May 2009
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A lesson in denominators

Just a quick one, because it is nearly my bedtime, and because I am so appalled.

Case study: (thx to Ben Goldacre’s miniblog for the link)

In particular this horrifying gem toward the end:

I invented the Kadir-Buxton Method twenty six years ago, and during this time over 35,000 mentally ill citizens […]


Speaking of lawsuits…

…there’s been a recent update in another lawsuit, the Thomson Reuters vs Zotero case. Zotero, an open-source reference manager that works directly inside Firefox (whose praises I sung before) are currently being sued by Thomson Reuters (maintainers of Endnote, a proprietary reference manager software package), claiming that Zotero (or rather, George Mason University, where the Zotero developers are based) reverse-engineered their Endnote software in breach of the Endnote license agreement. The background is described in more detail on these blogs: DLTJ (part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4) and Martin Feldstein (part 1 and part 2).

Particularly notable is Martin Feldstein’s initial opinion (that Thomson Reuters’ case may have merit) changing as he learned more and more facts about the case. It is extremely good academic practice to seek to back up hypotheses with evidence and to let go of the ones that are not supported, and as such, extremely laudible. Others, take note.

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Bogus. Totally.

Mr. Justice Eady’s ruling in the preliminary hearing in the Simon Singh vs. British Chiropractic Association case (concerning an allegedly libellous article published in the Guardian, since removed from the Guardian website) has already received widespread blog coverage. Martin at LayScience covered the background as the hearing was about to begin. A while ago, when the British Chiropractic Association announced their intention to sue, HolfordWatch provided further background to the case. Gimpy has reposted the original offending article, annotated with evidence for Singh’s comments. Ben Goldacre has been making noises about throwing his hat into the ring (most likely not in the Guardian though). The Economist and New Scientist both provide coverage in the mainstream media.

The most complete and compelling coverage comes from JackofKent, who has been following proceedings from a very well-written legal perspective. In fact, his blog, for the time being at least, is completely dominated by this one case. It makes for fascinating (but highly disturbing) reading. In fact, before you read any more of this post, visit and familiarise yourself with the case. Hats off to the chap. In fact, this post is taking far longer to write than it should because I’m getting sucked into reading and re-reading his articles.

I’m bringing this up after noting something interesting about the Times article by David Aaronovitch I commented on in my previous post. Something completely unrelated to my previous post, but relevant to the context of the Singh case.

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97.3% of all “97.3% of all statistics are made up on the spot” quips are tired old clichés

Note: I began writing this entry some time ago and didn’t manage to get round to finishing it – until now. So although the Times article in question is a little out of date, I still feel that the point is worth making.

Another newspaper column appears to have joined with Ben Goldacre’s Guardian column in the worthy cause of systematically and entertainingly (but not overly patronisingly) critiquing some of the dodgy survey data, statistical analyses and scientific reporting found in mainstream newspapers and magazines. In principle, this is what I regard as ostensibly A Good Thing. Long may this practice be spread further into more national newspapers, hopefully covering a much broader audience.

David Aaronovitch’s latest column in the Times covers dodgy data on a variety of issues: firstly the Turin shroud, then on perceptions of aggressive children (AKA da yoof of today), and finally a “thin-air” estimate of the number of sex workers active in the UK that the originator never intended to be definitive, which has become exactly that by being bandied about the media with reckless abandon. It’s really good stuff. Brief, concise, solid critique – entertaining, and never sounding like a crazy conspiracy theorist. I approve. However, one observation that gives me cause for concern is the feedback from readers. Allow me to explain.

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A heartfelt and emotional news report on vaccines… which actually conveys the right message

About a week ago, Australian TV network Channel 7 ran a 12-minute piece highlighting the very real consequences of the rising anti-vaccination movement. Remarkably, and fortunately, the report managed to conform to “accepted journalistic standards” (i.e. present both sides of the “debate” even though none actually exists) and still convey the right message. […]