Number of the Month

April  2003

Bigger print, bigger lies

What kind of dictatorship is it that forces manufacturers to print lies on the packaging of their product and consequently makes consumers carry the lies round with them? The answer is of course a politically correct one.

The EU, in one of its ever-growing stream of  diktats that must be obeyed, has now decreed that all tobacco products must carry slogans of its choice in absurdly large print. The main slogan on the example shown here owes its provenance to the greatest multiple fraud in the history of science; namely, the EPA metastudy on Environmental Tobacco Smoke. As for the sperm racket, it is one of the mainstays of the epidemiologists' quest for fame. If such bizarre phenomena as asymmetrical fingers or salt or, of course, environmental chemicals point to a low sperm count, you can bet that tobacco, of all evils, won't get away with it .



The greatest scientific fraud ever

Perhaps it is time to provide a reminder of  just what the EPA meta-analysis of ETS comprised. Here is how it was described in Sorry, wrong number!:

The EPA applied to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) in 1992 a statistical technique called meta-analysis, in which the data from multiple small studies are combined to make one large study. Most respectable scientists would agree that meta-analysis might just be appropriate for combining carefully controlled animal experiments or well-regulated clinical studies, but not for epidemiology! However, our heroes did not stop there, because it still did not produce the right result.

Let us be quite clear about it, by all the conventions of science and applied statistics the EPA study established that there is no significant risk of lung cancer due to passive smoking. What did they do about it? They moved the goalposts. They actually reduced the confidence limit from the normally accepted lower limit of 95% to 90%, equivalent to doubling the chances of being wrong to one in ten. It was even worse than this, but I don’t want to get too deep into details of statistical methods. There are many other serious defects in the EPA report; such as ignoring about twenty confounding factors and choosing to ignore a study that produced a statistically significant decrease in risk. So after all this knavery, what result did they come up with? They calculated a risk ratio of 1.19. In case you have forgotten our guidelines from Chapter 2, risk ratios of greater than 3 are normally considered significant. One might even stretch a point and go down to 2, but never lower. If it were not so unprincipled and shameful it would be laughable and pathetic. As a basis of comparison a report in The Times (Aug 6, 1997) quotes a study in Uruguay that produces a risk ratio of 4 for the development of lung cancer in heavy consumers of dairy products. That is an increase of 300%, compared with the EPA’s 19%, which presumably means that some 50,000 Americans will die each year of eating rice pudding. As a correspondent in the next day’s Times asks “What are my chances if I am regularly in the same room as rice pudding eaters?”

The most extraordinary thing about the EPA-ETS fiasco is that, after four major statistical fiddles, they could only come up with a pathetic risk ratio of 1.19. Even four out of ten of our imaginary scientists in Chapter 2 did better than that on a non-existent effect and the margarine farceur did twice as well in percentage terms.


All Hail to a federal judge whose wisdom serves to underline the pusillanimity of the scientific establishment! He overturned the EPA’s decision to classify what it calls “environmental tobacco smoke” as a known human carcinogen. In response to an industry lawsuit filed in 1993, U.S. District Judge William L. Osteen agreed that the “EPA was publicly committed to a conclusion before research had begun” and “adjusted established procedure and scientific norms to validate the Agency’s public conclusion.”

The details behind Osteen’s decision are quite extraordinary. It emerged that the EPA actually started writing a policy guide recommending workplace smoking bans four years before it officially declared ETS a hazard. William Reilly, former EPA administrator, conceded that “beginning development of an Agency risk assessment after commencement of work on the draft policy guide gave the appearance of policy leading science.”

This revelation brings the total number of unacceptable abuses in this one study to five, and confirms it as the all-time supreme exemplar of junk science. It is not, however, only the biggest lie in the annals of junk, it has also been the most effective, producing changes in social behaviour that would have been undreamed a decade before. Let it not be thought, however, that passive smoking is this agency’s only essay into the realm of junk; far from it! You should see the stuff they and their protégés come up with on radon, all based on a meta-study, of course, to say nothing of a whole catalogue of “dangerous” chemicals.

