Sunday, 28 July 2013

Ragwort is actually decreasing in the UK.

There has been a lot of activity recently on twitter and this tweet is rather typical.

Believe me it is no different in the Midlands. Ragwort everywhere, increases every year!
Well actually we know that ragwort is DECREASING in the UK. How do we know that?
Well there has been a survey and contrary to the propaganda we see regularly in the press it shows a decrease. This is a proper government survey  using proper methods to ensure accuracy.

One of the problems is that people have been making things up about ragwort  these have been drawing attention to ragwort unnecessarily. This then leads to a well known phenomenon in psychology sometimes called the "Recency effect" or the "Baader Meinhoff phenomenon" ( after a researcher noticed it happening with research on the terrorist group). This phenomenon is where something is drawn to your attention that was there all along, but you think it is commoner because you now notice it.

I myself have noticed this. There is a plant called Brachyglottis grayi. It is a close relative to ragwort and contains the same alkaloids. It is planted commonly as a shrubby flower all over the place. It never causes any problems despite it containing those alkaloids that cause such panic when described in lurid terms in the press.
I didn't notice it for years until I noticed how similar the flowers are to ragwort and looked it up.
Now it seems to be common everywhere. I know I have been missing it because it has been in several places that I visit regularly and being a shrub it doesn't grow up overnight. On the way to a local library that I visit most weeks and in a planter outside a local supermarket where I buy food several times a week. Indeed I have been eating snacks outside on a bench right next to a large shrubby plant for several years, without realising.

I also want to say that I have really good proof ( and I mean proof) that Defra's advice contains serious mathematical flaws and the advice they give out is really poor.  To put it briefly, and I will have more to say, they are extrapolating from an unrepresentative sample for poisoning statistics (and a seemingly unreliable source anyway) so they have their maths wrong and because this is mathematics is one of the few areas where you can be absolutely black and white about it.

We have the science now to show that they have been taking advice from rather suspect sources. Any serious scientist knows anyway that you should get your information from evidence not from government departments.

A lot of this is being prepared for the web.It is fairly clear from the first principles of science but being methodical about ragwort  I have spent many hours firing off emails to experts around the world and pouring over scientific papers on psychology, evolutionary biology, enzymeology , statistical methods and  toxicology to ensure accuracy and it will be on-line soon.

In one case Defra have accepted evidence without checking from a source who has also claimed that Ragwort is a problem in South Africa. The experts there tell me they have no evidence that our ragwort grows there!

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