Number of the Month

January 2002

Reader's indigestion

If you believe that you will believe anything.
Duke of Wellington (to a gentleman who accosted him in the street saying "Mr Jones, I believe")
.

Well, the New Year has started with a bang. Having run out of trivia to read, your bending author retrieved the portentous looking letter from the Reader's Digest from its normal place in the waste bin. Not only is he practically certain to win a prize of a quarter of a million, he has a golden opportunity to purchase a book that will change his life. Here is part of the exciting leaflet (emphases added).

Facts that you need for a healthy life

Did you know….

  That ginger root tea calms nausea and prevents travel sickness?

That soya beans may help to prevent Breast cancer?

That orange juice can soften tooth enamel and that its acidity and high sugar content can cause tooth decay?

That honey is an effective natural sedative

That red wine helps to protect against heart disease?

That olive oil contains a high proportion of the mono-unsaturated fatty acids that help keep the heart and arteries healthy.

That sugar, on its own, does not cause diabetes, heart disease, acne or obesity? Fatty foods – many of them sweetened – are the main culprits.

Coffee that has been percolated or stewed (not instant coffee) may increase cholesterol level, in the blood?

Broccoli and other vegetables from the cabbage family contain natural compounds that help prevent cancer?

 

Packed with vital information like this. FOODS THAT HARM, FOODS THAT HEAL is the common-sense guide to a more healthy diet and lifestyle, with contributions from some of the most highly respected nutritional experts in the world.

So there you are. If you were thinking of taking a little honey out for a drive in your car, forget it. Take some ginger root tea instead. You know it makes sense.

Like a second marriage, it is a triumph of optimism over experience, but Number Watch wishes all its readers, and especially the regular correspondents, a happy and prosperous new year.

Pappy New Year

January second and the junk statistics are already pouring out. One of the most depressing is that New Labour BBC has overtaken its commercial rival in the popularity ratings. This is hailed as a great success and a justification for funding the organisation through a licence fee. Why an endless diet of pap such as mindless soaps and banal quizzes requires compulsory public funding is not explained. Meanwhile the BBC health web pages keep the junk flowing.

A good example of getting causality back to front is the claim that, because there is a correlation between obesity and asthma, obesity causes asthma. Obesity is the new cause celebre among the health fascists of the Nanny State. Watch out for dutiful epidemiologists “proving” that it causes every known ill of mankind, as do tobacco and alcohol.

The first weight loss programme aimed directly at men is being launched in Britain. Obesity is a widespread and growing problem in the UK. More than 17% English men and 19% of Scottish men are obese. The inventor of the Fatmanslim programme, obesity expert Dr Ian Campbell, says it includes no quick fix diets or gruelling workouts. The main area of weight loss is likely to be in the wallet, however, as the programme involves a kit, which costs £84, only available by mail order from Nottingham-based FMS Healthcare, which already supplies slimming programmes for women.

Other current wonders in the BBC repertoire include:

Pill hormone cuts cancer (number in study 390, risk ratio 0.5).

Asthmatics more at risk from lung cancer – another scoop from the Karolinska Institute of Stockholm, which seems to have its eye on the Harvard crown. Risk ratio 1.58.

Reflexology “no help” for bowel disorder. You would have to be pretty daft to think that foot massage would cure your gut, but a study involving thirty four patients split into two groups is not going to prove anything. A surprise conclusion is that “more research is needed".

Pollution linked to birth defects. A collector’s item from California. The Trojan Number of babies in the study is 9,000, but we are told that heart defects occur in 1.76 per thousand babies. Some treasurable quotes in this one.

Contrasts (1)

Viewers of New Labour BBC’s digital news service, News 24, were treated on January 5th to a lengthy piece about the lack of snow in Alpine ski resorts and how it was all attributable to global warming. The situation was so bad that lower resorts would have to close.

