Warning labels have no effect on smoking

A recent Ministry of Health survey has shown that there has been no change in smoking rates with the introduction of graphic labels on cigarette packets. 24.3% of the population smoked in 2006, and 23.9% in 2008, with the difference being not statistically significant. Not significant means that any very slight differences could be due to random variation, so the numbers are the same – about 24% in both years.

Now that should tell us that the labels aren’t working. But it isn’t being spun that way. The Press reports

“Warnings credited with smoking fall:
Graphic photographic warnings on cigarette packets are being credited with prompting a dramatic drop in smoking rates.”

That’s the first time I even heard no change being called a “dramatic drop”. But rather than quote the actual figures, they invent a blatant lie:

Two years ago, when the introduction of photographic health warnings on cigarette packets was announced, a quarter of New Zealanders smoked. Now, almost a year after the graphic reminders of the health risks of smoking were placed on every tobacco product sold, that has dropped to one in five.

No need to comment on that nonsense. The official press release at least quotes the actual figures, but also tries to make it sound like there is a change.

The 2008 New Zealand Tobacco Use Survey shows that, after adjusting for age, 23.9% of New Zealand adults, aged 15 to 64, are smokers. The Ministry of Health’s National Director of Tobacco Control, Dr Ashley Bloomfield says, “While the drop on the equivalent 2006 figure of 24.3% is not statistically significant, this result confirms the downward trend in smoking.”

That is ridiculous. If something is not statistically significant AND is obviously a very minor change, THERE IS NO CHANGE. I would expect a reporter to critically analyse the press release and show this – and that would have made a great story by the way. Yet instead they blindly believe it, ignore the stats and invent their own more impressive sounding figure (1/4 to 1/5) to make the stats fit the desired message. Come on – are you a reporter or a Ministry of Health PR spokesperson?

Hat tip: Bernard Darnton

Research into attitudes towards pre-natal testing

Auckland University is doing a study on attitudes towards prenatal testing.
“This research aims to investigate men’s and women’s opinions regarding prebirth testing for genetic risk for diseases and disabilities.”

If you are interested in participating, send a blank email to:
prenatal@auckland.ac.nz

They will then send you out the information on how to fill in the online survey (it takes 10-15 minutes).

Note that they will probably ask you about testing for a hypothetical condition that affects 1 in 2000 babies, and there is a 1% risk of miscarriage from the test – a very plausible scenario. But remember to think through those stats for yourself – this means if you test 2000 babies, one will have the condition, and 20 will die as a result of the procedure….

Reflective plants and global warming – 2

My last post talked about some research into reflective plants that in my opinion will do nothing to combat global warming (even assuming humans are causing the earth to warm). But I actually think this research is a good thing.

Sure, it won’t cool the planet. But it is a great way of getting EU funding. Global warming is the current fad in science. If you want funding, you make sure your proposal mentions global warming somewhere. At the end of the day this will just be plant science and genetic engineering research that the scientists want to do. It is bound to further knowledge of genetic engineering techniques, or photosynthesis, or achieve something else useful. But they can pitch the research towards global warming this year to get funding, and in a few years time the same facilities can be used to combat cancer, or global cooling, or whatever.

Quality research requires long-term projects. But it is very hard to obtain funding for long-term projects these days, most funding being given in 3-year cycles. It is also hard to obtain funding for research for the sake of furthering human knowledge, funders want to see something useful after 3 years – which is fair enough as they are paying for it. But research purely for the sake of finding out the unknown is also vital, because it may be useful in the future in ways we cannot imagine today.

So you have to follow the fads and ensure that however society’s goals change you can satisfy those goals to get funding, while keeping your long-term, more widely useful but not currently fashionable work going at the same time.

So don’t panic too much thinking money will be wasted on something pointless, it all pushes the boundaries of scientific knowledge that bit further, using the money of whoever wants to fund research this year. And the more global warming money that can be put into research rather than thrown away on carbon trading and other rubbish the better.

So I wish them luck and hope they find out something useful to further our knowledge of plant science.

Reflective plants and global warming – 1

Reflective plants and global warming – 1

Scientists come up with all sorts of original ideas to secure some funding and secure their jobs for the next few years! Check out this one from the BBC:

Farmers could help curb rising global temperatures by selecting crop varieties that reflect solar energy back into space, researchers say. …

Some crop varieties are naturally more reflective than others. A field of more reflective leaves will send more solar energy back into space than a field of a more absorbent variety.

