**Trojan Number**

This term was coined by the author in the course of researching and writing
the book *Sorry, wrong number!* The allusion is, of course, to the mythical
stratagem whereby the Greeks infiltrated the city of Troy inside a giant wooden
horse. The **Trojan Number** is thus one of several stratagems by which authors
get their articles or propaganda into the media.

The major form of **Trojan
Number** is the size of study. Early on in the piece it will be mentioned that
(to invent some arbitrary numbers) there were 60,000 people in the study. The
number experiencing the condition in question, say toe-nail cancer, is, however,
much smaller, perhaps 60. Of these the number indulging in the putative cause,
say passive drinking, is even smaller say 20. There is a number expected (as a
proportion of the 60) at random from knowledge of the statistics for the general
population, say, 14. Thus the number that really matters, the excess number of
cases, is half a dozen. It is surprising how often an apparently huge study
whittles down to an excess that you can count on your fingers. If the number 6
had been mentioned at the outset, the claim would have been laughed out of
court, so it is never mentioned, though you can often have a pretty good stab at
deducing it. In the statistics of rare events and excess of 6 on an expectation
of 14 would be unsurprising. The rest of the 60,000 are mere bystanders.
Furthermore, though it is not always admitted, these studies are often part of a
large data dredge, in which many combinations of condition and potential cause
are covered, so that the inevitable coincidental excesses can be identified and
claimed as significant.

There are other forms of **Trojan
Number**. A favourite is the *recycler*. Some new statistic is presented,
say 63.21% of passive drinkers are depressed. That gives you the headline and a
couple of sentences. The rest of the article is then exactly the same as the one
you read last month with the same propaganda (and the month before that and the
month before……). This way the zealots get their invented numbers drummed
into the popular conscience or academics get a bit more glory via the
institution’s public relations office.

A variation on the recycler
is the *ignorance statistic* – 72.45% of women under 35 are unaware that
passive drinking causes toe-nail cancer – followed, of course, by the same old
propaganda. And so on.....

One of the most effective
forms of Trojan Number is the *Virtual Body Count*. Sub-editors cannot
resist a headline Thousands to die of X. The most egregious example is the EPA's
"meta-analysis" of Environmental Tobacco Smoke, which proclaims 3,000
US deaths from passive smoking. If you cut through all the statistical frauds,
the results actually demonstrate that passive smoking is harmless.