Archive for category Health and Correctness gone Politically Safe
As you may have heard, there’s currently a climate conference taking place in Cancún, Mexico. As you may also have heard, it’s snowing.
If, last week, frozen behind a snowdrift, you heard a faint hysterical squeaking, it might well have been the sound of those 20,000 delegates holed up behind a wall of armed security guards in the sun-drenched Mexican holiday resort of Cancun, telling each other that the world is more threatened by runaway global warming than ever.
Yes, it’s the classic “If global warming is real why is it cold?” argument from Christopher Booker, blithely ignoring the fact that 2010 is set to be one of the hottest years on record (and 2000-2009 was the hottest decade on record) regardless of what the weather is like for one week on a small northerly island. To be fair, this isn’t his only argument (even if he does return to the subject three more times in the space of the column). After all, he also has “If the oceans are getting more acidic, why are they still alkaline?”
Far from the oceans acidifying, their pH currently ranges between 7.9 and 8.3, putting them very firmly on the alkaline side of the threshold, at 7.0.
Of course, the fact that the seas are alkaline doesn’t mean they can’t be less alkaline than they were years ago. And sure enough, according to the Australian Antarctic Division:
CO2 from human activities has caused the pH of ocean surface waters to drop by 0.11 pH units. This might not sound like much, but it is equivalent to a 30% increase in acidity.*
Ocean acidification is never going to turn the oceans completely acidic – that would require a 1580% rise in ocean acidity, which is a bit unlikely. What acidification will do – and what it has already done, in fact – is bring acidity up just enough to interfere with creatures like coral, which rely on the precise chemistry of the ocean to produce their skeletons.
His other argument?
It is only those same old computer models that predict that Tuvalu and the Maldives are about to drown, when real measurements show the sea around them not to be rising at all.
It’s true that one dataset from Tuvalu did appear to show no sea level rise. Unfortunately (for both Booker and the Tuvaluans) that data was taken from a single station over a relatively short period and presented without uncertainties, making it effectively meaningless. Analysis of more data from Tuvalu (PDF, p.11) finds a sea level rise of 1.2 ± 0.8 mm/year. The uncertainty in the data is still quite large (not least because the island of Tuvalu itself is moving by a small but unknown amount), but there certainly appears to be a sea level rise. At any rate, regardless of whether or not the sea level is rising at Tuvalu right now, it’s certainly rising worldwide at a rate which threatens people living in low-lying land.
The global warming scare may have been fun for the children while it lasted. But the time has come for the joke to be declared well and truly over.
Incidentally, Booker finishes off his column with a link to some people singing Handel’s Hallelujah in a food court which, he claims, is “the very opposite of all that is stood for by global warming, social workers, the European Union, the Coalition Government and the rest of this column’s usual fare“. Because if there’s one thing environmentalists really hate, it’s people singing.
* pH is a logarithmic measure of acidity, which means that numbers appear to work slightly oddly. A drop of about 0.3 on the pH scale corresponds roughly to a doubling of the activity of H+ ions (the ions that cause acidity), and a drop of 1 (from 8 to 7, for instance) represents a tenfold increase in H+ activity.
Apologies for the title.
“Nosey council chiefs were accused of losing the plot yesterday after applicants for allotments were quizzed about their sex lives”, says the Express today. “A survey attached to the application form asks would-be gardeners about their race, religion and sexual orientation.” Note to “Daily Express Reporter” – sexual orientation ≠ sex life. Knowing whether someone is gay or bisexual or straight tells you no more about their sex life than whether they’re single or in a relationship. Anyway.
“City of Lincoln Council bosses are also keen to know if they think lesbians should be allowed allotments, too.”
Really? The council was unsure whether or not lesbians should be allowed allotments? Ok, fair enough, if that was true that might be a legitimately scandalous story, though not for the reasons the Express thinks. Of course, it’s not. As ever, none of this story actually holds up to scrutiny.
That damn war on motorists, eh? Not only did they put a bus lane on the M4 (which actually improved traffic flow significantly), now they’re putting 20 mph speed limits on roads! Naturally, the Daily Mail is unhappy, and now they have the ammunition to take these speed limits down! M… maybe.
Why death rates INCREASED in 20mph zones… and getting rid of cameras reduces accidents says today’s Mail. Now, you might think that with the headline beginning with the word “why”, that mean the Daily Mail was going to tell us why death rates increased. Of course, they don’t. That might be because death rates didn’t really increase at all in any meaningful sense.
Damn, I wish I hadn’t wasted the headline “Sexing up” yesterday.
