Number of the Month

December 2001

The globalisation of incompetence

The opening diatribe on the September page was This is the dawning of the age of incompetence. The claim was more than justified by the headlines in the business pages on December 2nd, when events on each side of the Atlantic rocked business on the other side.

The American contribution was the collapse of Enron, America’s seventh largest company, which left British banks holding a multi-billion dollar baby. There was a nice inversion of the usual ad hominem fallacy, when the event was used as a stick to beat the conservative politics of the Enron Chairman. It has been a boon to the liberal establishment in America, who have had to face up to a series of fiascos, like the Californian energy see-saw. Enron made a major contribution to the break up of the comfortable energy monopolies, much to the benefit of the consumer. Where it ran into trouble was in starting to sell numbers rather than stuff. It created, to the admiration of financial journalists, what they like to give such names as exotic financial instruments, though to simple souls like your bending author they are simply new ways of betting. When you invest in a nice safe boring utility, you do not expect to hold shares in a bookmaker. The central fact is, however, that any fool can run a successful business during a boom.

Of late the climate in the financial world has favoured gambling, even after the debacle in 1998, when a hedge fund nearly brought the whole system tumbling down. That one was based on a “foolproof” mathematical formula. There is a basic fallacy in such reasoning. A formula must cease to work as soon as its use is big enough to be a significant proportion of the whole. You can prove this by considering the reductio ad absurdam scenario where everyone in a stationary market uses the same formula.

Trading in derivatives, or risks, is a fun game of musical chairs for as long as the inflationary music keeps playing. The predators in the property boom of the seventies, for example, made fortunes by asset stripping “unadventurous” companies, but many were left standing broke when the music stopped.

The British disaster was a nice antithesis to the American one, being a resurgence of old style socialist command management. Stephen Byers, whose name is nowadays usually preceded by the epithet beleaguered, thought he had devised a nice little old-Labour scam when he effectively re-nationalised Railtrack, without compensation to its shareholders, by driving it into administration. Born of an inept privatisation by the former Conservative Government, this seemed like easy prey. Some of the shareholders, however, seemed reluctant to take this lying down. Notable among these was the wrestling Governor of Minnesota, Jesse Ventura, whose state board of investment is down a cool four million dollars. Byers and his sidekick Spinning Jenny (see Who lives by the spin…. In October) have with one fell swoop destroyed the reputation of British utilities among potential overseas investors and seem likely candidates for a merited come-uppance when the boss gets back from saving the world. An already very expensive exercise is likely to be even more costly when the indirect effects are taken into account.

What the capitalist dog and the socialist functionary have in common is that they sit at their desks manipulating numbers, forgetting that they are dealing with real hardware and real engineers, who are leaving in the proverbial droves. Where Number Watch comes from the rail service is in tatters, ripe for the next major disaster, while a local water supplier was owned by Enron, leaving its customers wondering about the security of their supply. Fear not! As we reported last month, water is far too dangerous a substance to be made freely available to the public.

The complacency of the British as their nation slides gently into chaos is really quite remarkable. Calling the public services third world is now becoming an insult to developing countries. A democracy without an effective opposition is a sorry thing. The main achievement of the Government this month has been getting rid of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Elizabeth Filkin. The cheeky bitch actually insisted on trying to do her job. That problem is solved, anyway, as they have changed the rules of the job to rein in her successor; not in time, perhaps, to save the latest Minister, Neil Griffiths, to be caught with his fingers in the till.

Swede brains produce sinister results.

Unbelievable! It actually made the banner headline across the front of the Sunday Telegraph (December 9th) – Ultrasound linked to brain damage in babies. It is more bad news for left-handers too (see July Sinister bowel movement). They are now officially brain damaged. The Trojan number of babies in this data-dredge was (almost) 7,000. The risk ratio for men who ought to be genetically right-handed, but have become left-handed on account of brain damage caused by prenatal scans, was 1.3 (readers of Sorry, wrong number! might recall that Headline Man achieved 1.63 on the basis of no effect at all). As many as one in fifty male foetuses may be effected (a risk ratio of 1.02). Of course the Swedish authors of the report in Epidemiology (where else?) had no intention of causing a scare merely to achieve world headlines:

Prof Juni Palmgren, of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, a member of the team, told The Sunday Telegraph: "I would urge people not to refuse to have ultrasound scanning, as the risk of brain damage is only a possibility - but this is an interesting finding and needs to be taken seriously."


