Number of the Month

October  2002

Sinister, or what?

Even a few years reporting on the modern numbers rackets left your bending author unprepared for the latest development. The British Wind Energy Association has published a list of names of people who have publicly opposed its aims under the heading We know where you live. These people, who were rightly protesting at the outrageous granting of planning permission for Enron to erect 39 giant windmills on the beautiful Welsh coast, have received the classic veiled threat. We are now only too familiar with the extortion that goes on (for example, the British nuclear industry, which is in deep financial trouble, has to pay a carbon tax, though it produces no carbon, which is diverted into the pockets of the wind machine mobsters) but the fact that it is now so open is somewhat disturbing. Even if global warming were something more than a pseudo-scientific myth, the case for desecrating the landscape with these monstrous, noisy, bird-slicing, white elephants would be a feeble one. You still have to provide an equivalent amount of conventional back up power for when the wind isn’t blowing. The economic case, without the proceeds of extortion, is a nonsense. Furthermore, even if you swallowed the whole Kyoto scam, the effect on global warming would be negligible.

We live in trouble times.

Tell me the old, old story

When you are referee for a number of scientific journals, a Herculean labour your bending author has gratefully passed onto others, certain types of weak offerings come to you in various guises. One classical and ubiquitous genre is the “second order system model” and a fine example of it appears in Nature. It has been applied to almost everything, in this case to the stock market. It is always a Good Thing these days to pick on a topic that is currently hot in the media. The verbiage tells you that the authors have created a model in which they have built in a return force proportional to the displacement, a damping factor and inertia. In more familiar terms they have defined a pendulum. Surprise, surprise the result is a decaying oscillation.

When you have seen a few dozen similar waveforms it is difficult to stifle a yawn. These models serve no scientific purpose, as they make no predictions that can be tested. The big difference is that these days they get published.

Thoughts from the greenhouse

Regular correspondent Frank R Borger questions the answer given to the FAQ on the greenhouse effect, observing correctly that it does not include the contribution of the suppression of convection to the operation of a real greenhouse. He cites an article on the valuable Bad Science web site. This your bending author has read and, being but a simple engineer, has failed to understand. Enlightenment would be welcome via the Number Watch Forum. Meanwhile, here are a few thoughts that occur on the matter:

  1. My garden shed stays relatively cool, while my greenhouse heats up during the day.
  2. My greenhouse only warms up when the sun is shining (during the day) and cools down when it is dark (at night).
  3. The second law of thermodynamics tells us that heat will not spontaneously pass from a body to a warmer body. This includes radiation.
  4. The atmosphere and the surface of the earth are at roughly the same absolute temperature.
  5. The sun is somewhat hotter than either.
  6. Even if it is diffused, daylight comes from the sun only. That is why it is dark at night.
  7. Convection does not cause any loss of heat to the Earth as a whole; it merely redistributes it. The only mechanism by which the Earth loses heat is radiation.
  8. While the suppression of convection keeps a greenhouse warm, it does not cause it to warm in the first place. It warms up because its contents receive radiation (directly or indirectly) from a much warmer body.
  9. While the atmosphere is a source of radiation it is not a source of energy. It is an energy store (like the solid earth and, particularly, the oceans). These are all approximately in thermal equilibrium, the small deviations from which produce the weather.
  10.  Of course it is nonsense to say that the atmosphere keeps the earth warm by acting as a blanket, if anyone is saying that. We are enjoined, instead, to use the explanation “The surface of the Earth is warmer than it would be in the absence of an atmosphere because it receives energy from two sources: the Sun and the atmosphere.” This is like saying the customers receive more goods because they can get them from two sources; the manufacturer and the retailer. The surface of the Earth would receive almost exactly the same amount of total radiation if there were no atmosphere.
  11. The Earth reradiates exactly the same amount of energy as it receives (ignoring possible nuclear sources in the interior). The atmosphere raises the equilibrium temperature needed to achieve that amount of radiation. It does this by creating gaps in the spectrum.
  12. The atmosphere is part of the Earth. Apart from a small contribution to the effective cross-section, it does not change the total radiation received by the Earth. It has two significant properties in respect of temperature maintenance. One is its thermal capacity, which causes it to act as a low-pass filter and smooth out temperature fluctuations in time and space. The other is its absorption spectrum. In particular, it preferentially absorbs infrared radiation, both in the inward and outward direction, a property it shares with glass. While the greenhouse analogy is in many ways inexact (as are all analogues) it is not all that bad.
  13. The argument is largely a semantic one. The only thing that really matters is the absorption spectrum and that is largely down to water vapour. This is the crucial point.