Meanwhile, on the same day, the Daily Telegraph had a half page article illustrated by snowbound pictures headlined Worst storms for a generation hit Europe. Athens and Istanbul both had a foot of snow. 71 people died in Hungary and 220 in Poland. Temperatures in central Europe fell to -37°C and at the home of one of the most popular single malt whiskies, Glen Livet, it reached -14°C. Severe frosts damaged crops in Spain and Portugal.

 Popular weather reporting (generally aimed at those who cannot distinguish between climate and weather) is based on the ratchet principle. Only movement in one direction is allowed to pass the self-censorship. The Climate Research Unit issued a typical headline designed to warm the cockles of the hearts of true believers: 2001: Second warmest year globally since records began. Odd that they did not mention, for example, Australia, where the average annual temperature was below the average for 1961-90.

If you had to make a choice of the most stupid site in the world on which to base measurement of global temperatures you would select somewhere that had maximum population and industrialisation, thus guaranteeing that your result would be corrupted by the Urban Heat Island effect. Such a place would be Central England, one of the most populous places on earth, where factories, homes and vehicle pour out Gigawatts of  thermal power. Whence does the aforesaid Unit get its measurements? Need you ask?

Contrasts (2)

Here is a headline from The Sunday Times, January 6th:

 

Here is another from the Sunday Telegraph on the same day, in the same place on the front page:

 

Both headlines were the result of opinion polls. You pays you money and takes your choice. 

The brain we train goes mainly down the drain

Another Sunday Times headline on the same front page:

High IQ Britannia rules the brainwaves

One James Flynn, a professor at the University of Otago in New Zealand and described as a leading authority on Intelligence Quotient, announced a worldwide increase in intelligence, but most in Britain with a 27 point rise in IQ. Various ad hoc theories are adduced to account for this phenomenon. They owe more to Lysenko than to Darwin. Let's face it, some things are simply not measurable, but that won't stop people doing it. IQ tests are simply an entertaining sort of quiz, loaded with cultural values, at which you can improve your performance with practice. It all prompts a thought for the month in your bending author:

Render unto numbers the things which are numbers.
Render unto words the things which are words.

 Dragon and dudgeon 

Stand well clear! The death throes of the Kyoto dragon seem likely to pose a danger to innocent bystanders. So far, true to the principles of ratchet journalism, the newspapers have ignored a story that was broken by CNN and picked up by the BBC. It appears that Japan has looked into the economic abyss and has stepped back from the brink. It is also probable that the likes of Canada and Australia will follow suit. The fantasy of Islands of Britain and New Zealand, who are oblivious of the threat to their own industrial economies, might well try to keep the practices of the cult going, while the Europeans, even those who did not benefit directly from the original scam, will have a lot of face saving to do. We can expect a great deal of offended indignation. The thousands around the world who make their living from the new global warming industries will not take it lying down either; there being nothing like a threat to one’s income to produce quasi-religious fervour. With the loss of the original hosts in addition to the original prime suckers, however, Kyoto seems to be in line for an ignominious extinction.

It is all rather ironic for Number Watchers to observe that pointing out that it was all based on scientific nonsense made no impact at all, but recognition of the scale of the price to pay is another matter entirely. Not that this was a mystery. It has been stated often enough and with great clarity. Then, of course, in matters of religion death is not always the end. As the old Chinese curse goes “May you live in interesting times.”

 In the Lord I put my trust

Back in August 2000 we noted that the Great Leader had put LORD Birt in charge of crime and wondered what he would do on the other four days a week. The question is now answered. Following the great success of the bureaucrat’s bureaucrat in improving criminal productivity (you are now six times more likely to be assaulted in London than in New York) he has now been put in charge of transport. The Great Leader, back from another bout of saving the world, is said to have complete faith in Mr Beleaguered Byers, who has also come back from saving his tan. The latter has achieved a 45% increase in rail delays, even better than Old Two Jags managed before he was presented with the Order of the Boot. Birt, who made his name by creating New Labour BBC, a bureaucrat’s paradise in his own image, is now the Great Leader’s personal strategy adviser. The British Government are great believers in performance monitoring –  for everybody else.

