**Deified dicing of vCJD deaths
unfairly fuels family fears**

* *

Independent 21may04

*Scientists fear hidden epidemic of vCJD …
after tests … extrapolated for the entire population... up to 3,800 positive.
However... wrong to suggest because.. of the lack of information about the
reliability... interesting observation... but we cannot work out what this
means nor can we draw any conclusions… The most recent estimates based on
computer predictions suggest the final size of the epidemic may not exceed 600
cases, but the analysis involves huge levels of uncertainty. To help resolve
the issue, the Government ordered the testing of stored tissue samples
collected anonymously as well as a much bigger survey of up to 100,000 tonsils
and appendices removed over the next three years… investigated 14,964 tonsils
and 1,739 appendices … reduced to 12,674 samples… findings of three positives …
two of the three … looked quite different … can't make the assumption that
those two positives represent positives ... There is still much to learn … he
added.*

* *

Independent 01Jun04

*More HIV-positive gay men are having unsafe
sex … A third unaware that they are infected yet … engaging in unsafe sex … warned that risky behaviour … is a serious
public health concern. … re-ignite the debate over whether the safe-sex message
has lost its impact … The survey of 8,000 men … proportion engaging in risky
behaviour … 30 per cent in 1996 to 42 per cent in 2000 … 1,206 men tested for
HIV and about one in nine … antibody-positive … About a third - 43 … out of …
132 - … undiagnosed, … unprotected anal intercourse. HIV prevalence is high …
many … undiagnosed ... public health concern … prevalence, anti-retroviral
resistance … sexually transmitted infections … increasing … 10.9 per cent … in
the survey were HIV-positive … Latest figures … 20 per cent increase in HIV
during 2003…. 5,047 new cases … 4,204 in the previous year.*

* *

SADLY SCARILY SIMPLY SILLY

* *

The top one
has typical traits of another bureaucratic bandwagon rolling out another Aunt
Sally of spiked statistics mirroring manipulations in the gemganic gangbang and
climate conspiracy. In contrast to the apocalyptic alarm engendered by “epidemic” as headlined, the indicated
incidence can’t be convincingly claimed to have shifted significantly from that
estimated earlier especially with two of the three positives being merely maybe
and even more with one in four samples rejected for degradation, puzzlingly so
when prions are purportedly persistent. Simple sums (below) suffice to show its
insignificance by converting the incidence of exceedingly sparse events like
these pinhead fairies into everyday expectations from thrown dice, deified here
as title allusion to Einstein’s reported remark because sadly whilst the
statistics may be blind over the total population they certainly aren’t for
individual people, not if eating habits and susceptibility play the part
portrayed in conjectured causative connections.

The saddest
significance of this study was cavalier contentment of its publicity promoting
proponents to convey (more so on BBC R4’s Today) a cartoon of catastrophic
consequence solely to amplify aspirations for an enormously extended evaluation
at enormously extended expense and sod sympathy for poor souls fearful of the
future having seen their siblings succumb to a dreadful demise having shared
whatever genetic and dietary susceptibilities there may be for this nasty
thing. Chasing fairies on pinheads would be fine if resource was infinite but
it isn’t so much better to spend the money on functionally useful / helpful
endeavours for the victims, not manipulating minuscule numbers in a nightmare
lottery!

And as
perspective on this navel-glazed number nibbling note that even on worst-case
outcome this “epidemic” is forecast to “wipe out” in total about the same
number of people as die on the roads every year, these deaths deemed endurable
as inevitable consequence of living life and not impacting on everyday
activities in any way, not even as second thoughts never mind doom-laden
despair. Adopting an actuarial attitude and averaging the total over the
20-year indicative interval adopted in this arena starkly shows how this sad
silliness really is no more than yet another Emperorial illusion!

By contrast
the bottom one should be seen as significantly scary for its evidence of exponential
expansion even two decades after that infamously haunting telly-spectre of
graveyard gloom, still vivid for many with pubescent kids at that time.
Extraordinary that its success (at least that’s the way its impact was played
then and since but believable despite its Thatcherite origin) was never
consolidated, especially with if being both corrective and cheaper than any
amount of the symptom-suppressant palliatives that created complacency since
cascaded into chaos and expert eyes still shut tight praying for inspiration on
effective Aids-antagonists. The vista of a homosexual HIV holocaust cohabiting
with an explosion in barely pubescent pregnancy certainly should be scary even
for stoic fatalists never mind compensation cuckoos but there’s seldom a sign
of even discreet bleating about these socio-sexual anomalies ~ notable
exceptions being occasional outbursts by Tebbit reliving if not reviving his
Thatcherite tenacity.

