Number of the Month

January 2013

That time of year

How precipitous the descent from junket to junkfest!

The diet industry is geared up to exploit its annual peak season, adhering to its golden rule:

What was good for you last year is bad for you this year.

Step forth our first candidate for Prat of the Year. He is one Dr Michael Mosley, whose portrait graces the whole of the front page of Times 2 for Jan 1st together with the headline:

Don’t eat fruit

Don’t drink

Do exercise for 120 seconds a week

Your new year’s resolutions as prescribed by a doctor

Apparently he has been talking to “A University of Oxford Health Expert”, which presumably means an epidemiologist, from a team that is second only to Harvard in the junk science league tables. Don’t worry that he speaks from behind a paywall, as he has a series coming up on BBC Radio 4, the auditory depositary of warped science.

The attack on fruit is based on its sugar content. No doubt he thinks he is being original, but the slogan “sugar is poison” is so last year. He believes in the benefit of vegetables on the highly scientific grounds that they are high in “all kinds of mysterious compounds”. Be grateful that our hunter-gatherer ancestors did not have a Mosley to guide them.

Laughably, the most notable item on the desultory plate in front of him in that portrait is a bunch of tomatoes, which he presumably does not recognise as either fruit or sweet.

But, of course, it is the usual suspects that come in for a hammering, especially the dreaded alcohol. The fact that the recommended limits for alcohol consumption were plucked out of the air, which has been so repetitively noted in these pages, has now been transmogrified into a case for even more draconian suppression. The essence of the whole farrago is condensed into that claim, for it is based on a relative risk of 1.1 of cancer for a woman who consumes a bottle of wine a week.

As for 120 seconds a week exercising – if you believe that, Sir, you will believe anything. Number Watch advises: throw away that gym membership card and get out on the football pitch or tennis court. In other words, don't just suffer: have fun. The puritans will hate you for it, but you will feel better.

But let us leave the last word to the man himself –

“I think a load of nonsense is talked about these things,” says Mosley.


 and on and on and ...

The alcohol zealots march on. They have a ready audience in the idiots who are suffering from overindulging on New Year’s Eve; but more cogently, this time, “Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer for England, is currently reviewing the evidence on the risks of drinking, said a Department of Health spokesman.” They never miss a trick. How fortunate that the man who never was never was!

Here are the contributions of the Daily Telegraph:

Dieters 'should cut booze to ditch pounds'

Those alcohol zealots who have taken over the WCRF are now posing as obesity experts.

Alcohol guidelines 'too high' say doctors

It’s our man Mosley again. The Times version was allegedly the product of an interview with a journalist; but here the quotes and the “experts” are identical, though it is ""written" by the medical correspondent. It is now evident that it is all copied from a press release promoting a three-day junkathon by the BBC, notably based on output of the junk epidemiologists at Harvard. What a blessing lazy journalists and zealots are to each other!

Abstaining from alcohol in January 'not enough' liver experts say

"This is both an awareness raising campaign and a fundraiser for Alcohol Concern. All money raised must be donated to Alcohol Concern only.”

Why sweet snacks leave you hungry

This obeisance to the “sugar is poison” campaign does not appear to have made it to the online version, but is on page 2 of the printed one.


… and on …

Back to The Times for day three of the blitz:

Fat and sugar are as deadly as cigarettes

Britain is second only to America for obesity. Relying on education alone has failed – now we must ban trans fats

Camilla Cavendish

A half page article concocted from such sources as the zealot-infested WHO, an Oxford “scientist” who suggests that trans fats affect mental performance and increase aggression and the sugar-is-poison man, Robert Lustig of California.

Now, it may well be that trans fats are the greatest evil to afflict humanity since the Great Plague, but while they are a current fashionable target for junk epidemiology it would be better to suspend judgement. Furthermore, it was once the case that all scientists understood the principle that everything is poisonous and nothing is poisonous: it is all in the dose. But their time has passed. This is the age of the zealot. We note in passing the customary anti-tobacco swipe in the headline.

Bring on the thin gruel.


