# andrewt.net

## blog

I’m monumentally unimpressed by people who use AdBlock, or any other program or browser extension designed to hide adverts placed by website owners. My policy has always been that if a website has more ads than I’m willing to put up with, I don’t visit it. I’ve found that invariably advert-encrusted websites have bad content anyway.I don’t think it’s okay to download a website and then have software strip out all the bits that might be profitable before I see it. I think if I find a website useful that it’s only fair to allow the owners their revenue stream, especially since I’m not the one paying for it.

But, I thought, I routinely record TV shows then skip the ads when they’re on. Isn’t that the same? But no, I don’t think it is. My watching a show that was on while I was out doesn’t cost the broadcaster anything, and I’m doing it passively — I’m recording the shows out of necessity and then not feeling the need to voluntarily spend twenty minutes watching adverts. That’s not the same as going out of one’s way to avoid or ‘block’ them. When I watch TV at the time it’s broadcast I generally sit through the ads.

So, I thought, is this basically the same as copying CDs? I’m sure we can all agree that that’s both immoral and illegal and that anyone who thinks otherwise is simply better at rationalising their crimes than the rest of us, but still most people do it and clearly it’s not that big a deal or, necessarily, bad for the industry. But then I thought, no, people who copy CDs routinely also buy more CDs than the average person, whereas someone who uses AdBlock to filter out the mammoth reams of advertising on newspaper websites also uses it to strip out the relatively tiny ads on Google or Facebook, and these websites only survive because most people have either less technical know-how or more ethics than that.

The internet is built on advertising. It’s the best revenue stream it currently has, and while it’s not ideal, people are doing all sorts of really clever things to make it more relevant, less intrusive and more useful both to advertisers and consumers. Except, that is, for the users who choose to exclude themselves from this economy and simply scrounge off the wealth of tools and culture it has produced, while sucking resources out of it like some awful electronic leech, or a burglar. Not only that, but by filtering out easily-identified adverts, they encourage website operators to use more obtrusive, less clearly marked adverts the software doesn’t pick up. AdBlock is very bad for the internet.

If you use Adblock to filter out adverts from websites whose content and bandwidth you consume, I’d like to know what your justification is. Because my current theory is that you haven’t given it a second’s thought. Also I’d like you to turn it off for a week and see if online advertising really bothers you that much. If it does, I suggest you either change your web habits to visit better designed sites or just mellow the fuck out. If not, consider leaving it off and welcome back to the fold of contributing members of internet society.

# I am being inexpertly censored!

I have just been hilariously banned from commenting on the homeopathy blog ‘homeopathy4health’ after this discussion. Why?

Andrew’s comments are no longer allowed on this blog. This is because he has a tendency to write opinions based on logic and not from experience or facts. He is a programmer by profession.

Dammit, I do have a tendancy to write opinions based on logic. Oh, she really nailed me there. ‘Zing’, I should think, and probably even ‘oh, snap’. And so forth. Feel free to visualise Jon Stewart-style gesturing if it helps.

Goodbye, then, anonymous homeopath. Live long and prosper.

# Yeah? Well I don’t believe that you don’t believe that I believe…

I just read a brilliant article on the Times’ website:

That the world was created by an invisible deity, that He later impregnated a virgin who then bore a son who was His own father, that we have immortal souls and will live for ever in Heaven if we are good and love Jesus – how can anyone who has even attended high school believe such things? …Â It defies belief. …Â And if something defies belief, a good starting position is not to believe it. That is my position. I am not shocked by the persistence of religious belief in the West because I do not believe it exists. …Â The real test for genuine belief is not what people say, but what they do. To believe something is to be disposed to act upon it. The vast majority of Western Christians fail this test.

I’m not convinced I buy the argument (nor that the author does) — applying logic to the actions of idiots rarely has much predictive value — but it’s certainly worth raising for discussion.Â As with everything written about religion or atheism on high-traffic websites, though, the actual discussion that follows is moronic. The very first comment is this:

The liberals’ belief in man-made ‘global warming’ is just as ‘irrational’ as the traditional religious beliefs that the author decries. There is the same lack of evidence, the high priests like Al Gore, faith over science, proselytization, tithing, scorn of non-believers, etc.