Yes, you could feasibly reflect a little bit more heat back by doing this. But how much? Over 70% of the earths surface is ocean, which absorbs most of the light that hits it. Only around 30% of the land area is feasibly able to be farmed, and only a tiny fraction of that would be practical to actually plant in more reflective crops (encouraged by subsidies of course). Maybe you could plant 0.2% of the earth in reflective crops as a generous estimate?

“But another possibility for the future would be to produce a [leaf] surface that differs in reflectivity at different wavelengths, so it could selectively absorb wavelengths involved in photosynthesis.”

Newsflash: Leaves already do that. That is why they look green – they absorb the red light (which they use for photosynthesis), and reflect the green, which they don’t use. It is also why plants stay cool on a hot day while most surfaces get hot – they aren’t absorbing radiation they don’t need. But good on whoever thought up this idea, they’re bound to get someone to fund it, it sounds plausible.

So the plan is to plant a tiny fraction of the earth in plants that reflect a tiny fraction more light back into space (remembering plants are already extremely efficient at this so you can make only minor improvements). Supported by massive subsidies. And all while hoping that the market doesn’t act by planting more “bad” plants in unregulated countries to meet consumer demand.

Judge it for yourself.

Reflective plants and global warming – 2

Electronic tags on hold

National has promised farmers they will not commit to the National Animal Identification and Tracing scheme until after a full cost-benefit analysis. This is very good news. NAIT is a big-brother style scheme that would see every cow and deer in the country recorded on a central database, with the facility to record every sheep and goat as well in the future. Every animal must have an electronic eartag.

The idea behind NAIT is to provide full “paddock-to-plate” traceability of meat for European consumers, because such traceability is something the EU has implemented and EU farmers don’t find it fair that they have such regulation thrust on them yet their competitors (such as NZ) don’t do the same. And certainly, it isn’t fair. The EU should be ditching it, not expecting us to follow suit, but that is another story.

Anyway, paddock-to-plate traceability of meat is a myth. The tags get chopped off along with the head as soon as the animal is slaughtered in the works and it is very difficult to know what animal the meat coming out the other end actually came from. And for some cuts (like mince), the meat comes from hundreds of different animals all mixed together anyway, with traceability being completely impossible. We already have tags in all cattle, and plenty of farmers have stories about animals they believe have been mixed up in the works. Electronic tags won’t change that at all.

The system could also be used to help control disease outbreaks as theoretically the location of all animals would be known on a central database. In practice this won’t work, because as soon as you bring in such a system there is a motivation for people to not record some animals for various reasons such as home-kill meat – these are known as “ghost sheep” in Ireland and are very common. This completely undermines the value of the database.

One major concern is that the database could be used for other purposes, possibly against farmers. There is a strong precedent for this in New Zealand – in 1974 the firearms database was used to confiscate legally owned pistols from many people for example. The Federated Farmers have been concerned that the data could be used to enforce the ETS, or do who knows what.

I have no problem with the market providing a voluntary scheme if that is genuinely what consumers want. But I have yet to meet a consumer who cared about what precise animal their steak came from – most would prefer to not think about it coming from a cute cuddly animal at all. They just want to know that it is safe. This is a socialist scheme being pushed by the EU, for political purposes, and I hope National has the guts to leave it voluntary.

Why so many civilian deaths in Gaza?

Very simple. The illustration speaks for itself.

palestinian_whyHat tip: Say Hello to my Little Friend

Note: The Israeli flag is blue on white, the Palestinian is red, green etc.

Hamas opposing aid in Gaza

Israel is putting a lot of effort into getting aid into Gaza, but Hamas is making it difficult. The Jerusalem Post explains what is happening now with aid.

The IDF plans to open more crossing points into Gaza starting on Wednesday, in an effort to vastly increase aid to the civilian population. …

The IDF now hopes to open the grain chute at the Karni crossing, a major passage way for goods …

On Monday, the IDF opened the chute at Karni for a test run during which 23 truckloads of grain were sent into Gaza, according to Lerner.

It was shut on Tuesday, however, after the army found a tunnel on the Gaza side, meant to be used for a mine attack.

On Wednesday the IDF hopes to open the chute for the passage of 60 truckloads of grain.

