100% chance

On the 29th of April 2016 The Times published the following article:

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A cynical scientist would immediately say that this is the usual fallacy at work: collect data, find a correlation, and then assume that causation works in the direction that gets you more citations, more press coverage, better headlines and bigger research grants. After all (he would say) what is more reasonable than that the sort of person who is too feeble to cope with life and retires early to relieve the strain is also the sort of person who will die sooner than the rest of us?

In this case the scientist would be wrong. The lie here is much more obvious than that.

What chance does the Editor of The Times have of dying? It does not take a medical examination to prove that it is 100%.

What chance do you have of dying? It is 100%.

I am also 100% certain to die.

What the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, as reported by The Times, is saying is that some people are different from us. They either have an 11% smaller chance of dying – 89% chance of death, 11% of living for ever – or an 11% greater chance, making them more than certain to die. Interesting, but also nonsensical.

The Times is a paper of record. What The Times says is true. When kings die, they do it in The Times.

With authority comes responsibility. This means not printing obvious nonsense. And in this case there is no excuse, because even the proverbial “Arts graduate intern” knows that death comes to us all. The only reason for publishing an article dominated by an obvious false statement – even if the article is a short one – is cynical contempt for the reader. Anything at all will do, as long as it fills the space.

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