Number of the Month

July  2006

Medicine’s disdain of science

Once again the US Surgeon General has weighed into a debate in favour of political correctness and against scientific treatment of the evidence. It is, of course, nothing new for holders of that office to come out with gross stupidities. In 1963 the US Surgeon General stated that it was time to close the book on infectious disease, thus demonstrating that he had no idea of the workings of evolution. Now, instead of closing the book, the present incumbent is claiming that the debate is over. That is the new code for “If you keep debunking our claims, we are not going to discuss it any more.” It has recently been used by the global warmers along with other challenge-stoppers, such as “the science is settled”. Just try Googling those phrases and see whether you can read  thousands of examples.

The latest instance is yet another push in the attack on passive smoking, a subject that has generated some of the most appalling abuses of statistical inference in the history of scientific malpractice. The brilliant work of Austin Bradford Hill in establishing the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer had the unexpected side effect of making tobacco the evil icon of the Political Correctness movement. In order to defeat tobacco and demonstrate the power of the movement, the activists had to show that smokers damaged the health of others, but the evidence just would not emerge under the rigorous methods advocated by Hill, so they simply abandoned them, aided by Hill’s renegade assistant, Richard Doll. Hill was written out of history and so was rigour in statistical inference. A sad outcome of this was that the self selected protectors of political correctness launched attacks on anyone who advocated higher standards, with the result that meaningless and contradictory results in epidemiology proliferated. They always give themselves away, because they cannot resist referring to tobacco.

There is little doubt that passive smoking is harmless. Even after all the frauds of the EPA they could only come up with a Relative Risk of 1.19. Hill and his contemporaries would have been horrified. The CDC’s attempt to cover up the fact that the smokers in their survey live longer than the non-smokers produced another cliché of the movement – “dying of their habit”, which they applied to 70, 80 and 90 year olds (Levy and Marimont). The British zealots, who are now celebrating the triumph of bamboozling the politicians into implementing a total smoking ban, are now claiming that half of smokers will die of their habit. Give them their due, they never got involved in statistical fraud; they just invented the numbers and then kept inflating them. The BMA, however, did get into abusing statistics. Not for them the lofty heights of RR= 1.19, they were quite content to hover around 1.11 in their attempt to relate smoking to reproductive problems.

It is not just tobacco, of course, that demonstrates the divorce between contemporary medicine and traditional science. The maintenance of the cholesterol myth is even more extraordinary. It seems to be driven by profit rather than political correctness. The amount of evidence against the cholesterol-CHD hypothesis is overwhelming, yet the whole profession blandly ignores it. They are poisoning healthy people for no good reason at all, and governments are rewarding them for it.

If the cholesterol campaign is extraordinary, the one about common salt is just weird. No one is even making any money out of it, just a bit of media attention. Again the evidence against the hypothesis is massive, while that in favour is derisory to the point of lunacy. When the nonagenarian pipe-smokers, who provide much of the very essence of the British pubs, have been driven out, it will be the time to promote the ban on salt cellars. The softening up has been going on long enough.

It is, of course, unfair to pick out one profession in relation to the move away from science and its methods. When journals such as Nature and Science, even the Royal Society, abandon scientific method for religious dogma, let alone journalists and political leaders, medics cannot be expected to be immune from the great tides of change in society. Like Britain at the end of empire they are looking for a rôle. Once honoured and respected (the very term Doctor, meaning teacher, is purely honorific) they are now bullied and bribed by bureaucrats, challenged by patients with access to the internet, persuaded by statistics they are not trained to understand: yet they try to do their best for the people who depend on them. As in all professions, the ones who rise to the top are those who are inherent politicians rather than dedicated practitioners. The foot soldiers are overworked, stressed and embedded in bureaucracy. They have to meet their targets, whether they are harming their patients or not.

James LeFanu magnificently recorded the rise and fall of modern medicine. That, in 2000, was just the story so far. In the words of the ghost of Hamlet’s father:

O Hamlet, what a falling-off was there!


