Mathematically Challenged Education Authority

What hope do the children have?

In the UK we suffer a very bad obsession with league tables in which the performance of every public body is graded (on an arbitrary scale) and compared against others – rarely in a like for like but that is another matter.

As you can imagine, schools bear the brunt of this. Parents are understandably determined to get their children the best education possible, often moving across the country to be in the catchment area of their chosen school. Most of this one-upmanship is derived from the school tables, helpfully published on the BBC website.

All the trust has to be placed in what ever body is responsible for collecting these numbers. Are they up to the task?

Idly surfing the web, I came upon this educational report on the BBC. It is the stats for an infants/primary school (ages 3 – 11) in Shrewsbury. All normal. Have a look at the stats and it seems like its a reasonably good school – it performs above the average for its educational authority, which is also above the average nationally.

Then have a look at this:

37 eligible, 18.9% of whom had special educational needs

At first glance it seems normal and slightly low compared to some schools.

Then look at the numbers.

18.9% of 37 is 6.993.

This means that 6.993 students have special educational needs. How is that possible? Is this just a rounding problem? No, because 7 pupils would be 19% in any normal formulation.

Either the organisation who collates the stats is mathematically challenged, or they have massaged the numbers to make it look lower than it is (and are ethically challenged).

Whichever it is, how much faith can you have in this system?

Clueless and rude

Red Sky in the MorningOver on the excellent Grumpy Lion blog, there is a regular commenter who, I think it is fair to say, often gets the wrong end of the stick. However, Steph is so inordinately self-opinionated that nothing will ever come close to swaying her on any issue. It doesn’t matter if she is wrong. It doesn’t matter if you point out her mistakes. She appears to refuse to listen. If you correct her twice she will swear at you and call you a stalker. This is all good internet-kook behaviour, generally confined to the more religious zealot. Feel free to pop over and read her comments – she comments a lot, and often on topics about which I know nothing, however when it is a topic I have some understanding off, she is invariably wrong. I would be interested to know how this extrapolates to her other comments.

Anyway, the most recent “encounter” was on a recent post that degenerated into an argument about UK gun control laws. Quite wisely, Ric has now ended comments as it was, sadly, repetitive. However, in the best internet traditions, I now feel left out as I haven’t had the chance to get the lastword™®© in 🙂 . However, here the magic of the interblog steps in…!

For those who don’t know (or don’t want to read her screed), Steph has made numerous claims, all of which would normally need something to back them up. Take this from her very first comment on the thread:

But States with tight gun control laws have higher gun crime rates than the States with lax gun laws. And most gun crime is perpetrated against those who don’t have guns.

Gathering StormFair enough. The first bit is regulary bandied around but I have yet to see where the figures come from. The second sentence is pretty meaningless. It is an attempt to imply that carrying a gun reduces the chance you will become a victim to gun crime. This is akin to saying if you are a mugger you will be less likely to be mugged. It is hollow and provides nothing of substance, so I will not dwell on it further.

Steph trots out the old bit about how she has her gun and will kill to defend herself, and knows how, etc. This is regularly used by people with very little experience of violent encounters – especially ones involving weapons. In a nutshell, if it was this easy, why do armed forces the world over train their soldiers? Owning a gun is no use unless it is in your hands and pointing at the person who may do you harm. As you don’t know who this will be you would have to travel everywhere with your weapon drawn and keeping a bead on everyone you encounter. Realistic, maybe, in some post apocalypse nightmare film but certainly not on the streets of an even moderately populated village. Continue reading


Ok, it is generally accepted that “luck” is a very difficult concept to quantify scientifically. Everyone has their own idea what it is and some people even think it has a “cause” and can be manipulated. Gamblers have a notoriously twisted idea of what “luck” is and how it can seemingly overcome mathematical certainties. Historically, humans from every corner of the globe have even objectified it into religions and religious icons. For some reason, certain Christians have a pagan approach to luck and think praying to the invisible will influence “luck” in their favour. All very strange.

Anyway, in view of this, I have spent the last few weeks carrying out an experiment that I am, as I have always suspected, cursed with bad luck… My PC is not possessed by the devil, it doesn’t hate me, I am just very unlucky – which is why every time I need an internet connection it goes down. This is not good news, but at least it explains why every week I do the national lottery and, despite the odds, I never get a single number. Ever. Now, part of me suspects the odds against that are greater than the odds against winning the lottery, but now I know the real reason©™.

