Archive for category Not remotely true

The Sun, 20 mph speed limits, and a lot of nonsense

CONTROVERSIAL 20mph speed limits designed to cut road casualties are not working, official figures show.

So says The Sun anyway*. So, what’s the problem?

A report from the Department for Transport shows there were 2,262 fatalities and injuries in 2011 on 20mph roads in built-up areas — 24 per cent more than in 2010 when 1,827 were recorded.

That compares to a one per cent reduction in casualties on 30mph roads in built-up areas.

How many people died or were injured on roads with a 30 mph speed limit then? The Sun doesn’t say, but the official data is easy enough to find. In 2010, 127,377 people were killed or injured on a road with a 30 mph speed limit. In 2011, it was 125,494.

In other words, that “1% drop” corresponds to almost 2000 fewer people were injured on 30 mph roads, while 400 more people were injured on 20 mph roads. That is a net decrease of 1448 injuries/deaths.

Just looking at the number of injuries on 20 mph roads is not going to tell you about how effective 20 mph speed limits are. You have to compare them with other speed limits. Data about how many 20 mph zones there are is hard to find, which makes making sense of the Sun‘s data difficult, but it certainly looks like a lot of them have been springing up lately, so an increase in injuries is to be expected – if there are more roads, there will always be more accidents!

Studies of 20 mph zones consistently find that the same stretch of road will see fewer accidents and fewer injuries if the speed limit decreases from 30 mph to 20 mph, especially if this decrease is enforced by speed bumps and other traffic calming measures.

* Incidentally, far from being “controversial”, surveys consistently find around 74% in favour of 20 mph speed limits and just 12% against them.

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A punny reply from the TaxPayers’ Alliance

A couple of days ago, Primly Stable commented on the post from last month about the false claims that the NHS was buying loaves of bread for £32 a piece, pointing out that The Express had issued a retraction of the story (though it remains available online), and Tabloid Watch followed this up with an excellent post pointing out that The Sun had quietly deleted the story too.

At Tabloid Watch’s suggestion, I emailed Emma Boon of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, who was quoted by a number of papers (including The Mail and The Telegraph) as saying

“It smacks of incompetence that the Welsh NHS is paying so much more for these goods than they are available for in the shops.

“The cost per unit prices are way above supermarket prices for gluten-free products in some cases which is really worrying.”

“This doesn’t look like taxpayers are getting value for money.”

to ask if she or the TPA would be retracting the comments, and whether the TPA would remove the claim from their website. Here, in full, is her reply:

Thank you for your e-mail. £2.82 is still an awful lot of dough for a loaf. A cursory glance around my local supermarket or online reveals gluten free loaves are sold for much less.

Whichever way you slice it I stand by every word of my comment.

Best,

Emma

The reply may not have addressed any of my concerns (for one thing, the claim that the NHS spends £32 on bread is still up on the TPA website), but those are some excellent puns, I’m sure you’ll agree. I’d say Boon should consider writing for a tabloid in her spare time, but judging by how often she and the rest of the TaxPayers’ Alliance are quoted in the papers, it seems a little redundant.

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The scientist’s not for turning

Scientists! What are these mysterious creatures? Well, The Independent (and, with the help of copy-paste, The Mail) certainly doesn’t know!*

Global warning: Scientists in U-turn as they claim extreme weather and climate change are linked

Experts have reversed their opinion after more than 20 years of reluctance to blame greenhouse gas emissions for extreme weather

Climate change is inextricably linked to the extreme weather that has wreaked destruction all over the world in the last ten years, scientists now claim.

Experts are convinced of a legitimate link between the two after more than 20 years of reluctance to blame greenhouse gas emissions for the heavy storms, floods and droughts which have made global headlines.

The controversial U-turn is a radical departure from the previous standpoint and was made by a new international alliance of climate researchers from around the world.

You hear that? All the scientists! All of them! Every single scientist used to say that extreme weather and climate change weren’t linked, then overnight, they all did a U-turn and now they all believe they are linked!

