The Glass Houses of the Anti-Science Left

Image retrieved from RiseEarth.com on February 6, 2015.

The enlightened left loves to mock anti-science on the right. But guess what?

The pot is every bit as sooty as the kettle.

The political left in the U.S. harbors junk- and anti-science tendencies running strong as anything found on the right. From glass houses (recycled, natch!) in solid blue crunchvilles around the country, the left’s anti-science factions scoff at global warming “deniers,” blissfully blind to the power of their own superstitions.

It is not merely the chemophobia or the illogical fixation on things “all natural.” Never mind that everything on earth is made of chemicals—including kittens, oxygen, that homemade soap on Etsy, and every essential oil. Never mind it would take 14 bottles of store-bought shampoo to amass the amount of formaldehyde in just one apple (and cauliflower has even more). Never mind that arsenic, lead and hemlock are all natural.

I can overlook the dangerous predilection for “natural remedies,” the susceptibility to mythical conditions like “candida overgrowth,” or the willingness to pay extra for meat without nitrates that is actually more dangerous. All of these are largely phenomena of Prius-driving, Whole Foods-shopping raw pecan lovers. Regardless, the externalities these superstitions impose, while greater than zero, are within a range acceptable in a free society.

Let them buy all-natural snake oil from salesmen savvy enough not to incorporate.

The problem is that not all their superstitions are quite so harmless.

Genetically Engineered Food

Consider GMO foods. As compiled by Reason’s Ronald Bailey:

A 2004 report from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) concluded that “no adverse health effects attributed to genetic engineering have been documented in the human population.”

In 2003 the International Council for Science, representing 111 national academies of science and 29 scientific unions, found “no evidence of any ill effects from the consumption of foods containing genetically modified ingredients.”

The World Health Organization flatly states, “No effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved.”

In 2010, a European Commission review of 50 studies on the safety of biotech crops found “no scientific evidence associating GMOs with higher risks for the environment or for food and feed safety than conventional plants and organisms.”

At its annual meeting in June, the American Medical Association endorsed a report on the labeling of bioengineered foods from its Council on Science and Public Health. The report concluded that “Bioengineered foods have been consumed for close to 20 years, and during that time, no overt consequences on human health have been reported and/or substantiated in the peer-reviewed literature.”

The science is in. The safety of GMO foods is as well established as evolution and clearer than man-made global warming.

Wonderful news! We can move forward with ameliorating hunger and saving lives around the world using foods like Golden Rice, genetically altered to carry a gene from carrots and intended to prevent the Vitamin A deficiency that kills 670,000 children under the age of five every year.

But superstitious anti-GMO activists have succeeded in escalating the testing requirements necessary to bring it to market and backed a campaign of vandalism against farmers with limited licenses to use it in the meantime. A study published in the Cambridge Journal of Environment and Development Economics calculated that delayed deployment of Golden Rice has cost 1,424,000 life years since 2002 in India alone.

Compared to that, young-earth creationism seems almost…science-y.

Renewable Energy

Fracking is safe, fossil fuels are efficient, and there is no credible path to replacing them without nuclear, the greenest of them all.

Biofuel contributes to global warming and would require stripping the planet. As for all the rest, the resources necessary to manufacture the components are about equal to the energy the technology is capable of producing. They never manage to do much more than break even in producing the amount of energy consumed in their own manufacture.

In other words, trying to replace fossil fuels with renewables “simply won’t work” because the energy requirements for manufacturing and maintaining solar panels, windmills and electric cars are too high.

Even if one were to electrify all of transport, industry, heating and so on, so much renewable generation and balancing/storage equipment would be needed to power it that astronomical new requirements for steel, concrete, copper, glass, carbon fibre, neodymium, shipping and haulage etc etc would appear. All these things are made using mammoth amounts of energy: far from achieving massive energy savings, which most plans for a renewables future rely on implicitly, we would wind up needing far more energy, which would mean even more vast renewables farms—and even more materials and energy to make and maintain them and so on. The scale of the building would be like nothing ever attempted by the human race.

In reality, well before any such stage was reached, energy would become horrifyingly expensive—which means that everything would become horrifyingly expensive… This in turn means that everyone would become miserably poor and economic growth would cease (the more honest hardline greens admit this openly).

