The cat i' the adage

"The growth of knowledge depends entirely on disagreement" Karl Popper (1902 - 1994)

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The cat's away

Back on April 4th.

Cholesterol and child mortality

A nice piece from Marshall Deutsch who spotted the actual direction of the relationship between serum cholesterol levels and rates of child mortality with the help of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Any guesses?

Mortality rates were inversely related to the cholesterol levels listed by the NCEP (National Cholesterol Education Program) which was promoting a campaign to lower cholesterol levels in US children.

Of course, this does not imply that low cholesterol is killing children, but it does imply that high cholesterol isn't.

AIDS in South Africa: still waiting for the holocaust

Anita Allen at Red Flags puts things in perspective.

The Predictions:

AIDS plan must make up for lost time (The Star 17 Dec 1999. Health-e News Service) quoted 4 million HIV infected in South Africa and 1600 new infections a day, of which 40% would die in five years (this equates to about 2,3 million deaths in 2004 compared to Statssa report of total deaths from all causes natural and unnatural from 1997 to 2002 of 2,8 million).

The Impending Catastrophe (June 2000. LoveLife Report of Henry J Kaiser Foundation) Aids deaths 120000 in 2000 rising to between 354000 - 383000 in 2005 (that equals 90% of total deaths from natural causes in Statssa report). Population 47 million by 2010 under best case scenario. Under worst case scenario population will peak at 46,7 million in 2008 and have negative growth thereafter. (Population in SA already at 46,3 million).

The reality:

Statistics must be compared to the reality of a more than 10% population growth in South Africa (SA) over the past five years - from 41.3 million to 46.3 million by 2004. Also, according to the Statistics SA report released last month (refer to my previous Letter from South Africa), 7000 to 10000 deaths from HIV and AIDS a year according to death certificates from 1997 to 2002.

Global warming hysteria

Joseph Farah draws some conclusions from the recent National Center for Atmospheric Research report which argued that global warming is inevitable even if all carbon emissions stopped today.

Time will tell if global warming is a reality. If it is, we will never know the cause – manmade or natural. So, it seems to me there is little point in worrying, in changing our economic systems, in diminishing national sovereignty in favor of global treaties to limit carbon dioxide, in reducing automobile sizes and weights and killing tens of thousands more on the highways, in short, in doing any of the things the global-warming extremists have been suggesting for the past decade.

They admit it will do no good, so what is the point?

Why all the political hot air?

Because it fits a broad political agenda for further government control – in this case, international government control – over the lives of ordinary people. There is no other explanation for it. The global-warming doomsayers all believe Big Government is the only answer. We need more centralized power, more command-and-control bureaucracies, more regulations – all of which translates, like it or not, to less freedom.

This is a power grab. It's about stealing your liberty.

The science is so bad that it smells like that to me too.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Get back in the sunshine!

Too little sun causes harm, cancer specialists say.

Cancer specialists around the world are rethinking their advice to cover up in the sun amid growing concern that staying in the shade may be causing harm.

Australia is revising its warnings about the risks of sun exposure because of fears about vitamin D deficiency, which increases the risk of a range of diseases from cancer to osteoporosis, in what doctors have described as a "revolution".

Bruce Armstrong, professor of public health at Sydney University, said: "It is a revolution. I have worked in public health and been preaching sun avoidance for 25 years. But this statement says that there are two sides to the story."

What is astonishing is that the experts should be so surprised. Once again it looks as though we would have done better to have ignored their advice - as most of us have.

Junk policies

Labour is focussing on children in the run-up to the general election. Today we learn that junk food and internet paedophiles are going to be particular targets.

This sort of policy-making has many of the characteristics of junk food itself: superficially attractive, designed specifically for the least discerning and ultimately unsatisfying. Policies of this kind are what everyone thinks he wants until he finds out what goes into them.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Police crack down on swan fiend

I think this story involving the Master of the Queen's Music neatly illustrates how the forces of law and order choose to criminalise the law abiding.

When the "charming" policeman and the "beautiful" young policewoman arrived at the door of his island home, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Master of the Queen's Music, was unperturbed.

They had come about a bird, they told him. He replied that they were welcome to either of his birds, and invited them in.

Sir Peter offered them a "delicious" swan terrine he had prepared earlier, but they politely declined and took the other bird instead - a protected whooper swan that was hanging outside his cottage in preparation for cooking.

