Number of the Month

June 2001


The cuckoo of a joyless June
Is calling out of doors.


June, when the English spring fades slowly into autumn. The mad, mad world keeps spinning on, and so do its politicians. Nanny presses on with her scheme for world domination, and there is no factual James Bond to stop her. A grown woman in Texas (who happens to be the President’s daughter) is arraigned for purchasing alcohol. Old enough to be a mother or fight and die for her country, she is not deemed by Nanny to be mature enough to cope with a glass of beer. New Zealanders have imposed on them the world’s most oppressive anti-tobacco regime. Serves them right for voting Labour. The whole world is subjected to an outrageous lie when the WHO promotes its World No Tobacco Day with a poster stating that Second Hand Smoke Kills!, which even its own research denies. Oily fish surface again; this time as a sure fire preventive for prostate cancer.

Actually, the headlines to the latter story use the junk journalists’ favourite word “may”. Why have they suddenly lost the ability to distinguish between the words “may”, “might” and “can”? It is all really quite simple:

Cinderella may go to the ball means that she has permission to do so.
Cinderella might go to the ball
means that there is a possibility that she will.
Cinderella can go to the ball means that she is physically able to do so.

Perhaps there is a glimmer of conscience there, and “may” has become a weasel word to cover up their embarrassment at reproducing such self-evident nonsense.

Unclear energy policy

4,000 is the number of times that nuclear generated electricity is safer than coal. This is one of many interesting numbers that are quoted in a letter to the New York Times by Lloyd Mielke, which is reproduced in TWTW for June 12th. Since the number is based on statistics from WHO, it is all in the best possible taste.  Mielke also disposes of many other myths that surround nuclear energy, and demonstrates that it  is the most environmentally benign source of energy available to us. In fact he takes ten myths and answers them with ten facts: unfortunately a rather sterile exercise, as the green establishment prefers its myths.

Good news, alas!

According to the BBC, Scientists in Alaska say that new vegetation is spreading over the tundra as the climate gets warmer. Aerial photographs show that the amount of greenery has doubled in some areas over the past 50 years. This good news comes rather too late for the likes of the Nordic settlers in Greenland, who were driven out by the advancing ice early in the fifteenth century. Perhaps the earth is still warming up from the Little Ice Age, though the pace is too slow to show up in the records.

The BBC seems a little put out that it appears to be reporting good news. It goes on:

The researchers suggest that new growth of shrubs and forest in the world's far northern regions could go some way towards offsetting the spread of deserts in the tropics.

But they warn that the Arctic regions cannot be expected to compensate for all the unpredictable effects of climate change.

And just in case anyone still gets the wrong idea they finish their report with:

But the researchers stress that the Arctic regions cannot be expected to compensate for all the unpredictable effects of climate change.

On the other hand.......

Look here upon this picture, and on this,
The counterfeit presentment of two brothers.

Every now and then the orthodoxy that has been forged by the fusion of junk science, modern politics and tacky journalism is exposed in all its glory. Just such an occasion occurred this month (spotted, of course, by Here is a headline from The Independent, June 5th:

Pets 'double children's risk of asthma attacks'

And here is another from the BBC a few days earlier, May 27th:

Keeping pets 'prevents allergies'

Both studies are classics of the genre. The first had the Trojan number (5384) which was the number of children studied, but on the figures given only 613.776 children actually suffered from asthma. The figures were then subjected to a process of amplification (The Quantum Leap) by extrapolating them to the total child population. Thus more than 330,000 excess cases were “attributable” to pet allergy.

The second looked at 473 children – 241 girls and 232 boys but the scientist responsible said he found it "difficult to understand" why boys had different results than girls.

Bandwagons were boarded with the usual alacrity:

The research showed that clearing the house of pets, or other triggers for the disease, could cut asthma rates among children aged six to 17 by 45 per cent.”

 A spokeswoman for the Cats Protection League said: "These findings are good news for cats who are all too often seen as the cause of allergic reactions in children rather than a risk reduction factor."