“School children face GCSE sex test… at the age of 11“, according to yesterday’s Mail, while its stablemate Metro tells us “Schools to teach ‘sex GCSE’“. If you just went by the headlines, you might assume that this means 11 year old children are doing an intensive GCSE-level course on the details of sexuality – you don’t have to be especially cynical to suspect that might be a load of rubbish.
In fact, both stories revolve around the Level 1 Award in Sexual Heath Awareness offered by the Northern Council for Further Education. According to the NCFE, the course takes all of 9 hours to teach, and is aimed at “pre-16” children. Now, “pre-16” could mean an 11 year old, but it could equally mean a 14 or 15 year old and, sure enough, the Mail admits deeper in its article:
The Department for Education has also agreed to give schools public funding to teach the qualification to 14-year-olds, but it could in theory be offered to pupils as young as 11.
So any schools that do provide it to children that young do so outside the DfE, and it seems unlikely that headteachers would choose to burden 11 year olds, fresh out of primary school, with extra exams anyway.
Student who electrocuted his nipples sues teacher…for not warning him it was dangerous, says the Mail today.
Well, that’s just health and safety gone mad! Compensation culture! Political correctness! Nanny state! Buzzwords!
The lawsuit alleges Mr Kelley knew what his students were doing and claims: ‘One student heard Mr Kelley state that Kyle should try it with his nipples and that he, Mr Kelley, would give him a Mountain Dew if he did so.’
In fact, the teacher is being sued for actively encouraging the student to do something extremely dangerous, and breaching student-teacher trust. That seems like a rather valid grounds for action, regardless of how the Mail tries to spin it.
Sorry, this is going to be a very dry post today. I mean, unless you enjoy poring over lists of Government regulations in which case this will be your favourite blog post on the entire interweb.
The Express, and only the Express, today leads with “UK’s £10bn bill for EU red tape“. Clearly we’ve been buying a lot of tape.
The typical rent-a-quotes are out in force in this article; Philip Davies MP says:
“The vast majority of businesses don’t have any dealings with the EU. It’s particularly galling that they have to bear the costs of the regulations. When people realise how much the EU costs they will come to the conclusion that we would be better off out.”
“The cost of the red tape now exceeds the value of the business it is intended to regulate. It’s sheer madness, and not why we joined in the first place.”
Firstly, if you think the entirety of the British economy is now worth less than £10 billion, you are probably not a reliable source of economic information. Secondly, this article is oddly long on anger, short on facts.
Today’s Daily Mail headline truly is a perfect storm* of tabloid obnoxiousness: “Goodbye ‘elf and safety: Cameron announces review of ‘joke’ regulations and ‘compensation culture’“. “‘Elf and safety” is of course Richard Littlejohn’s catchphrase, and the fact they employ it in a front page headline I think sums up perfectly what to expect from the article (if the fact it’s in the Daily Mail wasn’t clue enough).
The former trade secretary [the ironically named Lord Young] said the once serious issue of health and safety had become a ‘music hall joke’ under Labour, with schools banning children from playing conkers, restaurants barring tooth picks and one swimming pool declaring a pair of goggles unsafe.
I wonder whether Lord Young actually said ‘schools banned children from playing conkers’ or ‘one swimming pool declared goggles unsafe’. You see, every single example of “‘elf and safety gone mad” given here is an infamous tabloid lie.
Since science news is thin on the ground today, I want to talk about something else.
“More than 1,200 housing association staff banned from flying England flags on their OWN cars” screams today’s Mail. Now, if you’ve read any tabloid paper recently, or even just visited Facebook, you’ll have seen the ridiculous myth that England shirts and flags have been banned by the police. The myth has been debunked by better bloggers than I, so I’m instead just going to talk about this one article.
I’m currently pushing to make one a post a day for at least the first week of this blog, and sadly, the press is not playing along. Despite it being a Saturday – the day when traditionally newspapers pad out their pages with Omega-3 fluff pieces and Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus-esque behaviour studies – the press is quiet on the subject today; presumably because the are enough serious stories out there.
So instead, here’s a little random musing on the papers themselves.
Health is perhaps the only universal subject a newspaper can cover. Not everyone lives in a given area, not everyone has children, not everyone owns a car or uses trains, not everyone shares the political beliefs of the editors. Not everybody pays taxes even, which leaves us just one of the two great certainties: death. As a result, health news is perhaps the greatest lure to bring readers in. Every level of journalism indulges in it, from the 20p gossip magazines with covers full of grotesque medical horror stories to The Observer and The Sunday Telegraph telling parents that if they aren’t filling their children up with superfoods and handmade organic risotto then they might as well be child abusers.
This means that if you’ve got a boring story that probably won’ t get any readers, all you need to do is give it a medical spin, have a mid-level academic or a spokesperson for The Society of Homeopaths give you a nice juicy quote, then stick it in the health pages. Observe: