Number of the Month

March  2003

Hard Labour

From all that terror teaches,
    from lies of tongue and pen,
From all the easy speeches
that comfort cruel men;
From sale and profanation
    of honour and the sword;
From sleep and from damnation,
    deliver us, good Lord!
G K Chesterton

 As we have remarked before in these pages, a measure of the quality of a society is how it looks after its young and old.

In the UK education has become a daily grind of coursework and tests. It is destroying the lives and well being of the children, yet leaving them in an unprecedented state of ignorance at the end of it all.

The UK persists in following the example of the Dark State of Insanity in dismantling all that is worthwhile in its educational system. An exercise in fatuity to match the great disaster of Californian experiments such as “Whole Math” is the latest in the decline of science teaching. Time was when children learned mathematics, physics chemistry and biology, but this was all hacked down to be replaced by science. Now even that is going and they are to get “popular science”.

For pupils at 90 schools a more exciting option is on offer: from September they will be trialling a “pop science” GCSE which includes debates such as “Why did Dolly the sheep die young?” and “Is nuclear power okay?” The teaching style of the new GCSE will be different too. Teenagers will be encouraged to ask open questions and build theories to test against evidence. They will “be doing what scientists do”.

This is a cruel deception. Scientists do what they do from a basic knowledge of the laws of science, such as those of motion and thermodynamics. This does not, of course, apply to post modern "sciences" such as epidemiology, diet plugging and climate-change.

One student, who ditched science after gaining a double A at GCSE, said “It was learn and repeat. I couldn’t connect anything I was taught to the real world.” What kind of teaching was he getting? Science is the one subject that is going on all around him all the time. Good teachers once used this to make the subject relevant. The big problem is with the teachers. Half of those teaching science and mathematics are unqualified in the subjects and view them with a fear and loathing that they pass on to the children. Courses for teachers are largely indoctrination in the current theories, such as child centred learning

The cruellest deception of all is telling children that everything is fun, that you can get a dividend out of life without making the investment. Life’s great pleasures such as music or literature or mathematics (or even skateboarding) only come after you have made the investment of time and effort, served the apprenticeship. An endless diet of fun projects is a way of passing the time at school, but in the end it is a vacuous exercise. In the traditional university education, the project came in the final year after all the graft to get to a level of understanding that made it a real.

At the other end of life the elderly are also getting a raw deal. The Oldie is a hugely entertaining magazine for those who are old enough to have benefited from a real education. In the March issue it reports that prisons are to build extra facilities for oldie prisoners, including those suffering from Alzheimer’s. The main reason is that England and Wales are the only countries in Europe that still jail debtors, especially those who default on local taxes, which are in the process of increasing by ten times the rate of inflation.

One couple of 74 and 78 were jailed for 28 days for alleged non payment of a £600 community charge. The husband was suffering from severe epilepsy and arthritis, while the wife, who suffered from asthma and arthritis, was doubly incontinent and wheel chair-bound. An illiterate 71 year old, suffering from terminal cancer, was also jailed, though the sentence was ultimately quashed. At the same time courts were ordered not to jail burglars, as the prisons were over-crowded. Thus not only do the old live out the dregs of their lives in fear of crime (with good statistical reason) and degrading poverty, they must add to that the possibility of imprisonment.

Now that the Chancer of the Exchequer has orchestrated a collapse of the pension system for those outside the public service, the number of old people who cannot cope is certain to rise steeply. Not only are their incomes reduced, but they are required to pay more and more tax to maintain the ever growing bureaucratic army of public employees on generous salaries and pensions (seven million and rising).

What can you say about a Government that is not only mad and incompetent but also unbelievably cruel? Perhaps they will look for the final solution to the existence of all these redundant oldies, as they have with the Ruddy Duck.


A year ago Number Watch advised that obesity was to become the new tobacco and warned  Watch out for dutiful epidemiologists “proving” that it causes every known ill of mankind, as do tobacco and alcohol.

And so it came to pass.

The triumphant pinnacle of creative epidemiology was conquered this month, however, with the announcement that Obese men have lower IQs. Men who are obese may have less brainpower than their trim counterparts, according to US research.

The Trojan number was 1,400 but we are not told how many of them were actually fat and stupid. The only number given was that fat men had a 23% lower score in "acuity tests".

In a classic epidemiological  thrust, Professor Merrill Elias, the lead researcher, said: "The really frightening thing is the implication for obese children."