Britain's railways the worst in Europe states an "exclusive" on the front page of the Daily Mail, and also all the other newspapers. This was an admission by Peter Hain, the European Minister. Why pick on the railways? In the public sector everything in Britain is the worst in Europe.

 The Winter's Tale

The night was dark and stormy. The Robbers sat round their chief. Said one "Antonio, tell us a story." The story began - 
The night was dark and stormy. The Robbers sat round their chief. Said one "Antonio, tell us a story." The story began - 
The night.......
Traditional children's patter.

January, the time of year when Santa and his elves give way to Nanny and her SIFs. The popular newspapers have pages and pages of diets, all with the full authority of nutritional experts who derive their information from the epidemiological journals. People are worrying about fat kids again. They allow compensation lawyers to close down their playgrounds, local councils to sell of their sports grounds for housing development under Government pressure, media scares about hoards of paedophiles keeping them cocooned in their homes and schools, give them TV sets and mindless computer games in their bedrooms and THEN start worrying about them getting fat.

As every year alcohol SIFs seize on the results of the latest Christmas breathalysing campaign. Like all statistics they are subject to natural fluctuations, but any downward trend is hailed as a triumph for the righteous and (as this year) an upward trend as a national disaster calling for draconian legislation. Drink-drive (which is not the same as drunken driving, an unforgivable crime) is the result of an arbitrary limit set because an instrument has become available. As we are never allowed to see comparable statistics, we have no idea whether the alcohol was correlated with the accidents. In order to get such information we have to go back to the time before the breathalyser became a legal tool. Here is a quotation from Sorry, wrong number! of the conclusions of the team at the University of Wuertsberg:

If no one with a BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) greater than 0.08% drove, a reduction of 96% would result. Thus, if the legal limit for DUI (Driving Under the Influence) in Germany (0.08%) was an effective deterrent against driving with a higher BAC, this would mean that nearly everything that could be done to prevent alcohol-related accidents would have been accomplished. Thus, countermeasures directed at those persons driving at BACs higher than 0.08% can be expected to be most effective in reducing the number of accidents attributable to the effects of alcohol. In contrast, measures directed at drivers with BACs less than 0.08% cannot be very effective. At most, 4% of all accidents attributable to the effects of alcohol may be prevented.

The present UK limit (0.08%) is exactly at the apparent threshold of an increase in probability of an accident, so anyone who is slightly over is only really committing a technical offence. Nevertheless, alcohol SIFs, as usual, have used the random increase (15%) in positive tests to call for a halving of the limit. The obvious follow-up strategy will then be to use the inevitable increase in cases to call for even more drastic action. As always, the effect will largely be on the besieged rural communities, where police lurking around country pubs are contributing to them closing at a rate of nearly one a day. Another way in which this is all characteristic of what happens when a number is enshrined in the law is that all the activity is around the margins rather than dealing with the serious problem of really drunken drivers.

Environmental SIFs in New York have again raised the asbestos spectre at Ground Zero. It does, indeed, cause a particularly deadly form of cancer. Your bending author once lost a close colleague to it, but that was as a result of prolonged and concentrated exposure, as is usually the case. The effects of dust inhalation no doubt causes some distress, but this is far removed from lung cancer. What purpose does such an empty scare serve, other than keeping the SIFs in the headlines and their coffers filled?

The seasonal effort by the tobacco SIFs was frankly a bit pathetic. A study by the Imperial Cancer Research Campaign found "damning evidence" that our loved ones present the highest danger from second hand smoke. Researchers looked at the affects of living with an average smoker (one who smoked 15 cigarettes a day) which put them at four times the risk of breathing in smoke.

This must be a severe underestimate, since most public buildings are now politically correct and smoke free.

When you read this stuff, you have to keep reminding yourself that no one has ever produced any scientifically acceptable evidence that passive smoke is a health hazard. Even the original and notorious EPA study into Environmental Tobacco Smoke, if you cut your way through the five clear statistical frauds, establishes that passive smoking is harmless.

