Number of the Month

August  2003

Too little, too late as usual

With an effortless continuity, Times Newspapers carry on the themes from the final paragraphs of  our piece last month.  Personal loan spree threatens the economy yelled the lead headline on August 1st.  Britons sinking under weight of debt cause boom in bankruptcy boomed another on the 2nd.  Huge cost of public sector job spree chips in the Sunday Times on the 3rd.

Apparently, even politicians have noticed, and MPs are calling on ministers to take action on irresponsible lending. Why did they not do so two years ago, when irresponsible moaners like Number Watch were pointing out what is happening? Delay plus feedback equals instability.

Of course, finance ministers are relying on consumer borrowing to cover up the fact that the real economy has been in recession for years, just as they once leant on the internet bubble, so they are not in a hurry to take action.

 What’s in a name?

"Well, he would, wouldn't he?"
Mandy Rice Davies (Told in court that Lord Astor had denied their assignations)

 If you were appointed Professor of Fairies at the Bottom of the Garden you are not going to turn round and say “there aren’t any”, are you? Thus it is no surprise that the huffy exit from the GM enquiry was a Professor of “Ecological Agriculture”. Another in the news was a Professor of Sustainable Development. Why do these chairs exist? Because the bureaucrats in charge of doling out research money have indicated that these are the areas that will be supported. For the Government they create a useful form of misdirection. If you are seen to be promoting sustainable development, perhaps no one will notice that you are rapidly concreting over southern England. Even “Agricultural Ecology” would be a less loaded term. Like “gay” and “gaiety”, one form of a word becomes poisoned and loses its meaning, while another maintains it. Likewise, Professors of “Climate Science” popping up all over the place, when once there was climatology, a respectable branch of applied physics. Of course, X science is modern university jargon for a debased form of X, as in Environmental Science, which is for those who are not bright enough to cope with the mathematics of real science.  Once extant, these trendy professors start replicating themselves. Their jobs, and those of the inflated teams of minions they gather round them, depend on being in the news; and what makes news? Scares.

A breath of fresh air blows from the Independent Institute, who produce a balancing report on climate change from scientists who don’t make their living out of maintaining the scare.

Footnote (from Dr Irving Plankton, Professor of Titular Precision and Stuff at the Metropolitan University of Nether Wallop).  Take no notice of idle scoffers and mockers like Number Watch. Accurate titles contribute a great deal to the modernisation and efficiency of the university system. They make life easier for overworked government officials who have the difficult task of controlling academics. A sufficiently precise appellation means that you know what view someone will take on any particular topic without having to ask them. It enables those in charge to distribute funds more appropriately. In the bad old days, when there were just professors of mathematics or engineering, universities were completely out of control and getting involved in all sorts of socially irrelevant activities.

 Surprise, surprise!

O, who can hold a fire in his hand
   
By thinking on the frosty Caucasus?
   
Or cloy the hungry edge of appetite
   
By bare imagination of a feast?
   
Or wallow naked in December snow
   
By thinking on fantastic summer's heat?
   
O, no! the apprehension of the good
   
Gives but the greater feeling to the worse.
   
Fell sorrow's tooth doth never rankle more
   
Than when he bites, but lanceth not the sore.
King Richard II

Talking of scares, there is no way they are going to let us get away from the Global Warming myth.  Just as they were flummoxed by a powdering of snow in January, so the British are in shock because it turns hot in August. Relying on the supposition that their readership is not only extremely stupid, but also extremely forgetful, the media pile on the “evidence” for global warming.

The Independent, assuming you have forgotten the temperatures of –10°C that killed off all the “hardy” crops in January in southern England, would like you to know: Britain bakes Europe burns. Is this proof of global warming? But here is an example of one they would not like you to know,   July snow chills interior. We have published dozens of others in previous months of this year, which produced one of the most fatally cold winters for a long time, and they are only a selection of those submitted by regular readers.

Rush out and buy of the month

For only just over ten thousand dollars you could be the proud owner of a speaker cable with an integrated battery. This new cable design uses a battery pack to "form" the cable's dielectric, helping it "adapt to a charged state." The clever part is "because there is no load on the battery it will last for years". Furthermore, for those of us who have spent a lifetime studying electromagnetic theory and thought we understood it, here is a revelation.

Coming soon, the Number Watch power cable, personally blessed by the Pope, and costing little more than the average four bedroom house.

