong, and another study suggests that American doctors are 33% more likely to diagnose CHD than British ones and 50% more than Norwegians. The Japanese are strangely reluctant to diagnose heart disease (presumably for some cultural reason) and they don’t each much fat, which is why they exert so much influence on the curve drawing by plonking a point right by the origin.

The relevant point here is that using death certificate data is a way of making sure your numbers are smaller than they might be (unless you are promoting heart failure). That is bad enough, but when you conflate that with data derived from gross extrapolations it is quite inexcusable.

05/11/09

Wonderful, wonderful carbon hokum

The now familiar pre-junkfest hysteria is swelling up all over the media in the build-up to Copenhagen . Those with strong constitutions can follow the ever-expanding detail at Junk-science.com and Tom Nelson. Every now and then someone lets the cat out of the bag and admits that it is all little to do with climate. It is about such matters as Global Governance, excuses for taxation and authoritarian control, wealth transfer (i.e. taking money from poor people in rich countries and giving it to rich politicians in poor countries – and, of course Al Gore) and all sorts of carpetbaggers hoping to steer a few million dollars their way.

The encouraging sign is that polls from all over the world show that you really cannot fool all of the people all of the time. Almost everywhere there is evidence that people are turning away from belief and interest in climate scares.

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Meanwhile, talk of carpetbaggers leads us to:

Pie in the sky

We remarked back in February 2006 that “It is extraordinary how really stupid ideas resurface every few years.” That was the introduction to three consecutive pieces relating to the subject of power from flying windmills. Well, as a contribution the general hysteria The Times has raised the subject again under the heading The quest for alternative energy is taking to the skies. What is this “is”? They have been at it for at least a decade and have nothing to show for it.

When we first discussed this subject in March 2001, the final remark was:

 The moral is – if you don’t have to provide numbers you can keep any silly story in the air.

As we said in the last of those three pieces (The enginasters), if someone claims that they can deliver 20 MW from a flying generator you only need ask them one question – how much does the cable weigh? Of course, there is always the alternative of firing a 20 MW death ray at the earth from an unstable platform, but you would fry more than just a few birds.

They have been selling this idea for a decade now and still no sign of a working device.

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12/11/09

How are the mighty fallen

"You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time."
Abraham Lincoln

One of the depressing features of the decline of the West in general and Britain in particular is the fading of great institutions. One such is The Times. In its grandeur, it had the front broadsheet page covered in small ads, a demonstration of its indifference to sensationalism. Known as the Thunderer, because of its trenchant editorials, it was sometimes proved wrong, but it was always acknowledged to be honest. Now it is a tacky over-stuffed tabloid, pandering to the celebrity cult and establishment politics. Your bending author only maintains a subscription of the basis of the principle of know thine enemy. It has reached a nadir with the editorial of 14th November. Like The Englishman and his correspondents many of us were outraged by the sheer perverse mendacity of this diatribe. There is scarcely a single incontestable claim in the whole display of galimatias.  As for calling the majority of your potential readerships “idiots”, though this was a quotation from LORD Rees, the most persistent scaremonger  among the greenies who have seized control of the scientific establishment, it is not  a recognisable tenet of  How to make friends and influence people.

The saving grace is that ordinary people are not the mindless dupes that modern politicians like to think they are. Why else would the EU bureaucracy need to go to such lengths to deprive Europeans of a vote on their new constitution?

The Sunday Times has one or two reasonable columnists, but on environmental matters it takes its cherry-picking one-sidedness to absurd lengths. Typical is a whole page allocated to its environmental editor. It includes the gem Global warming threatens to rob Italy of pasta. Just how dumb do they think their readers are? When your have been bombarded for twenty years by doom-laden prophecies, which did not come to pass, even the dumbest subscriber begins to detect an odour of Ratus ratus. They do love their clichés, don’t they?  The piece begins with the immortal words “Scientists will this week warn…”  Why are they bothering to warn, when it has already been published in the Sunday Times? The real punch line, however, is that the “scientists” turn out to be none other than The Met Office, a running joke among  the ordinary population and yet another valued institution brought to absurd ignominy by a greenie takeover. They cannot tell us what the weather will do next week, but they can tell us we will have to do without our macaroni. Still, this one must be right, because it was predicted by a super-computer. Anyway it is one more for our little list.