Deny a list

One of the monotonous things about this self-imposed task of commenting on events in our madder and madder world is the predictability of reactions. That list certainly made an unusual impact, over 10,000 page visits is large by Number Watch standards. The considerable labour of adding links was primarily undertaken partly to obviate the criticism attracted by the ten facts – “He made it all up”. No one who is committed to science could object to the airing of an opposing point of view, but such idle, glib dismissal of long hours of research is offensive. It is, however, now a common technique when faced with embarrassing evidence to imitate the child who, fingers in ears, shouts “Nah, nah, nah, naagh, nah! Can't hear you.” No one is required to read or listen to anyone else: your bending author, for example, avoids the writings of certain poisonous dunny-dwellers, knowing from experience that they will be unpleasant ad hominem attacks based on little reasoning. That is not the same, however, as dismissing evidence or valid objective comment just because it does not conform to your pet theory (Maier’s law).

It is one of the clichés of the greeny-lefty establishment and its believers that they put everything that does not conform to their view of political correctness down to the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy. This was a comment on a site called Peak Oil:

Oh, and thanks for posting the overused denial list that keeps getting plastered all over that Right Wing haunts at places like when ever the subject comes up.

An interesting example of the genre that is worth a bit of analysis! How can a list have an attribute such as “denial”? It might do if it was censored, but nothing has been consciously left out. You might as well call the telephone directory racist. The word denial is, of course, a favoured one, carrying overtones of “Holocaust Denial”, an activity for which your bending author only recently declined an invitation to join. As for “overused” and “plastered all over whenever the subject comes up” –  Hells bells! –  the list has only been there for couple of weeks. As for Right Wing; the project was suggested by Mick Hume, who (as rightish critical correspondents to Number Watch like to point out) has impeccable Marxist credentials. One of the first commentators to take it up was Our Philip, staunchly Old Labour.

The fact is that the Greeny-lefties cannot envisage a comment, or even a factual list, being made from an apolitical point of view. The sceptics about the new religion come from all parts of the political spectrum. They are united in their adherence to the scientific method. Many of them regard themselves as classic liberals, like Tim Worstall or your bending author, but such a thing does not exist for the post-modernists, they hijack words and redefine them to suit themselves; thus liberal has come to mean precisely the opposite.

From Chambers Dictionary:

liberal, adj befitting a freeman or a gentleman; directed towards the cultivation of the mind for its own sake, disinterested (opposed to technical and professional): generous: noble-minded: not bound by authority or traditional orthodoxy: looking to the general or broad sense rather than the literal: candid: free: free from restraint: ample: (cap) of the Liberal Party. – n one who advocates greater freedom in political institutions: one whose views in theology are liberal.


Our lost sense of proportion  

To think that two and two are four
And neither five nor three
The heart of man has long been sore
And long 'tis like to be.

The exercise of going through so many references for that list was profoundly dispiriting, but the lasting impression is that Western society has completely lost its sense of proportion. How can a man, rejoicing in the title of Professor, proceed from the fact that a finite block of noisy temperature data exhibits a slope of 0.006 deg C per year to drastic changes in rainfall; then go from this to claim that it will affect the movement of tectonic plates? What is more, he has a model running on a super-computer to prove it, and has funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and Lithoprobe.

This is the sort of excess that laboratory classes and small group tutorials were designed to cure in over-excited first year students. Now, with higher education transformed into a mass production industry, common sense is no longer on the curriculum. The products of that debased system are now professors in their own right. The qualification for that status is no longer scholarship, but ability to bring in money, and  money is controlled by Green bureaucrats. The word scholarship has been replaced by marketing in university jargon. 

There was an expression, first used in signal processing, which spread to other professions, even accountancy. It was lost in the noise. Quantities that were below the threshold of measurement were not worth the bother.  It has become customary in modern politics to ignore the signals and scrabble about in the noise. It confuses the punters and distracts from the real disasters.

Look at Stuntman Dave’s wind turbine. The Daily Mail reckons that it will take forty years to pay for itself, even with a handout from the Government (code for the wretched taxpayer). Forty years means never (how many bits of electrical equipment do you know that have been running for forty years?). It produces 1800 watts – sometimes  – not quite enough power to warm a room or a kettle.

