Wednesday, January 09, 2008


An email from David Whitehouse []:

Here is a good example of how to 'interpret' scientific data. I can't help thinking that the public has been fed the most outrageous spin - not by politicians but by scientists who should know better, but hey, this is global warming and the UK's Met Office is seeing what it wants to see.

It's just released the 2007 global temperature figures and its forecast for 2008. 2007 it says was a top ten year but it's what it doesn't say in the main part of the press release (usually the only part that is read by journalists) that is alarming. Look further down the press release and you will see, tucked away in a list of notes to editors the admission that 2007 was, temperature wise, the same as 2006 and every year since 2001 - it admits there has been no global warming for 7 years!

But how does that square with the comment by Prof Phil Jones, Director of the Climatic Research Institute of the University of East Anglia, who produced the figures, "The fact that 2008 is forecast to be cooler than any of the last 7 years (and that 2007 did not break the record that was set in 1998) doesn't mean that global warming has gone away. What matters is the underlying rate of warming."

That is misleading. The data obviously suggests that for the past 7 years at least global warming has gone away. Of course the past decade has been warmer than pervious decades but the recent decade's underlying rate of warming, the parameter by which Prof Jones sets so much store, is ZERO. No global warming. Anyone can see that if they look at the figures.

The press release put out by the Met Office, and swallowed by many media outlets, including the BBC, misrepresents the data of global warming. The public are not being given the whole truth.

England will soon be Europe's most densely populated nation

The crowds are packing the pavements around Oxford Circus Tube station. On the roads, cars and buses are jammed in a giant gridlock. This is central London - but it's not the pre-Christmas rush or the height of the sales. It's just the start of another working day. Similar problems afflict many city centres: Birmingham's New Street, Glasgow's Sauchiehall Street and Edinburgh's Princes Street see similar daily throngs. It is something that city dwellers have become accustomed to, but living in British cities used to be a very different experience.

Watching the Christmas reruns of classic London-based films such as The Ipcress File (1965), one is struck not just by the naive plots and the mildness of the violence but also by the emptiness of the city streets, the absence of pedestrians, cars and the way that the characters can park with ease almost anywhere they like. What has happened since those days? New figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) tell us at least some of the answer. In the 40 years since Michael Caine acted out his classic role, the population of Britain has risen from about 52m to 60m. That increase is not just continuing to rise, it is accelerating - with the ONS predicting that it will reach 65m by 2016 and 85m by 2081.

"There are three main factors at work. People are living longer, fertility is rising and immigration has increased. The past three years have seen net migration at record levels," says Chris Shaw, the ONS statistician in charge of population projections, adding that his figures are based on assumptions about all three factors that have previously proved too conservative. The ONS has produced further forecasts based on slightly increased figures. Under this scenario Britain could have 108m people by 2081.

It is England that is bearing the brunt of this huge increase and much of the rise is being felt in the southeast. Some visitors to the capital complained of feeling "suffocated" by the crowds over Christmas, but it is all about to get much worse: London's current population of about 7.4m will, for example, reach 8.1m by 2016.

England is already one of the most crowded nations in Europe with 390 people per square kilometre, soon to overtake Holland - currently the most crowded - which has 393. By 2031, according to ONS predictions, we will have 464 people per square kilometre.

What does this surging population mean for people? Put simply it means less space - as land gets more costly, homes will keep rising in value. That means they will get smaller. On the roads and railways the same applies. The roads will get more congested and rush-hour train journeys will offer standing room only to more of us. Some rail companies are already discussing removing seats altogether to fit more people in.

"The government is spending lots of money on housing and on subsidising key workers, which solves the problem temporarily, but in the long term it just draws more people in and makes crowded regions even worse," says John Stillwell, professor of migration and regional development at Leeds University. "The cost of living space is rising and the roads are simply going to get more congested. There is less space for everyone."

Sir Crispin Tickell, a patron of the Optimum Population Trust and president of the South East Climate Change Partnership, believes such rapid growth is pushing England, especially London, towards disaster. "We are already short of water, land and other resources," he says, "It is completely shortsighted to promote policies that boost its population. It will change all the things that make life worth living." He would like to see policies to encourage people to settle in other parts of Britain.