Kevin Finnerty, Atlanta, USA

Relevance is a sin.

I’m a Catholic. My election vote always goes to the candidate most likely to vote for policies that will save unborn lives. Issues such as health care, education and housing are of little significance if the right to life is not accorded to all human beings at all stages of development.

Julia, Manchester, UK

I would say you have issues, but that would be to miscount.

First, just because someone calls themself a Christian, does not mean that they are in fact a Christian…

John, USA,

That’s not a counter-argument; that’s paraphrasing. Those are the first three comments. I find myself wanting to just post all of them. That would take ages, so trust me that the ones I’m ignoring are also great. I mean — just look for Paul from Dallas and also London…Â For reference, Pauls’ logic seems to go like this: assuming A and B leads to a contradcition, therefore the contradiction is true.

But it’s not just Christians who don’t follow through. Determinists continue to talk as if they were “free” to judge the validity of an argument. And atheists aren’t always the self-interested hedonists one might expect from believers in a meaningless universe with only a darwinian moral compass!

JS, Glasgow, UK

JS has failed to get drunk and start a fight, so I’m forced to conclude that he hasn’t followed through on his claim to be from Glasgow. And one might argue that it’s wrong to mock the determinists, because they don’t have a choice but to behave that way.

Fundamentalism and political correctness are pretty much the same thing, dressed up from the same wardrobe as the emperor’s new clothes.

Rick Hepner, Salt Lake City, USA

I have literally no idea what this is supposed to mean.

… Would Mr Whyte still hold to his argument if state and church rejoined and gave him ‘heavenly’ policies with ‘heavenly’ consequences? I doubt it.

Ali, Colchester, Essex

How amazing is that? “Yes, but would you think so if the evidence pointed the other way? Ha, then you can’t really believe it!”. That’s about the most Religion idea I’ve ever heard.

I don’t believe many atheists really believe what they claim to believe. …

Paul, Nottingham,

I wasn’t aware we claimed to believe anything. I thought that was the point.

Surely this line of argument applies just as surely to atheists. What about the weight of living without a God? Your line of reasoning exposes you as one who does not believe either

David , London,

Oh crap, he’s right. I don’t go to church or recklessly shag prostitutes, so I guess I neither believe in God nor not believe in God. Great, now I’m in an existential quandary. Thanks a lot.

I’m curious – Mr Whyte – what would be your position on all the atheists and agnostics who celebrate Christmas… send cards, give presents, and put up Xmas trees? Are they self-delusional too? Or just cheerfully hypocritical?

Jay, Aberystwyth, Wales

Yeah, and what about the infidels who watch soaps but don’t write to the characters? Hypocrites!

What we truly believe can be politically inexpedient, personally challenging, socially isolating, painfulful or even meaningless, and we are free to ignore it when convenient and profess it when advantageous. And we do. It depends on who we are, where we are and when and who with.

Lars Torders, lowestoft,Â

“The truth can be inconvenient, so it’s okay to just ignore it.” Do you work for the McCain campaign?

This country has struggled for many years with the issue of Tolerance. We’ve moved slowly and painfully towards racial, sexual and cultural tolerance; Because we are an increasingly multicultural society. Yet this article is filled with religious intolerance. Embrace love, not hate. Jesus is love.
Chris, Coventry,

Ooh, you almost had it there, but you just had to blow it at the last minute…

Mr. Whyte, your “arguments” seem to me like a poor copy of Richard Dawkins’.Â The question to ask is not ’¦Â ”do foetuses have an ‘immortal soul’ since conception?”Â ’¦ but ’¦Â ’if a foetus is a ‘project’ of human person, do we have the right to dispose of it as though it was a mere ‘thing’?”

Miguel de Servet, Villanueva de Sijena, Spain

These issues are always easier when you phrase them so they don’t make sense.

And as for “if something defies belief, a good starting position is not to believe it,” – well that’s patently ludicrous. If Scientists failed to believe what begin as abstract theories how would it progress? …

Matt, Birmingham, UK

We prove things, you moron. After we’ve done that it’s okay to believe them. “If we didn’t just make shit up, how would we ever progress?”

