A Warning about Statistics - and a bit of fun

A Warning about Statistics - and a bit of fun

Many of the discussions in this forum are based on comparative statistics - two things coincide and therefore there must be a link.

But a Harvard grad called Tyler Vigen has created a site called Spurious Correlations which demonstrates in a fun way, how just be cause statistics coincide does not mean there is a relationship, as demonstrated by the attached graph.

Perhaps those that stupidly followed Andrew Wakefield when he claimed a correlation between the MMR vaccine and Autism would have benefited from this website:

tylervigen.com/

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  • Thanks! I liked this - a very serious point made in a humorous way.

  • Andrew Wakefield had a point in regard to MMR vaccine and Autism.

    Some of the symptoms of autism are similar to those in people who suffer a lot of pain. A child does not have the background of knowledge that an adult has. So the deficits an Adult pain sufferer has is magnified in a child.

    A child who loses the opportunity to learn cannot communicate effectively.

    Vaccines are made in batches. It is no good taken a good batch and then saying that there is nothing wrong. It is the bad batches which need examining. The bad batches were never examined.

  • My partner is a specialist in this area and she would like to point out that Wakefield was wrong in just about everything he claimed. And children who have slow early development because they had a temporary illness of some kind do not exhibit any symptoms that are anything like autism. Indeed, they normally show very rapid catching up with their peers.

    She has several children under her care who have had extreme conditions from birth, but whose brains are quite normal. They are sharp, intelligent and have no communication problems whatsoever, despite having to cope with terrible disabilities and often constant pain.

    As Emily has pointed out below, there is no evidence of a link at all. However, relating this to the graph above, there is a correlation between when children have their childhood vaccinations and when autism is often first diagnosed or suspected - it tends to be around the same sort of age.

    But just like eating cheese and getting tangled in bed sheets, that does not mean the two are related.

  • There is a difference between doing the experiment and coming to a conclusion and sitting on the sidelines quoting convenient data.

    Your partner did not do Wakefield's experiments. I am not in a position to peer review what Wakefield did. However, I know enough about analysis of the scientific data to understand the rebuttals were dishonest.

    I have met enough parents of vaccine damaged children to know how the medical profession does not employ vigorous investigation when something happens. Instead they sit back and employ expert opinion based on nothing other than I am a medical expert.

    To say there is no evidence of a link is a meaningless statement. The complaint was at the time was that no one followed up on Wakefield's work. Because no one followed up on Wakefield's work there would be no evidence.

    At the time Wakefield was saying what he said, I discussed with a number of GP's the fairly obvious cover up that was going on.

    The issue was, how can I tell if my child will be the one that would be damaged by the vaccine my child will be taking. That line of inquiry was deliberate quashed by those higher up.

    Al vaccines have a batch number. There has been deliberate none recording of batch number data. This way when there is a query you cannot match up vaccine batch number with suspect damaged child. This way you cannot contrast batch test results with children's reaction. This way you arguing about none damaged children who had a good vaccine batch against damaged children who had a bad vaccine batch. The powers that be then go on to say that there is nothing wrong with the vaccine and this was a child who had problems caused by something else. Further inquiry often revealed that no investigation was done to determine what this something else was.

    I have worked in quality and reliability. I have done quality and reliability on batches of manufactured goods. I have seen at first hand how goods manufactured the previous week suddenly for some unknown reason the following week become defective.

    Sometimes when there have been too many failures in a manufactured batch for that batch of product to be reliable the batch is withdrawn. Then over the following months small quantities of the bad batch is mixed in with a good batch.

    Manufacturers have been known to hide data concerning bad vaccine batches which have killed mice. The good vaccine batches did not kill mice.

    I do not have the expertise to say whether Wakefield was right or not in regard to his experimental results. I did listen to what Wakefield was saying. At the time he stated that more work needed to be done. The more work that needed to be done was deliberately not done by the powers that be.

    There is a dividing line which many companies run when they have a product which is possibly defective. Is the cost of fixing the defect greater than what it would cost in litigation. If it cost a lot more to fix the defect than the litigation costs then the defect is not touched and the company hopes the problem is not noticed.

    Whistle blowers on bad and corrupt practice have a habit of losing their jobs and find that they cannot get employment elsewhere.