15/11/09

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GIGO, GIGO it’s off to work we go

Don’t panic! It’s only a computer model.

That was just a warning rumble. Now the avalanche of pre-Copenhagen orchestrated hysteria is upon us. Louise Gray, the Telegraph’s chief hysteria correspondent, recounts the terrible future that awaits us if we fail to return to a Stone Age lifestyle. It is all in a report produced by (no, don’t laugh) the Met Office under the Aegis of the EU. What a combination!

It is all produced by computer models with feedback. An engineering model is invalidated by just one guessed parameter or coefficient. In climate science they are all guessed. Would you fly in a plane designed with the aid of a model in which all the parameters are guessed?

But that is not all. We now have the benefit of a computer game, featuring genuine CELEBRITIES.

In the dying throes of our democracy, the divide between rulers and ruled appears to be as wide as during the worst excesses of absolute monarchy.

For those of us in the infidel majority who would appreciate some good news for a change, here it is.

17/11/09

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Warmergate and all that

Follow the money
Deep throat

It appears that a large number of files has been hacked or, more likely, released by a disgruntled insider at the world centre of Global Warming Alarmism, namely the CRU at the University of East Anglia . Links to comment may be found at http://www.climatedepot.com/ . Early indications confirm not only the scientific fraud that many of us deduced must be happening, but also dubious financial transactions.

CRU was created by the Thatcher Government as an arm in its war against the coal miners and the oil sheiks. This was  a case (unfortunately not isolated) in which the smart tactical manoeuvre became a grand strategic error, for it bequeathed a powerful tool to the new authoritarian left when they reins of power changed hands.

A quasi-scientific institute that is founded for political purposes is a misbegotten creature. It is conceived in cynicism and born to corruption. When the remit of such an institution is to manufacture evidence to support one particular hypothesis it is condemned not to produce just bad science but anti-science. The basis of modern scientific method is the principle of falsification. We do not call upon it directly for every scientific investigation, just as we do not rush to the courts of law every time we sign a contract, but it is always there to provide the rigorous framework essential to progress. To pay someone to collect data that support one hypothesis is like, to adapt the classical analogy, paying someone to count white swans to “prove” the hypothesis that all swans are white. Furthermore, once that someone’s living depends upon that payment, he will be sorely tempted to cover up any evidence of black swans and, being human, he will try to salve his own conscience by creating a justification for ignoring inconvenient observations.

That said, however, this is a phenomenon of group psychology. One of the best treatments of it in fiction is the spy novel by John le Carré, The looking glass war, in which an isolated intelligence outfit develops a fantasy world of its own, which is disrupted when its ambitions collide with reality. Such groups tend to become exclusive brethren, who avoid interaction with others who might threaten their beliefs. They develop a group paranoia and feel the need to defend themselves against what they see as hostile interest from outside. In this case, however, the “opposition” have acted to preserve the niceties of scientific discourse. Steve McIntyre, in particular, has gone to great lengths to maintain polite debate. Yet he has been foisted with the role of “devil incarnate” and subjected to outrageous ad hominem attacks and vilification. These groups lose their moral compass and excite each other to forms of behaviour that they might not have adopted as individuals. The formation of “peer review rings”,  designed to deny a hearing for alternative opinions is a notorious case in point, which was comprehensively exposed in the Wegman report. As in the days of absolute monarchy, protection offered by the powerful is an incentive towards the abuse of position. In history, favourites of the king tended to have their days in the sun ended in ignominy or worse.

If, however, sceptics think that global warming is now simply going to fade away they are very much mistaken. It is now a political theory with a life of its own, independent of any support from junk science. Governments depend on it as an excuse for onerous taxation and the erosion of human liberties. Billion dollar industries are set up to exploit it. Hundreds of the new type of journalists who call themselves environmental editors need it to pay their mortgages. The first reaction will be to ignore this development and, with complete control of the establishment press, it is a viable one. It can already be seen in the silence of the press at these startling revelations. If that fails then expect a vicious counter-attack.