That, however, is unlikely to happen. When Labour came to power in 1997 it was determined to reverse the north-south divide under which northern areas of Britain were being left behind by the booming southeast. John Prescott was tasked with ending the spiral of subsidies - ranging from money for railways to a London pay weighting for key workers such as teachers - that was feeding the overdevelopment of the southeast. Labour quickly realised, however, that such a plan was fraught with political hazards. When it finally came out, Prescott's Communities Plan delighted developers by paving the way for up to 2m new homes in the southeast - plus a range of transport and other projects.

A senior official explained that the southeast had become a "hot spot" for growth and that the government had decided that its job was "to meet that demand and not to contain it". Since then the south has simply surged ahead. The ONS's last regional population predictions from 2004, now known to be an underestimate, forecast that the combined population of London and the southeast would rise from 15m in 2004 to 18m by 2029.

Others, however, are voting with their feet. Last week Eric King-Turner, aged 102, a second world war veteran, and his 87-year-old wife Doris announced that they were emigrating to New Zealand because England is "too crowded".

Increasingly, some people are deciding that the only responsible approach is to limit how many children they have. Among them is Glenn Sayers, a cartographer from East Finchley, north London. Sayers, a supporter of the Optimum Population Trust, said: "My partner and I may have children but no more than two. There are simply too many people and the best thing we can do for the planet is not to reproduce."


Colossal British stupidity: 3 times more doctors educated than Britain can employ

JUNIOR doctors will face even tougher competition for jobs this year with close to three applications expected for each position, National Health Service managers have warned. NHS Employers, the agency responsible for staffing the health service, has warned that a Court of Appeal ruling means doctors trained in Britain will need to compete for posts to train as consultants alongside doctors from around the world who want to practise in the UK. If the juniors do not obtain a training post, they will not be able to become hospital consultants or GPs.

Sian Thomas of NHS Employers said: "There are about 9,000 posts for around 23,000 estimated applicants - that's what the Department of Health has told us. "One could argue that the more competition you have, the better quality you will get. It is a good thing for patients that there is competition for jobs - it should mean they get the best doctors wherever they live." She admitted, however, that taxpayers' money would be wasted if junior doctors trained in Britain decide to take consultant posts overseas.

The British Medical Association blames the health department for continuing to recruit medics from overseas at the same time as increasing the number of medical graduates from British universities.

Meanwhile, patients are suffering from a postcode lottery of drug prescription eight years after the government set up a body to get rid of the problem, a report by a parliamentary committee will say this week. The health select committee is expected to say that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) has failed to ensure that medicines available in one area are not denied in neighbouring districts.

An inquiry by the committee of MPs is also expected to say that the NHS, which spends about o90 billion a year, should not need to withhold life-saving medicines. It is likely to say that restrictions on drugs to treat cancer or Alzheimer's could be avoided. The MPs are expected to recommend that Nice gets greater powers to force NHS trusts to make drugs it has approved available to all patients


Follow-up: ANOTHER bureaucracy!

The running of doctors' training must be taken out of the hands of the Department of Health after its chaotic mismanagement of funding and job applications, an influential report will say today. The report by Sir John Tooke, ordered last year after thousands of highly qualified junior doctors were left without training posts, recommends that the Government be stripped of control of postgraduate medical training. Instead, it recommends that the cash needed to train the next generation of specialists should be ring-fenced to prevent the NHS from spending it on something else, and managed by a new body, to be called NHS Medical Education England.

The recommendations, seen by The Times, are expected to be made today by the inquiry, which was set up by the department last year after a series of failures. Incidents included thousands more doctors applying for posts than were available, and problems with a computer system designed to shortlist applicants, which resulted in severely underqualified doctors turning up for job interviews.

Sir John Tooke, Dean of the Peninsula School of Medicine in Plymouth, was asked to chair an inquiry into what to do next. His interim report was published in October, and has been overwhelmingly backed by doctors. His final report, out today, is a stunning vote of no confidence in the department. Last year's crisis "could and should" have been predicted, he told The Times yesterday. The appointments system that failed was "rushed and poorly planned".

There are two important changes to the interim report's recommendations. One is the formation of NHS Medical Education England, which Sir John and his colleagues say will be able to articulate the principles of postgraduate training and implement it successfully - something that the department "is in no way capable of doing", he said. The report also gives warning that training could suffer when the European Working Time Directive comes fully into force next year.