    Read "Bad Pharma" by Ben Goldacre ISBN 978-0-00-735074-2. That book gives an indication of some of the strokes the pharmaceutical companies pull.

    Look at the Camelford water pollution incident and what happened there. There are parallels with Wakefield.

  • There is no evidence of a link between vaccines and autism: ovg.ox.ac.uk/vaccine-ingred... and who.int/vaccine_safety/comm... The risks from a lack of vaccination are, however, well documented.

  • Hi Emily Jesper

    There is no evidence of a link between autism and vaccines. The issue has not been a subject of proper research done in a statistical meaningful way.

    Autism covers a large number of different meanings depending on what was examined and was not examined by the person who determines the diagnosis. I have no idea what autism as defined by the psychiatrists is.

    The are autistic people who have obtained Phd's. Yet they are labelled as Autistic and given the impression that they are the same as the autistic person being looked after with the help of Mencap.

    A child in pain who is unable to express their pain would have the symptoms of autism. Yes I have discussed this issue with medical experts and found that there was some agreement with this idea.

    Do have experience of Quality and Reliability statistics? Do have knowledge of the statistics involved in batch testing of manufactured product?

    Vaccines are manufactured in batches. If you take vaccine manufacture as a whole there are vastly greater numbers of good vaccine product than there is of a bad vaccine product. So when you try and make a link there is no link. However, if you look at vaccine batches and search for a link then there is a different set of statistics involved.

    When Speaking to parents of alleged vaccine damaged children. In most of the cases no vaccine batch number was recorded. No investigation was carried out to determine the factors involved at the time they had the vaccination. They were subjected to expert opinion with no investigation done.

    There was a high court action by a very determine and skilled lady a number of years ago who acted as a litigant in person. She was suing for damage to her child. She managed to obtain the batch number of the vaccine that was used on her child. She managed to find out and show in a court of law that this particular batch in testing by the pharmaceutical company had killed all the mice that it had been tested on. Other batches of vaccine had not killed all the mice it had been tested on. This demonstrated that there was a substantial difference between batches.

    The issue of vaccine produced in batches and the difference between one vaccine batch and another is only really understood by a few people and is not very well publicised. The data that should be made available on a batch by batch basis is not available.

    I have worked in quality and reliability. I have done quality and reliability on batches of manufactured goods. I have seen at first hand how goods manufactured the previous week suddenly for some unknown reason the following week become defective.

    There have been many people who been dismissed by the medical profession as not having a physical illness and their symptoms were the result of some mental disorder. Later it was found that the person had a physical illness that could actually be tested for.

    I do not know if there is link between autism and vaccine. I do not have the knowledge to decide that issue. I do remember seeing the films of some of the children who were investigated by Wakefield. The movements and expressions were of children in a great deal of pain. The children were labelled autistic.

    I do have the knowledge to know whether investigations are statistically flawed. Many investigations saying there is no link are statistically flawed as they ignore totally the issue that vaccines are produced in batches.

    Read "Bad Pharma" by Ben Goldacre ISBN 978-0-00-735074-2. That book gives an indication of some of the strokes the pharmaceutical companies pull.

  • Hello johnsmith

    The "bad batch" conspiracy theory is a bit of an old fruit cake and you should not be taken in by it. Just as with other manufactured goods - vaccines have to be batch tested and this is done both by the manufacturers and, in the UK, by the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control. Any vaccines that fail potency and reactogenicity tests at either point, as very occasionally happens, are not used. When health professionals give vaccines, we write down the name of the vaccine given, the expiry date and the batch number on the health record of the recipient along with the date and our own name and registration number. This information is available to the person or family to see on their records whenever they want.

    Side effects to vaccine do, of course, occur. When this happens, even when they are rare, it is quickly noticed and, if they are serious, the vaccine is withdrawn. This has happened a handful of times during the many decades of widespread vaccine use. When suggestions are raised about side-effects these are rapidly and thoroughly investigated. This happened following the suggestions raised about MMR in the 1990s. Several large and careful studies were done and the theories were definitively shown to be wrong by several independent research groups. All the studies were published in peer reviewed journals and are there for anyone to read who wants to know the real evidence and not just hearsay.