Of course not, don’t be ridiculous. While most scientists will never say that any given event was definitely caused by global warming (after all, no-one can say for sure whether, say, Katrina would have happened without climate change), plenty of researchers have published papers in reputable, peer-reviewed journals connecting climate change to hurricanes (Emmanuel 2005 (PDF), Webster et al 2005, Mann and Emmanuel 2006 (PDF)), flooding (Schrieder et al 2000, Christensen and Christensen 2003 (PDF)), heatwaves (Stott et all 2004, Diffenbaugh et al 2007 (PDF)), and pretty much every other form of extreme weather you can imagine. The connection between climate change and extreme weather is still debated, but there are certainly plenty of scientists have published research indicating the two are linked.

Secondly, this so-called U-turn isn’t even a U-turn! Instead, what a panel of climatologists called Attribution of Climate-Related Events (ACE) is looking at various extreme weather events over the last century – tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, droughts – and working out whether climate change has made these sorts of weather more likely.** They are not yet saying that climate change has increased the risk of extreme weather, they’re still researching whether it could have! The scientists quoted by The Independent (and subsequently by The Mail) do say that they think climate change is causing severe weather, but as far as I can tell, these scientists have always made this connection. Peter Stott for example connected heatwaves to climate change back in 2004 (see the paper above), and Kevin Trenberth connected drought to global warming in the same year (PDF). Neither of these scientists has, as far as I can tell, U-turned.

Incidentally, the best rated comments on both articles are firmly denialist and, on The Mail‘s site, any comments that are pro-climate science have been downvoted (The Indie only lets you “like” comments, not dislike them). Good to see the astroturfers out in force.

* I’ve picked on The Mail largely because they’ve used words like “U-turn” and “reversal”. The Independent‘s coverage still makes the mistake of talking about scientists like we’re all one big hive mind, but at least they state that the previous opinion connecting climate change to extreme weather was “equivocal”.

** ACE formed in early 2009, so I’m not sure why they’re being reported as if they’re brand new.

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Littlejohn and renewable energy – both fueled by wind

I don’t normally blog about stupid Littlejohn columns – it’s a bit “dog bites man” – but today he’s written a piece about wind farms, and he’s really outdone himself on this one.

Here’s a quick rundown of the highlights.

At midday yesterday, wind power was contributing just 2.2 per cent of all the electricity in the National Grid. You might think that’s a pretty poor return on the billions of pounds spent already on Britain’s standing army of windmills.

In fact, for the amount of energy produced, onshore wind power is only slightly more expensive than coal, and less expensive than nuclear. Offshore wind is quite a bit more expensive, but hopefully this will come down as production gets more organised.

Read the rest of this entry »

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The Sun lies about disability benefits, what a shock

GOT hay fever? Why not throw a sickie?

Even better, take the rest of your working life off.

Well, this is going to go well.

New figures show that under Labour the state was happy to pay your way, no questions asked.

Those claiming Disability Living Allowance soared from 2.1million in 2000 to 3.1million last year. The annual cost is now £12billion.

So, 3.1 million have “taken the rest of their working lives off” on Disability Living Allowance, and the state is “paying their way”? Well, no.

Disability Living Allowance is a supplementary payment, given to people with disabilities, which helps cover their care and mobility costs – in The Sun‘s case, they seem to be talking solely about the part of the DLA that covers care, since that’s where the 3.1 million figure comes from. There are different levels of DLA, depending on how severe the disability is, but even in the most severe case – someone who requires 24 hour care – the recipient would only get £73.60 a week, or about £3,800 a year, and on average, people only receive about £46.30 a week, or £2,400 a year (and 500,000 of that 3.1 million get nothing at all). No-one has “taken the rest of their working lives off” to live on £2,400 a year.