It’s sad isn’t it.I agree, surely if Christians lived by the Bible,a book promoting peace&hating wrong-doing, then this world would be a very different place.Christians are failures,I think most, including me, would admit that. That’s why Jesus came on the scene…please investigate his life!

Amy, West Bromwich,

We have done and it’s made up. Also, you have clearly never read the Bible.

“The real test for genuine belief is not what people say, but what they do”. This applies to atheists just as much as to religious believers and the new atheists, clinging to the morality of the Sermon on the Mount , and not the morality of the survival of the fittest , abysmally fail the test.

Jamie, London, UK

You know who I hate? It’s those hypocrite mathematicians who don’t base their morality on set theory. Them and Abraham Fleury, San Diego, USA, who can’t tell the word ‘ludicrous’ from the rapper Ludacris.

What “lack of evidence for the central tenets of Christianity”? The conversion of untold numbers of previous “avowed atheists” to Christianity is pretty good evidence. …

Mike T., Roseville, CA, USA

I used to be Catholic. Discuss.

I don’t believe that atheists such as Jamie Whyte really are atheists. He doesn’t live acccording to his beliefs as an atheist. If he did he would not live as if there is right and wrong or that he loves his family or friends or delights in beauty or that his reasoning has any validity.

Kenneth Brownell, London,

I’ve heard “God = Morality” before, and “Jesus = Love”, but I’ve never heard “God = Valid Reasoning”.

Jesus and God are real. Of this I have no doubt. Look at the universe.Look at the trees. Look at the insects. Look at DNA. My word to believe that all of this could possibly spring up from nothing and on its own takes way more faith to believe than believing in God. Search your hearts. God is real.

Buddy, Springfield, United States

I had my DNA sequenced. It went like this: “GTACACAGATTACAGTCTHEREISNOGODTTGACTA”. Personally, I think it’s a message from aliens.

That article truly breaks my heart! how can someone say these things so bluntly, and as if the were all true! Looking into a true Christians heart, you would find SO many wonderful things: love, joy, passion, authenticity, respect, honor. I just do not understand why you would disclaim that!

Allison, Oklahoma City, USA

As an atheist, my heart is just a muscley pump and I am forced to keep that stuff in my brain.

# Tony Blair Fails to Justify Faith Foundation

If you got churches and mosques and those of the Jewish faith working together to provide the bed nets that are necessary to eliminate malaria, what a fantastic thing that would be. That would show faith in action, it would show the importance of cooperation between faiths, and it would show what faith can do for progress.

No, that would be show faith near action, the importance of cooperation between people and what mosquito nets can do for progress. The faith isn’t involved at any stage.

This guy was running the country this time a year ago — and this is the level he reasons on?

Bloody hell.

# A Briffa’s Wrong

The other day I posted about Dr John Briffa’s rant against p-values. He has since then posted some responses, in the form of several comments under the original post and a whole new rant. Er, I mean, blog entry, of course. Not “rant”!

His thesis remains much the same: no matter what anyone does, since science can’t prove a negative, we can’t be sure MMR doesn’t cause autism. Which is true, but of course can be applied to any stupid hypothesis you care to come up with. In his recent post, which is called “Why the MMR-autism ’˜war’ is far from over”, he says

What I am saying though is that there’s a huge pile of anecdotal evidence and some experimental evidence too which supports the idea that MMR vaccination might cause autism.

This really isn’t true. The Cochrane Collaboration examined 139 studies about MMR (not all about MMR-autism) and concluded that

No credible evidence of an involvement of MMR with either autism or Crohn’s disease was found.

The evidence used to persuade us of the safety with regard to autism is simply inadequate. The fact is, I don’t know whether MMR causes autism or not. But then again, it seems neither do those who insist it is safe.

He also says

Now, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that those of the pro-vaccine lobby will want to claim that this blog is scaremongering by making out that MMR vaccination causes autism.

And while the reason that the debate rages on is usually put down to the likes of Dr Wakefield and the parents who believe their children were damaged by MMR, the real guilty parties here have been our Governments whose intransigence regarding proper, definitive research in the area has inevitably left a huge question-mark hanging over MMR.

