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« The wisdom of Solomon | Main | A challenge »

School fete

Today was the school fete. I was on carparking duty. Health and Safety has decreed that someone wearing a high-vis jacket must be in attendance at the carpark throughout the event. For the first hour, I was that person.

The fete began at 1pm. By the time I arrived at the carpark at 12:59, it was just about full, parents having proven remarkably adept at parking their cars without my assistance. This is perhaps not surprising as most of them use the carpark on a daily basis when they are on the school run.

Over the next hour I waved a few latecomers away and sat in the sunshine reading the newspaper. My high-vis jacket was quite useful as a cushion. I must have turned away about ten cars, most of which were subsequently parked in the road outside the carpark. I wasn't sure if my remit extended to the street so I left them to do this unassisted. They too seemed to manage quite well without me.

Later I went down to the fete itself. The tents had red and white tape tied to the guy ropes. This is apparently a rule laid down by Health and Safety. The scones were unbuttered, since this is not permitted by Health and Safety either. There were no sandwiches,since these apparently pose an unacceptable risk to the public.

The risk assessment had concluded that a tug of war is too dangerous so we didn't do that this year. I was reminded of the school sports day last week when parents were asked if anyone had safety concerns over their children taking part in the three-legged race. Apparently Health and Safety will be angry if this question isn't asked.

Strange day really.

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Reader Comments (60)

have a laugh at the conclusion being drawn from a stephen-schneider-associated "study":

Union of Concerned Scientists: New Study Reaffirms Scientific Consensus on Climate Change

21 June: Vancouver Sun: Mike De Souza: Study questions credentials of climate-change skeptics
The hundreds of academics who sign warnings for politicians to delay action on slashing greenhouse gas emissions do not have the same expertise as those who say human activity is causing global warming, says a new study to be released Tuesday in the Proceedings of the U.S. National Academy of Scientists…
The paper was authored by William Anderegg, a graduate student at Stanford University’s biology department, along with Jacob Harold, Stephen Schneider and Prall, in order to compare the discrepancy between mainstream media coverage of controversies or debates about global warming with the actual research in scientific journals…
The 1,372 academics were selected from scientific assessment reports as well as the prominent multisignatory public statements in support or against the mainstream theory. That list was then reduced to 908 researchers who had published at least 20 peer-reviewed papers on climate change science.
But the study found that the academics supporting the evidence that humans are causing global warming were more likely to be climate change scientists doing extensive research while the skeptics had produced less evidence to back up their claims. For example, more than 90 per cent of the climate scientists who supported the evidence had each published more than 20 peer-reviewed papers while about 80 per cent of the skeptics had published less than that amount…

Jun 22, 2010 at 4:13 AM | Unregistered Commenterpat

Because we are in the middle of our weekly summer and I am therefore fully occupied lying on a sunlounger, I simply lack the energy to write anything original, so I am nicking your excellent post, lock, stock and safety-labelled barrel, and reprinting it over at my place - with full acknowledgements, of course.

Jun 22, 2010 at 9:26 AM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Duff

Shub Niggurath: "Does the precautionary principle apply to the precautionary principle?... You know, like , what if we apply the precautionary principle and it triggers the very thing we are trying to be precautiously avoid?"

Yes, this is absolutely correct thing to ask. And the answer is, that following the precautionary principle in public policy matters will involve spending huge amounts of money (a) jumping at shadows, to try to correct things that are not real problems (b) taking actions which have no effect on these imaginary problems, but which do have bad effects on opportunity costs of dealing with real ones.

You can see all this in the CO2 fiasco. If there is only the slightest chance.... and so we start expensive schemes to bury our CO2 underground. This then turns out to be rather dangerous in itself, if done near cities, it does not solve the alleged problem of global warming, and the money we have spent is no longer available to deal with real threats to human well being, like water borne diseases.

Almost any general use of the precautionary principle in public policy will have this effect, because it is a policy of not examining the consequences of actions proposed. If you regularly act without making rational assessments, you will end up with huge wastes of public funds, and lots of unintended consequences. You will also forsake any way of distinguishing between competing alternatives, and will thus be left of picking the choices on ideological or religious grounds.