Incidentally, that part about the annual cost being £12 billion does seem to be including the cost of mobility allowance as well – the cost of the care part of the DLA is only £6.4 billion a year. It sounds like a lot, but like I say, it only actually works out at about £46 per person per week – not very much at all when you think about the cost of a private carer, or the earnings lost by a friend or family member who takes time off work to provide care.

Clearly The Sun must realise this – they complain that “Many of those handed up to £73.60 a week are laid low with ailments such as “alcohol abuse” or allergies“, clearly hoping that we won’t realise that £73.60 is not all that much money. There maybe people on DLA because of alcohol abuse or allergies, but in that case, it will be because their condition is so serious that they need part-or-full-time care. To qualify for even the lowest rate, you need to be either physically unable to cook for yourself or require care for part of the day. That’s more than just “someone who cannot get out of bed because their hangover is so bad“.

The Sun also says that “The vast majority of claimants have never been medically assessed“, which also isn’t true. Most people aren’t assessed by the Department of Work and Pensions, true, but in order to qualify for DLA, you need to have been diagnosed by your doctor. Everyone who is on DLA was assessed by their doctor.

Now at last the Government plans to order regular assessments to weed out the workshy.

It should make the economy look healthier by a few billion pounds a year.

That’s something not to be sneezed at.

Unpaid carers are worth about £87 billion to the economy per year, by reducing the strain on the NHS. Making it even harder for them is hardly going to make the economy any healthier.

Edit: The Express’s coverage is more or less the same, but with TPA quotes and the added bonus that they express incredulity that people with back pain might have trouble moving around. WHO’D HAVE THOUGHT?

(The Sun discards its “Sun Says” columns each day. I’ve preserved this one beneath the fold)

Read the rest of this entry »

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Light bulb lies

Whose bright idea was this? asks Daily Mail Reporter today. New ‘green’ light bulbs will cost you $50 EACH (and you’ll HAVE to buy them after 100-watt bulbs are banned)

How terrible! If, that is:

  1. You’re American. This article is about the upcoming phase-out of 100 W bulbs in the United States – 100 W light bulbs have been banned in Europe for nearly two years, and shockingly we’re not paying $50 (£30) per bulb.
  2. You light your house exclusively with 100 W bulbs.
  3. You refuse to buy the normal energy saving compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulb, which you can get for about £1, for some reason.
  4. You decide to buy the first of a new sort of light bulb – the LED light bulb – and in particular, you buy the smallest and brightest bulb available, which costs about $45 (£27) at the moment, and you buy it right away instead of waiting for the price to come down.

Better headline: One particular light bulb might cost $45 EACH at first (but you won’t have to buy them even if you’re American because they’re stupidly powerful and there are cheaper bulbs available which are just as bright)

Hmm, perhaps it’s a good thing I’m not a newspaper sub.

PS: Oh, and why is “green” in “scare quotes”?

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The Daily Mail, churnalism, and orgasms

Journalism is hard, guys! All that “interviewing” and “researching” and “fact checking” takes time and effort. It’s much easier if you can just nick someone’s article, rearrange the words and stick a misleading headline on it!

This week’s New Scientist has an article called “Sex on the brain: Orgasms unlock altered consciousness” by Kayt Sukel. It’s pretty interesting – it’s about a couple of studies where women masturbated or had sex inside an fMRI machine (a type of MRI which shows which parts of the brain are active at any time), which imaged the activity in their brains to try to work out what happens in at orgasm. Interestingly, the two studies found completely opposite results. One group, led by Barry Komisaruk, found that one area of the brain – known as the prefrontal cortex or PFC – became extremely active at orgasm. Another group, led by Janniko Georgiadis, found a drop in PFC activity, and in particular, they found that the part of the PFC known as the orbitofrontal cortex or OFC shut down completely.

