Number of the Month

March 2012

Carving up the meat

Fame is a food that dead men eat,—
I have no stomach for such meat.
In little light and narrow room,
They eat it in the silent tomb,
With no kind voice of comrade near
To bid the banquet be of cheer.

Henry Austin Dobson
 

This is the story that has it all and it appears in the prime position at the top left-hand corner of the front page of the Daily Telegraph, while, of course, also celebrated by the BBC. It comes originally from a Harvard press release about a published paper by no fewer than ten of their seekers after fame. The headline was Red meat is blamed for one in 10 early deaths. Here are some of the thoughts immediately provoked by the article:

bulletThe results claimed for the study are the precise opposite of what the paltry data suggest.
bulletIt conforms to the propaganda promoted by one of the most aggressive of zealous lobby groups – the vegetarians.
bulletThe claims come from the world’s most prolific source of junk epidemiology, the Harvard School of Public Health.
bulletIt is based on yet another trawl through the most notorious example of a data dredge, the Harvard Nurses Health Study (use our search box).
bulletIt is presented, as always, as though it were a new study with a huge Trojan number.
bulletThe level of statistical significance claimed (relative risks of the order of 1.2 or less) would be rejected, even in a well regulated, randomised controlled trial.
bulletIt marks a further step in the decline of the Daily Telegraph as a disinterested reporter of matters of science (much less so the Sunday and online versions). The article even managed to squeeze in a plug for climate change.
bulletSuch “results” fuel the columns of the junk dieticians that fill our newspapers and magazines.
bulletThe publicity, as always, is aimed at politicians. The Telegraph sub-heading is Government urged to review guidance on diet as study highlights risk of cancer and heart disease. Some of us would prefer the Government to get out of our personal lives and choices, stop looking for petty diversions and get on with what really matters.

13/03/12

The fantastical world of Doctor Hu

In 1963 the BBC launched a science fantasy series for children called Doctor Who. It is still running and after nine reincarnations there have been ten wildly different interpretations of the role, which even beats Hamlet over that period. The Doctor battles to save the human race against terrifying enemies, such as the Daleks and the Cybermen. They are all imaginary, though the children peeping out from behind the sofa are not too sure about that.

But the USA is a foreign country: they do things differently there. Doctor Hu is a real person. Disguised as a mild-mannered university professor, one of a group of super-heroes, he does battle to save the human race from horrors that are only too real. The most recent of these is the deadly red meat. Based on a relative risk reaching an incredible 1.19, they have issued dire warnings about this horrific scourge, which threatens to bring a deadly plague of type 2 diabetes upon the innocent population. Instead they recommend an alternative diet (Warning, may contain nuts).

There are, however, even more terrible threats hanging over us: for example, the even more lethal white rice at a staggering relative risk of 1.5. The methods used are meta-analyses based on a sophisticated type of survey known as a data dredge. The participants in the studies are selected as people with outstanding abilities of recall, who are able to report accurately their diets over the past four years. In addition the researchers are skilled at making adjustments for a remarkably wide range of factors. Adjustment is a major contributor to definitive proclamations such as these, as happened in the case of the dreaded global warming.

Computers are wonderful things; so much cleaner than messy old cauldrons and animal entrails. How fortunate we are to live in an age when computers are watching over us!

19/03/12

Link to the above piece

Fan tales

And so we segue swiftly from the march of the zealots to the gathering of the fans. The obverse of zealotry is fandom, a curious expression of human nature in which people, including scientists, become excessively fond of a foodstuff or medication and feel obliged continually to act as advocates for its alleged benefits. The inevitable endpoint of this progression is claims for the prevention of cancer. We have recently observed this phenomenon with respect to statins. There are considerable doubts about the putative benefits of this class of drugs, but there is a powerful lobby within the medical, political and media establishments in their favour, together with a rather more sinister pressure to censor reports of their dangers. Prescription of statins has reached  epidemic proportions, with apparent serious side-effects largely ignored.

Now it is the turn of aspirin. Long touted as a preventative for ailments such as cardiovascular disease, this has now reached that zenith of distinction at which it vies for position within the ranks of the myriad of proclaimed cancer prophylactics.

The latest blast of propaganda has emerged from the University of Oxford. It reveals the familiar characteristics of the genre: motivation by a vague causal theory, dubious levels of statistical significance, meta analysis of results of trials (which were not designed for the purpose and hence degenerate into data dredges), additional reliance on observational studies and, of course,  further research is needed.

With so many cancer preventatives available it is a wonder that the disease still exists. Your bending author, being allergic to acetylsalicylic acid, is not inclined to lose sleep over this one. 

22/03/12

link to the above piece

Yet another thin end of a thick wedge

He rose to it as a naïve, hungry trout rises to a few bits of feather ill-tied to a barbed hook. The UK Prime Minister has announced the introduction of a minimal price for alcohol. It is the culmination of a long and sustained campaign by alcohol zealots. In the three-way symbiotic relationship between the zealots, the media and the political class they all need each other. The zealots need progress by incremental steps, however small, towards elimination of the object of their hatred; the media need dramatic headlines to sell their wares; while the politicians need diversionary tactics to draw attention way from the cock-ups they are making with the things that really matter. In itself the proposed minimum charge is of little account, but the importance of it is that it is a foot in the door that was not previously open. As with the loss of virginity, the next time is easier. Income tax, in more than one country, was a temporary wartime measure set at a very low level, but is now a huge burden that dominates and distorts human lives.