Which all goes to explain why your fat and bending author fails to understand the finer points of the epidemiologist's art.

Breast is best.........

There is nothing like breasts to guarantee grabbing the headlines. The media, including the BBC, duly gave the story from a Dutch team a good airing. The headline was Breast implant suicide link. With a Trojan Number of 3,521 they expected five deaths from suicide, but got 15. At first sight, according to a rule of thumb for the Poisson distribution, this looks like a significant result. However, we have to take two other things into consideration. First this is clearly a data dredge, while secondly they have selected an extreme value from at least eight different causes of death. 

Mind you, it is difficult to argue with the conjecture that anyone who opts for breast enhancement is some kind of nut.

.......but try this for thighs

Several regular readers spotted this one. It comes from the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (Motto: Protecting health, saving lives – millions at a time). It appears that women with short thighs are more likely to get diabetes. Nice Trojan Number, 8700, but you have to subtract from that all the men, all the blacks and all those who are not diabetic. We are not told what number you are left with.

Then there is the marvelous ability to measure a woman’s thigh to a precision of 1mm. How do they do that? Of course you could measure the length of the femur from X-rays, but that would expose all those people to dreaded radiation, and it would not be nearly as much fun.

Here is a picture of the three lengths obtained. From left to right are normal, impaired glucose tolerance and diabetic.

Which all raises a further question. How do academic epidemiologists beat all sense of the ridiculous out of their students?

Footnote: Our man in Puerto Rico says you can find the answer to this last question here, noting the last sentence in the introductory box.


Dear Diary

Twelfth of March, looking out on the pouring rain yet again. The Times weather forecast for the region says early frost or fog patches otherwise dry and mostly sunny. It has been so dull that the lettuce and cabbage seedlings in the conservatory look more like mustard and cress. The Weather Eye column next to the forecast is all about one of North America’s “cutest” animals, the American pika. Apparently it is disappearing and it is all down to global warming. This is known as phenology. In the absence of convincing evidence that the temperature is rising, they look for all sorts of proxies. You have to admire their persistence. You would think that with the memory still upon us of a lethally cold winter that has killed people all over the world (America, Russia, India, China…..; even Malta has had record cold weather) they would give it a rest, if only for tactical reasons. Four days ago The Times featured an article It's a changing world you can count on Natural scientists can build up a picture of how our climate is shifting — but only if we help them. This invited readers to join in the thrill of the hunt for proxies that support the global warming hypothesis.

Eager to help, of course, looked up Phenology on the web and found an article by one of the leading exponents. He used as his example the Nenana Ice Classic.


Miceal O'Ronain’s guest paper on this phenomenon has been one of the most consistently viewed of the Number Watch site. Could it be that Number Watch is becoming a resource for gamblers? Anyway, the Global Warmers dropped Nenana like a cold brick. Miceal is keeping Number Watch up to date on the Nenana classic and we will bring you the result in due time. Meanwhile watch out for more cuddly animals, butterflies and weeds.

 Repent or meet thy doom!

Sorry to bother you again, dear diary, but it is No Smoking Day and the propaganda is everywhere. The one light in all the gloom is a piece by The Times’ licensed jester, Mick Hume, This is your last warning. Oh dear, despite all the warnings from corrupt international organisations such as the UN and the EU, it appears that there are still people who refuse to live the good life and achieve their just reward.

Here are just a few of Mick’s many offers of new and convincing slogans for the international nannies:

·  Smoking causes wars 

·  Smoking can turn you into a racist/an in-line skater. 

·  Smoking is the biggest factor contributing to global warming. 

·  Smoking depresses property prices in nice residential areas. 

·  Some 80 per cent of bogus asylum seekers smoke. (Lawyers’ note: unconfirmed, but legal action seems unlikely.)

Stranger than fiction

If you thought Mick Hume’s satire was exaggerated catch a load of this one.

Here are the results of the “research”:

Twenty-five percent of the children had at least 1 unfilled decayed tooth surface and 33% had at least 1 filled surface. Fifty-three percent had cotinine levels consistent with passive smoking. Elevated cotinine level was significantly associated with both decayed (odds ratio [OR], 2.1; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.5-2.9) and filled (OR, 1.4; 95% CI, 1.1-1.8) tooth surfaces in deciduous but not in permanent teeth. This relationship persisted after adjusting for age, sex, race, family income, geographic region, frequency of dental visits, and blood lead level. For dental caries in deciduous teeth, the adjusted OR was 1.8 (95% CI, 1.2-2.7) for the risk of decayed surfaces and 1.4 (95% CI, 1.1-2.0) for filled surfaces. We estimated the population attributable risk from passive smoking to be 27% for decayed and 14% for filled tooth surfaces.