It would be difficult to overstate the effects of this state-sponsored fraud throughout the world. It was a substantial nail in the coffin of the age of science. It led not only to the EU diktats but the total ban on public smoking in California and New York. One hesitates  to employ the over-used word fascism, but there is none more suitable to describe the machinations of the PC establishment over tobacco use.

As for the EU imposition, they are likely to find that it has an inverse effect. People, especially the British, have a tendency to react against bullying.

Footnote: No sooner had the above been uploaded than none other than Nigel (Thousands to die) Hawkes came up in The Times with a variation on the big lie. He is a bit below form as only 900 will die in work places from passive smoking unless more draconian oppression is applied. The British zealots (the TUC, the anti-smoking group ASH, and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health) do not make the same mistake as their American predecessors by trying to fabricate "scientific" evidence. They just state it ex cathedra, baldly and brazenly.

The author of the report is one James Repace, international zealot extraordinaire, whose entire oeuvre is based on relative risks of the order of 1.2. His fact sheet on secondhand smoke is co-authored with Ichiro Kawachi, a name regular number watchers will recognise as one to conjure with. We paid tribute to him only last month. Still, you have to admire someone who can create a nice little earner out of accidental statistical associations.

Highs, lies and lows

Robert Matthews is one of the lone voices of sanity in the ocean of scientific nonsense poured out by the media. In his latest column, he reveals that scientists have discovered what readers of Number Watch and its linked sites have known for years:

Claims that man-made pollution is causing "unprecedented" global warming have been seriously undermined by new research which shows that the Earth was warmer during the Middle Ages......

Every now and then one of the purveyors of junk science comes up with a sentence that says it all. Leading bookmakers are tipping Dr Simon Brown for a Numby award, even at this early stage of the year, by expressing in a single sentence all the sheer blind prejudice, subreption and self-deception that goes to prop up the global warming myth. As Matthews' article concludes:

Dr Simon Brown, the climate extremes research manager at the Meteorological Office at Bracknell, said that the present consensus among scientists on the IPCC was that the Medieval Warm Period could not be used to judge the significance of existing warming.

Dr Brown said: "The conclusion that 20th century warming is not unusual relies on the assertion that the Medieval Warm Period was a global phenomenon. This is not the conclusion of IPCC."

He added that there were also doubts about the reliability of temperature proxies such as tree rings: "They are not able to capture the recent warming of the last 50 years," he said.

You have to hand it to the global warmers. Even in the midst of the most savage and lethal winter for many a year, they still persist in their representation of the weather as climate.

Here is Miceal O'Ronain's take on April in New York

It Is Not Easy Being Green In The Snow!

Well the snow started right on schedule and it is sticking! Here are a few news reports which include history of past April snowfalls in the New York City region. We could be looking at near record conditions for the month of April, only time will tell:

Snowstorm may spring on New York

The NYC record for April dates back to 1875, with 13.5 inches of snow and 10 inches in one day.

April (snow) showers might fall on flowers

Spring snowstorm hits Midwest

A Week Into April, and Wondering Where That Snow Shovel Is Stored

Snow way! Winter makes comeback

April Snow Storm Barrels Midwest, East

Say it ain't snow

If we even come near the record, the green spin will be most entertaining.

Meanwhile, in Britain, the unprecedented sunny spell continues thanks to yet another stationary high. It is, of course, a requirement of that old fashioned scientific law of  conservation of mass that if someone has a high then someone else has a low. So parts of  Southern Europe have experience disastrous floods. Your bending author, however, is off back to the allotment, but as a student of really big lies he will be listening to The Chancer's budget speech tomorrow.

Footnote: As always, John Daly had a relevant comment.


