Shorter articles and bulletins


Older articles can be found in the SIRC Archive list.


Fattened statistics. Recent media coverage of levels of obesity among children in Britain continues to inflate the scale of the phenomenon by using statistical methods that are fundamentally flawed. The Guardian, for example claimed, on the basis of data from the Health Survey for England (HSfE), that "26.7% of girls and 24.2% of boys [aged 11-15] qualified as obese." And yes, that is what the short release from the NHS Health and Social Care Information Centre said as well. The problem is that these figures are based on the now outdated UK National BMI standards for defining obesity in children — cut-off points that have been described by leading experts in the field as 'arbitrary' and 'confusing'.

Reality TV food policy. The Secretary of State for Education and Skills, Ruth Kelly, seems to have received a achieved a boost to her popularity after she announced that from September 2006 'junk food' will be banned from the nation's school canteens. Riding on the wave of interest/disgust generated by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver's TV series, which featured the now infamous Turkey Twizzler style of catering, she had earlier announced, just 6 weeks before the last election, that the government had found an extra £280million to plough into 'improvements' in children's diet. This, according to Kelly, had nothing to do with the TV programmes – the government were going to that anyway she claimed, much to most people's disbelief. Her more recent conversion to the food activists' cause also looks suspiciously like another populist, knee-jerk reaction than an evidence-based approach to policy. Out will go 'poor quality' burgers and sausages, to be replaced with low-fat, low-sugar, low-salt alternatives. And no, our nation's children will no longer be able to indulge themselves with a fizzy drink of bar of chocolate because these will also be noticeably absent from the school vending machines.

An epidemic of confusion. One of the fundamental premises that guides thinking and research at SIRC is that people have the right of access to accurate and balanced health and lifestyle information, on the basis of which they can make informed decisions about how they lead their lives. They may choose, of course, to ignore the evidence and its implications. In liberal democracies we must concede that people are entitled to have bad habits. But when the facts are clearly and fairly presented they cannot claim that they have acted in ignorance or have been misled.

Obesity and the factsNew Study Questions True Prevalence of Childhood Obesity.
Claims of obesity 'epidemic' are not supported by evidence … 'Hype and exaggeration' of data may result in inappropriate health interventions. Beliefs that childhood obesity is at epidemic levels and is rising exponentially are no more than unsupported speculation, according to recent data from the annual Health Survey for England 2003, published by the Department of Health on December 14th 2004, and analysed by the Oxford-based Social Issues Research Centre.

Know Your PlaceHeadmap manifesto and the spatialised internet revolution.
"there are notes in boxes that are empty.
every room has an accessible history
every place has emotional attachments you can open and save
you can search for sadness in new york"
Headmap manifesto
No, these words are not bad poetry. Nor are they song lyrics. They aren't even from an advertisement for mobile phones. They form part of a technological vision of the future, heralding an age in which our spatial experiences can be overlaid with a rich layer of information – images, text, sound – through GPS capable mobile WiFi devices and a lot of community spirit. This is the Headmap manifesto, an exploration of the technological, and more importantly the social, potential of an 'outside internet' – external, spatialised computing.

The desire for desiresWhy reports of the death of boredom have been greatly exaggerated. Our frantic attempts to avoid boredom uphold a lucrative corner of the entertainment industry, while the variety of books, websites, TV programmes and videos aimed at children and called "Boredom Busters" suggests that ennui has no age restriction. This is no new development — obsessive texting is hardly on a level with watching lions rip gladiators to shreds for entertainment, and, as the British public seem to be moving on to a stage where fox-hunting is no longer seen as a justifiable, fun diversion, we must be doing something right. However, some pundits have recently pointed out that obsessive avoidance of boredom (apart from being quite dull in itself — have you ever tried to have a decent conversation with an extreme sports enthusiast?) denies access to the certain kind of mental space which boredom brings and in doing so leaves us creatively and spiritually malnourished. In other words, boredom is becoming 'a lost art form'.

"Love e, Love e not…" Why the UK's ambivalence towards new technologies should be treasured. Looking around any crowded train carriage in Britain, one would be justified in thinking that our culture has whole-heartedly embraced the benefits of mobile technology. Letting your loved ones know that yes, you are on the 5.20pm train and shall indeed be home for dinner, is now nationally recognised as a token of responsibility rather than a mindless waste of money and privacy…However, recent studies on British attitudes to new technologies, including workplace IT and home mobile technology, suggest that as a demographic we are deeply suspicious of new developments.

Policy Analysis Market and the Political Yuck Factorwhy Americans shied away from a geopolitical futures market. The Pentagon unit DARPA (Defence Advanced Research Projects Unit), almost immediately after the WTC attack, formulated a plan for an on-line market in Middle-East futures, hoping that the lure of massive financial rewards for correct bets on, say, the likelihood of a biochemical attack on Israel, would attract investors with genuine inside information. The market, known as the Policy Analysis Market, or PAM, never got off the ground. Democrat politicians in the Senate uncovered the plan in July 2003 and it was dropped amid public outcry.

Poverty and obesity. Amidst the disoriented casting around for culprits and simple solutions, driven hard by media hype, it was refreshing to read in the Observer a thoughtful article by David Smith that for once dealt with some of the real issues underlying the rise in obesity — poverty and disadvantage.

Authenticity and the New Realism. At a time when Christian Dior make woolly hats and a vacuous celebrity's plastic breasts are headline news, the hunt for authenticity can seem a bit like a fool's crusade.

How deep is your ecology? The post-Enlightenment Western worldview is a fairly easy scapegoat for social problems of any ilk. Indeed, the individualist, patriarchal, optimistic outlook can be blamed for many things, from the historical subordination of women to the state of modern pop music. The assumption that the "Western" thought perspective does not allow for true experience or insight is simply false and idealistic.

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