More numbers from the Guff War

700, 000 – now that’s what you call a Trojan number.

A study compared nearly 700,000 military personnel who served in The Gulf War between August 1990 and July 1991 with another 1.8 million personnel who were not deployed to the region. It found that those who were deployed were nearly twice as likely to develop amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a fatal neurological disorder often called Lou Gehrig's disease.

Among Gulf War veterans, the rate of disease was 6.7 people per million. Among other military personnel, it was 3.5 per million.

Reader Mat DiMeo wonders how they got 6.7 per million with 700,000 in their study. That would appear to suggest they found 4.7 people with the disease.

P.S. For further clarification (?) of the figures, more information is given by NYT . Will anyone who understands them please communicate.

Government will no longer go buy the book

As good almost kill a man, as kill a good book; who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God's image; but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself; kills the image of God, as it were in the eye.

240 Million pounds is the announced budget for educational software

The British media were full of a story that the Government plans to eliminate books from schools and replace them with computers. Damned right! Dangerous things, books. Give people ideas above their station. Generate antisocial trends like imagination and concentration. What do people want with culture, anyway? The Great Leader and his faithful followers manage quite well without it.

Of course, the Government has also discovered that computers are cheaper than teachers. According to the FT independent suppliers are concerned that the supply of material will be monopolised by the New Labour BBC.

P.S. Shade of Winston Smith

Contributed by Miceal O'Ronain:

The big advantage to electronic information distribution, from the government's point of view, is that there is nothing to burn if and when the contents become politically incorrect. E-books in the form of PDF files can be as bad or worse, than real books, because they can be electronically replicated. I would be willing to bet that the Leader's government decides to use web based central distribution of content. That way, there will only be one official source of information to "update" as the political situation dictates.

The risk that the Leader faces by using electronic distribution of content is that, some fraction of the students may stumble into subversive web sites such as Number Watch or Junk Science. Obviously stronger security measures will be needed to protect the minds of the youth. A cup of e-hemlock anyone?

Footnote: for those who have not read Nineteen Eighty Four, Winston Smith is the protagonist, whose job at the Ministry of Truth is daily to rewrite history as the needs of Big Brother's Government dictate.

Exit left

 A Labour MP, Paul Marsden, has defected to the Liberal Democrats because he is "fed up with the control and spin". His departure rather takes the gloss off the Great Leader's latest spin, which is to announce an end of spinning. Marsden's total opposition to the war in Afghanistan might not excite the support of many of us, but unlike the British Government we should remember the words of Voltaire:

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

Exercises in style

Those who have followed the global warming debate on spiked might well echo the view expressed in that there is a marked difference of approach in the proponents of each side of the argument. One side puts forward a logical argument largely based on scientific evidence, while the other indulges in emotional ad hominem attacks. Is there any need to say which side is which? It is a sad commentary on the state of academia, particularly in Britain's nationalised universities, that there are people in post who are evidently incapable of stringing together a couple of logical sentences. Perhaps they are a return to the era when the queen of sciences was theology. It is one thing to take liberties with logic and the language in a satirical commentary (as does Number Watch) but, in what is supposed to be a scientific debate, it is quite another to abandon all the principles of the scientific method that have been established by the great scientists and philosophers of the past. Some correspondents have cast doubt on the statement made in November that we live in a post-scientific age. What more evidence do they need?

Mad in Britain

Quem Juppiter vult perdere dementat prius
Whom God would destroy He first sends mad.

Environmental madness is taking over Britain at an alarming rate. The carbon scare over a non-existent threat is producing grotesque changes in the economy and scenery. Not only is there no anthropogenic global warming, there is no global warming per se. If there are still any doubters, look at the weekly selections of weather station reports here and here. The uniquely two-sided debate conducted by sp!ked has resulted in game, set and match to the sceptics. The argument is billed by the media as “The Scientists” versus the sceptics. In the former scientific age, the scientists were the sceptics.

A report commissioned by the Great Leader warns of the draconian changes necessary to achieve the “deep” carbon cuts required by the tenets of the new religion. A whole Scottish island is to be given over to an ugly “farm” of giant bird slicers. This unreliable and intermittent source of energy can only exist with the prop of enormous subsidies from the taxpayer and consumer. Meanwhile, the subsidy on a continuous and reliable source of energy (nuclear) is to be removed, which will ultimately make the nation dependent on the economic and political vagaries of the fossil fuel market.

