Number of the Month

June 2006

Self destruct

So, oft it chances in particular men,
That for some vicious mole of nature in them,
As, in their birth--wherein they are not guilty,
Since nature cannot choose his origin--
By the o'ergrowth of some complexion,
Oft breaking down the pales and forts of reason,
Or by some habit that too much o'er-leavens
The form of plausive manners, that these men,
Carrying, I say, the stamp of one defect,
Being nature's livery, or fortune's star,--
Their virtues else--be they as pure as grace,
As infinite as man may undergo--
Shall in the general censure take corruption
From that particular fault: the dram of eale
Doth all the noble substance of a doubt
To his own scandal.

As with Hamlet’s particular men, so whole nations, societies or even civilisations carry within them the seeds of their own destruction. Where various civilisations have foundered, though external factors play a major part, the decisive factor is the belief systems of the victims. The bishops and chiefs of the Norse inhabitants of Greenland prevented them from learning from the Inuit how to survive the rigours of the Little Ice Age. Allegedly, the Easter Islanders deforested their land and finally left it to the giant statues that presumably represented their own destructive religion.

As primitive man moved out from his sub-tropical paradise, it was his ingenuity that enabled him to cope with the rigours of the more hostile climate. Furs, houses and energy, in the form of fire, opened up new regions to conquest. The horse was exploited to supplement man’s own inadequate musculature, so transport and agriculture combined to provide the basis of viable settlements and trade. Mankind became largely concentrated in villages, towns and, ultimately, cities. These were not inherently viable, but the process of invention, which eventually led to the industrial revolution, provided a framework within which they could thrive. Industry, ugly, careless and unaesthetic though it might be, was the hub around which the new civilisation developed. Science and its methods, begun as the mental exercise of a few dilettantes, grew into the driving force. Those who had been enslaved by the requirement for menial tasks of a manual and, later, mental nature, were gradually liberated from them and leisure ceased to become a monopoly of the privileged few. Science freed humanity from many of the random hazards of life, such as infectious disease.

Unfortunately, science also provided support for the base aggressive instincts of mankind, in the form of weapons of hideous capability. This led to a hostility to science that is now all-pervading.

We arrived at the paradoxical situation in which the ingredients that liberated man from a life of toil also gave him the leisure to develop new systems of belief that were hostile to those very props. Knock them away and there would be a rapid return to the short and brutish fight for survival that was the everyday experience of stone-age man. Yet many of the very people who benefited most from the freedom to think, which came from the exploitation of extra-human sources of energy, became those who sought to undermine them.

Thus the keystone of western civilisation is energy. Those who would destroy it, from within or without, simply have to cut off supply of this vital commodity to ensure its collapse into primitive chaos.

It is one of the characteristics of the human child that he throws his toys out of the pram without thought as to how he will cope without them. Much of the activity is, of course, purely ritual. The dedicated townie, who would not last more than a few days in the real world of nature, rides his bike to the supermarket and buys so-called organic food, which he takes back to a home adorned with a token and quite useless windmill. He votes for a youthful and plausible politician who has never run anything, but promises to do away with the trappings of a civilisation that has kept him alive against all the odds.

It is one of the greatest ironies of modern history that the most accessible forms of fossil fuel are concentrated outside the western democracies, who have sleep-walked into a situation in which they are now subject to blackmail and coercion. The gurus of primitivism fly round the world (how come they can afford to when most of us cannot?) promoting myths such as first global cooling and then global warming, to which, according to their strictures, they are contributing more than their fair share; myths that do not stand up to the most cursory scientific examination.

The Green fifth column actively oppose the development of any realistic sources of energy, from fossil to nuclear, while promoting those that are intermittent, impracticable, expensive and inadequate.

Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad. 


