While I was offline for a month, I kept a note of any links and news stories worth commenting on. Now that I’m back, I’m aiming to post two short items a day here, about stuff that happened during my online absence, until I’ve cleared the backlog. This is one of those.
A new study has revealed that commenters to online newspapers often haven’t paid any attention to the article they’re discussing.
Well, this isn’t actually the conclusion of any published study (that I’m aware of), but it quickly becomes apparent from this page in the Guardian.
Matt Parker, a mathematician formed when both the creators of South Park got into Jeff Goldblum’s teleporter at the same time, put out a press release recently, noting the connection between the prevalence of mobile phone masts and the number of births in certain areas. These data show that, where you find more masts, you can expect to find more babies being born.
There is absolutely no evidence, however, that the phone towers have any kind of influence on birth rates.
The correlation between masts and baby count is real, and it’s definitely there, but there’s no direct causal link between the two. In fact, it’s just that the masts tend to be constructed in built-up and highly populated areas – areas which also, simply by dint of numbers, tend to reproduce themselves in greater quantities as well.
People who failed to make this distinction included a number of mainstream media outlets, about half of the people who commented on Matt’s article (where he even explained exactly what he was doing and why the causal relationship was not a conclusion he was seriously proposing), and possibly even the Guardian headline writer (unless I’m not giving them enough credit and they were just being very deadpan).
So it’s mostly a story about how depressing the state of news reporting is. But a lot of people were incensed enough to put their name to a dissenting opinion, clearly having not read the article, either trying to rationalise the fictitious hypothesis or angrily rebutting it. And some of these are worth enjoying.
If a mobile phone mast is in an urban area, it’s most likely to be in poor estate where people have more children at a younger age.
If this study holds up then it’s in strong support of the existing scientific evidence that low-level radiation from mobile-phone masts do cause biological effects.
To say that there is no element of causality at work between the number of phone masts and the birth rate is thus a leeeeeetle bit strong.
It is easier to have sex when talking on a mobile phone, than when talking on a fixed line phone.
Everyone’s got it the wrong way round completely. Obviously the babies are building the masts: more babies, more masts. Simple!
So birth rate increases in the presence of large erections?
(Yes, before you point it out, I think some of them may have been less than serious.)