Me? ~ well
I’m a meldrew so I blame it on
correctness claptrap which has increasingly spawned seemingly ever stickier
soaps that sadly serve as sole role models for far too many telly-traumatised
tots to teens lacking any of the many reference rigidities enjoyed by earlier
generations. I’m no Mary Whitehouse but when there’s little to nothing else as
behavioural benchmarks it shouldn’t be surprising that morons mimic what they
see most and the viewing figures show that most kids must see most of the
pulped pap produced by populists seeking market share. Proclaiming innocence,
asserting influence only as societal reflectors is a crap copout ~ everyone
with an iota (and that’s a fearfully faded faculty) knows these perverted
quislings really are the behavioural beamers defining declining standards, not
simulating their devolution.

Anyway it’s
manifest I don’t have a constructive commentary nor even a deconstructive
demonstration to offer on this one beyond pleading for policies that heed the
dangers declared in these data which have been trending one way dangerously for
two decades without any sign of any active attention never mind intervention ~
extraordinarily in contrast to the cash colossus that climate cowboys created
over the same interval for a conjecture house almost entirely constructed from
computerised cards in contrast to decisive disease data in this despairing
domain.

Now some
simple sums showing how these vCJD stats don’t stack because their promotion
was spiked to inflate fears so as to further the case for (much) more finance.
I’ll keep this close to everyday experience so as to carry commonsense
conviction in the conclusions. Consider coin-tossing for which there is chance ½
of getting either only heads or tails in two throws whereas the chance of getting
only either heads or tails in three is ¼ so the chance of mixed outcomes (two
of one, one of the other) is ¾. This illustration suffices to suggest that the
threshold of surprise (or suspicion about the coin) lies somewhere between ½ and
¼, maybe 1/3 or so corresponding to chance of getting one out of two nominated numbers
in a single dice throw. Nominating one and getting it (chance 1/6 of course) is
surprising but nothing seems strange about nominating three numbers and getting
one of them (chance ½ of course)

Adopting 1/3 as
a ring of truth threshold for surprise / suspicion translates directly to
significance in sampling for vCJD ~ getting a positive on 1/3 chance (ie against
2:1 odds) might well be seen as flagging significance for higher than expected
incidence of disease. It gets a tad tougher connecting coins / dice precisely with
prion positives but what’s needed is really no more than was done decades ago
in A-level maths, although sadly since lapsed from firsthand familiarity judging
from my own extensive experience of teaching university classes for a decade to
the mid-90s. That’s sad because I taught the toughest topics to the brightest kids
including goodly complements of triple A-graders (before they got degraded!).
So with this experience of attenuated attention spans I’ll keep it quick but
that means resorting to standard shorthand notation although nothing beyond potted
primers like the old “Teach Yourself” things.

Taking a tail
to be a “null” N (nothing) and a head to be a “point” P (positive) it is easy to
check that coin-tossing outcomes over throws T are described by the binomial
distribution (N+P)^{T} with expansion

< N^{T}P^{0}T^{0}/0!+N^{t-1}P^{1}T^{1}/1!+N^{T-2}P^{2}(1-T^{-1})T^{2}/2!+N^{T-3}P^{3}(1-T^{-1})(1-2T^{-1})T^{3}/3!+
etc >

where factorial (!) means 1!=1,
2!=2*1, 3!=3*2*1 etc and 0!=1. The coefficients of N^{T-t}P^{t}
with t=0, 1, 2, 3, etc reproduce the chances of getting T-t Ns and t Ps.
Confirm for yourself that T=2 returns one case with no Ps, two cases with an N
and a P and one case with no Ns exactly as for coin-tossing outcomes from pairs
of throws. Likewise T=3 returns one with no Ps, three with one P, three with
one N, one with no Ns ~ eight cases in all and so ¼ chance of getting either
all heads or all tails as noted earlier in making the point about commonsense
conviction on significance.

To carry this
description over to dice throwing for repetition chances of single
pre-nominated numbers we need only to note there are five nulls for each point,
so replacing N by 5N reflects this weighting and the coefficients above in turn
must now be multiplied by 5^{T}, 5^{T-1}, 5^{T-2}, 5^{T-3},
etc, For T=1 there are 5^{1}=5 cases with no P for each case with 5^{0}=1
with no N, six cases in all and so a 1/6 chance of P. Similarly T=2 returns 5^{2}=25
cases with no P, 2*5^{1}=10 cases with one P and 5^{0}=1 case
with two Ps, 36=6^{2} cases in all and so a 1/36 chance of two Ps ~
again familiar from everyday experience.