Britain's most renowned composer and conductor, who lives on the island of Sanday in Orkney, was then cautioned over the alleged unlawful possession of a protected wild bird and told that anything he said might be taken down in evidence.

Read the whole thing. This is not a joke.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Kyoto: the economic damage starts

Comalco, the aluminium producer owned by Rio Tinto and based in New Zealand, is considering relocating:

Comalco says the Government’s Kyoto protocol carbon tax could add about $60 million a year to its costs, possibly forcing it out of New Zealand.

Comalco, which controls New Zealand Aluminium Smelters’ Tiwai Point smelter near Bluff, uses about 15 per cent of New Zealand’s electricity production and earns about $900 million a year in export receipts.

But Comalco NZ managing director Tom Campbell said Comalco would be directly exposed to the carbon tax through its smelter emissions and indirectly through electricity prices. It could cost Comalco tens of millions of dollars.

"That would be more than we could afford."

I suppose Kyoto had to be adopted before enough people started to think of these highly predictable, though presumably unintended, side-effects.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

A Popperian on climate science

The distinguished climate scientist Hans von Storch is concerned about how theories of climate change are being presented. In this excellent article he makes a number of decidedly Popperian points:

The general belief is that in order to keep public attention focused on the issue of "climate catastrophe" ... it has to be presented "somewhat more attractively." In the early 1990s, just as Germany was being hit by severe wind storms, the German media were reporting that the storms were becoming more and more severe. Since then, storms of this magnitude have once again become less common in northern Europe, a fact now ignored by the media. They have also ignored the fact that changes in barometric pressure measured in Stockholm since the days of Napoleon reveal no systematic change in the frequency and severity of storms. Instead, the media are now filled with stories of heat waves and floods.

The media are now claiming that all kinds of extreme events are increasing in frequency. Using this logic, a drought in the German state of Brandenburg fits together seamlessly with a catastrophic flood of the Oder River and the two events don't contradict each other.

Unfortunately, the corrective mechanisms in science are failing. Public reservations with regard to the standard evidence of climate catastrophe are often viewed as unfortunate within the scientific community, since they harm the "worthy cause," especially because, as scientists claim, they could be "misused by skeptics." Dramatization on a small scale is considered acceptable, whereas correcting exaggeration is viewed as dangerous because it is politically inopportune. This means that doubts are not voiced publicly. Instead, the scientific community creates the impression that the scientific underpinnings of climate change research are solid and only require minor additions and adjustments.

This self-censorship in the minds of scientists ultimately leads to a sort of deafness toward new, surprising insights that compete with or even contradict the conventional explanatory models. Science is deteriorating into a repair shop for conventional, politically opportune scientific claims. Not only does science become impotent; it also loses its ability to objectively inform the public.

The principle that drives other branches of science should be equally applicable to climate research: dissent drives continued development, and differences of opinion are not unfortunate matters to be kept within the community. Silencing dissent and uncertainty for the benefit of a politically worthy cause reduces credibility, because the public is more well-informed than generally assumed. In the long term, the supposedly useful dramatizations achieve exactly the opposite of what they are intended to achieve. If this happens, both science and society will have missed an opportunity.

Kyoto has increased the economic advantage to mainstream climate scientists of presenting a united front and suppressing dissent. As a result, these wise words are likely to fall on deaf ears.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Kilimanjaro "wake-up call"

Breathless reporting from Reuters:

LONDON (Reuters) - A photo of Mount Kilimanjaro stripped of its snowcap for the first time in 11,000 years will be used as dramatic testimony for action against global warming as ministers from the world's biggest polluters meet today.

Here's the photo. "Stripped of its snowcap" is it? I'll have to take the expert's opinion on that.

"The first time in 11,000 years"? Are you confident of that?

"This is a wake-up call and an unequivocal message that a low-carbon global economy is necessary, achievable and affordable," said Steve Howard of the Climate Group charity which organised the book and an associated exhibition.

That seems a lot to infer from a wild-life photo, but I'm not a climate science professional. If I were I might be able to explain how it is that all this local melting is going on while temperatures nearby are unchanged.

Should African nurses be prevented from working for the NHS?

Let's hear from the BMA:

Doctors' leaders have strongly criticised the continuing reliance on medical staff from developing countries to fill NHS vacancies.

