Number of the Month

January   2005

Full Circle

And I a oille hym by the auctoritee 
Which by bulle ygraunted was to me 
By this gaude haue I wonne yeer by yeer 
An hundred mark sith I was Pardoner
Geoffrey Chaucer


The scientific age flourished for a mere two centuries. Now it is all over and religion has taken its rightful place as the controller of human society. The difference is that gods have been replaced by the new eco-theocratic religion. Chaucer’s Pardoner earned one hundred marks a year by selling indulgences, worthless pieces of paper, relics and other valueless items to credulous believers in the religion of the day. Now we have carbon trading, in which new worthless pieces of paper are sold for millions of pounds. It is not, however, the ordinary punters who are now the credulous dupes, but the National Government. The wily Russians have signed up to Kyoto, though they have made it quite clear that they know it is based on false science, because they also know they can make a killing in trading goods that are no more substantial than the emperor’s new clothes. It is astonishing that this should all be happening on the centenary of Albert Einstein’s annus mirabilis, when he brought the temple of staid nineteenth century physics crashing down with four simple papers and created the modern technological world that we all so easily take for granted. If you won’t read the papers, admire the stunts. Four centuries ago, Galileo was languishing under house arrest and the constant threat of torture for daring to question the astronomical teachings of the church. Today the editor of Nature, until quite recently the greatest of all scientific journals, jumps through hoops to avoid publishing criticism of the so-called Hockey Stick, which is the modern equivalent of the geocentric theory of cosmology. The censorship of non-believers in the popular and scientific media is almost total.

The cost of buying these new indulgences is enormous. The Times business section in a piece headed CO2 trading threatens to suffocate UK industry  MANUFACTURERS will face extra costs of £1.8 billion from the soaring price of energy this year, with £600 million of that due to the latest anti-pollution initiative — emissions trading — which came into force at the weekend.

The naïf British Government still do not realise that they were hoaxed with the original agreement. This is the age of government by the professional politician. In Britain, none of them (except for Old Two Jags) has ever done a proper job and they have no idea as to how industry functions or how wealth is created. Parts of British industry are getting into serious trouble and the ordinary punters are getting restless about the steeply rising costs of energy. Carbon dioxide, a compound essential to the existence of life on Earth, is vilified as "pollution".

The whole problem boils down to the existence of belief:

"The improver of natural knowledge absolutely refuses to acknowledge authority, as such. For him, scepticism is the highest of duties; blind faith the one unpardonable sin."
Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895)

Physicists of the nineteenth century had fallen into the trap of believing, so the whole science became a frozen unchanging edifice. Then Einstein and his contemporaries came along and shot the whole thing to pieces. More recently Karl Popper restored the tradition of scepticism imbued by the likes of Bacon, Locke and Hume and put the scientific method on a sound philosophical footing. It all started to go wrong again in about 1982, when science became recognised as a useful tool for politicians and bureaucrats and a source of good scare stories by the popular media, which all resulted in science losing its independence.

Now, we actually have scientists parading their beliefs in the popular media. The Daily Telegraph adopts the oxymoronic headline Science’s scourge of believers declares faith in Darwin. It was, of course, Richard Dawkins, who frequently and publicly parades his faith in atheism. As a man, he is entitled to believe in fairies at the bottom of the garden if he wishes, but as a scientist he is not entitled to believe in anything. We accept evolution as the least bad and most practicable theory available for the origin of species, until a better one comes along. In so far as it is testable, we continually put it to the test.

All this was in answer to a question put by the web site Edge, which posed the question “What do you believe is true that you cannot prove?”

Sir Martin Rees, Scaremonger Royal was, naturally, to the fore, neatly disposing of the laws of physics. He is of the White Queen’s persuasion

"I can't believe that!" said Alice.

"Can't you?" the queen said in a pitying tone. "Try again, draw a long breath, and shut your eyes."

Alice laughed. "There's no use trying," she said. "One can't believe impossible things."

"I dare say you haven't had much practice," said the queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

Next we have the inevitable global warmer, one Stephen Schneider, and if you go to the web site over 100 eager respondents to the loaded question.

In a mere couple of decades, science has been turned on its head. We now have whole richly endowed academic departments whose function is not to perform research but to generate “evidence” favouring theories promoted by eco-theologians in government and bureaucracy. If you have been given millions of dollars to investigate fairies at the bottom of the garden, and have created a large department with mouths to feed, are you going to turn round and say “There aren’t any”?