My experiment has been simple. There are, basically, two routes I can take from work to get home. Because of the hideous nature of road traffic, my journey home normally takes in excess of an hour and I travel at the majestic average speed of 29mph. Aren’t modern cars wonderful. The upside of this mind numbing tedium is that I have time to think about things, and I realised that no matter which route I take, it takes me about the same lenght of time to get home and more importantly whatever lane I choose, the other goes faster.

Any drivers out there will undoubtedly share that experience. You are stuck in snail like traffic and all around you the cars are going faster. You change lane, only to discover the other lane has started moving. It is more than a little annoying.

So, during my thinking, I decided to see what was the best thing to do. Should I pick a lane and stay in it? Should I change as much as possible and fight my way forward. I know strong advocates of both options. Add to this, which route should I take?

From this, my experiment was formed… The plan was, over the course of several weeks to drive home a different way each time. Weeks 1 – 3 I would take “Route A” and then weeks 4 – 6 would be “Route B”. Although all at about the same time of day, each week would be either staying in the left hand lane, staying in the right hand lane or changing lanes as instinct dictates. As a “control” for the first two weeks, I would make a note of a car that joined about the same time as I did but in the other lane and see if they were ahead or behind me.

Anyway, today it all ended and the results were in. The basic conclusion is that I am cursed with bad luck. Seriously.

The average journey times for both routes was about 1hr 30mins (with very little deviation), giving me an average speed of 31mph. Wonderful eh? It seems that neither route was better, and changing lanes was no faster or slower than staying put. Also, it didn’t really matter what lane I was in, the time was pretty much the same.

Weirder still came when I was doing the “single lane” part. Every single time, every day for four of the six weeks, what ever lane I was in turned out to be the slowest. Without fail, a vehicle that joined the traffic the same time as me, would make faster progress if they were in a different lane to me. In some instances the other lane was going so fast I lost the vehicle (and visibility on this stretch is quite far), while in others, they were only a few minutes ahead of me – but they were ALWAYS ahead.

Like I said, the only redeeming feature of this is at least now I know why I never get a single number on the lottery. Maybe Luck hates Atheists. Or just me…

Tricky Stats

One of the letters in this weeks New Scientist reports the reassuring facts that, despite the antics of various school boards and the attempts of numerous kook religion sites, Creationism is in decline. This is good news, and personally I would like nothing more than to think it was true – in fact if you base your analysis on my personal experience, then hardly anyone believes the creationist nonsense.

Sadly, I am not (yet) fully convinced that this is the true description of the world.

Now, the letter in NS helpfully produces some figures to support its claim. This is nearly always a good thing but this time it seems to be a touch confusing. Look at this:

Since the 1980s in the US the fundamentalist opinion that Adam and Eve were created a few thousand years before the pyramids has held fairly steady at between 43 and 47 per cent, with the lowest value occurring in 2007.

OK, it seems reasonable to take from that sentence the idea that creationism fluctuates around 45%, give or take 2%. While it is reassuring to see creationism is at its lowest last year, that is not really a decline.

Interestingly the numbers are compared with:

The number believing in human evolution under the guidance of God has stayed between 35 and 40 per cent.

The number agreeing with the scientific consensus that evolution occurred without a god has risen from 9 or 11 per cent at the end of the 20th century to a high of 14 per cent in 2007.

Sadly, this is less reassuring. I am not sure how three effectively stable sets of numbers can be used to show creationism is in decline. Equally, (admittedly ignoring the variation with the start figure of proper evolution) the numbers all show basically the same variation. Going from 11% to 14% is not a significant change when 47% – 43% is described as “fairly steady.”

As far as I can see, from the three sets of figures here, the numbers are all basically “steady.” All have about a 5% spread which seems to fluctuate. This is, in itself, not a downward trend for creationism.

Can anyone else show more positive figures?

Equally lacking in comfort to the rational is the information that, in the worlds only superpower, a nation with the ability to destroy every living person:

Remarkably, the number taking the Bible literally has steadily sunk from about 40 per cent in the 1970s – nearly matching those who then favoured the Genesis story – to between a third and a quarter.