Americans should give thanks for the pregnant chads and electoral vagaries that saved them from the high priest of the environmental religion. Europeans seem destined to wake up only when it is too late and the economic gloom has descended permanently on this blighted continent.

Goodbye habeas corpus, hello corpus juris

The dismantling of Britain’s heritage of a precious unwritten constitution carries on at an accelerating pace. The latest move is to adopt an EU-wide arrest warrant. This means that a British citizen can be arrested for an offence that does not exist in his own country, thrown into a foreign jail without evidence and left there for years without a trial. This has been coincidentally highlighted by the case of a bunch of nerds who were arrested for spying while on a plane-spotting trip to Greece. The idea of Greece having any military secrets worth stealing might be ludicrous, but in future for saying so your bending author could risk time in a verminous jail for xenophobia, a crime that does not exist in Britain but is covered by the warrant. The men who laboured (and often died) for the liberties of Englishmen (and hence of Americans) laboured in vain. Stephen Langton, Simon de Montfort and thousands of other lesser mortals, who strove to better the lot of their fellow men, lived (and often died) for rights that have been cast aside as a mere inconvenience by the Great Leader. The likes of the Duke of Wellington, who defeated Napoleon, might as well have stayed at home, as the Napoleonic Code will now be applied in their native land with none of the protection of the common law and the fiercely independent judiciary that we have taken for granted.

Vital constitutional elements, such as the presumption of innocence, will be no more. The British are pathologically devoted to the rule of law, unlike the French and Belgians who, for example, routinely ignore the rulings of the European Court when they are inconvenient (the continuing ban on British beef being a current case in point). So it is a certainty that the European law will be gold-plated and rigorously applied by zealous civil servants in Britain but not elsewhere.

The declared objective of European Federalists is to create a corpus juris, a body of law that applies across the continent, such as its Bill of Rights, which pretends to preserve the rights of the individual but in practice often does just the opposite.

Meanwhile, the British Home Secretary is trying to slip in his own catch-all anti-libertarian legislation on the back of the September 11th disaster. He has been frustrated by the House of Lords, who have rejected, for example, his attempt to introduce the concept of religious crime (woe betide unbelievers in Global Warming, for example). No wonder the Great Leader is so anxious to kill off the upper house and replace it with a collection of cloth-headed political cronies.

This new national disaster is all neatly summarised in an article by Melanie Philips in the Daily Mail (December 13th). This remarkable journalist, the only one to receive unstinting approbation from Number Watch, has added lustre to her new home and, indeed, the Daily Mail seems to have become much more a journal of reason since the recent times when it was the British home of junk science.


Christmas competition

A prize of one Euro is offered for the best complete account of the Great Leader’s knowledge of British History and Culture. Entries to be sent to Number Watch on a postage stamp. In the event of a tie, the distinguished panel of judges will award the prize to the most creative use of the remaining space.


A cocktail remixed

Back in January we featured a cocktail of numbers relating to the health service, which included:

£200,000,000 is the money to be spent by the British National Health service in overhauling sterilisation equipment and providing single-use disposable instruments to avoid the risk of transmission of vCJD.

0 is the number of patients known to have been infected with vCJD by surgical instruments.

We can now add to this (see BBC News):

1 is the number of deaths believed to be caused by the imposition of single-use instruments.

40,000 is the approximate number of urgent operations that could not be carried out because of the wastage of funds.

Unknown is the number of patients harmed by this practice, now abandoned, which was brought about by the scaremongers of the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC).

It's in the book!

