Tagged: anti-science

Court rules parents haven’t a right to send their unvaccinated kids to school

In New York City, parents do not have the right to send their unvaccinated kids to school if another student has a vaccine-preventable illness…That’s according to a Brooklyn Federal District Court judge, who ruled earlier this month that a parent’s constitutional right to freely exercise their religion does not always make their children exempt from vaccination requirements.

New York City schools require all students to get a series of basic vaccinations in order to attend classes. But in New York State — along with several other states — laws say that parents can opt out of these requirements for religious reasons.

When three families in New York City recently tried to do so, their children were barred from attending school, leading them to file suit against the city. Citing a 1905 Supreme Court case — in which the court ruled that Massachusetts was permitted to fine a man $5 for refusing a smallpox vaccine — Judge William Kuntz ruled that the court had “strongly suggested that religious objectors are not constitutionally exempt from vaccinations…”

All this comes as increasing numbers of parents around the country are refusing vaccines, leading to outbreaks of a number of diseases that could have easily been prevented. Earlier this spring, during a measles outbreak in New York, the unvaccinated sibling of a home-schooled child who’d been infected was barred from attending public school. That sibling ultimately contracted the disease, and keeping him home prevented it from spreading further.

The idjits and ignorant have every right to believe what they do, say what they wish – and keep their silliness out of everyone else’s lives.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

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Interests, ideology and climate


Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

There are three things we know about man-made global warming. First, the consequences will be terrible if we don’t take quick action to limit carbon emissions. Second, in pure economic terms the required action shouldn’t be hard to take: emission controls, done right, would probably slow economic growth, but not by much. Third, the politics of action are nonetheless very difficult.

But why is it so hard to act? Is it the power of vested interests?

I’ve been looking into that issue and have come to the somewhat surprising conclusion that it’s not mainly about the vested interests. They do, of course, exist and play an important role; funding from fossil-fuel interests has played a crucial role in sustaining the illusion that climate science is less settled than it is. But the monetary stakes aren’t nearly as big as you might think. What makes rational action on climate so hard is something else — a toxic mix of ideology and anti-intellectualism…

Once upon a time King Coal was indeed a major employer: At the end of the 1970s there were more than 250,000 coal miners in America. Since then, however, coal employment has fallen by two-thirds, not because output is down — it’s up, substantially — but because most coal now comes from strip mines that require very few workers. At this point, coal mining accounts for only one-sixteenth of 1 percent of overall U.S. employment; shutting down the whole industry would eliminate fewer jobs than America lost in an average week during the Great Recession of 2007-9.

Or put it this way: The real war on coal, or at least on coal workers, took place a generation ago, waged not by liberal environmentalists but by the coal industry itself. And coal workers lost…

Think about global warming from the point of view of someone who grew up taking Ayn Rand seriously, believing that the untrammeled pursuit of self-interest is always good and that government is always the problem, never the solution. Along come some scientists declaring that unrestricted pursuit of self-interest will destroy the world, and that government intervention is the only answer. It doesn’t matter how market-friendly you make the proposed intervention; this is a direct challenge to the libertarian worldview.

And the natural reaction is denial — angry denial. Read or watch any extended debate over climate policy and you’ll be struck by the venom, the sheer rage, of the denialists.

The fact that climate concerns rest on scientific consensus makes things even worse, because it plays into the anti-intellectualism that has always been a powerful force in American life, mainly on the right. It’s not really surprising that so many right-wing politicians and pundits quickly turned to conspiracy theories, to accusations that thousands of researchers around the world were colluding in a gigantic hoax whose real purpose was to justify a big-government power grab. After all, right-wingers never liked or trusted scientists in the first place.

So the real obstacle, as we try to confront global warming, is economic ideology reinforced by hostility to science. In some ways this makes the task easier: we do not, in fact, have to force people to accept large monetary losses. But we do have to overcome pride and willful ignorance, which is hard indeed.

While the general point of my personal blog is commentary upon well-done journalism, my reaction to issues and answers – there is little or no need for that following one of Paul Krugman’s excellent Op-Ed pieces.