So, at best, 25% of people still take the Bible literally. Wow. Scary wow.

Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt in Our Safe Nation

Well, it seems the UK tabloid press is continuing its efforts to make “middle England” terrified of shadows without any real basis. Yesterday’s Mail on Sunday has ensured that its readership have “evidence” that Britain is descending into anarchy and the police crime statistics (as well as the victim reported data in the British Crime Survey) is just nonsense.

In a nutshell, the article is about Ms Sarah Schaefer (senior adviser to Foreign Secretary David Miliband) who was “carjacked” in a posh London street last Tuesday. She was driving along the street, when a “thug” jumped out in front of her, forced her to stop and jumped in the passenger seat. Ms Schaefer fled the car and threw the keys away (obviously the car was more important to her than any mere prevention of harm). The unnamed “thug” found the keys, got in the car and fled with it (later crashing).

Now all in all, this is a reasonably traumatic experience and it is sad that Ms Schaefer underwent it. However as far as the Daily Mail is concerned this is proof that the UK is in a grip of unprecedented levels of crime – despite any claims to the contrary by the police or government. Very early in the (erm) article, the breathless “journalists” write:

The ordeal of Sarah Schaefer is a major setback to Labour’s rubbishing of Conservative claims that the rise in violent crime has led to “anarchy in the UK”.

I know I can be slow on the uptake but I don’t get this. How does ONE crime support the Conservative’s claims? Is there some mystic aura about Ms Schaefer which means she can only become the victim of crime when 75% of the population has been? She is one person. Nothing in the article gives any indication as to the true rates of this type of crime (check BCS if you are that bored) but it has this bit or terror inducement:

The attack on Ms Schaefer is a stark reminder that crimes such as carjacking, once associated only with ghettos in the US and South Africa, are now commonplace here – and can occur in neighbourhoods popular with the middle classes.

This is mind boggling. Carjacking is not commonplace on the mainland UK. For those unfortunate enough to live in Northern Ireland, however, carjacking is more common and has been for 2o years. The sad part is the Daily Mail (and its readership) would never want to let facts or statistics get in the way of a good bit of fear.

Just in case the (insane?) middle England readership of the Mail missed the point they were trying to be given, the article finishes with:

Ms Schaefer is just the latest highprofile person to fall victim to rising crime.

Muggers stole a mobile phone from Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan’s daughter Chloe, 19, while she was making a call in Notting Hill’s fashionable Portobello Road in March.

Chelsea and England footballer Frank Lampard’s £8million West London home was burgled in May 2005 as the star and his girlfriend Elen Rives slept upstairs.

And high-profile divorcee Beverley Charman, 54 – awarded a £48million payout – was tied up at her Kent home and robbed of jewellery worth £300,000 in March.

This is more of the odd way the media seem to blow the lives of the rich and famous out of all proportions. The claim that this is the result of “rising crime” is more than misleading, it has no basis in fact and it certainly is not supported by anything in the newspaper. There are thousands of “rich and famous” people who live in the UK. If you include “high profile” then we could have in the region of 100,000 people to consider. This newspaper article identifies FOUR who have been the victim of crime and seems to cover the period of May 2005 – Sep 2007.

This makes the rate of crime around 1.3 per 100,000 people per year – if this is “rising” how low was it in the past? If this is really representative of the nation (as the article seems to imply) then we have a crime rate of 871 crimes throughout the UK per year. Blimey. What a safe nation.

The only way I can see that this article tries to show “rising” crime is that there seems to have only been 1 high profile crime between May 2005 and March 2007, but since March this year there have been three. Even then it is farcical.

Sometimes I really do wonder what goes on in the minds of people who read this sort of drivel and believe it (check the comments out if you want a laugh). Most of the Mail readers I have met in real life actually hold to the ideas the paper puts forwards (much to my frustration), most are from fairly affluent backgrounds and most have never been the victim of any crime in their life. Despite this all talk about how “bad” things are, how children are unruly, how crime is out of control and how someone they know, knows some one who has been burgled. It almost makes me want to cry.

[tags]Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, Rant, Society, Law, idiots, Idiocy, Bad Journalism, Crime, Rich People, Famous People, Crime Rates, British Crime Survey, Statistics, Bad Statistics, Carjacking, Sarah Schaefer, Anarchy, Britain, UK, Criminals[/tags]

Thinking is sometimes better than counting…

There’s a good article on Pure Pedantry. It illustrates why any amount of classy social statistics manipulation can be pointless without some social science understanding.