The final
step from coins through dice to prions is facilitated by setting P=RN with
ratio as R=P/N and extracting the common factor N (no effect on the
“distribution” over possible returns) before expanding the binomial in powers
of P and exploiting the fact that R is very small so as to drop higher terms,
so small indeed for prions that only a few terms suffice as we shall see. For
coins then R=1 (no difference to numbers first thought of) whilst for dice R=1/5
so replacing P by RP means the terms in the expansion now have extra factors
1/5^{0}, 1/5^{1}, 1/5^{2}, 1/5^{3}, etc, As
checksum, the pair-throw T=2 returns a distribution 1:2/5:1/25 for 2:1:0 Ns or
0:1:2 Ps, same as before. In fact we can already see how this thing is going
for small R because even with R=1/5 commonsense rejects 2Ps as so unlikely as
to be discounted for practical purposes ~ indeed reject it not just compared
with 2Ns (1/25:1) but even against NP outcomes (1/25: 2/5) as a 1/10^{th}
rank outsider by our commonsense cut at 1/3^{rd}. So for all practical
purposes it makes sense to discriminate only the chance of “one or more” Ps as
being effectively 2/5:1 meaning out of every 7 shots 5 return no Ps and 2
return one or more Ps, Indeed, for most practical purposes we may as well round
this further and say that of every 6 shots 4 return no Ps and 2 return Ps and
doing this means in dice-throwing terms here is about a 1/3^{rd} chance
of getting a P (any pre-nominated particular number) from two throws ~ true
enough, in accordance with everyday experience and simply meaning that each
shot is effectively independent so two shots each with a 1/6 chance so as to return
a 1/3 composite chance.

In moving
onto prions, there is one further trick that simplifies inspection of the odds
~ namely to note that the Ts as shown expanded <> above arise with same
exponents as the Ps (now Rs) and can thus be bundled into a single quantity
S=TP/N=TR, S standing for Signature. For all sensible scenarios with small S, T
has to be big to recover anything at all and this means we can neglect all
inverse powers in the boxed expansion above in which limit then the expansion
is simply exponential in S or S^{0}/0!+S^{1}/1!+S^{2}/2!+S^{3}/3!+etc.
Moreover small R means N can be adequately approximated by the population
rather than population less positives, adequate even for practical purposes
with dice as we saw above but immensely so here when S isn’t much bigger than
unity so P/N isn’t much bigger than T^{-1} and we have already
neglected everything in inverse powers of T.

Okay so that’s
it for the gentle background and we’re now ready to try out some numbers. We
may as well begin with what the pinhead fairies had in their survey, T=12K or
so (upwards 16K with rejects) and accept for now their risk group is 10-30 year
olds, say 18M or about 30% of 54M ~ 18M providing a close convenient basis for
simple sums. The independent reference study by another group (probably also
into apocalyptic amplification so we should be cautious on that score as well)
projected 500 fatalities from “computer modelling” whatever that means in the
absence of ground truth constraints ~ indeed, even with reality anchors, what’s
the point in “computer modelling” when significance thresholds don’t warrant
more than diced guidelines, never mind uncontrolled uncertainties than probably
exceed significances anyway! Computer modelling is significant only as an
attention attractor for plodding politicians, posturing politicos and their
media mates, also bean baggers for future fortune from inflated funding.

Anyway,
diatribes done, 500 in 18M would mean R^{-1}=36K which with T=12K would
mean S=1/3. Taking this as unit here is convenient because within all the
overwhelming uncertainties there is no meaningful difference between
exponential E^{1}=2.7 and 2^{3/2}=2.8 so E^{S}=2^{3S/2}
for practical purposes here. I know it seems arcane but this really is a neat
trick in handling the numbers generated from integer multiples of S=1/3, doing
all mentally without resorting even to a calculator! I’m old-fashioned ~ I’m
old enough to recall slide-rules ~ I’m
meldrewismic after all! As a hint on where the dancing with fairies people
reside their “epidemic” number was approaching 4k fatalities, 8 times higher
meaning an 8-fold higher R or an R^{-1} of 4-5K so we expect relevant
S<6/3, not higher ~ all about unity or less so the exponential approximation
stands.

Okay so S=1/3
returns E^{S}=1.4 and a probability of finding 1+ cases (one or more)
is simply 1-E^{-S} (as (E^{S}-1)/E^{S} or total less
none divided by total) or about 1/3 for practical purposes. For compact
convenience denote this as P_{11} where first subscript denotes integer
multiple of S=1/3 and second denotes incidence 1+ here. In general then with
the simple rounding on powers of E and 2, P_{3S1}=1-2^{-3S/2}
and P_{3S2}=1-(1+S)2^{-3S/2}, the latter returning about 1/9
when 3S=1 and so discounted for practical purposes being less than the 1/6
suggested on basis everyday expectations in of dice-throwing. So getting one
positive from 12K tests would indicate 500 fatalities is a plausible prospect
but more should be expected if there was more than one positive test.