Footnote: Hi Fi Writer  points out that the first link above was already dead by before mid September. Must be a record. You can still enjoy the description of the device and the post modern electromagnetic theory with the second link, however.

<material removed>

Heroes of our time

No 2. Richard Brunstrom

What can you say about a business man who achieves £1.7 million of retained profit from a turnover of £2.6 million? Well that is just one of the minor achievements of Richard Brunstrom. He achieved all this as a spin-off to catching some of the most dangerous villains of our time. The profit was just from a nice little sideline of speed cameras and our hero is the famed North Wales Chief Constable. 

Now you might have thought that the prime objective of a criminal justice system would be to reduce the number of offences – far from it! In fact, we read, in a document submitted by none other than Richard Brunstrom that: 

The Criminal Justice System Business Plan, published in February 2002, sets out the framework and priorities for the work of the criminal justice system in 2002/3.  It states: The top priority in 2002/3 is to increase the number of offences for which offenders, and particularly persistent offenders, are caught and brought to justice. 

It is absolutely essential to read at least the executive summary of the full submission to appreciate its impact. Note the exquisite precision of the targets.

Admittedly, it is slightly unfortunate that our hero’s force actually achieved the lowest ever percentage clear-up of burglaries anywhere (6.1%), but you can’t have everything. So a few citizens of North Wales lost a few trinkets. Set this against the master criminals who have been brought to justice. Just consider the case of one latter day Moriarty, Schoolteacher Mr Michael Coyne. This Napoleon of crime, clearly aiming for world domination, actually drove a vehicle at 61 mph in a 60 mph zone!

Believe or not a man with all these achievements has been rewarded by a string of vile attacks. Most scurrilous was, naturally, in the Daily Mail. How could they print anything like this?

And it was all triggered off by our hero calling a press conference because a 70-year-old driver with an impeccable record had complained about being done for speeding. He had (allegedly) accelerated while overtaking a slow-moving tractor. It is no excuse that this is the way he was taught to drive. As the Police Driving Manual half a century ago advised, the overtaking manoeuvre should be completed as quickly as possible. That, however, was in the bad old days, before policing by numbers.

Even the police themselves are unappreciative of our hero’s genius, read what they have to say about his creative thinking. Of course, old fashioned policemen are completely out of touch  and do not understand the modern approach.

With none other than our Great Leader in mind, we can only say " With men like this at the helm, what can go wrong?"

Thresholds of insanity

Bureaucracy cannot live with the Sorites Paradox. This is the fundamental reason for the dominance that numerical thresholds have established over our lives. Combine this with the accident that man inherited ten digits from his ape-like ancestors and you have the explanation for much of the futility that oppresses us. A man driving at sixty miles an hour might be a perfectly normal citizen, but accelerate to 61 and he is transmogrified into a dangerous criminal and (more importantly) a convenient source of revenue. Across the Channel, in the equivalent zone, he would still be innocent, as the rounded decimal threshold is equivalent to 62.5 mph.

It is much the same with journalists. The potential disaster of personal debt, as we have repeated to the point of tedium in these pages, has been with us for over two years, but it only became significant during the month in which it exceeded the threshold of ten to the power of ten.

Then there’s the latest puritanical fad of obesity. A year and a half ago Number Watch warned readers to watch out for all the tricks of the trade then being applied to this target. The admirable Sandy Szwarc has shown in retrospect just how this was done. Just one egregious example:

 In 1998, the rhetoric became more exigent, when NIH changed the definition of overweight from those with BMIs (body mass indexes) over 27, to those with BMIs of 25 or greater. That instantly deemed an estimated 29 million more Americans overweight and in need of weight loss -- folks like Michael Jordan and Brad Pitt. 

 Across the nation, public health officials and heath care industry representatives are now declaring obesity a public health crisis.

They came up with a completely fictional total of 300,000 US deaths due to obesity, which are just as fantastical as the 400,000 deaths due to tobacco, and gave us our Number of the Month for March 2002. They have now accounted for nearly a third of all deaths, so the had better start rationing their excesses before they run out of corpses.

Thresholds barely exist in the real world. There are a few important examples, such as Einstein’s dramatic intervention on photo-emission, but those that impact on our every day lives are simply the inventions of politicians and bureaucrats; tools of oppression.

