Monday, 3 August 2009

This 'n' that


Absolutely my last word on the conspiracy theory that I’ve been busy debunking over the last few days. I asked Hay, who if you don’t know is a PhD biochemist (and my partner), to look at the evidence. The nub of the hullabaloo is the fact that mercury is used in flu vaccine and the minute the great unwashed see the word mercury they automatically associate it with the incredible stuff you get in thermometers, which is rather toxic due to it being unpaired and hence tending to remain in the body for a long time. What is used in vaccines is thiomersal, or sodium ethylmercurithiosalicylate to be precise, which is a mercury compound which has a sodium bond, rendering it harmless due to it being capable of being metabolised and passed through the body quickly – well before any toxic effects can take hold. It has been used for most of the 20th century in numerous preparations as an fungicide and antiseptic.

Basically Joe Public, and some sections of the press, have got hold of the wrong end of the stick due to knowing less about chemistry and the body than they do about quantum dynamics or starship navigation. The stuff has actually been found to be safer than they originally thought it was in the ‘70s, when its use first came under intense scrutiny.

The Archbishop of Westminster, the leader of England’s left footers, has pronounced an anathema on Facebook. He thinks it encourages the Devil’s spawn to seek superficial friends, whereas real friends involve hard work. Not in my book they don’t – certainly not as much as relatives. Rellies really ARE hard work as you can’t choose the buggers. If any friend of mine starts to suck the life out of me in a selfish manner then he or she wouldn’t be seeing me for quite a long time. I think the Archbish just doesn’t get the point of Facebook. There again, I sometimes wonder what its point is too – more so Twitter, which from what I can see is no more than a self-indulgent megaphone (a bit like a blog, but less informative).

The Archbish of Left Foot does come out with some unmitigated rubbish – unlike the Archbish of Cadbury, Rowan Atkinson, who I have to admit does tend to think carefully before opening his mouth and pissing off the entire Anglican Communion with his sensible pronouncements, in the process engendering several doctrinal schisms that will undoubtedly reverberate down the ages and make him famous as the architect of the destruction of Anglicanism. However, if the church will insist build its empire in the manner of an inverted pyramid on a foundation of sand, it’s hardly surprising schisms develop.

Talking of matters theological, the high priest of a left footer church in Truro is considering having a local photographer charged with blasphemy for having taken a few erotic snaps in his church and has even sent a solicitors’ letter to that effect. While taking erotic photos in a church is a tad off, I think the arch hierophant will have a job bringing the action to court as blasphemy was excised from the English statute books in May 2008.

Given the manner in which the UK was forecast good weather in July, but instead received enough rain to make us check our stocks of gopher wood, are weather forecasts turning into the new horoscopes?

Why are event organisers mesmerised by attendance numbers? They seem to think large numbers of attendees is in itself an attractor, which it certainly ain’t if you’re over a certain age and a cantankerous old bastard like me. The Bristol Maritime Festival was held this weekend and the organisers said that a record 230,000 attended. We didn’t go this year, primarily because of the hideous crowds we experienced last year. People are not attracted by the numbers, but the quality of the things they can go to see. Saying this year’s event attracted a record number (and the implication it’s growing exponentially) is guaranteed to put Hay and I off ever going again. Very poor marketing if you ask me (which you aren’t).

Here’s something I wouldn’t mind doing when I get my bus-pass in a few years time. Richard Elloway used his bus-pass to get from Land’s End to John O’Groats and back at no cost. How’s that for a holiday with free transport?

16 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. On your topic of forecasts - you know perfectly well that chaos mathematics prevents accurate long range weather forecasting - there are just too many data points required - a butterfly's wings in the Amazon rain forest etc.

    And - in any case when the Met Office issued their long range "barbecue" summer forecast it was a 60% probability - the other 40% was wet.

    When looking at long range forecasts it is very easy to fall into the trap of developing the mind set of a Sun journalist.

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  3. Richard: Way back in January I could have predicted - without any maths - that June would be warmer than January. Imagine what I could have done with maths!