Note added a day later

Perhaps, on further thought, the above remarks are over-complicated and possibly a little facetious. The argument in the article quoted contains one of the fundamental fallacies; what might be called the fallacy of reciprocation or "one half of the balance sheet". Omitted is the fact that the Earth is also warm and transfers heat back to the atmosphere. As they are (on average) in thermal equilibrium the heat flow in both directions sums to zero.

The so-called greenhouse effect is simply explained as a three body problem. The three bodies are one that is very small but very hot, the Sun, one that is very large and very cold, outer space, and the earth. The first two may be considered to act as black bodies, so they emit according to Wien's laws. The energy transfer is governed by the area under the black body spectrum, which depends only on the temperature. The blue planet, however, is not a black body. Its absorption/emission spectrum contains gaps, due mainly to the presence of water vapour in the atmosphere. As it is in thermal equilibrium with the other two bodies, it has to radiate as much as it absorbs. In order for the area under the spectrum to be sufficient, the equilibrium temperature must therefore be higher than if it were a black body.

Cowboys and Indians

 Do they not read? Do they not understand? Or are they just wilful liars?

New Labour BBC has come up with one of those old hardy perennials about the dangers of weak radiation. It has been known ever since the Manhattan Project in 1943 that ionising radiation shares with many other toxic agents the property of hormesis. This is the tendency for small doses actually to be beneficial, or at least neutral, in their effect. Furthermore it is known that human DNA incurs a dramatically large number of lesions per cell per year, which are repaired. For a full discussion with references see Jaworowski in What Risk? (Edited by Roger Bate, Butterworth Heineman, 1997, ISBN 0 7506 3810 9).

Yet again a bunch of scaremongers come up with a feeble excuse to exercise even more drastic limits:

People who are exposed to even low levels of radiation at work may be at risk of cancer, scientists have suggested. 
They believe that current safety limits may be too high and that more research needs to be done to protect health workers, scientists and others who come into contact with radioactive materials. 

They investigated people in a part of India where the background radiation is higher than anywhere else and it goes on:

The vast majority of people living in this area are fishermen and come into regular contact with the sands. 

The scientists examined the effects of the radiation on mitochondrial DNA - the tiny energy factories which power cells. 

They found that those exposed to radiation had higher levels of "point mutations" in their mitochondrial DNA.
A "point mutation'' takes place when a single "base'' - the genetic code is made up of four bases - along a DNA strand gets changed.
People who lived locally but were not exposed to the radioactive sands had significantly fewer mutations.
The mutations affect non-coding DNA and do not have an impact on health.
However, the scientists have suggested that encoding genes - those that can trigger disease - could also be affected.
They added that the findings raise serious questions about the levels of radiation people can be exposed to at work.
The people in the study were exposed to radiation which is 10 times greater than the worldwide average.

What they don’t tell us, of course, is whether these people exhibited a higher level of disease than anyone else. Is it unreasonable to expect that this would be the obvious thing to investigate before launching such a scare? Or is it that they already know what the result would be?

It has become a whole new genre, like the alcohol on planes farce. A study that has nothing to do with anything relevant and, indeed, goes out of its way to avoid the obvious relevant observation, is used to call for draconian laws limiting human activity. It concludes (emphasis and questions added):

Dr Peter Forster of the Molecular Genetics Laboratory at the McDonald Institute at the University of Cambridge, said these safety limits should be reviewed. Why?
"These findings may be cause for rethinking whether the maximum levels for radiation exposure at work should be brought down."
Speaking to BBC News Online, he added: "This section of DNA will always be non-coding but we only looked at this bit. Why?
"Perhaps it is happening to other genes and maybe it is happening to genes that have been linked to cancer." 


The indefatigable Aaron Oakley has unearthed studies that actually did compare those exposed with the general population. Guess what!