That’s plain wrong. As I said in his blog comments (assuming that he hasn’t deleted them, although he’s been good to jdc’s, so I don’t want to imply that he will), it would be unethical to do that study: if the study group was large enough to show the effect (which even anti-MMR types claim is very rare, even when they’re demanding that all three of their children were hit by it) then you’re deliberately avoiding giving a potentially life-saving vaccination to at least hundreds of children, on the basis that a few ill-informed, untrained, tabloid-reading morons think there might be a risk. There’s no way that would ever get past an ethics committee.

You have to be a little bit detached and just accept that the so-called link between MMR and autism is, in fact, just made up. That doesn’t prove it’s false, but it puts its odds at much the same level as other made-up hypotheses, such as ‘cider causes shortness’ or ‘MRI scans cause blindness’. (I just pulled those out of thin air.) Doing huge studies to attempt to disprove things you’ve made up would be a tremendous waste of time, and that doesn’t change just because they were made up a long time ago by someone else and then relentlessly repeated by bad journalists and angry but unqualified mothers.

# A Quack and a Crank

The whole ‘bad-science blogs’ thing has given rise to an amusing retaliation movement of ‘bad science-blogs’ run by homeopaths. There’s a little network of them and they all link to each other and post approvingly about each other’s updates. I was put onto them by Blogging The Organon, wherein Gimpy posts sections of Hahnemann’s Organon (upon which homeopathy is largely based) one at a time and then people discuss them for a bit, then it descends into farce and the next chunk of Organon goes up. But of course, they’re clearly not as good, because they haven’t got a central aggregator website.

They all have names like “good science”, “suppressed science” and “remedy reality”, and they all update every few days about homeopathy. This is somewhat pointless, because homeopathy hasn’t changed since it was invented in the nineteenth century, except for the addition of a few extra remedies and the decision to start making their magic water using preposterous machines instead of dilution and succussion (which is fair enough since neither works anyway so you might as well do it the quick way). One of my favourites is Homeopathy4Health. I think it’s always a good sign when a website carries a disclaimer like this:

Disclaimer: I am not the owner of any website named homeopathy4health.

I think you have to question the mental state of someone who would say that at homeopathy4health.wordpress.com, under the name homeopathy4health. Many of the posts do at least allow public comments, although I’m given to understand there’s some censorship there. But some posts have no comments on them. An example is “Medicine: blind and in the dark?”, which is essentially a long attack on evidence based medicine for blinding studies. The anonymous author’s thesis seems to be that looking at more than one subject is bad because it means using “statistics which are incomprehesible to the lay person andÂ which are subject to statistical interpretation bias” instead of just looking at one patient and trusting yourself not to indulge in any confirmation bias. That, and

The foundations of the scientificÂ approachÂ are suspicion and doubt: both are deeply negative mental processes.Â  I am told thatÂ a good scientist should doubt his results as his first reaction; I would say that this is an unhealthy reaction in most normal situations: someone who doubts his reactions has poor intuition. Someone who is doubtful isolates themselves from experience. Suspicion causes peers to doubt each others results and slows progress.

Sceptics believe that the scientific method is the answer to medical problems, I am unconvinced.

That sounds like Biblical thinking to me. The whole idea of “negative mental processes” leading to negative outcomes sounds like something Master Splinter would say. But just as I was thinking he was crazy, I saw a link in his blogroll that put that into perspective. The “Freedom of Science” blog is proper crazy. Honestly, I’m not totally convinced it’s not an elaborate joke, although the archive goes back over a year and that’s dedication if it is. It’s inextricably linked with “Alphysics”, which I think is a joke, but is a rather stupid one written by a crank in the style of Facts For Life in an attempt to discredit physics by equating it — I think; it’s not clear — with alchemy.

It’s very telling: there’s always the chance that the author of Homeopathy4health genuinely has had the astonishing good fortune claimed, and that the range of symptoms described on the “about” page genuinely did vanish just after taking homeopathic remedies. I could see something like that being very convincing, and once you’re there it follows logically that anyone who dismisses it is being overly suspicious of it. But no amount of coincidental remissions could justify listening to the cranks at Freedom of Science (which really should be called Freedom From Science). It is a website devoted to “removing Newtonism from the education process”. It says, with no apparent trace of shame,

Physics is Newtonian religion. Physicists are priests who believe in Newton’s laws as their immutable faith. Physicists are the enforcers of Newton’s occult laws in the name of God.

Now I am a physicist and I’d be the first to tell you Newton’s laws are wrong. They’re wrong because they break down when you look at very small objects. They’re wrong because they’re an approximation to the truth; an expectation value. They’re wrong because they don’t account for relativity. But they’re not wrong because

Occult does not exist therefore Cavendish did not measure the Newtonian force.Â

“Occult” is the author’s favourite word to describe force:

Occult does not exist outside physics. Occult may be the official faith of physics and every physicist must believe in it as part of their professional faith but occult does not exist in nature.

This is especially vexing, since he says on the same page:

If we look at the Newtonian force closer we see that force is not really occult.

He is of the opinion that what he calls “physics” is actually a religion devoted to pushing Newton’s politics and never questioning his Laws:

In order to understand what force is a scientist must question it. A scientist, unlike physicists, is not bound by Newton’s authority. For a scientist there is nothing sacred about Newton’s arbitrary definitions. To understand force a scientist must take it apart and then put it back together. Since this is forbidden and illegal in physics a scientific investigator must look at the NewtonianÂ force from outside of physics.

It’s brilliant. The lengths some people will go to be wrong has never failed to astound me. I suppose it starts with one unshakable belief in something — homeopathy, Jesus, racism, whatever — or a fundamental and equally unshakable disbelief in something — relativity, vaccination, science, maths, the holocaust, whatever — and from there you quickly hit a contradiction. Clearly either your pet theory is wrong, or else something very sinister and slightly stupid is going on, and clearly the pet theory can’t be wrong, so you end up justifying it in increasingly moronic ways…

[Force] is a placeholder because it cancels. We cannot cancel radius R and Period T from R3 = T2. But if we write it as Newton did as

Force = R/T^2 = 1/R^2 = Force

we can cancel the superfluous terms of force. We can also write

Newton’s soul = R/T^2 = 1/R^2 = Newton’s soul.

Or

Newton’s wig powder = R/T^2 = 1/R^2 = Newton’s wig powder.

So planets may be powered equivalently by Newton’s force, Newton’s soul or Newton’s wig powder. The last two are as good as force.

Well done for proving we can give a quantity a different name, although the idea that if something cancels it must therefore be antique powdered starch is a rather strange one. Freedom of Science thinks that Newton’s Laws are just made up, and that the actual fundamental law at work here is Kepler’s Third Law, which he calls “Kepler’s Rule”. This is, you may remember, much the same idea that Mark McCutcheon utterly failed to defend when I emailed him.

The site is also hooked into a “wiki” (which is not a wiki at all — it uses Wikimedia but it’s not a wiki because, like with Homeopathy4health’s more preposterous claims, I can’t edit or comment on it) with similarly strange ideas:

We know that Newton started from Kepler’s rule and wrote it as

$\frac{1}{R^2}=\frac{R}{T^2}$

where R is the radius and T is the period of the orbit. Newton then multiplied both sides by a label he invented, mass, then labeled each side by another label he invented, force, and labeled each side Newton’s laws

This guy thinks that mass is made up. Indeed, he thinks this of all quantities which cancel out even if there are other equations from which they do not cancel. Mass cancels in discussion of gravitation because the gravitational force is proportional to mass and therefore acceleration, and therefore speed and position, aren’t affected by it. Force is a slightly redundant concept when discussing gravity, although it’d be hard to discuss electrostatics without it. Presumably, therefore, he would be happy to play my game: he drops a 4g mass on my head from a height of one metre. Then, I drop a 2-tonne mass on his head from the same height. Then, assuming he survives, I give him £50. See how strong his faith in a massless universe is.

Essentially, he’s angry with Newton because he’s replaced kÂ² with GM (when I learned this at school I never for a second imagined I’d hear even one person take umbrage with it, and here’s at least the second) and arbitrarily defined another quantity as “force”. He seems to consider this a pointless (and indeed politically motivated, although what the politic in question might be is unclear) obfuscation of Kepler’s elegant theory, which indeed it is, as long as you never want to discuss anything but planetary motion. The moment you want to discuss apples, Kepler’s Laws, brilliant as they are, just don’t apply. One of Newton’s greatest achievments was thinking in terms of general theories, rather than having one theory for planets and a separate Theory of Apples. Furthermore, introducing the concept of “force” (which we could always simply call “rate of change of momentum” which is a physically manifest quantity — although so is force if you want to talk quantum) means that we can then add three other forces and describe the whole of the universe, or at least what Richard Dawkins calls “Middle World”, in a few short equations. That has to be better than knowing how fast planets go, doesn’t it?

