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Work in the media? Struggle with statistics? Stan's irreverent (and often irrelevant) review of the latest media reports, news and gossip may not help at all... Stan the Statistician

Stan # 74: Over-population October 2003

It has always surprised me that as many of the World's problems stem from over-population, the subject rarely makes the news. In the UK for example, there is a constant stream of news, features, discussions, interviews, research reports and so on, about how to resolve issues concerning the crumbling National Health Service, traffic congestion, decrepit railways and other infrastructure, lack of land for new housing etc. Of course, it's not rocket science, but if the population was reduced, there wouldn't be a need for more roads, more housing and so on. Why has there been no debate?

Well, Sir David Attenborough has opened the batting. He said, "Instead of controlling the environment for the benefit of the population, maybe we should control the population to ensure the survival of the environment." He warned of a potential global disaster without controlling the population growth.

The Optimum Population Trust, an academic group, wants to put population reduction at the heart of government policy. It believes that Britain should seek to reduce its population from its present 59m to about 30m - about the same as the population in 1870. It wants economic incentives for women to stay childless, free contraception, a balanced approach to immigration and a government population reduction policy. New projections show that Britain could have up to 73m people by 2050. By this year, the World's population is expected to grow from 6b to 9.5b.

So in spite of the efforts of various tyrants and disease, the population is still growing. Too much bonking. That's all there is to it. However, we should all be aware that trends never carry on in the future as they have in the past. Only this week, I read a report about the demise of the Y chromosome, the one that chaps have. Unless action is taken to resolve the issue, there will be no more men in 125,000 years. Male infertility is on the increase. I understand that 3% of all men have such damage to their Y chromosome that they can't father kids.

The mole vole seems to have solved the problem by natural means and we may by ingenuity, but a World of just women...... What would happen to the last handful of chaps left? Would lesbianism become de rigeur? Would women turn into men as happens with some species? What would be the social consequences? I'm not going to speculate but I invite you to discuss it with members of your own sex. Discussing it with the opposite sex can only lead to a reduction in the population.

One linguistics afficionado has been motivated to respond to my piece on Japanese. He tells me that the phenomenon of noun-specific counting (measure) words is not restricted to Japan.

This is true of - and probably originated with - Chinese languages and some notable examples can here be mentioned by my "most loyal sinologist":

A fish is, of course, just a fish but for Mandarin speakers it's bad form to mention them without the 'measure' word 'tian'. So, a fish is NOT a fish but 'yi tian yu' (one fish), or two fishes 'er tian yu', 'yu' being 'fish'.

Things are more complex with beer (as perhaps we all appreciate). Two beers are different to one (as we also all probably know). So one beer is 'yi ge pijou' whereas two are 'liang ge pijou'. 'Ge' is the measure word, but two beers require a special plural indicator 'liang'. Often 'ge' is dropped to put in the word for 'bottle', hence 'liang ping pijou' being 'a pair of beer bottles', or two beers - a useful phrase for the thirsty traveller.

'Ge' is, in fact, a general measure word for those of us who don't know better that 'zhang' is for tickets (or rectangular thin things), 'tiao' is for fish-shaped things, 'ben' for books.

Elongated cylindrical objects take the word 'zhi'. Pronounced 'gee!' by eager female American tourists in China if it is sufficiently impressive.

A propos of which, the erstwhile premier and General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party was called 'Deng Xiao Ping' which jokingly has been translated as 'Deng Little-Bottle'. Perhaps that was an ironic comment on his cylindrical object?

Check in again at my desk soon!

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