As Stuntman’s neighbours say, it is an eyesore. They do not realise that this is the whole point. What matters, as with all religions, is that you experience the sacrifice. Likewise his opponent, Phoney Tony, is waffling on about standby buttons on TV sets. This is an fine example of misdirection, the magician’s patter that distracts you from his sleight of hand. Pay no attention to the fact that he has cocked up energy policy, to the point of treason. The standby power of electronic equipment is small and rapidly falling, as new technologies replace the old thermionic ones. The tiny amount of energy dissipated goes into heat, barely enough to warm your big toe, let alone a room. Most of the numbers bandied about are just big lies – look at the manual for your new TV. The energy saved is lost in the noise: it is the inconvenience to you that is the point.


End of the hockey season

It seemed a bad day for science and truth when the IPCC swallowed the notorious hockey stick graph and published it as fact. The new political and media establishment dutifully took it up and the dogma was unquestionably accepted and imposed on a credulous world. A thousand years of history, science and arts were swept away and declared void, as the well documented phenomena of the Little Ice Age and the Mediaeval Warm Period were suddenly deemed never to have happened. It was Orwell’s Ministry of Truth on a world scale and with horrific effectiveness. The resistance movement was almost entirely confined to the internet.

Enter two heroes, the McCritics. They braved rejection by the once-great science journals, such as the gone-green Nature. They endured vilification by the jackals of the establishment. Yet they staunchly soldiered on. Unlike their adversaries, they boldly published not only their results but also their computer programs. How their opponents crowed when an error was discovered! Yet they ploughed on, proving that the methodology behind the hockey stick was invalid. Still they were ignored and maligned.

Then the US Cavalry appeared over the hill, in the form of the US House Committee on Energy and Commerce. The Committee appointed a group of statisticians of impeccable qualification and independence, under the leadership of  Dr Edward Wegman, Professor of Statistics at George Mason University , who chairs the National Academy of Sciences’ (NAS) Committee on Applied and Theoretical Statistics. They have now produced a report that devastatingly demonstrates what we sceptics knew all along, that the hockey stick is pure nonsense. Of course, the language is much more diplomatic than that, but the effect is no less dramatic. Among the conclusions in the summary are:

Mann et al., misused certain statistical methods in their studies, which inappropriately produce hockey stick shapes in the temperature history. Wegman’s analysis concludes that Mann’s work cannot support claim that the1990s were the warmest decade of the millennium.

A social network analysis revealed that the small community of paleoclimate researchers appear to review each other’s work, and reuse many of the same data sets, which calls into question the independence of peer review and temperature reconstructions.

Although the researchers rely heavily on statistical methods, they do not seem to be interacting with the statistical community.

•Authors of policy-related science assessments should not assess their own work.

•Policy-related climate science should have a more intense level of scrutiny and review involving statisticians.

•Federal research should involve interdisciplinary teams to avoid narrowly focused discipline research.

•Federal research should emphasize fundamental understanding of the mechanisms of climate change, and should focus on interdisciplinary teams to avoid narrowly focused discipline research.

The report itself is a remarkably thorough piece of work, the implications of which will take some time to digest. It finds the criticisms of the McCritics compelling and valid.

Here is a telling paragraph

The papers of Mann et al. in themselves are written in a confusing manner, making it difficult for the reader to discern the actual methodology and what uncertainty is actually associated with these reconstructions. Vague terms such as “moderate certainty” (Mann et al. 1999) give no guidance to the reader as to how such conclusions should be weighed. While the works do have supplementary websites, they rely heavily on the reader’s ability to piece together the work and methodology from raw data. This is especially unsettling when the findings of these works are said to have global impact, yet only a small population could truly understand them. Thus, it is no surprise that Mann et al. claim a misunderstanding of their work by McIntyre and McKitrick.

