How to Scare People with Statistics

In a similar vein to the below, and reading like an abridgement of one of my favourite books:


Step 1. Start with data that shows a positive trend, like this DOT highway fatality data that shows that the traffic fatality rate is at the lowest level ever recorded. This article states the correct conclusion at the top:

The fatality rate on the nation’s highways in 2003 was the lowest since record keeping began 29 years ago, the U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta announced today. The number of crash-related injuries also dropped to a historic low in 2003.

“America’s roads and highways are safer than ever,” said Secretary Mineta. “The decreasing number of traffic fatalities and record low death rate on our roads shows that we are headed down the right road ” one that leads to a safer America.”

But don’t worry, we can find ways to make this data sound scary, as if it means just the opposite.

America, Terrorism and the Power of Nightmares

I remember September 11th 2001 for a variety of reasons – it came towards the end of my first major motorcycle holiday, it was the last time I visited a particularly intelligent, gorgeous, and sport-crazed Cambridge PhD ex-girlfriend, and it was the time whilst walking back from a Cambridge bookshop to unchain my motorbike that a complete stranger walked-up to me and said Terrible thing about America, isn’t it? and pointed me into the nearest pub.

Whilst the buildings were still burning, I thought many things:

  • Were my friends and colleagues OK?
  • Given that transatlantic phonelines would be jammed, how could I use the ‘Net to find out?
  • Who was likely to be behind it?
  • How would the Americans react?
  • How would the Americans react?

It struck me that having suffered the Oklahoma City bombing a few years previously, there would be a seed of doubt as to the identity of the terrorists – a possibility that they might be homegrown. This uncertainty would probably be enough to prevent some dramatic, Clancy-esque, knee-jerk reaction.

I don’t know at what point in the upper echelons of US Government was the finger of blame first definitely pointed at Saddam Hussein Usama Bin Laden, but however tragic the reason I do treasure the fact that politicians were forced by circumstance to stop and think about what they were doing, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

Watching the events unfold, one thought that I can hand-on-heart swear never entered my mind was My God, I’m Scared, It Could Happen Here Too; this sang-froid I attribute to getting all my Oh my god I am mortal and could quite possibly die young! angst out of the way in the early (Cold War / Reagan / Brezhnev) and mid (IRA bombing London) 1980s[2].

With this in mind, I watch what I believe to be reasonably expert emotional manipulation of the mob and media (both American and British) with some horror; I found this post-Republican-convention video both illustrative and amusing, and I look forward to an upcoming programme on BBC2 – for which I saw the trailer tonight, although I am yet to find a proper page regarding the content:


The Power Of Nightmares – The Rise Of The Politics Of Fear

How fear of terrorism has come to dominate politics around the world A new series, from acclaimed film-maker Adam Curtis, tells the story and examines just how far that fear is based on an illusion
Wednesday 20 October on BBC TWO

Of course there is rarely any mileage in telling people they are being hoodwinked, but we cynics might as well enjoy it all now so we can do the I Told You So thing in a few decades.

Unless they kill us first, of course.


  • [1] Sun had offices in the second tower; as it was the only Sun employee to be killed by those terrorist events was an acquaintance, Phil Rosenzweig, a fellow ex-SunLabs geek with whom I was on chummy terms.

  • [2] Student humour applied to that era: a fellow Astronomy student at UCL who once walked into a petrol station in a combat jacket, with a balaclava only half-pulled over his head, an empty milkbottle in one hand, asking the attendant in his extremely heavy native Armagh accent: Ah, could I borrow a hanky, please? – before legging it.

    In modern-day America, I suppose he’d quite possibly get shot for pulling that sort of prank.

First flush of “Designed for Firefox” pages appearing?

I barely know whether to giggle or cry – for many years I have been vexed by “This page best viewed using Internet Explorer at 800×600” pages, and now in a fit of turnabout-is-fair-play Mike Werner writes:


As off this weekend, I’ll be viewing and testing all articles only using Mozilla’s FireFox web browser !! That, because a) too many problems & security issues in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and b) Firefox is faster, lighter and better.

That does NOT mean that this site will not work with Explorer. It will, but sometimes, things may be out of alignment since Explorer is not 100% HTML standards compatible!

So do yourself a favor, and get Firefox. You can run both browsers on your PC with no problem so don’t worry about getting rid of Explorer. You’ll see it’s not big and runs faster, and it’s free !! Try it…..

I can’t say I am surprised – in fact, I should say that I am downright sympathetic with Mike’s situation – and being of the this page best viewed with any anything that does a decent job of rendering baseline HTML brigade, I won’t welcome it when it arrives… but all that aside, I will still be tickled pink when some aggreived webgeek first starts creating “best viewed using Firefox” web-pages.

In fact:


Untitled Page
… the column. 30th Aug. (C) the small print Best viewed using Firefox or IE
v.5 or higher using a resolution of 800 x 600 or better. – 46k – Cached – Similar pages

– it looks like that day is already here.

Funny thing is, I use Safari.

deconstrutionalist decomposing

detritus of derrida dispersing: []

adminshop …

So this is how I am receiving all this referrerspam, both for pr0n and for itself; the pity for them is that I don’t publish referrer data so it all goes down a black hole…


Reffy is a Windows-based mass referrer spammer, which means that it will make a connection to a buttload of sites of your choosing with any referrer URL and User-Agent that you specify. This accomplishes several things. Firstly, it generates webmaster traffic from webmasters checking their referral statistics. Secondly, it boosts your link popularity and thereby your Google PR, because a lot of sites have public referral stats with linked entries. Reffy operates on textfiles with URL-lists, and a textfile of 3047 active blog websites which you can use to start getting free traffic and PR right away is included!


Isn’t it a small world?

It’s definitely a small world – at the weekend I scanned back through the postings listed on [] and found several, from various colleagues, praising a music video done by Sarah McLachan.

On a whim – having time, energy, and DSL bandwidth to spare – I click the link and watch the video

I think to myself: I know that face. I know that song. I’ve seen it performed.

Stone me if it’s not the girl who came in as the unscheduled, unannounced warm-up act for Mull Historical Society at the London ICA earlier this year.

Deeply cool.

New Toy On Order …

…delivery TBD.