 Hell and high water

L'Enfer, c'est les Autres
Jean-Paul Sartre, Huis Clos

15th October, 11 pm. The New Labour BBC programme called Wild Weather finished an hour ago. Still seething but calm enough to write some thoughts. Had a strange flashback to childhood, when numbers of boys from poor areas all over England could have an almost free holiday at the then unspoiled (though no longer) Brean Sands in Somerset. Idyllic days on the beach and the wildlife reserve on the headland. The pay off came at seven every evening when we had to endure an hour of hellfire and damnation from the Plymouth Brethren who ran the camp (unless, of course, you bought the product, when you would be assured of eternal life). The programme was about fifty minutes of superb production based on hot spots around the world, the usual amount of fakery for the sake of dramatisation, but immensely effective for all that. The pay off came in the last ten minutes. The commentary was infested with MMC disease, but the images were hellfire and damnation based on the global warming myth and, of course, the greenhouse effect without the water vapour. Manhattan was submerged and broken up into two islands. Floodwater surged through the New York subway. It was pure naked propaganda for the Green energy-free society. The message was that we were all to bake or drown in hell unless we voluntarily returned to the idyll of the Stone Age. We were urged to visit the Climate Change website. There is even a small patronising section for the sceptics, including ESEF and Philip Stott. Those who have read 1984 will remember to chant “Hate, hate, hate!” when they come to that bit.

There is, however, light in the darkness. When you read the contributions to the message board associated with this propaganda package, the admass do not seem to be as uniformly gullible as Establishment might feel entitled to expect. That's the trouble with pestilential humanity; they don't all swallow Nanny's prescription.

 Sez it all, reelly

Bullet point from a large display advertisement in the Independent on behalf of the Faculty of which your bending author was once proud to be a member:

Our principle (sic) degree's (sic) are all rated five star.

Fortune cookies

Three is the number of irresistible financial offers your bending author has received from the continent of Africa in one day. They have been coming for about five years now, but this is a record. It is very touching to be so implicitly trusted by complete strangers with vast fortunes that they have found in their possession and, in order to share in the bonanza, all one has to do is hand over all the details of one’s personal bank account . Mr. John Cisse was personal confidant to the President of Sierra Leone and now has possession of his treasure of eighteen million dollars in the Cote d' Ivoire. Mrs Happiness Bangurah is the widow of the President of the Sierra Leone Diamond Corporation and has the problem of disposing of a mere twelve million. Sello Sankoh, on the other hand, has twenty two million, which his father left in an iron box. While it is flattering to be uniquely selected to assist such trusting people, one who completely failed even to get in on the dot com revolution is not really qualified to assist is such cases, however profitable. Nevertheless, there must be some punters out there who are eager to help or the messages would have dried up long ago.

Perhaps they should apply to the Phineas T Barnum School of Investment Counseling. 

Broken dreams

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
That’s the trouble with government. Fixing things that aren’t broken and not fixing things that are broken.

Bert Lance

 It is difficult to overstate the scale of the problems caused by meddling politicians with numbers before their eyes. In recent months the British media have been obsessed with the disaster that has overtaken the two most vulnerable elements in society, the old and the young.

The schools examination system sailed on smoothly for decades. It was overseen by university examination boards and was admired and adopted around the world. This was not good enough for the bureaucrats and, taking advantage of the Thatcherite revolution, they began to take control. The school leaving exams (A-level) in particular had maintained a constant high standard for many years. Then in 1982 (that dread year again) the A-level scores began to rise and continued to do so for two decades. Panic ensued this year when they began to approach the buffers, at which everybody got the top grade and there was a crude attempt to doctor the results after the event. Many students were cheated of their university places by being arbitrarily downgraded. The Education Minister, who gives every appearance of not being particularly bright, found herself at the centre of a mounting crisis with the media calling for her head.