 Silly records for kids

Heathrow in the high summer is the nearest thing in Britain to hell on earth. Not only is it a huge mass of concrete with air-conditioned buildings pouring out megawatts of heat, but it is crawling with  jumbo jets each spouting out of the order of 100 megawatts of heat. So where did the global warmers find the record temperature that they so avidly sought. Need you ask?

As John Daly pointed out, the temperatures in nearby areas were considerably more modest. The Weather Eye column at the back of The Times had a swipe at Philip Stott, who gets the occasional chance to put the sceptical alternative:

 A climate change sceptic claimed this week that these figures have little to do with global warming, and that there is little to worry about. 

“One hot summer in Europe doesn’t mean that the world’s climate has permanently changed for the worse,” he said. After all, the immediate cause of the summer heat is a stubborn high pressure stuck over Europe, dragging up hot air from the Sahara. 

However, these savage heatwaves are striking at increasingly regularly intervals. The 1990s had the hottest summers on record, and this decade is seeing even higher temperatures. It beggars belief that this is all some sort of statistical quirk or a freak of nature. The climate is more probably becoming seriously unhinged, and the obvious culprit is greenhouse gas pollution. 

Lastly, bad news for another climate change sceptic, President Bush. His home state of Texas broke its own heat record last week.

Actually, not bad news at all. Not only do we expect records always to increase, we also recognise the extreme value fallacy in three dimensions when it turns up. We also fail to ignore extremes of cold, of which there have been plenty this year, as regular readers will attest.

The other perennial record that gets more farcical by the year comes with the announcement of the A-level (school leaving) examination results, which dominated the media as usual on the glorious twelfth.

Here is yet another quote from Sorry, wrong number!

The pass rate in the UK school Advanced Level examinations remained remarkably steady for decades at about 70%. Then in about 1982 (note the year – a lot began to happen then) it began to rise steeply and continuously at about 1% per year and at the time I was finishing this book it was still doing so. The results were hailed as a success for the education system and evidence of improving standards. Critics and doubters were pilloried as “sceptics and cynics(where have I heard that before?) and were largely ignored. Meanwhile Industry was increasingly complaining of the decline in literacy and numeracy among its new recruits, and universities were removing more and more material from their first year syllabuses, especially mathematics, as the students could not cope with it. How do I know all this? Well, over the period I visited several hundred companies and was told first hand in no uncertain terms. I was also external examiner in several of the leading university engineering departments.

How were these “improvements” achieved? By reducing syllabuses, simplifying questions and, above all, modularity. Students love modular courses. They rapidly develop the capacity to bone up on a subject, take the test and then forget it all overnight. By the time they reach industry or university they have all the grades and none of the knowledge.

You can take a pretty good bet in advance on the speeches from the ministers and bureaucrats. They automatically attack sceptics on the basis that they are denigrating the hard work of young people. On the contrary, educational sceptics decry the treadmill that the school experience had become. Coursework (a cheat’s charter) and lots of it has largely replaced the rigorous test of the final examination. Students emerge exhausted, ignorant and uneducated.

How, you might ask, will they carry on the rate of increase of passes once it gets to 100% No problem! They can simply award certificates to students who have not entered the subject, thereby getting a pass rate greater than 100%.

There is no finer example of the disasters that occur when politicians and bureaucrats take control of areas where they have no business interfering.

 Power of magic

As children we gradually grow up to realise that the laws of physics are inexorable. We might not be able to express laws of gravity and inertia as such, but by dint of a number of scrapes and bruises we learn how they operate. We tend to resent and reject this and take refuge in tales of magic, in which the laws cease to apply. A couple of generations ago, many youngsters preferred Captain Marvel to Superman, because a magic transmogrification simply brought about by saying the word “Shazam!” was more satisfying than a man dashing into a phone booth and stripping off. Currently kids immerse themselves in the tales of Harry Potter.

Some people never grow up, but continue to believe in forms of magic that defy the immutable laws. They are taken in by various charlatans – psychics, healers, astrologers and the like. If they are lucky all it costs them is a chunk of their hard-earned. In the post-scientific age, however, a new phenomenon has emerged, whereby whole nations, or even continents are taken in by a new breed of charlatans – Greens or Environmentalists – who also claim the suspension of the laws of nature. In this case the inevitable bumps and bruises are of a more dramatic nature – economic decline and, as has been spectacularly shown in North Eastern America this month, devastating power failures.