 And now for the weather aftcast

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.
Burnt Norton

 Yes, it is rude to laugh, but sometimes it is irresistible. The new green Telegraph regales us with the headline

After deluge, expect more 'extreme rain’

With due deference to the First Law of Journalism, it is all down to the famous Met Office. Suddenly, after a wet year, which naturally they failed to forecast, they have reversed their customary fiery slogans to “Après nous le deluge”. Their antediluvian joy has given way to postdiluvian melancholy. As we noted just a year ago, they had been obliged to withdraw from issuing long term weather forecasts after their warming predictions became a national joke, with their “barbecue summers” and “milder than average winters”. These were all going to be the inevitable results of global warming, but now:

One likely cause is that a 1.26F (0.7C) increase in global air temperatures since pre-industrial times has led to a four per cent increase in moisture in the atmosphere, bringing with it a greater potential for heavy rain.

Another possibility is that a change in sea surface temperatures caused by decreasing Arctic sea ice has brought about changes in weather patterns.

There is no mention of that irrelevancy, the jet stream. As we noted last August the jet stream is the main factor that makes our long term forecasts so useless. But worry not; as we said back in 2009 (and, as it happens, mentioning the jet stream) one day they will be right. They appear to have difficulty with the concept of random sequences of events, such as the precise positioning of the jet stream, and the fact that they produce apparent patterns and records. It was primitive man’s inability to envisage an effect without human cause that gave rise to much of religion.

Of course it would have been most impressive if they had predicted all this a year ago, but they did not. Their predictions are as changeable as the weather and the only constant is the putative cause.


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 And now the wildlife aftcast

 “Woe, woe and thrice woe!”
Up Pompei

 Floods and wet weather could spell poor year for wildlife in 2013

 So yells the headline in the new green Telegraph. There is nothing like a bit of bad news to stir the heart of a contemporary journalist. It is a prediction as bold as suggesting that the sun might rise tomorrow, but here it is supported by a parade of the “experts”, so it must be true. We ordinary punters knew what was going on last August and did our puny best to help mitigate the situation, but these days nothing has authentically happened until “scientists” have published their dubious numbers long after the event. It is amazing how life on earth has endured for all these ages without the benefit of experts.

The consumption rate by small birds from the various types of feeder in our little garden here in the Blackmore Vale has been immense, but we had foreseen this and laid up supplies. Winter (as defined by our ancestors, who understood the phase lag between stimulus and response) is only a couple of weeks old, but that does not deter the warmist hints from littering news reports with premature review.

Just in case you missed that main message this report, here are some short extracts …

“recent unseasonably warm weather presents a further danger”

“The mild conditions have seen daffodils and primroses already flowering in southern England, around two months early.”

“It has been incredibly warm for this time of year…”

“the wet, warm winter”

… shades of the BBC’s original Springwatch (since given the Winston Smith treatment and to which we were able to add our own pictorial evidence) and of the Curse of the Phenologists. Unseasonable weather occurs in January, as in all months. A memory that comes to mind is walking across the hills of Anglesey in shirt sleeves one January day in the sixties. There were no eco-disasters in consequence and the scare-mongers were then still promoting the coming New Ice Age. Nowadays, a couple of weeks of temperatures slightly above average is treated as an unmitigated disaster, in conformity with modern religious teaching.

Our sheltered primroses are indeed now in full flower, which is the very reason we took the trouble to bring them with us from Hampshire a decade ago. The daffodils, however, have not yet broken through the soil, just as we would expect.

The small birds will recover from their setback, but more slowly than was once normal, owing to the higher levels of predation, of which we must not speak. The butterflies will have a harder time, for they really will be starting from a catastrophic low. All we can do is make sure we provide food plants (for both larvae and imagoes) and hope.

Still, we can always rely on the media to keep us in good cheer.



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The curse of optimism

 A fool and his money are soon parted.
Traditional proverb

During those increasingly frequent intervals of senescent abstraction, your bending author has been wont to conjecture upon the essential threads that meander through the rich tapestry of life. It is clear that these hold no significance for those who are caught up in the hurly-burly of real living, but were they to pause for thought they might change their minds. This is the sort of activity that universities used to engage in, before they were switched to job-training and headline chasing. One of those vital threads is a form of optimism; not entirely the Panglossian conviction that all is for best in the best of all possible worlds: no, it is more a total faith in the beliefs and theories they hold to be true and, especially, the prophesies that derive from them. Such abstractions are painstakingly passed from the scholar to his pupil or, in a more contemporary context, the grifter to his mark.

The substrate on which this species of optimism grows is illusion. Apart from a short rational interval, during the all too brief reign of science, our society has been dominated by illusion. It is encouraged by governments in accordance with the fundamental principle of politics known as Jam tomorrow.

There are generally three groups of people involved in the transactions dependent on pure optimism: the investors (or, more accurately, donors), the middlemen and the operators. The inducements offered to the donors vary from the promise of an illusory return on investment to the supposed joy of a great green future. In many cases the donors have no choice. It is wrested from them as direct taxes or stealth taxes in the form of surcharges on essential services such as energy or (in the UK) possession of television receiving apparatus.

There is always one outstanding factor, the ignoring of which sustains the illusion. It is the spectre at the feast: some are not aware of its presence; others are, but turn their eyes away: no one acknowledges it. In the case of gambling, for example, it is summed up in the old saying “There is no such thing as a poor bookmaker” and that does not even encompass the substantial rake-off by the Treasury, which is the source of its protected status. Gambling is the cause of increasing human misery, but this is largely ignored by the establishment.

At the rise of the dotcom bubble many of us in the professions of digital electronics and computer science were asking “How are the punters going to get their money back?” The answer, of course is they didn’t.

Google “airborne generators” and you will get nearly three million hits. Almost without exception the sites are enthusiastic and full of optimism. The boundaries between naïve eagerness and pure scam are blurred, but the billions of dollars being poured down this particular drain are only too real. We have been hammering on about the one ignored outstanding factor (the weight of the cable) for over a decade, but nobody wants to know. After all this time there is not one case of substantive power being delivered, yet the designs proliferate and the money pours in.

It is a tragi-comedic old world.


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 While we were enjoying a little chortle at that Met Office aftcast, they had an even bigger joke up their sleeve. On Christmas Eve they had released a revised version of their long term climate forecast. The “sleeve” was the “research” section of their website, where they clearly hoped it would go unnoticed at such a propitious time to let “bad” news to leak out. As ever, however, the blogs let the cat out of the bag, then it got to the undisciplined sector of the establishment media. Booker of the Telegraph announced it as A Forecast The Met Office Hoped You Wouldn’t See. The squirming of the usual apologists for The Met added much to the entertainment. The Daily Mail were justified in being cock-a-hoop, having endured the sort of vilification that is a run of the mill experience for climate sceptics, but uncomfortable for those who are unaccustomed. The story even reached Australia, where climate scaremongers have strained to conceal their joy at the tragic consequences of an exceptional heat wave.

An inconsequential thought: Is Sir John Houghton the most expensive human being in British (or, if you include his role in setting up the IPCC, World) history?


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 The missing link

As regular readers know it is habitual behaviour for Number Watch to provide links to past entries when a particular topic is covered. This is not a vain effort at self-glorification. It is an attempt to demonstrate consistency. The links provide a chain back to original comments and sources. It is, to say the least, an annoying trend that the chain, more often than not, comes to an end at an external link that has disappeared.

This occurred in researching the topic of the man who never was for last year’s Numby Awards. Now part of that particular chain has been cited in SEPP’s Weekly Climate and Energy News Roundup on WUWT, with reference to the principles of rigorous epidemiology that, as it happens, were set down by the man who never was. The cited piece was actually a series of comments on the subsequent calculated corruption of those principles by an allegedly respectable institution, using the Animal Farm method. Though in this case the relevant claims were repeated and preserved in detail in that cited commentary, the original document has disappeared from the web. Why?

It is irritating enough that the establishment media routinely erase comparatively recent articles, but it is to some extent understandable. For they rely on the First Law of Journalism to be free to alter (or even reverse) their stance on any particular topic, as is their habit. Why a “respectable” scientific institution should do the same is less forgivable. It cannot be that they are too poor to afford the memory. Is it shame, or just insouciance? The chain of citation is an important element in the scientific method. The original idea of the web was to end the labour and delay involved in searching through printed journals, with an added bonus that it brings into the process those who do not have ready access to a university library.