Here we go, here we go, here we go again

The source: The Times Friday January 7th

The headline: HRT causes alarming rise in fatal stroke risk

The author: Nigel Hawkes

The relative risk: 1.29

<material removed>


 Here we go, here we go, here we go again, again

It is unfortunate that the editor of The Times did not attempt his own crossword before deciding on the front-page splash headline Mobile phones tumour risk to young children. The clue to 1 across was Account in newspaper should be this (4) (hint: the Financial Times is known by its initials). One of the most vacuous scares for some time was taken up with enthusiasm by the media. Don’t allow under-9s to use a mobile yelled the Daily Telegraph. The heading of the Telegraph editorial was rather nearer the truth, Telegraph | Opinion | A professional fusspot, but the content did not quite live up to it. The Daily Mail not only splashed the story but had a full page article haranguing the government for not acting on it (plus, for a bonus, a veritable junkfest under the heading Shocking ignorance over cancer risks). The scare was, of course dreamt up by those professional professors of panic and the precautionary principle, who have inveigled their way onto a committee for which their qualifications are uncertain.

The Times article was by Ol’ Thousan’s himself plus a full supporting cast of two; hence the deathless scientific prose (emphasis added):

In his report, Mobile Phones and Health, Sir William said that four studies have caused concern. One ten-year study in Sweden suggests that heavy mobile users are more prone to non-malignant tumours in the ear and brain while a Dutch study had suggested changes in cognitive function. A German study has hinted at an increase in cancer around base stations, while a project supported by the EU had shown evidence of cell damage from fields typical of those of mobile phones. 

“All of these studies have yet to be replicated and are of varying quality but we can’t dismiss them out of hand,” Sir William said. If there was a health risk — which remained unproven — it would have a greater effect on the young than on older people, he added.

The “evidence” from Sweden was the junk we dealt with last October. It is unmitigated statistical nonsense (i.e. epidemiology).

 So what Sir William is saying in effect is "We have no evidence, but we will scare you rigid, anyway."



Do you wish your child to grow up according to the precautionary principle?

If so, just adhere to these simple rules.

1.      No walking on pavements, or anywhere else for that matter – grazed knees can introduce infections.

2.      No school – other children are nasty infectious beasts and you don’t know where they have been.

3.      No television or computer games – not only will they make your child violent, but the soft X-rays from the screen cause cancer.

4.      Of course, no mobile phones.

5.      No bed – bedsores can turn septic.

6.      Purchase now the Number Watch Cocoon. Made of stout sterile bubble wrap, it can be suspended from the ceiling to minimise pressure on the body. 24/7  protection for your child for little over £100.


Globally dim

10.05 pm and just trying to cool down after the latest dose of global warming from the BBC. It was absolutely magnificent – wonderfully photographed, compelling, convincing, relentlessly frightening – and total codswallop. Every trick in the book was there, non-sequiturs, ratchet reporting (deaths of heat in Europe in 2003, but no mention of the unusually large number of deaths from cold in the same year throughout the northern hemisphere), lies (that carbon dioxide is a major greenhouse gas) and the old testament prophet in the form of a “climate scientist” from the Hadley Research Centre calling down fire and brimstone upon us unless we adopt Green ways and start riding bicycles (not horses, because they fart greenhouse gases). It was called “Global Dimming”, based on the thesis that pollution has been reducing the radiation reaching the surface of the Earth: a brilliant conceit, which at once explains away why global warming hasn’t actually happened yet despite the prophecies, while promising even worse to come unless we mend our evil ways. Any uninformed punter who accidentally strayed onto the channel must have been terrified out of his wits. No horror was left unturned, even the ghastly famine in Ethiopia, while England’s green and pleasant land was transformed into a desert before our very eyes. No wonder they are all turning to “reality” TV.

There has never been such brilliant visual propaganda since Germany in the late 1930s. The final outcome? Estimates of global warming will have to be revised upwards.


The magic ingredient

After the recent Wheatstone Lecture, the 2004 Wheatstone Prize was awarded for an excellent paper on radar measurement of rain clouds. In discussion, the authors let slip that they had been solicited by climate modellers for feedback mechanisms. This called to mind several items of correspondence received at Number Watch touching on feedback, so it seemed a worthwhile subject for an FAQ.