Professor Martin Jarvis OBE said: "There seems little doubt that the home is now the major source of exposure to second hand smoke for most non-smokers.

"These findings are very worrying as they mean that a large group of people are being exposed to a significantly increased risk of lung cancer and other smoking related diseases, but are probably powerless to do anything about it."

How heart-rending codswallop can be!

The officially sponsored scare of the moment was also reported by the BBC.

Increased foreign travel and rising immigration are bringing a host of dangerous tropical illnesses to the UK, the government's chief medical advisor has warned. 

A report by Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, Chief Medical Officer for England, picks out dozens of potentially serious infections which have emerged worldwide in the past 30 years. 

Almost certainly true, but he could not resist a little bit of religious propaganda to go with it.

And he warns that climate change is allowing many infectious agents, or rather the creatures that carry them, to prosper in traditionally cooler areas.

For the record, mosquitoes, and particularly the malaria-carrying anopheles variety, are not restricted to tropical climes. Malaria has become one of the staple sub-scares of the global warming sect, but in fact Britain once had 60,000 cases and St Petersburg was known as the city built on bones, because of the 100,000 labourers who died of malaria during its construction. In the 1920s 16.5 million suffered from the disease in regions as far north as the Arctic Circle. The new malaria outbreak is mainly due to the SIF inspired ban on DDT. Even in global warming were a reality, it would have little to do with mosquitoes and other disease vectors. Still, boring facts do rather dull a good story.

Forgive your bending author if a little bitterness creeps into these diatribes. Put it down to the disappointment at once again being mysteriously overlooked in the New Year’s honours lists. The inability to think up a really good scare is such a handicap.

 Return of the killer computers

As many as 150,000 Britons could die from eating infected meat if sheep as well as cattle have the disease, say experts at Imperial College, London, UK. Talk about manufacturing a scary number out of nothing! Only about 100 people have died so far of vCJD purportedly caught from eating beef. As we have frequently reported on these pages the doom-laden death forecasts have been progressively reduced from millions to a few hundred. No one has even identified BSE in sheep. It all comes, of course, from a computer program. Imperial College seems to be intent on staking a claim to be the home of the killer computers. Like Harvard it is one of the most reputable scientific establishments in the world, but as Robert Schuman said “There are two very difficult things in the world. One is to make a name for oneself and the other is to keep it.” But nowadays media scares get grants and the media loved this one (Junkscience.com spotted eight major press articles on this nonsense).

Hoover damn

Vacuum cleaners linked to miscarriage yells the front page headline of the Daily Telegraph. Strong magnetic fields produced by trains and household appliances such as vacuum cleaners and food mixers increase the risk of miscarriage by up to three times, according to a new study. The National Radiological Protection Board - Britain's advisory body on radiation - said the American study needed to be taken seriously, although further work was needed. "If true, there would have to be precautionary advice to pregnant women," said a spokesman.

No summary could do justice to the original story as it appeared in the New Scientist. It should be kept and treasured by all Number Watchers who are interested in serious post-scientific hogwash. Any who fail to identify at least ten absurdities are requested to hand in their proficiency badges. Be sure not to miss the exquisite quote at the end "But as epidemiologists, we should not feel weaker because we don't understand the mechanisms." Also, you would think that a self-styled technology correspondent would be able to to distinguish between radiation and induction fields, but no that is just being silly.

This all seems a bit ungrateful when the New Scientist has provided a link to Number Watch. Some mistake, surely.

Afterthought

Only one Number Watcher (from Germany) tendered his badge. Akela decided that he should get the honesty badge in compensation. In view of his comments your bending author has taken a sledgehammer to this nut and written a commentary on the article, see An exercise in critical reading in Epidemiology. This might be a help to any tenderfoot Number Watcher who is practising for his proficiency badge. It is to be hoped that once is enough, as it is an exercise of mind-numbing banality.

