Number of the Month

January  2004

A New Year

Another new year and another honours list. Your bending author mysteriously overlooked again. Could it be that through some inadvertence Number Watch has posted some remark found offensive by the establishment?  Naturally we discount the possibility that they are not regular readers of its content. It is difficult to know what more can be done. After all, last year’s efforts began with a long specially commissioned ode in honour of the Chancer of the Exchequer.

This year’s honours list got more than the usual casual glance, because the deliberations of the bureaucrats responsible for compiling it had been exposed in the latest high-level leak. One of those discarded was Professor Colin Blakemore, who achieved fame back in March 2001 as one of our Professors of Panic. He was a bit miffed because the grounds for overlooking him were based on his involvement with animal experiments – a scant reward for all his dedicated years of self-promotion. He should realise that the senior ranks of the civil service have been penetrated not only by environmental religionists but other extremists or those who pander to them.

The honours system is much changed in Blair’s Britain. The knightage, that modern remnant of ancient chivalry and such legends as Lancelot and Bedevere, now contains not only the usual cohort of time-serving bureaucrats, but also Priapic and raddled rock singers, whom our revered leader finds are personal sources of cultural inspiration that he can recommend to the youth of the nation.

Anyway, a happy and prosperous new year to all our overseas readers. It would be pleasant, but disingenuous to wish the same to their British counterparts. All the signs are that it is going to be characterised by a further grim and unremitting  assault on the traditional liberties of which we were once so proud. This was adumbrated by the year’s first front page banner headline of The TimesInstant fines are the new stealth tax.

The Treasury’s greed for money to prop up Gordon’s Bureaucratic Army has come up against a certain amount of taxpayer resistance, so their latest wheeze is to resort to the sub-legal system. The next day The Sun took up the same story, illustrating it with a tale of an imaginary citizen who, through a series of mishaps runs up instant fines of £880. Among the new fines it lists under the heading Stealth Warning are:

Road Tax

Anyone who is late paying his car tax will now be fined £80 with no right of appeal. Another plank of our precious unwritten constitution airily dismissed. Britons were once innocent until proved guilty.

Speeding

This year more than a million motorists are expected to be fined £60 for being caught by speed cameras. It is quite well established that all but a few speed cameras serve no other purpose than raising income.

Parking

Traffic Wardens, who where Number Watch comes from have the Orwellian title of “Ambassadors”, have been granted draconian new powers to raise funds. The new offences include  having part of a wheel outside a bay and failing to display a permit properly. Drivers also face an increased risk of clamping and tow-away fees.

Stowaways

Lorry drivers unwittingly bringing in illegal immigrants face a fine of £2000. Even if they tip off the authorities, they still get fined.

Congestion charges

The legislation, designed to keep the hoi polloi off the London Streets and make them more convenient for corporate, bureaucratic and political users, involves an automatic £80 fine for drivers who fail to cough up by midnight. This includes many drivers who have never been to London, but have had their number plates misread or cloned.

Holiday Truancy

Parents are to be fined £100 for taking the children on holiday in term time. Some might think that a decent holiday will do kids more good than being stuck in a desultory education system that keeps them for eleven to thirteen years and then turns them out ignorant and uneducated. It also bolsters an outrageous racket by holiday companies whereby they grossly inflate charges during school holidays.

Mobile phones

You can now be fined £60 for using your phone in a car while the engine is running, even if it is stationary.

Late tax return

About one million people will be fined £100 for being late with their tax return. This will not, of course, affect any of the big time tax dodgers, but only the ordinary punters who can’t afford an accountant and are mystified by the opaque and inordinate self-assessment forms.

Driving hazards

Police can now hand out a range of instant fines for such things as forgetting to fasten you seat belt. There is a £60 fine for letting your windscreen wash bottle run dry.

The Sun also mentions offences such as littering and dog-fouling, more difficult to argue against. It is interesting that the newspapers that are most exercised about these infringements of liberty are part of the Murdoch empire, which was largely responsible for installing the New Labour Government in the first place.

