Posts Tagged Telegraph

The Delingpole Escape Plan

(Why yes, I did write this post entirely for the pun.)

The Eco-fascists have taken over! So says James Delingpole, anyway. His proof?

Well, in October, Brussels Airport won an award for reducing its carbon emissions. A month later, it snowed.

This isn’t a new thing. It has been going on for years, since at least the 1992 Rio Earth Summit when Maurice Strong laid down the ground rules for the eco-fascist takeover of the world. It’s bit like that classic 2000AD “Future Shocks” story where the aliens that have invaded our planet unbeknownst to us turn out to be those innocuous-looking wire coat hangers we have in our cupboards. The battle for our freedom is already all but lost – and the stupid thing is, most of us didn’t even know we were fighting one.

So now – not in some imagined, paranoid fantasist’s future, but NOW – we live in a world where an airport is encouraged to place a higher priority on reducing its notional production of a harmless trace gas than it does in making provision for aeroplanes to be able to take off and land in inclement weather.

You may have noticed it was not snowing in October, and that it’s perfectly possible for an airport to offset its carbon emissions and clear away snow, and that the two events were completely unrelated. Shush!

Delingpole then moves onto the Met Office. The Met Office’s seasonal forecasts are always vague – as winter approaches, they generally make them more accurate. True enough, in the last few years, they’ve generally predicted that a warm winter was more likely than a cold one, and had to revise that as winter approached. Whether or not the Met Office was right has nothing to do with climate change however. A year is much too short to see global warming happen.

Delingpole quotes a Department for Transport report (pdf) which, he claims, shows the Met Office predicted there was only a 1 in 20 chance that this winter would be severe (which, of course, does not mean the same thing as simply “cold”). In fact, this is taken out of context – the report simply points out (p. 88-9) that in general, one winter in twenty is severe, and the fact that the last two years were severe does not necessarily mean they are clustering. The report after all was issued in July, long before the Met Office could say with any certainty what the weather would do.

Incidentally, the Met Office didn’t predict this winter would be mild. One of their computers predicted the winter would be mild, based on a limited set of data, but as the Met Office said at the time:

“This is not an official forecast, it’s data that would form part of a longer term prediction.

“If you look at the whole picture across north west Europe, there’s a higher chance of a cold winter than a warm one.”

Anyway, Delingpole gets someone to do the numbers for him, and finds that the odds of three severe winters is 1 in 8000 (presumably because that’s 1 in 20, to the power of three – not really the right way to do the sum in this case anyway), therefore the Met Office must be wrong. The old joke comes to mind of a guy who fires blindly into a wall, looks for a spot where several bullets have clustered together, draws a bullseye around them and declares himself a crackshot. Most winters of course are not severe, and two or three severe ones clustered together among mild ones, while a bit unlikely, isn’t as impossible as Delingpole claims, and itself shows nothing. If lots of winters were severe over decades, then that would prove the 1 in 20 winters is severe claim was inaccurate. On their own, three winters prove nothing. If you throw a coin and score three heads in a row, that doesn’t prove the coin is loaded, especially if the last few tosses had a good mixture of heads and tails. If you score a hundred heads in a row, then you should be suspicious.

Okay, that was a diversion, since the Met Office’s predictions had little to do with global warming. Anyway, remember those eco-fascists Delingpole was complaining about?

Heads are going to roll for this, they’ll have to. But however many heads do roll it won’t be enough. Always remember this: the Warmist faith so fervently held and promulgated by the Met Office is exactly the same faith so passionately, unswervingly followed by David Cameron, Chris Huhne, Greg Barker, the Coalition’s energy spokesman in the Lords Lord Marland, and all but five members of the last parliament. And also by the BBC, the Prince of Wales, almost every national newspaper, the European Union, the Royal Society, the New York Times, CNBC, the Obama administration, the Australian and New Zealand governments, your children’s schools, our major universities, our minor universities, the University of East Anglia, your local council….

Truly there just aren’t enough bullets!

Giving an airport a certificate? Fascist.