Oh dear! The nasty old cynics and sceptics have been proved right again. Number Watch began to warn about the impending power crisis back in March 2001, when, for example, the report by David E. Wojick was already three years old. As recently as last February we commented on the inevitability of power cuts and laid out the essentials for a sound energy policy in a piece entitled Power Mad! One of the essential elements of a reliable power system is resilience, and the basic ingredient of this is excess capacity. Once you create a market in power, you are already on the edge, because nobody is going to provide excess capacity unless they get paid for it. The Darwinian nature of markets ensures that capacity is pared down to the average demand. That is bad enough, but throw in the subsidised, intermittent and unreliable source of supply that is wind power and disaster become inevitable.

It is even worse than that, however, since the environmentalists exercise such political influence that they able to prevent the development of both base load provision (nuclear) and instant load provision (oil, coal and natural gas) by pushing thorough a wide variety of restrictive acts. It is an irony that the first nations to experience the inevitable consequences (USA and Canada) are the ones that are richest in natural sources of energy, but the environmentalists have ensured that they can’t get at them. As usual Californians have shown the way into chaos and the rest of the western world blindly followed.

The deregulated power system adopted by the UK is similar to the one in California. It has the same attitude to allowing the nuclear base load provision to atrophy and the addition of entirely destructive tax-subsidised intermittent sources. The question now is not if power cuts will happen, but when. All it requires is a random triggering event, which could be anything from a major power station fire to a simple stuck relay. The lack of network resilience will engender a cascade of failure that could envelope the whole country within minutes. In these pages we have frequently decried the promotion of scares based on empty junk science. This is not one such. It is based on the inexorable laws of physics and mathematics.

They just can’t see the connection

The besieged Governor of California, Gray Davis, created a photo-opportunity in his fight for survival. What was he doing? Signing an act to ban two flame retardant chemicals. Not only is this stupid act going to kill people in the most agonising way possible, but it is symptomatic of the disregard for the reality of industrial economy. Hundreds of chemicals have been banned in California and now, thanks to Mad Margot, the same has happened in Europe. There is no justification for the vast majority of these bans, other than the wholly negative Precautionary Principle. Just as the Californian economy has gone down the tubes, so the European one is inevitably following. Not only environmental laws, but labour laws and other forms of draconian legislation are taxing European industry out of existence. Britain is exporting thousands of jobs to India in, for example, call centres, because the costs and complexity of employing people have got out of hand. The recent casual increase in National Insurance by the Chancer of the Exchequer to feed the ever-open maw of his growing bureaucratic army is just one example of the determination to ignore the inexorable action of cause and effect.

All the hundreds of capriciously banned chemicals exist in the economy because they have a place in the economy. Removing them has immediate direct costs to industry, but the subtle, indirect long-term effects are even more destructive. The Germans, for example, are wondering why their much-vaunted economic miracle has turned to dust. Apart from the fact that they made a cock up of reunification, they have to look no further than the unceasing, undemocratic cascade of legislation from the European Commission to identify the cause.

It’s a mad world, my masters!

 Fly past

The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves
Keats – Ode to a Nightingale

Have you noticed how often your friends and acquaintances have complained about gut upsets during the hot weather? What is the betting that it is all down to our old friend musca domestica, the common housefly. It was back in April 2002 that Number Watch drew attention to the banning, for no particular reason other than the dreary old precautionary principle, of 50 different fly sprays.

Flies buzzed through the British Media this summer, when a number of outbreaks occurred in various places, largely owing to the use of chicken manure. Regular Number Watcher Grant Perkins recommends that fellow observers note the last paragraph of this report.

Oddly enough there is a simple solution to indoor fly plagues that is immune to attacks from environmentalists (but perhaps not animal SIFs). One trumpet pitcher plant (Sarracenia leucophylla hybrid) will keep an average room free of flies. If you are more into blood sports you can add a Venus fly trap and a Sundew (Drosera Capansis).

 Footnote: UK readers can obtain all three of these plants as a beginner’s collection from The Little Shop of Horrors. Number Watch does not normally endorse products, but these work.

Missing the point

The first nutty professor story of the 2003 silly season was late in arriving, but when it finally came on August 17th what a vintage! Just look at this for a concoction designed to appeal to the predilections of the establishment media:

Cover story: The future is female
The male species is doomed, says Bryan Sykes, professor of human genetics at Oxford University. And a woman-only world is possible

It is no secret that men are basically genetically modified women. In this respect, our evolution can be regarded as a gigantic and long-running GM experiment. Its legacy has been to endow men and women with different and often conflicting sets of genetic interests. 