Compare and contrast

This was the story that decorated the front page of  The Mail on January 6th.

You might think that the detachment between Treasury-driven Government policy and what is happening in the real world could not be more starkly underlined. Go to page four in the same edition, however, and you find the headline:

Labour ready to unleash the 'super wardens'

It is just another revenue raising-scam that can be made to look as though it is not a tax. Traffic wardens, backed up by a whole range of cameras will now be able to enforce 20 different traffic regulations, imposing fines without appeal. They will have substantial further powers, such as towing your car away and charging you £105 for the privilege. The Treasury already makes about £20 million a year from speed cameras. The new regulations will give the same incentive to local councils as the speed cameras, as they will be permitted to keep a proportion of the take. On page 13 of the same edition an article by Stephen Glover carries the headline:

Society pays a heavy price if ordinary people feel they are being criminalised

This is the nub of the issue. The British, once the most law abiding people in the world see the real criminals getting away with it  time and time again and their victims, if they dare to retaliate, visited with the full force of the law. There is a huge underclass who treat the law and taxation with disdain, while ordinary law-abiding folk are treated as financial milch-cows by a Government consumed with greed for income to finance its bureaucratic army.

And there's more...

Just to reinforce the message, on January 2nd, the Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport wrote an article for The Times that carried the headline:

In your own interest, learn to love the nanny state
It contains many gems of which Orwell would have been proud, summed up by:

So call it the nanny state if you like; I call it the empowering, co-operating state.

All the usual suspects were there - obesity, salt and, of course, the mythical 120,000 deaths from smoking.

Nanny in Oz

Of course, it would be quite wrong to claim a monopoly of  insanity for Britain. Here is a view from down under by number watcher, John Rothwell

Recently I commented to my father in law that all our foods seem to have lost their flavour, this is particularly true of butter and margarine but also extends to many processed foods such as packet soups etc. 

I have always made a point of never buying low salt or low fat varieties as I think the whole debate about salt/fat is a crock anyway, so was very quick to notice when the flavour of my foods subtly changed. 

With this in mind we then set out on a taste test of a variety of foods and to our horror discovered that almost all varieties of butter (for example) now seemed to have almost no salt in them. It seemed to us that since nobody was buying the low salt varieties anyway that the heath (or litigation) conscious manufacturers had subtly reduced the amount of salt in their products, this is after many years of lobbying by government and private health “professionals”. They had simply neglected to inform the buying public about it.

For us the result was quite noticeable as we live in the hot top end of Australia and spend each day sweating buckets and drinking large quantities of pure water (as recommended by these same health “professionals”), it took me a while to connect the muscle spasms and cramps I have been increasingly getting over the last year with a possible lack of salt in my diet. Usually I don’t add salt as supposedly there should be enough in the foods I like, but the cure for the cramps has been to add salt to some of the foods I eat, including buying butter and adding salt to it (it tastes better with some extra salt too).

Not too many years ago (up to the early 1980’s) people living up here took salt tablets, but that is also a big no-no these days.

Australia is in the grip of food, environmental, and politically correct madness at the moment, no fat, no salt, no flavour, no fun. There seems to be a whole raft of highly paid people out there who are deadly sure that someone, somewhere, is enjoying themselves and are determined to put a stop to it for our own good or that of “the environment”.

The ultimate correlation

This is it; the one we have all been waiting for. It was spotted by inveterate number watcher Ian Reid. Yes folks: maternal smoking "causes" childhood obesity. As Ian observes:

I could have told them of this association based on walking around council estates near my home.  It is a measure of how far the climate has changed that anyone should be suggesting causality.  We should next expect a study that smoking causes betting on horse racing, based on a survey of betting shop punters.

But, of course, Ian is not a qualified epidemiologist and probably holds onto quaint notions such as correlation is not causation.

DELUGE!