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  4. Now that is unworthy of you. Successful forecasting depends on two things - millions of data points and a computer model to crunch the numbers. The more data points the faster the computer has to be and the more complex the model - the pay off is that it's a more accurate forecast - but at the moment we can only be accurate to about 4 days for a general area - but weather forecasts are very accurate - although not perceived as such by the public. If you are prepared to pay for a forecast for your front drive - or your oil rig in the North sea - you will get an hour by hour forecast that is amazingly accurate out to about 24/48 hours - after that it starts to become more and more fuzzy! Chaos at work.

    And so yes - you can say that June will be warmer than January but that is based on previous experience and we no longer forecast that way - since about 1970 I think.

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  5. Ah - but if the forecast had a 60% chance of being correct, then you'd at least expect sun for a minimum of half that, like 30%. As it was, we had about 0.1% sun and the rest was rain. You couldn't get it any further off the mark if you tried.

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  6. I spotted this on Isobel's Association of Medical Microbiologists Network yesterday and thought you might like it. It is a comment from one Microbiologist in a debate on whether or not we should be treating swineflu:
    "In previous pandemics the pandemic eventually disappeared, not because
    of mass vaccination but because of increasing herd immunity, making it
    increasingly difficult for the virus to find more susceptibles and hence
    the reproductive rate drops below 1.
    Now you have everyone, adult or child, with mild Flu-like symptoms in
    England starting on oseltamivir, 'ideally' within 48 hours of onset of
    symptoms. As a result, viral replication is inhibited, the normal immune
    response is muted, resulting in lack of immunity, and leaving the
    individual susceptible to yet another A/H1N1v infection. As a result,
    the reproductive rate never drops below 1 and sustained transmission
    continues indefinitely, meanwhile killing off lots of pregnant women and
    other poor fellows with increased risk who did not start their Tamiflu
    within the 48 hrs.
    A 1st world government-made disaster. It's a sad and beautiful world".
    Food for thought.

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  7. Please note it was not Alexander who said that but me. My bloody son keeps using my computer to let into his Google Account. Pity you can't vaccinate yourself against it!

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  8. Alan: Alexander has a very valid point about herd immunity, as Hay has told me many times. However, My point is about the use of mercury in vaccines, which is what the conspiracy theory is all about. The stuff in vaccines is as cloesly related to the silver stuff as rust is to iron, or nitrogen to nitric acid.

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  9. Point taken Bill. And I am having to use Alexander to speak on my behalf now as I can't stop barking for some reason.

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  10. Alan: Don't worry. So long as your nose it wet all will be OK. Just watch those hubcaps.

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  11. Wow. You guys seem real smart. Here's what I read:

    Mercury in vaccines: good
    Crowds: bad
    Weather forecasts: bad

    Did I miss anything?

    Seriously? A great post. I always feel a little bit better educated after reading this blog. Keep up the good work.

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  12. IB: If you're going to be in a crowd, endure you're vaccinated. Also make sure that it's good weather if the crowd is outside.

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  13. come and collect an award on my blog!

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  14. Chairman, no need to wait for that bus pass - just start pickin 'em up and puttin 'em down. Being a pass-less colonial, I was forced to stagger from Land's End to 'Groats in my 61st year. One of the highlights of the trip being a gratis taxi ride down from 'Groats to Wick.(30km?) Free ride in a highland taxi Jimmy...now I'm picking that's as rare as flu vaccine in a thermometer or a remake of "Debbie does Truro" in Westminster Abbey...

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  15. Chairman Bill when I read the first sentence of your last paragraph I thought you said "when I get my by-pass in a few years time..." My first thought was My Gosh I knew socialized medicine was bad and this proves it.
    Then I realized you wrote bus-pass.
    oops, my bad,

    Joy

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  16. Tony: Will be around to collect it when I can meet the criteria.

    George: Thought you'd be in the air by now headed for Liverpool.

    Joy: What a Joy!

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