Shooting politicians, journalists, teachers and scientists because you disagree with them? Not fascist.

Good to know.

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Think yourself exactly the same weight

The Telegraph today carries an article promising that you can “Think yourself thinner with the fantasy diet“.

To the article’s credit, at least it’s not just someone flogging a diet (this time). This report is about a study, recently published in Science, which showed that people who imagined eating M&Ms repetitively ate fewer M&Ms at the end of the study than people who imagined simply moving the M&Ms or putting coins in a washing machine.

So far, so interesting. But is it a diet?

Not really.

When people were asked to imagine eating M&Ms but were given pieces of cheese, thinking about food didn’t have any statistically significant effect on their appetite. You need to be thinking very hard, and very specifically, about the food that you’re about to eat. Even when it did have an effect, we’re talking about handfuls of M&Ms. As Dr Carey Morewedge, study leader, says:

I do not want to blow out of proportion the efficacy of the imagery induction, as [the 50% drop] meant that participants tended to eat 2-6 grams of candy when they imagined eating the food or cheese rather than 4-12 grams of candy or cheese.

I’m not sure how much weight you’d loose by cutting your M&M consumption by 2 to 6 grams per day, but I don’t think it would be very much.

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If global warming is real then why is it cold, part 379

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.

Uh-oh!

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.

Some joke.

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.

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Magic crystals in the Mail

The idea that there should be some magic bullet to weight loss is a surprisingly common one. This week, the magic cure the Mail is pushing is a type of crystal called “Sensa” which, it claims, makes food more flavoursome, so people eat less but feel as full. (Edit: The Telegraph is now reporting on it too, and their article is even more one sided than The Mail‘s)

So far, so what? Every diet pill on the planet claims to do that.

Ah, but, The Mail claims, there’s SCIENCE behind it:

In scientific tests, obese participants who used the flavourless, ‘Sensa Tastant’ crystals lost an average of two stones in six months.

Others lost an average of just two pounds.

Sure enough, the website of Sensa does provide links to the study, and it does appear to back up what the Mail claims at first glance. But there’s a problem.

The study, Use of Gustatory Stimuli to Facilitate Weight Loss, carries the name of just one scientist – Dr. Alan Hirsch. Hirsch happens to be not only the researcher who performed this experiment, but also the inventor of the crystals. One other study, “Efficacy Determination of Weight Loss through Use of Crystal Tastants“, claims to be by an independent lab, but there’s no authors listed for the study and it doesn’t appear anywhere on the internet apart from the Sensa website and a couple of mirrors, which makes this claim impossible to verify. In an interview with ABC News, Hirsch claims the second study was carried out by the distributor of the Sensa, in which case the researchers were perhaps less independent than implied.

Neither of these papers have published in a peer reviewed journal – nor, in fact are they proper papers. Instead, they’re just posters for use at a conference. As a result, they really don’t go into the experiments in any details, glossing over all the awkward details. For example, the papers do not give the distributions of weight loss. It’s all very good and well claiming that on average people lost on average 30 lbs, but unless you know what the spread is, it’s pretty useless. Did everyone lose 30 lbs, or did a few people lose 100 lbs and everyone else lose nothing?

Nor does it explain how the “control” group was controlled. In Hirsch’s study, there was no placebo. As far as I can tell, the control group is simply a collection of obese individuals who had no particular intention to lose weight. The people who actually took Sensa on the other hand were people who definitely did want to lose weight. Given that a) participants actually had to pay $49 per month to take part in the 6 month trial and b) people weren’t weighed in the lab but instead simply reported their weights to the scientists at the end of the study,  there’s more than enough reasons for people to exaggerate their weight-loss to the researchers. Who wants to admit to wasting $300, after all?

Furthermore,  only 1436 participants out of 2437 actually completed the trial; over 40% dropped out. It’s reasonable to assume that people who did not lose weight would stop taking the Sensa – after all, they’re paying $49 per month for it! This would weed out anyone who did not find Sensa worked and, over time, you’d be left only with the people who did lose weight – whether that was due to Sensa or not.