    The vast majority - more than 95% - of parents in the UK have their children fully immunised. They do this voluntarily and willingly. These are majorities politicians can only dream of. By doing this they protect their children against a long list of formerly common serious infections which are now rare. They also protect everyone else since these diseases are no longer circulating. This is such an obviously good idea that almost everybody does it. They are not being duped or deceived by drug companies, government, doctors, experts or anyone else. They are just making an obvious, wise, well informed decision. The blindingly obvious truth is that vaccines save lives and prevent suffering. Not for just a few, but for millions of us.

    I do agree with you about one thing. Ben Goldacre's books are excellent. Both of them. But Ben isn't saying that all science is bad or that all pharma is bad. He's saying you need to be able to judge when things are bad and make sure everyone else knows too.

    Adam Finn

    Professor of Paediatrics

    University of Bristol

    Consultant Paediatrician

    Bristol Royal Hospital for Children

  • Thanks for the comment.

    Things have been moving forward over the last few years. However, I have been reading the articles in Scientific America and New Scientist and American Scientist which are a bit more scientific in nature than the newspaper. I am also aware of the issues of weakened viruses becoming virulent as this has been discussed in the scientific journals and evidence of this has been presented and discussed at WHO. We are talking very small numbers where this happens. Batch testing cannot weed this out as batch testing takes a sample and then looks at the probability of at everything being okay as greater than a certain amount. Since the MMR scandle/issue broke a number of companies got out of the vaccine manufacturing business. The suspicion being that they could not handle the cost of the increased scrutiny.

    The new breed of Gp leaving medical school is very different and more scientifically orientated than what was around when the MMR issue broke.

    The PLOS paper on medical research before 2005 ruffled a few feathers. Medical research in quite a few areas is still suspect. Unfortunately in Britain there is still no oversight on dodgy medical papers. It was not a pleasant experience discussing with people after a conference results that were mentioned being fiddled in a British university where they were done.

    The bad batch theory is actually not theory in regard to the situation a few years ago. which what the discussion is about. The bad batch theory holds water when discussions on weakened viruses in a vaccine becoming more virulent. This is not my field I only know what I read in Scientific America and American Scientist. I cannot remember the issues I read them in.

    I have done batch testing of manufactured goods as well as reliability testing. I have spent 12 years of my working life in quality and reliability testing so I know that the bad batch theory can hold a great deal of truth. Things do slip though that is the nature of things. You cannot do 100% testing. You cannot do 100% reliability testing. All you can do is to attempt to minimise the risks such that the benefits greatly out-way the losses.

    At the time of Wakefield batch numbers were in many cases not recorded. I can still remember the court case that took place before Wakefield on a vaccine batch which killed mice whereas the other batches did not. This mice killing vaccine batch was given as a vaccination. My memory is very hazy I think it was a mumps vaccine. How thrust worthy my memory is on an event that took place so long ago is open to debate.

    For the record I believe in vaccination. I also believe that some people are more vulnerable to others to side effects. I believe not enough has been done to determine who is possibly a vulnerable person to a particular vaccine and who is not. The work in this area still needs to be done. Quoting millions of people benefit is no good to the parent who life has totally changed as a result of vaccine damage.

    I have spoken to many carers about how the medical profession operate. I still have doubts if vaccine damage is able to be reported accurately. If 10 thousand people benefit and there is one who has a side effect. The vaccine is unlikely to be withdrawn because the numbers push the probability that the side effect was not due to the vaccine but due to some other mechanism.

    My knowledge of what is happening right here and now is always out of date. The confidentiality clauses under which doctors work prevent the members of the public finding out what is happening until enough members of the public break silence.

  • This meta analysis is a recent publication on autism and vaccination. No link found.

    sciencedirect.com/science/a...

  • Many thanks for the reply.

    I have had a look at the meta analysis. I am not going to disagree with the results. I will disagree with what they are looking for.

    The Epilogue was interesting. I quote from it here:

    "

    5. Epilogue

    As an epidemiologist I believe the data that is presented in this meta-analysis. However, as a parent of three children I have some understanding of the fears associated with reactions and effects of vaccines. My first two children have had febrile seizures after routine vaccinations, one of them a serious event. These events did not stop me from vaccinating my third child, however, I did take some proactive measures to reduce the risk of similar adverse effects. I vaccinated my child in the morning so that we were aware if any early adverse reaction during the day and I also gave my child a dose of paracetamol 30 min before the vaccination was given to reduce any fever that might develop after the injection. As a parent I know my children better than anyone and I equate their seizures to the effects of the vaccination by increasing their body temperature. For parents who do notice a significant change in their child's cognitive function and behaviour after a vaccination I encourage you to report these events immediately to your family physician and to the ‘Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System’.

