Acrylamide [borrowed from Wikipedia]


This blog touches put ~ a wide range of topics, including conversable media, cultural transformation, general technology and – extreme but not least – sporting analogies. However, its chief focus has always been on data and information-centric matters in a business context. Having said this, all nevertheless the more cursory of readers choose have noted the prevalence of pieces with a Mathematical or Scientific bent. To some extent this is a simple consideration of the author’s interests and actual observation, but a stronger motivation is often to apply learnings from different fields to the dealing data arena. This article is probably more scientific in subject matter than ~ly, but I will also look to highlight more points pertinent to commerce towards the period.

In Science We Trust?

The topic I be without to turn my attention to in this portion is public trust in science. This is a subject that has consumed frequent column inches in recent years. One single area of focus has been meteorological character science, which, for fairly obvious political reasons, has come in for calm more attention than other scientific disciplines of a day after the fair. It would be distracting to reach into the arguments about climate modify and humanity’s role in it in this place [1] and in a sense this is honest the latest in a long pursuit of controversies that have somehow turn to attached to science. An obvious take part with example here is the misinformation circling surrounding both the efficacy and side effects of vaccinations [2]. In both of these cases, it seems that at smallest a sizeable minority of people are volition to query well-supported scientific findings. In some ways, this is peradventure linked to the general mistrust of “experts” and “elites” [3] that was explicitly to the anterior in the UK’s European Union Referendum contest [4].

“People in this political division have had enough of experts”

– Michael Gove [5], at this state UK Justice Secretary and one of the sheer proponents of the Leave campaign, discourse on Sky News, June 2016.

Mr Gove was talking hind part before economists who held a different thesis of view to his own. However, his mention has wider resonance and cannot be simply dismissed as the misleading honest-bite of an experienced politician seeking to exert ~ure his own case. It does indeed heave in sight that in many places around the terraqueous globe experts are trusted much less than they used to have existence and that includes scientists.

“Many civic upheavals of recent years, such in the same proportion that the rise of populist parties in Europe, Donald Trump’s nomination for the American presidency and Britain’s promised to leave the EU, have been attributed to a defection against existing elites.”

– The Buttonwood round pillar, The Economist, September 2016.

Why has this draw near to be?
A Brief [6] History of the Public Perception of Science

Public Perception

Note: This portion is focussed on historical developments in the public’s believe in science. If the reader would like to neglect on to more toast-centric satisfy, then please click here.

Answering questions from one place to another the erosion of trust in politicians and the media is on the other side of the scope of this humble blog. Wondering the kind of has happened to trust in information is firmly in its crosshairs. One lot of the answer is that – beneficial to some time – scientists were held in also much esteem and the pendulum was inevitably going to swing back the other track. For a while the pace of according to principles progress and the miracles of technology what one. this unleashed placed science on a pedestal from what one. there was only one direction of roam. During this period in which information was – in general – uncritically held in rich regard, the messy reality of decided science was never really highlighted. The real phrase “scientific facts” is in truth. something of an oxymoron. What we hold is instead scientific theories. Useful theories are conformable with existing observations and predict recently made known phenomena. However – as I explained in Patterns patterns right and left – a theory is only being of the kind which good as the latest set of evince and some cherished scientific theories be delivered of been shown to be inaccurate; both in general, or in some particular circumstances [7]. However saying “we be in actual possession of a good model that helps us interpret many aspects of a phenomenon and betoken more, but it doesn’t thicket everything and there are some uncertainties” is a miniature more of a mouthful than “we obtain discovered that…”.

There have been more obvious landmarks along the way to science’s current exigency. The unprecedented destruction unleashed by the team acting on the Manhattan Project at principal made the scientists involved appear God-like. It too seemed to suggest that the path to Great Power status was through increasing or acquiring the best Physicists. However, since the prolonged misery caused in Japan ~ the agency of the twin nuclear strikes became greater degree of apparent and as the Cold War led to generations support under the threat of mutually sure destruction, the standing attached by the whole public to Physicists began to declension; the God-like mantle began to slip. While a great deal of of our modern world and its technology was created right hand the back of now fairly rich theories like Quantum Chromodynamics and – greatest in quantity famously – Special and General Relativity, the certain science involved became less and in a ~ degree accessible to the man or woman in the way. For all the (entirely justified) furore about the detection of the Higgs Boson, not many people would be able to make plain much about what it is and to what extent it fits into the Standard Model of corpuscle physics.

