Polly Toynbee And The Use Of Facts

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Over the years a number of us have made fun of Polly Toynbee’s approach to facts and evidence. There even used to be a blog called Factchecking Pollyanna, the archives of which are available here, with commentary.

To today’s example:

Aged five, I stood at the school bus stop in the great London smog of December 1952: no sunlight, fog so pea-soup thick we couldn’t see the bus to flag it down. Though as many as 12,000 died, good came of it. The Clean Air Act cured my wheezing winters of pre-penicillin bronchitis.

Polly was, from this evidence, born in 1947. Penicillin was generally available in the UK from 1946:

On 15 March 1945, Penicillin could be made available over the counter in US pharmacies, although it would not be available to British civilians – as a prescription drug – until 1 June 1946, the year after Florey and Chain received a Nobel prize for their work.

The availability of penicillin predates both the NHS and Polly. Thus she did not suffer pre-penicillin bronchitis, did she?

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Virusago
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Virusago

Well of course Tim is too young to remember this, but the notion that 5 year olds were prescribed penicillin injections for bronchitis in 1952 is laughable. There were more pressing uses when the troops came home, and it wasn’t available in pill form till 1956: ‘Penicillin and streptomycin were available when the NHS began but it was not known how they worked. Biochemistry and cell biology had not developed sufficiently for the underlying mechanisms to be understood. Syphilis and congenital syphilis were among the diseases conquered… The response of chest infections to antibiotics rapidly revealed a group of non-bacterial… Read more »

Virusago
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Virusago
Phoenix44
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Phoenix44

As an aside, Ross McKitrick has run the model used to claim lots of pollution deaths in the UK and Canda using the levels of pollution in Toronto pre-1970. Over 100% of people died.

Levels of things like particulate matter in the UK are 25-30% of what they were in 1970. SO we should be able to show tens of thousands of lives saved annually. But we can’t.

Londoner
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John B
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John B

Asthma has multiple causes, including pollen, stressful situations for example. It was around long before the Industrial Revolution. Claims that improvement of air quality wholly explains reduction of mortality overlooks other contributory factors such as better nutrition, better diagnosis and treatment and access thereto.

John B
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John B

Bronchitis means inflammation of the bronchial tubes which can be caused by various things. Penicillin would only be useful if caused by bacteriological infection. Irritation of the bronchi during London smog would be caused by carbon particles mostly… aka soot. Penicillin is of no use against soot.

jgh
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jgh

She also make a good shout-back to the “dirty air is killing us!!!!!” wailers. Dirty air? Have you never seen a 1950s London smog?

I bet PT is herself one of the wailers.

Spike
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Spike

You guys and your facts are throwing water on a pleasant Toynbee “narrative,” industry killing people and Parliamentary enactments saving them.