Finally, and most damningly, the experiments have never been peer reviewed. Dr Hirsch claimed at one point that the Endocrine Society had reviewed and approved his work. In fact, they simply allowed him to give a presentation at a conference, and were “surprised and troubled by the promotional nature of his presentation“.

ABC showed the papers to researchers, both professors at prestigious US university. One claimed the study has “negative value”, while the other said “says there is no scientific proof that Sensa works and believes the study was done to justify a commercial product”. Pretty damning.

It’s always possible that maybe a proper independent lab will pick up this study and prove without a doubt in a properly controlled experiment that Sensa works. At the moment though, I think it’s safe to say that the scientific evidence that the Mail so proudly touts is rather lacking.

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A liberal helping of dodgy science

The Mail and The Telegraph are both fairly right-wing papers, so it’s perhaps not surprising that both have seized on a study showing a genetic “cause” for liberal political views; the Mail under the headline “The gene that makes you lean to the Left: How genetic variant determines your political views” and the Telegraph under “Left wing liberals are born not bred” (The Telegraph also has a satirical opinion piece about the study which, with the help of an American cartoon nabbed from Google Images, manages to accuse the Lib Dems of supporting communism).

The theory goes that a certain gene – the “7-repeat” variant of the gene DRD4 – causes an increase in novelty seeking behaviour (though some studies claim this isn’t actually true), and this makes people search out more alternative views on things, broadening their horizons and generally making them more liberal.

The papers aren’t completely misrepresenting the study – the scientists did indeed find that people who had the 7R form of DRD4 and a large social circle tended to self identify as more liberal than people without. However, they clearly missed a very important paragraph of the study:

For most traits, the effects of individual genes are too small to stand out against the combined influence of all other genes and environmental factors. […] Thus, perhaps the most valuable contribution of this study is not to declare that “a gene was found” for anything, but rather, to provide the first evidence for a possible gene-environment interaction for political ideology

The scientists then went on to say

While our finding is statistically significant, the strength of the association is quite small. However, even in a biometric trait such as height, less than 15% of the variation has been attributed to specific genes. Genetic effects take place in complex interaction with other genes and environments, and it is likely the combination of hundreds if not thousands of genes interacting with each other and with external stimuli that influence political attitudes and behavior.

(Emphasis mine)

This gene isn’t the be-all-and-end-all the papers claim it is. Rather, it’s a gene that, if you ignore everything else, may have a small effect on someone’s political views. There is incredibly wide variation in political views among everybody, whether they have the gene or not.

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Isn’t the TPA railing against “pointless non-jobs” rather hypocritical?

The papers aren’t even trying any more. Once upon a time, they might at least pretend they weren’t simply churning out TaxPayers’ Alliance press releases; today’s articles “Council EU jobs cost £41m” (Express) and “Councils spend £41million a year on non-jobs” (Telegraph) however are utterly shameless about it.

First things first: the TaxPayers’ Alliance report (eurgh, I guess I should link to it) found the cost of all “unnecessary” jobs – in other words, any job Richard Littlejohn might disapprove of – was £41 million. That’s not just European Officers, but Diversity Officers, Political Advisers and Climate Change Officers* too.

The report contradicts itself several times: the TPA point to the fact that different councils employ different numbers of staff as an indication of waste – “the disparities across councils are evidence that the hiring of specific staff is not necessary” – only to later state “As proponents of localism, the TaxPayers’ Alliance believes that local authorities should be granted as much freedom as possible to make decisions that benefit local taxpayers. This will inevitably mean that councils will pursue different policy objectives“. So councils should have as much freedom as they like as long as they only use that freedom to do exactly what the TPA wants?

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Yes is no, hot is cold, Telegraph is a denialist cesspool

Is climate change simply caused by the Sun getting hotter? A scientific paper (paywalled) in Nature this week has looked at this question, measuring the connection between solar activity and warming. The conclusion they came to?

