Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Daily Express celebrates Easter one week early



"ASPIRIN CUTS RISK OF DYING BY 25%

New research shows everyday pill really can work miracles

A small daily dose of aspirin can reduce a woman's risk of dying by 25 per cent, research has revealed."

16 comments:

Tom said...

25%? Not bad.
I mean, your odds are still not good but it's better than nothing, eh?

Chestertonian Rambler said...

I love how they got that number:

"It found that, even in healthy women, a daily dose can cut the risk of dying from cancer by 12 per cent and the risk of dying from heart disease by 38 per cent."

Then you just average the two numbers, and you find the correct percent.

It's just too bad we men still don't have any chances for immortality.

Phil Masters said...

Insofar as I care about the Express, it's obsession with premature and hysterically headlined medical stuff is another thing that puzzles me. I mean, I'm as happy to hear about medical advances as the next technophile mortal, and I sometimes think that most of the press pays too little attention to science stories - but every headline I see on the Exoress that isn't about Prince Philip bumping off Diana seems to be a claim that eating three digestive biscuits a week will enable you to live forever.

Is the stereotype Express reader - ageing, overweight, frightened about how the world keeps changing - so frightened by his/her own mortality that this stuff is a huge comfort? Or what?

Phil Masters said...
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Phil Masters said...
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G T Kingston said...

But isn't the chance of dying always the same - 100%? (Discarding unexpected arrival of The Rapture of course.)

I suspect that the Express will celebrate Easter by saing it is being destroyed by [choose target du jour].

G T Kingston said...

I think the chance of dying won't be affected, as it will remain at 100%. (Barring unexpected occurence of the Rapture of course.)

I suspect the Express will celebrate Easter by saying it is being destroyed by [choose enemy du jour].

ian said...

Seem to recall something about asperin being extracted from willow bark by the ancient Aegyptians; so theres most likely an entire culture of nutters worshipping it by now, what with U.F.O`s and pyramids and such.

of course, the Aegyptians would recommend mummification for a proper, reliable 100% immortality rate - not to mention being buried with Pharaoh to get the various perks that makes eternal life actually endurable.
anyway, the spring solstice is always a good time to celebrate that kind of thing!.

Andrew Stevens said...

This isn't just the Express's peccadillo. I think it originates with American medical researchers. The first time I read that phrase was at least four or five years ago. The phrase is naturally offensive to anyone who speaks the English language but, as Henry Higgins pointed out, "in America, they haven't used it in years." I think the phrase is shorthand for reducing the risk of death from more than one cause, but it's an unacceptably misleading way to say that.

I'm a mathematician and I confess that I share the arrogance and elitism of the mathematician when it comes to science. In the hierarchy of sciences, medical researchers are very far down the ladder, below biologists and about even with economists. It's not just that the popular press distorts medical studies (though they do); I've often gone to the source and discovered that the researchers themselves didn't know what the hell they were talking about. This usually comes out in the peer review process and is usually a case of the researchers having an inadequate understanding of the statistical methods they use. Medical researchers can console themselves that they're way above political "scientists" and the like.

culfy said...

Sadly, the chances of death after drinking the water to wash it down with are still 100%.

Phil Masters said...

"Anything I don't understand must be easy."

The guiding principle of... well, medical researchers, journalists, mathematicians, managers, liberal bloggers, politicians of all stripes, and everyone else, really.

Andrew Stevens said...

"Anything I don't understand must be easy."

The guiding principle of... well, medical researchers, journalists, mathematicians, managers, liberal bloggers, politicians of all stripes, and everyone else, really.


I have to disagree with this actually. I think most people have a tendency to revere what they don't understand. It is impossible to explain the popularity of Jacques Derrida in any other way. My own opinion is that anything I can't understand is probably just obfuscatory nonsense, but that's just me. Unlike your average journalist, I do not accept arguments from authority. You actually have to present me with evidence for an opinion.

The hierarchy of sciences exists for quite the opposite reason. Mathematicians and physicists don't have inordinate respect for chemists because they do understand it and suspect chemists don't really get the physics. Chemists have a similar attitude toward biologists. Biologists have a similar attitude toward medical researchers, etc. And everybody rubbishes the social "sciences."

Phil Masters said...

I think most people have a tendency to revere what they don't understand. It is impossible to explain the popularity of Jacques Derrida in any other way.

Okay, qualifying what was, after all, nothing but a stolen Dilbert joke anyway: People will revere what they don't understand if they can be convinced that it's difficult. Like many cult leaders, Derrida appears to have exploited this fact by carefully constructing adequately obfuscatory jargon to convince enough people of his genius.

(This, of course, makes popularisers and translators extremely dangerous to the prestige of their chosen fields.)

There's also the secondary problem of Physics Envy. If literary critics could just find an excuse to claim the sort of grants required by supercolliders or genome sequencing, they might feel less impelled to talk like quantum physicists.

The hierarchy of sciences exists for quite the opposite reason. Mathematicians and physicists don't have inordinate respect for chemists because they do understand it and suspect chemists don't really get the physics. Chemists have a similar attitude toward biologists. Biologists have a similar attitude toward medical researchers, etc. And everybody rubbishes the social "sciences."

Okay, so any qualified mathematician or physicist could wander into a chemistry exam and come out with a second qualification. Ditto for chemists and biology exams. Got it.

I find it a little strange that so few of them do so - point-proving aside, I would have thought that there'd sometimes be good jobs going for people with multiple or alternative qualifications - but no doubt they have reasons for their self-restraint.

