Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Blog spammer and the 'innocent' comment

I received a comment on one of my posts recently, which went something like this:

'Hi, I've been a long-time reader of your and just wanted to share something? Please email me back. Thanks! Livia 3Bisto6liviasham4'

I was sceptical and let it sit there.  Long time readers tend to sign on for updates.  I can spot regular readers in my stats by other means.  This was not one of them.

Today I did a Google search and found the same comment had appeared on a mass of blogs covering a whole range of topics from nutrition, travel, porn etc.

Whatever this person wants, they're clearly aiming to harvest email addresses.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Nigel Lawson and the Green Deal

Nigel Lawson was a Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer under Margaret Thatcher.  He presided over the Big Bang, the deregulation of the City of London and various tax cuts.

He was interviewed recently and defended his record, blaming other governments for irresponsible deregulation, which contributed to the financial collapse in the last decade.

He criticised the burden of taxes for environmental measures, claiming that taking care of resources for future generations placed unnecessary financial pressure on current generations.

The Green Deal was an initiative introduced in 2012 by the Coalition government.  It provided loans for energy saving measures and recouped the money through energy bills.  It was criticised for being bureaucratic and enriching some unscrupulous providers.

After Nigel Lawson's interview the initiative was scrapped by the Conservative government.

Was Nigel Lawson right?

I've written before about a young couple who renovated their house to Passive House standards and regret installing central heating.  Their cosy home only required two hours of heating in 18 months.  This could have been achieved with one oil filled radiator or heated towel rails.  They could have avoided lots of  pipework, radiators and expensive boiler.  Their energy bills are very low.

My local council introduced higher building standards and required more energy saving measures.  Small builders resisted and attacked them for imposing regulations that increased costs.  The same builders returned a year later to apologise.  They explained that the projects had resulted in offers of new contracts, so the increased costs were offset by the unexpected free positive PR.

Another developer was asked to install solar panels in 6 out of 10 new build flats.  He was reluctant, but agreed.  Later he returned to request permission to install panels in the 4 remaining flats.  He realised that solar helped with marketing and enabled him to sell the development very quickly.  The aim is to build and sell as quickly as possible so that the money can be used for the next project.

My local council demolished its council buildings and commissioned new offices to reflect their aim for transparency of local government.  The architects interpreted this as a request for glass boxes.  The council now has a set of very modern and high tech greenhouses, which need a lot of heat in winter and cooling in summer.  What a pity they didn't retrofit and extend the original council building.

Businesses and individuals always take time to adapt to change.  I've yet to witness an environmental regulation that hasn't been embraced by businesses and used to their advantage, contributing to the bottom line.

One business that works with local councils to help social housing tenants reduce energy bills (by simple changes) finds that tenants are enthusiastic and more likely to pay their rent, if their bills drop.

Sadly central and local government in the UK are far behind other Northern European neighbours in taking practical steps to improve housing stock and work premises now and for the future.

Apparently we demand the right to piss money out of windows (with poor U values).

Labour leadership contest and the blue elephant

The Labour Party in the UK is currently preparing to select a new leader after the resignation of Ed Miliband.

The 4 candidates are Jeremy Corbyn, Andy Burnham, Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper.

Jeremy Corbyn was nominated by some members who wanted to stimulate debate, but didn't actually support him.  Now the campaign seems to be focussed mainly on keeping Corbyn out.  Various elder statesmen and business donors have weighed in to warn that if Corbyn became leader, Labour would lose the next few elections and the support of major donors.

Sadly no one seems to understand the way the mind works.

If I say to you "Don't think of a blue elephant!" it's likely that you may picture an elephant and/or something blue.  The more people warn against Jeremy Corbyn, the more they increase 'brand awareness' and raise his profile.

Say "Don't vote for Jeremy Corbyn" and the mind deletes the negative.

What remains is:  "Vote for Jeremy Corbyn!"

It would be much better to focus on policies and ideas that engage the party.

Comedians in the media satirise Corbyn as a man stuck in the 1970s and 1980s.  They continue to raise his profile.  Jeremy Corbyn travels around talking about his ideas and refusing to talk about criticisms levelled at him by opponents and commentators.

He may not win the leadership contest, but the other candidates do not inspire confidence.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

How to kill rabbits and other medical research tricks

Dr Malcolm Kendrick used the analogy of sexual abuse in a new interview.  Victims who spoke out were disbelieved and told they were making mischief and should shut up.

He compares this to modern day medical 'heretics', who challenge government health statements and guidelines, that have no basis in science.

A simple, logical narrative that is easy to understand, becomes a fixed idea in public perception, even if it is wrong.  This makes it difficult to change people's minds.

One example Dr Kendrick gives is the contention that a high saturated fat diet causes heart disease.  Researchers feed rabbits such a diet and they die.  Rabbits are vegetarian and not designed to eat a high animal fat diet.  If we ate the same diet as a koala bear (ie eucalyptus leaves), we'd eventually die, because humans are designed to eat  a mixed diet including other animals.

Scientific evidence has no impact on erroneous, but deeply ingrained ideas, such as the cholesterol hypothesis.  Evidence seems only to make it stronger, as it bends out of shape to accommodate and neutralise contradictory data.

Listen to the full interview here.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Weak maths can seriously damage your health

Here's a typical news story quoting alarming figures about risk of death from eating red meat.