Just in case anyone is beginning to think that the continuous stories about the assault on the British constitution and culture are a product of the fevered brain of your bending author, the original Daily Mail story is shown (click the thumbnail for full size). There is a nice double irony in that top of the list for removal is Eric Blair (writing under the nom de plume of George Orwell) Mailbooks.jpg (1262572 bytes)who predicted all the cultural disasters that are now being implemented by his namesake, Tony Blair. It is all there in Nineteen Eighty Four. In particular there is the prole class defined in the Newspeak Dictionary as: 
- Proletarians. Approximately 85% of Oceania's population are in this class. Members of the party viewed them as animals. They are not as rigidly observed as members of the party, and very few (if any) have telescreens in their home. They are permitted to indulge in pornography, prostitution, and other acts considered thoughtcrime, simply because it would be impossible to observe all of them as rigidly as the party observes its own members. Plus, allowing them to indulge in these "little joys" helps to keep the masses content.
There is also Pornosec - Department of Minitrue. Produces the "lowest-kind" of pornography for the proles. In the Novel, it is described as a "sub-section of the Fiction Department which turned out cheap pornography for distribution among the proles. It was nicknamed Muck House by the people who worked in it". They "produced booklets in sealed packets with titles like Spanking Stories or One Night in a Girls' School, to be bought furtively by proletarian youths who were under the impression that they were buying something illegal".
And there is prolefeed - Rubbishy "Entertainment" and spurious news which the Party handed out to the masses. This includes written literature, movies, porn, music, and other various propaganda created for the proles.

Many of Orwell's other predictions are coming true, including omnipresent television surveillance (Telescreen), the genesis of Big Brother, doublethink and the manipulation of news and history and the versificator ( a machine for mechanically producing literature for the masses). Pretty impressive for one writing in 1948.

On the other hand

A nice contrast to the above story appears in the Sunday Telegraph, December 16th. It tells of the extraordinary bravery of the women of Herat in Afghanistan who, under the guise of a sewing circle, kept culture going under the noses of the Taliban. They were instructed by the remarkable Professor Rahiyab, who risked mutilation and death to foster their love of literature. 25,000 books were burned by the Taliban, but the Professor managed to keep some precious copies hidden away. Equally amazing was the poet Naser Khafash, who frequently managed to cock a snook at the insurgents. Shame the British don’t show a fraction of that sort of determination in the face of New Labour.

Footnote: correspondents have drawn attention to Fahrenheit 451, which was in the author's mind when writing the above two pieces.

We have ways of making you pay

One of the facilities most cherished by those who would deceive with numbers is the ability to choose an optimum start date (see Chartmanship). Germany pulled off one of the most spectacular coups in the history of number scams at the Kyoto conference when they swung 1990 on their unsuspecting colleagues. Unfortunately for them, but fortunately for the world economy, it all rather fell apart when, instead of the expected mug, America came up with a President who exhibited that uncommon quality of commonsense. The British were not so fortunate.

An enduring image from iron curtain days for this author was of Frankfurt an der Oder from the Polish side of the river. It was like a giant yellow Parthenon, formed by the sulphurous smoke from the lignite burning factory chimneys rising in columns and settling in a stratum over the city. In that image lies the essence of the scam. For a detailed analysis see a guest paper kindly submitted by Miceal O’Ronain.

From Chambers dictionary: mug(3) (coll.) noun. A simpleton: an easy dupe – a mug’s game something only fools would do [origin unknown].
I have a lot of trouble with my Anglicisms. Often, as in this case, I am taken by surprise to find that they are not universal.

The Numbers Game

In the opening diatribe this month reference was made to people who sit at desks manipulating numbers. It has, indeed, become a whole way of business. Energy companies, for example, trade without owning any generating stations, cables or pipes (They do like to own windmills, though, because they are a nice little subsidised earner).

As regular readers will know, Number Watch is entirely funded from the modest sales of the book of the web site. Involvement on the fringes of the book selling business has been a revelation about modern business theory and practice.

Amazon, for example, has come in for a lot of criticism from the gurus on the grounds of its “poor” business model, and its downfall has been predicted for years. This poverty is based on the fact that it actually keeps stock. Our book is offered in the UK by seven on-line booksellers. Only two keep it in stock and offer instant delivery. Only two ever sell any (the same two, Amazon and Blackwell’s). The other five have “good” business models in that they are merely introduction and postal forwarding agencies. The Amazon system works very well on the whole. They are very supportive of small and new publishers. Their computer generates orders at a rate designed to keep a minimal stock. Unfortunately, the human element enters and, when they tell you the book is on order and delivery is one or two weeks, it has actually been sitting in their goods inwards department for a week or two. Some of the big booksellers take up to one hundred days free credit from the supplier, while small shops, who don’t know about business theory, tend to pay within the month.

