Junkfood Science: Predictions are just guesses

October 26, 2007

Predictions are just guesses

All of these government doomsday predictions have become so preposterous, the best thing for our sanity can be to laugh. Humor often offers more truth than government statistics, as this piece by Mike Bentley for the York Press reveals:

They’re telling us big fat lies

IT'S BEEN a bumper week for the Office of National Statistics, the official government branch of Mr Keith Waterhouse's legendary Department of Guesswork. First of all they blithely inform us that 3.7 million immigrants are arriving in the country every week... Then our premier purveyor of pernicious porkies announces that there are now more old people than children in the country (old people being over 60; young people being under 16) and that from now on every supermarket queue will be full of Victor Meldrews complaining about the amount of packaging on their cauliflowers and the fact that the green beans have been flown in from Kenya.

Their coup de grace was the so-called news that everyone is now obese and will only get bigger and fatter in years to come. So serious was this guestimate that the Prime Minister himself “declared war" on the obesity epidemic blighting Britain, warning that it is “as serious a threat as global warming"....

Pushing the ‘pause’ button for a moment, he's hinted at a great point that’s rarely considered. There’s been enormous changes in the demographics of our population in the United States, too. It has become considerably more racially/ethnically diverse over recent decades, and people are healthier and living longer, which means that devised health epidemic statistics are looking at very different populations over the years. One with more bodies naturally larger with aging, for example, swings the population-wide numbers upward a few pounds... an instant contribution to an “epidemic.” It helps, too, to change the population survey designs to include more poor and minorities, to change the definition of “too fat,” and then define the epidemic by numbers crossing the new threshold, rather than reveal the actual weight gain among the population. Why? Because if it were known that, even then, the actual weight gain was little more than a handful of pounds, everyone would see how silly the doomsday claims of a crisis are.

[I]s an increase in the number of fat people really as much a threat to our planet as global warning? Really?.. Where the Office of National Statistics perennially lets itself down is when it tries to estimate the cost of the various blights heading our way... How on earth can they possibly calculate this? It's just complete and utter guesswork.

Then we have the moronic quality of life surveys... I'm sorry, but as a statistic that's entirely meaningless. You may as well argue that listening to loud music causes spots, on the grounds that every teenage kid has an iPod and a complexion like the surface of the moon. Yes, the two things are linked - but... I have come to the conclusion that the only way to get through modern life is to assume everything we are told by any public body is either wrong or a lie.

Read the part about government recommendations of how much alcohol is ‘safe’ to drink — a big controversy that’s been brewing in Europe. As he reveals, health officials admitted that the safe levels shown in the medical research would have sent “the wrong message,” so they halved it. “Completely arbitrary and based more on what the public might accept rather than on medical reasoning,” he wrote.

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