Feedback is an immensely powerful concept, yet one fraught with danger. Like the Sorcerer's Apprentice, many people are dabbling with something whose implications they do not understand.


Liars, morons and other creatures

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
Romeo and Juliet

A correspondent to Number Watch, who also happens to be a generous supporter, questions the use of the description “Liars”, which has been used in these pages from time to time, suggesting that it is counterproductive. Of course, he has a point. Much of the polemic on the Internet is self-defeating, because it is little more than the trading of gratuitous abuse. Flinging out random insults such as moron, crank or idiot, not only fails to support an argument, it destroys it. Even weaker are those who pepper their diatribes with Anglo Saxon words of a copulatory or excremental nature. They think it makes them look bold and covers up their lack of vocabulary. It does just the opposite.

Nevertheless, there is also a case to be made for calling a spade a spade, rather than a manual implement, excavation for the use of.  In these pages and the associated books, evidence has been adduced for the publication of deliberate, cold-blooded falsehoods intended to mislead the public. It has been committed by major public bodies (such as the EPA and the BMA) mainly on the basis of statistical fraud and subreption. It is unconscionable to suggest that this was done out of ignorance or self-deception in bodies of such resource. The proper term for such activity, when exposed by evidence, is “lying”. To apply the term in this case is quite different from throwing it out as unsupported invective. Furthermore, it is rather unlikely that such politically motivated bodies would respond to kind words and persuasion.

A further hazard for Number Watch is that, to lighten the burden, occasional bouts of satire and fantasy are included. The delusion that these could be easily distinguished from straightforward comment was shattered in January 2003, when an imaginary EU directive, which was meant to be absurdly exaggerated, elicited two e-mails from the USA pointing out where the EU had gone wrong.

Considering that Number Watch is now receiving well over a thousand Internet hits a day, the number of abusive e-mails received is mercifully and remarkably small, particularly in view of the subject matter. Here is a nice example, received within the last few days, which caused great hilarity when passed round the village pub and earned your bending author a new nickname:

From [email protected]:

John Brignell,

You are clearly a moron. Your arguments are extremely perverse and quite frankly, pointless.

I would sign my name, but you are probably a dangerous, dangerous man, so... I won’t.

The way to evaluate such a contribution is to take it literally. The first sentence claims clarity in determining that your bending author has a mental age of 12 or less. With all due modesty, this would not appear to square with the levels of vocabulary and numeracy shown on these pages. The second is an expression of opinion without supporting evidence. The third, while flattering, has just the slightest hint of hyperbole.

Unfortunately, the rejoicing in a new nickname was somewhat deflated by the comment from the retired headmistress who sits in the corner of the bar “Dangerous? As dangerous as a teddy bear!”

Of course, it would be a colourless world without the occasional irreverence, and it is a positive duty to debunk various self-important eminences; so no apology is offered for describing, for example, as a buffoon the authority who claimed that a vacuous eco-theocratic prophecy posed more danger than international terrorists.

 Nevertheless, as we used to chant when we were children:

Sticks and stones
may break my bones,
But names will never hurt me,


As advertised

From The Times January 19th

The doctor won't see you now

He can't. A £196m computer system designed to handle 205,000 online appointments has made just 63

A SCHEME costing millions of pounds that will allow patients to choose and book hospital appointments electronically from GPs’ surgeries by the end of the year is at serious risk of failure, according to auditors……..

 From Sorry, wrong number! , 2000, emphasis added

……..After I had written the above, the great passport scandal occurred. Thousands of would-be travellers were queuing at passport offices around the UK, frustrated because they could not get their passports in time for the holidays and business trips they had booked. The contract, awarded to Siemens for £230 million over 10 years, was to supply a computer system that would speed up the passport system and increase its security. It did neither. Then students might not get their loans in time for the start of term, because of computer problems. The next one boiling up nicely was the NHS computer network. The contrast between public and private enterprise has no more graphic illustration than in the implementation of information technology.

I must confess that these never-to-be computer systems did not produce any wrong numbers. In fact they did not produce any numbers at all, apart from the billions of pounds of losses, but they are an interesting sidelight on the main themes of this book.


Forthcoming event

Your dangerous author will be in attendance.