The article discusses a couple of possible reasons for this – Georgiadis suggests that since the PFC shuts down because the brain “loses control” at orgasm and enters an altered state of conciousness, while Komisaruk suggests that the PFC lights up because brain is investing heavily in controlling fantasy and pleasure. Since their experiments were slightly different, it’s of course possible that they’re both right – in Georgiadis’s experiments, the women had their partner with them in the fMRI machine, while in Komisaruk’s experiments, the women masturbated, and it’s possible that the two lead to very different patterns of brain activity (if the PFC plays a role in fantasy and imagination, it makes sense that it would be more active during masturbation).

At the end of the article, Komisaruk suggests that perhaps “anorgasmia” (the inability to have orgasms) might be treatable by having women “teach” their brains to have the right patterns of activity (one person New Scientist quotes, Kenneth Casey, compares this idea to the placebo effect – using the power of the mind to change the effect things have on the body), but since these are very early days, it’s certainly not a solid proposal. We don’t know which way round cause and effect are in this case anyway; perhaps changing the activity of the PFC causes orgasms, or perhaps orgasms change the behaviour of the PFC, and as Georgiadis notes:

I’m not sure if this altered state is necessary to achieve more pleasure or is just some side effect

Anyway, all very interesting, but quite vague, being more theoretical than practical at the moment. Unless you’re the Daily Mail, that is!

Secrets of the female orgasm revealed: Scientists discover new hope for women who can’t climax

Yes, for the Mail, these aren’t tentative – and confusing – first steps towards understanding the mental pathways that lead to orgasm, this is NEW HOPE FOR WOMEN WHO CAN’T CLIMAX. And also an excuse to show a model in her underwear miming either an orgasm or a sideways migrane. But mostly the NEW HOPE thing.

Interestingly, the Daily Mail ignores Komisaruk’s work completely – although he gets quoted at the bottom of the article, nowhere does the Mail mention his contradictory findings, presumably because that would mean that things are a tiny bit complicated and science can never be complicated!* This makes it a lot easier to pass the musings about a “cure for anorgasmia” as cold hard scientific fact, of course… but they’re not, they are just musings.

For some reason though – presumably because it’s the picture New Scientist used – they use a picture from Komisaruk’s experiment showing Sukel‘s brain, even though it shows exactly the opposite to what the Mail claims (the area in the image labeled “A” is the prefrontal cortext, and instead of being shut down it’s lit up like a Christmas tree). Not only is Daily Mail Reporter misrepresenting New Scientist‘s article, it’s doing a terrible job of it.

It’s not quite as terrible as “New theory could be “greatest discovery since chemotherapy”” or “Ten easy ways to beat cancer“, but it’s still a classic example of the press taking preliminary findings and twisting them into into “NEW HOPE” where hope may not (yet) be warranted.

* It’s also possible that the Daily Mail didn’t want to mention the possibility that people (even *gasp* women) might masturbate, but perhaps that theory’s a bit too Daily Mail Island (NSFW).

Komisaruk

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The Express and vote-rigging

PLOT TO "RIG" YOUR EU VOTE

Why is "rig" in quotes? Well...

Oh look, the front page of the Express has a ludicrous EU scare story! What are the odds?

BRUSSELS will attempt to “rig” any referendum asking the British people if they want to quit the EU, it emerged last night.

It would unleash a multi-million pound pro-Europe propaganda campaign – and get UK taxpayers to pick up the bill.

Except it’s not actually Brussels “rigging” anything, as the article explains later:

Up to now, MEPs have been allowed to use the funds only to campaign in elections for the European Parliament.

But in future they will be able to spend the cash campaigning where a referendum has a “direct link” to an EU issue – such as on UK membership.

So in other words, while pro-EU parties will be allowed to use EU support to campaign on the issue, anti-EU parties – EUDemocrats, for instance, who campaigned in Ireland against the Lisbon Treaty – would likewise be able to use the same funds to campaign as well. It’s not Brussels co-ordinating these campaigns either – it’s a matter for the individual European political parties representatives in each country.

(Edit: Zelo Street points out that this just a proposal taken from a draft report – there have been no changes to party funding, so this story is doubly ludicrous.)