The Pure Pedantry post is about the claim that men and women have different numbers of sexual partners. The blogger sees this as inherently unlikely and refers to a mathematician David Gale who put that very point of view in the New York Times.

The obvious conclusion – that people lie about these things and they lie in ways that are not random but reflect social values about gender – convinces the blogger.

However, he updates the post with an explanation of how the seemingly irrational results could come from a confusion over the meaning of averages and medians in the statistics. This is all true, of course. However, it is irrelevant.

Whatever measurement you choose, the results are bull. They can only ever be bull, because there is no society on earth where ideas of maleness and femaleness are not socially constructed. So the results might tell you something about the meanings we attach to being a man or a woman but cannot say anything reliable about the actions of real men and women.

A thought experiment. Ask a thousand anonymous man and women about the number of sexual partners they have had. Ask another thousand anonymous men and women about the number of partners they believe is “normal”. You could probably guarantee that the results will broadly match, with the variation that men will report themselves at one or two above the mark and women will claim to be a mark or two beneath it.

Another thought experiment. Ask a thousand people some anonymous factual questions about their driving – “How many times have you ever driven over the speed limit?” “Do you ever drive when you are drunk?” and so on. The results would make you wonder how there are ever any accidents. Very few people would report themselves as driving in a potentially lethal way. Anonymity wouldn’t in itself make the results true, would it?

And it’s not just bragging or minimising. People don’t even tell themselves the truth. It’s the nature of society. Scientists aren’t immune from social values. A commenter on Pure Pedantry talks about girls with high numbers being “easy.” There is an entire lifetime of social conditioning in that phrase.

It’s a good post about how the choice of statistical methods can affect the interpretation of survey data. But there are some aspects of humanity that present far too much of a challenge to empirical observation to produce any meaningful results without some understanding of semiotics, cultural values, gender power relations, individual psychology and the whole rich world of social science knowledge.

I’m certainly not denying the validity of empirical data in the social sciences. The more the better. It’s just that we are nowhere near the point at which we can use people’s responses to questionnaires as evidence about their behaviour in the same direct way that we can use the number of bacteria on a slide as evidence for the presence of foot and mouth disease.

Phone Masts Not Harmful

In today’s Guardian newspaper (and online and here) there is an article explaining how the fears and worries of the “electrosensitive” woo-mongers is unfounded.

Sadly, the Guardian’s “news” editors have chosen to go with the headline:

Research fails to detect short-term harm from mobile phone masts

Now, it may just be my pedantry, but surely that strongly implies there is a short term harm and the researchers simply failed to detect it? The second link above is better and carries the tag line:

Yet another study shows no link between mobile phone radiation and ill health

Which pretty much captures the repetitiveness of this as a research result. The overwhelming weight of science shows there is no evidence of any short term harmful effect from communications masts and the only proven long term risk is from the most popular source of electromagnetic energy itself – the Sun.

In a nutshell, this seems like a well designed study which, like all the others, has resulted in no evidence that people who claim to be sensitive to electromagnetic radiation actually are – this is even something I have mentioned in the past. Repeated tests have shown that if you get an “electrosenstive” and tell them there is a transmitter near by, they evince the effects they claim are caused by “EM.” If they dont know the transmitter is near by, they don’t have the effects. In my unsympathetic, un-medical opinion this is pretty good proof it is all in their mind – for various reasons they are completely making it up. Part of me concedes the symptoms may be real, but it is only a small part of me. Either way, targeting phone masts as the culprit is doing no one any favours. As the Guardian comment on the topic finishes:

What sufferers experience is real and in many cases very unpleasant. But in the light of this evidence we can be pretty certain that phone masts do not cause short term health problems for the vast majority of people. Electrosensitive support groups should recognise this and begin to look harder for other causes of the condition.

Well said. Stop fighting a bogeyman and find the real cause – if there are real symptoms.

As always, there are those who are so wedded to a concept that no matter how much evidence to the contrary is presented, they will refuse to accept it. Sounds a bit religious to me, but never mind. The wonderfully named “Mast Sanity” website is a cited opponent of the recent study, and shows many of the traits you would normally associate with creationists trying to debunk evolution.