Over the three-year study period, the observed variations in the solar spectrum have caused roughly as much warming of Earth’s surface as have increases in carbon dioxide emissions, says [Professor Joanna] Haigh. But because solar activity is cyclic it should have no long-term impact on climate, regardless of whether similar spectral changes have occurred during previous solar cycles.

“If the climate were affected in the long term, the Sun should have produced a notable cooling in the first half of the twentieth century, which we know it didn’t,” she says.

So in other words, the Sun goes through warmer and cooler phases, but the planet keeps warming even during the cool phases. Interestingly, it turns out to be coolest when it’s most active – apparently because an active Sun uses its energy to make ultraviolet light (the type of light that causes suntans and skin cancer) instead of infrared light (the type of light that carries heat). Yet more proof that climate change is real and man-made.

How does The Telegraph spin it?

An increase in solar activity from the Sun actually cools the Earth, suggests new research that will renew the debate over the science behind climate change.

The research overturns traditional assumptions about the relationship between the sun and global warming.

Focused on a three-year snapshot of time between 2004 and 2007, the findings will be seized upon by those who believe that man’s role in rises in the earth’s temperature has been overstated.

Eventually, when you reach the sixth paragraph the article does eventually explain that “long term analysis suggests it actually provides further evidence that the heating of the planet is more than a natural, cyclical phenomenon“, but only after hinting to people that the data in fact says the very opposite – an interpretation that even the article itself eventually admits is false.

Sure enough, it looks like the vast majority of readers who’ve left comments stopped reading before that sixth paragraph. There were 207 comments on the article at the time of writing – of those whose position I could clearly discern, 101 were denialist while just 17 were from people were from people who’d read to the bottom of the article. A good chunk of the denialist comments seem to be arguing that climate scientists are so stupid that they didn’t realise the Sun existed until just now, and some of the rest are from people who’ve been confused by the article not explaining why a stronger sun is cooler, but among them are some real treats:

Climate change treaties is the start of World Government. After all, this is how the EU started .

A classic example of girly science.

You cant possibly agree with this,its against Marxist New Labour,Green,we hate mankind,and all the rest of those highly esteemed organisations who have spent our money proving we are to blame,you know,evil mankind!

And the most popular comment, with a +99 recommendation rating?

I think Global Warming shit should be really stopped right now. It’s SO annoying to see those politician telling me what to do and what not to do

Of course that doesn’t mean that everyone who read the article came out of it disbelieving in climate change – after all, denialists are more likely to have something to say on the subject than people who believe in climate change – but it’s still depressing. I’m just waiting for the inevitable Delingpole article now; I wonder whether it’ll turn out this study was carried out by the Bilderberg group or the Illuminati.

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“Insane bus lane” not insane

It doesn’t take much to get the papers riled up, and the first mention of the ridiculous phrase “war on motorists” gets the predictable Pavlovian response from the papers all racing to defend the common man (or at least Jeremy Clarkson): The Telegraph runs with “Prescott’s M4 bus lane to be scrapped“, The Daily Mail with “End of the road for Prescott’s M4 bus lane as Tories scrap ‘symbol of Labour’s war on motorist’” and The Sun goes for “Tories to ditch insane bus lane“.

All of these articles try their hardest to give the impression that the M4 bus lane didn’t work, with photographs of empty bus lanes next to huge traffic jams. The bus lane is called “controversial”, “insane” and a “folly”. There could be no doubt that it didn’t work. Except…

What none of them mention is that the M4 bus lane reduces journey times – not just for buses and taxis, but for regular vehicles too. Thanks to the bus lane, drivers can now travel between junction 3 and junction 2 up to 6 minutes faster.

You see, the M4 bus lane doesn’t just let traffic get around the jams. It also stops a nasty bottleneck forming when the three lane motorway has to cross a two lane viaduct (which was in all likelihood the main reason for the bus lane being built). If the M4 bus lane gets reopened to cars, all that will happen is that that bottleneck will return and traffic jams will worsen.

If there’s anyone who’s declared “war on motorists”, surely its the politicians and journalists who want to increase congestion and deliberately complicate the road layout just to score a few political points?