We live in interesting times.

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…and other forms of prostitution

The number watch warmlist has received a record number of notifications from readers. These refer to the claim that Global Warming pushes poor women into prostitution. Well, its no dafter than most of the others on the list. Apologies to those whose e-mail has not been acknowledged – there are just too many of them on this occasion. Encouraging though!

Meanwhile the blogging prostitute Belle de jour has announced her real identity. All very well, but did she also have to admit that she was an epidemiologist? Some things are just too embarrassing to be publicly acknowledged.

22/11/09

A nice distinction

First a word of excuse and explanation: your bending author does not normally listen to this sort of stuff (honest!) but was waiting for the start of I’m Sorry, I haven’t a clue. Towards the end of the BBC radio 4 news bulletin, they clearly felt obliged to refer to the “warmergate” affair (probably because a celebrity, Nigel Lawson, had intervened). They spoke of stolen documents and e-mails from CRU and later of theft. The next item was a military story in which they spoke of leaked documents. By their vocabulary shall ye know them.

23/11/09

Fiddling while Rome burns

Most of the Anglo-Saxon world is plagued by bad government, but more ominous for the long term is the state of the oppositions. It has now become standard behaviour for parties losing power to run round like headless chickens for years, as the Republicans have been doing in the USA . Contrast this with Winston Churchill who, after defeat in 1945, initiated the re-organisation and revitalisation of his party, eventually returning to power at an age when most people are long retired.

The economic prospects of these nations, with the possible exception of Canada , are dire, mired as they are in levels of debt that would have been deemed impossible a couple of years before. The main reaction of governments has been to indulge in displacement activity, fighting imaginary hobgoblins (principally global warming) rather than grasping the nettle. The tragedy is that opposition parties also join in these games.

This is the background then to the Great British Conservative Coup, which was announced with a grand flourish on the front page of The Daily Telegraph.

Recycle and get £130 a year under Tory plans

Oh joy of joys! As we huddle together on the financial precipice, we can all earn shopping vouchers for being good boys and girls. You have to go a long way down the page to discover that the whole exercise is driven by draconian and increasing EU taxes on landfill, in which of course Britons have had no say. It was driven through by Low Countries representatives, who have no landfill, as opposed to Britain which has plenty. Furthermore, the excuse is fear of Methane, which as we have observed is an atmospheric gas considerably rarer than Argon, Neon and Helium: so rare, indeed, that to all intents and purposes there is none. Under the new EU constitution such counter-arguments are not permitted.

It is all part of the “Vote blue, get green” campaign led by Stuntman Dave and Boy George. There are many other green initiatives announced in the article, for those who have the stomach for it. Right at the end, at least ten years too late, is a commitment to nuclear power.

No wonder there is such a concerted establishment effort to sweep Warmergate under the carpet. It is all a load of hot, but expensive, air.

24/11/09

Say it with music

If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.
That strain again! it had a dying fall:

Twelfth Night

Hide the decline. If you have missed it, don’t.

25/11/09

Glimmerings of light from down under

Stirring times, indeed!

All over the globe people are finding the courage to stand up to the bullies.

In Australia Liberal parliamentarians have revolted against being herded into yet another phony global-warming coalition. Ironically, the latest account now carries evidence of censorship, late and so doubly damaging.

In New Zealand , yet another example of data tampering has emerged. Examination of the raw data shows that the claimed warming effect does not exist. Numbers were changed to give the impression of an increasing trend in data that were in fact statistically stationary. Forget about any delicate euphemisms, this is fraud pure and simple. If the numbers had represented money the perpetrators would be facing trial for false accounting. Man-made warming, indeed! Every time examination of data sources has been possible, fakery has been found. The CRU are not alone in their malpractice and are, perhaps, a little unfortunate to be singled out by a whistle-blower, though on the other hand they have been prime movers in the whole IPCC fiasco.

Meanwhile the establishment media all over the world are whipping themselves up into a frenzy of hysteria, making more and more exaggerated claims in the run up to Copenhagen . No wonder increasing numbers of people feel they have to go to the internet to find out what is going on.