The limit on doctors' working hours will mean that there is not enough time to train them to the skill levels needed, he cautioned. A way needs to be found in which doctors can continue to work legally more than 48 hours a week - perhaps by separating work on the wards from training time. But the most urgent problem is one that Sir John cannot solve - making sure that last year's debacle over training appointments, when 30,000 junior doctors applied for 20,000 posts, is not repeated. The evidence is that the pressure on places will be more intense this year, with about three applicants for every training place, and 20 to 1 in the more popular specialties.

Sir John said that the Government had failed to reconcile two of its policies: expanding medical school places in Britain and the "open door" policy towards graduates from overseas. Unless further training places were made available this year, he said, British graduates would be disadvantaged compared with those of earlier years. There will be a bulge in applications for higher training, caused by a growing number of British graduates, applications from those who won only a one-year post last year, and the uncontrolled number of applicants from abroad.

Last week, the British Medical Association gave warning that the process could go as badly as it did last year. Applications opened on Saturday for training posts in England that start in August this year. Ram Moorthy, chairman of the BMA junior doctors committee, said: "Our concern is that without adequate planning, the levels of competition could result in a lottery."

Sir John said that unless changes were made to protect the rights of British-trained doctors to at least one year of postgraduate training, a situation could arise in which students graduate from medical school but could not practise as doctors because they had not completed their year in hospital.


Despite all this stuff about well clinics, there's no evidence that government campaigns alter behaviour

By Mick Hume

Say what you like about the nanny state, but I do think it's a bit much when the Prime Minister takes it upon himself to make our new year's resolutions for us. In his message to mark the 60th year of the NHS, Gordon Brown resolves that we will all live healthier lives ? stop smoking, drink less, exercise more. As a reward, the health service will still treat us should our personal regime inexplicably fail and we fall sick. This generous offer is to be made in a patient's contract spelling out "the rights and responsibilities associated with entitlement to NHS care".

Some protest that this could mean smokers or the obese being denied healthcare. But such "ethical rationing" is already happening. Mr Brown's plans for a more "personal and preventative service" involve a bigger risk to us all. They mark the next step in an unhealthy trend, begun under Margaret Thatcher and accelerated under Tony Blair, to make it a role of the NHS to send people to the Naughty Habits Step.

Where the "old-fashioned" health service merely treated the sick, today's NHS seeks to beat well people into shape as clean-living citizens through advice and guidance. As Michael Fitzpatrick, an East London GP, observed when such contracts were first proposed, they involve "a major shift of general practice away from the treatment of patients who are ill towards the regulation of the lifestyles of the population".

Despite this being the age of "evidence-based" medicine, nobody can provide proof that such government drives to alter behaviour improve public health. Yet the authorities press on regardless, seeking a magical cure for an ailing political class that hopes to reconnect with people around "ishoos" of personal health. Politicians who have no clue how to change society for the better are reduced to cajoling us to sort ourselves out.

These unwieldy plans can only further undermine the efficiency of the health system, the role of doctors as clinical professionals ? and most importantly, the autonomy of individuals. They turn the purpose of healthcare on its head. As Ren‚ Dubos wrote in 1960, "it is part of the doctor's function to make it possible for his patients to go on doing the pleasant things that are bad for them ? smoking too much, eating and drinking too much ? without killing themselves any sooner than is necessary". There must be more to life than healthy living. Amid the talk of rights and responsibilities, one that gets ignored is the individual's right to make the "wrong" choices.

The other fact often missed out is that we already live longer, healthier lives than ever before. So why not leave us alone to enjoy it? Modern clinical care is capable of wonders, and the health service should stick to that. How about an alternative, informal contract for the 60th anniversary of the NHS: we promise to come to you when we are sick, if you will pledge only to try to cure what ails us


J Edgar Hoover Was Half Right

Comment by a British policeman

I had the misfortune to attend one of our less academic local schools a week or so back. I won't bore you with the details, save to say that, while it wasn't the crime of the century, it had left a young girl quite distressed; on balance, I suppose, it was worth attending, though in my day it would have resulted in six of the best from the headmaster and no 'outside agency' would have been required. (My day is only 20 years ago, but it increasingly seems to have been in another era altogether, and possibly in another country).