A Scientific Alliance Conference

 Apocalypse No

Assessing Catastrophic Climate Change

27 January 2005

Royal Institution of Great Britain

21 Albemarle Street

London, W1S 4BS

 Keynote Address: In Thrall to Carbon

Professor David Bellamy 

Further information: Scientific Alliance [[email protected]]

March of the nutty professors

Not everything that can be counted counts, and not
everything that counts can be counted.
Albert Einstein

It is, of course, all a result of the fashion for title inflation. British professional football (soccer) used to have the First Division, Second Division and Third Division: now it has The Premiership, The Championship and League One. The knightage is populated by prancing Priapic pop singers and the like. So the once honoured title of Professor has become a tawdry embarrassment. Many of those rejoicing in the title today would not have made the first rung on the academic ladder quarter of a century ago.

This from the Daily Telegraph

Grammar lessons 'don't help children to write'
By Liz Lightfoot, Education Correspondent
(Filed: 19/01/2005)

Teaching English grammar in schools is a waste of time because it does not improve writing skills, according to a Government-funded study published yesterday.

The findings have led senior academics to urge Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, to remove the compulsory teaching of parts of speech and syntax from the national curriculum.

Prof Richard Andrews, of York University, who led the review of 100 years of research into grammar lessons, said he found no evidence that grammar teaching helped pupils aged five to 16 to write more fluently or accurately.


Anyone who has had the experience of reading thousands of student essays (and has actually learned from it) appreciates the link between knowledge of grammar and perspicuity in writing. If one is going to consciously split an infinitive, one needs to know first what an infinitive is. A significant proportion of American scientific papers start with a hanging participle, which leaves the brain unconsciously searching for a subject and contributes to the growing general feeling of fatigue as you read on.

This sort of “opinion posing as research” has bedevilled Anglo Saxon education, among other fields, for many decades. Not only Britain but also the USA (as Alan Caruba woefully laments) have deliberately sacrificed their own school systems on the altar of fashionable theory.

A section of The Epidemiologists entitled Trivial Pursuit mentions just a few of the pseudo-mathematical horse feathers that modern academics intrude into the media. Giles Coren, hereditary satirical columnist in The Times, had fun with a glaring example from the Daily Mail. It was summed up by the headline My formula will show how depressed you are. He quotes:

“Experts have pinpointed January 24 as the most depressing day of the year.”

and homes in on the primary nonsense:

Experts in what, exactly? Experts in Mondays? Surely the Wednesday experts will have something to say about this blatant attempt to hog media attention. Experts in days, generally? Cross-factional psychotherapy-cum-calendar boffins?

More impressively for a (presumably) non-mathematician, he spots the secondary nonsense of a pseudo-equation that is dimensionally inhomogeneous:

Well, excuse me, but how do you take £1,240 away from a foggy day and multiply it by not really giving a toss if the sky falls in?

The whole proposition is, of course, quite absurd and staggeringly naïf. It takes a plausible surmise, that people get depressed in January, and then tarts it up with a bit of invented mathematics that does not even pass the first post of credibility. There are arbitrary products and summations, no disposable coefficients and, of course, there is no attempt at derivation.

His masterpiece did miss one trick:

 I didn’t have to read on to know that this research had been carried out at Cardiff University. It wasn’t going to be Harvard, was it?

but he could hardly be expected to know that Harvard, thanks to its Department of Public Health, is the world’s premiere source of junk science.

Apologies, as always, to overseas readers who cannot access The Times without getting screwed. Well, we didn’t invent Rupert Murdoch.

Correction: apparently The Times  is again freely available online to overseas readers, despite the notice at the top of the front page. Thanks to readers who pointed this out.

Correction of correction (from the editor of Times access for non-UK denizens remains subscription with the exception of index page teaser articles. Rupert has not had a rush of generosity.

Further footnote: And if you think that equation is daft, have a look at this one, from what was once one of the finest colleges in the University of London.



Apocalypse No

The conference was organised by The Scientific Alliance, an independent group of scientists, without taxpayer funding. It was a nostalgic treat, in these days of Government regulated research, to be among people who were driven by their dedication to science and truth.

The celebrity opening spot was occupied by David Bellamy, who provided a tour d’horizon  of the absurdities of the modern world, with a machine gun delivery that left some of the foreign participants gasping. His main theme was that carbon dioxide was a wholly beneficial compound essential to life on earth and could no way be treated as a pollutant.