    "

    My ability to do high level statistical calculation is not there. I have spoken to epidemiologists with requests for the statistical analysis statistics in the medical areas that I have an interest in. The statistical calculations appear to be not there and have never been done. This is me making a quote after only speaking to people who do not make literature searches. So I may be wrong.

    We are both people with understanding of certain things. We can both argue from our understandings and such is the nature of language we can put different interpretations on words.

    I have been in a few highly technical discussions where there has had to been an agreement on what the words we are using mean. This is a public forum so we both need to be careful that what we intend to mean is not misinterpreted due to different usages of languages. Particularly by others who may have far less of a scientific background than both of us have.

    The argument whether a particular vaccine causes autism or not is a "red herring". Austism is a condition with a particular set of symptoms as defined in DSM.

    We have to rely on the truth telling and investigative abilities of a particular group of people who are given the legal status to make the diagnosis.

    “Cracked” ISBN: 9781848315563 a book written by James Davies Senior Lecturer Social Anthropology and Psychotherapy at The University of Roehampton (London UK) details some of the misleading and dishonest research results that have been presented in Professional Journals and conferences.

    I have met many people who have come up against people in the psychiatric profession who lie and give expert opinion for money. They get away with what they do because there is no ability in the system to challenge them. The psychiatric profession legally are gate keepers to particular forms of help that rely on a particular diagnosis to get it.

    Scientifically the diagnosis of Autism is not a reliable criteria to make a determination on. There are autistic people who have obtained Phds. There are autistic who have been filled up with anti-psychotic drugs because a psychiatrist decided that the autistic was also a schizophrenic because they had said yes they hear voices when what they meant was that they could hear the psychiatrist speaking.

    The psychiatric profession do not receive training in how different peer groups use language and many make the assumption that many people use language in exactly the same way as they do. An incorrect assumption that many people who need help for mental difficulties pay a very high price for. The legal system in the civil courts has great disregard for the United Nations 1948 charter of human rights. The charter says everyone is equal under the law. Many judges engage in "a certain people have special status and what they say must be taken and recorded as truth" without any investigation into what really took place. The appeal system is such that the appeal is based on issues of law not on issues that the facts were wrong in the first place.

    What I am saying here and trying to do is lay out an argument is that discussing whether or not a particular vaccine increases the incidence of autism is total waste of time. It does not help anyone.

    A better argument is does this vaccine cause cognitive difficulties in some people. The answer to this would be yes. The next step would be is the vaccine a direct cause of these cognitive difficulties. At this point things start to get difficult, Because a vaccine can cause a system overload. A system experiences a stress above its stress breakdown point. A system experiencing a stress above its stress breakdown point breaks down and what it does in this mode is anybody's guess.

    When a system has broken down other systems try to compensate for the problematic system. Sometimes the compensation is reasonable. Sometimes you end up in a problematic positive feedback loop.

    The maths of catastrophe theory has pointed out that if a system makes a jump to another way of operating because of a particular stressor the system may not jump back to its previous way of operating until the stressor has fallen to a lot less than what it normally is. The lot less may not happen in a child.

    Everybody is different. You know the University entrance system for training to be a doctor. I assume you know at first hand that a great many people are not capable of undertaking the training to become a doctor. Only a few are. These few have abilities by genetic disposition to be able to undertake the training successfully.

    Now step back and look at the child who has just been vaccinated and has had an adverse event. Some will survive the adverse event with no long term cognitive damage. Some will suffer cognitive damage which will affect learning skills, Some will suffer damage which is not cognitive, but interferes with system functioning which interferes with cognitive functioning and long term learning because of system overloads and how they respond to the systems overloads. Some will have no damage but will experience a jump to another way of doing things which will result in cognitive and behavioural changes which interfere with the ability to learn effectively.