“The most honest hardline greens” openly admitting that ending our reliance on fossil fuels would necessitate ending civilization as we know it? They’re the ones who understand the science.

The rest are just crossing their fingers while imposing “astronomical” costs on the rest of us.

Recycling

Reusable diapers are not more environmentally friendly than disposables. Curbside recycling doubles the number of fossil-fuel burning trucks required to pick up the same amount of garbage. There is no shortage of landfill capacity. Whether for the purpose of preserving sand or to prevent glass from returning to sand, there is no sound reason for spending $90 a ton recycling glass into other, different glass that can be sold for $10 a ton. For every remanufactured product that achieves net energy savings, there is another that results in a net energy loss.

There are recyclers who take the time—in between washing their garbage and line-drying those disposable diapers—to research each potential recyclable, investigate the programs in their locales, and reach reasonably scientific conclusions about which recycling efforts net a savings of natural resources. the-craft

Most don’t.

They’re not interested in scientific answers to these questions. They’re practicing a religion.

So while Democrats gaze down their all-naturally moisturized noses and snicker at the anti-science right, let us not forget that Democrats are more likely to believe in ghosts, significantly more likely to believe in fortune telling, and almost twice as likely to believe in astrology.

The walls of their recycled glass houses might be kept shiny with organic, handmade, all-natural, chemical-free, locally-sourced, artisan household cleaning products.

But those who live there still ought not throw stones.

Rand Paul Sees Anti-Vax Fire, Adds Gasoline

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Does Doctor Rand Paul believe vaccines cause autism? Well, let’s see exactly what he said on the topic (video after the fold):

I’ve heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking, normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.

Really, Rand? You’ve heard of cases. Seems like you and my wife have something in common. As I like to say, I believe in evidence-based medicine, while she believes in anecdote-based medicine.

Of course, it’s not all that dangerous that my wife has this blind spot. She’s neither a doctor NOR a US Senator. You, however, should think before you open that hole on the front of your face and let words fall out. The world holds you to higher standard.

90% of your interview was extolling the virtues of vaccines. You make a great point about freedom. Vaccines ARE voluntary, which seemed to be a surprise to the anchor. We as parents must carefully weigh evidence and do what we believe is right for our children. I’ve argued as such here on this blog.

But this one sentence is going to be used as evidence that vaccines cause autism. Your position as a Senator and as a doctor are going to be used to give this idea credibility. Oh, and if you now come out and publicly try to distance yourself from this, the conspiracy-minded anti-vaxxers out there will view that as only damning you further.

And you base this on what? Anecdotes? Anecdotes from parents who are reeling from the emotional sting of realizing their perfect little child is facing a neurological disorder and the terror of what that will mean? Parents who wonder “why” life is unfair–and who is to blame? These parents are vulnerable, and some of the subcultures in the autism community will have them quickly believing that vaccines, antibiotics, and frankly anything sold by a pharmaceutical company is evil, and delivering them into the hands of pseudoscience hucksters selling hyperbaric oxygen treatments, chelation, and homeopathy as the solution. As the father of a child with autism, I’ve watched it happen. I don’t tend towards hyperbole in this area, but the behavior of many of these groups is remarkably cultlike.

I’m not sure what Sen. Paul truly believes as it relates to vaccines and autism. But he’s now entered the debate, and on the wrong side. He did so without evidence; merely anecdote.

I lost some respect for Rand Paul today.
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Rand Paul Caters To The Insane Anti-Vaxxer Crowd

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On Monday, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), a prospect for the 2016 Presidential Election, put forth his opinion on vaccinating children. It wasn’t Dr. Paul’s finest moment.

In light of the recent measles outbreak in California, Dr. Paul was asked about the disease, and the ant-vaccination movement, on Laura Ingraham’s radio show. He stated that while he felt vaccinations were a “good idea”, he felt that parents should have the option to decline them:

“I’m not arguing vaccines are a bad idea. I think they’re a good thing, but I think the parents should have some input,” he added. “The state doesn’t own your children. Parents own the children and it is an issue of freedom.”

Dr. Paul noted to Ms. Ingraham in his interview that he believed vaccinations should be optional. In the same show, Ms. Ingraham stated that she didn’t believe measles was “that big of a deal“.

Later in the day, in a CNBC interview, Dr. Paul used anecdotal evidence to state that parents were justified in their skepticism:

“I’ve heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines,” Paul, R-Ky., said in an interview with CNBC anchor Kelly Evans.

This coincides with fellow GOP hopeful Chris Christie, who explained that while he vaccinates his children and believes they are a good thing, believes parents deserve more input:

He said that he and his wife had vaccinated their children, describing that decision as “the best expression I can give you of my opinion.” He said they believe doing so is an “important part of making sure we protect their health and the public health.”

“But,” Christie added, “I also understand that parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well. So that’s the balance that the government has to decide.”

Mr. Christie made greater input into vaccinations for parents part of his campaign for Governor of New Jersey in 2009.

Some of these public statements of support for anti-vaccination proponents can be explained as a matter of timing: earlier in the morning, an interview the Today Show did with President Obama made clear his thoughts on the matter: there are no reasons not to vaccinate:

“I understand that there are families that in some cases are concerned about the effect of vaccinations. The science is, you know, pretty indisputable. We’ve looked at this again and again. There is every reason to get vaccinated, but there aren’t reasons to not,” the president explained.

Anti-vaccination proponents – often called “anti-vaxxers” – believe that vaccinations for many diseases once viewed as eradicated can cause mental defects, with autism being the most commonly referenced, due to the amount of mercury in the vaccinations. More fringe elements of the anti-vaxxer movement believe that the government intentionally puts mercury in vaccinations as a passive form of population control.

However, most anti-vaxxers, if I’m putting this bluntly, are not very smart. They read a few articles on Infowars, see Jenny McCarthy speak for twelve seconds, put on their finest tin-foil hats, and let loose their ridiculous, half baked ideas, just before their diatribe about chemtrails. These people are clearly cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. But what’s truly harmful is to have people like Senator Paul – a DOCTOR, for heaven’s sake! – and Governor Christie (a successful lawyer) giving oxygen to these people by enabling their nonsense.

The argument being made is that parents should have the liberty to do whatever they want with their children. However, that argument ends at my child’s body. This isn’t something like school choice, or even a voucher program that would use tax dollars in religious schools against the wishes of secular parents. Not vaccinating a child against measles puts that child’s life in danger before they even know what measles are. They also put other children at risk, particularly other children who either are not vaccinated or can’t be vaccinated due to other health concerns.

It’s one thing to argue that a parent – or even a mature minor has the right to put a child at risk if they believe the treatment is worse than the disease; I’m sympathetic to that argument to an extent. But a measles epidemic has been cut loose for the first time since “Leave It To Beaver” was being taped, and it’s affected a lot of people. Parents affected who willingly did not vaccinate their children should be held liable for the damage they have personally caused.

It’s easy to call the anti-vaxxer issue a bipartisan one – thank the “Whole Foods crowd” for that – but this is a problem that is disproportionate among hardcore, anti-government right wingers, who have been raised into a froth into believing that anything involving the government, or Barack Obama, is a bad thing. Such constant pandering – particularly by grifters like Sarah Palin and others – replaces education with nonsense because to them, these “facts” are education. Due to this, they distrust anything that goes against their worldview. “The CDC!? Liberal media fascists!” If President Obama said the sky was blue in a speech, that would be the tinder that starts a purple sky movement.

We expect “I’ve heard it causes brain damage!” to come from the wingnuts. But coming from Doctor Paul, a very intelligent man, calls into question his sincerity, his respect for the American primary voter – part of me thinks “he can’t believe that shit, can he?” – and his qualification to hold the highest office in the country.1

1 – I’m not holding Governor Christie to so strong a flame because I feel his statements, and clarifications, exhibit more nuance than those of Dr. Paul, who is no stranger to some real whoppers in his time.

Georgia Legislature to Consider Modest Reforms for ‘No-Knock’ Raids

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On May 28th, 2014 around 3:00 a.m. in Habersham County, Georgia a SWAT team raided a house the police believed to be occupied by Wanis Thonetheva, an alleged drug dealer. In the chaos of the raid instead were four children and up to four adults. The youngest of the children, 19 month-old “Bou Bou” Phonesavanh was burned and permanently disfigured from a flash-bang grenade which set the play pen he was sleeping in ablaze.