Still, it’s funny that the Express considers running “propaganda” about Europe to be “vote rigging”.

Is this an example of vote rigging, Daily Express?

How about this?

Or this?

This?

Or indeed this?

Is this?

I could go on… so I will.

Is this propaganda “vote rigging”?

Perhaps this is?

Or maybe this?

What about this ludicrous scare story?

Does this count?

Does this?

Surely this must?

And how about this, or this?

Since the Daily Express clearly feels so strongly about any attempt to rig a referendum using biased or blatantly untrue propaganda, I wonder how long it will be before they furiously denounce the articles linked above.

Any second now…

Edit: This post originally claimed that UKIP would be eligible for funding, but although they are members of the Europe of Freedom and Democracy group, they are not members of a pan-European party at present, which would be required before they could be funded.

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Delingpole gets whaled on

(Massive hat-tip to @rbhinkley)

“Wind farms kill whales: blubber on the green movement’s hands

That’s the typically subtle and balanced headline of today’s piece by James Delingpole, which is based on an article in yesterday’s Telegraph, “Wind farms blamed for stranding of whales“, which is itself based on the research article “Beaked Whales Respond to Simulated and Actual Navy Sonar” published on Monday. “Simulated and Actual Navy Sonar”? That doesn’t sound like it’s about wind farms at all! Luckily, the paper was published in the open access journal PLoS ONE, so we can read the whole thing (PDF).

There is not one mention of the phrases “wind turbine” or “wind farm”, or indeed even the word “wind” at all. Nor is there any mention of beaching beyond hypothetical suggestions that sonar may cause it – although they found whales were tending to stay away from military sonar, they didn’t find direct evidence that this was causing whales to get stranded.

Two hours ago, Ian Boyd of the Sea Mammal Research Unit at the University of St. Andrews – the scientist quoted in the articles – left the following comment on The Telegraph‘s website (Edit: The article has now been deleted. I’ve preserved the comment below):

This article is an abomination. Its quotes me extensively. At no point in all the interactions I have had with The Press on this issue have I ever mentioned wind farms. I disagree with the way the article was written and especially with the implications of its headline. Several of the apparent quotations from me are not ones that I recognise. I never spoke to a journalist from the Daily Telegraph so I wonder how this article was compiled. At very least it was second-hand reporting.

There are no wind turbines in the report. The scientist quoted denies ever mentioning wind turbines. In fact, from the looks of it, the only people who did mention wind turbines are the journalists at The Telegraph.

Now might be a good time to bring out that classic Delingpole quote (Youtube link).

“It is not my job to sit down and read peer-reviewed papers, because I simply don’t have the time, I don’t have the scientific expertise. [...] I am an interpreter of interpretations.”

An interpreter of entirely false interpretations, in this case.

Update: The Telegraph has withdrawn the article, and printed a correction. Delingpole’s blog post remains up.

Double update: Delingpole has belatedly updated the blog post. It now ends:

It has been drawn to my attention that the man who led the St Andrews research team has violently, passionately and emphatically dissociated himself from the original Telegraph news item suggesting that his research showed wind farms to be deleterious to the health of whales. I am delighted to put this straight.

What this means is that, though at this stage we know for absolute certain that wind farms despoil countryside, frighten horses, [here follows a list of fifty-bazillion unsourced claims about wind turbines], the possibility that they also lure whales to their doom remains at this stage an unproven hypothesis. (Just like Anthropogenic Global Warming theory, then.)

The phrase “I am delighted to put this straight” has never sounded less sincere.

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The Supermoon did NOT cause the earthquake

Normally, scientists are meant to be circumspect and reserved about cause and effect. We’re supposed to deal in probabilities, statistics and uncertainties. However, on this occasion, I have absolutely no qualms in saying this: The Daily Mail is wrong. The “Supermoon” had nothing to do with the terrible earthquake off the coast of Japan today.

