Archive for the 'ethics' Category

Statistics are the bread of life

mickeymThe old adage about the drunkard and the lamp post is the truest thing that can be said about statistics. I say this as a regular user of the TGI survey, which is really a hat full of fairy dust when in the hands of a classy magician.
I was once asked to provide evidence that would support two conflicting views about a consumer group, which is possible if you add more weight to, say, an index rather than an actual percentage.
Yes, statistics can be bullshit, as any Daily Mail reader will tell you.
Here are some good ones, which have the twin benefit of being made up and totally plausible:

Did you know:

  • More than 98 percent of convicted criminals are bread eaters!
  • Exactly half of all children who grow up in bread – eating households score in the bottom 50% on standardized IQ tests!
  • In the 19th century, when virtually all bread was baked in the home, the average life expectancy was less than 55 years; infant mortality rates were unacceptably high; many women died in childbirth; and diseases such as typhoid, scarlet fever, smallpox and influenza ravaged entire nations!
  • Statistics show that more than 75 % of violent crimes are committed within 24 hours of eating bread!
  • Bread is made from a substance called “dough.” Researchers have proven that as little as one pound of dough can choke a large animal like a horse. The average person eats more bread than that in one month!
  • Bread is known to be extremely addictive. Subjects deprived of bread and given only water, actually begged for bread after just two days!
  • Bread is a “gateway” food item, which usually leads to such items as butter, jam, peanut butter and even … bacon!
  • Bread has been proven to kill. Scientists have now uncovered alarming evidence that 100% of the people who eat bread will eventually die!
  • Unattended newborn babies can choke on bread!
  • Bread is baked at temperatures as high as 425 degrees Fahrenheit ! Don’t laugh…that kind of heat can kill a full grown adult in less than five minutes.
  • 96% of cancer victims eventually admit that they’ve eaten bread!
  • Sadly, 9 out of 10 bread eaters are unable to distinguish between significant scientific fact and meaningless statistical babbling.

These wonderful numbers are provided by a commenter on this irate blog post.


Blowing the dust off GM

Our complicated relationship with food is something to monitor closely over the next year. The GM issue is one that we’ll be seeing more of.
I’ve always found certain aspects of the environmental debate unsavoury. It struck me, by merely observing audience reactions on political panel shows, how any argument that was made against the green ethics movement was turned against the sceptic and that person all but labelled a pariah.
Of all the behavioural changes caused by the credit crunch, I’m hoping that a positive one will be a willingness to hear all sides of the argument that previously (when we had more disposable cash and could afford a large baggage of trendy ethics) went unheard during those “debates.”
There was an excellent piece in one of last week’s Financial Times about Genetically Modified food. What’s striking is the almost complete lack of any GM agriculture in Europe, compared to its ubiquity on the other side of the Atlantic.
What’s seldom pointed out about the US experience is that over there – surely the most litigious nation on the planet – GM has been part of the landscape for a decade and despite the anti- arguments, there have been no successful class action suits demonstrating that they’ve caused people harm. And this is a country with a population of over 300 million.
Although we’re still going to watch out for those food miles, there will be an erosion of hard-line attitudes against GM when it hits home that this technology will mean cheaper food (and, if certain ethics are hard to discard, it’s realised that GM can mean more third world farmers can grow more of it too).
Of course it is possible that the anti-GM protesters are right. But until the average consumer has been given the real facts – the scientifically proven ones – by both sides, the UK and Europe will have to get used to seeing those supermarket bills rise.

Oldies just wanna have fun

It’s one of those delicious coincidences. Both stories appeared in most of yesterday’s papers, but nobody made the obvious connection. At last: a genuine news story almost supports the findings of a survey.
Story 1: Over 70’s are having more sex.
Story 2: Max Mosley’s S&M orgy amuses the High Court.
OK, minor flaws in the argument are that Mosley is a sprightly 68, and the sex survey says the women are enjoying it more than the men.
But it is interesting how our newspapers treat our seniors as media freaks if they don’t conform to the carpet slippers stereotype. At the very least, one should respect them for their spending power.

Give us a sign

The Church of England’s getting hammered again. As I write, there’s an almighty dingdong on BBC Radio 5 as the liberal wing of the Church take on the traditionalists over the issue of women bishops.
This coincides with talks of a schism brought about by the position of gay clergy in the Church. There’s loads more going on, and quite frankly I can’t figure out the logic knots because, as a confused atheist baptised in two churches (CofE and Greek Orthodox), it’s impossible to identify the theological facts (“God says…” “What the Bible really means is…”).
It was sometime in the 1960s that our old authority figures – parents, police, teachers, politicians, doctors, nurses, and, of course, clergymen – began to experience a combined aura slippage. Somehow we got to a position where these figures could no longer be regarded as infallible. Obedience now seems such an old-fashioned word, practically devoid of meaning.
In an increasingly secular society, the inconsistencies of religious dogma make theological argument appear nonsensical (Yes, I have read That Book by Prof. Dawkins).
That’s the crux of the CofE’s problem: it’s suffering from moral relativism where all points of view carry equal weight. Which clergy are right? What does “right” mean?
Here’s my solution.
Instead of being a little bit wrong on most things, it needs to be extremely wrong on just a few. Outlaw women clergy. Ostracise the gay. Start beating the children. These are the old-fashioned, Old Testament values that’ll appeal to the rapidly re-conservatising financially-stretched, worried lower and middle classes. The CofE is going to have to behave like a radical niche brand with a very strong appeal to a very angry but large minority. It could even advertise in the Daily Mail.
Meanwhile, I’ll be down the pub.

Find the fluff, kill it, then rip it apart

Something interesting’s happening to our ethical compass. There was a time (not very long ago) when any criticism of the woolly concept of “Green” would have been met with howls of derision and contempt.
I venture that the Green Ethic had, for a while, the trappings of a fundamentalist religion: dogma supported by dubious factual claims and backed by a strong-armed army of the self-righteous.
It seems to me that this cloud of green fluff is now being ripped apart. There’s now a willingness to focus on the individual issues that populate the Green agenda. Some stand up to scrutiny, some don’t.
This is surely a good thing, because our well-meaning actions will only be of benefit if we act on evidence rather than fear.
The current economic situation is the main driver, although there are some other influences. There are several recent examples of counter-arguments challenging the old assumptions such as GM crops coming back on the agenda, consumer behaviour changing as the credit crunch bites, organics losing their virtuous aura, scepticism growing over climate change causes, and the arguments for nuclear energy getting stronger.
OK, these stories are very selective, but there’s definitely more debate.

Self-important bit

I’m Victor Houghton, a, er... something or other in one of the UK’s largest advertising agencies. My job title has a comma in it, which is embarrassing. I’m the chief finder-things-outer with a splash of trends who is lucky to work with all the major functions of the agency, even though I am most closely associated with strategic planning. Everything in this blog has most probably been stolen from other, infinitely more talented people, although the opinions are most definitely my own and not those of the agency.



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