Clash of the Titans
Once again the Premier League of Liars is heading to an exciting end of the season. Soon it will be the close (or silly) season, which is traditionally given over to the minor leagues.
As always the run-in is dominated by the rich teams with vast resources. The Global Warmers are always there or thereabouts, but rumours that they are likely to lose their charismatic player-manager, Robert Watson, are a threat to their morale. It was Watson who created the lavish style based on flair and imagination rather than dull technical competence. The Anti Tobacco Army have always been star performers, but observers note that they are beginning to recycle their old plays. Supporters, however, point to the rich possibilities of Eastern Europe, which is virgin territory for the modern game. The Alcohol Alarmists have also been somewhat in the doldrums, though they are putting their faith in emerging teenage talent. The outsiders to watch out for are the new boys on the block, the Obesity Brigade, who are gaining support from all over the world. They are beginning to perform with real creativity. Pessimists keep saying that the game is dying and giving way to television soaps and the like, but while new teams keep emerging there will always be plenty to fill the newspapers.
The thing that makes the global warming myth so resilient is the unspoken pact among the media that only stories about unusual warmth will be published and none about unusual coolth. While you were reading and hearing all about that bit of ice that fell off in Antartica due to a bit of local warming in an area that is generally cooling, here are just a couple of stories that you were not allowed to know about
1. Calgary has had the coldest March on record, with an average temperature of minus sixteen degrees.
2. Reports suggest that the the coolest summer in South Australia for more than 100 years has significantly reduced grape yields in some premium quality wine areas. This puts in doubt whether new plantings will help produce another record vintage.
These, of course, have nothing to do with climate. The rule is If you notice it, it is weather not climate.
On reading Fry
Like most of his writing The Star’s Tennis Balls by Stephen Fry makes an entertaining read, being in turn funny, educative and horrible. In the course of it he gives an amusing account of the paradox of the heap, which he attributes to Zeno, who is better known for his paradoxes of motion, such as Achilles and the tortoise, that rely on the fallacy of the infinite series with a finite sum. More formally know as the Sorites Paradox, which is at the heart of many of the social problems that we have covered in these pages, it can be stated simply as follows:
Consider a heap of wheat grains. It is fairly obvious and clear what it is, just a heap. Now consider a single grain; is this a heap? Of course not. Now add another, so that you have two grains. Is this a heap? Repeat the process continually until you have the same number of grains as in the original and easily recognised heap. You now clearly have a heap, but at what number did it become one?
The whole paradox arises from the notion of vagueness. Like many things in this life, the concept of a heap is essentially vague. Now to politicians, bureaucrats, lawyers and certain types of academic, vagueness is anathema. They insist on defining the heap by a specific number, often quite arbitrary. They draw a line. In real life such numbers have no meaning. The hills and valleys of the landscape do not come with contour lines ready drawn on them. What happens marginally on one side of the line or other, however, can have drastic consequences. Whether it is the breathalyser, vehicle speed, size of lobsters in a catch or a thousand other things, someone has drawn a line to their own satisfaction and your life is controlled by it. Which all brings us to:
……..like we need a hole in the head
Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
Luke 12 27
This is the extraordinary headline to an article by Anatole Kaletsky in The Times (March 28). In a lengthy piece he argues, as he has done consistently, that there is no recession. What he means is that this is not a heap according to the line drawn by economists. An enormous number of people in Britain and America think they have been through a recession – those thrown out of jobs in manufacturing, bankrupt small business men, people trying to live on their investments etc. – but they do not understand where the official line is drawn. A recession has only occurred if there are two quarters of negative growth. This is not only arbitrary, but it is quite useless to those who live in the real world. Furthermore, it means that you don’t know you have had a recession until it is finished. It is like an obstetrician saying “Congratulations, you are pregnant.” as he delivers the baby. As a prophylactic he quotes some of the familiar jokes about economists, but the fact remains that there is a third law of economic motion – for every opinion from an economist there is an equal and opposite opinion from another economist. It is all very well to evoke a giant such as Keynes, but that is like equating the modern dwarfs of epidemiology to the likes of Dr John Snow, who saved thousands of lives by removing the handle of the Broad Street Pump.
