Sunday, January 31, 2010

Objective Reality Rules on cell-phones and H1N1!

Last October 31st I wrote a blog titled Arbitrariness, confusion, fear and panic about Ontario's new hand-held cell-phone ban and the H1N1 scare; and since both have been in the news lately I'd like to revisit them.

The cell-phone ban has been in effect for about three months, but police have been issuing warnings until now. Starting tomorrow (Feb.1, 2010) the grace period is over and each offence will cost $125 to anyone caught using a handheld cell-phone or texting in Ontario. My own very unscientific observation has been that people are still using these devices while driving but are being very discrete about it; which may be aggravating the problem. Of course the ban was put in place because our political leaders want to protect us, and based on “scientific data” that shows distractions like cell-phones impair driving ability, and banning them was politically opportune. Do the outcomes support this action?

A report last week from the American Insurance Institute for Highway Safety suggests that such laws are ineffective. The report titled: Laws banning cell-phone use while driving fail to reduce crashes, new insurance data indicate compares insurance claims in four US states before and after a cell-phone ban and compares these states to nearby jurisdictions where there is no ban. One would expect more insurance claims prior to a ban than after, that did not happen. One would expect more insurance claims where there are no bans compared to where the bans are enforced, that did not happen. All of this data was analyzed and controlled for a multitude of variables that insurance company bean-counters are famous for. The up-shot is that such bans have little or no effect in making driving safer. So will the laws be repealed? Democracy mob-rule dictates no.

As for H1N1, talk about a tempest in a teapot, even I was caught up in the hype about this thing. The last time Swine Flu caused such a caused such angst was 1976 and it looks like we were fooled again. Someday these recurrent “cry wolf” refrains will come back and bite us in the ass.

Last time virtually the entire Swine Flu kerfuffle took place in the US after a young soldier at Fort Dix New Jersey died and four of his comrades were hospitalized of what was reported as an H1N1 strain similar to the one that caused the 1918 Flu Pandemic. The resulting mass-vaccination program caused a paralyzing neuromuscular syndrome in at least 500 individuals with possibly 25 fatalities.

This time the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a Pandemic Alert and predicted 2 billion cases of H1N1 and hundreds of thousands of deaths. So far around 15 000 have died world wide, far less than any normal flu season.

The Council of Europe is investigating whether WHO officials faked the pandemic to boost drug revenues for CSL Limited, GlaxoSmithKline, and Roche. Conspiracy anyone?


  1. Would you own and use a hands-free cellphone if it meant a reduction in your insurance premiums?

    Regarding H1N1, will you retract your conspiracy claim if it is found that drug companies did not significantly influence scientific recommendations?

    To my knowledge there has been no increase in Guillan-Barre syndrome as a result of the H1N1 vaccination (according to a neurologist, all instances of this syndrome are being VERY closely watched for any correlation/causation). Although the flu was less dangerous than expected I anticipate that future outbreaks will have better information once the science of genetic mapping ramps up.

  2. Answers:
    Give it some time, lets see.

  3. GBS ?

  4. As the article points out, no one really knows if their GBS was caused by the vaccine. With an incidence rate of 1-2 per 100,00 and York Region's population of 1,000,000 one would expect 10-20 cases of GBS yearly. Since sick people go to hospitals, it's not surprising two people in the same hospital have GBS (wouldn't it make sense to put people with the same symptoms in the same room?).

    I also recommend reading the wikipedia entry on GBS (

  5. Agreed. But my point in writing about H1N1 is just to underline how much conjecture is involved with "science based information". Here was a perceived crisis where (huge) resources were spent with questionable results and possible negative effects. See where I'm going with this?
    Things need to be put in perspective - was that the best way resources could be spent? Is it possible that good science can be distorted by media/political hype. I think so.

  6. "science based information" - Are you suggesting there is a better way than using evidence and analyzing it? I can think of no other way of obtaining information then through a science-based method.

    "resources were spent with questionable results and possible negative effects" - Every decision has this risk. We are not virologists but the H1N1 virus had the potential to be extremely serious - what if it had?

    "Is it possible that good science can be distorted by media/political hype" - Absolutely! AGW is the perfect example. The 'scandals' were promoted by the media and politics and, one by one, have been shown to be overblown or false.

  7. No of course there is no better way to analyse evidence than the scientific method. But that doesn't mean we need to be "governed by it". I don't believe in technocracy. Because science is a process not all the facts are known (ever?). There is always disagreement among scientists, often the lone dissenter is most correct. H1N1 is a perfect example of a technocratic solution to a problem made worse by politics and special interest groups at the expense of tax payers.(
    As for AGW, its the same kind of problem only worse because its bigger(more money to be made for special interest groups) with more dissenters and more unknowns. AGW has the potential to add another level of government to the too many levels we already have. A level of government more distant and less accountable than what exists now in Canada. That is the bigger danger.