The biggest seller of the book in the UK, however, has a hopeless business model. Greenweld order regularly in bulk and pay by cheque with order. Their turnover is sufficient for them to get their money back and make a profit in less than a month. It seems to an innocent, such as your bending author, that much of modern business is based on the P T Barnum principle. In times of recession, however, there are fewer mugs to go round, and the swarming business consultants might have to adjust their theories.

 Two far fetched

The microcluster is alive and well and living in Britain, the home of its discovery. “Scientists” have discovered that two teenagers who developed vCJD received oral polio vaccine from the same batch of 80,000 doses. They were two of the five victims of the disease in the Southampton area. Whatever next? Don’t tell us (shock, horror!) that they shared the same postman. This extraordinarily stupid story made the front page of The Times December 18th) Polio vaccine linked to CJD victims. At least the BBC had the negative headline Polio vaccine link to vCJD dismissed, but why bother to tell us about it in the first place? It is just another stupid and unnecessary scare based on data dredging and the Birthday Fallacy. Even the arch scaremongers of SEAC rushed to assure punters that it “could be” coincidental and people should not avoid vaccination. So who was the half-wit who decided to put out a press release of a non-event that was guaranteed to saturate the media? Nobody is saying, but the finger of suspicion points at the CJD surveillance unit at the University of Edinburgh. Number Watch was prompted to have a look at what they are up to............. 

 We are all doomed!

 Their web pages are full of lovely statistics based on very small numbers. Look at the death rate, for example.

They tell us that the underlying trend is an increase at a rate of 1.27 a year (i.e. an exponential model) so that next year’s deaths are predicted to total 35. Why stop at one year? On this model everyone in the UK will be dead within 60 years. How was this factor calculated? By fitting an exponential curve to the number of deaths per quarter. As follows:

Only a nasty old cynic would suggest that a curve other than the exponential could be fitted to these data. He might, for example, posit a wholly random (Poisson) distribution, perhaps modified by failures of diagnosis in the earlier years; or even a trend that was rising and is now falling. A data set of  only about a hundred deaths in six years lends itself to almost any interpretation. As with other areas of modern academic life (such as climate research) a major factor is possibly where the next grant is coming from. A rising trend means future employment.

Just for fun Number Watch tried a one line Mathcad program to generate random Poisson numbers with an average of four (x = rpois(24,4) ). Here is one run selected from ten for its artistic merit. The fitted exponential curve corresponds to a rate of increase of 1.42 per year.

‘Tis the season

Many thanks to those who sent seasonal greetings, which are, of course, warmly reciprocated. Damn the expense! I’ll throw another coal on the fire.

Here in the cramped and dusty study in the west wing of Numeric Towers, around which the winter wind curls with penetrating cruelty, your bending author sits at a high desk balancing precariously on a high stool and muses on the long wait it seems for global warming, as the crabbed arthritic fingers find difficulty maintaining a grip on the ragged quill pen. The half-fingered gloves are getting rather threadbare and do not seem to help much. That will be another expense in a few years time. I pause to mutter “Bah! Humbug!” at the shrill voices of the children outside the forbidding wrought iron gates. They are playing the traditional games of Split the infinitive and Hang the participle.

Down in the village hovels, their parents, most of whom work in the traditional local industries of climatology and epidemiology, practising skills handed down by their forefathers since 1982, are readying themselves for the annual pagan orgy to celebrate the return of the sun after the winter solstice. The fathers are busy preparing for the oven the traditional festive dish of high-fibre vegetarian turkey-substitute cubes accompanied, of course, by the regulation daily five portions of fresh fruit and vegetables. Magnums of mineral water (not carbonated, of course!) gently subside into ice buckets with a hushed crepitation. The mothers sit at the kitchen table (it being anti-social to heat more than one room) juggling figures for their next research grant application, well aware that their first duty is to ensure that there is organic food on the table in the new year.

Meanwhile one’s own duty is to start making notes for the next monthly diatribe. Putting on the earphones and delicately adjusting the cat’s whisker of the crystal set, I tune the coil and condenser to the BBC news, in order to receive the latest statistical outpourings of the globalised scare industry. Pausing only to remove with a sleeve the dew drop depending from my red and frosted nose, I draw the guttering candle closer, I dip the quill into the bottle of venom, I begin to scribble…….