Kaletsky says “If you want to mend a pipe, you call a plumber.” Precisely. You do not call in a lecturer on the theory of plumbing.
Nice things were said about Kaletsky in Sorry, wrong number! How embarrassing!
A classic (and oh so predictable!)
In Sorry wrong number! the section on the fallacy argumentum ad hominem begins:
It is a characteristic of people taking weak logical positions that they attack the person presenting an argument rather than argument itself. Typically SIFs will dismiss all critics of their position as being in the pay of the tobacco, alcohol or fuel industries.
There was a review of the book in the Times Higher Educational Supplement, which elicited the following letter in response:
22 March 2002
In view of recent revelations of supposedly independent commentators receiving massive retainers from, for example, the tobacco industry, you should require from your contributors statements of interest that might bias their comment.
A book by John Brignell (Books, THES , March 8) and its review by Robert Gaitskell QC offer highly contentious interpretations of the epidemiological data on smoking and passive smoking and illness. The single concession to the weight of overwhelming evidence on these matters is that your reviewer is sceptical of the figures purporting to show that smoking might be good for people. By that means he may give the impression of objectivity - but I would like to know whether he has ever accepted money from the tobacco industry.
Reviews such as this are valueless until your readers know this not to be the case. The experience in other academic journals has led inexorably to clear declarations of any competing interests as a matter of routine, both for substantive contributions and for reviews of any kind.
Professor of public health epidemiology
University of Bristol
For the record, the author has taken no money from any politically incorrect industry nor, for that matter, any publisher or politically correct research council. The publication of the book was funded with a personal bank loan and the proceeds have been used to fund this web site.
The only passage that could possibly be interpreted as saying tobacco is good for you was a quotation from Woodrow Wyatt and it was published under an interrogative heading (obviously punctuation represents too subtle a distinction for some).
Also, for the record, what book actually said about smoking was:
I happen to think that inhaling cigarette smoke is foolish, but that folly is a basic human right.
The political climate is such that these matters are difficult to write about and get a fair hearing. Even some of the respectable authors and publishers I have cited in this book have shied away from these matters. This is the high ground for SIFs and bureaucrats and I fully expect to be crucified for trying to honest about it. It is also, however, the area that illustrates more than any other what this book is all about.
Furthermore, the subject of tobacco takes up much less that 5% of the book, and is only one of a hundred odd topics covered, which casts an interesting light on the response.
Go tell it to the Marines
There was a remarkable event in the House of Commons this month. The Great Leader actually turned up to vote. He has, after all, the worst voting record of any Prime Minister ever. What was the event that so excited his democratic zeal? No prizes for guessing that it was the ban on hunting. Furthermore, the PM and all his senior ministers absented themselves from the subsequent debate, which was about the decision to send 1,700 British Marines to fight and die in Afghanistan. It was strangely reminiscent of the last time they all crowded onto the Government benches for a similar vote and then all left for the debate that launched the holocaust that illegally killed millions of innocent, healthy animals. As the Daily Mail’s Quentin Letts commented, it was a shameful day for Parliamentary democracy. Where was the PM? He was having a private meeting with Labour MPs about, wait for it, the ban on hunting.
The Obesity Brigade are now in full song. A pathetic dead American fat kid had his picture plastered all over the British Media. From the story he obviously had a terrible metabolic malfunction. It is a pity that some of the vast budget for epidemiological research is not diverted to investigating real disease. The CDC weighed in with one of its famous body counts. Obesity is now claimed to kill 300,000 a year.
Meanwhile, in Britain, hundreds more sport fields are facing planning applications to convert them into housing estates and supermarkets.
Number of the month 300,000
It would be lese majesty to ignore the contribution of the CDC now that it has weighed in on the great obesity debate. We can look forward to someone of the likes of Levy and Marimont, who so exquisitely demolished the CDC body count for tobacco, telling us how the number was generated. The CDC by now must have assigned about half of American deaths to politically incorrect behaviour (boozing, smoking and gorging). If they have many more such campaigns they are going to face a law of diminishing returns and run out of Americans to kill off.