And here are some of the headlines it generated:

Cavities tied to passive smoking in study

Passive Smoke Tied to Dental Woes in Kids

Cavities in Kids Linked to Second-hand Smoke

Smoke harms kid's teeth

Smokes rot kid's teeth, says study

Study: Second-Hand Cigarette Smoke Causes Cavities in Children

Seasoned number watchers will readily appreciate that the story has more holes than the teeth. Newcomers might wish to consider that:

The significance and relative risks are at a level not normally accepted in real science.

Dental caries and smoking are both strongly associated with poverty and poor education.

Cotinine is produced by the metabolisation of nicotine. Here is what Sorry, wrong number! had to say about nicotine:

By the way, talking of nasty substances, nicotine is found in many common vegetables (potatoes, tomatoes, aubergines etc.) as well as tea. It is estimated (Med Sci Res. 1993, 21, 571-572) that eating a normal portion of potatoes equals three-and-a-half hours in a smoky room.

What possible mechanism could cause the order of one part per billion of any substance in the blood to bore holes in the teeth?

Correlation is not causation.

Propaganda is propaganda is propaganda.

Links by Miceal O'Ronain, who adds this footnote

It looks like we have several expert witnesses (see Aligne & Weitzman) for the Tobacco Chasing Lawyers of American. 

The author list:

C. Andrew Aligne, MD, MPH; 
Mark E. Moss, DDS, PhD;
Peggy Auinger, MS;
Michael Weitzman, MD
Dr. C. Andrew Aligne (The Money Man)
International Tobacco-Control Directory Dr Andrew Aligne


Tooth decay link to passive smoke (From 2001, Read This One!)

Tobacco and Children An Economic Evaluation of the Medical Effects of Parental Smoking

Dr. Mark E. Moss (The Researcher)

Association of Dental Caries and Blood Lead Levels

Ms. Peggy Auinger (Assistant to Dr. Moss)

Dr. Michael Weitzman (The Director and Expert Witness)

Michael Weitzman & Tobacco Consortium Members

Michael Weitzman & Child Advocacy

"Serving as expert witness for the US Department of Justice in a trial against the tobacco industry: Executive Director Michael Weitzman was commissioned by the US Department of Justice to develop a review of the epidemiological and animal data on the neurocognitive effects of prenatal and passive tobacco smoke exposure on the developing brain. He is serving as an expert witness for the DOJ regarding the effects of prenatal smoking on children in an impending lawsuit against the tobacco industry. As a prelude to the court proceedings, he testified in a deposition that the weight of scientific evidence strongly suggest that maternal smoking during pregnancy contributes to lifelong effects in children that include diminished IQ, increased rates of ADHD, and other subtle but serious cognitive and behavioral impairments."

Fingers back in

According to the Guardian:

Attractiveness - it is all down to the length of two of your digits.

A study by psychologists has discovered that people with the smallest differences between the length of their index finger and ring finger have a more symmetrical face. Facial symmetry has long been considered a key to attractiveness.

If the difference in finger length is larger, then the face is likely to be much less symmetrical (and uglier).

Nick Neave, an evolutionary psychologist at Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, released the findings at the British Psychological Society's annual conference in Bournemouth yesterday.

But note:

His study involved a group of 80 students, 30 male and 50 female. Their finger lengths were measured with calipers and their faces photographed

No further comment needed.

Among the accidental associations of fingers with various conditions that we have covered in these pages are:

Digital distortion

Fingers out

Return of  Finger Man

Return of the finger prince

The Daily Mail, however, which gave the above story a two page tabloid splash, observed that fingers have been associated with:

Breast cancer
High female fertility
Low male fertility
Verbal dexterity
Large birth size
Musical ability

Which all goes to show that you can associate anything with anything, as long as you are careful to keep your sample sizes small enough.