Meanwhile, on the shores of the wine lake

Talking of the Easter Islanders, whichever theory for their demise you choose to embrace, using up your resources in unproductive activity is not a way to ensure survival of your civilisation. This from Neil Parish MEP:  

Wine: once again the EU rewards failure 

The EU has today announced it will be paying France and Italy to turn 560 million litres (147 million gallons) of surplus wine into fuel or disinfectant. Neil Parish MEP, Conservative agriculture spokesman in the European Parliament, has attacked the move, saying the taxpayer should not be responsible for propping up a wine market that clearly cannot compete with the emergence of 'new world wines'.

The news comes ahead of an announcement on the future of the EU's wine regime that EU agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel will make on the 22nd June.

 Mr Parish said Europe was producing far too much wine for the market. EU wine exports have only increased by around 200,000 litres since 1996 whilst Chilean and Australian exports have shot up by 19 times.

"British taxpayers should not be expected to prop up continental wine producers who have sat back whilst countries like Australia and Chile have been working hard to promote their wine. Continental producers have rested on their laurels for too long.

 "Many EU winemakers are getting a hard lesson in how markets operate. If they produce substandard wine, they should go out of business. Instead, the EU is rewarding them with taxpayers' money for their failure.

"This is the fourth year in six that this type of intervention has occurred in the wine market. I hope the proposals brought forward by the European Commission on the 22nd June will make sure it's the last."

Footnote: It is apparent from correspondence that the intended point about Easter Island was not clearly made. It is this. Even if you accept the rather dubious theory of ecocide, it does not support the creed of the eco-theologians. For their own icons, windmills, perform exactly the negative function they ascribe to the statues, a pointless absorbance of vital effort and a diversion from the quest for economic survival. Much the same can be said about the European wine lake.


Curse of the phenologists

Unlike that of the pharaohs, the curse of the phenologists is no myth. It has a scientific foundation, the phenomenon known as regression to the mean. Seasoned number watchers will remember it in relation to the false claims for speed camera successes. It is in the very nature of phenology that it seeks out statistical runs of measurements that support their favoured hypothesis. When, inevitably, the measurements eventually go in the adverse direction that particular case is quietly dropped and the phenologists go onto something else. The first gross example of this tendency was the Nenana Ice Classic, which actually formed the basis of a “scientific” paper. The most recent one has been the BBC’s Springwatch. After a great deal of hype we had regression to the mean with a vengeance, when 2006 in the UK turned out to be the year without a spring. We went from a seemingly never-ending winter to high summer within a few days. The BBC could not drop the programme, so they dropped the phenology. The change of tune provided an interesting example of the genre (emphasis added):  

Springwatch 2006 overview

Spring 2006 couldn’t have been more different from 2005. Weather always varies from year to year but with climate change it is the long-term trend that is it important. What this year’s “cold” weather allows us to do is show very clearly how timing of events closely reflect temperature. Given that the average temperature for January –  April was 1.5 C lower than last year, all events (average dates) were later than the same events in 2005.

What would have been the opening paragraph if events had been earlier? It is inevitable that these embarrassing moments for the phenologists will keep recurring. Will even their media allies eventually lose patience?

Talking about quietly dropping things, keep an eye out for the Hockey Stick. It is becoming fairly obvious that the powers that be are beginning to regret the moment of hubris when the Hockey Team arrogantly wrote off evidence from a whole spectrum of arts and science as to the occurrence of the Mediaeval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age. This widely debunked piece of jiggery-pokery is due for retirement. One of the fundamental laws of journalism is that the public have short memories. Let them not forget!

The drug scene

All the signs are that it is a pure and simple lottery as to whether a new drug is hailed and forced on an unsuspecting public or is banned to provide a nice little earner for ruthless lawyers.

The latest to get the scare treatment are the NSAIDs.

A declaration of interest before proceeding: your bending author would be, and has been, a housebound cripple without diclofenac supported by strong pain killers.

Ibuprofen can double risk of heart attack, says medical study yells the front page of the Telegraph. Back in March we had Painkiller 'may double risk of heart attacks'.

