Author Archives: Richard Gill

Re-launch of the Bureau of Lost Causes

The BOLC is back. 10 years ago (in 2010) the Dutch nurse Lucia de Berk was acquitted, at a retrial, of a charge of 7 murders and 3 attempted murders at hospitals in the Hague in a number of years leading up to just a few days before the memorable date of “9-11”. The last murder was supposed to have been committed in the night of September 4, 2001. The next afternoon, hospital authorities reported a series of unexplained deaths to the health inspectorate and to the police. They also put Lucia de B., as she became known in the Dutch media, onto “non-active”. The media reported that about 30 suspicious deaths and resuscitations were being investigated. The hospital authorities not only reported what they believed to be terrible crimes, they also believed that they knew who was the perpetrator.

The wheels of justice turn slowly, so there was a trial and a conviction; an appeal and a retrial and a conviction; finally an appeal to the supreme court. It took till 2006 for the conviction (a life sentence, which in the Netherlands is only terminated when the convict leaves prison in a coffin) to become irrevocable. Only new evidence could overturn it. New scientific interpretations of old evidence is not considered new evidence. There was no new evidence.

Yet already, in 2003-2004, some people with an inside connection to the Juliana Children’s Hospital were already getting very concerned about the case. Having spoken of their concerns, in confidence, with the highest authorities, but being informed that nothing could be done, they started to approach journalists. Slowly but surely the media started getting interested in the case again – the story was not anymore the story of the terrible witch who had murdered babies and old people for no apparent reason whatsoever except for the pleasure in killing, but of an innocent person who was mangled by bad luck, incompetent statistics, and a monstrous bureaucratic system which once in motion could not be stopped.

Among the supporters of Metta de Noo and Ton Derksen were a few professional statisticians, because Lucia’s initial conviction had been based on a faulty statistical analysis of faulty data supplied by the hospital and analysed by amateurs and misunderstood by lawyers. Others were computer scientists, some were civil servants at high levels of several government organs appalled at what they saw going on; there were independent scientists, a few medical specialists, a few persons with some personal connection with Lucia; and friends of such people. Some of us worked quite intensively together and in particular worked on the internet site for Lucia, building an English language version of it, and bringing it to the attention of scientists world-wide. When newspapers like the New York Times and The Guardian started writing about an alleged miscarriage of justice in the Netherlands involving wrongly interpreted statistics, supported by comments from top UK statisticians, the Dutch journalists had news for the Dutch newspapers, and that kind of news certainly got noticed in the corridors of power in the Hague.

Fast forward to 2010, when judges not only pronounced Lucia innocent, but actually stated in court that Lucia together with her colleague nurses had fought with utmost professionality to save the lives of babies which were unnecessarily endangered by medical errors of the medical specialists entrusted with their care. They also mentioned that just because the time of a death of a terminally ill person could not be predicted in advance, it did not mean that it was necessarily unexplainable and hence suspicious.

A few of us, exhilarated by our victory, decided to band together and form some sort of collective which would look at other “lost causes” involving possible miscarriages of justice where science had been misused. Aready, I had turned my own research activities to the burgeoning field of forensic statistics, and already I was deeply involved in the Kevin Sweeney case, and the case of José Booij. Soon we had a web-site and were hard at work, but soon after this, a succession of mishaps occurred. Firstly, Lucia’s hospital paid for an expensive lawyer to put pressure on me on behalf of the chief paediatrician of the Juliana Children’s Hospital. I had namely written some information of some personal nature about this person (who coincidentally was the sister-in-law of Metta de Noo and Ton Derksen) on my home page at the University of Leiden. I felt it was crucially in the public interest to understand how the case against Lucia had started and this certainly had a lot to do with personalities of a few key persons at that hospital. I also wrote to the hospital asking for further data on the deaths and other incidents in the wards where Lucia had worked, in order to complete the professional independent statistical investigation which should have taken place when the case started. I was threatened and intimidated. I found some protection from my own university who actually paid expensive lawyer fees on my behalf. However, my lawyer soon advised me to give way by removing offensive material from internet, since if this went to court, the hospital would most likely win. I would be harming the reputation of rich persons and of a powerful organisation, and I would have to pay for the harm I did. Secondly, on some ordinary internet fora I wrote some sentences defending José Booij, but which pointed a finger of blame at the person who had reported her to the police. That was not a rich person, but certainly a clever person, and they reported me to the police. I became a suspect in a case of alleged slander. Got interviewed by a nice local policeman. And a few months later I got a letter from the local criminal courts saying that if I paid 200 Euro administrative fees, the case would be administratively closed.

This led to the Bureau of Lost Causes shutting down its activities for a while. But it is now time for a come-back, a “re-boot”. In the meantime I did not do nothing, but got involved in half a dozen further cases, learning more and more about law, about forensic statistics, about scientific integrity, about organisations, psychology and social media. The BOLC is back.