Will sheer embarrassment cause these people to shut up? Will it hell! This is epidemiology.

Time for a little sum thing

'That's the reason they're called lessons,' The Gryphon remarked: ' because they lessen from day to day.'

A catastrophe of truly Californian dimensions seems to be the only description one can apply to the British educational system. Dr David Harper writes in a letter to The Times (June 5th):

Sir, The National Association of Head Teachers protests too much about the difficulty of the recently introduced numeracy tests for trainee teachers (report, May 30). The tests require nothing more than a grasp of simple arithmetic and the ability to understand and extract elementary information from tables of numbers.
These are the basic levels of numeracy that we expect of our 12-year-olds. There is no algebra or calculus.
It is difficult to know which is more shocking: that the representatives of the nation’s head teachers should seek to misrepresent the level of the tests in an attempt to gain sympathy, or that they are reinforcing the notion that numeracy is an unimportant skill in the 21st century.

Indeed, it came a real shock to members of the older generation when sample questions from the tests were published. They were of a standard that once applied to the school selection tests sat by eleven year olds. Yet we read (The Daily Telegraph, May 30th):

The standard of the test which student teachers have four chances to pass, is close to A-level, said Mick Brookes, former president of the National Association of Head Teachers. "You can be numerate without reaching A-level standard so I don't know why those not specialising in maths should be expected to reach it."

Perhaps Mr Brookes is telling the truth; for an earlier (May 6th) story in the Telegraph tells us that:

THE Government is to make mathematics A-levels more difficult after admitting that examination standards have fallen.
Nick Tate, the chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, conceded that there had been "a backsliding" in standards in maths papers set during the Nineties. In an interview with The Telegraph, Dr Tate said a new A-level syllabus, to be introduced in September, would make future exams "somewhat more demanding", adding that there was a need to "reassert earlier standards".
The new A-level will increase the amount of algebra - a discipline that has declined in recent years - and include more trigonometry and geometry. It will restrict the use of calculators in at least a quarter of papers. Students will have to learn nearly 40 complex formulae off by heart, instead of being allowed to take a list of them into the exam. Testing will be extended by two hours, with candidates facing a minimum of eight hours in the exam room instead of the current six. Easier topics such as statistics will be dropped.

To be fair to the student teachers, another element might be the fact that the tests are computerised and timed. Some people, particularly the older ones, simply panic when they are sat in front of a computer screen, but it is so convenient for the bureaucrats.

Cry freedom!

Tax freedom day falls this year on June 10th in the UK. This is the day, as calculated by the Adam Smith Institute, on which the average resident can start working to support self and family, having worked up to that point to support the Government. As stealth taxes have risen, the day has moved later each year from May 26th in 1996. Tax freedom day occurs 21 days earlier in the USA, but 12 days later in Euroland.

 A plague o' both your houses 

¼ is the proportion of the electorate who voted for the winning party in the 2001 UK election on June 7th. The turnout was the lowest since the universal franchise was initiated. Although the selection of the new Government by Rupert Murdoch was rubber stamped in what is generally described as a landslide, the true outcome of the poll is a general condemnation of the colourless professional politicians and their spin doctors.

How are the mighty fallen!

There was never anything by the wit of man so well devised, or so sure established, which in continuance of time hath not been corrupted.
The Book of Common Prayer

Number Watch withdraws, with grovelling apologies, its endorsement of the US National Academy of Science in May, following that body’s refusal to sign the international global warming manifesto. The institution has now, however, produced a report on the very same subject that has all the honesty of an Al Capone tax return. How could any group of people produce a lengthy report on climate change and forget to mention such items as the sunspot cycle and the Little Ice Age, from which we are still emerging? There have been enough detailed critiques of the exercise from people who actually know what they are talking about (for example S Fred Singer or John Daly) to make it unnecessary to delve into the minutiae of this corrupt production, but one must reflect upon a moment of great sadness when one of the last bastions of disinterested science succumbs to sordid political intrigue and selective quoting of dubious evidence. 