Statins, on the other hand, are being force fed to large numbers of patients on extremely dubious grounds. British doctors are actually paid a bonus to do so.

This most recent study is actually a meta-analysis, yet another questionable statistical procedure. The stories always include a reference to the case of Vioxx.

Vioxx was withdrawn by its makers two years ago because of cardiovascular complications and Bextra was withdrawn last year because of skin reactions.

As we showed last September, the study (APPROVe) that condemned Vioxx produced a result that was wholly based on a bizarre statistical freak in the placebo data. This new meta-analysis was based on 121 different placebo controlled trials. The authors proudly state that they exclude trials of duration less than four weeks! The only possible function of a four week trial would be to test whether a substance was highly toxic. In those 121 trials, 216 vascular events occurred during 18,490 person-years on the drug compared with 112 events for 12,639 person years on placebo. On average (dangerous things averages!) there were less than two events per trial in the drug group and less than one in the placebo group.

There is no indication of how comparable the trials were. For example, how many were prematurely terminated, as in the Vioxx case? The misleading statistical effects of premature termination seem to have been barely considered anywhere (perhaps one of our FAQs is called for). The only event that produced a difference in occurrence was myocardial infarction (heart attack) and there was less than one  such event per trial. The relative risk calculated for the event was 1.86 (95% range 1.33 -2.59). There is often a covert assumption that randomised trials are immune to confounding factors. This is clearly untrue. In at least one case (your bending author) relief from arthritic pain resulted in a return to comparatively vigorous exercise (digging the vegetable patch). For anyone with incipient heart disease this must be a risky development. The 50 odd excess cases in this metastudy (many of which are represented by the large, but flaky, APPROVe trial) could easily be explained in this way.

It is all just an illustration of the immutable laws. The second corollary of the Law of Experiments explains the spurious Vioxx result, while the Law of Beneficial Developments explains why the study was done in the first place.


AWOL yet again

Two distractions partly account for the lack of activity on this page.

Your author has been bending to the task of augmenting the global warming list and adding a complete set of links. It was as a result of requests and turned into one of those tasks you wish you had not started. Thanks to those who made suggestions, particularly the usual suspects, led by Our Man in Puerto Rico. Thanks also (with mixed feelings) to Mick Hume for suggesting the project.

The other distraction was the World Cup. It requires advanced masochistic tendencies to be a follower of the England Football Team. As your bending author was one of the diminishing band who were present when England lifted the cup at Wembley stadium in 1966, and still has the programme to prove it, those symptoms are well established.

This tournament has been marred by atrocious refereeing and outrageous histrionics by players. They ought to hand out Oscars rather than medals. Sympathy to Tim Blair and his compatriots. They woz robbed!

The annoying thing about the amateur dramatics is that it is so badly done, rather like TV wrestling. There is that tell-tale time lag before the putative victim falls to the floor, rolls over several times and then clutches some body part, assuming an expression of transcendental agony. You would have to have a heart of stone not to laugh. Yet the wimps with the whistles are taken in by it all, time and time again. It must be some spin-off of the EU's archetypal Precautionary Principle. They have turned our national sport into a ladies' game.

What has this to do with numbers? Well, the Russian referee in the Portugal v. Netherlands match  broke the record for the number of cards issued in a match. Both teams finished with nine players. The referee started it by issuing yellow cards in the first few minutes for mistimed tackles that would normally result in a free kick. Play acting and bad tempers rose in succession, producing a travesty from what should have been a fine contest.

Football seems to have a strange capacity to mirror the current state of human society. 


Number of the month – 192

This is the number of entries, so far, in the Complete list of things caused by global warming.

There is, of course, a logical conflict in the above sentence. There are three answers to this: (a) It is asymptotically complete. (b) Why should THEY have the monopoly on hype?  (c) Your idle and incompetent author will forget to change the title if and when it is complete.





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