The BOLC has been dormant for a few years, but now that the founder has reached official retirement age, he is “rebooting” the organisation. Richard Gill founded the BOLC on the eve of nurse Lucia de Berk’s acquittal in 2006. A group of friends who had been closely associated with the movement to get Lucia a fair retrial decided that they so enjoyed one another’s company, and had learnt so much from the experience of the past few years, that they wanted to try out their skills on some new cases. We rapidly ran into some serious problems and temporarily closed down our website, though activities continued on several cases, more experience was gained, a lot was learnt.

We feel it is time to try again, having learnt some useful lessons from our failures of the last few years. Here is a rough outline of our plans.

1. Set up a robust formal structure with an executive board (chairman, secretary, treasurer) and an advisory board. Rather than calling it the scientific advisory board as is common in academic organisations, it should be a moral and/or wisdom advisory board, to be kept informed of our activities and to let us know if they think we are going off the rails. 

2. Possibly, make an application to become a foundation (“Stichting”). This means we will also be something like a society or a club, with an annual general meeting. We would have members, who might also like to make donations, since running a web site and occasionally getting into legal trouble costs money.

3. Write about the cases we have been involved in during recent years, in particular: alleged serial killer nurses Ben Geen (UK), Daniela Poggiali (Italy); allegations of scientific misconduct in the case of the PhD thesis of a student of Peter Nijkamp; the case of the AD Herring test and the quality of Dutch New Herring; the case of Kevin Sweeney.

RIP Bill van Zwet

The photograph above was taken by me at my summerhouse (i.e., an allotment garden with a comfortable large shed) in Leiden, exactly 9 years ago, with Jerry Friedman, Jacqueline Meulman, and Willem. It is early evening and we are enjoying a choice single malt and some tasty snacks. Jacqueline is wearing a t-shirt with the logo designed by me of our new master programme “Statistical Science for the Life and Behavioural Sciences”.

Below I am, for the time being, just posting a large collection of photographs sent in by a number of Bill’s old friends. I will also later add some of the comments they made in their emails. I will perhaps also add some personal remarks in the near future.

Before the many photo albums contributed by Bill’s friends, here is a link to a Zoom commemoration hosted by myself, which started one hour after the start of Willem’s funeral. Participants: Maryse Loranger, Richard Gill, Estate Khmaladze; Friedrich Götze and his wife, Marie-Colette van Lieshout, Nick Fisher; Peter Grunwald, and Ildar Ibragimov (who later managed to switch on his webcam); later arrivals were Ronald Cramer and Steffen Lauritzen:

The file is 207 MB mp4; duration 35 minutes; 5 minutes silence at ca. 25 – 30 min., when Zoom briefly fails us. You can also watch it on YouTube:

And now to the photographs. First of all, three sets of pictures taken by Chris Klaassen, starting with Willem’s 75th birthday celebrations:

Chris Klaassen, Willems 80th birthday celebration, Leiden:

Chris Klaassen, Willem’s 80th birthday event in Utrecht:

David Mason:

Friedrich Götze:

Jacqueline Meulman and Maarten Kampert:

Marie Huskova:

Marta Fiocco:

Nick Fisher:

Niels Keiding:

© Niels Keiding

Peter Bickel:

Richard Gill:

Rudi Beran:

Sara van de Geer:

Stephen Stigler:

Vera Wellner:




Don’t be so impatient. All will be explained, in due time. In fact, time, and associations in space and time, is what this posting is all about.

Firstly, the *image* is the album art of the eponymous Joy Division album [I so love using the word “eponymous”!]. If you really do want to listen to it, here’s a YouTube link:

I warn you, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

Secondly, I have to tell you that last Monday I gave a Zoom talk at the dept. of physics at the Jagellionian University, Kraków; in a seminar series, hosted by my friend Jarek Duda. The announcement said that the talk (on quantum foundations, and in particular on the issues of time in Bell’s theorem) would start at 17:00 hours Warsaw time and for some days I was under the misapprehension that I would give (and later, had given) a virtual talk in Warsaw. Kraków, Warsaw, … I have wonderful memories of a number of fascinating Polish cities.

While preparing my slides I belatedly learnt that two or three months previously Boris Tsirelson (Tel Aviv) , one of my greatest scientific heros, had passed away in Basel, aged 70. One year older than me. (His family originally came from Bessarabia – nowadays more of less Moldavia. More holocaust connections here). Boris’ whole approach to Bell’s theorem, and not just his famous inequality (the “Tsirelson bound”), had always deeply resonated with me. I felt devastated, but also inspired.

