This forum is about wrong numbers in science, politics and the media. It respects good science and good English.
The case in point is a proposal to reduce the alcohol level for drivers.
By their own admission they are looking at a possible 300-350 lives lost where alcohol might be a factor but where the drivers were all below the current legal limit.
Unfortunately the police do not keep records on anyone who passes the breath test so the study which informs this latest report is based on some university work involving a computer model.
The law of diminishing returns means nothing to these people. The law of unintended consequences even less.
The fact is that probably pretty well all the lives that can be saved have been saved. The problem that remains is not with those who are within the current limit but those who are still regularly above the current limit.
The outcome of this, which is heavily sponsored by the EU and thus probably certain to go ahead, will be the final loss of the remaining pubs. The damage to society is significant already.
Now when they say alcohol may be a factor I suspect t hey are not strictly honest. Chances are those accidents where death results that they refer to are probably accidents where some other factor or factors where far more significant.
The last UK government was addicted to legislating because "it is for your own good" and the signs are not encouraging that this new government is any better.
We just passed and put into effect a cell phone / texting ban in our state (WA). While it will likely lead to more fines being imposed, I don't predict a large decline in deaths because if they aren't texting or talking, they will be doing something else stupid. Factoring in the ability of the driver to make judgment calls is not included in the statistics. There are people out there who can text on cell phone one handed under their desks. These people can't be caught texting, unless they start scanning the cars for signs of electronic messages.
What is amazing to me is how many accidents don't happen considering the dubious skills of the many drivers on the road. If you could track the number of accidents that didn't happen in spite of idiotic behavior, you could get a better assessment of just how many lives might be saved by the application of stricter rules.
We have had similar junk legislation in the UK for some time, so I suppose it was inevitable that Western Australia and others would follow suit.
Even before our particular bunch of monkeys had legislated against use of hand-held mobiles but not hands-free sets one of the better Canadian universities had published a report showing that it was the attention to the content of the call that increased risk, not the physical handling of the set.
Obviously, there is a considerable difference in the concentration required between conversations like "John, I'm held up in traffic, so I'll be late. Start without me, I should be about half an hour, 'Bye" and "Sam, have you read last month's figures? What should we do about the NorthEast? Yes, I agree…(continues for twenty minutes)" or even "Mary, did you hear what Amanda said? Well…(etc., etc.)", but unfortunately the intellectual load of the conversation can't be measured automatically so it's much easier just to fine everybody.
As it happens, most of my mobile calls are of the first type and I therefore consider of very low risk, but I've just found my car came fitted with a hands-free set which fits the old mobile I inherited from my parents, so I've been cheerfully making calls quite legally. No doubt Brad will find, as here, that the law will be honoured more in the breach than the observance. Few days on the road pass without seeing at least one white van with driver's ear clamped firmly to a mobile and in particular "girlie" cars whose occupant seems to be permanently on the phone. Still, it stops the police going round shooting passing Brazilians!
The propaganda aspect is implicit in the idea that air pollution causes deaths.
In a very detailed and extensive report prepared for whatever the UK's Environment department is called these days, and to be found somewhere on the ARIC website I think, they report extensively on particulates.
Primarily they are looking at the SOX and NOX pollutants, Ozone and the like.
The whole character of the report is what you would hope to find from a scientific report intended to inform (but not unduly influence) the policy makers.
They do not talk about mortality but about morbidity.
That is, the effect on life expectancy. Like many such reports it exploits a number of commonly used data bases. Some where hidden in the depths comes the news that most of the UK has pollution levels consistently below the safe levels and only a few places occasionally exceed the recommended safe levels.
The report says you cannot measure deaths nor can you directly measure morbidity. You have to have changes in pollutant levels to be able to make any useful observations. The sort of changes reported seemed to suggest that the best we could hope to do in broad terms is add a week or two to the life expectancy of some people in the worst affected areas..... of which there are few.
There is also some interesting comment to be found relating to the comparisons not just between the before and after conditions of the smokeless fuel days and the old pea soupers, but they are even able to comment on the beneficial effects of relocating factories from the city centres to the peripheries.
A marked contrast to this is a report produced for the marine industry by an obvious eco-activist.
The data we have is land based data.
This report was on the effects of particulates from burning fossil fuels in ships.
The title of the report said something about 30,000 deaths a year from shipping.
There are throw away comments which actually mean nothing but are designed to paly on the emotions and the fears. For example, it says something like "75% of shipping takes place within 250km of land."
The implication is presumably that shipping this close to land has a deleterious effect on health. However, the Aric report I refer to above clearing shows that the effect of factory emmissions is far less even for a small transition from city centres to the outskirts. The implication is that it doesn't matter how much shipping takes place 250km away from land, we need only consider the local impact of emissions taking place within 10-15km of land. The significance of those emmissions is only where they would elevate the local levels of pollutants above the safe levels and, we should remember, since the measure the pollutants in the atmosphere and not whether they have come from ships at sea or factories, the shipping pollutants are included in the land pollutants. It is not satisfactory to suggest that 75% of shipping p0ollutants reach land because they don't. The proportion that does is limited and reducing them by any significant amount may not actually make any significant or measurable change on the health of the population except, perhaps, in major sea ports.
So many reports produced by so called scientists seem to be nothing less than deliberate and dangerous propaganda designed to serve an agenda and to influence policy rather than simply and impartially inform.
The effect of reducing SOX and NOX from shipping, fo example, is likely not to do much more than extend the life expectancies of a few people who live by the sea in countries with the longest life expectancies on the planet. It is, afterall, the rich and wealthy countries that require the most shipping to support their lifestyles. However, the measures will cost money and will impact on the profitability of marginal sub Saharan economies, as an example, where the life expectancy is in some cases nearly half the life expectancy in the rich countries.
I can't say that increased fuel costs or increased shipping costs will impact in any way because no one wants to measure the impact on these economies.
They would like to tell us 30,000 people a year die from shipping pollution (when in fact they live slightly less long than otherwise) but they don't want to tell us how many families in the poorest economies will be affected. How many will die of starvation or malnutrition or the cumulative effective of subsistence level living made worse by not being able to sell goods to western markets because it becomes cheaper to get polytunnel crops from Spain or Morocco than Kenya or elswehere?
The agenda is not about the environment or world health. These are simply the propaganda tools of the anti-capitalists, the anarchists and the eco-terrorists. And on the other hand there are those who will become rich from carbon credits and set asides and rain forest schemes.