Azara Blog: September 2010 archive complete

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Date published: 2010/09/30

ADHD allegedly has a genetic link (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The first direct evidence of a genetic link to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder has been found, a study says.

Scientists from Cardiff University, writing in The Lancet, said the disorder was a brain problem like autism - not due to bad parenting.

They analysed stretches of DNA from 366 children who had been diagnosed with the disorder.

But other experts agued ADHD was caused by a mixture of genetic and environmental factors.

At least 2% of children in the UK are thought to have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Affected children are restless and impulsive. They may also have destructive tendencies, and experience serious problems at school and within family life.

The researchers compared genetic samples from ADHD children, with DNA from 1,047 people without the condition.

They found that 15% of the ADHD group had large and rare variations in their DNA - compared with 7% in the control group.

Professor Anita Thapar said: "We found that, compared with the control group, the children with ADHD have a much higher rate of chunks of DNA that are either duplicated or missing.

"This is really exciting - because it gives us the first direct genetic link to ADHD.

"We have looked at lots of potential risk factors in the environment - such as parenting or what happens before birth - but there isn't the evidence to say they're linked to ADHD.

"There's a lot of public misunderstanding about ADHD. Some people say it's not a real disorder, or that it's the result of bad parenting. "Finding this direct link should address the issue of stigma."
...
[Oliver James, a clinical child psychologist and broadcaster] said: "Only 57 out of the 366 children with ADHD had the genetic variant supposed to be a cause of the illness.

"That would suggest that other factors are the main cause in the vast majority of cases.

"Genes hardly explain at all why some kids have ADHD and not others."

It is unbelievable how much press coverage this study generated. Unfortunately the Cardiff researchers seem to be desperate to prove that ADHD has a genetic cause, and that is not a good start. And, as Oliver James and others have mentioned, the numbers quoted by the researchers are so weak that their headline posturing does not really stand up to scrutiny. For example, the probability that you have ADHD given that you have these "large and rare variations" in your DNA is 15% x 2% / (15% x 2% + 7% x 98%) = 4.2%, and so the probability that you do not have ADHD given that you have these "large and rare variations" in your DNA is 95.8%. Thus if you have these "large and rare variations" then you are 95.8/4.2 = 23 times as likely not to have ADHD as to have ADHD. This is not a particularly useful predictor of having ADHD.

Date published: 2010/09/13

More special interest pleading for cyclists (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge News says:

The Government has been warned its plans to scrap two national cycling schemes would have a "disastrous" effect on Cambridge.

The Cambridge Cycling Campaign (CCC) has written to Philip Hammond, the Secretary of State for Transport, and Norman Baker, Minister for Cycling, urging them not to axe the projects.

The schemes ministers are considering scrapping under strict cutbacks are Bikeability and Cycling England.

Bikeability is the new modern cycling proficiency test, designed to give youngsters the skills and confidence to ride their bikes on roads - which has had a "huge" impact in Cambridge, according to the campaign.

Once again the Cambridge News publishes what amounts to a press release by the CCC. At least here they have put the word "huge" in quotes, because needless to say, every special interest pressure group in the country wants their special interest protected from government cuts, it's just everyone else's budget that should be cut.

The official press release from the CCC is the "open letter" itself, which has more details of the special pleading (their emphasis):

Bikeability cycle training is the flagship scheme which must be maintained. It has been enormously successful, seeing a huge uptake by children, schools and local authorities for what has been a professional and well-marketed scheme.
...
Around 300,000 children per year are now doing Bikeability and 80% of local authorities have signed up, all at a cost of only £15m.

Well it's good to know that the government "must" maintain the scheme and that it "only" costs £15m (well, presumably local authorities have expenses related to this scheme, on top of the headline figure). Along the same lines we get:

And you will be aware that Cycling England's budget is £60m - a grain of sand in the overall £15.36bn Department for Transport budget. Destroying Cycling England would make virtually zero difference in terms of finding savings.

This is one of the ridiculous arguments that people come up with to try and save their pet budgetary items. Pretty much every budgetary item (certainly if you break it down into smaller and smaller parts) is only a "grain in the sand" of government expenditure. With this kind of vacuous argument nothing could ever be cut from the government budget, and it's a bit embarrassing to see the CCC fall into this trap. But wait, we find out that:

The Department for Transport's own model (WebTAG) for economic appraisal of cycling schemes give a very high rate of return in transport terms: a benefit:cost ratio of 3:1. Work by Sustrans also gives even higher benefit ratios, up to 33:1 in some cases.

In other words, you can achieve a lot more by putting small amounts of money into cycling, than spending much larger amounts on anything else. Yet current funding of around £60m/year is well under what places like the Netherlands spend. So there is actually much more that could be done.

Funnily enough, there is always "much more that could be done", if only someone else would pay for it. (And the main purpose of a special interest pressure group like the CCC is to force the rest of society to fund their special interest.) Sustrans is another cycling lobby group so, surprise, they can cook up huge alleged benefits from spending money on cycling. Why would anyone treat their numbers seriously? And if you even want to believe the lower 3:1 alleged benefit:cost ratio then the relevant follow-up question is at what budgetary level is it true? If you ignore that issue then you might as well claim that the UK should be spending a trillion pounds on cycling and then magically we would get 3 trillion pounds back and solve the budget deficit in one easy stroke.