Actually when I was asked if I would like to make a contribution to the J U Kraków seminar, the provisional title of my talk, and its initial “abstract”, referred to “Bell-denialists”. Of course I was thinking of one of my current Bell-denialist friends (recently referred to as my “nemesis” by another one of my friends, but I think of him more as an inspiring sparring partner) Joy Christian. So there comes the word “Joy” again. Those who are not fans of English post-punk of the late 70’s and early 80’s might like to confer with Wikipedia, to find out what historical organisation was alluded to in the name of the band The lead singer, Ian Curtis, famously committed suicide at the very young age (for suicidal rock stars) of 23. He certainly was a “troubled young man” … . See the very beautiful movie “Control” directed by the Dutch photographer Anton Corbijn

Coincidentally, today I saw the announcement of a new paper by my quantum friend Sascha Vongehr, “Many Worlds/minds Ethics and Argument Against Suicide: for Emergencies and Evaluation in Long Term Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Outcome”, on viXra, There are actually some very fine papers on viXra!

But I digress, as is my wont. Here are the slides of my Kraków talk, and of a sequel (next Monday, 17:00 hours, Warsaw time!), [Moved to Tuesday in connection with Easter].

Perhaps, but maybe that will be on another day, and maybe even another posting, I will explain what my talks finally decided to be about.

In the meantime, thinking of requiems and Warsaw made me think of a piece by one of my favourite composers Alfred Schnittke, dedicated to the memory of the victims of the bombing of Belgrade by the nazi’s. I will add a link to a suitable YouTube performance, if I can find it. If this piece of music indeed exists anywhere, apart from in my mind. Google search is not giving me any help. I have to locate my CD collection…

Ah, it was “Ritual”.

The Beginning of the End, or the End of the Beginning?

Fhloston Paradise interior film frame

We see the hotel lobby of the Fhloston Paradise hotel, the enormous space cruise-ship from Luc Besson’s movie “The Fifth Element”. It occurs to me that our global village, the Earth, has itself become a huge space cruise-ship, including the below-decks squalor of the quarters of the millions of people working away to provide the luxury for the passengers in the luxurious areas in the top-decks.

Now turn to some other pictures. Covid-19 bar-charts.

No photo description available.

From top to bottom: (per day) new proven infections, new hospital admissions, deaths, in the Netherlands. Source: Arnout Jaspers. It looked to Arnout that we were already past the peak of the epidemic. His source: RIVM,

The curves look to me like shifted and shrunk versions of one another. About a third of those who are reported infected (mostly because they actually reported themselves sick) get so bad they go to hospital a small week later and a quarter of them die there just a few days later.

People who are infected (and infectious) but don’t realise it are not in these pictures. There have been an awful lot of them, it seems. Self-isolation is reducing that number.
As Arnout figured out for himself by drawing graphs like this, and David Spiegelhalter reported earlier in the UK, this pandemic is in some sense (at present) not really such a big deal. Essentially, it is doubling everyone’s annual risk of death this year and hopefully this year only. This means that 2% of all of us will die this year instead of the usual 1%. It looks as though the factor (two) is much the same for different age-groups and different prior health status. The reason this has such a major effect on society is because of “just-in-time” economics which means that our health care system is pretty efficient when the rate is 1% but more or less breaks down when it is 2%.

What is alarming are reports that younger people are now starting to get sicker and die faster than originally was the case. Human-kind is one huge petri-dish in which these micro-machines [“The genome size of coronaviruses ranges from approximately 27 to 34 kilobases, the largest among known RNA viruses”. The “basis” units on the molecule are nanometers in size] have found a lovely place to self-replicate, and with each replication, there are chances of “errors”, and so it can rapidly find out for itself new ways to reproduce even more times.

The problem is, therefore, “the global village”. Mass consumerism. Mass tourism. Basically, the Earth is one cruise-ship. One busy shopping mall.

I would like to see the graphs in square root scale or even log scale. You will better be able to see the shapes, and you will more easily see that the places where the numbers are small are actually the noisiest, in a relative sense.

Today’s insights

I was going to write about some new insights here. I posted a picture. Then later added more pictures, to which I need a quick URL in order to refer to them elsewhere. So the new insights never came. But I think I still know what they were. Maybe I’ll write about them another time.

1000 points uniformly distributed on the sphere using the Archimedes theorem method (z is uniform [-1, +1]
2 “t-slices” of a uniform random sample (x, y, z, t) from S^3
Empirical historgram, and theoretical density of, t
“t-slices” of a uniform random sample (x, y, z, t) from S^3. N = 100 000. Delta t = 0.01. Red, radius 0.3. Blue, radius 0.8.
Histogram of x-coordinate of sample of ca. 52000 uniformly distributed points in 3-ball. Theoretical density = parabola. Also drawn: density of x-coordinate of uniformly dist points on 3-sphere = semicircle.
(x, y, z) coordinates of sample of size 1000 of uniform random points (x, y, z, t) on the 3-sphere.
1000 (x,y,z) points from uniform random sample of points (x,y,z,t) on 3-sphere.

My first WordPress post

This is my very first post on my very own WordPress site.

I’m Richard (David) Gill, a mathematical statistician in the Netherlands; originally from England. I’m an emeritus professor of Mathematical Statistics in the Faculty of Science, Leiden University, Netherlands (aka “Holland”), Europe. If you google “Richard Gill statistics” you may well get to know more about me. My usual internet name is “gill1109”. Guess why.