Well, you would think. But apparently there is what I shall generously term “some debate” about it.

# Religious Crackpot Of The Month â€” August 2007: Facts For Life

This month’s Religious Crackpot Thereof award goes to a crazy monk whom I met some months ago now. What? Don’t look at me like that; the Nobel Prizes are awarded to stuff that happened years before the date on the certificate. Besides, he was a Hare Krishna, and whoever heard of Hare Krishnas bombing someone for saying bad things about them? This crazy monk, whose name alas I do not know, spotted me when I was some distance away. I knew he was going to talk at me, but I thought, what the hell, what’s the worst that can happen?

# Dave Hitt Is A Twat.

I assume everyone here already knows that I think smoking in public is something that should be banned. Dave Hitt does not. But then, Dave Hitt doesn’t appear to think very much at all.

I found his website (The Hittman Chronicles — I swear, he calls himself “The Hittman”. It would be cute if he wasn’t a fully grown man) through a pro-smoking group’s website that I was looking to email because I’d seen their representative on BBC4 and he was demonstrably a moron. (He was consistently outwitted by a comedian. I think that politicians should be smarter than comedians but they persistantly prove to me that they are not. One wonders if we would be better off putting the comedians in charge for a while. The only problem is that of who’d do the comedy. Certainly politcians aren’t funny. Not on purpose, anyway.)

You may have noticed that both people I’ve mentioned so far who support smoking in public I have dismissed as morons. I want to mention that I don’t consider that they are morons because they disagree with me. In fact, it’s the other way around. They disagree with me because they are morons.

And now I shall prove that Dave Hitt is a moron. The page I was linked to on his website was this one. I don’t advise you bother actually reading it. That will just make you angry. I’ll give you the gist here: nobody can give me three names of individuals killed by passive smoking. Therefore nobody has been killed by passive smoking.

I touched on this issue before, but I thought it so clear why this argument is wrong that I left it to a six-word sentence in the comments section to explain it, but as at least one person is too stupid to understand it, I’ll spell it out more clearly. I spelt it out to him, too, and his response was to point out that studies of smoking were mostly inconclusive (and therefore, he presumably believes, any argument that reaches the same conclusion is valid). So I spelled it out again:

The “name three” defence is analogous to saying that someone who throws a six four hundred times in a row shouldn’t be accuse of using a loaded die because rolling a six is not that unlikely. Point to any given roll of that die and prove that it wouldn’t have come up six anyway. Can’t do it. But when you consider all 400 throws it’s obvious to anyone with half a brain that the die is loaded.

Whether or not the statistics show smoking is dangerous [the] argument is flawed.

You know what Dave Hitt said when I told him that? I swear this is a direct quote from his email which has not been altered to make him look foolish (in the same way that people don’t draw stupid moustaches on photos of Hitler):

That’s a semi-valid analogy. Yet, if SHS were so dangerous that it’s killed a million people in the past twenty years, why can’t the very people who make a living selling the dangers of SHS come up with three measly names?

Because there aren’t any, that’s why.

Clearly he has some kind of mental block, so I decided to remove smoke completely from the equation and try him on something he has no stated agenda in:

You appear to have once again completely missed the point of my email. I am left with no choice but to slowly and patiently explain it to you a third time. I shall try to use shorter words and an example this time around.

In Cornwall, the local granite pours radon gas into the air. This is radioactive. A study has shown that this causes about 1% of UK cancer deaths — about 1000 people per year. But since cancer doesn’t leave a calling card, it’s not possible to say which ones, becuase for any given cancer patient there is only about a 1% chance that it was caused by radon gas. (This chance is higher in places like Cornwall, but still not 100%.) For any given patient, the cancer is more likely to have been caused by something else. This means that it would be impossible to produce even one name of someone killed by radon gas. It would be impossible even to pinpoint the exact figure accurately. This does not mean the risk does not exist. It is a very real danger that kills a thousand people a year in the UK alone.