It is an unforeseen disadvantage that the chain can be broken at a stroke, with the implied Mary Poppins remark “I never explain.”


Footnote: The principles laid out by the man who never was are given here.

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Thought for the day

When an army is in retreat the generals start to quarrel.


Science by noise spikes

In the olden days, when PhD supervision was taken seriously, part of the supervisor’s duty was to train the student not to get excited over short apparent trends in random data or random spikes in noisy data. Traditional indicating instruments were often designed to hide higher frequency fluctuations with devices such as the “dashpot”, the mechanical realisation of a single-pole, low-pass filter; so users forget (or do not even know) that they are there. Nowadays, we are mainly presented with sampled data, often by people who are unfamiliar with the simple hazards (e.g. aliasing and the Nyquist frequency).

Regular number watcher Bernd Felsche, in our forum (link below), draws attention to the important matter of the time constant of temperature measurement instruments. Old fashioned thermometers have long time constants (that filter again, but realised with thermal resistance and mass as components). Newer miniature electronic sensors have much shorter time constants (i.e. higher bandwidths) so they admit shorter, more rapid variations, such as from gusts of hot air. This means more prominent noise spikes; and these mean more dramatic announcements.

A single point added to a noisy graph tells us nothing, yet that is what generates the headlines that are the measure of academic success in the new age. Furthermore, quoting the difference between this point and previous point is of no help, as the process of differencing emphasises high frequency noise.

In those incessant climate wars, zealot and sceptic alike await the next monthly noise spike in the grossly contaminated published data, so that they can argue about whether it favours their particular cause. The contamination arises not only from poorly sited and badly distributed sensors, but also by deliberate falsification of the numbers by a process that is awarded the dysphemism of “adjustment”.

The absurd claim that measurements establish global warming of less than 1ºC is based on an outcome that is smaller than the likely systematic and random errors of measurement, even if we exclude the increasing evidence of data tampering. It is a change of temperature that you would not notice when passing from one room to another: yet it is blamed for all sorts of catastrophes. What matters in drastic events such as near extinctions of species is not the average temperature, but the intensity and duration of extremes. This is illustrated by the dramatic collapse of butterfly populations in the UK during the year-long deluge of 2012, which was weather, not climate.

While millions of children suffer and die of terrible diseases carried by polluted water supplies and insect vectors, the zealot-infested WHO tell us among many other things that 71 children died of middle ear infection caused by passive smoking. Even if it were true, how could they possibly know? But the lazy and corrupt establishment media faithfully reproduce their vacuous propaganda without question, and the imposition of political correctness takes precedence over humane action.

When the zealots have achieved one of their victories by sponsoring draconian legislation they stand by, monitoring various published statistics ready to cherry pick those that justify their actions. Stationary noisy waveforms will either go up or down (staying the same is an event of zero probability). It is the toss of a coin, but only the favourable outcomes are mentioned. One of the truly alarming trends that have been ignored for political reasons is the steady increase in childhood asthma during the latter half of the twentieth century. When children in the fifties were exposed to more tobacco smoke in their one weekly visit to the cinema than modern children experience in their whole lives, the disease was a comparative rarity. The alleged 12% drop in childhood hospital admissions since the smoking ban is not just noise in relation to the enormous increase over the decades, it is a blatant lie, nothing to do with randomness, but the claim is dutifully publicised. There are, however, hundreds of claims of numerous dire effects of passive smoking that are all based on the sort of nonsense that would have given nightmares to the great founders of experimental statistical testing, such as R A Fisher and Austin Bradford Hill. It is a crime that research into the real cause of a plague in childhood has been suppressed by this sort of zealotry.

Accidental effects, which are flourished with great drama in the establishment media, are eventually corrected by the process known as Regression to the Mean (see, for example, the case of speed cameras) but the later numbers are ignored.