The irony of Lomborg

<material removed> in the Sunday Times of January 13th. Eco-heretic beset by hate campaign yells the headline. It is, of course, about Bjorn Lomborg who, in the process of creating a nice little earner, committed the ultimate religious crime of apostasy. From the Inquisition to the Taliban, this crime has been treated with torture, amputation, execution and, in the case of Lomborg, a pie in the face.

The great irony is that Lomborg has done more harm to the cause of real science than he has to the global warming religion. By making unnecessary concessions to the orthodoxy he has given a lever to the theologians that enables them to use his own words to bolster up the teachings. <material removed> “His arguments on climate change, however, have sparked the greatest reaction. Lomborg, a professor at Aarhus University, accepts that the world is getting warmer but says it would cost so much to stop that it is simply not worthwhile.” Lomborg has no grounds for such an acceptance, but the damage that it has done cuts the ground away from under those who argue for the truism that follows it. 

<mate rial removed> but what visitors to the Sunday Times website will miss is the extra trimmings, such as the photograph of a Palladian house sliding to oblivion down a slope with the caption Moving House: climate change may caused landslips but Lomborg says gloomy conclusions are unwarranted.

Even more characteristic is the side box of completely even-handed and random  comments on Lomborg’s book by some of the most eminent figures of the post scientific era:

Lomborg's book has infuriated other scientists. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
-Lester Brown, founder, World Watch Institute

The text employs the strategy of those who argue that….the Jews weren't singled out by the Nazis for extermination. -Review in Nature

The book is a sordid mess. The greatest regret I have is all the time wasted by scientists correcting all the misinformation you created. 
-Edward O Wilson, Harvard University

I suggest you spend the next few years studying elementary environmental science. .I will waste no more time on your nonsense. 
Paul R Ehrlich, Stanford University

He's very good at persuading people to switch off their crap detectors. 
-Tom Burke, BP environment adviser.

 You have to be impressed by names such as the notable Paul Ehrlich. Readers of Sorry, wrong number! might just remember some of the past quotations from this great seer:

“The battle to feed humanity is over. In the 1970s the world will undergo famines . . . hundreds of millions of people (including Americans) are going to starve to death.” (1968)

“Smog disasters” in 1973 might kill 200,000 people in New York and Los Angeles. (1969)

“I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000.” (1969)

“Before 1985, mankind will enter a genuine age of scarcity . . . in which the accessible supplies of many key minerals will be facing depletion.” (1976)

It was arch doom-merchant, Paul Ehrlich, who wagered arch sceptic Julian Simon that scarcity would drive resource prices up between 1980 and 1990. Simon won the bet easily. 

Your bending author has done more than enough lamenting for the glory that was Nature and it would be superfluous to suggest that comparing a reformed environmentalist to a Nazi sympathiser is a trifle over the top; also, sad to say, the name Harvard now speaks for itself. In religious conflict, of course, the Oxford Movement has always been to the fore. Now they have their own anti Lomborg website, which is a feast for students of post-modern logic. Even by their own standards, the hysteria and panic in the ranks of the faithful over Lomborg is quite remarkable. Whatever happened to reasoned scientific debate?

State of the Nation

Just occasionally one edition of a newspaper epitomises the state of a nation. By unhappy coincidence a raft of stories come together to provide an accurate picture of things as they are. Such an edition was the Sunday Telegraph of 20th  January. Some of the stories did not make it onto the paper’s web site, but here are a few of them.

Can you spot when the election was held?

 

The graphic speaks for itself. It shows the official waiting list for National Health Service hospitals. Even for a nation that has become used to a Government that has lying with statistics built into its fundamental philosophy, there is something rather shocking in such  ingrained cynicism. Even Margaret Thatcher, who refined the art of the isolated statistic at question time, was not known for deliberately cooking the numerical books in such a blatant fashion. 

50,000 denied operations through NHS bed-blocking

 We have already referred in these pages to the speed with which Government bureaucracy is closing down nursing homes for the elderly with their ever mounting webs of red tape. By coincidence your bending author happened to be in conversation with a matron of such an establishment. The new regulations are a nightmare. The costs of coping with the demand for information are murderous. The bureaucrats even demand access to the books, with the excuse that they have to determine that homes are financially viable. As the nursing homes close down, so the unfortunate elderly find themselves unwilling prisoners of NHS hospitals, thus depriving people in pain of their urgently needed operations.