What next? Perhaps a report establishing the existence of fairies at the bottom of the White House garden.

Post Script The curse of Midas revisited.

As pointed out in our piece It was meant to be a joke in April, it can become a curse when even your little jokes turn out to be true. No sooner was the above piece published than the Number Watch correspondent in Puerto Rico, Jaime Arbona, submitted an authoritative NAS-style report establishing that there really are fairies at the bottom of the White House garden. Furthermore, he has provided a link to the evidence. Warning: the illustration at this link is not suitable for those of a nervous disposition, but for those with a strong stomach, it can be found here.


A well reasoned article by a member of the committee gives quite a different impression, and appears to disown the tendentious summary.

And now - AC/DC clusters

Our correspondent from Puerto Rico is getting out of hand. He is now picking on British Loonies. Don’t you have enough loonies of your own in the USA? Where else would you find twelve loonies to form a jury to grant three billion dollars in a tobacco compensation case, or indeed to form a commission of the NAS to report on Global Warming? Anyway, the story he noticed was from The Independent, as follows. Anyone who fails to spot at least two major fallacies is browsing the wrong web site.

Pylons 'spread foot and mouth'

By Robert Mendick

10 June 2001

One of the world's leading experts on the effects of radiation believes electricity pylons have helped spread foot and mouth disease.
David Henshaw, a professor of physics at Bristol University, says the high-voltage power lines make the virus even more virulent. He believes the virus, carried by the wind, is electrically charged by the power lines and so better able to "stick" to animals. The principle works in much the same way as static electricity ­ just as a statically charged balloon sticks to clothing, so the statically charged foot and mouth virus adheres to animals.
The prospect of pylons helping to spread foot and mouth is alarming. But it could explain why the disease was so easily spread ­ via super-charged, wind-born particles of the virus ­ and so hard to contain.
"Powerlines could well be an important contributory factor in the spread of foot and mouth," said Professor Henshaw, who specialises in the effects of powerline radiation on humans.
Confirmed foot and mouth cases at Picton, North Yorkshire, are being examined to see if they fit the theory. Attention was drawn to the possibility of pylons being to blame by three Picton outbreaks which occurred close to a 400kV powerline ­ within 400 metres either side of it. A fourth case was 400 metres from a 275kV line; two more were two miles north alongside another powerline.
The local National Farmers Union group says the 400kV powerline is to blame for a seventh case several miles away.
Peter Edmonds, the NFU's local group secretary, said: "Anybody with a powerline across the farm is at a great disadvantage. It is helping to spread the disease."
Prof Henshaw said: "There is a delineation of cases down the powerlines in Yorkshire. I have seen the data."

I have seen the data! I have seen the light! I have seen the fairies! Bring on the men in the white coats!

A shot in the foot

Headline in The Times, June 11th:

Mobile firms patent cancer shields

Can there ever have been an emptier threat than cancer-inducing mobile phones? After all, the world’s largest epidemiological trial is going on now, with billions of people using the devices and no sign of an epidemic of tumours. Yet the manufacturers freely put a potent weapon in the hands of the scaremongers and tacky lawyers, by patenting protection against this non-existent hazard.

 Target practice

A speed camera on every corner says the Daily Mail headline on the 11th. The UK police are now allowed to keep the proceeds of automated speeding fines to spend on more cameras. Typically the politicians and bureaucrats have implemented a policy without thinking through the consequences. As we have pointed out more than once, e.g. April’s piece Double, double toil and trouble the speed scare was forced through by a grotesque fiddling of the numbers. Yet another victory for the SIFs! We shall now see even greater alienation between the police and the public, even fewer patrols to detect real dangerous driving and a growing self-funding industry.

Meanwhile, in the same edition we read that Failing police forces face hit squads. The new man at the Home Office has been rewarded for his “success” in education. A notorious target and league table junkie, he has left a school system that is over-stressed, over-worked and dispirited. Now it is the turn of the police to get the treatment.