If you know as much about statistics as you seem (or claim) to, then you already know this and are refusing to acknowledge it out of sheer stubbornness, or possibly the fact that you don’t actually have any valid arguments to fall back on. It’s hard to say.

Your “people say passive smoking is dangerous but when I ask people to name three people it has killed all anyone can ever think of is Roy
Castle” argument is akin to saying “people say radon gas is dangerous but when I ask people to name three people it has killed all anyone can ever think of is Marie Curie”. It’s a stupid argument and you would be wise to abandon it.

And do you know what he said?

Ah, but does it? You have numbers to make that claim, but how accurate are they? How big was the sample size? Who paid for the study? Was it a
cohort study, a case control study, or a meta-analysis? Was the data gathered by survey or interview? Was it done in such a way that recall bias would be an issue? Was it repeated independently, with similar results? And most importantly, does it have an RR high enough to be concerned about?

He doesn’t quite understand the concept of an example, does he?

That’s irellevant. That study could be totally ficticious and still
serve as a good example.

And his response?

Wow. Again, just, wow. You think *making stuff up* proves things. No wonder you’re so gullible.

What an utter twat. And I consider that I’ve now proved he’s a twat.

For the sake of completeness, let’s have another proof:

Dave Hitt, in common with much of the world’s other anti-ban propaganda artists*, believes that any statistical survey that produces less than a 100% increase in risk is inconclusive. Passive smoking does not double the risk of cancer, and as such no (properly performed) survey could ever prove to that standard it is dangerous. “Some risks”, to use his words, “are just too small to measure.” He repeatedly asserts that smoking is safe, implicitly on the grounds that nobody has yet managed to prove that it isn’t, and dismisses any study that suggests that is isn’t as invalid.

So why does he get to make that claim when people who claim that it’s dangerous are expected to prove it? Well, he has a handy thing called the Burden of Proof.

The Burden Of Proof is a sort of logical-argument version of Godwin’s Law. Generally in my experience the first person to mention it should be excluded from the remainder of the debate. Here, he uses it to show that as the Smoking Is Dangerous camp spoke up first they should be the ones to prove their claim, and should be assumed to be wrong until they have done it. It should be clear to anybody with half a brain that who says what has no bearing on the truth they are trying to find.

And what the hell? One last proof:

Dave Hitt eventually admitted to knowing that the “name three” argument was invalid and continued to use it.

But that’s not the fun part. Oh my, no. The fun part is that he believes that valid conclusions can be drawn from invalid reasoning. I’m not limited by petty details like facts or logic or common sense. So let’s start the real Dave Hitt bashing…

Fact: Nobody I know can name three people that Dave Hitt has met and not immediately raped. Therefore there aren’t any.

Fact: Out of everybody that has ever met Dave Hitt, the number that actually like him is statistically insignificant. Therefore, it is unreasonable to assume that Dave Hitt caused them to like him. Probably they have confused him with somebody else.

Fact: Dave Hitt has a beard. Fact: At least three murderers had beards. Therefore Dave Hitt is a murderer.

Fact: CDs are a silicon based data storage medium. Therefore Dave Hitt is a twat. This argument makes no sense, but apparently I can still draw conclusions from it.

Fact: Nobody I know can name three of Dave Hitt’s brain cells. Therefore he doesn’t have any.

Fact: Well, you get the idea.

Look at my comments system, by the way. It’s good, isn’t it? You know what it does? It lets people post things onto the page itself, and I’ve never once deleted a comment for disagreeing with me. Dave Hitt’s website has his email address at the bottom. All emails go invisibly to him and he never publicly responds.

Essentially, what he’s doing is putting up a website full of lies with a “please give me feedback” link at the bottom, and then winding people up who exercise the option. What an utter twat.

*This sentence was updated in July 2007 to give less undue credence to this idea, which, it has come to my attention, is basically lies peddled by anti-ban lobbyists and other propaganda artists. Also, I feel I should mention that Hitt’s new “mini-blog” has much the same open comment system as my blog has, although his “name three” page still does not. (Also, a brief but important update for the foreign or otherwise ignorant: smoking has in fact been banned in public places in the UK now.)