Do not feel assured that the bullying has stopped. Your bending author recently had a phone call from someone in public service science sector, who had experienced a conversion after reading Christopher Booker’s latest book. His friends and colleagues urged him to keep it to himself.

Footnote: Yes we know there are reasons for the changes. There always are. Funny how they are always in a direction to favour the theory. 

Footnote2: OK look at it another way. If you remove the corrections the effect disappears. Therefore the corrections are the effect. Furthermore, the stationary nature of the raw data does not indicate any requirement for corrections.

27/11/09

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Cuckoo in the nest

Only two months ago our piece on the CRU was entitled Beyond satire. At that time they were still comfortable within the protection of political and bureaucratic patronage. Now that their cover has been blown, probably by an anonymous whistle blower, the patrons are in a spin, hovering between brushing it all under the carpet and setting up one of their carefully primed enquiries. Even staunch allies, such as George Monbiot and the environmental editor of the Sunday Times, are shocked at the revelation of truths that many of us had long ago already inferred.

The truly shocking thing about it all, however, is the destructive effect that the environmental movement has had on science in general.  It is bad enough that outfits such as CRU absorb such a large proportion of available funding, with their inflated staffing and inordinately costly super-computers. But as the Cat in the Hat would say, that is not all. It has been an enduring and bitter joke in these pages and throughout the scientific community that to secure your research grant you have to add to your application title “and the effect of global warming”. The line of sensor research that your bending author bequeathed only continues because it was linkable to “sustainability”. The heavy hints that such was the only path to funding were among the many reasons for deciding that it was time to leave the stage. Younger academic scientists do not have that choice. For two decades now, British universities have been closing down physics and chemistry departments. That this should happen in a nation that fought well above its weight in these fields (just look at the Nobel Prize lists) is a tragedy for humanity. Physics is dead, long live environmental science.

In parenthesis, the memory of a lovely summer afternoon spent sitting by a richer neighbour’s swimming pool leaves an indelible image that now seems so relevant. A pair of pied wagtails were desperately trying to satisfy the hunger of a cuckoo chick that had been foisted on them. It was so large that they had to stand on its back to reach its insatiable gape.

In Britain , the wiser political heads of yore created the University Grants Committee, which was designed, among other things, to insulate academia from the instant demands of political and administrative exigency. For that very reason it met its demise in 1989. Yet again a Thatcherite tactic, designed to constrain the occupation of much of academia by the destructive left, was a strategic error that enabled Tony Blair to drive his wrecking ball through the university system (though one must not forget the contribution of the woeful Major Government that demolished the economically vital polytechnics by turning them into Mickey Mouse universities). Worse, that and related policies turned universities into quasi-industrial bodies, in which harassed chief executives and centralised administrations made poor decisions based on inadequate information and undue financial pressure. Back in 2004 Number Watch made the ironic comment that Britain was planning to achieve world dominance in media studies. Well that has come to pass and we can add other essential areas, such as golf course design and surfing. Experimental sciences are expensive luxuries when government polices are based on a drive to get bums on seats. This is especially so when their potential research funds are being diverted to more politically correct activities.

One of the delusions of the new political class is that you can create institutions instantaneously (schools for example): just add water. This is a gross and destructive fallacy. Such institutions build up a corporate knowledge that cannot be written down and takes generations to accumulate, though they can be destroyed overnight. The demolition of the grammar schools in Britain was an economic as well as a cultural disaster, which virtually put an end to social mobility.

Likewise, you cannot recreate physics departments overnight. You can retrieve the condensed information from published work, but you cannot recreate the know-how of technicians that made the work possible. The political class do not understand the role of technicians, so they have simply ended their production.

These facts, however ruinous, are side issues. The monopolising of precious resources by any academic discipline, even if it were one less fatuous than the theology of modern, politically-correct environmentalism, would always be a downward step in the path of human progress.

29/11/09

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Number of the month 13,700,000

This is the amount in GBP that Phil Jones pulled in with his climate racket. Just think what it could have done for all those dying departments of physics.

30/11/09

Number Watch was funded for many years by its author. It is now dependent on the patronage of a small number of regular readers. For anyone wishing to join in there is a begging bowl on the Index page.

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