It is a weary lament to lay most acts of violence and aggression squarely at the feet of men. Yet the association is strong and undeniable. Women only rarely commit violent crimes, become tyrants or start wars……… 

It is one of the characteristics of professors that, whatever the name of their chair, that is the most important subject on earth and the explanation for everything. The thesis in this professor’s new book, which is guaranteed to be a nice little earner, is that the Y chromosome is doomed because of damaging mutations.

Now, ordinary non-specialists might assume that the Y chromosome, like the rest of the genetic material, is subject to the inexorable law of survival of the fittest. If it produces viable individuals it survives, otherwise it does not.  Far from it! For example, all the other theories as to why species became extinct are now passé. What actually happened is that they ran out of males. OK, it is slightly embarrassing that all the new species were descended from the old ones, but no doubt there is an explanation. Furthermore, the purported rapid decline in human male fertility is also down to this cause. Forget that it has also been claimed by other factions, such as the gender-bender chemical brigade. This is the true gospel.

The point being missed is that 20th century technological man repealed the law of survival of the fittest. This applies not only to fertility treatment, as mentioned here, but to a wide range of medical interventions. For the most humane of reasons non-viable individuals are being preserved and permitted to go on to breed. In Britain, a nation where people are queuing interminably for operations with malignant tumours growing inside them, IVF treatment is to be offered free.

These are the seeds of catastrophe. When the great crisis of modern civilisation comes, as come it must, humanity will largely comprise individuals who are non-viable without technological intervention. The disaster, whatever it is, will be compounded manifold.

 

A Classic

This is a letter published in The Times of  August 18th:

Greenhouse gases and climate change

Sir, The scientific consensus worldwide on global warming (letters, August 8 and 15) is represented by the intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose third report points unequivocally to man-made emissions as the cause of climate change.

Global warming is not just a theory. It is an inevitable consequence of releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and depends upon world population, the increasing demand for energy and the burning of forests to free land for cultivation. There may be legitimate doubt about the speed of this process and whether one can attribute a particular freak weather event to the effects of global warming. But nine of the hottest years on record have occurred in the past 12 years (report, August 11), and current temperature trends match predictions precisely.

The scientific journal Nature (July 12, 2001) has likened people who continue to deny the reality of global warming as equivalent to those who deny that HIV causes Aids or that smoking causes lung cancer.

Dissident scientists such as Philip Stott (Thunderer, July 15) provide useful ammunition for those with a vested interest in the unrestricted burning of fossil fuels, but the science of global warming is not so uncertain that remedial action can be delayed indefinitely.

Yours sincerely,
ROBIN RUSSELL-JONES,
Atholl House,
Church Lane, Stoke Poges,
Buckinghamshire SL2 4NZ.
August 15.

For those who are new readers, he is talking about this consensusthis IPCC  and this Nature . It looks as though the editors are beginning to have their doubts about the wisdom of letting the likes of Philip Stott act as court jesters who are licensed to tell the truth. Two anti-Stott diatribes within a week suggest a certain amount of nervousness.

 Fingers in faces

The silly season was in full swing by August 20th. A half page spread in The Times gave an opportunity to print pictures of Hollywood heart-throbs:

A MAN’S hormones might make him look dominant and masculine but they will not make him more attractive to women, British scientists have discovered……

There is something charmingly naïf about a man who believes that there is a connection between what women say and what they do, particularly in sexual matters, but it is a trifle less charming that a major scientific discovery is claimed on the basis of a anecdotal evidence from a sample of 36. It is positively charmless that the results appear in a paper published in The Proceedings of the Royal Society. How are the mighty fallen!

To compound the offence The Times used the occasion to fill up a few gaping column inches with a revisit to the finger farce. It is an interesting feature of media coverage of junk science that, with time, the mays, mights and coulds fade away and the results of tacky small surveys become the received wisdom. The differential length of fingers, like the masculinity of faces, is all down to the exposure to testosterone in the womb. How do they know, have they measured it? It now relates among other things to homosexuality, sperm quality, breast cancer, heart disease, autism, dyslexia and left handedness. They left some out ( see Fingers back in and also Digital distortion, Fingers out, Return of  Finger Man, Return of the finger prince etc.) The permutations of random and accidental correlations are endless.

