Number of the Month
The BMA today called for the banning of potatoes after new research revealed that the effects of eating them and other vegetables such as aubergines have been underestimated.
That should have been the headline and story , but the actual one was Passive smoking risks greater. Well, there’s a surprise. After their Orwellian rewrite of Sir Austin Bradford Hill’s criteria for a well conducted epidemiological study (see the Big Liars), it was clear that the anti-smoking zealots at the BMA would stop at nothing in their campaign to ban smoking in public places. This time they resorted to the cotinine scam. Cotinine is a substance formed in the metabolisation of nicotine. Nicotine is a natural constituent of plants of the family solonaceae (aubergines, potatoes, capsicum, tomatoes, tobacco, deadly nightshade etc.) The story, as it was designed to, made headlines in virtually every British newspaper. Not only was it the usual epidemiological rubbish (relative risk 1.5) but it relied on the fatuous claim that the tiny amounts of nicotine absorbed by passive smoking could compare what comes with the normal diet.
The need for a ban on smoking in public places in the UK has never been better illustrated than by this potentially pivotal study.
This was the quote from zealot Dr Tim Bowker, while Mr Ian Willmore, head of communications at Action on Smoking and Health, added:
"If you regularly breathe in other people's smoke at
home or at work your chances of getting heart disease may rise by more
than a half.
"This is a much bigger increase in risk than was previously thought - and the difference with previous estimates seems mainly due to smoking in the workplace.
"It is time for the
tobacco industry and its front organisations to stop pretending that second-hand
smoke is harmless. And it is time for the Government to accept the need for a
new law to end smoking in the workplace," he said.
One of the most remarkable features of these campaigns is the pusillanimous reaction of the opposition. A spokesman from the smoker's lobby group Forest said the jury was still out on whether passive smoking kills.
Likewise, the food industry has caved in under the nonsensical onslaught from the salt zealots. Bakers take a grain of salt out of a sliced load was the headline on the front page of The Times of July 1st. This after being savaged by Government ministers who have been subjected to a barrage of empty propaganda from the salt SIFs. When you look at the evidence with old-fashioned scientific detachment it is clear that salt is as harmless as passive smoking.
Seasoned number watchers will have smelled a rat when they saw this BBC headline:
Early vitamin use link to asthma
Children who take multivitamins may be at a greater risk of developing asthma and food allergies, research suggests.
Sure enough, the coverage has all the hallmarks of a classic piece of junk epidemiology:
Researchers from the Children's National Medical Center in Washington say the reason for the apparent link is unclear.
They believe vitamins may cause cell changes that increase the odds of an allergic reaction, but say as yet there is no proof this is the case.
Asthma UK agreed that further research was required.
The only number given is the Trojan Number of 8,000 children in the study. If you go to the source paper however you will find that the relative risk quoted is a pathetic 1.27 (readers of Sorry, wrong number! might recall that Headline Man achieved 1.63 on the basis of no effect at all). Will this cascade of nonsense never cease?
Move over Laurel and Hardy. There is a new double act rocking them in the aisles. Michael Meacher and John Selwyn Gummer have joined forces. Strange bedfellows you might think; a Conservative and a Socialist reading from the same hymn sheet and in that same temple of irrational fear, the Guardian. Not very good timing, with the notorious hockey stick exposed as a double fraud, but with typical élan they simply ignore the facts and plough on with the fantasy. There is, of course, a subtle difference in the motivation. The socialist simply wishes to dismantle British industry out of pure political zeal and reveals himself to be a complete buffoon who thinks, for example, that El Niño is a hurricane and (of course) it is getting worse. The Conservative is much more entrepreneurial. They are extraordinary caricatures of their own stereotypes; the lefty tearing things down out of pure zealotry and the righty quietly lining his own pockets.
Time to correct an omission from our vocabulary.
Talking about self caricature, the last three paragraphs in this piece from the BBC about solar activity and global warming take some beating. Talk about clutching at straws!