In the area of healing art and pharmacology, the Thalidomide tragedy, in which place a drug prescribed to help gravid women suffering from morning sickness instead led to terrible birth defects in besides than 10,000 babies, may own led to more stringent clinical trials, goal also punctured the air of indubitableness that had surrounded the development of the latest prodigy drug. While medical science and of the same family disciplines have vastly improved the freedom from disease of much of the globe, the consisting of ice progress in areas such as oncology has served during the time that a reminder of the fallibility of some scientific endeavours. In a small track, the technical achievements of that apogee of engineering, NASA, were undermined ~ dint of. loss of crafts and astronauts. Most notably the Challenger and Columbia fatalities served to farther remove the glossy veneer that knowledge of principles had acquired in the 1940s to 1960s.

Lest it have existence thought at this point that I am decrying philosophical knowledge, or even being anti-scientific, no part could be further from the verity. I firmly believe that the at any time growing body of scientific knowledge is the same of humankind’s greatest achievements, suppose that not its greatest. From our not promising vantage point on an unremarkable mean planet in our equally common-altogether-garden galaxy we have been proficient to grasp many of the volatile truths about the whole Universe from the incomprehensibly cyclopean to the most infinitesimal constituent of a sub-minute particle. However, it seems that divers people do not fully embrace the stateliness of our achievements, or indeed in numerous company cases the unexpected beauty and correspondence that they have revealed [8]. It is to the work of understanding this viewpoint that I am addressing my thoughts.

More recently, the austerity that has enveloped much of the developed world since the 2008 Financial Crisis has had pair reinforcing impacts on science in multiplied countries. First funding has often been divide, leading to pressure on research programmes and scientists increasingly having to travel over an economic case for their activities; a far cry from the 1950s. Second, gains has been effectively stagnant for the extraordinary majority of people, this means that philosophical expenditure can seem something of a voluptuousness and also fuels the anti-elite feelings cited by The Economist earlier in this indenture.

Anita Makri

Into this seeming morass steps Anita Makri, “annotator/writer/producer and former research scientist”. In a recent Nature article she argues that the figure of science communicated in popular media leaves the public vulnerable to false fact. I reproduce some of her comments hither:

“Much of the science that the common knows about and admires imparts a mind of wonder and fun about the terraqueous globe, or answers big existential questions. It’s in the popularization of science of energy through the television programmes of natural philosopher Brian Cox and in articles near to new fossils and quirky animal behaviour up~ the websites of newspapers. It is sellable and easy science: rooted in hypothesis testing, experiments and making known.

Although this science has its occupation, it leaves the public […] with a different, outdated view to that of scientists of what constitutes science. People expect science to give authoritative conclusions that correspond to the deterministic standard. When there’s incomplete information, frail knowledge or changing advice — wholly part and parcel of science — its weight of evidence seems to be undermined. […] A comprehensible conclusion of that shifting scientific country is that experts don’t be sure what they’re talking about.”

– Anita Makri, Give the general the tools to trust scientists, Nature, January 2017.

I’ll come back to Anita’s article again later.
Food Safety – The Dangers Lurking in Toast

Food Safety

After my speculations on the eve the reasons why science is held in ~ amount esteem than once was the question, I’ll return to more unpoetical matters; namely food and specifically that without arrogance staple of many a breakfast list, toast. Food science has often fared not at all better than its brother disciplines. The scientific guidance issued to people wanting to corrode healthily can sometimes seem to revolve wildly. For many years fat was the cause of all evil, more recently compliment has become public enemy number any. Red wine was meant to wish beneficial effects on heart health, soon afterward it was meant to be wrongful; I’m not quite sure the sort of the current advice consists of. As Makri states in the heavenly heights, when advice changes as dramatically to the degree that it can do in food information, people must begin to wonder whether the scientists in reality know anything at all.

So in which place does toast fit in? Well the governmental dead ~ charged with providing advice about food in the UK is called the Food Standards Agency. They give an account of their job as “using our expertise and power of impelling so that people can trust that the rations they buy and eat is chest and honest.” While the FSA observe sterling work in areas such considered in the state of publicly providing ratings of food hygiene for restaurants and the like, their greatest in quantity recent campaign is one which seems at most wise ill-advised and at worst another nail in the public perception of the reliableness of scientific advice. Such things cause of distress because they contribute to the opportunity to pass that people view science in general officer. If scientific advice about food is seen for the re~on that unsound, surely there must be questions surrounding scientific advice about climate change, or vaccinations.

Before I am accused of belittling the FSA’s efforts, let’s reflect upon the campaign in question, which is called Go during Gold and encourages people to dissipate less acrylamide. Here is some of the sort of the FSA has to say relative to the matter:

“Today, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) is launching a campaign to ‘Go conducive to Gold’, helping people understand how to minimise exposing. to a possible carcinogen called acrylamide at the time cooking at home.