The contribution of idle journalists to the barrage of statistical nonsense cannot be overstated. How can they justify their salaries by simply paraphrasing press releases from activists? As we have seen recently, they use devices such as fake interviews to cover up, but that cover is blown by the fact that their contributions are almost identical to others. You might well think that simple human self-respect would prompt them to do a minimum of investigation, but no! Apart from a tiny honourable minority, they are content to plod on as humble clerks on the word-shuffling production line, negligent of the damage they are doing.


Comment (from Richard Stephen) I just read your piece on bandwidth and noise spikes. I have long observed this and I call it Housewife's law, that is to say: "The wider you open the window, the more dirt blows in".

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 As you were

There is a discontinuity in this month’s diatribe, not because of any change in the state of human affairs, but because of your bending author’s lack of immunity to boredom. The media carry on their merry way according to their beliefs and seasonal traditions. The crescendo of exercise and slimming diet articles rose to a peak and then began to subside, as is the seasonal norm Those primulas are cheeringly still in full bloom, despite having spent a week under 15cm of snow.

Our piece about bandwidth and noise seems to have gone down like the proverbial lead balloon, but it is a continuing discussion on the valuable Warwick Hughes blog.

The new member of the BBC star system, who opened our monthly discussion, turned up as one of a trio of presenters of a new BBC science block-buster, The Genius of Invention. There is some good stuff here, if you can put up with style of presentation (neo-Blue Peter, after the long running children’s series) a bit too jolly and patronising for some. The demonstrations will conjure up nostalgia in those old enough to have benefited from a grammar school education.

But, we old sceptical BBC watchers wondered, where is the message from our sponsors? The commercial, as is the new BBC formula, came right at the very end, with a sudden non sequitur of an announcement that the benign rare gas that is the basis of all life on Earth is pollution, but they were not so indelicate to mention that the triumphant product of invention that they had been lauding is to be closed down by EU diktat as part of the long-term programme of economic suicide, apart from a rump that is to be devoted to the consumption of biomass. No mention of the implications for world ecology and food production. Are our fields to be converted to thirsty osier plantations, just as huge swathes of tropical jungle have been replaced by the serried ranks of oil palms?  Destroying the environment in the name of the environment is the new game in town. Some of the photographic trickery was irritating, such as filming the plumes from the cooling towers against the sunset, so that the pure water condensate looked like black smoke. There let it lie.

That other bee in the authorial bonnet, the gambling plague, has leaked into the media via the courts, with the Telegraph headline:

 Downfall of young man hooked on internet gambling

 He is an isolated bubo that is the merest hint of the plague raging unremarked underneath, the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The indolent and corrupt establishment media, with a tragedy being acted out before their eyes, only notice it when it spawns a court case.

Jailing him, Judge Jamie Tabor QC said: "I suspect there is some truth in the fact that you got yourself into debt by gambling - gambling which is all too easy to embark upon these days, probably because of the amount of advertising on TV and the amount of internet gambling available to anyone unwise enough to make use of it. The bookies always win!"

We have been banging on about this social disaster for over a decade, but after a while you get used to shouting into the abyss without receiving an echo. Meanwhile the lives of many families are being destroyed, but it is of no profit for the political or media establishment to acknowledge the fact.


Ten years too late, mate!

So the new James Lovelock is likening giant windmills to the statues on Easter Island. If he had joined in when we were saying exactly the same thing ten years ago, instead of waiting for the inevitable tide to reach his own doorstep, he might have done some good.


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Number of the month – 28,000

No sooner had we mentioned the creeping palm oil plantations than an article appeared (via gwpf) linking them to global warming. The link is, of course, the usual pseudo-scientific nonsense, but the area affected is not. 28,000 is the estimated number of square kilometres of species-rich tropical jungle that has been replaced by a monoculture of oil palms. Our comment was precipitated by the enduring memory, a couple of decades ago, of a drive between two towns in Malaysia. It was one of the most excruciating experiences of intense boredom of a lifetime – mile after sterile mile of serried ranks of trees, which had once been teeming with life of the utmost variety. Is there anywhere in the world that so exemplifies the systematic destruction of the environment in the name of the environment?


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