Anyone who had hoped for a relatively junk free New Year had their hopes dashed by the end of the second week.

Nanny at bath time

God bless mummy. I know that’s right.
Wasn’t it fun in the bath tonight?
The cold’s so cold and the hot’s so hot,
Oh! God bless Daddy - I quite forgot

If I open my fingers a little bit more,
I can see Nanny’s dressing gown on the door.
It’s a beautiful blue but it hasn’t a hood.
Oh! God bless Nanny and make her good!

Vespers, A A Milne

………..

 The first scare of the week was taken up by all the British media. Simon Jenkins summed it up in his opinion column it The Times (January 7th):

Be very afraid of the taps of mass destruction

 

I knew it. Turn my back for half a minute and Tony Blair is into my bathroom pointing at the basin and shrieking. There is terror in the taps, fear in the faucets, panic in the plughole. He orders his Health and Safety Executive stormtroopers to kick down my door and take a sledgehammer to my brass-necked weapons of mass destruction. They constitute a major and imminent threat. 

Mr Blair, fountainhead of global safety, has added water taps to the hierarchy of terrors facing the British people. Intelligence dossiers tell him what he most dreads, the water can sometimes run too hot. In future mixer-taps are to be compulsory. Nor can the British people be trusted to turn on the cold before the hot. These potentially lethal weapons must have compulsory thermostatic controls. Any Briton caught turning on hot before cold will in future be committing an offence — and we know what that means these days. ………

Nanny at meal times

The obesity campaign is now going full tilt. Stories appeared daily. Two typical stories appeared in the Daily Telegraph of January 6th:

Girls blame mothers for worries over weight

Healthy eating drive in schools is too limited

 There were more, but what the hell!

Go for it Nige!

And thus the native hue of resolution
 Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
 And enterprises of great pitch and moment
 With this regard their currents turn awry
 And lose the name of action.
Hamlet

 Back in April 2003 Number Watch savoured this quotation from Nigel (thousands to die) Hawkes.

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.

Regular number watchers need not be alarmed, however, for as we saw only last month, our Nigel is still up to form. A short portmanteau column in The Times of January 7th covers two stories. The first is from Japan and shows that salt “causes” stomach cancer or as the Times headline has it Salty diet doubles risk of stomach cancer. Nice Trojan Numbers (18,684 men and 20,381 women) but the actual numbers of cases were 358 men and 128 women (masculinity trebles the rate of stomach cancer!)

Going to the abstract of the actual paper, we find an interesting opening sentence: Evidence on the association between salt intake and gastric cancer is sparse, especially in prospective studies.

Well, it is still sparse. The cases were divided up into quintiles according to anecdotal evidence of salt intake, so the numbers per quintile are on average down to 72 and 26 respectively, but presumably the upper a lower quintiles contain considerably fewer. As we know, when calculating trends these are the only ones that matter. Anyway, they end up calculating “p for trend” as <0.001 for men and =0.48 for women (after adjusting for potential confounding factors). Last October Number Watch asked “What on earth does p for trend mean?” It would be a great boon to your bending author if someone could explain how it is calculated. All in all, a relative risk of 2 based on anecdotal evidence seems to point to the usual epidemiological dross.

Nigel’s second story is about, wait for it, smoking. Apparently it now plays a larger role in the development of breast cancer than previously thought. Trojan Number 160,000 (could this be a certain well known data dredge?) relative risk 1.3. Enough said.

It was, however, on the eighth that the junk really hit the fan.

 Why are there so many fat people still alive?

Obesity blamed for 15,000 jump in cancer cases was the headline in The Times. The scaremongers have now become so arrogant that they do not even bother to offer any evidence (even epidemiology): likewise the Telegraph version. The only reference in the body of the story is “soaring rates of obesity could be to blame for the increase in cancer of the uterus”. How they love to link two of their bêtes noires! See The ultimate correlation above. Cancer statistics, like any other random signal, vary. Some go up and some go down, though in general there will be an increase because people are not dying of other causes.