Alternatively, of course, these people may not have got the hang of issues like emergent complexity.

(As for the social sciences... They do have some problems with rigour, but hard science snottiness is still mostly just mucus and insecurity in the end, I suspect, and the real problem is that their subject-matter is insufferably complicated. Things like "memetics" are partly just hard science geeks wishing that human psychology was as reducible as physics. Then again, might not things be very worrying indeed if society and psychology were susceptible to rigorous mathematical analysis and manipulation?)

But anyway, there are other hierachies I recognise as more credible...

Andrew Stevens said...

Okay, so any qualified mathematician or physicist could wander into a chemistry exam and come out with a second qualification. Ditto for chemists and biology exams. Got it.

I find it a little strange that so few of them do so - point-proving aside, I would have thought that there'd sometimes be good jobs going for people with multiple or alternative qualifications - but no doubt they have reasons for their self-restraint.

Alternatively, of course, these people may not have got the hang of issues like emergent complexity.


Gauss could have been qualified in absolutely anything he chose to. The limiting factors are only time and desire. The world needs specialists (and pays them handsomely) far more than it needs generalists. More's the pity, but specialization is the lifeblood of the modern economy. There are only limited career options for multiple specialists and probably not worth the delay in starting one's career.

I'm a little confused about why emergent complexity is such a difficult concept. It is, of course, quite possible that I don't understand enough of it to understand its difficulties. Whether such things even exist is another matter. In the weakest sense (properties that emerge through interactions of the constituent parts), emergent properties clearly exist (like the pressure or temperature of a gas), but this shouldn't trouble a reductionist. In the strongest sense (that these properties could not have been predicted from the properties and relations of the lower-level entities), I'm not even sure such a theory is verifiable. How would one go about demonstrating such a claim? The fact that we couldn't have predicted it from our current knowledge doesn't mean that it's not possible, no matter how great our current knowledge might be. It is falsifiable, though, so Popper would call it science.

I am surprised that you believe that hard scientists are the insecure ones. Quite the opposite has been my experience, though it's fair to say that insecurity makes the world go round and I suspect just about everyone is at least a little insecure.

But anyway, there are other hierachies I recognise as more credible...

Quite amusing.

Phil Masters said...

"Emergent complexity" was a rather pretentious term to use there, really. The point I was trying to make is that, just because (say) the laws of chemistry can be derived from the laws of physics - in a pretty simple way - doesn't make chemistry simple for physicists. On the contrary, more likely, chemistry ends up being highly complex, because it has to deal with all the numerous comlications which develop from those simple starting principles, but which physicists are able to ignore.

Hence, chemists may be entitled to feel that they're smarter, because they can handle all that complexity, while physicists just reduce physics to a few simple laws and then sit around feeling clever.

The "my subject is the most fundamental, and so I'm the cleverest" problem reaches its most extreme case when physical scientists decide that human society (which derives from psychology, which derives from biology, which derives from chemistry, which derives from physics) must be incredibly easy to understand, when of course the problem is more that it's impossibly complex. Fortunately, the goofy fantasies which develop from that delusion - the idea that society should be governed by a technocratic elite of scientists, because they're the smartest people around, and of course government must be easy for someone who can master physics - have never really been implemented. Though arguably, many political disasters of the last century have that sort of thinking at their root.

And, of course, Practical men, who believe themselves to be exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.

Andrew Stevens said...

Ah, the misunderstanding here is my fault. When you wrote Okay, so any qualified mathematician or physicist could wander into a chemistry exam and come out with a second qualification. Ditto for chemists and biology exams. Got it., I assumed you were being facetious and didn't actually think that's what I had meant. I don't mean to be reductionist in that sense. My claim is that it's also the case (in general) that the concepts get easier when you drill down the hierarchy. There are physicists who are dealing with mathematics I can't comprehend. I understand the notation well enough so that I could mechanically apply them if I needed to, but I don't actually understand the topology well enough to know whether their equations are correctly derived or demonstrate what they claim they demonstrate. This is not the case in chemistry or biology or medical research, etc. Their mathematics is on a much lower level, usually just statistical in nature. These equations can, of course, pile on variables until they're bewildering, but the basic concepts are very easy to check. This is not to deny that chemists and biologists know all sorts of things about their specialty that I don't. I doubt I could describe the cell structure of a plant to the satisfaction of a ninth grade biology teacher, but those are just facts. Getting facts might be hard, but learning them isn't.

It's a pity you were simply using "emergent complexity" in its weak sense. Many of my philosophical difficulties could be resolved if I could believe in emergent complexity in its strong sense, but I've yet to find someone who can give me a compelling argument for it. Sadly, the reductionists are still not yet refuted.

The "my subject is the most fundamental, and so I'm the cleverest" problem reaches its most extreme case when physical scientists decide that human society (which derives from psychology, which derives from biology, which derives from chemistry, which derives from physics) must be incredibly easy to understand, when of course the problem is more that it's impossibly complex. Fortunately, the goofy fantasies which develop from that delusion - the idea that society should be governed by a technocratic elite of scientists, because they're the smartest people around, and of course government must be easy for someone who can master physics - have never really been implemented. Though arguably, many political disasters of the last century have that sort of thinking at their root.

I agree 100% with the above. The quote from Keynes at the end is more problematic. It is however rather amusing when one considers how many practical men are now slaves to the thought of Keynes, now that he's defunct.