    When a parent tells a doctor my child has changed since the vaccination. The doctor has no means of knowing what has changed. The parent often cannot label the changes in a way that can be measured. There are legal connotations which want legal evidence. "Sometime has changed" is not legal evidence. So legally nothing has changed and legally the vaccine has no ill effect on the child. The record in the medical notes does not record a vaccine negative effect. The reality is that something has happened. The reality is that in the present system there is not the means of recording the problem.

    Meta analysis is done on medical notes which have been recorded in a legally correct manner. A meta analysis looking for a particular vaccine effect will show nothing untoward.

    I will stop at this point. I am interested in your reply to this.

  • Some medications can cause cognitive impairment but I have not come across any reports of vaccination doing this. Hopefully the Yellow card reporting system helps ensure that any adverse reactions are recorded.

    A temperature or febrile

    convulsions following vaccination can occur but it is extremely rare that it

    causes brain damage if treated correctly.

    The diagnosis of autism or autistic spectrum disorder can be difficult because of the wide range of behaviours exhibited, but appears to have become more accurate, although, as you say, there has been some appalling treatment/cases in the past.

    The cause(s) of autism remains uncertain but there appear to be multiple genetic factors associated with ASD, Fragile X syndrome being one of the causes of autism. ASD appears to be characterised by abnormal neuronal connections and development of the cerebral cortex.

    Autistic individuals have brains that function differently to the norm, but this may not be the result of damage.

  • You say:

    "A temperature or febrile convulsions following vaccination can occur but it is extremely rare that it causes brain damage if treated correctly."

    You are right in what you say. However what do you mean by brain damage. My understanding is that under the medical system you are required to be able to see brain damage before you can say it is present.

    You can get brain damage that is too small to be seen. This damage that is too small to be seen can cause a lot of disruption to the functioning of the body if it is in certain areas. Also diagnosis costs money. You are not going to put someone in a MRI scanner or PET scanner unless you have a reason to justify the cost.

    Before the Gulf War people with extremely minor brain damage received in injuries got dismissed as having some form of mental condition. After the Gulf war and the information being obtained from soldiers in Afghanistan who suffered bomb damage and survived it has become clear that extremely minor brain damage in certain areas can have devastating effects on personality and memory and ability to do things.

    As a chronic pain sufferer I know at first hand how certain types of pain create havoc with my ability to think clearly and my ability to take in information.

    I had cerebral bruising in a road traffic accident more than 20 years ago. It took me 18 months before I was able to read New Scientist and Nature effectively again. I still suffer the effects in how I take in information even now. I had to learn to do things in a different way. A very young child has no way of consciously developing new ways of doing things when something goes wrong. It needs the appropriate help from Adults. Which can often be non forth coming.

    I used to tutor children and specialised in minor learning difficulties that interfered with the ability to learn effectively. I have learnt at first hand that a slightly wrong approach can prevent the intake of information.

    I once got someone with predicted f grades onto Btec. Both of us had to develop from scratch how to enable the person to learn material. Time consuming and very hard work.

    Brain damage from cerebral bruising with no bleeding is too trivial to be worried about. However it did interfere with my information processing and the ability to retrieve information. I can talk about it comfortably now and look any dodgy psychiatrist in the face because of all the work done on the soldiers who have suffered minor concussion.

    The blood brain barrier used to be considered as an area that was not passable. Modern biological investigations have shown different.

    In my training in gathering and recording information my reference guide was Errors of Observation and their Treatment" by J. Topping. It was first printed in 1955.

    I have spoken to many medical practitioners who have no idea what "errors of observation" are. In medical notes there is no recording of errors of observation.

    It is worth having a chat with your colleagues in the electronics department about what minor damage does in electronics. Or even how a common misplaced comma in a bit of software code can end up with hours of searching where the error is because something should work does not. With a bit of fuzzy logic one can see how this can apply in a human child.

    To try and and explain what happened in my road traffic accident I have to use a metaphorical explanation which my not be accurate but it does enable me to make predictions.

    Prior to my accident as a result of academic and social type activities I had built up a database of social processes and academic knowledge. At the time of my accident I lost the ability to access some of my social processes and academic knowledge that was stored in my mind's database. An extremely small bit of damage with massive repercussions on my life. The access data pipe to my database of social processes and academic knowledge can be very very small. Note: It took a long time to realise that this had happened and a long time to develop the appropriate strategies to deal with the problem.