Nature adores a vacuum

The big one of the week however emerged from the IPCC propaganda machine. Virtually every newspaper carried a long article with dramatic graphics. Wildlife begins to feel the heat of global warming yelled The Times, a million species could be extinct in 50 years. Even the conservative Daily Telegraph had Wildlife in peril around the world. Clearly the IPCC and its myrmidons around the world have decided on their strategy following the debunking of the “hockey stick”. They are just going to ignore it, and make the lies bigger than ever.

From the early days of Number Watch, we have mourned the decline of that once great scientific journal, Nature. Even a decade ago a paper such as the one that gave rise to this orgy of scare mongering would have been rejected by referees.  A good account of the reasoning for such a rejection is given by Ian Murray, without needing to point out the mythical nature of the global warming threat. Oldies of the scientific world would remember their first publication in Nature with pride (for your bending author it was June 12th 1965) but no more. We remember instead fiascos like The smart money is on global warming in November 2001. There was never any apology or correction, as would happen in any real scientific journal, when their claims about the Nenana ice classic were damned by subsequent history. They simply forgot it and moved onto other proxies.

Again, it was Simon Jenkins in The Times (January 9th) who intruded a bit of common sense:

I was once sent as a young reporter to cover a conference on “the next ice age”. It was sensational. Scientists were predicting that the current “holocene interglacial period” was drawing to a close. Within 10,000 years changes in the Earth’s orbit and axial spin would shift the Gulf Stream. This would plunge the northern landmass into ice and lead to a “massacre of species”. It was a great headline. 

Science changes but not headlines. Fear of freezing has become fear of frying. Yesterday a hysteria of scientists predicted that a million species, a quarter of all animals and plants, “could be threatened with extinction” by 2050. “Advanced computers” suggested that something called “action”, presumably involving scientists, might save “up to half” these species, though even the survivors “may” be at risk from “ unspecified threats”. 

Jenkins, proudly innumerate, deduced the poverty of the argument from the verbiage:

Whenever I see the words “up to” or “may” or “under threat” I smell dodgy science. All attempts to alter the essentially chaotic Earth climate are futile and hubristic. Kyoto was a religious treaty not a scientific one. The world’s weather changes by the century. Only forecasts change by the year. One thing alone is certain. There are no grants and no conference tickets in failing to predict the end of the world. When the Danish scientist, Bjorn Lomborg, attacked the merchants of doom his professional colleagues declared him guilty of “scientific dishonesty”. 

Seasoned number watchers might be reminded of the outbreak of MMC disease in May 2001.

 

By the ninth, the scare machine was really cooking with gas.

Another man's poisson

Scottish salmon is full of cancer toxins screamed The Daily Telegraph and that was one of the milder headlines. The three inch high front page headline in the Daily Mail advised only eating salmon once every four months. This is a hoary old scare, which was originally the copyright of Salmon Woman (Miriam Jacobs of Surrey university) back in January 2001, but the scaremongers are no respecters of priority. It has run again and again (see, for example play it again salmon). Of course, it depends on the concentration fallacy and all the old usual suspects such as dioxins, which, as we weary of saying, cause nothing in humans other than the skin condition chloracne.

Bad medicine

Still on the ninth we have Regular aspirin use linked to cancer cases in The Times. Aspirin linked to cancer in women was the Telegraph headline, though of course it appeared everywhere else. You guessed it, it’s those bloody Harvard nurses again. Relative risks of 1.58 and 1.86 in a data dredge, i.e. junk.

Spring fever

Still on the ninth and back to the propaganda. January’s just a few days old and nature thinks its spring was the version in the Telegraph, but everyone else had it. It appears to emanate from a press release issued by the centre for ecology and hydrology at the University of Cambridge. It is just another global warming proxy scam based on the extreme value fallacy. Also, of course, it ignores the Little Ice Age:

"We are in a period where records are broken constantly," Dr Sparks said. "The 1990s was the warmest decade on record and plants and animals have responded. It is undoubted that we have entered a phase of climate change."

This particular scam, however, has a new angle. They are recruiting ordinary punters to seek out the extremal proxies, which will guarantee a rich harvest. In a new programme launched by the ironically titled British Association for the Advancement of Science and the Woodland Trust, people will be encouraged to report seasonal indicators (but only, of course, those that are in the right direction). It would be bootless to advise them, for example, that the Blackmore Vale last year had both the hardest frost (-10ºC) and the earliest frost (September 22nd) in living memory. If the Woodland Trust sounds vaguely familiar to seasoned number watchers, go to March 2001 and scroll down to the advertisement. Various species have always been caught out by an unseasonal warm period after a cold spell. There was one occasion in the eighties in Hampshire when thousands of frogs died under the ice after they had been duped into trying an early mating season.

Equally the name of Professor David King might sound familiar. Well, back in December 2002 one of the citations for a Numby award read thus:

In a flashback to last year’s Number of the Year, the annual trophy for Chutzpah goes to Professor David King, the UK Government Chief Scientific Adviser, who described the handling of last year’s foot-and-mouth epidemic as “quite an achievement . . . a magnificent record”. He told the BBC Today programme that securing Britain’s status as an FMD-free country was a cause for “celebration”. Members of the European Parliament took rather a different view.

Anyway, the good professor surfaced again on the ninth. US global warming delay worse that al Qaeda bawled The Times headline. The Telegraph more modestly appended the story to the early spring fantasy story above:

Tony Blair's chief scientific adviser says that climate change is a more serious threat than terrorism.

In Science magazine today, Sir David King accuses America of failing to take global warming seriously. As a consequence of the phenomenon, he says, "millions more people around the world may in future be exposed to the risk of hunger, drought, flooding and diseases such as malaria".

What can one say, while straining to adhere to a code of temperate language? A self-proven, disastrously incompetent failure (no, not the Great Leader himself, on this occasion) is let out on the world stage to direct his buffoonery at the very people who have saved the world from the economic catastrophe that he and his coreligionists have sought to foist on it.

Small balls

Still on the ninth, we have Cancer fears spark call for nanoscience safety rules in The Times. The neo-Luddites have changed their tack. Now they think that nano- particles might cause disease. Could it be something to do with the adjacent headline Grey Goo just fiction?  Sounds familiar, could it be here? No data, no mechanisms, just “fears”.

Believe it or not the above are just a few of the junk stories propagated during the week in question, but weariness of body and spirit overtake your bending author and enough is enough.

Pay now, buy later

Number Watch appears to have been taken up by the anti-vegan community. Let us hope that they have the sense to join PERV, as your bending author is in need of a nice little earner.

Hail the heroine, again!

Three years ago (February 2001) Number Watch had the headline Hail the Heroine. It was about Melanie Philips, who was then a columnist in the Sunday Times. On half a dozen subsequent occasions there had been cause to renew the salutation, though she had moved to the Daily Mail, more of a haven from Political Correctness. Now she has taken on the Chief Buffoon to the British Government, SIR David King (see Spring fever above) in an article on The global warming scam. Number watchers will be familiar with the sentiment of her opening paragraph:

The British government's chief scientific adviser, Sir David King, has said that global warming is a more serious threat to the world than terrorism. His remarks are utter balderdash from start to finish and illustrate the truly lamentable decline of science into ideological propaganda.

The rest of the article is as concise a summary of the scare as you would wish to read. The position is substantially strengthened by the nature of the responses from opponents. There is one called Mike who ends a masterly illustration of the vacuity of ad hominem attacks with this:

Its true, on the issue of global warming opinion is divided.
The entire scientific world accepts it as a reality and these people do not, Philip Stott, Matt Ridley, Pat Michaels, David Wojick, and Melanie Philips.

The Number Watch summary of the evidence is given here with references.

Proud to be British

In a week in which it is announced that the British Navy is smaller than that of France for the first time in many centuries and that the most noted current military hero is resigning from the British Army in protest about the dwindling support from the Government, how is it possible to find something for which it is still possible to be proud to be British. Well you can see it on the front page of The Times of  January 13. It is neatly summarised by the headline:

Salmon scare? Ah yes! That's a thought for lunch.

Several outlets have reported a substantial increase in sales of salmon since the scare (see Another man's poisson, above) including 20% at Asda. Despite the enervating effect of two terms of New Labour Government, the spirit of the people who stood alone against tyranny over sixty years ago is still not crushed.

3D Animated Flags--By 3DFlags.com

Now there’s a funny thing

We have become used to The Times fiddling the data in its ratchet reporting of the weather to support the global warming myth, but a little piece in the People column by Andrew Pierce on page 6 for January 16, could easily have been missed.

Now apparently the people of New Hampshire do not know this and in their state of delusion are producing headlines such as New Hampshire is too cold even for ice and Brrrr: Cold air puts New England in deep freeze

The poor deluded fools think that the coldest spot in New England was New Hampshire's Mount Washington, where the temperature dipped to a record 44 below with a wind chill of minus 100. 

Last year we reported, thanks to regular bulletins from Miceal O’Ronain, the progress of the savage winter in North America and elsewhere that was largely ignored by the ratchet reporters in Britain. Remember Miceal's placard from last February? What do we want? Global Warming! When do we want it? Now!

Lovers of Science Fantasy will enjoy Gore’s contribution, especially the tribute to Carol Browner, who was responsible for elevating statistical fraud into an engine of state policy. It is also available in glorious multi-media coverage.

Apparently, the likes of your bending author are now branded as wealthy right-wing ideologues who have joined with the most cynical and irresponsible companies in the oil, coal and mining industries to contribute large sums of money to finance pseudo-scientific front groups that specialize in sowing confusion in the public’s mind about global warming. They issue one misleading “report” after another, pretending that there is significant disagreement in the legitimate scientific community in areas where there is actually a broad-based consensus.

Something seems to have gone wrong somewhere, so if the energy companies and the tobacco industry would like to rectify matters, they can send large cheques to the Number Watch Cayman Island account, as it is getting a little difficult to live on a modest university pension with all the new stealth taxes. Still it is comforting to know that Gore is in a similar position and not, as we were led to believe, heir to a substantial tobacco fortune. As to the broad-based consensus, see our tenth fact about global warming.

Correspondence received

More about thighs.

Number of the month 4.2 billion

It looked like a misprint when Bizarre Science  published the figure of $4.2 billion as the annual payment by the American state to the global warming industry, but there it is in the original article by Patrick J Michaels of the Cato Institute. If authentic, it is a truly staggering figure. It is hardly surprising that the "scientists" are determined to keep this gravy train rolling, or that their trade papers such as Science and Nature weigh in so heavily with propaganda to prop up the ailing theory.

Back in the scientific age, which died in the eighties, it would have seemed inconceivable that such resources should be poured into supporting a discredited hypothesis, such a process being the very antithesis of the scientific method as laid down by the likes of Karl Popper

The real tragedy behind all this is that such an enormous sum of money should be diverted away from the funding of real science.

Time for one of our periodic repeats of the laws established  by Nobel Laureate Irving Langmuir, who formulated them to provide a means of identifying bad science. It is truly astonishing how often they apply.

1.The maximum effect that is observed is produced by a causative agent of barely detectable intensity, and the magnitude of the effect is substantially independent of the intensity of the cause.

2.The effect is of a magnitude that remains close to the limit of detectability, or many measurements are necessary because of the low level of significance of the results.

3.There are claims of great accuracy.

4.Fantastic theories contrary to experience are suggested.

5.Criticisms are met by ad hoc excuses thought up on the spur of the moment.

6.The ratio of supporters to critics rises to somewhere near 50% and then falls gradually to zero.

 

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