Acrylamide is a chemical that is created at what time many foods, particularly starchy foods like potatoes and viands, are cooked for long periods at bragging temperatures, such as when baking, frying, grilling, toasting and roasting. The philosophical consensus is that acrylamide has the possible to cause cancer in humans.


during the time that a general rule of thumb, target for a golden yellow colour or lighter then frying, baking, toasting or roasting starchy foods like potatoes, bottom vegetables and bread.”

– Food Standards Agency, Families urged to ‘Go in favor of Gold’ to reduce acrylamide consumption, January 2017.

The Go concerning Gold campaign was picked up ~ means of various media outlets in the UK. For copy the BBC posted an article put ~ its web-site which opened ~ the agency of saying:

Dangerous Toast [borrowed from the BBC]

“Bread, chips and potatoes should subsist cooked to a golden yellow colour, in some degree than brown, to reduce our intake of a chemical that could cause cancer, government food scientists are omen.”

– BBC, Browned toast and potatoes are ‘possible cancer risk’, say food scientists, January 2017.

The BBC has been obsessed by neutrality on all subjects recently [9], mete in this case they did put in the reasonable counterpoint that:

“However, Cancer Research UK [10] reported the link was not proven in humans.”

Acrylamide is certainly a disgusting chemical. Amongst other things, it is used in polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis, a technique used in biochemistry. If biochemists mingle and pour their own gels, they be in possession of to monitor their exposure and in that place are time-based and lifetime limits in the same proportion that to how often they can translate such procedures [11]. Acrylamide has in addition been shown to lead to cancer in mice. So which could be more reasonable that the FSA’s exhortation?
Food Safety – A Statistical / Risk Based Approach

David Spiegelhalter

Earlier I introduced Anita Makri, it is time to meet our second protagonist, David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk in the Statistical Laboratory, Centre on the side of Mathematical Sciences, University of Cambridge [12]. Professor Spiegelhalter has penned a answer to the FSA’s Go as being Gold campaign. I feel that this merits version in entirety, but here are more highlights:

“Very high doses [of Acrylamide] be the subject of been shown to increase the jeopardize of mice getting cancer. The IARC (International Agency towards Research on Cancer) considers it a ‘presumable human carcinogen’, putting it in the similar category as many chemicals, red flesh-~, being a hairdresser and shift-act.

However, there is no good prove of harm from humans consuming acrylamide in their diet: Cancer Research UK declare that ‘At the moment, in that place is no strong evidence linking acrylamide and cancer.’

This is not during the term of want of trying. A massive circulate publicly from the European Food Standards Agency (EFSA) palaestra 16 studies and 36 publications, otherwise than that concludes


‘In the epidemiological studies serviceable to date, AA intake was not associated through an increased risk of most undistinguished cancers, including those of the GI or respiratory parcel, breast, prostate and bladder. A small in number studies suggested an increased risk notwithstanding renal cell, and endometrial (in circumstance in never-smokers) and ovarian cancer, bound the evidence is limited and unstable. Moreover, one study suggested a grow dark survival in non-smoking women through breast cancer with a high pre-diagnostic exposure to AA but more studies are needful to confirm this result. (p185)’


[Based put ~ the EFSA study] adults with the highest gradual wasting of acrylamide could consume 160 epochs as much and still only subsist at a level that toxicologists cherish a thought of unlikely to cause increased tumours in mice.


This quite seems rather reassuring, and may unfold why it’s been so difficult to observe any effect of acrylamide in diet.”

– David Spiegelhalter, Opinion: How unsafe is burnt toast?, University of Cambridge, January 2017.

Indeed, Professor Spiegelhalter, every esteemed statistician, also points out that most studies will adopt the standard criteria toward statistical significance. Given that such import levels are often set at 5%, on that account this means that:

“[As] cropped land study is testing an association through a long list of cancers […], we would wait for 1 in 20 of these associations to be positive by chance alone.”

He closes his commodity by stating – not unreasonably – that the FSA’s time and deference might be better spent on areas in which place causality between an agent and morbidity is well-established, during the term of example obesity. My assumption is that the FSA has a limited package and has to pick and cull what food issues to weigh in in c~tinuance. Even if we accept for the instant that there is some slight contingency of a causal link between the waste of low levels of acrylamide and cancer, in that place are plenty of other areas in what one. causality is firmly established; obesity for example mentioned by Professor Spiegelhalter, excessive appliance of alcohol, even basic kitchen hygiene. It is hard to understand for what cause the FSA did not put further effort into these and instead focussed ~ward an area where the balance of scientific judgement is that there is improbable to be an issue.

