Number of the Month

November 2000

Accolade for Number Watch

 At last Number Watch has made it in the USA, having been subjected to a savage attack from the sort of people from whom it is a privilege (indeed, a duty and a pleasure) to receive an attack. Arising from the October article, it started with a posting by someone calling himself John, who was not, in fact, this author. These  words are well worth preserving as a prize example of the genre. Among the typical characteristics are:

Obscure jargon – What is a “meme”, anyway? As far as Number Watch is concerned, if a word is not in Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary it does not exist.

Leftist paranoia – Neither the offending article nor the quoted preamble to this site make any mention of any organisation or opinion overtly of the political left or right, but if the cap fits….. In the unlikely event that any of these critics read the book that goes with this web site, they would observe that the author (a self-confessed Disraelian) was equally critical of the New Left and the New Right when it comes to measurement abuse. They would also find that points such as the limited efficacy of DDT are made there.

Mendacity – ‘Whoever is behind “Numberswatch” (sic)’ does not hide behind a cloak of anonymity, as these writers do. The honourable exception is Andrew Cooke, who makes a valid point about rhetoric, but millions of dying children seemed to call for more than a detached academic treatise. The author of this site gives his identity and a link to his CV with academic and professional qualifications on the index page. As for not having a “shred of data”, the source quoted in the October article cites numerous references.

Ad hominem attacks – No doubt there are many writers “a heck of a lot better” than this author, though we scientists have the perverse habit of trying not to use words such as “better” without stating in what sense. I make no claim to being a latter day Milton, just to being a jobbing scientist and engineer who is fed up with the widespread abuse of his speciality, which is measurement. Nevertheless, rightly or wrongly, I dare to flatter myself that I can construct and punctuate an English sentence with more logic and facility than some of these commentators. As for being hysterical, words such as pot, kettle and black come to mind (but only to the politically incorrect). I would have liked to comment on being compared with Rush, Mister Limbaugh and G. Gordon Liddy, but I have never heard of any of these gentlemen. No doubt this establishes my "ignorance and vitriol", but at least I can avoid the logical fallacy of  ad hominem tu quoque.

Inhumanity – Not one of these contributors mentions the millions of dying African children, who were supposed to be the whole point, though birds get an irrelevant mention.

It would be bootless to respond to the verbal abuse, but there are matters of substance to deal with. Yes, the article was intended to be inflammatory, but not to inflame the lefties: immensely satisfying though that achievement is, it does not save any lives. The main crime seems to have been attaching the epithet "murderous" to the EPA. Take just one example: 6,000 Peruvians died as a direct result of an EPA scare about water chlorination causing cancer; see the article Dirty Water: Cholera in Peru by Enrique Ghersi and Hector Nupari in Environmental Health.

It is simply not true that the EPA's influence stops at the borders of America. It distributes hundreds of massive grants around the world from American taxpayers' money, including millions of dollars to communist China. Its junk science has immense influence; the quintuple fraud of its so-called meta study into passive smoking has changed the world.

PS Many thanks to those, particularly from the USA, who sent messages of support following the above posting. It is gratifying to note that they were all written in good, grammatical English.

Junk rules, OK?

Any hopes that the passing of the Silly Season would permit restoration of the sanity of the media was dashed on the first day of the month. The Times for that day is something of a collector's item. Some of the stories were:

"One BSE lamb could kill all sheep
The Government is ready to slaughter the country's entire population of 40 million sheep if BSE is found in one lamb.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) confirms that under new emergency plans there would be a complete ban on people eating British-reared lamb and mutton..........."

Blustering Prescott in a Storm of rhetoric
by Matthew Parris

He warned the cockles of MPs' hearts. John Prescott updated the Commons on "the Global warning.........."

Village alarmed by a second CJD death
Two people who lived in the same former pit village - at one time only 100 yards apart - have died of variant Creutzfeldt Jakob disease, fuelling fears of another cluster of cases.

Scrapie could mask a killer in sheep
The warning by the Food Standards Agency that BSE in sheep could be "masked" by scrapie, could be crucial..........

GM Maize seed sale in disarray

Regular fight against floods 'is part of Britain's future'
A picture of southern Europe as a desert and a Britain constantly waging war against devastating floods is revealed in a new report on Global Warming. Researchers at the University of East Anglia........

The one dissenting voice in the whole issue was from Simon Jenkins, who characteristically debunked the Global warming excuse. Jenkins rightly pays tribute to Matt Ridley, whose Acid Test column in the Daily Telegraph is a beacon in the fog of media junk science. He would appear more often on these pages, if they were not mainly about the bad guys.

Harvard strikes again

No sooner had I typed the above tribute to Simon Jenkins than he completely blotted his copy book. In The Times of November 3rd he gave a totally uncritical endorsement to  a piece by an English professor at Harvard, one Elaine Scarry. She attributes three major air crashes in the New York area to the "under-researched" phenomenon of EMI (electromagnetic interference). Now, I might not know as much about EMI as a Harvard professor of English, though I have been lecturing on the subject for some forty years, but I can spot a logical fallacy when I see one. 

A metal aircraft is what is known as a Faraday cage, which means that electromagnetic fields do not penetrate it (except via the antennae, which have to be on the outside, otherwise they would receive no signal). You could charge a plane up to a million volts and sit inside it with impunity. We are told here that "It is fear of this phenomenon that causes us to turn off our mobile phones in flight". The reason for this practice  is that the phones are inside the cage, and there is considerable doubt as to whether the precaution is necessary anyway. The idea that external field could provide sufficient power to ignite wiring in a fuel tank (which is a cage inside a cage) is totally ludicrous, but long experience shows that trying to explain orders of magnitude to such people is a waste of effort. EMI is used deliberately in combat, but mainly to disable radar and navigational signals that are measured in microwatts. The main prop of this farrago, however, is the post hoc fallacy. Since submarines, planes and radar stations were present prior to the crashes, they must have caused them. The quality of the scientific writing can be judged from one short excerpt:

In her latest research, Ms Scarry describes the soup of possibly destabilising emissions swirling through what must be America's most intensively traversed traversed air space. Radars lock on and off. High and low frequency beams bombard every jet.  A Babel of electronic messages darts hither and thither. Magnetic fields ebb and flow. Dr No's celebrated "toppler" is a peashooter compared with this electronic fusillade.

There is a little clue in all this mush. If it is America's most traversed air space, the probability is that it will have America's most accidents.

The next issue of Number Watch will be devoted to a deconstruction of The Canterbury Tales.

Roots of evil

There is a nice irony in the latest scare to erupt all over the media, since it involves the pesticide favoured by the organic movement, rotenone (derris to the Brits), on the grounds that it is produced naturally from plant roots and leaves. Injecting the substance intravenously into laboratory rats produced the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Converting this observation into a scare involves a number of well-known fallacies:

The dosage fallacy – intravenous injection involves a higher dose than can be possibly achieved via the digestive tract. Everything is poisonous in sufficient dose. Why did the scientists not just feed it to the rats?

The fundamental food fallacy – one purpose of the enzymes in the digestive fluid is to break down such substances. Why did the scientists not just feed it to the rats?

Multiple missing links – the scare depends on assumptions that intravenous injection reproduces more natural forms of exposure, that the effect on rats is reproduced in humans, that the intravenous injection of almost anything would not have adverse effects.

PS After the above posting, a copy of the paper in question became available on the web. Apparently in unpublished work the stuff was fed to rats, and nothing happened. It is not the scientific publication that makes this sort of thing junk science – it is the immediate resorting to a press release, which is guaranteed to inflame a media scare. Unless you are concerned about the hapless rodents born to be sacrificed, the experiments performed in science laboratories and published in peer review journals are largely the affair of the coterie involved. The choice of experiment, however, and whether it is made with future press coverage in mind is another matter. 

The British talk about the weather

The relationship between the British and the weather is a strange one. It is their favourite topic of conversation, yet they are always being taken by surprise by it. Anything out of the ordinary, which is taken in their stride by most nations,  brings the whole country to a standstill. The floods sweeping Britain this month are unusual, but not abnormal. It is in the nature of the statistics of extremes that these things are going to happen from time to time. If you build your house on a flood plain, it follows as the night the day that it will eventually be flooded. That is how the flood plains were created in the first place. That is what they are for. Concreting over vast areas of the naturally absorbing soil guarantees that this will happen more often. Time was when communities carried on traditions that had been developed over hundreds of generations, such as hedging and ditching at the appropriate time of year. Water meadows were flooded for a purpose and houses were never built on them. Now people think they know better.

What an opportunity it allowed for the establishment to jump on the Global Warming bandwagon! They were all at it – the Prime Minister, his deputy, various ministers, the heir to the throne, old uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all. Is it such a difficult concept that the weather and the climate are different things? It all gave a great boost to the forthcoming junkfest in the Hague.

At first sight it looked like a breakthrough, when Louis Wolpert, that stalwart defender of the integrity of real science, achieved a top of page headline in The Times,  November 8th – Prince denounced as ignorant and arrogant. He was supported by John Butler of the Royal Armagh Observatory. The article, by Craig Clarke, however, soon switched into orthodoxy support mode, quoting such figures of the new establishment as Phil Jones, professor at the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia, John Lawton, chief executive  of the Natural Environment Research Council and Stephen Dunmore of Greenpeace. Wolpert was accused of being among a small group of "denialists", an emotive word with whiff of the holocaust. This deliberate lie originated by Al Gore, but oft repeated, ignores the fact that, when signatures are called for among scientists, the opponents of the Global Warming scam outnumber the proponents by more than ten to one.