Before our man in Puerto Rico begins to complain that his author is not bending enough, be it known that said author has been beset by the condition of chronic neck pain, possibly triggered by poring over the proofs of a certain scabrous book. In addition to the usual bloodletting, purges, leaches and general mortification of the flesh, the medicos have decreed a substantial reduction of screen-gazing. Frustrating that it should happen at a time when other pains in the neck have been so active.
The one in thirty million of the world population who have read the chapter entitled Holocaust in the said book, The Epidemiologists, or those who followed the saga of the slaughter of eight million mostly healthy animals from the onset, see our number of the month of February 2001, to the dénouement summarised in November 2001, will recognise the name of Professor Roy Anderson, the epidemiologist whose killer computers were so instrumental in achieving the total. He it was who claimed that one million animals and four hundred farms could have been saved it his policy had been fully enforced.
For those who are anxious to know how his efforts were rewarded, this from Christopher Booker:
The Prime Minister, it seems, is not the only Houdini who has a miraculous knack of emerging unscathed from any fiasco for which he was responsible. Tony Blair has appointed as "Chief Scientist" to the Ministry of Defence none other than Prof Roy Anderson of Imperial College, in succession to Prof Sir Keith O'Nions (a name which seems to have escaped from Private Eye).
It seems that Prof Anderson's chief qualification for his new post (at "Permanent Secretary grade", worth between £118,000 and £250,000 a year) was the help he gave Mr Blair in 2001 as his chief scientific adviser on the foot and mouth epidemic. The professor - who had left Oxford University under a cloud the previous year - had no experience of animal disease, being a specialist in the mathematical modelling of human diseases such as Aids. But this did not prevent him becoming chief architect of the "pre-emptive cull" policy, under which some nine million healthy animals were slaughtered (illegally - since the 1981 Animal Health Act gave the Government no powers to kill animals unless they had been directly exposed to infection).
Quite how the ability to simulate Aids epidemics on a computer, or to mastermind the slaughter of millions of healthy animals, will qualify Prof Anderson to advise the Ministry of Defence on weapons of mass destruction is not immediately clear.
Mr Blair, of course, was careful to ensure, after the foot and mouth crisis, that none of the three enquiries he set up would find anyone responsible for all those catastrophic blunders. Since the two men most to blame for the handling of the epidemic were the Prime Minister and his chief scientific adviser, Mr Blair obviously recognises in the professor a fellow survivor. I am sure he will be well worth his £250,000 a year.
The chief scientific advisor was, of course, Professor David King, well known to number watchers and a Numby Laureate, who described the holocaust as “quite an achievement…a magnificent record.” He it was who also declared that climate change is more of a threat than terrorism, in the week of the Madrid bombing. Professor King was recently sent off to Moscow to try to flog his eco-fantasies to the Russians. Some people think that his beliefs stem from his position, but in fact he has his position because he is a believer.
After the whitewash of the first inquiry into the WMD fiasco we have now had the second one, the Butler report. Apparently grievous sins were committed but there were no sinners. Those accustomed to reading between the lines in bland official jargon will perceive a devastating condemnation of the Prime Minister’s style of sofa Government. There is no paper trail to give the game away and instructions can be issued as casual remarks (Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?) that can easily be denied. A thousand years of struggle to arrive at a constitution free of the whims of absolute monarchy have suddenly been brought back to square one.
It is particularly hard for those of us of the sceptical persuasion to admit that we have been conned. Your bending author has been seriously conned twice in recent decades by politicians. The first time was over the EU and the second was over WMD. Apologies are due to Hans Blix. He is still a buffoon (“I'm more worried about global warming than I am of any major military conflict.”) but he is not guilty of dereliction of duty over WMD. No doubt Professor Anderson will be able to generate them on his computer and save the face of everyone.
It is quite clear that the hapless BBC reporter and the two multimillionaire New Labour Cronies who lost their jobs running that august organisation are completely vindicated.
I am beginning to doubt my own sanity and it is causing me some alarm. I have just written a piece that points out that the innocent and accurate are punished and the mendacious and incompetent are rewarded beyond the dreams of avarice (well mine, anyway). I realise that this is not an unusual circumstance in the modern world but what I find difficult to cope with is the fact that the world at large seems to accept this without demur. Am I going mad?