I got those ol’ Brown budget blues

The old prestidigitator was on his best form with his latest budget speech. A triumph of misdirection. He ignored Basil Fawlty’s injunction and mentioned the war in the first sentence. Basic rule of politics – get your excuses in first. It was a classical Brown budget. The preamble had us all bathing in the glory of living in the best run country in the world. It is only afterwards that your mind starts saying “Yes, but…” He always likes to put in a few records, such as Britain has the highest rate of employment ever. Yes, but all the new jobs are in the public sector, which now accounts for a quarter of all employment, meaning that their generous salaries and pension schemes have to be funded by the other three quarters. It is no doubt very laudable that Labour controlled councils are appointing Gay and Lesbian Cycling Officers and the like, and that the funding formula has been changed to divert money from well run Conservative controlled councils to big spending Labour ones, but the money for such essentials has to be generated by workers in the private sector, a diminishing band. There is an old tale about killing the goose that laid the golden egg.

Then there is the inextinguishable optimism. The early budget forecasts were somewhat protected by the dotcom bubble, which masqueraded as genuine economic activity, but the fact is that the real economy has been in recession for four years, whatever the official definition produces. Heaven preserve the world from optimistic finance ministers.

This was the ostrich budget, burying its head in the sand, hoping Micawber-like that something will turn up. New Labour came into power vowing not to increase income tax, but the stealth taxes have been equivalent to a rise in income tax of 7p in the pound. The Chancer hopes to emulate the USA in its gains in productivity. Is there no one who can explain to him the unsubtle difference in approach? He also invites us to make comparisons with the poor performance of the Old European countries, the very ones that his Government is trying to get us closer into bed with. He is again going to assist small businesses. As pensioners and parents can tell them, assistance means filling in lots of forms and being at the mercy of the growing army of bureaucrats. Getting off their backs would be a far more beneficial move.

 Through war and pestilence the junk sails on

This one produced such giant headlines in the Daily Mail that it almost knocked the fall of Baghdad off the front page. The BBC headline was Painkillers prevent cancer. They added a side link without comment to a 1999 story Regular painkiller use linked to cancer. That is what happens with random associations; they can go one way or the other. Nice Trojan Number of 80,000 post menopausal women but the relative risks quoted are the usual unacceptable numbers and if you knew the actual number that contracted the disease and then divided it up into the categories of length of use of two different drugs, then calculated the actual difference from the number expected at random, no doubt you would end up with the usual handful.

It’s the way he tells them

Here is a quotation worth savouring:

Far too many scares are whipped up by journalists and those who feed them information. Several years ago, after reading some American research about the effect of such stories on readers, I resolved to write fewer of them.

Who wrote it? None other than Nigel (Thousands to die) Hawkes. In an article about SARS in The Times.

Collector's corner

If you have not been keeping up with our links lately, don't miss ZPEnergy. This one's a real doozy.


  IQ, UQ, everybody loves IQ

Before you read the next bit of nonsense try this little poser. What is the next number in the series 2,9,18,29,42……?

Several of our regular correspondents drew attention to this one, and it certainly is another fine collector’s item of vintage rubbish. From a sample of a whole 172, the “researchers” were able to determine that very small concentrations of lead in the blood of children produced a reduction in IQ of 7 points in IQ. The “researchers” also controlled for many other factors that contribute to a child's intellectual functioning, such as birth weight, mother's intelligence, income, education, and amount of stimulation in the home. A truly remarkable feat of measurement! At least birth weight and income are numbers you can pin down, but assigning numbers to the other factors must have required a great deal of creative skill. No wonder it took six authors to perform this little miracle of precision.

It was H J Eysenck who blew the gaff on IQ measurement when he published the popular book Know your own IQ in 1962. Thousands of ordinary people discovered that (a) IQ measurement is very imprecise and (b) you can improve your performance with practice. Many newspapers, such as the Daily Mail, publish samples of such questions daily and their readers find that their performance improves with  experience. The punters love it, as they can persuade themselves that they are increasing their intelligence. The other damning observation is that all so-called IQ tests are highly culturally loaded.