One can imagine the Church for instance arguing that if there is only the smallest chance that heavy use of contraception could damn a whole generation to eternal hellfire, surely we should ban it at once. Makes sense, doesn't it?

This is the essence of the PP, it is one of a number of ways of saying, pick this one, don't think about the consequences, just do it.

Jun 22, 2010 at 9:51 AM | Unregistered Commentermichel


I assume it was the same study reported on BBC radio this morning, which presented it as ‘most scientists confirm that man is responsible for some of the climate change’, presumably in the hope that the ‘some’ would get lost in the general clamour, or confused the the 90% figure also quoted (as ever) as the level of certainty.

It seemed noteworthy to me that the man-made component wasn’t quantified.

Jun 22, 2010 at 11:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

"Precautionary principle or Murphy's law?"

In my experience, Murphy has it every time. :-)

Jun 22, 2010 at 11:44 AM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

“That list was then reduced to 908 researchers who had published at least 20 peer-reviewed papers on climate change science.”

Ah, but which peers? :-)

I also recall the ‘100 authors against Einstein’ book and his splendid response: "If I were wrong, then one would have been enough.”

The science must be pretty thin if the ‘number of scientists’ argument is being rolled out. It sounds like the academic equivalent of ‘my Dad’s bigger than your Dad’...

Jun 22, 2010 at 12:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P


Jun 22, 2010 at 4:33 PM | Unregistered Commentermojo

caroline: "The school has provided sun hats which they must wear at all times outside - they had to wear these bloody hats while they were doing their races at sports day."

One of the worst things about this is that they are likely creating a school full of Vitamin D-deficient kids. Another case of bad risk evaluation -- the idea that you have to zero out any conceivable chance of a certain risk without considering any countervailing risks that may be introduced.

Jun 22, 2010 at 4:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterCurt

A few years ago, my father as headmaster of a small school near the Lincolnshire coast was required to submit their emergency action plan. One of the questions was what to do in the event of a tsunami.

I think his official response was that this element of the plan was unnecessary because the likelihood of the event was trivially small, and that in the event of a damaging tsunami occurring during school hours (and in the North Sea), no action by the scool would be of any practical use. His unofficial answer would not survive blog moderation.

Of the issues listed in the thread opening, I think putting visible markers on guy ropes is a good idea, mainly because I always trip over the .... things, however the rest just shows a complete lack of understanding of risk assessment.

Jun 22, 2010 at 4:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterIan B

Sam the Skeptic referred to a case where a swimmer was injured and got 'short shrift' from the judge. Tomlinson v Congleton ended up in the House of Lords, reported at;

Lord Hoffman is quite eloquent, especially in paras 40 through 44. From para 41: "I do not however regard the financial cost as a significant item in the balancing exercise which the court has to undertake. There are two other related considerations which are far more important. The first is the social value of the activities which would have to be prohibited in order to reduce or eliminate the risk from swimming. And the second is the question of whether the Council should be entitled to allow people of full capacity to decide for themselves whether to take the risk."
and in para 46: ". My Lords, as will be clear from what I have just said, I think that there is an important question of freedom at stake. It is unjust that the harmless recreation of responsible parents and children with buckets and spades on the beaches should be prohibited in order to comply with what is thought to be a legal duty to safeguard irresponsible visitors against dangers which are perfectly obvious. The fact that such people take no notice of warnings cannot create a duty to take other steps to protect them."

In other words, Nanny state piss off.

He also gives an stunning example of how one judge calls another an idiot: " I find it difficult to express with appropriate moderation my disagreement with the proposition of Sedley LJ ....."

Sounds sooo much better than "That's just bloody WRONG!".

Apropos 'elf and savin': "But May LJ said robustly that it was for the court, not Miss Kirkwood, ( (the Water and Leisure Safety Consultant to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) to decide whether the (defendant) Trust was under a legal duty to take such steps. There was no duty because the risks from swimming in the pond were perfectly obvious."

All of which leads to the proposition that the proper answer to the 'elfs' and their enablers: Piss off, it's not for you to decide.

Jun 25, 2010 at 3:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterDyspeptic Curmudgeon

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