Sunday, 10 January 2010

Publication Bias

Are journalists aware that their profession's propensity for choosing a fact to support their story is part of the theory of statistics? To be fair, it's a general foible of mankind, it's just that journo's do it with such volume. So clear is it that these "so called" peer reviewed quality journals are selecting positve results to publish, you have to adjust for it in any analysis of published data.

Outside of the scientific press this regurgitating of apparent facts to support whatever axe is currently being ground is sufficiently prevalent now that it is commonly considered as absurd. "Boffins say xxxx causes cancer shocker!" or "innoculation with xxx gives your kid nasty disease yyy instead".

It's no surprise then that we now hear that "if only the government had listened to the experts before Christmas and bought more Grit, we wouldn't be in this mess".

From the Daily Mail

Edmund King, president of the AA, said he had written to ministers on November 16 to warn about inadequate salt supplies, only to be accused of ' scaremongering'. 

'I'm afraid what we predicted has come true and it is pretty scary on the roads out there and on the 
pavements where people are getting injured.

Hey, I know, why didn't we create a  European grit mountain in Surrey, then we'd have enough to make sure all the whinging daily mail readers were able to go to their Tuesday night whist drive. Oh, yeah that's it, we've got a European debt mountain to dwarf Everest!

What about all the other things people were saying before Christmas? If it hadn't have snowed and we'd spent £15 g'dzillion on grit mountains we'd have stories like "£15 g'dzillion wasted on grit, and pensioner starves" or "£15 g'dzillion wasted on grit, and immigrants still pouring in from Eastern Europe" or "£15 g'dzillion wasted on grit, and hard working tax payers don't get life-saving expensive drug".

I suggest that when it snows journalist should be forced to stop work and go and play in the snow like normal people - also it should be allowed to throw special snow balls with stones in the middle if the journalist is identifiably from the Daily Mail.

 Rant over.


  1. I think it is reasonable to question whether the country could have been better prepared - but this should be done in a balanced way rather than the screaming condemnation of the press.

    It would be interesting to hear how many times the AA have warned about lack of salt provision, in previous years, when their predictions did not come true. (If they've been saying the same thing before the last ten winters, for exmaple, and this is the first time it's happened then their hit rate is only 10%)

    I do think lessons could be learnt around things like Winter Tyres (which you need by law in Germany, Austria and Switzerland) as well as more expectation of individual householders - for example in the US you must clear the pavement in front of your house, by law.

    Of course this is presuming that the extreme weather, we are currently experiencing, is likely to become more of the norm.

  2. Who said blogging was supposed to be reasonable or balanced. This is after all a soliloquy - no one is asking you to agree. I feel your classification of my mild rant against the banal journalism of the daily mail as <> is a little harsh - especially after your sporadic rants at the Dell boys, but you are welcome to your opinion.

    Your practical suggestions about how to equip ourselves in colder climates is very useful and I'm sure will be headed by many ;-)

    Unfortunately your confusion over "weather" and "climate" is manifest in your last comment. I think I'll save this for a whole other blog, which you are welcome to read and assassinate.

  3. screaming condemnation seems to have been deleted, I hope this is a technical error rather than censorship?

  4. I think you have misread my comment. I was referring to the press as indulging in screaming, not you.
    maybe my punctuation was bad?
    Or I should have said 'by the press' rather than 'of the press' ?

    I'm not confused over 'weather' and 'climate'.
    I was referencing the extreme weather we have been having without linking it to the wider climate and any perceived changes in that fragile system. (because I did not want to get into that specific debate)

  5. I feel I must share a funny comment that I heard in the pub last night. I overheard an American and a South African talking.... sounds like a joke, if only I were an Irishman :-) ...., The South African said, "They've run out of Grit" and the American clearly responded with, "How can a country run out of dirt?"

    Despite my comments in the blog above, I have to agree with him!


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