The correspondence in the next day's edition carried on the usual emphasis on the orthodoxy, with letters from Professor Geoffrey Hammond of the University of Bath and a senior climate Campaigner from Friends of the Earth. A token short letter of opposition was allowed as a counterweight. This was from Professor Phillip Stott, another staunch upholder of scientific truth (see his ProBIOTECH web site). He succinctly point out the Global Warming is  a "socio-political idea invented in 1988, to try to legitimise the green agenda that already existed". The main distinction between the defenders and opponents of Global Warming is that one group has an interest in steering massive amounts of taxpayer and donor money in their own direction, while the other does not.

Let the Junkfest begin!

November just has to be the month of Global Warming, as the international establishment gathers in the Hague (13 - 24th November). The softening up has been going on in the media for weeks. You have to keep pinching yourself to confirm that this is not just a bad dream. It is hard to believe that the whole gallimaufry is based on what can, at the most kindly, be described as an unsubstantiated hypothesis. The crude suppression of dissenting voices from real science is almost unbelievable. Such a level of global censorship based on blind faith has not been seen since the heyday of the Church in the time of Galileo and Copernicus. Let us give thanks for the invention of the Web. If you want to know the true story look in the LINKS at sites such as the Junk Science Home Page, Pro BIOTECH, the Science and Environment Policy Project and several others.

Naturally the Guardian was at the forefront. Its front-page article yelled:

Confronting the perils of global warming in a vanishing landscape

As vital talks begin at the Hague, millions are already suffering the consequences of climate change

The article, which occupies most of the page, is based on the town of Rosetta, famous for its stone. Heart-rending stories describe a populace threatened with winter floods from the rising sea. This ancient settlement is threatened by the “excesses of modern civilisation”.

The tirade extends to the whole of page 3:

Welcome to the new world

Floods in Yorkshire. Millions facing drought in China. Permafrost melting in Russia. Malaria spreading across Africa. And that’s just the start. Guardian writers on how global warming is wreaking havoc around the world.

Britain is represented at the Junkfest by its answer to Al Gore, one John Prescott, known unaffectionately as Old Two Jags. It is typical of the effrontery of such politicians that, while the strut their stuff on the international stage, their actions at home are often just the opposite. Among other offences, Old 2-J has decreed the concreting over of rural Britain, sweeping aside the objections of the residents and their elected local authorities. For example, Number Watch comes to you from a delightful village that has had the virtually same population since the Domesday Book. Its buildings cover the whole range of architectures from the Norman Church to the modern chalet. Now, however, it is required by Government to make space on a green field for an estate of new houses that will swamp a balanced character that has taken a millennium to build. Locals are holding events in an attempt to raise the money to oppose the development at the token enquires that are the ritual overture to the arrival of the bulldozers. NIMBY you might cry, but the same story is being repeated all over the country and the green lungs of the country are being choked with bricks and mortar. Rural Britain, with its farming industry almost destroyed by politics, will become a scarred monument to the past, like the headless statues left by the earlier Puritans. Meanwhile, inner cities fall into further decay and just get the occasional perfunctory White Paper and no action.

Nevertheless, the Minister responsible parades his “Green” credentials before the world to the plaudits of the likes of Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. At least the electoral farce in the USA has spared us the presence of big Al and his own brand of junk.

Uncharacteristically, your bending  author waxed lyrical in the following passage from Sorry, Wrong Number!

Perhaps the greatest risk factor in life is where you live. As I write the notes for this section I am sitting on a small Bronze Age tumulus on one of the last preserved Hampshire chalk downlands. Around me hundreds of butterflies (some of them quite rare, like the Chalk Hill Blue or the Duke of Burgundy Fritillary) flit between the cowslips, rockroses and orchids. In front of me lies one of the most beautiful valleys on earth and in it nestles the village in which I am privileged to live. I have not seen a human being for the last two hours. Down in the village pub the old boys will be lighting their pipes and sipping their first ale of the day. Most of them will die in their beds at an age of over eighty.

Thanks to the diktat from environmentalist Prescott, this idyllic spot and diminishing refuge for threatened species will overlook a modern housing estate.

PS By one of those bizarre coincidences that make life so interesting, two days after I posted the above remarks, the BBC (South) used a shot of the very same green field with the rolling downs in the background as part of a piece on the problems of rural communities.

Meanwhile, the old buffoon himself mounted the podium at the Hague. According to the BBC:

The UK's Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, says the country's recent floods were a warning of further climate change. Mr Prescott told the UN climate conference in The Hague that the floods had been "a wake-up call". He said it was for the developed countries to lead the way in tackling global warming. And he said the conference was the opportunity of a lifetime to confront the problem.