Regular readers of Number Watch might remember this site banging on about non-linearity and causation, so the next paragraph is of special interest:

In their works, Mann et al. describe the possible causes of global climate change in terms of atmospheric forcings, such as anthropogenic, volcanic, or solar forcings. Another questionable aspect of these works is that linear relationships are assumed in all forcing-climate relationships. This is a significantly simplified model for something as complex as the earth’s climate, which most likely has complicated nonlinear cyclical processes on a multi-centennial scale that we do not yet understand. Mann et al. also infer that since there is a partial positive correlation between global mean temperatures in the 20th century and CO2 concentration, greenhouse-gas forcing is the dominant external forcing of the climate system. Osborn and Briffa make a similar statement, where they casually note that evidence for warming also occurs at a period where CO2 concentrations are high. A common phrase among statisticians is correlation does not imply causation. The variables affecting earth’s climate and atmosphere are most likely to be numerous and confounding. Making conclusive statements without specific findings with regard to atmospheric forcings suggests a lack of scientific rigor and possibly an agenda.

And here is a nice remark for Gore, the BBC et al to appreciate:

Specifically, global warming and its potentially negative consequences have been central concerns of both governments and individuals. The ‘hockey stick’ reconstruction of temperature graphic dramatically illustrated the global warming issue and was adopted by the IPCC and many governments as the poster graphic. The graphics’ prominence together with the fact that it is based on incorrect use of PCA puts Dr. Mann and his co-authors in a difficult face-saving position.

The report reproduces the killer graph, by which McIntyre and McKitrick produced a hockey stick, using Mann’s methodology, from stationary, trendless red noise.

A particular delight is the network analysis of Mann and forty two other authors, which shows diagrammatically how they formed a closed coterie, who not only co-authored but also refereed each others publications. This phenomenon is, of course, not new, but it has never been so powerful in world affairs.

The report also takes note of the “trail of the lonesome pine”, by which crucial data for before 1421 were based on one tree. Global warming?

Anyone interested in real science and truth should offer gratitude and congratulations to McIntyre and McKitrick and also to Wegman’s Committee. Mann, also, should be grateful for being dealt with in such a gentle manner, given his rather thuggish behaviour in trying to prevent valid criticism being published.

We must hope that the independent statisticians who performed the review know what they are likely to be in for – character assassination and other ad hominem attacks, plus general vilification – for they are dealing with religious zealotry of the most pernicious kind. Some of us lesser figures have become used to it, but they might be in for a shock.

Footnote Our Man In Puerto Rico rightly admonishes your bending author for failing to give sufficient credit to the lone scholar, the late John Daly. He was the first to attack the hockey stick theory with hard evidence and he identified the existence of the coterie. It would be too much to hope that the victory of one honest amateur scientist over million-dollar teams of shysters would ever be acknowledged by the scientific establishment, but let some of us remember.


Please read this one

An article in the Telegraph by Rory Bremner sums up the sheer ghastliness of New Labour Britain. Some overseas critics of Number Watch do not like the “cranky” references to British politics that interlace its comments. But remember – it could happen to you! Bremner, a brilliant satirist and comedian, is no Tory stooge. He is avowedly of the left and played no small part in the downfall of the last Conservative government. In this short article he says it all about the present plight of a once proud and free nation. And all we have to look forward to is Stuntman Dave. Heaven help us!


It’s hard to be an ironist

Your bending author took particular delight in this comment from digg:

You're right, this list is self-contradictory. It has forests declining and expanding. It has Britain becoming warmer and colder. Coral reefs growing and shrinking. Harvest will be both up and down. What a shoddy site. I looked at enough of the links to know the titles don't always reflect the stories. With stuff like this out there it's no wonder people are skeptical.


Boris Johnson

Assiduous number watcher Dennis Ambler draws attention to the latest diatribe by Boris Johnson in the Telegraph. As Dennis rightly notes, Johnson has become one of the most readable and relevant commentators of the day. His regular articles are always to the point, while managing to be entertaining.

He somewhat damaged his reputation by appearances on comedy quiz programme, have I got news for you, where his galumphing manner and apparently slow wit made him an ideal foil for two quick witted comedians. He compounded this by creating material for that section of the media whose dominating interest is who is copulating with whom.