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Dodgy foundations

James Delingpole, the only mainstream journalist to blame global warming on the Bilderberg Illuminati New World Order, has an urgent message: the foundations of Britain’s wind farms are about to collapse!

Where did he get this horrifying news? Well, an anonymous source emailed him a rumour heard from an another anonymous source. Apparently, it’s all extremely serious, which is why the mainstream media, which as we all know absolutely loves wind turbines and will defend them at any cost, is covering it up.* Still, as his source says, that’s what happens “when an industry builds bigger and bigger things without having built up a history of experience on the ones built earlier” since of course the “foundation” is a radical new technology and no-one ever built a tall steel structure before wind turbines came along.

Because even Delingpole admits a single unsourced email isn’t enough to base an entire column on, he also quotes, unchecked, Christopher Brooker’s assertion that nuclear power gives you 13 times as much as power per pound as offshore wind – in fact, it’s only about 1.5 times as much, according to yesterday’s linked Telegraph article, and nuclear power is actually 11% more expensive than onshore wind (and of course, the cost of offshore wind is expected to fall). Apparently his source is a trustworthy-sounding blog called “EU Referendum” (I’m not going to link it – if you want to read it, it’s linked from Delingpole’s article), which in fact claims that for the £1.2 billion that it will cost to run the new 300 MW Thanet windfarm for the next 20 years, you could build a 1 GW nuclear power plant (in itself a dubious claim – exact figures are hard to come by, but this report (PDF, p.32) on the new Hinkley Point C reactor suggests a cost of £4 billion for a 1.6 GW reactor, or about £2.5 billion per gigawatt, twice what Brooker suggests).

Comparing the 20 year running cost of a plant with the construction cost of another is quite obviously misleading. In fact, Thanet cost £900 million to build, which works out at about £3 billion per gigawatt; slightly more than nuclear power, but not much – certainly not 13 times as much. Taking load factors – the percentage of maximum output that the power station usually produces – into account will admittedly bump this up – using the statistics from Renewable UK** it looks like this load factor adjustment brings the cost of the power roughly in line with the findings of the UK Energy Research Centre report from yesterday.

* Delingpole’s claim that “blinkered” mainstream journalists are refusing to criticise wind farms in fact puts me in mind of the Daily Mail worrying that “you can’t talk about immigration“… while devoting acres of newsprint to immigration. Yep, no-one’s talking about the cost of wind power.

** Incidentally, it’s worth reading the Renewable UK site for another reason too – it explains why it’s not really a concern when the wind stops blowing. In a nutshell, other power sources are themselves unreliable – even coal and nuclear plants can break down, after all – and so we need to keep power stations running on “spinning reserve” anyway. These reserve power stations can absorb the slack when the wind isn’t at full strength without producing significantly more pollution.

Edit: Just noticed the picture Delingpole uses of a fallen turbine, with the caption “One down…”. From that, you might think that these mythical foundations have already started to crack… except that in fact that turbine quite clearly fell because the tower bent in high winds, and its collapse had nothing to do with the foundations (and it’s the only turbine to have collapsed so far in England – “one down” indeed).

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Telegraph columnists are from Mars, facts are from Venus

Yesterday, a couple of news outlets reported that a neuroscientist, Prof. Gina Rippon, claimed in an interview with The Sunday Times (annoyingly paywalled) that the differences between the brains of men and women are overstated, and that neuroscientists are often naive about the damaging effects their research can have when hyped up by newspapers – there’s a particularly interesting debate on the subject between her and Prof. Robert Winston from the Today Programme if you’re interested. So far, so reasonable. After all, she’s hardly the only person who’s made that claim lately.

Today however The Daily Telegraph carries not one but two attempted rebuttals of Rippon’s claims: “Why would society want men to be blind to their worn socks?” by Michael Deacon, and “Do men and women really think alike?” by Cristina Odone. Who are these people? Science journalists? Renowned neuroscientists? Leading psychologists?

Err, no. Odone writes on “families and faith”, while Deacon is The Telegraph‘s TV Features editor.

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