    A child who has been vaccinated and has an adverse event can have a small bit of damage which prevents it from accessing some of its social processes and learning skills. The skills are intact and the learning skills are intact, however the minute connection which calls these skills into play has been damaged so they are never called into play. The child's access to its database of skills has been lost and needs to be regained.

    The literature on this aspect does not really exist. It falls under a different department than medicine and vaccination.

    This minute connection may be a neuron or two wide. This is just a figure plucked from the air. You are not going to see the damage or even know it exists. But that damage will have major effects on the rest of that child's life. Feedbacks from the child's caretakers are called into play which demand that the way it behaved before the adverse event should continue. However, doing this will compound the child's ability to carry on developing its skills because doing the same thing will prevent it from learning and developing. The child' will stagnate and could very well present behaviour that is backward because of frustration stress which sends the child's stress level above the child's stress breakdown point. One the stress has gone above the stress breakdown point anything can happen.

    There is the famous saying well known among oceanographers: "A butterfly flapping its wings in New England will cause a hurricane in the South of England". A very small effect can lead to a big difference.

    I will stop at this point. I am interested in your reply to this.

  • Learning difficulties can be linked to various external causes, such as maternal illness, premature birth, oxygen starvation, injury, serious illness, serious neglect. Vaccination has not been shown to be one of the causes.

    Learning difficulties can be hereditary. Many are present at birth, and can be related to structural differences in the brain. MRI scans of the brains of dyslexic individuals show different areas being used (in communication, reading etc) compared with non-dyslexic brains. Processing and memory problems are common but learning can be achieved through appropriate teaching.

    The human brain is more complex than any electronic gadget or any computer coding. Thankfully it has a certain degree of plasticity and learning does not have to take place in a linear manner.

  • Thanks for the reply.

    I agree with everything you say.

    Except that vaccination is known to be a cause of learning difficulties in some cases. Modern vaccination is far safer than what was around at the time of Wakefield. At the time of Wakefield there were many people who were complaining about vaccination damage. Some of these people have been recognised in law as having been vaccine damaged.

    I cannot remember when the last time I met someone new who was going through the process of arguing about vaccination casing a problem.

    Errors of observation is a big problem in the medical profession. If 10,000 people have a vaccine safely. The the establishment deem it not possible for the 10,001 th person who had a bad reaction to have had a bad reaction from the vaccine. They insist that there must be some other cause. The some other cause means that another cause is recorded and what actually happened is never investigated or recorded.

    Learning is dependant on what information has been acquired and assimilated. If the information is not assimilated then learning may be delayed or not take place at all.

    Absence of evidence is not absence of something taking place. Evidence of having something taken place requires a certain number of events having occurred. It also depends on what is being looked for.

    Have you done the required experiment of determining the learning skills of a population before and after vaccination.? Have you followed a population who have had the vaccination and compared it to those who have not? If you have can you direct me to the paper so that I can see what ability testing was done on the different populations.

  • There's another nice graph with suitably adjusted y axes showing two superimposed gently falling trend lines over time, one the birth rate in Germany, the other the number of nesting storks...

    Adam Finn

    University of Bristol

  • There is good evidence that Andrew Wakefield fraudulently manipulated his patients, data and colleague to produce his paper. [http://www.bmj.com/content/342/bmj.d22.full]

    That does make people "stupid" for being concerned about uncertain risks - please don't use judgmental and offensive language.

  • I had a look at your link. It does not produce any evidence that the results were fabricated other than hearsay and people with axes to grind.

    Under the system it is very easy to manipulate what is reported by investigators to make it appear that results were fabricated.

    The only way to determine if results were fabricated is to repeat the experiment using the same subset of people. Unlikely to happen.

    Wakefield said: "More work needs to be done." He worked with a subset of a subset of a population. Is Wakefield guilty of not getting the statistics right. He probably is. The statistics for a subset of a subset is very complex. They numbers and population skew do not fit a normal Gaussian. The GMC is a legalistic body who continually lie to the public. They have had to be taken judicial review because they did not protect the public from dodgy medical people. The Wakefield case could well be a case of the GMC trying to please the establishment.

    When an independent statistician analyses the results and produces the maths to show how what Wakefield did was fraudulent. Then that is proof.

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