Unsurprisingly, Mast Sanity is a screaming example of bad science and a place where spurious arguments are used to dispel the results of the most recent study — I assume similar tactics were used on older studies, I didn’t look into the site that much, what I did read seemed like a check list of logical fallacies and debate-scoring tactics rather than anything reasoned. Some examples include:

We question why psychologrists are doing this research at all since physical changes to the skin and heart rates have been found in other research. Presumably the psychologists ‘believe’ this is all in the mind and this is what they set out to ‘prove’.

Yeah, and when you read the research notes it shows the psychologists set out to measure the physical responses. This smacks of a combination of appeal to ridicule and the laypersons perception that educational disciplines exist in complete isolation of each other. If the researchers had set out to prove the Electrosensitivity was in the mind, this would be obvious from the experimental design, not from what discipline the people who run the experiment come from.

Their conclusion was made possible by eliminating 12 of the most sensitive electrosentive volunteers who had become too ill to continue the study. Even a child can see that by eliminating 12 of the original 56 electrosensitive volunteers – over 20% of the group – that the study integrity has been completely breached.

Wow. First off the 12 people withdrew themselves, they were not eliminated to make the experiment possible. If the other 44 “electrosensitives” were actually electro sensitive, then what would the loss of those 12 change? As for the great “even a child” comment — well really. I have not met many children who can do the statistical analysis required to account for the changed sample sizes, but most would probably make a random assumption as to the status of the experiment. Does that mean they would be correct? Critically, the “study integrity” has certainly not been completely breached, it just gives a larger error bar to the findings.

There is more bad statistics with this bit of meandering nonsense:

One participant in the study questions Professor Fox’s assertion that only four people got all six test correct. He said “I got five [out of six] as during the first three five minute tests on session one, I stated ‘not sure’ after the first five minutes, which was marked as NO, but on session two, three and four I got it 100% right and actually identified the type of signal, so are the Essex [study] numbers meaningful?

I will confess to not really understanding what this is trying to say. One person thinks that more (or less) than four people got all six tests “correct” because he got five out of six in one of them. Blimey. The whole experiment must be flawed then… I would really appreciate it if someone could explain what the above means to me — I must be having a bad understanding day today. Talking about a previous study, quoted by the BBC, Mast Sanity continues:

… We don’t think Dr. Rubin [author of previous study] is qualified to comment on the Essex study as he didn’t even use a shielded room for his own experiments at King’s College and the so called ‘sham’ (zero) exposure was not a zero signal as people have been led to believe.

What makes me laugh about this, is the “pro-sensitives” leap on the shielding issue, and largely it is a cornerstone of their defence against the real science. In a nutshell, it explains why the “sensitives” report effects when no mast is transmitting, but they are led to believe it is. The problem with this is that when the “sensitives” believe the mast is off, they report no symptoms. Is the shielding belief-powered?

With no signs of irony whatsoever, Mast Sanity finishes its tirade with this wonderful bit of woo-spin:

Mast Sanity Spokesperson Yasmin Skelt says “All in all the Media release of this study has been an exercise in spin and propaganda and a poor one for science.

It is the long term health effects where people are forced to live near real Mobile Phone Masts that count and this study in no way covers those.

Great isn’t it? They refer to themselves in the third person and claim the science is spin and their spin is science. New Labour must love the world they have created.

The study was solid science. It certainly was not a perfect experiment, but few ever are. The conclusions drawn are sound and the reasoning is valid. The Woo-Monger reactions have been an exercise in spin and bad-logic, rarely coming close enough to science to be thought of as bad science. The study was very upfront — as have been the media reports — that this didn’t look at long term effects. Sadly, spinning the goal posts to a new location does not invalidate the research — not that the woo crowd have ever worried about that.

Asking if there are long term health effects is a good question, and an area where the research is sketchier which results in less certainty over the answers. That said, the common cries of the “electrosensitives” is that they suffer short term effects (which is why people buy “shielded curtains” and the like) and on this, it is quite probable that they are wrong. Redefining the criteria each time one is falsified is typical of another group who hold to nonsensical beliefs in the face of all evidence. Will Electrosensitivity become the Woo of the Gaps?

[tags]Media, News, EM,Woo, Science, Bad Science, Statistics, Bad Statistics, Electromagnetism, Guardian, Electrosensitivity, Nonsense, Society, Belief, Research, Experiment, Evidence, Logical Fallacy, Spin[/tags]

Tricked by their own statistics

Sorry for all the “crime” related posts but it is an annoying topic.

The BBC has more articles on the recently released Crime Statistics and it highlights an interesting logical conundrum. For example, the BBC article begins with:

Police recorded the first fall in overall violence in eight years, but drug offences and robbery went up.

Seems like a pretty key point to make. The rest of the news item is about how the public don’t trust the statistics and how Government needs to increase understanding of how they are collected and how accurate they are.

Comically, the article ends with this comment:

Meanwhile, police chiefs have been criticised by a committee of MPs who concluded giving police forces extra cash had not helped reduce crime.

Now, this begs the question that if the reports are crime has gone down, how do the MPs conclude that the extra cash did not help? Or, as I suspect, do the MPs feel that crime has not gone down and therefore need the government to give them advice on understanding the BCS results?

Madness cubed. [tags]Crime,Government, Statistics, Survey, Madness, Idiots, Society, Logic[/tags]

Crime and the Rose Tinted Past

At the risk of turning this blog into a never ending stream of rants about public perceptions of crime, it seems there are even more woo-like nonsensical things being pushed out by people (Hattip oustudent blog).

On the BBC “Have your say” pages there is an ongoing debate about crime, and public understanding of the levels of crime.

By and large, the comments speak volumes about a people who are so disconnected from reality, so twisted by media led scare stories, that they no longer have (if they even ever did) any objective view point on the world around them. As is always the case, lots of people who comment, have no idea what the topic they are commenting on is about but want to make a comment about how much they hate the government and everything wrong in the world is entirely the fault of Tony Blair for misleading the nation over Iraq. Even the rain is caused by that… Continue reading

Is your PC infected or hacked?

Interestingly, I have been looking through the visitor logs for this site today and have discovered some interesting things. Lot of people who visit this blog have a User Agent (UA) string which identifies a bit of spyware or possible hack attack.

Two of the most common strings are:

SIMBAR – this appears to be involved in a “Team Evil” hack, while it is not clear to me what adds the SIMBAR to the string, it has also been discussed on TaoSecurity. The most recent visitor with this UA string was from London and the string read:

Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 7.0; Windows NT 5.1;SIMBAR Enabled; SIMBAR={0611EF31-5377-41a3-A9BB-228547113477};SIMBAR=0; .NET CLR 1.1.4322)

HOTBAR – there are quite a few hits from this “semi-non-consensual” browser add on, and I have no idea if it is bad software or not (Wiki has a debate on it if you are interested). The most recent visitors we have had was an NTL broadband user (connected via Harrogate area) with the following UA string:

Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1; V1; Hotbar

It is not really surprising this are IE based strings showing signs of oddness, and over the last few months there have been lots of hits from this two UAs, as well as other “suspicious” strings. I will pay more attention in future and see if there are any patterns to be discerned.

In a nutshell though, I would strongly suggest everyone gets a good anti-virus package (AVG is free) and some reliable anti-spyware packages.

[tags]Spyware, browsers, technology, websites, statistics[/tags]

Most viewed posts

Just out of interest, I thought I would take a look at the most popular posts on the blog and see if it gave an insight into visitors here.

The top three most viewed articles on WhyDontYou (at the time of writing this post) are:

  1. How to Defend Religion? with 2411 direct views (it even has 14 comments and over 1000 home page views).
  2. One Person’s Take On Christianity has managed a total of 2332 direct views, although it only generated three comments and 14 home page views.
  3. Content Negotiation – Mirrored Post, which despite being a blast from the past still gets 10 – 15 hits a day and has amassed a total of 1979 direct hits but in languishing in the comments stakes.

Alternatively, using Feed views you get this picture:

  1. Rapture with 5197 feed views (a paltry 106 direct views of the URL though)
  2. Faith in its death throes? with 5150 feed views but only 114 direct views
  3. Computers aren’t doctors with 5119 feed views but only 126 visits to it’s URL.

This produces some interesting assumptions about people who come here. It seems (and this correlates for more than just the top three) that a post is either popular with people coming to visit the site (direct URL views) or popular with people reading it on the feeds, but never both. For example, One Person’s Take On Christianity has amassed exactly ZERO feed views.