The "open letter" also claims (their emphasis):

Cycling is also a perfect solution to the obesity epidemic: it promotes active lifestyles without requiring any extra time or money.

One of the advantages of cycling is that it is extremely efficient and so it is not obvious whether it has any impact on obesity. And note how the CCC uses the phrase "obesity epidemic". Academic middle class control freaks have latched onto the alleged "obesity epidemic" the last couple of years as just another way to demonise ordinary people (this time, for not eating "healthily").

As with the special pleading of all special interest pressure groups, the CCC has completely missed the point in their press release. The real question that needs to be answered is whether Bikeability and Cycling England provide value for money in comparison with all the other budgetary items that might, or will, be cut.

And although it makes sense for government to be involved with creating cycle paths, and the like, there seems less point in having a scheme like Bikeability. After all, the government does not pay for anyone to learn to drive a car, yet driving a car is a more useful skill in life than cycling. So why should the government pay for anyone to learn to cycle? Why should it not be the responsibility of parents? Well, the academic middle class are convinced that cycling is some kind of holy activity, but they are wrong. It is just another form of transport.

Date published: 2010/09/04

The UK ruling elite want to make UK citizens poorer (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge-based Centre for Science and Policy was set up a year ago and on 2 September the executive director, Chris Tyler, sent out the kind of self-congratulatory email one might expect in the circumstance. The email also announced some future events, such as a workshop (on 8 September, in London) on Behaviour and energy efficiency. The email says (and the website has similar wording) that:

We are working with DECC [the Department of Energy and Climate Change] and a number of leading experts from universities including Cambridge, Cardiff, UCL, East Anglia, Exeter, Lancaster and Sussex to generate new ideas for policies that will encourage people to change their behaviour to consume less energy.

It is unfortunate that any public policy organisation is pushing this kind of policy. As a first approximation the amount of energy you consume is proportional to your income and wealth. Anybody who is pushing for people to consume less energy is advocating that people should become poorer. It will not be lost on ordinary people that the people pushing for these policies are people who are far richer, and therefore consume far more energy, than ordinary people do. If these rich people think that (ordinary) people need to "change their behaviour to consume less energy" then they should take the obvious first step and make themselves poor(er). Far too many members of the ruling elite (including practically everyone in the academic ivory towers as well as the Lib Dems and Green Parties, but also substantive number of Tories and Labour people) unfortunately believe that their own citizens are too rich.

UK carbon emissions have gone up, not down (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The UK government's chief environment scientist has called for more openness in admitting Britain's apparent cuts in greenhouse gases are an illusion.

Robert Watson says that if emissions "embedded" in imported goods are counted, UK emissions are up, not down.

He says the same syndrome is true for other rich nations which offshored manufacturing industry.

That means developing countries - particularly China - are blamed for goods they buy for export to the West.

He said: "At face value UK emissions look like they have decreased 15% or 16% since 1990. But if you take in carbon embedded in our imports, our emissions have gone up about 12%. We've got to be more open about this."

There is nothing new in this and it is all trivially obvious, but apparently it does need stating now and again. The fundamental problem is that emissions are counted at the point of production and not the point of consumption. What we need is a globally uniform carbon tax at the point of production since this will automatically mean that consumers will be held responsible for the emissions.

And although the BBC does not mention it, Watson is basically admitting that Kyoto (and Copenhagen, etc.) is a fundamentally flawed approach to reducing carbon emissions.

Tony Blair continues his pathological babbling (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has described radical Islam as the greatest threat facing the world today.

He made the remark in a BBC interview marking the publication of his memoirs.

Mr Blair said radical Islamists believed that whatever was done in the name of their cause was justified - including the use of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.

Mr Blair, who led Britain into war in Afghanistan and Iraq, denied that his own policies had fuelled radicalism.
...
The former British leader - who now acts as the Middle East envoy for the international Quartet - said that Iran was one of the biggest state sponsors of radical Islam, and it was necessary to prevent it by any means from developing a nuclear weapon.

"We need to give a message to Iran that is very clear - that they cannot have nuclear weapons capability, and we will stop them," he said.

Mr Blair said he was not advocating military action, but simply saying no option could be taken off the table.

Blair completely lost the plot and his soul over the illegal war against Iraq, and unfortunately he shows no sign that he learned anything from all the mistakes he (and Bush) made. Needless to say, it is not just "radical Islamists" who believe that "whatever was done in the name of their cause was justified", you just need to look at Blair (and Bush). And it is unbelievable that he seems intent on starting yet another war, this time against Iran. If the once crazy regimes of the US (Bush) and the UK (Blair) and the always crazy regime of Israel are allowed to have nuclear weapons, then the crazy regime of Iran should also be allowed to have nuclear weapons. Bush and Blair are responsible for far more deaths in the world than any Iranian. How can anyone believe that Blair has any contribution to make to the world as the Middle East envoy when he is so clearly biased (and pathological).

Stephen Hawking wants to sell a lot of books (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

There is no place for God in theories on the creation of the Universe, Professor Stephen Hawking has said.

He had previously argued belief in a creator was not incompatible with science but in a new book, he concludes the Big Bang was an inevitable consequence of the laws of physics.

It's hard to take this seriously, and presumably the entire point of the exercise is to get free publicity for his new book. People who believe in (any) God do so because they have been brainwashed, and they do not and will not and should not care whether some theoretical physicist has allegedly proven that (any) God does or does not allegedly exist.

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