Welcome to Britain’s 21st century railway – where  signals are still lit by hand

 OK, so previous governments have starved transport of funding, but in the second term of any government it ceases to be a valid excuse. Passengers are still being put in harm's way by signal lamps that might be blown out by the wrong sort of wind.

Cash strapped British Museum to sell £30m London properties

 The museum has had its funding cut by a third in real terms over the past ten years. The Treasury has prevented it from reclaiming Value Added Tax on the grounds that it resisted charges for entry. As a result, property acquired with a view to making more of the collection accessible to the public is now on the market.

Blair breaks rules record

 A story from that indefatigable campaigner for common sense, Christopher Booker, is a marker in the decline of British Democracy. The number of statutory instruments (laws that do not go through the due process of Parliament) has risen to a record 4,150 in a year. The total under the present Government has now reached a startling 17,521. If anyone needs a single number to characterise the political state of Britain this is it.

Anger at bill to junk fridges

 In November Number Watch advised Watch out for a new bunch of mysterious figures lurking about Britain's beauty spots at the dead on night. They are not smugglers or clandestine lovers, but fridge dumpers. It did not take long. The whole-page article in the Telegraph carries a picture of a wretched Padstow farmer standing in front of a pile of dumped fridges on his land. The sub-heading was The regulation was supposed to protect the environment but that is the very thing that is not happening. It is so typical of this uniquely incompetent British Government that they sign up to this piece of EU nonsense without thinking about the inevitable consequences.

Anti-Christ of the green religion

Yet another full page article about Lomborg and his nice little earner of a book. As we state above this man has done more harm to real science than to the global warming religion, but he has certainly pulled off a neat public relations coup.

No comment needed

Finally, here is a letter from a Government Minister, with a characteristic New Labour title, that speaks for itself:

THERE is no question of the Government pushing young people into further and higher education "who should not be there" (money, Jan 13).

On the contrary, there is a pool of talent that is going untapped because background, not potential, is having an undue influence on people's life chances. We want to increase participation in higher education because it is both economically sensible and socially just.

We are certainly not widening access at the expense of standards. Whatever courses are delivered, be they traditional academic study, new work-based qualifications like our foundation degrees, or in more modern subjects such as media studies, they will all be subject to the same rigorous quality assessment.

From:
Margaret Hodge, Minister for Lifelong Learning, London SW1

GIGO, GIGO off to work we go

Oh no, not another computer model! This time it comes from one of the oldest and most reputable universities in Britain. In line with the trend adumbrated above  it carries on the theme of the threat of tropical diseases due to, wait for it, Global Warming. The "researchers" have written a computer program to model the incidence of malaria in Britain. Commissioned by the Department of Health, they used a mathematical model to predict how global warming will increase the threat of malaria in coming years. Since the current rate of global warming is zero and they don't say what numbers they put in, it is difficult to comment, except to say - why doesn't someone take away their computers and make them get on with some real research? 

Mea Culpa

Our regular correspondent from Puerto Rico sometimes acts as Jiminy Cricket to your bending author's Pinocchio. On seeing the above graphic he mentioned the little word chartmanship. Talk about the engineer hoist by his own petard! It was a complete failure of mental acuity not to notice the values on the vertical scale. There was a temptation, of course, just to erase the item, but one of the things that raises us above the lower forms of life, such as protozoa and politicians, is the ability  to admit that we have made a mistake. So here is the same graph with the suppressed zero restored. As stated above, it speaks for itself.

 

The banners they fly high

Nanny has started the softening up process for her next ban. Each tug of the pawl on the ratchet represents a further small  encroachment upon civil liberties and more gathering of power by the Nanny State. The latest? According to the Sunday Times (January 27th):

THE government is considering banning the consumption of alcohol on domestic and international flights in an attempt to reduce the incidence of air rage. 

The new measure is being debated as part of preparations for the forthcoming white paper on aviation. Any ban would be fiercely opposed by airline operators but is broadly supported by groups representing passengers and cabin crew, who say further action is needed to stem the growing problem of drunkenness on flights. 

 Who are these self-appointed groups who claim to represent us, the passengers? Nearly all your bending author’s friends and neighbours are passengers and none of them has ever called for such a ban and, indeed, almost all of them would positively resent it. They are, of course, just another gang of busybodies who know what’s best for everyone else.

Inevitably, behind it all are the numbers. Of course, they only quote absolute numbers when it suits their purpose:

Last year the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the body responsible for airline safety, recorded 1,250 violent or threatening incidents in the air, up from 800 three years ago. At least half were alcohol-related.  

British Airways, however,  gave some relative figures:

British Airways said it did not believe that draconian action was warranted: “We take unruly behaviour seriously, but out of 40m passengers last year we had to restrain just 17.”

So the whole authoritarian exercise is justified by the behaviour of  0.0000425% of passengers. There is a far stronger case for all sorts of draconian actions such as banning the ownership of cars or putting on football matches or allowing pubs to open at all. But then that is the whole point. The more senseless the ban that SIFs and Puritans can force through at the outset, the easier it is to move on to others that suit their twisted purposes. One ban leads to another, which leads to another, which…..

In 1998, as part of the major putsch on the smoking ban, a New Labour MP said in a radio broadcast “ It would be illogical for the Government to ban beef-on-the bone and not ban smoking.” Now:

Professor Graham Lucas, a consultant in aviation psychiatry who advises the CAA, said last week that it was right to consider a ban on in-flight drinking. “We’ve banned alcohol on our roads and at big sporting events, and it may be time to do it on flights,” he said. 

“The idea is no more horrendous than banning smoking, to which people have adapted.” 

If something daft needs saying you can always find some professor or other to say it. So what? It’s only one more little tear in the fabric of human freedom; barely noticeable. The ratchet, however, never moves back.

What is there to get so worked up about? It is easy to get carried away and wax euphuistic on a subject you care about. On the web, in particular, all opponents tend to be morons or fascists. Nevertheless, tall oaks from little acorns grow. In 1928 Hitler had just 2.6% of the vote. At the risk of trivialising a terrible time in human history, one is reminded of the words of Pastor Martin Niemoller:

 In Germany, they first came for the Communists and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.  Then they came for the Jews and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.  They came for the trade unionists and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.  Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Catholic.  Then they came for me and by that time there was no one left to speak up.

Oh Boy!

Every now and then the Number Watch crapometer needs hasty repair after the pointer has hit the end stop so hard that it is seriously damaged. This happened when a story came through from the epidemiologists at the University of Michigan. Men carrying pollutant have more boys yelled the headline. Even the Trojan Number was a mere 208 children. The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine actually printed this guff as a paper. Not only is this one of the most egregious bit of statistical nonsense to appear for some months, it is a serious case of lese-majesty. These upstarts obviously don't understand the pecking order, since, as reported in Sorry, wrong number! the great Devra Davis on April Fools day 1998 "proved" that pollution produces more girls. The numbers in this "study" are so ineffably crass they they are not even worth the effort on analysing.

Number of the month £7.4 Million

Rarely, even in the recent history of the post-scientific age, can there have been such an absurd project. In defiance of all logic and commonsense, Britain is going to spend £7.4 million on examining the health risks of mobile phones. As has been pointed out in these pages with  a frequency that threatens to induce boredom, if there were even the smallest risk in mobile phone use, well below the threshold detectable by standard epidemiological methods, with nearly three quarters of of the population using the devices, hospital wards would be overwhelmed with sufferers. However, let's not let logic get in the way of the PR of the professors of doom. Nor do we need any whingeing about the money being used to trim 2,000 off the waiting list for operations or funding 50 alpha-rated genuine research projects that have been turned down. This is the 21st century, dammit. 

Index

 

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