No drugs or contraband of any kind was found in the home. Also absent from the residence was the man they were looking for.

Bou Bou was taken to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta where he was put into a medically induced coma. Doctors were not sure if the toddler would ever wake up but fortunately, he did.

This is not by any means, the end of the Phonesavanh family’s problems with Bou Bou’s medical expenses around $1.6 million and surgeries into adulthood. These expenses, by the way, that will not be paid by the county or the departments responsible for severely injuring this child.

In the aftermath of this botched SWAT raid, several Georgia legislators are looking to reform the use of “no-knock” raids. Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) introduced a bill he’s calling “Bou Bou’s Law” which would require a slightly higher standard for no-knock raids than required by SCOTUS. Bou Bou’s Law would require “the affidavit or testimony supporting such warrant establishes by probable cause that if an officer were to knock and announce identity and purpose before entry, such act of knocking and announcing would likely pose a significant and imminent danger to human life or imminent danger of evidence being destroyed.”

In the House, Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville) introduced a similar bill which would go even further by requiring that no-knock raids be conducted between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. unless the judge issuing the warrant “expressly authorizes” another time. Tanner’s bill also requires that each department keep records of each raid which would be compiled with all the other records around the state into an annual report which would be sent to the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and the Speaker of the House.

While these are laudable reforms which I would hope would pass any state legislature, these reforms do not go nearly far enough. Several of the articles I read in preparing this post had titles like “No Knock Warrants Could be a Thing of the Past.” In reading over these bills, I’m not quite that optimistic. As Jacob Sullum pointed out at Reason, its not at all clear that Bou Bou’s Law would have prevented the raid from happening. The police at the time thought their suspect was probably armed; it probably wouldn’t take much to convince a judge to issue the no-knock warrant.

As I took another look at Rep. Tanner’s bill, I saw no language that would restrict the hours of the standard knock and announce raids. His bill seems incredibly vague to my lay reading “all necessary and reasonable force may be used to effect an entry into any building or property or part thereof to execute such search warrant if, after verbal notice or an attempt in good faith to give verbal notice by the officer directed to execute the same of his or her authority and purpose”.

Its human nature to stretch and bend language in such a way that is favorable to one’s objectives. I can imagine the police “interpreting” this law to mean they could gently knock on the door at 3 a.m., speaking in a barely audible voice “Police, search warrant open up,” counting 1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi, 3 Mississippi, CRASH!

There is some concern by those who think that even these modest reforms put the police in unnecessary danger – police lives matter. I’m of the opinion that ALL lives matter and propose some (admittedly) radical ideas as to how and when SWAT tactics and/or police searches should be used to protect the life and liberty of all concerned:

– If the reason for a surprise raid on a residence is that the evidence could be quickly flushed down a toilet or easily destroyed by other means, then this isn’t enough reason for such a raid in the first place. A couple of ounces of any drug flushed down a toilet is not sufficient reason to put the lives of those in the residence or the police at risk.

– SWAT should not be used at all unless its an active shooter situation, a hostage situation, or credible reason to believe there will be active, armed resistance to the search. Unless there is a very real clear and present danger, leave your military grade toys at the station.

– Each and every police officer involved in the search wears a camera (preferably on the head to have a true POV). All video from the search would be made available to the suspect’s defense attorney.

– The police departments involved are responsible for any and all “collateral damage” to life and property. In the event an innocent life is taken, the individual officer(s) responsible should be treated as anyone else who takes a life. Investigation/prosecution would be conducted by an independent investigators and prosecutors.

– Absolutely no raids or searches of any kind between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m. (though stakeouts and other activity which does not require interaction with the suspect(s) during these hours is permissible).

I’m sure that some if not all of these ideas are too radical for many lawmakers. If we really believe that “all lives matter”, however; these proposals should be thoughtfully considered.

If you would like to make a small donation to help pay Bou Bou’s medical expenses, go to this GoFundMe page which has raised nearly $43k so far.