British Medical Association chairman James Johnson said taking much-needed staff is morally indefensible.

I can accept that it is ethically questionable to "poach" nurses from poorer countries which have payed for their training, but the point being made is stronger than this:

The BMA says African nations in particular are being damaged.

The government's tougher code to prevent the active recruitment of such workers does not stop those who volunteer to come to the UK, it says.

And they should be stopped, should they, even though they want to come? They now have the skills and training that give them the opportunity of escaping the hell-holes that they had the misfortune to be born in, but we would condemn them to stay there on salaries a fraction of what they can command within the NHS?

Isn't that morally indefensible?

Monday, March 14, 2005

Himalayas at risk

Have you noticed that when a climate-related scare is reinvestigated it always turns out to have been underestimated? Today's story is the receding of the Himalayan glaciers:

"Himalayan glaciers are among the fastest retreating glaciers globally due to the effects of global warming," the WWF said in a statement.

"This will eventually result in water shortages for hundreds of millions of people who rely on glacier-dependent rivers in China, India and Nepal," it said.

I certainly shouldn't want to dispute the WWF's claim that the glaciers are retreating, but if we are to pin this phenomenon on global warming we would expect to find at the very least that Himalayan temperatures have been increasing. In fact a small cooling trend is detectable.

It must be assumed that the WWF has done sufficient research to be aware of this anomaly, yet it is happy to trot out the "global warming" explanation without any apparent embarrassment.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Explaining the rise of insurgence

In an item about the dreadful suicide bombing at a Shi'ite funeral in Mosul, Reuters informs its readers of the "root" causes:

The insurgents' ranks have been boosted by frustration at the US occupation, shootings of Iraqi civilians by troops and foreign contractors, and by abuse of prisoners in US-manned jails.

Very helpful, but that must be a matter of opinion don't you think? Can you imagine Reuter's running with this:

The insurgents’ ranks have been boosted by weak border controls in neighbouring countries, the fear that Baathists have of a democratic Iraq, and by the weak responses to terrorist attrocities of some nations participating in the rebuilding of Iraq.

Neither can I, but I strongly suspect that it is closer to the truth.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Fox in the hen house

John Bolton is just the man for the UN, argues Gerard Baker:

Mr Bolton’s appointment is a stroke of pure genius by the Bush Administration. It might finish the UN. It might save it.

But, surely the UN has done a wonderful job bringing freedom to the world?

After the Korean War, the UN stood by and did nothing for four decades as some of the worst crimes against humanity were committed across and within borders. It did nothing when the Soviet Union imposed its will by force on Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan. It did nothing to stop Pol Pot’s genocidal wars in South East Asia or the Indonesian cremation of East Timor. Just as Mao Zedong was busy executing anyone who expressed the slightest reservation about the wisdom of the Cultural Revolution, he was rewarded by being given a seat on the Security Council.

That was a long time ago, wasn't it?

Since then things have changed. Look at the first Gulf War. Didn’t that show how international co-operation through the UN can confer legitimacy on the use of force in the defence of law and justice? Well, perhaps. Some of us would argue that it was the need to keep that unwieldy coalition from collapsing that the war was not prosecuted to its proper conclusion — the removal of Saddam Hussein.

I remember: the UN hadn't authorised more than the expulsion of Iraq from Kuwait so Bush senior had to let Saddam off the hook.

More recently then?

The UN quickly fell back into its familiar torpor. It failed in the Balkans. It did nothing to stop genocide in Africa. And Iraq — well we know about Iraq. The truth is, if we had waited for the UN’s say-so to promote the cause of freedom in the past 50 years, we’d still be waiting.

All right. I give up.

Pyjama drama

that's "pajama drama" for any US visitors.

Laurie Levinson, a law professor at Loyota Law School in Los Angeles, said: “I don’t think it was a great moment for the defence having Michael Jackson sitting there in his pyjamas, while the accuser talked about alleged abuse that occurred when he was wearing a pair of Mr Jackson’s pyjamas.”

You don't have to be a law professor to see that.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Will Clarke place McGuinness under house arrest?

Boris Johnson has been looking closely at the Prevention of Terrorism Bill and reflecting on Sinn Fein IRA:

Listening to Sinn Fein, as it struggles to put the best gloss on IRA actions, one is struck by the amazing irony of the Government's current "war on terror". Westminster has been convulsed in the past few days by a Bill whose central provision is that the state should be able to detain, without trial, anyone whom the Home Secretary "has reasonable grounds for suspecting of being involved in a terrorism-related activity".