But at a time when his party leader, Stuntman Dave, is rushing around like a headless chicken, trying to tell everyone what he thinks they want to hear, it is Boris who is laying into the most scandalous and incompetent British government of recent times. His collection of articles is the story of our times, told in an entertaining way that has brought him deserved and increasing popularity.  


The epistle of Paul to the Gullible

Un bel di vedremo (One fine day he'll come)

Madame Butterfly

One of the most assiduous promoters of the global warming scare is Paul Simons. Scarcely a week goes by without his finding some excuse to squeeze it into his Weather Eye column in The Times. He is a great believer in the First Law of Journalism readers have short memories. He must have been waiting in the wings for some hot weather so that he can be promoted to a mainstream column and this is it. Barely a month after we had to declare a year without a spring, he is triumphantly revelling in a bout of hot weather. Forget that late blossom. That was two months ago and therefore lost to human memory.

Yet he has the audacity to talk about 1976 as though it were another triumph for the Global Warmers. What really happened was that at that time the climate scaremongers were still banging on about Global Cooling. The torrid summer of 1976 produced such derision that the scaremongers did an about turn and Global Warming was born.

The related article takes us back to 1911. They also let slip that the real record was on August 2003: which, as it happened, also followed a disastrously cold winter in which thousands of people died all over the northern hemisphere: see for example January 2003, when the Times also lost its rag.

What happened on all these occasions was that a stationary high settled over Western Europe, an accidental event that has nothing to do with any climate theory, true or false. As for records, they always increase; that is the only way they can go. Because of the workings of the statistics of extremes over three dimensions (two of space and one of time) as the man said “a month without a record would be a record”. Since we have had reasonably accurate thermometers for less than three hundred years the “records” only apply to that time scale. Most years, stationary highs are going to settle somewhere on earth, but they are only important when they affect westerners.

It is human nature to look for something to blame for the weather. For millennia it was angry gods. When we oldies were children it was “all them atom bombs”. When we were young adults it was industrial pollution threatening a new ice age. Now, because it suits the negative ambitions of the anti-human greens, it is the use of energy and the production of life-giving carbon dioxide threatening a furnace: all political and religious fantasy.


It is just weather.



Several requests have been received for copies of the recent presentations by your bending author. One is now available experimentally at

It needs to be viewed with Power Point in Note Pages view to be fully understood. Any comments or suggestions are welcome.


Alternatively a web version with ActiveX controls of window sizes can now be found at:

Again comments would be welcome.

It appears that the latter version only works with Windows Explorer.


Apologies for service break

Number Watch has migrated to a new server and it took some hours for the new DNS to propagate through the internet. 


The scam exposed

For some time Number Watch has been commenting on the most destructive wrong number in public affairs, the official inflation figure. Now a newspaper commentator has cottoned on. Ordinary people, and especially pensioners, have to live with the dire consequences, while ministers bask in a counterfeit glory and Stuntman Dave waffles on ineffectually.

A good month

First the Hockey Stick and now The Adhominator.

Acts of the apostle

“If the law supposes that,” said Mr Bumble, “the law is a ass – a idiot.”
Oliver Twist.

Given the state of the British legal system, Number Watch has a settled policy with regard to litigious multi-millionaires; so if any reader expected some remark such as “Paul McKenna is a nasty little con man who has made himself very rich by fooling the gullible on a large scale” they will be very much disappointed. No, like the Times and the Telegraph, we take a strictly neutral view in reporting that the gentleman’s PhD from La Salle University in Louisiana is formally not bogus, nor bought for the sum of $2,615. Neither for that matter would we venture an opinion such as “Mr Justice Eady is a bloody old fool, who brings as much disgrace to the law as he does to what remains of academic standards in this modern world.”

Furthermore, let it not be thought that your bending author is in any way bitter about being required to have an honours degree before entering a PhD course, or that he spent three years of 70-hour weeks just building the equipment in order to complete it; followed by six months of writing a thesis and a ferocious two-and-a-half hour oral grilling by one of the world's leading authorities in the field.