Nanny’s obituary for Uncle Norman

A jolly tale for those who live by the new Ten Commandments. The story, headlined by the BBC as Research explodes 'health myths', comes from the University of Glasgow. Readers of Sorry, wrong number! might remember them from the tale of Return of the Magnificent Seven in which a scare about “heavy” drinking and strokes turned out to be based on an excess of just seven deaths.

Researchers compiled their findings from a 25-year study of a Trojan Number of 6,000 men from the west of Scotland aged between 45 and 64. They are probably the same men as the 5766 in the same data dredge that produced the Magnificent Seven; not as productive as the Harvard Nurses but a pretty good paper spinner.

The researchers found that 48 of the 107 "Uncle Norman" figures, defined as overweight heavy smokers, in fact died before the age of 70. By contrast, only 12 of 337 lifelong non-smokers who were not overweight - commonly referred to as "the last person you'd expect" - died of heart disease before they reached 70.

Number Watchers will observe that numbers never tell the whole story. They might be inclined to raise one or two questions.

There are three arbitrary thresholds here, the age of 70, the definition of overweight and the definition of heavy smoking. How much juggling was done to optimise the outcome?

For how many of the Uncle Normans was excess weight a symptom of disease rather than a cause? Your bending author, for example, was embarrassingly skinny for most of his life but became fat following the onset of arthritis and the consequent restriction of activity. Many people become sedentary and fat because of a heart condition, often undeclared. Tobacco and alcohol are well known as relievers of pain and stress.

How many in each category had a life of quality at the end of seventy years? By the very nature of things some of them must have been non compos mentis and others in great pain. Many pensioners in the UK have a life of cold, hunger and neglect (Age Concern claims that 20,000 elderly Britons die of cold every year, a problem almost unique to Britain and unknown in many colder countries). The Nanny State that lectures them about a life style to prolong their lives is somewhat less sanguine about making all those extra years tolerable. As the veteran campaigner against Government insanity, Christopher Booker, reports, in 2001 a thousand more private care homes for the elderly have been forced into closure by Government and bureaucratic measures. New absurdly impractical requirements of the Care Standards Act, coming into force next April, will give local authority bureaucrats powers to close even more. No one seems to care about what happens to the inmates (as long as they don't indulge in politically incorrect excesses).

How many actually wanted to live longer than seventy years? We all know of people who quite deliberately drink themselves to death, sometimes following bereavement or other trauma. Many, once they know they are going to die, stop worrying about the putative dangers of things they enjoy. Some, often quite famous, take their own lives in more dramatic ways. Since when was an undignified death from senile decay made compulsory? In its characteristic arbitrary and random way, the modern state kills many people prematurely and keeps many others alive against their will. The updated first commandment is Thou shalt not kill; but needst not strive officiously to keep alive.

Number Watch Obituaries

Uncle Norman

Died aged 69 of a sudden heart attack in his sleep. Lived life to the full and claimed that he had enjoyed every day, every meal, every drink and every cigar. Leaves behind many friends, who give thanks for the joy he brought into their lives.


Lars Pearson

Died aged 99 of senile decay on the streets of Glasgow, following the closure of the nursing home that had been his residence for 30 years. A noted eccentric, he lived his life as a hermit on a diet of thin gruel. Leaves no known friends or relatives.


Silly? Of course, but why should the Devil have all the best tunes?

The Number Watch Annual Awards

Welcome folks to the long awaited Number Watch Annual Awards. Breath may be unbated as we reveal the winners of the coveted statuettes fondly known as Numbies.

The award for Post-science Personality of the Year goes to Dr David Viner. He burst onto the scene with a cogent contribution to the spiked debate on Global Warming, in which he displayed a new imaginative approach to scientific logic with the statement that infidels who expressed doubts about the religion should be “ignored and pilloried” (simultaneously). His next contribution was even more creative and led your bending author to offer his own small and inadequate tribute. Viner is a senior representative of the Climate Research Unit, a fine justification for the return to the State control of Science, which has languished so pathetically since the wayward intrusions of the likes of Galileo and Copernicus.

Post-science Journalist of the Year <material removed>

On a more negative note Party Pooper of the Year is Miceal O'Ronain. Not only did he contribute to Making the News, he spoiled the Kyoto party game of Let’s Pretend by actually looking at the numbers behind the protocol in two offensively old-science type analyses.

