Reporter 421, 27 May 1998


Freedom of choice

Dr Peter Knapp
Research School of Medicine

Dr Hendrie (Reporter 419) may be right in his assertion that smoking offers protection against the onset of Parkinson’s disease. As with any other activity beneficial to health (such as having a flu jab, using a condom, wearing a parachute) the point is that I should be able to choose whether or not to take up the opportunity for protection. As a non-smoker, the current University policy on smoking areas does not allow me that choice.

Addictive subject

Dr Colin Hendrie
School of Psychology

Dr D L Cairns (Reporter 420) makes the assumption, in common with many non-smokers, that smokers choose to smoke. This may have been the case at one point in their lives. However, once addicted, smoking is no longer an act of will but a physiological requirement.

The US tobacco industry has been forced to pay many billions of dollars in compensation to the addicts it has created in recognition of this. Smokers may however choose when and where to smoke. No-smoking areas are by and large respected, as the rights of the non-smoker are not questioned. However, the needs of the smoker cannot be ignored in consequence.

The suggestion that the University makes provision for smokers, as it does for drinkers, is not ‘spurious’ as suggested by Dr Cairns. Working efficiency is impaired by the absence of nicotine in smokers and by the presence of alcohol in drinkers. Alcohol intoxication also represents a health risk to non-users (road traffic accidents, crimes of violence, etc) that is many times greater than that associated with negligible periods of passive smoking.

The strongest case for banning any single legal drug on the basis of its effects on the public health of non-users is against alcohol. There is no argument in favour of allowing smoking in shared offices where all do not smoke. However, this is far removed from making no provision for smokers whatsoever. Smokers have a need, non-smokers have a right. The case for segregation from those who would put their rights above others’ needs is a strong one.

More maths

Dr Eric Wallace (retired)
Department of Pure Mathematics

I was equally fascinated by Dr Rastall’s letter (Reporter 419) and his concluding problem. If only he had been at school a little earlier he might well have had the great fortune to be introduced to the fascinating Higher Algebra by the celebrated authors H S Hall and S R Knight (first printed 1887). Using this he would easily find that in general there are infinitely many solutions to the equations, which can be expressed as: a=16k+117, b=656-37k, c=1454+21k where k can take any integer value.

However, his real-life problem requires a, b, c to be positive, and this restricts k to lie -7 and 17. For example,
k=-7 gives a=5, b=915, c=1307
k=17 gives a=389, b=27, c=1811

Two values of k giving results close to Dr Rastall’s approximate solution are:
k=6; a=213, b=434, c=1580
k=7; a=229, b=397, c=1601

I should be delighted to let Dr Rastall (and any other reader) have a more detailed copy of the solution! (May I also recommend the 300 miscellaneous examples in Higher Algebra.)

The last word

Dr Richard Howells
Institute of Communications Studies

I have been fascinated by the mathematical gymnastics which seem to have resulted from the Reporter’s coverage of my research paper on the RMS Titanic.

For the record, the numbers and percentages of those saved is as follows: First Class, 203 out of 325 (62.46%); Second Class, 118 out of 285 (41.40%); Third Class, 178 out of 706 (25.21%); Crew: 212 out of 885 (23.95%). Total: 711 out of 2,201 (32.30%).

Although some scholars today dispute the minutiae of these figures, these are the numbers accepted by the British Board of Trade inquiry into the sinking in 1912. Whichever figures we accept, however, the underlying pattern is the same.

A full discussion of class and the Titanic will be found in my forthcoming monograph: – The Myth of the Titanic – available from all good bookshops and, hopefully, some pretty bad ones as well.

Best foot forward

Pat Brewster
Medical and Dental Library

I have just had to clean my shoes yet again after crossing the Chancellor’s Court via the gravel path which runs diagonally across it. A fresh load of gravel has been spread over it recently – this is a regular occurrence – and it is very heavy going in consequence.

What is wrong with a paved path? This is after all a main thoroughfare, not a garden feature, and it would make life easier for all of us, and our shoes, if we didn’t have to wade through waterlogged gravel to get to work.

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