The genius behind this study, one Nick Neave, an “evolutionary psychologist” at Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, seems to specialise in gleaning great scientific breakthroughs from minuscule samples. He also seems to have a fixation on what young female students find attractive in men. Material for a psychology PhD? Never mind, the public relations department must be cock-a-hoop about half a page in The Times. Thass wot iss all abart init?

Even leading academic institutions like the Metropolitan University of Nether Wallop, however, have to stand back in admiration at the achievements of some of the venerable institutions in the Dark State of Insanity, such as New College.

California dreaming

Back in the early dawn of prehistory (as far as journalists are concerned) i.e June 2003, Number Watch carried a piece entitled The Noble Art of Obfuscation. It contained this paragraph:

Supporters might point to the soaring value of the Euro. Well, all markets are mad and money markets are madder than most. In fact it only serves to compound the German disaster.

On successive days in August (eons later in journalistic terms) The Times business section carried these headlines:

Eurozone in the red as the French economy sinks

Euro hits low as optimism in the UK and US rises

Why was the glaringly obvious so occult as far as the money markets were concerned? The European Central Bank, like generals at the outbreak of a war still fighting the war before, have pursued a continual deflationary policy. European commissioners, not only Mad Margot but all twelve of them, pour out legislation unmoderated by democratic debate, which almost always ends up by imposing more and more costs on the indigenous industry.

They have before them the model of the Dark State of Insanity, which shows how such policies provide a sure road to bankruptcy.

Well, let’s not be negative all the time. Number Watch has two positive policy suggestions. The UK should declare independence from The EU and the USA should declare independence from California.

 Gasp!

We all know that carbon is a carcinogenic agent and, wherever you have smoke, you are actually looking at carbon molecules. And wherever you have carbon molecules and happen to be inhaling them, then there is that chance that you will be doing damage.

Believe it or not, the above statement was made by a carbon-based life form that goes by the name of Dr Jim McDaid, who once ran a medical practice and is now Ireland’s minister of transport.

And what was his target? Not the dreaded tobacco, which that once proudly free race are having perforce withdrawn from public enjoyment by their politically correct masters, but incense. Now admittedly, incense is already in our list of things that give you cancer, but that was as a result of a particularly tacky epidemiological study that emerged two silly seasons ago. Your bending author, after three years of closely examining the extremes of human stupidity and ignorance, believed himself immune to shock, but every now and then there comes along something that is so ineffably crass that it takes one’s breath away.

Withdraws speechless.

On the other hand

Apropos of the remark in Thresholds of insanity above:

Sorry, but it's Szwarc who's in desperate need of debunking. See my rebuttal to her ten-piece "obesity is good for you" series at: http://www.techcentralstation.com/1051/techwrapper.jsp?PID=1051-250&CID=1051-082103B. It expressly addresses this issue. Moreover, I'm rather surprised you let slip her use of the feminist propaganda figure of 150,000 anorexia deaths a year. That was debunked literally nine years ago by Christina Hoff Sommers. The real figure is about 1/1,000th that. In fact, Swarcz's piece is an absolute nightmare of "wrong numbers," as you'll see in my article.
 
Best, 
Michael Fumento
www.fumento.com
Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute
Medical/Science Columnist, Scripps-Howard Syndicate
Join the Fumento Discussion at:
http://lists.cryptohill.net/mailman/subscribe/fumento-discuss

Footnote

Number Watch tends to start out with two hypotheses: first, the Establishment is probably wrong; second, the scare is probably wrong. Here we have two polemics putting opposite points of view.

Here is yet another quotation from Sorry, wrong number!:

The isolated statistic

This is also certainly not one for the amateur. It is based on the principle that, given enough statistics, there is always one that suits the purpose. What makes it problematic is the existence of another principle: for every isolated statistic there exists an equal and opposite isolated statistic. This leads to dialogues such as:

Government spokesman: “Unemployment fell by 1% only last month.”

Opposition spokesman: “But it is still 4% higher than this time last year.”

It takes a great deal of style to win such a debate, but it can be done, and frequently is.

Further comments are welcome (via the forum please).

 The heirs of Sigmund Fraud

Recent research reveals that some psychiatrists are extremely stupid (P<0.001). Some of them think that they can produce significant result from a sample of twenty people.  It also reveals the startling and previously unknown fact that Old People are not an alien race. Ordinary unqualified people, who actually talk to other people, young and old, might suffer from the delusion that they are highly variable, but journalists, being professionals of high integrity, do not believe anything until it has been proven by “the scientists”.