Brad’s Beer Review: Stone Delicious IPA

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A Stone IPA? Brad’s going to follow up brewpubs in Shanghai, coffee milk stout, Gose, and beer from the oldest brewery in the world with an IPA from Stone? Hardly seems special, you wonder…

No, I wouldn’t review just any San Diego IPA. There is something special about this IPA from Stone. What makes it special? What it lacks.

Stone Delicious IPA is a gluten-reduced beer. In recent years, brewers have learned that a specific clarifying agent happens to break down gluten, to the point where any typical gluten test will show a negative result. This allows them to brew a beer using gluten-containing grains and most gluten-sensitive people can drink it with no ill effects. The way the additive works coupled with the natural lawyer-aversion of most American companies means that they won’t market this beer as “gluten-free”, but it’s about as close as you’ll get. How close? Well, they lab-test every single batch and you can check the lab results here.

In the old days (i.e. more than ~3 years ago), gluten-free beers were terrible. They brewed them with alternate grains like sorghum or rice syrup, they didn’t really taste like beer, and generally they failed in the market. Brewers today, such as Widmer’s Omission brand, are hoping to change that.
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So why do I care? A few reasons.

First, I’m somewhat sensitive to the needs of the gluten-sensitive. My son is on a gluten-free diet, and while I’m not exactly going to be giving a 5-year-old any Delicious IPA, it does make me curious. In addition, I have a coworker who several years ago started getting pretty heavily into beer and homebrewing. At roughly the same time, he started having some significant health problems, and discovered that he was gluten-intolerant. He put the brewing equipment in storage, and stopped drinking beer. I haz a sad.

Second, I’m frankly curious myself. I hadn’t tried the Omission beers, but when I heard that Stone was doing a gluten-reduced IPA, I figured I should try it and review it. I drink a lot of Stone beer. I drink a lot of IPA. I know what Stone-produced IPA typically tastes like. I figured that if anyone was going to be able to determine if the gluten-reduction process made a meaningful difference to the taste or character of the beer, I could do so.

So here we go. What’s the verdict?

  • Stats: 7.7% ABV, 80 IBU. Color not listed.
  • Aroma: A lot of citrus hops. Not so much orange as maybe grapefruit. You know, that sort of subtler smell that gives rise to the idea that the fruit you’re about to eat is REALLY bitter? Yeah, that’s what I’m getting here.
  • Appearance: Pale, slightly hazy. Generally not uncommon for very hoppy ales. Nice white head, dissipates fairly quickly. Even with the nucleation sites etched into the bottom of the Sierra Nevada glass here, the head doesn’t self-sustain as much as I’d expect. Perhaps this is due to the broken-down gluten?
  • Flavor: Nice solid hop flavor, and this is definitely fitting the mold of a very crisp, dry West Coast IPA. Bitterness takes a place right on the front of the stage, with malt waiting in the wings. If I had to critique this beer, I’d say that it should have a little bit more malt and body to be able to stand up to the bitterness level they’re going for here. It just seems to be missing something in the malt character. Reminder — I love massively bitter, hoppy IPAs. But there has to be enough malt to form a backbone in these beers, and this one is missing it.
  • Mouthfeel: Light body, and while I am criticizing the malt, I wouldn’t call this thin or watery. It’s not like the many session IPAs that are lacking in that department. I’d like a little more body, but if they’d added malt flavor and kept the body where it is, I wouldn’t have a problem. That said, there are no flaws either, such as astringency.
  • Overall Impression: The beer is well-brewed. I expect nothing less from Stone. There are no detectable flaws. But I don’t love it. There are better IPAs out there, including Stone’s normal IPA.

I say there are better IPAs out there. But are there better gluten-reduced IPAs? If I had a gluten intolerance that kept me from drinking the others, I would be VERY happy with this beer.

More importantly, I can say that this beer, for my stylistic critiques, tastes like Stone beer. If you gave this to me and didn’t tell me it was gluten-reduced, I wouldn’t be able to tell. This isn’t some sorghum-based monstrosity. This isn’t some “almost-beer”. This is beer. For people who can’t consume with gluten, to drink a beer like this isn’t missing out on a thing.

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