Also, the following paragraphs, which appeared in Sorry, wrong number! published in 2000

One came on the television the day after I wrote the above paragraph. It was called The Paranormal world of Paul Mckenna. The presenter addressed us – “The easiest thing to be is sceptical and superior. The difficult thing to be is honest and open minded.” etc. etc. Sceptics were lampooned throughout the programme. The first item was a faith healer laying on of hands. “Some people believe it allows electromagnetic energy to flow from one body to another. The patient receives a revitalising charge”. A dog was cured of arthritis and depression and a rugby player of an ankle injury. Electronic voices were recorded from another dimension – the other side, the spirit world – by a couple of quaint ladies from Minneapolis. The ghostly voices were not heard, but only appeared on the tape.

The pièce de résistance, however, was an “experiment” in psychic viewing. “The intelligence community has been using it for years. No one knows how it works it just does.” The presenter hid in a wardrobe store, which contained an ironing board, and a selection of ordinary members of the public were asked to draw what came into their minds. The first four participants produced not very much and, as we came to the last one, the audience were hushed. Our hearts were in our mouths. Would this elaborate set and production all be for nothing? Amazingly, the last candidate drew an ironing board. Relief and loud applause all round. How fortunate that the very last participant came up with the goods and saved the programme from ignominious bathos! Imagine the aftermath; intelligence organisations from all over the world would be seeking out this ordinary member of the public. No enemy ironing board would be safe again. We were told “You can try it for yourself. The distance does not seem to matter”. There you have it – no mechanism, no inverse square law. The next item, about a practising Zulu witch doctor, seemed all rather tame.

should in no way be construed as casting doubt on the powers of the said gentleman. Indeed, we call upon the science community to summon an immediate international conference to asses the implications of the disproof of the inverse square law. If it were not for the eagle eye of The Law, in the form of Mr Justice Eady, the tiny minority of the population who still adhere to the laws of physics and the concept of academic integrity would remain in their state of misguided ignorance.

Footnote: Our man in Puerto Rico reports that there are two La Salle Universities. There is the legitimate one in Philadelphia, PA and the other one in Louisiana. The latter is the one honoured by Mr Paul McKenna and Mr Justice Eady. Regular number watcher Frank Borger points out that there is at least some concern in the USA.


Number of the month – 3

For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns.......

This month’s number is about the NatWest Three. “The NatWest who?” you probably ask, if you are not British, but this sorry story has dominated the British media this month. In pre-Blair Britain a Briton was innocent until proven guilty. These three have been snatched from their homes and wafted to a foreign country, without any evidence being adduced, under a one-way treaty that would not allow such a movement in the opposite direction. They have been extorted of bail money and left to the mercy of one of the most predatory species on Earth – American lawyers. Among the rather startling aspects of this case are:

bulletThe treaty was sold to Parliament and the public as an anti-terrorist measure.
bulletIt has been used by the USA to pursue alleged business crimes rather than terrorism.
bulletRatification of the treaty has been stopped in America by protectors of IRA terrorists.
bulletThe alleged crimes took place in Britain and the alleged victim was a British company, yet no state or private action has been initiated in Britain (though, to be fair, the British legal authorities are now just as incompetent as all the rest in Blair’s Britain).
bulletGuilty or not, the victims (and their wives and children) will lose their homes and everything they posses.
bulletThey will be left alone for years in a foreign country, not even allowed to talk to each other without a lawyer present.
bulletThey are allowed to earn a living, but the only one open to them is probably manual labour.
bulletThe whole system in the US is geared to blackmailing the victims into plea-bargaining and giving evidence against others.
bulletOne insouciant and not very bright political leader can unravel a thousand years of struggle to create a precious unwritten constitution and can destroy the hard won liberty of a once proud people.

It is nothing less than legalised kidnapping and extortion. Whether they are guilty or not is immaterial.

There is, of course, nothing uniquely American in banging up possibly innocent people  for years. Readers of Tim Worstal will be familiar with the Red Mercury case, in which three men were imprisoned, eventually tried and found not guilty of trying to purchase  a substance that does not exist, all on the basis of a newspaper sting (i.e. entrapment).



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