Most intelligent people can work out the simple problem quoted above, which is a typical IQ test question. If they are untrained they will bumble through to the answer somehow or other. Anyone trained in numerical analysis, however, will form (mentally) a table of first differences:

2   9   18   29   42

   7   9    11   13

It is obvious that the next difference is going to be 15, so you just add it to the last number above to get the answer. They don’t even have to work out the formula, which is x2-7. This is one of the less subtle ways that training can affect the apparent IQ. It is also just one of the reasons why IQ measurement has fallen out of favour with real scientists. 

It is tempting to dismiss this sort of  “research” as a harmless bit of fun, but you can bet your sweet bippy that it will become part of the canon of environmental claptrap that  it will appear in the justification for yet more draconian environmental legislation and put more millions of dollars into the pockets of  personal injury lawyers.

Talking of which, UK readers might like to note the following:


Europe welcomes careful liars

Always guaranteed to be there or thereabouts in the league of big liars is Greenpeace. Couple its mendacity with the dictatorial behaviour of the European Union and you have the recipe for greater and greater intrusions on personal or commercial freedom. Evidence of their latest campaign of destructive disinformation comes from  a correspondent, whose name has been removed to protect the maternal:

My easily duped mum, bless her, just received this rather alarming email from Greenpeace:

 Dear Mrs --------,

Current rules governing the production and use of chemicals in Europe are failing to protect people and the environment from dangerous substances. Our bodies are now contaminated with up to 300 man-made chemicals. Recent Greenpeace research has revealed that house dust contains a large number of hazardous chemicals that are escaping from commonly used household products. Once in the dust these chemicals can enter our bodies.

The European Union has a unique opportunity to end this. New regulations are being drafted which will require the most dangerous chemicals to have an "authorisation", or permission, allowing their production. Where safer alternatives are available, it is vital that these dangerous chemicals are not given permission. However, the European Commission wants to allow the production of the most dangerous chemicals that are currently building up in our bodies to continue, even though safer alternatives exist. We need your help to change their minds.

Send an e-postcard to European Commission President Romano Prodi, urging him to support the inclusion of 'mandatory substitution' in the new chemicals regulation. 'Mandatory substitution' will legally require chemical companies to use the safest available chemicals. The European Commissioners are considering the new proposals right now - it's vital you get your message to them without delay.

To take action visit:

If you wish to respond to this email or you wish to unsubscribe from this list please email us directly at  Please do not forward this email to any internet mailing lists or groups as Greenpeace is firmly against "spamming".

Thanks you for your time.

Mark Strutt

Senior Toxics Campaigner
Greenpeace UK

The big lie in this case is based on a variation of the concentration fallacy, by ignoring the fundamental principle of toxicology, known from the time of Paracelsus, which is:

The poison is in the dose

All substances can be lethal, including oxygen and water, if the dose is sufficient. Sodium chloride and sodium cyanide are both lethal or benign, but the dosage thresholds are very different. Instrumentation, such as chromatography, has advanced to such a degree that we can now detect just a few molecules of any substance in food or bodies. Scaremongers like Salmon Woman can hit the headlines with reports of ludicrously low concentrations of a “toxic” substance. It is quite possible that we have all ingested a few molecules of most known toxins every day of our lives. Organisations such as Greenpeace have got themselves onto a cash flow treadmill. They have mouths to feed. In order to do this they must manufacture more and more of their product, which is anxiety, to keep the donations rolling in. They live in symbiosis with bureaucrats in organisations like the EU, each giving the other a pretence of justification for existence. The tragedy is that they face no concerted resistance and are able to ride roughshod over the interests of ordinary people and businesses.

 WHO cares?

Several of our regular correspondents have noted that Number Watch has been silent on SARS. Being of sound mind they all show a lack of inclination to panic. What is there to say that has not been said with great authority by the likes of Dr Michael Fitzpatrick or Dr James Le Fanu? Pages and pages have been dished up by media editors, who work on the principle that panic sells papers, but they add up to not very much.