That’s not quite what you hear in the media over here. Aren’t the Palestinians crying out for aid and the naughty Israeli’s letting them starve? Yet according to the J-post, it is Hamas standing in the way. Read on, and you’ll find out about Kerem Shalom, where much aid is sent through:

Nor is this a risk free operation, he said. Hamas has been known to shoot mortars over the wall.

Should there be an attack, he suggested that it would be wise to seek safety in the white concrete room at the edge of the lot.

“On one hand, we want to let the aid in, but it is a difficult situation when they start lobbing mortars at us,” he said.

Hamas also:

  • Steals trucks of food aid and sells it to the highest bidders.
  • Fires rockets from a school during a humanitarian cease-fire (intended to allow aid to be distributed).
  • Probably directly attacks UN aid convoys, killing some workers. The mainstream media initially blamed Israel for this incident but I haven’t seen any corrections published now more facts have emerged (who attacked them is still disputed but it certainly wasn’t an Israeli tank), so most of the world still thinks Israel has attacked the aid convoys.
  • Uses mosques and schools to attack Israel, and meets in a hospital, directly endangering their fellow Palestinians by requiring Israel to attack these sites if they are to attack Hamas.

I’ll stop the list there, but it would be easy to go on. Please, local media, some balance would be great.

David Farrar advertising Moslem wives

Here’s a rather interesting screenshot from Kiwiblog today, click for a larger view:

screenshotI didn’t expect to see Moslem wives being advertised there! Interesting article by the way, a Turkish cafe owner kicked out some Israeli women as a protest against the Gaza war. I would have no problem with this (the cafe is his own property after all) if it were also ok for to kick Moslems out as a protest against Hamas. But I wouldn’t want to try that in NZ, you’d get in too much trouble. Crazy double standard.

Maori Flag on Waitangi day

John Key has given the OK to flying a Maori separatist flag on the Auckland Harbour Bridge and government buildings on Waitangi day, provided the iwi can agree on a flag and explain its meaning. The idea seems to be that as there are two flagpoles on the bridge, one would fly the NZ flag and one the Maori one, symbolising that Waitangi was an agreement between Maori and the Crown.

But this is nonsense. If you wanted to symbolise that, you’d fly the Union Jack and the Maori flag – Waitangi was an agreement between the British government and the Maori.

Note however that it was an agreement with the Maori of the day, NOT with the modern separatist movement. The Maori of the day agreed to a union, therefore the majority were NOT separatist and would probably DISAGREE with this Maori flag.

Or you would just fly the NZ flag, as we already do. The NZ flag already symbolises the fact that the British only formed part of the makeup of NZ, as the Union Jack is only a corner of the NZ flag.

Waitangi was when this country became one nation. To start flying flags representing separate groups undermines the entire purpose of the Treaty. We should be flying the flag of the country formed by the Treaty of Waitangi – New Zealand.

Is Hamas’ use of children immoral?

Hamas has been using children in “combat support” roles in Gaza – carrying messages and ammunition for example. Whale Oil has heavily criticised this.

However, although I am certainly not one to support Hamas, this particular issue is not that clear-cut. Children have been used in such roles in Western countries too.

Robert Baden-Powell was the British officer in charge at the siege of Mafeking, in the Second Boer War (1899). He was short of men, so the Mafeking Cadet Corps, a group of boys from the age of 11, served in a combat support role. Their duties included carrying messages, helping in the hospital, and acting as lookouts.

Baden-Powell was very impressed with their work, and eventually formed the Boy Scouts based on this. The Boy Scouts was originally formed along military lines, and was important in preparing boys for military service in the two World Wars.

The Hamas children are doing the same sorts of duties as the Mafeking Cadet Corps – the main difference being that the MCC had uniforms and the Hamas children are apparantly in civilian clothes. Although I strongly disagree with Hamas, and certainly disagree with them encouraging children to be suicide bombers and using them as human shields, it would be hypocritical for me to criticise their use of children in combat support roles while agreeing with the Mafeking Cadet Corps and the Scouting movement. Most people will get their children to help out with whatever they are doing, whether what they are doing is right or wrong, and Hamas is no exception.

So I will criticise what Hamas is doing, but not the fact that their children are helping them do it.

Hat tip: My wife, who brought Baden-Powell and child military service to my attention.