Anyway, back to where are they now? The first ever Numby laureate was Dr David Viner. He is still at the CRU and still propaganding, but now paddling in dangerous waters. The Sunday Telegraph did a piece The truth about global warming about the fact that someone has noticed recent the increase in solar activity. Dr Viner is quoted as saying that the sun did have an effect on global warming. Of course, he hurriedly added caveats and buts. Dr Gareth Jones, another well known propagandist criticised the research saying "The Sun's radiance may well have an impact on climate change but it needs to be looked at in conjunction with other factors such as greenhouse gases, sulphate aerosols and volcano activity." Suddenly volcanoes matter! Before, everything was down to the risibly small concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Is panic setting in?
Anyway, what's new? followers of our links will be familiar with this graph.
In just seven days I will make you a man
They offer self-replicating robots, and what do they deliver? Balls! Now, it is clearly a difficult concept that there is a subtle difference between a spherical globule of inert matter and a machine capable of reproducing its own kind, well rather hard for the likes of “scientific” journalists and heirs to the throne, but the new attempt to raise a scare from nanotechnology falls a bit short of the horrors promised only a few months ago. They seem to be retreating from grey goo, but the new attempt to raise this particular spectre is a classical example of argumentum ad ignorantiam.
It all brings a sense of déjà vu to your bending author for, as described in a piece called then and now, one of his earliest challenges was to see off a theory that everything in a particular branch of physics could be ascribed to sub-micron particles. For anyone with a yen for probing into the recesses of the prehistory of science, the work can be found reported in Nature Vol 263, No 5580, pp757-758. October 28, 1976. It might look primitive now, but in its time it was pretty hot stuff, measurement-wise. Three decades ago Nature was the pre-eminent journal of science in which publication was a source of pride, rather than the religious tract into which it has now descended, an embarrassment to all who revere the purity of science.
Anyway, the point is that creating a load of balls, whether they are very large or very small, hardly constitutes a technology. Of course, the key word in generating a modern scare is food. So that is why the Independent seized upon the headline Hundreds of firms using nanotech in food. It is all there, particularly the soon-to-be-classic myth that “Nanotechnology, which is set to revolutionise industry and everyday life, deals with particles so small the laws of physics no longer apply.”
There was a chap called Albert Einstein, who wrote a little paper on the photo-electric effect and thereby created a new branch of science called quantum physics. Incidentally, that little paper earned him a Nobel Prize. The laws of physics have incorporated quantum effects for a century. It is not only absurd to claim that the laws of physics do not apply at nanometre dimensions; it is quantum physics that makes them so interesting.
As far as food is concerned, however, Einstein has nothing to say. Whether the food particles are single molecules or gobbets, they are all equal in the sight of the digestive juices, which reduce them to their constituent components to be reassembled, as the body requires.
Nanometre structures are only scientifically interesting when they are structures. Well-known quantum effects, such as tunnelling, then become important and possibly exploitable. A live prawn is an interesting structure, but in the stomach it is just a lump of stuff to be dismantled.
Talking of our man in Puerto Rico, he suggested a search of your bending author's name at www.amazon.com might produce a surprise. It certainly did! It appears that Sorry, wrong number! is available to punters in the States for a modest $135.31. That is a mark up of just under 700%. Considering that it is available from this site at the cover price and a 50% discount on postage and packaging and also from www.amazon.co.uk at the cover price, this must stand as a testament to the good old American entrepreneurship that we Brits can only dream of.
There is no point in bleating about hostile reviews, but when Sorry, wrong number! received its first one on the pages of Amazon UK, it brought back memories of how the book came about. As an exercise in self therapy, your bending author wrote an account of it, which can be found here.