Le Fanu, whose masterly book we never cease to plug, has a timely swipe at that monument to bureaucratic insanity, WHO. An organisation that leaves no stone unturned in its pursuit of inanity and no bandwagon unjumped in its search for headlines, it has totally failed in all the tasks that are its proper duty. Since we first highlighted the malaria scandal as a number of the month in October 2000, the death rate among African children is still an unbelievable one every thirty seconds. It spends more money on stationery than on combating a major killer such as diarrhoea. Its swarming bureaucrats occupy luxury offices in some of the most comfortable parts of the world, but not where help is actually needed. It prattles on about passive smoking, hamburgers and the threat of obesity to the world’s longest living peoples, while millions die in childhood as a result of the poison inherited from major league liars such as Rachel Carson.

The lack of funding for fundamental research that would help combat these dire problems is a worldwide phenomenon, but nowhere is it worse than in the socialist paradise of the UK. A government minister has recently blocked research funding to a critic of the establishment CJD theory on political grounds. There was a time, before the nationalisation of the universities, when funding was deliberately made independent of the bureaucrats and was used to provide well-found research laboratories; but then the first form of mad cow disease struck, Thatcherism, and it was decreed that “research” had to have a customer (i.e. a bureaucrat) and the world’s most successful research nation (by, for example, per capita Nobel prizes) opted out of real research altogether. Money is poured into the maintenance of politically correct myths (such as global warming) while vital areas in which the nation once led the world are starved out of existence. Then there is the absurd Research Assessment Exercise. As Philip Stott thunders, Under this asinine rule we’d never have heard of Darwin. A similar remark was made in Sorry, wrong number! The Thatcherites left many harmful legacies, but one of the worst was providing the socialists with all the tools they needed to establish iron, centralised, bureaucratic control. They exercise this with a unique combination of arrogance and incompetence that ensures total lack of progress.

It’s a mad world, My Masters.

God save the Queen

Number Watch takes a decidedly royalist posture and counts the UK as very fortunate to have as Head of State a lady of wisdom and grace, rather than some venal self-promoting politician. That said, the future prospects offered by the heir to the throne are somewhat less than propitious.

He has embraced almost every anti-scientific fad and fancy – organic produce, alternative therapies, GM scares, in fact the whole fruit cake shooting match. Now he has been reading science fiction and is promoting the “grey goo” fantasy. Every time a new technology appears, the neo-Luddites come up with a new reason for suppressing it, but this one takes the biscuit.

Nano-technology has been grossly oversold by its proponents, not an unusual situation when substantial funding is being squabbled over. Those of us who have worked in the area of micro-engineering, if honest, have to admit that we have not even begun to solve the considerable problems. Nano-technology is three orders of magnitude smaller and by the same scale more difficult. A few trivial demonstrations have been puffed up to excite politicians and bureaucrats into parting with considerable chunks of the taxpayers’ money.

Of course, the politicians fall for it hook, line and sinker. Tony Blair is said to be excited by it, rather as he was by the digital revolution and the dot coms. This is a fundamental problem of modern society; ignorant, innumerate politicians, who have not the vaguest idea of laws such as conservation and thermodynamics, can be sold almost anything. The distance between being able to move a few atoms about, or laying down a few monatomic layers, and being able to manufacture self reproducing “nanobots” is galactic.

Nevertheless, eco-theologians, always on the look-out for a really good scare, will seize upon such fantasies, in order to boost their own influence and, of course, funding. A call from the heir to the throne is sure to bring the nutters out of the woodwork. Two typical pieces in The Times range from a triumph of irrelevance to an unbelievable mangling of logic, in which GM technology is bad because it causes illegal behaviour by protestors and DDT is bad by definition, despite the fact that banning it killed millions of people, though they were only Africans.

So, with even more heart felt emotion than at the time of the coronation in 1953, we cry:

God save the Queen!
Long live the Queen!
May the Queen reign forever!

Number of the month 0.000000001

In view of the above, the number of the month is 10-9, which is the proportion of a metre represented by a nanometre. A very small number to produce a very large amount of hype.


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