An even more bizarre target is also published in this edition:

And the taxman is ordered to find 76% of us guilty

Millions of innocent people are going to be subjected to one of the most stressful experiences of modern life, as if the ever growing self assessment tax form were not enough. A spokesman came up with a fine example of pure bureaucratic claptrap: “This is more of a management tool to enable us to focus our resources more effectively.” Oh yeah?

A collector's item

Well, well, well! No sooner had we commented on the proposed research into air pollution and heart attacks (see Outbreak of MMC and RUTUS diseases, May) when up pop a group of epidemiologists from the USA who have jumped the gun. The article in question is a classic of its kind and should be treasured by students of junk science and its reportage. It displays so many of the characteristics of the genre, many of which occupy whole sections in the book of this web site, that it is worth identifying just some of them.

First and foremost, the whole claim is based on a risk ratio of less than 1.5, when 2 is the absolute minimum accepted by real science. 

The weasel word may (meaning might) appears in the first paragraph.

They were going to “get” fine particulates whatever happened. This author was aware of this years ago, when generous research grants were on offer to instrumentation specialists for the detection of these pollutants. No way was all this "research" going to produce negative results.

The Trojan number of 722 people studied is up front, though the number actually involved with the putative cause is not given.

No fewer than six percentages that are irrelevant to the claim are quoted accurately, but the one that really matters is quoted as “nearly” 50 percent.

Among this welter of figures there is none that you can put your finger on to judge the merits of the claim. This is a technique known among stage magicians as misdirection.

At least eight pollution variables were measured together with an unknown number of time intervals. The fact that just one combination nearly got to 50% excess is less than staggering.

The villains of the piece turn out to be the auto industry and urban industry.

Elaborate causal chains are posited to account for the claimed effect, as predicted by Langmuir’s laws for the identification of bad science.

Some of the authors are attached to the Harvard School of Public Health.

More research is needed (i.e. keep giving us the money).

Novel forms of experimental design are claimed (e.g. each study is his or her own case control).


Mail bag

The London Daily Mail is becoming the leading source for number watchers. All the stories below come from its June 15th edition.


A triumph of risk assessment has been achieved by Labour controlled Norwich City Council. They plan to fell all the horse chestnut trees in leafy (but not for long) Bluebell Road. They fear that these deadly growths will damage cars and pedestrians with their falling fruits, the squashy leaves could make footpaths slippery and there is danger to children who assemble to gather the ripe fruits for the traditional children's game of conkers. We are now used to stories of Philistine functionaries destroying things of beauty just for the sake of something to do, but this one really takes the biscuit.

The horse chestnut (Aesculus Hippocastanum) was imported into Britain from the Balkans for its stature and the beauty of its candles of white or pink flowers in the spring. It derives its name from being given to horses as a cure for breathing problems. Herbalists claim that it cures all sorts of diseases, mainly to do with circulation. Your bending author owns a seventy-foot specimen that brings great joy just in beholding it. The thought of mindlessly destroying such a treasure would only occur to the most purblind of bureaucrats, but it is they who now have the power.

 Death on two wheels

Another headline is Growing toll of born again bikers. Casualties among motorcyclists in the UK have risen by 8% to 28,212, of whom 605 died. The increase is blamed on middle-aged men taking up the hobby. This illustrates the fact that  scaremongers who concentrate on purported causes of death use the wrong number. What is important is the loss of quality life. For example, in the area round the author's small village four local people have died in motorcycle accidents in the last couple of years. This represents a loss of over 200 years of quality life expectancy and completely dwarfs what could remotely be attributed in the same area to, for example,  tobacco, which largely inflicts its toll on the elderly.

 Give us our daily dread

The banner headline that takes up most of the front page is Vitamin C cancer fear. It is all based on test tube experiments at the University of Pennsylvania, which suggest that the substance can cause damage to DNA. Readers of Sorry, wrong number! will recognise the concentration fallacy and the missing link among the nonsenses in this scare. Mind you, the evidence that large doses of the vitamin do any good is equally suspect.