In a midday presentation on July 28th the BBC broadcast a television programme called Global Warning (the first of three). It was possibly the most one-sided piece of blatant propaganda that has ever been transmitted in Britain in time of peace. It presented the global warming myth as an unmitigated horror story. There was not one reasonable balanced statement in the whole farrago. Outrageous lies were presented as facts (carbon dioxide is the commonest greenhouse gas, the atmosphere acts as a blanket, scientists overwhelmingly agree etc.) The two “experts” were SIR Crispin Tickell, who is credited with inventing the whole scam, and SIR David King, who is challenging for Michael Meacher’s title as the most embarrassing Briton. His latest escapade was to flounce out of an international conference like some overblown Prima Donna, because the organisers refused to censor contributions from reasoned opposition, even after sustained bullying by the Foreign Secretary. This man has the audacity to call himself a scientist. He puts his cards on the table by calling the Government “We”.
When you consider the comprehensive way in which the “evidence” for the global warming hypothesis has been blown out of the water by recent genuine scientific analysis, it all takes on the quality of a mediaeval nightmare, like The Inquisition.
Out rolled the doom-laden claims – more floods, droughts, forest fires, sunburn, drowning Maldives (do the sums, it is the calculus of extinction), Earth losing the battle with its polluted environment, the USA is in a state of denial (but China is quite innocent!). We had other old favourites , such as the Hadley super computer and the egregious David Viner (see Back to the plot above). He earned a holiday on the Spanish beaches for a ten second cameo; for this was a lavish production. Quite unnecessarily it was presented live from the Gobi Desert, Greenland (forgetting, of course, the fertile time of Eric the Red in the Mediaeval Warm Period), Alaska etc. Shrinking Glaciers, run-of-the-mill erosion and other random events were all ascribed to the dreaded carbon dioxide. Let us forget the fact that it is essential to life on Earth, like the Greenhouse Effect.
Lord Reith, the illustrious creator of the finest broadcasting organisation in the world, must be, as the cliché has it, spinning in his grave.
As always, Britain has finally succumbed and adopted American Usage. Americans have little eccentricities with numbers (like putting the least significant component of the date in the middle) and the world is obliged to conform because of their economic and cultural power. The Latin prefixes bi- and tri- used to indicate the power of one million, but now they bear no logical relationship to the number. The powers of ten, of course, take on a special cultural significance because of the evolutionary accident that man developed five digits on each limb. The media will ignore some number, however important, until it crosses some decimal threshold, when they suddenly get excited about it. The number this month was the estimated personal debt for June, which crossed one of these magic thresholds and reached a total of £1,004 billion. There is a great deal of complacency in official circles about all this. From The Times, July 29th:
Hilary Cook, the Barclays investment strategy director, said that the £1,000 billion figure was not as "scary" as it seemed.
“We are borrowing against assets which have gone up massively, interest rates are still relatively low and we all have jobs," she said.
John Healey, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, said: “Because inflation and interest rates are at historic lows, debt interest repayments as a percentage of household income are now half the level of the early 1990s."
The great danger that official economists chose to ignore is that such a level of debt provides a potent positive feedback mechanism, which can lead to a catastrophic instability. We are invited to believe that the economy is in an unusually healthy state, but this is all based on personal and national borrowing and a burgeoning public sector. In the private sector, only the financial centre of the City of London is coining money on a large scale and the participants are rewarding themselves accordingly, but real industry, the only true wealth generator, is in continual decline.
Britain is not, of course, unique in these respects. The economic system is as complicated as a system can be, because it involves human reactions and is therefore highly non-linear. At any moment the occurrence is possible of what has become known (pretentiously and not very sound etymologically) as a paradigm shift. The traditional cure of edging up interest rates carries the risk of crossing a threshold at which human perceptions change. People stop spending and start defaulting, banks stop lending and the economy goes into a nosedive. Every government claims that it has put a stop to boom and bust. Every government, if it survives long enough, finds that it has not.
Number Watch can, of course, be criticised for saying all this long ago (in fact exactly three years) and no disaster has occurred. The present government’s gamble is that it can keep all the balls in the air until the approaching election. In July 2001 Number Watch said:
The headline in the Sunday Times (July 8th) tells us Brown warns of further world trade slow down. Ministers are of course completely different people before and after an election, but the switch from unjustified euphoria to realistic gloom is unusually dramatic.
The government likes to preach about sustainability. Well, this ain’t it!
For definitions of recession and recover see our vocabulary.