The other aspect of existence that proceeded fairly smoothly was the pensions industry. Again successive governments simply could not leave well alone. David Willets, one of the few members of the opposition to show occasional signs of cognitional life, has unearthed the latest and greatest of a series of blunders that will destroy the hopes of people who looked forward to a reasonably comfortable retirement. The Office for National Statistics has been grossly overestimating the amount being saved, by no less than 43.5%. They did this by the process of double counting that has been endemic in Government obfuscation over recent years. It brings the Chancer of the Exchequer’s grotesque raid on pension funds into even starker perspective. As Patience Wheatcroft pointed out in The Times (Oct 22nd) an attempt to cover this up involved an essay in the sort of opaque prose that has also become a characteristic tool of Government. Meanwhile, in yet another characteristic ploy, the Government has been leaking various draconian proposals from its working party on a pensions White Paper, such as withdrawal of the right to a tax free lump sum and tax relief at higher rates. The purpose of this is to get through slightly less nasty changes, at which everyone is supposed to heave a sigh of relief. Now people are being told that they will have to work until they are seventy, even though in the age of ageism there are no jobs for the over fifty fives. Not only will they spend their dotage in slavery, but they will be dependent on the bureaucratic wreckage that was the National Health Service.

However bad the Conservative Governments were (and they were bad) they come nowhere near New Labour in their ability to destroy the lives and hopes of ordinary people.

Which all calls to mind a famous quotation from Labour Leader Neil Kinnock:

If Margaret Thatcher wins on Thursday, I warn you not to be ordinary, I warn you not to be young, I warn you not to fall ill, and I warn you not to grow old. (Speech 1983).


The latest crisis in British politics is the threatened strike by Firemen. Caught between union militancy and Government obduracy, the firemen are in a bind which could have tragic consequences for the nation at large. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the argument, regulars at Number Watch will experience a moment of recognition on reading a contribution to The Times debate (emphasis added):

 Uncaring Government 

I AM a serving officer of more than 25 years in the fire service. We are approaching a period of action that I hoped and prayed we would never see in this country again. I have never had a strong orientation towards the union and initially I was very much against the course of action that will soon be upon us. But through the lies, spin and misinformation that this Government consistently seems to produce my views have changed radically. 

It is my view that this Government does not really care about people; it is more interested in achieving targets and setting quotas. I agree that the figure of 40 per cent is unrealistic but it is a basis on which to talk. Why did the Government intervene in June when the employers offered 16 per cent? Why does the Government want us to wait for the outcome of the review, when the previous eight reviews have all said the same thing: firefighters deserve more pay, the service is underfunded. The response to these surveys was more targets, more quotas and yet more new initiatives. 

By Mr Brown’s statement that pay within the public sector will not be allowed to increase above set levels is an indication that whatever the outcome of this latest review, it will be dealt with in the same way as its predecessors. 

We have a health service in which managers are given little training and are again set unrealistic targets. We have nurses who are leaving for the private health sector, job opportunities abroad, or alternative careers because of low pay, long hours and the constant threat of abuse both verbal and physical. But how does the Government address this? By bringing in staff from other countries who are not trained to the same high standards, and who in many cases are unable to communicate effectively. 

We have teachers who are overworked and suffer abuse for very little reward, but once again the cheap option is taken — let’s create a new role: the “senior classroom assistant”

Under new Labour, Britain is a country that has to meet its targets and attain its quotas as cheaply as possible with minimal care for the people who provide these services.

Phil Lawrence, Station Commander, Whitechapel, East London


 New Labour rules, OK!

A piece from the Daily Mail (Oct 22nd)

Red-tape burden grows by 13 rules a day

LABOUR is increasing bureaucracy on businesses, hospitals and schools at a rate of 13 new pieces of red tape a day.
Family doctors are now expected to juggle 370 separate targets.
And industry leaders estimate that red tape is costing £6 bil1ion a year.
The bleak picture was revealed at a Conservative Party summit.
Last year alone, Ministers introduced 4,642 new pieces of regulation – about 13 for every day of the year.
GP Greg Wilcox told MPs his practice was swamped by targets covering everything from staff numbers to the types of drugs prescribed. He said he had no idea what many of the targets were and questioned their value.
Sheila Scott, of the National Care Homes Association, said the sector had to handle 250 pieces of regulation. Many owners spent all their time fi1ling out forms rather than dealing with residents, she said.
But the Cabinet Office's regulation impact unit dismissed the criticism. It claimed 97 per cent of the 4,642 new regulations did not affect business.
Instead, they covered pension rules, benefit changes and road traffic schemes. A spokesman added that 670 regulations were linked to last year's foot-and-mouth outbreak.