 Bush wars

The progress of George W around Europe is accompanied by rampages of environmental demonstrators. Yet another tribute to the power of the myth of global warming. Europe has always, of course, been plagued by outbreaks of religious intolerance. Romano Prodi, President of the EU Commission,  was rendered speechless when Bush asked why the USA should ratify the Kyoto Treaty, when not one European nation had done so. Swedish Premier Goron Persson made it clear that the function of the EU was to counter the economic power of the USA. It is remarkable that a nation that stood aside from the fight against totalitarianism should find it necessary to see an adversary in a benign ally. By George, these people must be stood up to!

 Education, education, education - disaster, disaster, disaster

Advance copies of school examination papers are openly for sale in London. Yet another manifestation of the great educational disaster brought about by “modernisation”. What else would you expect from an examination board that calls itself Edexcel? In the bad old days examining boards were run by the likes of Oxford and Cambridge universities. One sixth-former sat 8 hours of examinations in one day. These new AS level examinations did not exist a year ago and were instituted by mindless modernising bureaucrats who failed to appreciate the enormous educational value of an exam-free year as enjoyed by all previous generations of students. The tale of educational disaster in the US is being told by Alan Caruba in typical forthright style in a four part series. The UK is not far behind. A memo was recently circulated by the head of one of Britain’s leading university departments pointing out that it could no longer afford to maintain traditional standards, as its rivals were now awarding more than twice as many top class degrees. This not only affected recruitment but, believe it or not, lost position in the league tables published by the Sunday Times.

Here are some Interesting statistics from Cambridge:

In 2000, 89% of students graduating did so with a First or Upper Second.

Comparable figures for 1954 are:

 History 42%
Classics 41%
Modern Languages 41%
Geography 39%

Natural Sciences 38%
English 38%
Economics 27%
Law 15%

 It is heart-warming to think that, thanks to our bureaucrats, politicians and journalists, so many more of our young people are graduating and they are so much brighter than the dumbos who are now reaching retirement age.

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine

As a sad aftermath to the holocaust inflicted by the bureaucrats on the farming industry over the foot and mouth epidemic (which has given rise to two of our recent numbers of the month), the Mail reports that three farmers committed suicide in one county of England.

Sue first, ask questions afterwards

A father is threatened with losing his home after being sued by a woman who tripped on his drive while delivering junk mail. Meanwhile lives are being put at risk by lawyers demanding original X-rays from hospitals as a result of the burgeoning compensation culture. It’s a mad, mad, mad , mad , mad world.

Keep taking the same medicine

At the beginning of each British Parliament there is a ceremonial affair known as the Queen’s Peach. In this the monarch has the embarrassing duty of reading out the Governments policy proposals for the new session. On the strength of obtaining the support of a quarter of the electorate, the Government declares that it has a mandate and is bent on pursuing the same authoritarian path as before. Ancient rights are to be savaged. The remnants of the House of Lords will be finally transformed into a House of Cronies, the right to jury trial is to be restricted and double jeopardy is to be reintroduced into British Law after an absence of 1200 years. Rural Britain, which has been crushed by bureaucratic and political incompetence together with sheer blind prejudice, is to receive just one new Act of Parliament, the banning of hunting. The despised Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food is being replaced by DEFRA, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. It is an old political rule – when failure reaches an embarrassing level, give the punters more of the same but under a different name. The Department of Trade and Industry, which has incompetently presided over the decline of one of the world’s greatest manufacturing industries, now has no fewer than 8 ministers. What on earth do they all do?

Number of the month – 15

15 is the number of European countries that have not yet ratified the Kyoto treaty, but nevertheless arrogate to themselves the right to bad-mouth Dubya for being honest about the issue.

In reality the European leaders must be grateful to the American President for getting them off an uncomfortable hook. Because of proportional representation, most European governments have Greens with Neolithic ambitions in their coalitions, who invariably bag the ministries concerned with the environment. Thus economic suicide is built into their declared policies and it is very convenient to have an outside agency to blame for not adopting it.