'The researchers analysed data from 37,698 men between 1986 and 2008 and 83,644 women between 1980 and 2008.
They said that during the study period, adding an extra portion of unprocessed red meat to someone's daily diet would increase the risk of death by 13%, of fatal cardiovascular disease by 18% and of cancer mortality by 10%. The figures for processed meat were higher, 20% for overall mortality, 21% for death from heart problems and 16% for cancer mortality.
The study, published in Archives of Internal Medicine, said: "We found that a higher intake of red meat was associated with a significantly elevated risk of total, cardiovascular disease, and cancer mortality.'
The study is refuted here and here and here.

The focus of this post is not on any particular health problem.  I'm looking at mathematics and how medical science journalists and doctors tend not to understand the difference between relative and absolute risk.  Researchers and their publicists may grasp the distinction but blur it with alarming numbers so that their work sounds more significant.  This in turn can lead members of the public to accept prescriptions and treatment that won't improve their health or increase their lifespan.
The above article includes a number of percentages used to express risk of death by heart disease and cancer.  

Dr Malcolm Kendrick was recently interviewed on a health blog to discuss his latest book, 'Doctoring Data': 
'Say you do a study of blood pressure lowering medication with groups of 100 people.  You give one group the medication and the other group a placebo.  At the end of the year 2 people have died in the placebo group and 1 person has died in the treatment group.  The relative risk reduction is 50%.  The absolute risk reduction is 1 in 100 or 1%.  You can keep increasing the group size and the relative risk stays the same (2 versus 1 or 50% difference in the end), but the abolute risk drops:  eg in a group of 1000 the absolute risk reduction is 0.1%.  10,000 people = 50% relative risk and 0.01% absolute risk.'
How ever good the research, the news headline becomes:  "50% fewer people died on blood pressure medication."
'Saying that there is a 50% risk reduction is meaningless and pointless.  What matters is did you have a 1 in 10,000 risk to start with, a 1 in a million risk to start with or 1 in 2 risk.  If your risk is 1 in 2, then a 50% reduction is pretty damn good.  If your risk is 1 in a million, then a 50% reduction is so unimportant that it doesn't matter'.
'Medical researchers come out with relative risk reduction when talking about the benefits of a drug.  "This drug will reduce your risk of heart disease by 30%."  Well 30% of what?   Is it 30% of a really big number or a really small number?  So unless you know the underlying risk was, the relative risk is meaningless.  You can't work out what that means to you.'

This is especially important in dealing with drugs with significant side effects, such as statins.  Understanding the numbers can help you weigh up the risks and benefits of a course of treatment and help you decide what's best for you.

Dr Kendrick states that he wasn't brilliant at maths, but his father taught him a healthy level of scepticism towards the printed page.  He has found that his medical colleagues seem ignorant of the distinction between relative and absolute risk, asking him to explain the concept to them.  
If you want to be healthy and enjoy life for as long as possible, read the book and watch the video.  Learn enough maths to distinguish between risks and benefits of various treatments for you, rather than blindly accepting the advice of your doctor.  It's your life.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

The Big Fat Surprise

I've just listened to a radio play about the astronomer Patrick Moore.  He hosted a tv show on astronomy on UK television from 1957 that inspired generations to look to the skies and take up astronomy.  The play revealed the amount of backstabbing in the scientific community, which dismissed him as an enthusiastic amateur.  Yes he was largely self taught and had an exceptional ability to communicate complex ideas to a general audience.

I was reminded of this when reading about Nina Teicholz and her book 'The Big Fat Surprise'.  Already I can imagine the medical community, Big Pharma lobbyists and associated people dismissing her efforts.  Nina is a journalist and food writer, married mother of two living in New York City.

Dr Mike Eades has written an extensive review of the book.

She describes her journey in discovering the information that was included in the book and her discovery of personal health and weight loss through eating animal fats.

Here's the deal:  if you believe the cholesterol myth and associated edicts issued by government health departments, then you won't believe Nina or any writers that came before her (including Gary Taubes).  If you're interested in boosting your own health and DO NOT have familial hypercholesterolemia, it's worth listening to her.

Do your own research.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Lloyds Bank CEO £11.5 million bonus

I have written before about Lloyds Bank's attempts to cheat bondholders out of their savings.  The case is now likely to be determined in court.  I wrote to the CEO, MPs and regulators.  I have yet to receive a reply from Mr António Horta-Osório.  

Today we hear that the Chief Executive is in line for a £11.5 million bonus.  It has to be agreed at the annual meeting on 14 May.

The bank has sacked 50,000 members of staff and now boasts a rising share price (after years of zero dividends for shareholders.)  As one investor points out, the rise in share price is due more to Quantitative Easing than his skill as a banker.  His bonus is paid in shares, so he is one of the biggest beneficiaries of the debasement of our currency.

I have seen a steady decline in the standard of retail service at Lloyds Bank.  I am unsure what the CEO thinks he has contributed to the bank during his time in post.  He had an extended period of leave because of stress, presumably on full pay.

I wonder what the unemployed former employees think about his value to the bank?

It seems that the Bank of England is out of synch with the European Banking Authority's ruling against top-up payments.  The EBA will issue formal guidelines on bonuses, with which all bank regulators in the EU must comply.  Andrew Bailey has argued against the fixed cap, saying it will force up fixed pay levels.