The most popular category is Bad Shops with almost twice as many views this year as the second most popular which is Television (13598 views vs 7278), which, given the high quality philosophical content here, speaks volumes about what people are really interested in 😀 .

Now, my original aim was to see if I could get an insight into visitors here. I am not sure the stats are really successful.  The preponderance of Religious related posts in the “most popular” lists makes sense, but I have no idea why “Content Negotiation” has become a run away success. How to defend religion has a constant stream of visitors since Ruth Gledhill linked to it in her article for the Times Online but why the others are popular currently escapes me.

From a technological point, I have no idea why the decisions between reading post / viewing feed seems so heavily polarised. There are no posts I can find which have a similar number of both, it seems very much an either/or thing.

Lastly, I wonder if, by highlighting the most popular, will this make them even more popular? I often see blogs with sidebars proclaiming the “most viewed” posts – surely this will have the effect of making those even more viewed and, as such, increasing the distance between them and others to the point at which it can never be crossed.

Comments welcome 😀

[tags]Technology, Feedburner, Feeds, RSS, Content, Blog, Philosophy, Society, Content Negotiation, Religion, Ruth Gledhill, Times, Firestats, Statistics[/tags]

More about bodyweight

From BBC Breakfast Time to the BBC website, child obesity is yet again a BBC theme of the day. The topic is whether child obesity is a form of neglect.

Related articles are one about Kacey’s weight went off the scale and Infants being treated for obesity.

Rather disappointingly, from a freak show point of view, four-year-old Kacey didn’t break the 20 stone barrier, or whatever the top mark on a set of bathroom scales is. She was only “off the scale” in terms of the percentile charts used to measure infants. (Just in case there aren’t enough normality hoops for parents and children to jump through, when they get to school….)

It turns out that the supposedly monstrously obese two-year-old Kacey is no longer obese but is in fact just tall now.

As a result of becoming obese when she was still a baby, Kacey has had a premature growth spurt and is now the height of an average 10-year-old and still weighs five stone (31.7kg).

So, was this even “obesity”? Don’t children put on weight before they grow tall. And if they are going to be very tall, they need something to grow new body from.

This got me wondering, is tallness a potential problem? Are people to have their children taken off them by social services for growing too tall at the wrong age?

Because that seems to be one implication of this compulsory normality madnes sthat is getting beamed at children and parents.

Her mum hopes that will continue and by the time Kacey is reaching her teenage years her height and weight will be much closer to the average child. By taking control of Kacey’s food her parents have transformed their daughter’s future.

Sentence One: WHY? Thor forbid that anyone should be on the outside edges of the human bell-shaped curve any more. Average is GOOD. Standard is GOOD. Diversity is BAD.

Sentence Two: Well, no, actually, it seems to me they have more likely set up a future teenage battle-ground that will end up with her becoming anorexic, bulimic or a compulsive eater. Food & control all tangled together, with subliminal Stepford-Wines style messages about how important it is to be like everybody else. Important enough to embarrass the future fiurteen-year-old Kacey (is that even a name or a set of initials?) with the existence of discussion and pictures of her as fat two year-old “problem child” in the national press. I can’t predict a good outcome.

I don’t blame this family for apparently turning a child’s weight into the centre of their lives. What else can they do? Thye have to show a willingness to change it. The other articles discuss the BBC’s apparently successful drive (no surprise there, resources flow to those who take the fashionable line) to find paediatricians who will agree that families with overfed children should be scrutinised by social services.

Now Social Services departments are well known for always improving the lives of kids who fall under their tender attentions …….
And there blatantly aren’t any enough children who are beaten or homeless or abused who could really do with some of this attention……

Doctors say they are now seeing children as young as six months old in their obesity clinics.

Come on. How on earth can a child under 6 months become “obese”? Small babies can’t even eat food. Even bottlefed babies are hard pushed to take in more than they can handle. Babies just stop feeding when they are full. And as soon as they start moving round, even chubby babies tend to burn up their stored energy.

Parents are allegedly to blame for feeding McDonald’s diets to their babies. Nonsense again, if we are talking about the poor* – because there is always an unspoken assumption in this that the poor are too stupid to feed their kids nutritious food – they can hardly afford to give babies a diet of BigMacs and Super-thick milkshakes, no matter how stupid they may be.