You have to hand it to the Greens, however. By picking on carbon dioxide for the construction of their prime myth they have chosen the one product that is common to all real industry. When the myth is exposed they resort to the precautionary principle – Ah but what if you are wrong? On the basis of such reasoning everyone should stay in bed all day.

Incidentally, Number Watch attended a meeting at the Institute for Economic Affairs in London in which Philip Stott performed a superb demolition job on Global Warming. OK, any schoolboy could do it if he were allowed access to truthful information, but Philip did it in extemporaneous style and covered all the defects of the theory – political, economic and scientific. It is a pity the performance was not televised for the whole world to enjoy. Particularly striking was the evidence from recent stories of how widespread political censorship is keeping the myth alive in the British media and totally suppressing any opposing evidence.

Colossal! Stupendous! A mighty Epic!

They call the latest data-dredge exercise from Europe EPIC and they have certainly come up with an epic new scam. Not only do they produce enormous risk ratios for the usual suspects (tobacco and alcohol) but they now multiply them together, so that heavy smokers and drinkers are claimed to have 50 times the risk of throat cancers. This means that virtually no abstainers ever get throat cancer, which should be an easy hypothesis to test. The Trojan number for this exercise is 400,000, but we are not, of course, told how many of these contracted throat cancers.

As for the rest of the report, it is the usual stuff. An interesting variation is that all the differences of incidence of disease are put down to diet, regardless of the geographical factors. Norwegians not only have a different diet from Italians, they also have a different genetic make up and get less sun. What will they tell us next, that eating pasta reduces the suicide rate?

The Imperial Cancer Research Fund said it was confident that about 30 per cent of all cancers were related to diet. "People should be eating plenty of fruit and vegetables every day. Unfortunately, a good diet will not make up for other bad habits like drinking excessively and smoking." It said that eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, recommended by the Department of Health, should be seen as a minimum. This all goes back to the infamous 1981 book by Doll and Peto in which they made such claims on the basis of a cavalier disregard of the most important factor of all, age.

 The thing to remember about these data dredges is that they trawl through a large range of diseases and (anecdotal) dietary habits. The total number of possible combinations is enormous, and it is unsurprising that some of them turn out to be "significant". Published conclusions from the Cambridge branch include:

Eating fruits and vegetables reduces the risk of an early death
High impact sports may preserve bone density
Blood glucose levels could help predict risk of heart disease

The Lyon branch has discovered even more links.

Déja vu

It turns out that the great EPIC, as so often happens in Hollywood, is just a remake. It is the notorious Harvard Nurses Health study all over again: the same data dredge, the same silly risk ratios and the same regular leaking out of headline grabbing scares and admonitions over a long period of time. The media, of course, dutifully report every tawdry number. Fibre slashes bowel cancer risk yells the BBC. Diet linked to one in three cancers parrots Reuters. It is the familiar old epidemiological pendulum too. Fruit and Vegetables are restored as dead sure preventatives for colorectal cancer, but this time round red meat is innocent. Of course, they never tell you that actual absolute risk, just 50 times or 8 times. 8 times a very small number is still a very small number. Never mind the science, keep taking the tabloids.

The risks of travel

There has been some correspondence on the risks associated with various forms of transport, following the piece above on Death on two wheels. The numbers quoted were, of course, anecdotal. This is one of the areas where the way you present the figures can make a big difference to the apparent relative dangers of the various forms. In order to clarify this, a full table of relative transport risks has been posted here. Whichever way you look at it, mass transport is safest and motorcycles, by a long way, are the most dangerous.

Speak loudly and carry a big number

Oh, what a big one!
I’ve never seen one as big as that before.
Old music hall song

Cancer will kill 5 million British smokers yells the headline in The Times, June 25th. The number comes from a SIF, well know to regular readers, Sir Richard Peto. It only applies, of course, unless ministers intensify efforts to help people to quit. Having taken on board all the fiddles that were invented by CDC in America, Britain’s big numbers man adds on a bit then extrapolates over 50 years to get a really impressive total.