And if we study article eight of the Bill, we find that a "terrorism-related activity" is very widely drawn. It can be nothing more than "conduct that gives support or assistance to individuals who are known or believed to be involved in terrorism-related activity".

Now, we do not have to make any extreme claims for the activities of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness to see how they are perfectly captured by this description.

Well spotted Boris!

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Is the Arctic melting?

Yes...but it happens from time to time and, in all probability, the trend will reverse over the next few decades as it always has before.

George Taylor gives an authoritative guide to the scientific studies which paint a far more ambiguous picture than you would imagine if you listened only to the mainstream media.

If we want to understand variability of Arctic sea ice (and, for that matter, sea and air temperature) we should take our eyes off greenhouse gases, at least for a moment, and study multidecadal phenomena. We should also avoid the temptation of taking the last 20-30 years of data, computing a trend, and assuming that that trend will continue for 50-100 years. History tells us that long-term linear trends will not occur. In the words of Santayana, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Or make bad forecasts.

IRA offers to shoot man's killers

News from Northern Ireland:

The IRA has said it told the family of the Belfast murder victim Robert McCartney that it was prepared to shoot the men directly involved in his death.

This is the way they have traditionally handled things. Which is why no genuinely hopeful signs for peace will be seen until the IRA disarms.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Further evidence of the healthgiving qualities of cholesterol

Strangely this one hasn't been picked up by the main media:

Cholesterol Plays Cancer-Prevention Role at Cellular Level

Scientists have discovered that cholesterol has a novel role inside the cell: anchoring a signaling pathway linked to cell division and cancer. This new discovery by researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center is published in the March 4 issue of Science.

"Cell signals have to be tightly controlled," says Dr. Richard G.W. Anderson, chairman of cell biology and senior author of the study. "If the signaling machines do not work, which can happen when the cell doesn't have enough cholesterol, the cell gets the wrong information, and disease results."

Though it has earned a bad reputation for its role in heart disease, the fact that cholesterol is essential for the health of cell membranes long has been understood. The cell membrane, which is fluid in nature, contains cholesterol.

I don't think it is understood all that well by GPs who seem to think that the lower the patient's total cholesterol the better.

Sudan outrage

According to the BBC

The government of Sudan is angry that a cancer-causing dye at the centre of a food scare in the UK is named after the north African country.

That might impact on their tourist numbers.

Friday, March 04, 2005

The right side of history

A tour de force from Mark Steyn in this week's Spectator.

The other day I found myself, for the umpteenth time, driving in Vermont behind a Kerry/Edwards supporter whose vehicle also bore the slogan ‘FREE TIBET’. It must be great to be the guy with the printing contract for the ‘FREE TIBET’ stickers. Not so good to be the guy back in Tibet wondering when the freeing thereof will actually get under way. For a while, my otherwise not terribly political wife got extremely irritated by these stickers, demanding to know at a pancake breakfast at the local church what precisely some harmless hippy-dippy old neighbour of ours meant by the slogan he’d been proudly displaying decade in, decade out: ‘But what exactly are you doing to free Tibet?’ she demanded. ‘You’re not doing anything, are you?’ ‘Give the guy a break,’ I said back home. ‘He’s advertising his moral virtue, not calling for action. If Rumsfeld were to say, “Free Tibet? Jiminy, what a swell idea! The Third Infantry Division go in on Thursday”, the bumper-sticker crowd would be aghast.’

But for those of us on the arrogant unilateralist side of things, that’s not how it works. ‘FREE AFGHANISTAN’. Done. ‘FREE IRAQ’. Done. Given the paintwork I pull off every time I have to change the sticker, it might be easier for the remainder of the Bush presidency just to go around with ‘FREE [INSERT YOUR FETID TOTALITARIAN BASKET-CASE HERE]’. Not in your name? Don’t worry, it’s not.

If he keeps this up every fortnight, I might not cancel my subscription.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

One in four 'touched' by ID fraud

The BBC offers this headline: "One in four 'touched' by ID fraud".

What do they mean by 'touched'?

A quarter of UK adults have had their identity stolen or know someone who has fallen victim to ID fraud, a Which? magazine survey has suggested.