Hans Blix and boomps a daisy

From ghoulies and ghosties and long leggety beasties and things that go bump in the night, Good Lord, deliver us!
Scottish traditional prayer

 The vernal equinox and a very strange one in Britain. Thanks to a stationary high over Europe, the land has been bathed in uninterrupted sunshine for many days. On the official first day of Spring, instead of the usual cold winds and showers, there are unofficial daisies on the lawns, birds singing, bumble bees bumbling and butterflies fluttering by,  disturbed only briefly by the ominous rumble of B52s on their way from Fairford to Iraq. Your author has been bending over spade and fork, digging and manuring trenches for seven varieties of potatoes and five varieties of beans, which goes to explain the paucity of updates to this site. One must get the priorities right.

Pure physical work allows one’s mind to rove, but one extraordinary quotation keeps recurring like an insistent tocsin. It is from Hans Blix – “I'm more worried about global warming than I am of any major military conflict.”

These words, more than millions of others, sum up the regression of western man to primitivism in this post-scientific age. Here is a man charged with monitoring a tyranny that has already killed a million people, has sponsored mass poisoning, torture and rape of its own subjects. This task he signally failed to accomplish, yet he is worried about an imaginary threat.

It harks back to the pre-scientific age, when mankind was more eager to propitiate its imaginary demons than to deal with its real problems. Sacrifices were made to the gods of Rome while the barbarians hammered at the gates.

It also sums up the state of the UN. Born out of the hope of perpetual peace, that organisation has sunk into a morass of corruption and fraud. It grants Libya the chairmanship of the human rights commission, for heavens sake! Like that other corrupt body, the EU, it gathers billions of dollars, much of which go astray unaccounted. In the present context, its IPCC doctors scientific reports to bend them towards a specious theory that resulted in the economically disastrous but scientifically worthless Kyoto treaty. Time for it to go.

Footnote: For the uncultured, the heading is taken from the title of a traditional music hall song.


Two fallacies for the price of one. This one was taken up by the media around the world. John Williams of Sidney was the first to bring it to the attention of Number Watch and others followed from various parts of the globe. How nature protects fragile men was the BBC slant. It is the same old extreme value fallacy dressed up as a variation on the birth month fallacy, with the sex-ratio fallacy thrown in for good measure. Nice Trojan Number though (14,310 births).

According to the authors the sex ratio calculated at time of conception showed a seasonal rhythm, with amplitude of 2.4% and peak values in October (confidence interval: ±43 days). The rhythm was in phase with the rhythm of conception that showed peak values in September (confidence interval: ±37 days) and an amplitude of 7%. CONCLUSIONS: The superimposition of the phase of sex ratio and conception rhythms “supports the contention that more males than females are conceived in seasons with more favourable reproductive conditions.”

So couples who are seeking a boy child can increase their chances by almost a whole 5% if they go for it in September.


Number of the month 47 Billion

Don’t mention the war. I did, but I think I got away with it.
Basil Fawlty.

We began the year with a poetic tribute to Gordon Brown, Chancer of the Exchequer, and throughout the life of Number Watch we have provided a running commentary on his activities. As he sits down to prepare yet another budget, he might be disturbed by noises off. It is the sound of chickens coming home to roost. His impositions have mainly been an attack on middle Britain, but the ones that will have the greatest long-lasting effect will be those on Industry. Non-British readers of Number Watch (i.e. most of them) might think this is a parochial matter that does not concern them, but it is an object lesson on how to run down an economy. Watch and learn!

According to Digby Jones, Director General of the Confederation of British Industry, the cumulative rise in taxes of £47 billion between 1997 and 2005 has exacerbated a five-year decline in corporate profitability and sliced investment by 11.5 per cent in just two years. The big shock that is about to hit employees and employers alike is the stealthily delayed increase in National Insurance contributions. The official statistics are, of course, way behind what you can glean by anecdotal evidence. Many businesses, especially the small ones, are teetering on the verge of extinction. They are being taxed, taxed and taxed again in order to fund the ever-growing body of bureaucrats on the public payroll.

Watch out for the creative search for excuses, especially for having pressed on with a disastrous policy in defiance of the advice of those in the front line (almost mentioned the war, but I think I got away with it.)

Perhaps it is relevant to repeat a couple of old saws that we dug up just over a year ago:


We, the willing, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much for so long with so little that we are now qualified to do anything with nothing.

The stages of a project

1. Enthusiasm

2. Depression

3. Panic

4. Search for the guilty

5. Punishment of the innocent

6. Rewards for the non-participants



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