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My recent writings

Hello, not dead, just tweeting.

I’ve done a couple of pieces on Medium, which is a lovely site to write on. Not going to close this blog, but will try and use this more for scrappier stuff that’s not meant to look polished and for stuff too long for twitter.

Last week I took issue with Dan Hannan’s terrible history. It really was dreadful and I recommend you read this post. It shows the danger of reading your ideology back into history rather than letting the sources tell you what really happened.

Tonight I wrote about the Tory’s doomed planned to weaponise Ed Miliband and invented the phrase “Begging the Miliband” for the tendency to presume Miliband’s unpopularity is innate, not state dependent. It’s here. Weirdly Phil had the same idea, must mean we’re right.

I wrote it be fore the bizarre revelations that Ed Miliband was dating Stephanie Flanders for ages…I believe this is meant to make him look bad, but it just makes him look cool… Even after all this time I still don’t think the Tories really get sleaze.

Do addicts need help…

…or do narcissists need mocking?

IN my last year on Wall Street my bonus was $3.6 million — and I was angry because it wasn’t big enough. I was 30 years old, had no children to raise, no debts to pay, no philanthropic goal in mind. I wanted more money for exactly the same reason an alcoholic needs another drink: I was addicted.

Our Galtian Overlords ladies and gentlemen… And oh it gets better…

The first year was really hard. I went through what I can only describe as withdrawal — waking up at nights panicked about running out of money, scouring the headlines to see which of my old co-workers had gotten promoted. Over time it got easier — I started to realize that I had enough money, and if I needed to make more, I could. But my wealth addiction still hasn’t gone completely away. Sometimes I still buy lottery tickets.

What bizarre behaviour, worrying about money and occasionally gambling, I’m sure none of my readers could possibly sympathise.

Will Half The UK Be Obese Before 2050? Are The Press Credulous Nincompoops?

No. Yes. For fucks sake, what is wrong with the media? Lots, I suppose, but I’ll concentrate on their innumeracy and credulousness for now. I will also cover their prejudice and scientific illiteracy. Which is a lot to do in under 1000 words, but when you’ve such densely packed stupidity as our Obesity Crisis Bleughly etc. you can really go to town.

First, a little history lesson: in 2007 a report commissioned by the government stupidly predicted that if people continued getting obeser at the same rate by 2015 36% of males and 28% of females would be obese. By 2050, 60% of males and 50% of females would be obese. By the end of the century everyone would be obese and robots would need adamantium reinforcements to maneuver the nation’s vast bulk. A nightmare scenario, I’m sure you’ll agree. Here’s the chart:

British fat

Yesterday, the National Obesity Forum stupidly updated that stupid extrapolation. Rather than half of Britain becoming obese by 2050 they believe this will happen much sooner and that we need to something about this. Especially for the children. It’s always for the children (or the women). Their report helpfully recommends negging on fat people, bullying children who don’t like PE and the creation of government sinecures for ex-Forum busybodies. 

To come up with their dread warning, they’ve used an extra five years of data from the UK to update the projection above. It’s a projection not a prediction because of the data they leave out. If they included data from the US their scaremongering would fail and these busybodies might have to get real jobs: America’s stopped fattening. We don’t need to hypothesise about how fat we could get, we know. None, none more fat.

America fat

Something that can’t go on forever, won’t. That’s a simple thought, but scaremongers know when you’re scared you don’t think. Waistlines can’t expand forever. Eventually a population has to stop getting fatter and now we now know when this happens. America, the land where everything’s big, is no longer the land where everything’s getting bigger. When a third of a society get obese obesity levels off.

Predicting that half of Britain will become obese, when we’ve recently discovered the obesity event horizon should earn you derision. Instead it gets you wall to wall coverage. Incapable of crunching the numbers, the press report as fact a ludicrous projection using incomplete data and biased methods. I don’t want you to confuse my anger with surprise, this is par for the course. Innumeracy and credulousness covered, let’s talk about the press’s prejudice and scientific illiteracy.

