Number of the Month
Truth will come to light; murder cannot be hid long.
Merchant of Venice
Every now and then comes along a book that throws a searchlight beam on the nonsense and iniquities of the age. Such was Le Fanu's account of the state of decline of scientific medicine in 2000. Now a highly authoritative book has appeared that puts a bomb under some of the most cherished tenets of the environmental movement. It is by a retired professor of organic chemistry from Wrocław. In telling the true story of a family of organic compounds, it exposes the chicanery, mendacity and sheer callous inhumanity of the quasi-religious orthodoxy that has seized control of the media and the political stage across the world.
It is destined to be ignored by officialdom, but all adherents of science and its methods should feel duty bound to read it and shout about it.
Temporary note: Number Watch is experiencing difficulties in sending e-mails at present.
And apologies for absence: Your bending author has been suffering from those Ol' Bill Gates' customer blues, which have now been cured by Outlookectomy.
From the scaremongers' manual
Correspondence from some of the more ancient of number watchers, following last month’s comments about NSAIDs, coupled with newspaper reports that many women are still avoiding the benefits of HRT, led to your bending author feeling a new law coming on.
It started out as a law of new therapies, but after consideration it seemed to be of wider application, just as the law of league tables applied even more effectively to targets. Receivers of both NSAIDs and HRT have reported to Number Watch how these therapies gave them their lives back, yet they both come under strident attack by scaremongers. A nasty old cynic might ascribe the motives of these people to their desire for fame and grants, but where do they get the bullets to load their blunderbusses?
It is all based on three of the fallacies that have been fully covered in the books associated with this web site:
Anyway, as we were saying, all that led to:
Brignell’s law of beneficial developments:
The intensity of the scaremongering attack on any new development is proportional to the level of benefit that it endows.
Alternative therapies do not come under attack.
Oh, to be rich! To be able to hide away on a remote island until it is all over. Yes, it is general election time in the UK; the season of mock sincerity, dirty tricks, frangible promises, mounting hysteria and, worst of all, opinion polls. Tories close their gap as Blair loses public's trust says the right-leaning Daily Telegraph, observing a one point gap. Poll sees Blair stretching lead yells the left-leaning Guardian, claiming an eight point lead for Labour.
How much variation should we expect just due to random sampling error? To make it perspicuous, let us take a simplified model. Just consider one party and assume that it actually has the loyalty of one third of the electorate. We then have a binomial distribution with p = 1/3. The expected error in percentage points for a given sample size of n can then be stated in the terms of the standard deviation:
which is about 47 divided by the square root of n.
A typical value of n in published opinion polls in the UK media is 1000, so the expected random variation would be plus or minus 1.5%, a range of 3%.
Size of the sample is vital to reliability rightly states the Telegraph, but just what increase in accuracy do they achieve? Unfortunately, they face the law of diminishing returns that is embodied in the square root relationship. Although they question nearly twice the number of electors they achieve only a root two reduction in error, to a range of about two percent. Furthermore, as the Telegraph article points out, there is the question of dependence: as the numbers are constrained to add up to 100, the gain for one party must be matched by a fall for another, so the apparent change is effectively doubled. This effect is analogous to the fallacy of ratios.
We are now in a position to conduct our own poll without the tedium of doing all those interviews. We select three random numbers from the binomial distribution (n=1000, p=1/3) convert to percentages, then (somewhat crudely) model the dependence by assigning to the other party half the remaining percentage:
This was one of three realisations, chosen for artistic merit. It does not take much imagination to create the dramatic headlines – Pinks open up a six point lead over the Blues, then lose it! Yet it is all based on sampling errors alone. Even more sinister is the small print accompanying each survey, reporting “adjustments” made according to unnamed conventions known only to those privy to the mysteries. As we have seen with epidemiology, such adjustments tend to involve questionable assumptions, such as wealth being indicated by postal code. Of course, there are many other factors operating. The two cases quoted above were either side of an event with a whiff of Watergate about it, in which an injudicious speech at a private meeting was secretly taped and passed to opponents, but there is nevertheless a disturbing tendency for pollsters to produce results pleasing to their customers.
The results of the British Farm Trials of GM crops are out and, guess what, they show that these do what they are designed to – allow farmers to grow food crops instead of weeds and pests. Yet the establishment media have seized upon them to condemn this valuable development as the worst thing since the Black Death. The end for GM crops: Final British trial confirms threat to wildlife screams the Independent. VINDICATED - Finally, the long and popular struggle to stop the growing of GM crops in Britain appears to be over yells the Mail.
It would be tedious to go through all the fallacies, non sequiturs and downright lies that are used to bolster these lurid opinions (see the AgBioView Newsletter for all the sordid details) but just take one example. It is observed that there is a reduction of butterflies over GM crops, but they do not distinguish between the pretty ones, that most of us try to attract to our gardens with suitable food plants, and the white ones that are among the most precocious destroyers of food crops. In the strange world of the organic religious movement, it is all right to squash the caterpillars by hand, but not to employ any other method. Chacun à son goût.
Bureaucrats like Big. For them only big is beautiful. Whether it is computer systems (and we all know what happened to them) or university research groups, only the overblown will be tolerated. Thus we have a rash of collectivisations in various sections of British society, the latest being in the Health business. The most brutal example is the new contract for pharmacists, which will drive the smaller ones out of business. This is yet another disaster for small rural communities, who have found their pubs and post offices disappearing through direct Government intervention, which diverts the business to suitable large entities like supermarkets and banks. All such facilities play vital multiple roles in the small community, much too untidy a concept for the bureaucratic mind. Anyway, why do people insist on living in inefficient isolated groups? They are not needed in the countryside, now that farmers are being paid to be park keepers. Why can’t people be content to be herded into towns, where all the politicians and bureaucrats live (when they are not weekending in their country homes, which are conveniently insulated from the local communities)?
Likewise General Practioners are to be gathered into more efficient large units. They will be the more “entrepreneurial” medics in “super-surgeries”. No more will old Dr Jones know that Mrs Smith’s problem, regardless of the symptoms she presents, arise from the troubles with her youngest. It will be “next please, take these pills, next please” – so much more efficient.
One of the great myths of our age is the Management Myth, which regards management as an art and a science in its own right, quite independent of the entity that is being managed. It is exemplified by the burgeoning MBA courses. The health service used to be run by doctors and matrons, but they proved inefficient at responding to targets and directives from the Government managers, so they had to be swamped with managers of their own.
Here are some headlines from The Times, not exactly an opposition mouthpiece, over the last five days:
Help me, I'm a doctor, and I can't carry on; Doctors on warpath to save small surgeries; A disease called despair on the NHS front line; Super-surgery plan signals end for the family doctor.
The greatest irony is that all these political prescriptions are handed down by a minister, but they do not apply to his own constituents. Because of the mangling of the British Constitution by The Great Leader, England’s Scottish New Labour Government not only allows health matters north of the border to handled by their own parliament, it denies the English the same right, and imposes a Scots MP on them.
Number of the month - 80
This is percentage cut in the number of medical practices proposed by the UK Department of Health. People in small communities will have to get on their theoretical bus route if they require treatment.
All a bit parochial for non-English readers, but take it as a warning.