Session one was devoted to the question Is Global Warming Cause for Alarm? It featured the urbane presence of Professors Lindzen and Singer from the USA, such a delightful contrast with the hysteria of much of modern debate. Lindzen explained that we have developed a population that, if told the sky is blue, flies into a panic, and illustrated how this was done. A major method, familiar from the IPCC, involved the non-representative executive summary. One fifteen page report to the US president was preceded by a ten page summary. He dealt with the claims derived from computer models and gave examples of tuning, in which there were so many adjustable parameters that it was just an exercise in curve fitting. There was a nice hyperbolic quotation from John von Neumann, “with four parameters I can fit an elephant and with five I can make him wiggle his trunk.” (actually it takes thirty). His conclusion was that the likelihood that the Hadley models were correct, with all those adjustable parameters, was zero. He finished with an entertaining account of the dozens of contradictions in public statements.

Fred Singer, whose recent experience of global warming had been to leave a home under four feet of snow, also commented on the computer models, particularly the current ones in the news that utilised spare capacity in computers around the world. A local headline that day was 11°C rise. This was the extreme obtained by having so many adjustable parameters. He then went onto the Kyoto protocol, which according to the IPCC would deliver a one fiftieth of a degree temperature reduction. Many of his illustrations, in fact, came from the IPCC report, with page numbers; though not, of course, from the executive summary.

In session two the topic was Will Global Warming have a Catastrophic Impact? Nils-Axel Morner presented a most entertaining physical comic turn, but one laced with observations on the real world. His message, supported by graphs, tables, photographs and ancient mariner’s anecdotes, was that there is no global sea level rise going on.

Benny Peiser’s contribution was, perhaps, the most disturbing. He went back through history identifying past examples of alarmist dogmatism (even Edmond Halley was forced to recant his disbelief in the end of the world). On past form there are bound to be witch hunts. As did other contributors, he single out Tony Blair as one who is riding a tiger. He tries to appease the extreme greens with token windmills that destroy the visual environment, but comes under attack from zealots whose aim is economic depression and who will be satisfied with nothing less.

There was a lively discussion. The tragic-comic case of windmill-plagued northern Europe was to the fore, with electricity that cannot be given away when the wind blows and is priceless when it doesn’t, while standby power-stations emit carbon dioxide for no energy output at all.

A main topic of discussion was censorship. <material removed>. It was coupled with the other main theme – the refutation of the existence of a “consensus “ about climate change.

Lindzen capped the discussion with a couple of memorable remarks:

If the funding is all on one side, there will inevitably soon be no scientists on the other side.

How many of the best students of your time at university went into climate science?

It was a stimulating experience to spend time in a small temporary island of sanity in an insane world.

Memo to the US oil industry (urgent)

The money has not arrived yet. It appears that no one else at the Apocalypse No conference has received any either. Please send the cheque (or, preferably, used one hundred dollar bills) to the Number Watch Post Office box. If you do not do this people might begin to think that the president of our Royal Society is a liar; or that he is cheap enough to use the corniest form of ad hominem attack; or that he is the sort of scientist that presents conclusions without evidence.

LORD May is well known for the quality of his logical argument, as he has shown in the past and now more recently

For reference – an extract from Sorry, wrong number! (published 2000)

Personal attacks (argumentum ad hominem)

It is a characteristic of people taking weak logical positions that they attack the person presenting an argument rather than argument itself. Typically SIFs will dismiss all critics of their position as being in the pay of the tobacco/chemical/alcohol or fuel industries.



Bringing together two headings above, we now have Jonathan Leake's account of the Apocalypse No conference, though if you blinked while reading your Sunday Times you might have missed it. The article is headed: Petrol pumps may get health warning, no need to quote the content, you can guess it for yourself. Buried at the end is this comment:

Last week, the consensus on climate change research was briefly interrupted by a seminar of climate sceptics held at the Royal Institution in London.

David Bellamy, the naturalist and broadcaster, led a series of lectures suggesting that even if the world did warm, the impact would be slight.

This remains a minority view. Geoff Jenkins, senior researcher at the Met Office’s Hadley Centre for climate change research, said: “There are uncertainties about how climate change will manifest itself but the evidence so far strengthens the view that temperature rises will be substantial.”

If this sounds familiar in a historical context, see here. Jonathan claims not to know how censorship works in the modern world.

Number of the month 0.00035

This month's number comes from the Number Watch forum. It is the percentage of customers who complained about smoking in an outdoor venue, which, after a campaign led by the local BBC station, resulted in a total ban.


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