Okay so what
about 3S=2? Well P_{21}=1/2 and P_{22}=1/6 which just touches
our significance threshold so two positive tests would then imply up to 1000 fatalities
is plausible. For 3S=3 we get P_{31}=2/3 and P_{32}=1/3, the
latter meaning that 2+ definite positives could well mean up to 1500 fatalities
but the sampling is now insensitive on this threshold and really demands
discrimination at the next higher level of 3+ cases for which P_{3S3}=1-(1+S+S^{2}/2)2^{-3S/2}
so P_{33}=1/6 which again touches the threshold of commonsense
significance . With 3S=4, P_{41}= 3/4 and P_{42}=1/2 and P_{43}=1/4
so the sampling has again become insensitive and would need next higher order
of 4+ cases for some assurance on 2000 fatalities. In fact none were recorded
in the fairies thing so the implication of our reasoning here is that 2000
fatalities is likely on the high side, moreover dismissing the 2 possible
positives would leave only one and that would put even 500 on the high side of
threshold expectation.

The computer
modellers surely suggested an uncertainty band for their figure and I could
believe it was as much as factor two either side ~ if they did then the
recently publicised thing added absolutely nothing new beyond reinforcement
which is fine as an academic adventure but not a lot more. What’s been said
here is about the best can be said but it’s still useful as an immensely less
depressing portrait than the fairies’ painted in emphasising unlikely numbers
well on the high side suggested here, in turn inevitably and probably
intentionally initiating a feeding frenzy of “epidemic” by ill-informed
so-called science specialists across the media.

Of course
it’s possible that their long shot conjectured doom turns out to be true
(probably not but nonetheless possible) but even then considering the
exceedingly small numbers (in actuarial terms, no comfort to afflicted
families) it really would make much more sense to spend scarce resource on individual
support, even R&D as long shot for better palliatives (even therapies?),
than burning bread to dance with pinhead fairies whilst playing deified dice.
My commentary cost nothing apart from my time but that in any case was
uncharged. I imagine that testing 100K samples with an exotic assay could cost
upwards from £1M, maybe as much as £5M, and that would go a long way as
assistance for the few hundred or so afflicted families identified to date.

PS I haven’t seen
any of the sums but imagine it’s quite possible that essentially the same
tricks have been pulled pretty much across the board in apocalyptic arenas ~
gemganic and climate come to mind as clear candidates where significance is
pulled from super sparse sets, the former regarding pollen dispersion and
pesticide contamination, the latter on storms and floods ~ thinking especially
attribution assigned to the French heat wave last year which was not merely
blamed for 20K untimely deaths but has since been assigned extraordinary
significance from being asserted a 1 in 300K extremity on the basis of
historical records. Do I really believe that such an enormous number denotes a
defensible metric ~ not really, not without confirming it for myself! After all
so far as I know no-one so far has adequately explained the much higher than
expected incidence of thermal blips implied from ice-cored records ~ until
that’s done why should we believe in much more than an associative correlation
with anthropogenic atmospheric gases whatever causative connection may be clamoured
by vested interests. I really don’t know what the truth is but I doubt it
mirrors the mantra intoned for apocalyptic attention!

I have taken
to calling these temptations dispositional contamination on a spectrum from
ignorance to intent and it’s fiendishly difficult to disentangle this stuff in
computational correlations, especially when nonlinear complexity causes
bifurcations bursting out all over and even more when those that are realised
are artefacts of the “closures” rather than actualities from fundamental
physics. Stretching partiality from truth through bias toward desire is
strictly fraud, at least spinning and we’ve all seen what a dangerous game that
can be when played by posturing politicians and their para-politico fellow
travellers playing pseudo-science for personal promotion especially prevalent
in environmental arenas ~ things like comets, mega-tsunamis, floods,
earthquakes, climate-cooking, nano-goo, etc… come to mind. All most probably
crap of course, as significant than fifties flying saucers*, but then who
really cares that campus core communities know it’s only a few crackpot cuckoos
who promote this pulp-fiction aided and abetted by adverts from advancement
agency apparatchiks and obsessive operators manning our manipulative media.
Spiked statistics stretching spiked science should be seen as a seriously
scandalous if not slanderous slant! Enough of my meldrewismic moaning (for now)

* Irony intended because of course these things have become paradigm exemplars for machination masking by populist politicos in pursuit of alternative agendas accessing advantage for the fortunate few, with common and crude contemporaries being bread baked in kickback cul-de-sacs signposted as renewable and natural and sustainable…!