Teachers (honest ones), parents (intelligent ones) and police officers now know that a significant minority of the schools in our cities offer almost nothing in the way of education. In the worst 10 per cent, it's far more serious than a simple lack of schooling: drugs are openly sold and consumed, pupils are often drunk and/or pregnant, hardcore pornography is widely available and eagerly swapped, casual sexual assaults and threats of serious violence are commonplace and there is very little, if anything, that the teaching staff can do about any of it. It's heartbreaking, actually.

I looked around. All I could see were lost souls destined for the scrapheap. At 13 years of age, they had literally no hope of ever achieving anything in their lives, without the intervention of a lottery win or some other piece of outstanding good fortune. I thought about my own grandfather. He was one of seven, and grew up in a slum dwelling with an outside standpipe for water. In his 90s now, he still reads avidly, lobs bits and pieces of Shakespeare about and can talk you through you Partition, the Beatles and the Falklands with equal clarity.

I saw a young lad I vaguely knew. His hair had been shaved at the back into an approximation of the letters 'MUFC' and he had a gold stud in one ear. 'What's happening in Afghanistan at the mo, mate?' I said, conversationally. 'You what?' he said. 'Afwhat?'

I happen to know that this lad's father is doing time for murder, and that his mother is an alcoholic and occasional prostitute. I hate to sound like a bleeding heart, but is it his fault he doesn't know what's happening around him? Is it the teachers' faults they can't educate him? What is going on in this country?

J Edgar Hoover was half right when he said, 'The cure for crime is not the electric chair, but the high chair.' To my mind, we need a bit of both.


Couple banned for life from shopping centre and branded 'terrorists' - for taking photos of their grandchildren

A couple were banned for life from a shopping centre - because they were taking photos of their beloved grandchildren. Kim and Trevor Sparshott were ordered to stop taking photos because they were causing a security threat. They were thrown out of the centre after they took out a camera to snap the look on the youngsters' faces when they turned up unexpectedly.

The couple were on a four-day break from their home in Spain and wanted to surprise their family by arriving at the centre, in Fareham, Hants, while they were shopping. But when they went to take a photo, a security guard pounced and ordered them out. The guard then insisted that cameras were banned because of the risk of a terrorist attack - and barred the bemused couple for life.

Speaking from her home in Malaga, Spain, Mrs Sparshott, 51, said: "I couldn't believe it. I was so shocked. "He said we had committed an act of terrorism. "At first I wanted the ground to swallow me up whole because it was so embarassing - but then I got really angry." Mr Sparshott, 52, added: "Instead of being a nice surprise for our family it turned into a nightmare. I was furious. "In these worrying times we understand the need for caution, but surely a quiet word when he first saw us would have stopped all this unpleasantness."

The couple, who had been visiting their daughter, who lives in Gosport, Hants, with her husband and children, returned to Spain in shock. They wrote a letter of complaint to the centre, and received a reply from manager Pam Gillard who said taking photos was a security risk. In the reply to the Sparshotts, Ms Gillard said: "By the sounds of it my officers/duty manager didn't explain the position very clearly and for that I apologise." Speaking after the incident, she added: "Fareham Shopping Centre is private property and has a policy to support the security of the shops, where the taking of photographs needs prior permission. "The Sparshotts are welcome back to the centre." Ms Gillard refused to comment further on the centre's security policies, but added that the camera ban was not because of a terrorist threat.

The situation has amazed civil rights campaigners, who say the centre's reaction was 'completely over the top'. Roger Smith, director of civil liberties group Justice, said: "The key is proportionality - it is quite reasonable to have restrictions on what people can do, but this is just daft. "It seems completely over the top."


Brits go nuke: "A new generation of nuclear power stations will be encouraged to supply unlimited amounts of electricity to the national grid, The Times has learnt. The Cabinet will give the go-ahead for the new building programme today and John Hutton, the Business Secretary, will announce the decision on Thursday. He will pave the way for the nuclear industry to play a much bigger part in meeting Britain's energy needs by making plain that there will be no limit on the amount of electricity it can supply to the grid. At present nuclear power accounts for 20 per cent of energy supplies."

No comments: