This week the pope is in London. You will have your own views on the discrimination against women, the homophobia, and the international criminal conspiracy to cover up for mass child rape. My special interest is his role in the 2 million people who die of Aids each year. Read the rest of this entry »
On the birthday of Jesus Christ – who was clearly a very nice guy, giant sky wizard issues aside – I can think of no better bible reading than this, Daniel 1:8, a description of the first ever clinical trial.
Last year I ran into Ariane Sherine. She had found that no charity would publicly take money from a book written by atheists at Christmas, since Christians give so much money for good work, and they didn’t want to annoy them. Luckily the Terence Higgins Trust stepped up to this bizarre challenge, which is excellent, because Aids is important, and THT do good stuff (especially on education), and they hold the line on evidence and common sense, as witnessed by their immediate response of “yes please” when offered cash. So, support THT, buy it now. There are chapters by Simon le Bon, Charlie Brooker, Richard Dawkins, David Baddiel, AC Grayling, and many many more. My chapter is below, it is about the power of ideas alone to do good and harm, and it is filled with mawkish Christmas cheer. In other news, Manto Tshabala-Msimang – South Africa’s health minister, who presided over that horrific period of institutionalised Aids denialism – has died today. You will have your own thoughts.
Saturday January 19 2008
In 1954 a man called Darrell Huff published a book called “How to lie with statistics“. Chapter one is called “the sample with built in bias” and it reads exactly like this column, which I’m about to write, on a Daily Telegraph story in 2008.
Huff sets up his headline: “The average Yaleman, Class of 1924, makes $25,111 a year!” said Time magazine, half a century ago. That figure sounded pretty high: Huff chases it, and points out the flaws. How did they find all these people they asked? Who did they miss? Losers tend to drop off the alma mater radar, whereas successful people are in Who’s Who and the College Record. Did this introduce “selection bias” into the sample? And how did they pose the question? Can that really be salary rather than investment income? Can you trust people when they self-declare their income? Is the figure spuriously precise? And so on. Read the rest of this entry »
Saturday December 15 2007
“The Pope condemns the climate change prophets of doom,” roared the headline on Thursday. Basically if the Daily Mail goes out of business, I’ll have to give up this column. “Pope Benedict XVI has launched a surprise attack on climate change prophets of doom, warning them that any solutions to global warming must be based on firm evidence and not on dubious ideology.” Read the rest of this entry »
Saturday November 3 2007
Parliamentary select committees are one of the few places where you can see politicians sitting down and doing the kind of thing you’d actually want them to do, like thinking carefully about policy. This week the science and technology committee delivered its report on scientific developments relating to the Abortion Act, and even as a man with a very low boredom threshold, I genuinely recommend reading it for pleasure: because it is a masterclass in spotting fallacious science, and that is exactly what was offered up, in spades, by the anti-abortion activists who gave evidence.
This is officially the most exciting moment of my hobby as a writer. The Parliamentary Science and Tech Select Committee have published a very sensible report about the evidence for and against a change in the Abortion laws. The Minority Report is an extra report, bolted on as an appendix: they are there for when there are members of a select committee who don’t like the actual report.
In the case of this Minority Report on abortion, it’s a rollercoaster ride of pseudoscience and dubious data, signed by one Tory MP with the support of one other, and I highly recommend giving it a read. I’ve posted the PDF here, until it appears on the parliament website.
If you want a good example of how spectacularly weak the evidence behind this “Minority Report” is, then you need look no further than the bit where they talk about, er, well, me, bafflingly:
Ooh ooh I just got this in email at 00:01 and I hereby am posting it before the BBC or anyone. They lose valuable minutes by pretending not to copy and paste the press release, while I find that kind of theatre slightly childish. Meanwhile, pasted below is what our Parliamentary Science and Technology Committee on the Abortion Act recommended, after carefully reviewing the scientific evidence. The report itself is a masterful and surprisingly readable precis, which I’ll post as soon as the link goes live.