Ben Goldacre and Phil Plait have already produced some admirable rebuttals to the Mail‘s exploitative scaremongering; these are my thoughts, but I recommend reading the linked posts.

The powerful tsunami that today slammed into Japan’s eastern coast comes just two days after warnings that the movement of the moon could trigger unpredictable events on Earth.

Except none of these “warnings” come from scientists. The only people who took the “Supermoon” seriously were internet conspiracy theorists and the tabloids. And…

Astrologers predicted that on March 19 – a week tomorrow – the so-called ‘supermoon’ will be closer to Earth than at any time since 1992, just 221,567 miles away, and that its gravitational pull will bring chaos to Earth.

An astrologer is the not same thing as an astronomer. A warning from an astronomer should (generally) be taken seriously. A warning from an astrologer isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.

Others on the Internet have predicted it will cause further catastrophes such as volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.

“Others on the Internet”? Of course, everything that was ever written on the internet MUST be true.*

* Fully aware of the hypocrisy, thank you very much.

However the ‘supermoon’ date is still eight days away. But those that adhere to this particular belief could claim that this was still close enough for there to be some kind of effect.

Ok, as everyone knows, the moon orbits once a month. Once every two weeks, it comes close to the Earth – this is the “perigee” of its orbit – and in between these perigees we have the furthest points: the “apogee”. This means that eight days before the perigee, it will be as far away as possible from the Earth; the exact opposite of a “supermoon”. Its gravity would be weaker, not stronger.

The energy needed to produce an earthquake builds slowly through stress and strain in the rocks where tectonic plates meet, over years or decades. A tiny change in the position of the moon – a change which, remember, happens twice a month – will have virtually no effect compared the constant force of billions of tons of rock pressing against each other.

Two days ago, in an interview with ABC radio discussing the potential impact of the March 19 supermoon, astrologer Richard Nolle, who first coined the term in 1979, said he was convinced that lunar perigees cause natural disasters on Earth.

‘Supermoons have a historical association with strong storms, very high tides, extreme tides and also earthquakes,’ he said.

The only one of those that is true is that “Supermoons” can cause high tides (and even then, it only changes the tidal range by a couple of percent). There is no association between “Supermoons” and storms or major earthquakes. And again, an astrologer is NOT an astronomer.

Natural disasters are unfortunately common. Earthquakes, storms and floods happen with depressing regularity – look hard enough and you can find disasters happening around any supermoon. What’s important is to the look at the disasters that weren’t linked to a supermoon. No scientific study has shown an increase in quakes or storms around supermoons.

What do the actual scientists say?

Dr David Harland, space historian and author, said: ‘It’s possible that the moon may be a kilometre or two closer to Earth than normal at a perigee, but it’s an utterly insignificant event.’

Professor George Helffrich, a seismologist at the University of Bristol was equally dismissive.

‘Complete nonsense. The moon has no significant effect on earthquake triggering.

‘If the moon triggers “big” earthquakes, it would trigger the many of millions of times more “small” earthquakes that happen daily. There is no time dependence of those; hence no moon effect.’

[...]

John S Whalley, geoscience programme manager at the University of Portsmouth, agreed there was no correlation.

‘There is no established correlation between variations in the orbit of the moon and either the number or magnitude of earthquakes.

‘It is all too easy, with hindsight, to link major earthquakes to variations in all sort of parameters.

‘The real test is to look at the vast numbers of earthquakes of all magnitudes that occur on a daily basis worldwide.

‘Any correlation with the lunar orbit would have to be established on the basis of this population of earthquakes, not on individual high magnitude events. In need hardly add that no such correlation has been established.’

I would end this post with another glib link to the SMBC comic, but frankly I don’t feel like this the right time for daft jokes. Nor is it the appropriate time for a newspaper with a readership of millions to be giving a platform to charlatans and conspiracy theorists, who seize on a terrible tragedy just to get a little bit of publicity for their pseudoscientific claims.

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