Being fat is unhealthy right? Wrong. Okay, not fat, but being obese is bad, right? Wrong. Dead wrong, in fact. And I have a meta-study to prove it.

final_cochrane_logoThe words “I have a meta-study” should inspire joy or dread, depending on your position. A meta-study is a study of studies and they’re incredibly useful. You can read more halfway down this old post on how they save lives and reveal truths that might otherwise be hidden.

We’ve been looking at obesity for a very long time, and lots of individual studies have been done, but each has its own problems and each has its own margin of error. Collating several studies allowed researchers to look at 3 million subjects, from 12 countries, and use only the best data to assess the effects of weight gain on health.

The results might surprise you. They found that people with a Body Mass Index of 18.5-25, the “healthy” people, have higher mortality risk than every group of people up to BMIs of 35. The obese were less likely to die than the “healthy” people and the overweight people were significantly less likely to die than the “healthy” people.

Pick a random 5’4″ woman weighing 8 stone (remember to say hello). She has a higher mortality risk than a 14 stone woman of the same height (say hello to her too). You might be incredulous, you might even be angry: but I have a meta-study.

The below table isn’t very layman friendly, but click through to the paper, or read this op-ed, if you don’t believe me. I’m not saying you should gain weight, or lose weight, I’m saying that weight is a particularly poor indicator of health and that you should care about your weight a lot less. Especially care less about other people’s weight.


Not only are predictions of a looming obesity crisis based on nonsense maths, they’re based on nonsense science and reported by a nonsense press. The press are incapable of holding people with a shiny pdf and a slick press release to account. Because of this its all too easy for people to be bullied and for public health (physical and mental) to suffer.

Merry Christmas everyone!

A propos this, I thought I’d also say Merry Christmas.

Thank you for sticking around as this blog’s changed and my output has declined and become more erratic. I still love writing but I’m more cynical than ever before, and it can be easier to get that out of my system on twitter. I was going to post a spirited defence of Love, Actually but I can’t be actually be bothered now, too much food to eat, drinks to sink and friends and family to see. So until 2014 (or until I get bored of my family) have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

In which the @ONS sends me to the pub

The Office for National Statistics is working to improve its website which is great. One of the big advantages the American blogosphere has is the St Louis Federal Reserve’s data website FRED. It is much easier for them to find useful data. For example, I just spent 30 seconds making this graph. It’s the rate at which people quit their job:


This ease of data access makes it easy to tell stories. You can see the recession marked in grey and the recovery. But you can also see that for all the talk of success in the United States people are still more scared to quit their jobs than even the most pessimistic point of the mid-2000s expansion.

Easy access to data makes it easier to tell stories and to stop politicians and the media misleading you. If anyone says “optimism has returned to the US” I can point to this graph and say “eh, I don’t think so.” The ONS’s website is not easy to use but they’re working on making it easier. I wasn’t sure if I could make the above graph from the ONS data so I tried. Come on a journey with me in which I fail and end up in the pub.

I searched for “Quits” on the ONS which sent me to a 2003 pdf of Job Separations. The term “Voluntary job separation” is the ONS term for quits so I searched for that which sent me to this 2009 pdf on “Economic and Labour Market Review” from which I got this graph:


That’s not quite what I want. So I kept digging. About 10 minutes in now. But I’ve got a source Labour Force Survey, great! I google “Labour Market Survey” and go to this page:


Which isn’t particularly useful. If you search Labour Force Survey on the ONS website you get to a long list of search results but eventually get to this page titled “Labour Market Statistics, November 2013” and this page of 66 different data tables across (for no particular reason) three pages.]

I find the labour force flows tables under supplementary tables. It must have been 30 minutes now. I can’t find quits but I do have separations. Well I say that. What I really have is a combination of people moving from employment to unemployment and inactivity from one quarter to another and a bodge to turn that into this roughly analogous graph. It’s not quits, it’s a separations proxy, but it’s all I’ve produced.

UK Separations

Chris has a good post using the same data set here, showing that it’s completely doable to use the ONS website. It’s just not very much fun. What can I tell you from my graph? Not a lot, I can’t be bothered after all that work. I’m going to the pub.