* At the children’s centre in the deprived Meadows area of Nottingham parents are offered support to improve their children’s diet.

Here is the one mysterious fact about the epidemic of obesity (and, yes, I do know that you can’t talk about an epidemic of something that isn’t a transferable disease, I was being ironic, ok?) As you can read in an old post here Everything about diets seems to be bull people actually eat LESS now than they did 15 years ago, according to the UK Office of National Statistics. I can’t repeat this too often. Even the BBC did in their quiz. It undercuts almost all of the food nonsense we get stuffed down our craws:

Men eat 6% fewer and women 3% fewer calories and both men and women eat less fat than they did in 1986.

Hmm, calories and fat. Aren’t we getting constantly told that it’s calories and fat that make us fat? This is obviously not completely untrue – there must be a relationship between how much we consume and how much bodyfat we store – but it can’t be wholly true either.

I can come up with a million crackpot theories involving additives and people not walking anywhere and residual estrogens in the water and so on. These remain personal opinion based on minimal or no evidence, so I’ll spare you them. Until we actually understand any of this, it is stretching credulity to assume that every chubby child is getting stuffed with KFCs and crisps and Big Macs and is doomed to a lifetime of Jerry-Springer-style immobility.

The one crackpot theory that I won’t spare you is the idea that the social meanings that we attach to food are demented.

We are so alienated from what we eat that we barely know it comes from farms (a/c to a spurious report on the BBC yesterday). We are obsessed with the weight of celebrities. Half the population is in a constant state of self-loathing beacuse they cant lose weight, but still despises other people for their fatness. And just in case adolescents aren’t disturbed enough about their bodyweight, we are now stretching the boundaries of concern down to babies.

Juking the stats

The Wire (official “best tv series ever”) shows how the need to mess about with statistics distorts the nature of policing. It’s called something impenetrable like “juking the stats” (duking? jooking? dooking? On the basis of a brief Googling, I went with juking as it seems to mean “being deceptive”.)

The drive to constantly improve crime figures – numbers of crime and clear up rates – leads to several wrong-headed initiatitives, such as harrassing large numbers of people for petty misdemeanours in pointless swoops and attempting to ignore the existence of large numbers of bodies left by Stansfield’s crew.

As in art, so in life, to add yet another cliche to the “crimes against cliche use” tally in this blog’s statistics. British police are now protesting about the distortions created by the drive to improve statistics.
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More Bad Science?

It seems this is the week for nonsense “science” being thrown about by people who really should know better. This latest instalment may not be bad science, there are lots of fallacies which may well apply, but I will leave that up to you to judge.

Here in the sunny green and pleasant land of the UK, the TV and Radio were carrying a news bulletin, which has been picked up in the print press today, which explained that a Charity (Alcohol Concern) was calling for the Government to ban children under the age of 15 drinking alcohol at home. Seriously. Alcohol Concern are concerned [puns always intended] that a Government report shows the number of 11 – 13 year olds who “binge drink” has increased dramatically (I do not know what the figures for this are, sorry).

Depending on which news / radio station you caught this on, the feedback was mixed. In some of the “older listener” channels, there was applause at such good suggestions and heartfelt condemnation of “today’s youth” who are all alcoholic rebels, unlike any other time in the past… On the “younger listener” stations this was met with outrage and shock anyone would be daft enough to suggest it.
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Wikipedia on atheism lists lots of arguments for atheism. One characterisation is even flattering.

According to a study by Paul Bell, published in the Mensa Magazine in 2002, there is an inverse correlation between religiosity and intelligence. Analyzing 43 studies carried out since 1927, Bell finds that all but four reported such a connection, and concludes that “the higher one’s intelligence or education level, the less one is likely to be religious or hold ‘beliefs’ of any kind.”

Is that an elegant way of saying most believers are thick?

Wow, I can’t find one argument that I don’t agree with (despite there being a section warning you that it may concern “weasel words”, which seems to mean unsourced generalisations like “some people think”. ) Oh no, does this make me a fundamentalist atheist? 🙂

So, this being Good Friday, I decided to look at Wikipedia’s arguments that God exists to see if any of them would sway this apparently planet sized atheist brain. Continue reading