The persistent campaign for such a measure has been highly visible for some time. Driven by zealots who have manoeuvred themselves into positions of power in influential organisations, from the WHO down through national medical associations to civil service bureaucrats and local activists, it is relentless and unremitting.

Perhaps the most startling aspect of this action is its irrelevance and political ineptitude. It is a bludgeon that completely misses its intended target. The alleged target is the disgraceful hoards of drunken louts who blight our towns and cities night after night. Alcohol is not the cause it is the instrument. They use it to express their defiance and contempt for the society in which they find themselves. They are a second generation who have never experienced school discipline, which has been progressively dismantled by political do-gooders. They are encouraged by the inexorable withdrawal of police from the streets. They are the cut price successors to the Drones and Bullingdon clubs, comparatively well-heeled and largely immune to such a trivial impost (though it is far from the intention of the zealots that it should remain trivial). What they need is a night in the police cells and a morning at the magistrates court.

No, the effectual target is the relatively poor, particularly the pensioners, for whom the occasional imbibing of an alcoholic drink provides a glimmer of pleasure in their bleak, isolated, rundown lives.  That it immediately follows a politically crass raid on pensions in the recent budget, universally dubbed the “granny tax”, may well contribute to an electoral fardel that the millionaire cabinet ministers will come to regret.

It would be bootless to deny that alcohol has inherent dangers, as do so many things in life. Anything taken to excess can be lethal, even something as essential to life as water. Furthermore, there is an unhappy minority who are constitutionally prone to a crippling dependency that can be triggered by the first drink. People can become addicted to many self-destructive forms of behaviour (dangerous sports, fast driving etc.) and the only preventative is total abstinence. Some even turn to alcohol as an acceptable route to suicide. This is where the irrelevance of the proposed measure is so egregiously exposed. It will make no difference to those who lack the will to control their drinking, other than a further financial burden on them and their suffering families. It is, however, one of the main principles of zealotry that the sins of the few shall be visited upon the many. The fraudulent methods by which zealots promote their causes, particularly corrupt statistics and invented self-growing death counts, are now well known outside the establishment media and political circles. They use these to tighten the social strait-jacket on law-abiding citizens and attack their rights to self-determination in their attempts to mitigate the constraints and miseries of modern life.

24/03/12

Link to the above piece

‘Tis the season – for marching and lying

It’s Salt Awareness Week yet again, from 26th March to April Fools Day. In March of the Zealots we nominated the salt freaks and homeostasis-deniers as the weirdest of the lot. It has the appearance of little more than a self-glorification exercise by a small bunch of academics and medical practitioners. When challenged to produce evidence they come up with charts that barely reach the level of pathetic. With typical pizzazz, this time they launched an attack on pizzas. The food industry, as always, folds at the first sign of criticism. But the zealots are loved by the bureaucrats of the Nanny State, who like nothing better than an excuse to exercise control of the minutiae of the lives of their victims; thus, in their minds, justifying their own meaningless existence: while, of course, the politicians always value a smoke screen of diversionary activity.

The activists are now widely claiming that a high salt intake can treble the risk of stroke and heart disease, though where they get this from is a mystery, as their trials seem to produce relative risks of the order of 0.78, i.e. a non-event. It does not end there, though, as they also lay claim to all sorts of calamitous outcomes. It never ceases to amaze that the objects of zealot hatred are so versatile in the causation of disease and death.

As with most of junk science the activity is political rather than scientific. Studies that dare to suggest that low salt diets actually increase strokes come under fierce attack from the lofty heights of the likes of the CDC, with claims that “The Science is strong” (makes a change from “The Science is settled”). Yet hyponatraemia has long been a well-known cause of illness and death.

Funny old world.

26/03/12

Link to the above piece

The enemy within, USA

The EPA is like unto an animal parasite that gnaws away at the vitals of its host until it is rendered impotent. The attack on coal is designed to suppress the prime source of energy in the USA.  As with all governmental limits, the diktat on emissions reduction is plucked out of the air with no support of scientific reason, but in this case the boundary is set to inflict the maximum damage on the economy. Apart from the fact that restriction on the emissions of a wholly benign compound, which apart from making life on earth possible does nothing but good, is a pointless exercise, there is malignity in the motivation.

The EPA was founded on a lie (that 90% of cancers have environmental causes) but it soon became colonised by a clique devoted to the pursuit of socialist world government, the redistribution of wealth and the relative diminution of the American economy. It is being used by a President of similar inclination to bypass the nation’s democratic institutions.

The law of beneficial developments gives us a measure of the potential value of any energy source. Thus the production of gas by “fracking” has come under immediate savage attack by activists, indicating that it is a breakthrough in the search for reliable energy supply. The West is largely plagued with left-leaning governments bent on the promotion of intermittent and expensive energy sources that are a gross economic burden and a major contributor to relative economic decline.

Which leads us to:

 Number of the month – 1,000

This is the limit in pounds per megawatt-hour to be imposed on new power stations by the EPA, based on its own demonization of carbon as a pollutant. It is carefully calibrated to exclude coal as an energy source.

30/03/12

Link to the above piece

 

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