Interesting idea of a rebuttal, considering that pensions, benefits and traffic are now all widely regarded as major disaster areas. As for foot and mouth, this has been the greatest fiasco in the long history of maladministration, resulting in the deaths of over 7 million innocent and healthy farm animals, as has been endlessly pointed out in these pages. Furthermore, by the rule of the ratchet, many of these regulations are still in place, adding further harassment to the life of farmers.

The extraordinary situation in British agriculture is now that the most profitable crop is – wait for it – absolutely nothing at all. Thanks to the EU subsidies and the Treasury pocketing the British refund, it now pays a farmer to set aside the whole of his land.

Though this be method, yet there is madness in it.


The Minister of Education resigned two days after the posting of the above piece Broken dreams. There was honour in her going. She was honest about being unable to cope with a job. Not surprising as this was, in fact, rendered impossible by the combination of political dogma and Treasury meddling. Your bending author humbly dedicates his latest, wholly original, ode to her memory.

Return of Finger Man

They are like those super villains in the super hero comic magazines. Knock them down and up they bounce. Salmon Women, Pylon Man and, of course, the indefatigable Finger Man. Modesty forbids naming their heroic adversary Number Man who normally masquerades as a mild-mannered retired engineering professor, but dives into a telephone booth to pull his underpants over his trousers when nonsense threatens.  

This from the Sunday Times of October 27:

THE deepest secrets of your personality are revealed not in the stars but in your fingers. Whether you are a risk-taker or a worrier, have the gift of the gab or the potential to become a champion skier, the clues are in the lengths of your digits, according to new research.

Among women, risk-taking and assertiveness are linked to a relatively long ring finger. A reduced tendency to neurosis and poor verbal skills are also likely to be found among women with this shape of hand.

The new links between finger size and personality have been discovered by scientists at Liverpool University. They examined the personality traits of 200 people and then checked the length of their fingers.

The completion of a series of studies on finger length, culminating in a forthcoming book, has allowed Dr John Manning, an evolutionary biologist who leads the Liverpool University team, to correlate a list of traits among men and women with different finger lengths.

Would you believe it? A whole book based on a Trojan Number of 200. Number Watch was certainly caught out when announcing that fingers were out.


Dear Sir,

As you were kind enough to announce the foundation of the Phlogiston Research Unit at the University of Nether Wallop, I trust you will join me in condemning the outrageous attack by Robert Matthews in the Sunday Telegraph of October 27. Even that J B Priestly realised that he was dealing with de-phlogistated air. Yet a so-called British newspaper lauds the spurious theories of that foreign imposter Lavoisier, who failed to appreciate that phlogiston has negative mass. They even quote a new book by Dr Walter Gratzer (obviously another foreigner) called Eurekas and Euphorias. I bet the Climate Research Unit does not have to put up with the sort of harassment.

Yours faithfully

Faculty of  Advance Chemistry and Roadside Catering
University of Nether Wallop


Number of the month 800,000,000,000

Over a year ago Number Watch suggested that one of the numbers to look our for was personal debt and added a reminder in February this year.  It is a number that has been blithely ignored by politicians and the media. Now it is announced that in the UK personal debt for the first time has reached a startling £800 billion. Of course, this is dwarfed by the American numbers, but we are a small country. Both here and in the USA the pushers are more and more aggressive, concentrating on people with poor credit ratings. The USA has converted itself from a nation of savers to one of debtors  in just a few years. Much of the debt is to credit card companies who are able to charge usurious rates of interest. Then, of course, there is national debt. The British Chancer of the Exchequer has come up with a new scam to hide his borrowing, a form of hire purchase known as the Private Finance Initiative, but the effect, as with the borrowing of the post-war Labour Government, will be to lumber future generations and governments with onerous repayments. To mix a couple of metaphors, the time bomb is ticking and we stand on the edge of a very steep precipice. Perhaps at some time in the future someone will write the horror story When the borrowing had to stop.

Footnote (from Our Man In Puerto Rico)

At the current exchange rate (1.56 USD/Pound), that's $1248 billion. With a population of 60 million you have $20,800 per capita debt.

On the other hand, the US debt is $6,780 billion. On a population of 282 million, US per capita debt is $24,214. You're still ahead.

On yet another hand, US per capita income is $30,000 or so, whereas UK's is about $23,000. You are in second place...



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