Mr Prescott began with a reference to an unlikely object which now sits on the podium in the conference hall. "The sandbag which was placed here yesterday symbolises a lot to people in my country," he said. "Two weeks ago, much of my country was under water. In the ancient and Roman city of York, hundreds of people worked through many nights to save it from the worst floods and storms since 1625. "York had extensive new flood protection, tested to the limit where river levels rose over six metres. But it was only the thousands and thousands of these sandbags which saved the city.

"This was a wake-up call that struck home. When people see and experience these ferocious storms, long summer droughts, torrential rains - more extreme and more frequent - they know something is wrong and that climate change now affects them."

"The Minister of Environment for Nigeria told me that his home town has been engulfed not by water but by the spreading desert," said the deputy prime minister." Once-fertile countryside can no longer support farmers who have lived there for many hundreds of years." 

and on and on and on. Above I have posed the question "Is it such a difficult concept that the weather and the climate are different things?" As far as Old Two Jags is concerned, the answer is yes

Realistic interlude

At this stage readers may feel that they are beginning to lose touch with reality. As an antidote, look at some real numbers. Every week the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change publishes a new temperature chart from one of 1221 recording centres in the USA. Here is the one from Spokane:

As in many of the other cases cited weekly at this site, far from global warming being evident, the climate has cooled by two degrees. Nevertheless, the world probably is warming up, and has been since the little ice age four hundred years ago. Here, from the same source is a world temperature profile:

The re-warming after the little ice age has carried on at less than a degree per century. It should be a cause for celebration not doom-saying. There is not one iota of evidence that carbon emissions, which started to take off in the 1930s, have had any effect at all on this trend.

To find out what the weather really did in the past see notable events on the links page. Global warming freaks are fond of the technique of using the isolated statistic, such as the recent floods in Britain. One of the principles stated in Sorry, Wrong Number! is that for every isolated statistic there is an equal and opposite isolated statistic. For example, in 1982, when excess carbon dioxide production was supposed to be well under way, Britain recorded the coldest night on record. A morning minimum temperature of -26.1degC in Newport, Shropshire is the lowest night minimum temperature for England on record. Like other isolated statistics, this number has no climatic significance.

Correspondence Received

Many thanks for the messages of support for both Number Watch and Sorry, Wrong Number! They are greatly appreciated and it is good to know that we are not alone. Several correspondents have raised issues concerning the US Presidential election. As an alien publication Number Watch is politically neutral and totally mystified. It is not neutral about Al Gore, however, but because of his writings rather than his political affiliation.

Bruce Anderson draws attention to claims of statistically proven fraud, see here for example. One of the points hammered home in Sorry is that statistics has nothing to say about causation. It can, as in this case, identify a glaring anomaly, but proof requires a forensic examination using other branches of science.

Jeffrey A. Volberg, in a kind message, gently chides for the inclusion on page 192 of Sorry of a claim from CNN that 13 child deaths are caused every day by firearms in the USA. If this number is wrong I would be more than happy to publish a correct value, if anyone can supply an attested statistic. The quotation was part of a section lamenting the involvement of the pro- and anti-science debate in the left/right divide, which is rather underlined by the opening of this month's tirade at the top of the page.

I do try to reply to all correspondence, but please be patient.

Number of the Month

Try as one might, it is impossible to get away from the Global Warming scam this month: so it looks as though the number of the month has to be 10,000. This is the number of bureaucrats and "scientists" who attended the Junkfest in the Hague. No doubt they all travelled by sailing boat and bicycle.

After all the fuss, the Hague conference ended in stalemate, so all that hot air was for nothing. In Britain the Daily Telegraph was virtually alone in covering both sides of the argument. In particular it was unique in recording the view of the distinguished meteorologist Professor S Fred Singer, of the Science and Environmental Policy Project ( see Links), that there is no evidence of significant global warming since 1940. It will be sad if he is right, since we have not yet got back to the benign conditions that existed before the Little Ice Age.

Incidentally, if you would like to know why records always increase, see It's a record.

It was difficult to suppress a modicum of schadenfreude when Old 2-J returned from the Junkfest with his tail between his legs. He thought he was going to manage the usual politician's late night horse trading to produce a compromise. What he did not realise is that, thanks to the benefits of proportional representation, the Greens have cornered all the positions of Environmental Minister in Europe. As theological fundamentalists, they are not interested in compromise. They are right and everyone else must conform to their code. The fact that it is a cheap way of waging economic war against the USA is just a little bonus. Meanwhile, real pollution continues, human over-population produces a greater sum of misery and wide scale extinction of other species carries on apace. It's a funny old world.

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