Never coy about scientific and statistical niceties, he goes on “There are about ten million smokers in Britain and about five million will be killed by tobacco if they do not stop.” This sets a new record for anti-tobacco claims, raising the claimed hit rate to a startling 50%.

Fellow SIF, Professor Gordon McVie, adds his piece for the rest of the world, where tobacco is going to kill one billion people “…the challenge for the developing world is to make sure it does not make the same mistakes that we have, by becoming ensnared in a cancer-causing life-style of fags, booze and junk food.”

Presumably it is all right to carry on taking the junk science.

Sub-normal research

Correspondent Mike Thomas nominates an item from Danish researchers that deserves a place in the collection of any junk science aficionado. Dutifully reported by the BBC (who else?) the report contains the exquisite observation that more than 40% of young men have sub-normal sperm counts. Number Watch has news for the “researchers” – 50% of almost anything is sub-normal. It is, of course, the old endocrine disrupter and sperm count scam, which is like one of those round-bottomed figures that come up again however many times you knock them down.

The researchers, Skakkebaek and Sharpe, acknowledge that there is no firm evidence linking specific chemical exposures to human male reproductive problems, but a little thing like that does not deter them.

On the basis of their lack of evidence, they argue for a re-examination of phthalates' human reproductive toxicity, for more data on exposure levels, and for studies of the effects of exposure to combinations of chemicals. (i.e. more research is needed, i.e. keep giving us the money).

WWF, the global environment campaign, is urging precautionary action now, because it says testicular cancer and lowered sperm counts occur decades after exposure. It wants the European Union to agree a presumption against the use of endocrine disrupters.

Scams Direct

Often you don’t have to look at the detailed numbers within a system to perceive its working. In the scientific jargon, you just have to know the boundary conditions. That is the way that most of us recognise a scam when we see one. However, as Barnum was claimed to have observed, there is a mug born every minute. The British media have slowly woken up to the great compensation scam. Headline in The Times, June 30th, Car accident victim gets just £30 of £1,500.

The victim was one of the clients of Claims Direct. This is a company that is so high profile that it has become one of the reasons that multi-channel television has become  unpopular. Programs are punctuated with seemingly endless advertising breaks of the most banal and repetitive nature, and those of Claims Direct are among the most egregious. It is no use zapping to another channel because they are there as well. The adverts usually feature some lugubrious half-wit who has carelessly caused himself an injury and is encouraged by the oleaginous presenter that he has a claim. The scene changes to a vast office, with rows of people sitting in front of computer screens and answering phones.

It does not take a great deal of astuteness to observe that there is a discrepancy between the vast advertising expenditure, the glaring overheads and the few thousand pounds of compensation each successful victim is supposed to receive. That the matter is complicated by vagaries in the laws of insurance is neither here nor there, it is the inputs and outputs that count. The result is that the “victims” get a lot of stress and little else. The British are, of course, mere amateurs when it comes to earners of this sort. In Florida, for example, lawyers made a cool billion in a baseless tobacco case and what goes on in California, where lawyers can pocket millions of dollars while the putative victims get nothing, hardly bears thinking about.

The real victims, as always, are the general public, who pay for it all in higher prices, increased insurance premiums and deteriorating services.

And so joyless June comes to an end. British Parliamentarians, having awarded themselves an enormous pay rise, are now off on a three-month holiday. No doubt they will return to lecture the rest of us that we should do more work for less pay. That leaves the media to get on with their usual silly season. Don’t you just dread it? Even this month we have had three or four junk stories and empty scares almost every day; far to many to be worth commenting on. Californian scientists, for example, have been painting tumour-prone mice with concentrated nicotine and try to evince surprise that they get cancer. That was worth a few yards of newsprint. Children continue to ignore dire warnings about the use of mobile phones, which produces a few more yards, and so it goes on and on and on and………….




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