The heirs of John Harvard

Into a Limbo large and broad, since called
The Paradise of Fools, to few unknown.
Paradise lost

Of course, we are not suggesting that psychiatrists have a monopoly on stupidity, especially when there are epidemiologists in the world. Look here, for example.

Impressive Trojan Number (90 655 premenopausal women aged 26 to 46 years in 1991). But just look at the results (RR = 1.25, 95% CI = 0.98 to 1.59; Ptrend = .06).

Conclusions: Intake of animal fat, mainly from red meat and high-fat dairy foods, during premenopausal years is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.

Our man in Puerto Rico wonders whether PETA have something to do with it, but he need look no further than the fact that the magic word Harvard appears no fewer than ten times in the affiliation list.

If there are any readers who cannot see why these numbers are so fatuous, there is further reading in our FAQs.

Wise after the event

Well, two weeks after Number Watch renewed its forecast of power cuts ( see  Power of Magic above) it happened. The headline was Demand for power cut answers. What is the point of demanding answers after the inevitable has happened? Furthermore, this was not the big one, though distressing enough for those caught up in the travel chaos, who included your bending author's sole offspring. It was fortunate that this event occurred at a time of comparatively low demand. If it had occurred in the depths of winter it could have provided the trigger event for a cascade of failures that would envelope the whole country.

It is all the result of yet another incompetent privatisation. The old state controlled system had a statutory duty to maintain the supply, but this was abandoned. What sort of deregulation is it that is controlled by a regulator? Vast swathes of the economy are in the hands of Orwellian sounding regulators, in this case Ofgem. It is wholly preoccupied with the process of driving down prices in the phony market in which punters are encouraged to switch suppliers. They don't switch anything, of course, except the people to whom they pay their bills. The energy still comes from the same generators via the same grid as before. The robustness of the supply system has been demoted in favour of this fantasy game. For a robust network you need maximum interconnectivity (the number of paths between any two nodes) and a margin of excess capacity. Neither of these requirements is fostered by a stupid pseudo-market in which punters are encouraged to keep switching billing firms, who in turn are encouraged to keep undercutting each other.

This is not a trivial point. People are going to die.

Talking of incompetent regulators brings us to:

Number of the month 192

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
That’s the trouble with government. Fixing things that aren’t broken and not fixing things that are broken.
Bert Lance

Until this month 192 was the number you dialled in the UK to get directory enquiries. Now Oftel, the regulator of the deregulated industry, has decreed that, in the sacred name of competition there will be at least a dozen different numbers (six figures beginning with 118). They have actually managed to create  a situation in which it pays suppliers to be inefficient, because instead of a fixed charge you pay by the minute. Hapless telephone number searchers find themselves connected to operators in India or the Philippines, who ply them with inane questions ( such as "Is Buckingham Palace in Buckingham?").

According to the Oftel press release:

For the first time consumers have real choice when calling directory enquiries. They are no longer stuck with the service provided by their network operator – whatever the cost or the level of service provided. 

Trouble is almost nobody wanted a real choice; all they want is to find a telephone number quickly and cheaply, a service they already had until midnight on Sunday 24 August. BT are not even allowed to publicise the new number for their original 192 service (118500). It has been a boon for the media. Whole page adverts, of a remarkable degree of inanity, plaster the newspapers, often based on knocking copy against each other.

There is now a web site called U-switch  that encourages punters to switch suppliers, driving down prices, while simultaneously driving down service.

Footnote (from a regular Number Watcher)

Actually, Oftel had no choice, it was forced on EU member states by an EU Directive, the code 118 has been reserved for many years for DQ by all 43 members of CEPT (Council Europeanne Poste & Telecommunications) and the clowns in Brussels decided for its member states  to roll it out.

Of course, as always, HMG decided to be amongst the first, rather than do what any rational European Government would do, and that is wait to see how not to do it.

In practice, as Caroline Wallace said on TV, it will settle down to a handful of suppliers. Given that hindsight, why did Oftel go for a 6 digit number, rather than a 4 digit number, or at least, make a pragmatic guess at who would survive and allocate the likely survivors 1181XX, 1182XX, 1183XX which would have allowed the XX to be dropped once reality sunk in? The justification for six digits was that considerably more than 100 registered for the ballot, so Oftel had to cater for all comers. 'Struth! several hundred suppliers of DQ? ..I wish the Civil Service would get real.

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