Is that it? 25% of people have had their identity stolen or know someone else who has?

So? 100% of people smoke or know someone who does, but this tells you nothing about the extent of smoking. Similarly the quoted statistic tells you nothing about the extent of ID fraud.

I imagine there is an attempt here to make the problem appear larger than it actually is in order to build unstoppable support for the idea of ID cards. We should be on our guard.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Muslims facing increased stop and search

Counter-terrorism minister Hazel Bears has said that muslims will have to accept as a "reality" that they will be stopped and searched by the police more often than the rest of the public.

Quite a brave thing to say, though very necessary. Unsurprisingly, spokesmen for the Islamic community take a different view:

Massoud Shadjareh, chair of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, said: "She is demonising and alienating our community. It is a legitimisation for a backlash and for racists to have an onslaught on our community."

Statistics showed that of the 17 people found guilty of terrorist acts since 9/11 in the UK, only four of the 12 whose ethnic backgrounds were known were Muslim, Mr Shadjareh said.

For the sake of argument I shall accept these figures. So, a third of convicted terrorists of known ethnic backgrounds since 9/11 are Muslim. According to the CIA world factbook, there are 1.5 million Muslims in the UK out of a population of 60 million. By my calculations that is 2.5%. Even accepting that "only" 33.3% of terrorist acts are committed by Muslims, it would be unreasonable to deny that terrorism in the UK is disproportionately an Islamic problem. If the Islamic community refuses to see this they risk the deep suspicion of those of other ethnic backgrounds in this country.

UK drugs policy in disarray

In 2002 David Blunkett announced a relaxation of the laws concerning cannabis. Possession of small amounts would no longer be considered an arrestable offence.

The justification for this move?

The decision to reclassify cannabis was in response to a report by MPs arguing that drugs policy should focus on tackling the problems caused by heroin addicts.

"There will be an increasing focus on class A drugs," the home secretary said.

As a result of this increased focus on hard drugs we learn today that the UK had the largest rate of heroin seizures and the third highest number of heroin addicts in Europe in 2004. Another triumph of unintended consequences.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

A lesson Blair is unlikely to forget

In one of the biggest blunders of his premiership, Tony Blair was persuaded to visit Damascus to chum up to Boy Assad. This was shortly after 9/11.

All did not go well:

The Prime Minister had to endure a lecture from President Assad, the new Syrian leader, who defended Islamic suicide bombers as "resistance fighters" and condemned civilian deaths in Afghanistan.

Mr Assad, 36 years old and British educated, insisted that Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hizbollah, and the other extremist groups harboured by Syria were no different to Gen de Gaulle and the French resistance who were sheltered by London during the war.

The Prime Minister had hoped to win at least tacit support for the air campaign against Afghanistan, but was forced to listen as the Syrian president heaped criticism on the killing of Afghan civilians.

Assad is in our thoughts again as the disastrous consequences of his policy in Lebanon rebounds on him. I should be surprised if Mr Blair was losing too much sleep over the fate of his friend.

"Walking Angel" pleads guilty

So Saajid Badat has pleaded guilty to his part in a plot to blow up a plane.

When he was arrested the Gloucester Islamic community was in uproar, and no one had a bad word to say about him:

Ahmed Goga, who has known Sajid Badat for many years, described him as: “A respectful, able, bright and polite guy, a model student who at a young age practiced Islam and went on to become a Hafiz.” This view has been echoed throughout the streets of Gloucester amongst the small Gujarati Muslim community numbering approximately 2,500 people.

At a nearby butcher’s, Abdul Jaffer, said: “He was a very intelligent boy who always spoke out if something was wrong. He was a very bright lad who respected things and people.

Of the arrest Jaffer added: “Straight away I said it can’t be. I still believe he is innocent. He’s a walking angel. He respected me and used to teach lots of boys how to dress in the Muslim way and how to be in a mosque. He always wanted to learn more about Islam.”

These are the people who knew him. I do not doubt that they were sincere. How then can they have been so wrong?

At the time of Badat's arrest Daniel Pipes had this to say:

That terrorists are (unsurprisingly) skilled at hiding their intentions has the unfortunate consequence of making them harder to discern and therefore spreads suspicion to the larger Muslim community. This in turn points to that community's heightened responsibility and incentive to ferret out potential terrorists in its midst.