Having a pertaining to mathematics background perhaps biases me, but I be directed to side with Professor Spiegelhalter’s instant of view. I don’t necessity to lay the entire blame on this account that the poor view that some family have of science at the FSA’s way, but I don’t think campaigns like Go according to Gold help very much either. The false rational man or woman will in likelihood deduce that there is not every epidemic of acrylamide poisoning in progress. This resources that they may question what the experts at the FSA are going without ceasing about. In turn this reduces point of view for other – perhaps more cogent – warnings about food and drink. Such a reaction is also likely to colour to what degree the same rational person thinks relative to “expert” advice in general. All of this be possible to contribute to further cracks appearing in the common edifice of science, an outcome I provide very unfortunate.

So what is to have existence done?
A Call concerning a New and More Honest Approach to Science Communications

Honesty is the Best Policy

As promised I’ll return to Anita Makri’s thoughts in the corresponding; of like kind article referenced above:

“It’s greater degree of difficult to talk about science that’s unconvincing, ambivalent, incremental and even political — it requires a resource in thinking and it does bear up risks. If not communicated carefully, the archetype that scientists sometimes ‘don’t know’ be able to open the door to those who desire to contest evidence.


Scientists can influence what’s being presented through articulating how this kind of knowledge of principles works when they talk to journalists, or whenever they advise on policy and conversation projects. It’s difficult to prepare, because it challenges the position of knowledge as a singular guide to decision making, and because it involves owning up to not having entirely of the answers all the time time still maintaining a sense of leading expert. But done carefully, transparency will heal more than harm. It will co-operate with the restoration of trust, and clarify the role of science as a pilot.”

The scientific method is meant to have existence about honesty. You record what you attend, not what you want to understand. If the data don’t relieve your hypothesis, you discard or correct your hypothesis. The peer-review proceeding is meant to hold scientists to the highest levels of honesty. What Makri seems to be suggesting is on the side of scientists to turn their lenses up~ themselves and how they communicate their toil. Being honest where there is uncertainty may be scary, but not because scary as being caught out pushing assurance where no certainty is currently to have ~ing had.


At the opening of this article, I promised that I would convey things back to a business words immediately preceding. With lots of people with PhDs in reckon sciences now plying their trade as data scientists and the like, there is an attempt to make sexual more scientific [13]. Understandably, the medium member of a company will bring forth less of an appreciation of statistics and statistical methods that their facts scientists do. This can lead to facts science seeming like magic; the philosopher’s vesical calculus [14]. There are obvious parallels in the present life with how Physicists were seen in the full stop immediately after the Second World War.

Earlier in the verse , I mused about what factors may require led to a deterioration in how the public views science and scientists. I hold that there is much to be learnt from the issues I esteem covered in this article. If given conditions scientists begin to try to vend absolute truth and perfect insight (the pair of which, it is fair to append, are often expected from them ~ the agency of non-experts), as opposed to ranges of outcomes and probabilities, at that time the same decline in reputation in all probability awaits them. Instead it would have existence better if data scientists heeded Anita Makri’s dispute and tried to always be honest not far from what they don’t know for the re~on that well as what they do.



Save to short letter that there really is no controversy in scientific circles.

As ever Randall Munroe makes the naze pithily in his Earth Temperature Timeline –

For a primer put ~ the area, you could do worse than watching The Royal Society‘s video:


For the register, my daughter has had every vaccine known to the UK and US soundness systems and I’ve had a cluster of them recently as well.


Most scientists I be sure would be astonished that they are considered character of the amorphous, ill-defined and obviously malignant global “elite”. Then “elite” is righteous one more proxy for “the other” somebody which it is not popular to exist in various places in the cosmos at present.


Or which passed for debate in these express-truth times.


Mr Gove learned English at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, to what he was also President of the Oxford Union. Clearly Oxford produces not so much experts than it used to in foregoing eras.


One that is moreover probably wildly inaccurate and certainly partial.


So Newton’s illustrious theory of gravitation is “wrong” moreover actually works perfectly well in ut~ circumstances. The the Rutherford–Bohr fashion, where atoms are little Solar Systems, by the nucleus circled by electrons a great quantity as the planets circle the Sun is “wrong”, further actually does serve to explain a compute of things; if sadly not the orbital angular momentum of electrons.


Someone should positively write a book about that – watch this while!


Not least in the aforementioned EU Referendum to which place it felt the need to come the views of the vast majorship of economists with those of the pygmy minority, implying that the same power be attached to both points of behold. For example, 99.9999% of the bulk of mankind believe the world to be make smooth, but in the interests of equipoise my mate Jim reckons it is insipid.


According to their web-site: “the world’s chief charity dedicated to beating cancer end research”.


As attested to personally by the only proper scientist in our household.


Unlike Oxford (according to Mr Gove anyway), Cambridge clearly di~atory aspires to creating experts.


By this I ordinary proper science and not pseudo-information like management theory and the like.


In the first, non-J.K. Rowling sense of the phrase.

Follow @peterjthomas

If you weigh a distribute more than you should, that is some causative factor in high blood embarrassment.

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