The special Lifetime Achievement Award goes to Devra Davies. We thought we had got rid of lost the Queen of Hyperbole, who once claimed that eight million lives would be lost if the world did not accept her recommendations on limiting the use of fossil fuels. Fear not, she is still at it, demonstrating that Bjorn Lomborg does not understand the science by a deft use of creative logic that puts Viner in the shade, including the substitution a  centre of mass for an average.

The award for the Most Enduring Myth goes to Coffee and Breast Cancer. You probably missed the final refutation of it as it was uniformly ignored by the media, though they gave it copious coverage when it first appeared two decades ago. Oddly enough, the refutation Scientists cool on coffee cancer theory, by researchers in Stockholm, has disappeared from Yahoo and Reuters, but a copy of the original can be forwarded on request to Number Watch. This has particular sentimental value for Number Watch, since it was reading the original story that set its bending author on the downward path that led to early retirement from a professorial chair in order to adopt a life of poverty writing neglected books and web pages. How, he thought, could the media publish anything so implausible? Then the more sinister thought occurred, that people calling themselves scientists had actually produced this stuff. The rest is his story.

Many Number Watchers have made suggestions for the Number of the Year. What have become euphemised as the “events of September 11th “ have been excluded, as Number Watch does not wish to be involved in the further trivialisation of this appalling experience. The “events” have become an excuse for failure by all sorts of people, from Finance Ministers to Company Directors. They have also been used as an excuse for draconian legislation to restrict the freedom of the individual. We have already commented on the numerological antics of the likes of Uri Geller, but 911 is now even used as a sales gimmick in some of the hundreds of junk e-mails that we receive. Why these people bother to send their unattractive dollar offers to the UK is a mystery. Anyway, on this side of the pond 911 means the ninth of November: there are two logical ways of writing the date numerically and putting the least significant number in the middle is not one of them.

Special mention must be given to the Scottish New Labour Government of the UK. Making the full use of the absence of an effective opposition, it has gone a long way towards sweeping away Britain’s long-standing unwritten constitution. The Upper house has been emasculated in preparation for eventual conversion to a House of Cronies, though to its credit it has still managed to resist some of the worst excesses of the executive (including further erosion of liberties with the excuse of “the events”). The countries of the Nation (except, of course, the English) have been given their own grandiose parliaments. Services such as Transport and Health services have sunk to a low that would have been inconceivable even five years ago. They remain, however, to use one of their favourite words “focussed”. For example, on the penultimate day of the year they announced that the National Health Service would offer facilities such as yoga and herbal nostrums (Sunday Times); not much consolation to those who have been waiting for years in pain for their operations or those whose relatives are dying of diseases caught in filthy NHS hospitals, but it shows that they are in tune with the spirit of the new post-scientific age, the symbol of which is the First Lady (the Queen no longer counts) and her medallion filled with magic crystals to ward off dangerous radiation.

They continue to impose draconian taxes on individuals and industry that are justified by the wilder fantasies of epidemiologists and climatologists. They continue to destroy the remains of the beautiful British rural environment and the responsible Minister (Ten-homes Meacher) is granting himself new powers to bypass planning objections.

Their great triumph, however, has been the deft way they dealt with the Foot and Mouth Disease crisis. Not for them a silly little outbreak like that in the Netherlands, which was quickly disposed of by the obvious means of vaccination. Despite the widespread breaking of the law by Government officials, they have managed to reduce the number of prosecutions to one (a hapless woman who tried to save her pets from illegal slaughter) and they have now given themselves powers to kill people’s livestock and pets without any legal restraint. The FMD fiasco gave us our number of the month for February, when it was 15,000 and April, when it was two million. To qualify as Number of the Year, a number has to be associated with some of the things that have concerned us on these pages. They include political and bureaucratic incompetence, lying, unwonted secrecy, panic, electoral shenanigans, official law-breaking, ignoring of experts, listening to new age experts (such as epidemiologists), abuse of measurement, statistics and computers, outrageous financial costs, cruelty, the waiving of rights of individual citizens, who are reduced to desperation and suicide, and a final cover up. Uniquely, one number is associated with all of these. It is the number of animals, most of them innocent and healthy, that were pointlessly and illegally slain.

The Number of the Year is therefore (and here we trust the Private Eye unofficial report rather than the official one):

Number of the Year 7.7 Million

PS Americans will be understandably distraught at the poor performance of their country in these awards. If only they had elected Al Gore!




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