Golden rice naysayers ignore nutrition as well as free tech

Recently Zac Goldsmith MP – a former editor of The Ecologist, no less – branded the views of Australian Environment Secretary Owen Patterson as “grotesque” after the minister called anti-GM campaigners “wicked”. Mr Goldsmith stated: GM has never been about feeding the world, or tackling environmental problems. It is and has always been about control of the global food economy by a tiny handful of giant corporations. It’s not wicked to question that process. It is wicked not to.

…Golden rice is a bio-fortified, genetically modified Oryza sativa rice crop that offers a nutritionally enriched staple for those who cannot afford or obtain a balanced diet rich in fruit and vegetables. Golden rice can be produced by subsistence farmers in developing countries using varieties adapted to local conditions. Access to the technology is free.

Lack of vitamin A causes blindness and death in over a million children under five that do not have access to a balanced diet, every year. For many their staple diet is rice, but rice does not produce vitamin A in the grain even though it has all the genes necessary to do so (and in fact does so in the leaves).

The inventors of golden rice, Ingo Potrykus of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and Peter Beyer of the University of Freiburg, worked out how to “turn on” the synthesis of vitamin A in the edible grain itself by inserting two genes, resulting in a rice variety with boosted vitamin A levels. Widespread adoption of golden rice could decrease deaths due to vitamin A deficiency by an estimated 25% or more. This is a result, and a crop, that could not be achieved using conventional breeding.

From the outset golden rice was a public good project governed by the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board. Swiss biotech company Syngenta contributed to the project by developing improved varieties in their labs but arranged that any intellectual property associated with golden rice was licensed free of charge to allow the technology to be available to resource-poor farmers who are permitted to save seed.

Yet protestors continue to promote misinformation and destroy field trials. Many refuse to engage in a meaningful dialogue and discuss GM issues on a case-by-case, evidential basis. For the first time since the introduction of GM crops almost two decades ago, developing countries now grow more than industrialised countries, contributing to food security and alleviating poverty in some of the world’s most vulnerable regions. The technology is not forced onto growers. Today over 17m farmers in 29 countries grow GM crops.

Virtually all the anti-GM crop opposition I have confronted are little different in substance from so-called climate skeptics. They don’t read a damned thing other than declarations from pundits fitting preconceived notions. Little or no examination of peer-reviewed scientific discussion enters the equation. In the rare instance of a publication accepting an article they can pull useful quotes from – they ignore responses, criticism and contrary proof from scientists.

The science utilized by independent university researchers to create most GM crops is not owned by corporations like Monsanto. It is often patented with provisos for free use or a requirement that any profits be returned to universities to further research. The anti-GM movement has become a religion as damned by know-nothing ideology as the conspiracy-laden crowd of Birthers and Tea Party mousies. Sad to say, that condemns their good intentions to the same cul-de-sac in history as Luddites.

Six myths about vaccination – and why they’re wrong


Same myths stateside as in Oz – same silly anti-science culture

Recently released government figures show levels of childhood vaccination have fallen to dangerously low levels in some areas of Australia, resulting in some corners of the media claiming re-ignition of “the vaccine debate”…

Well, scientifically, there’s no debate. In combination with clean water and sanitation, vaccines are one of the most effective public health measures ever introduced, saving millions of lives every year.

1. Vaccines cause autism

Thiomersal or ethyl-mercury was removed from all scheduled childhood vaccines in 2000, so if it were contributing to rising cases of autism, you would expect a dramatic drop following its removal. Instead, like the MMR in Japan, the opposite happened, and autism continues to rise.

Further evidence comes from a recently published exhaustive review examining 12,000 research articles covering eight different vaccines which also concluded there was no link between vaccines and autism.

Yet the myth persists and probably for several reasons, one being that the time of diagnosis for autism coincides with kids receiving several vaccinations and also, we currently don’t know what causes autism. But we do know what doesn’t, and that’s vaccines.

2. Smallpox and polio have disappeared so there’s no need to vaccinate anymore

It’s precisely because of vaccines that diseases such as smallpox have disappeared…

The impact of vaccine complacency can be observed in the current measles epidemic in Wales where there are now over 800 cases and one death, and many people presenting are of the age who missed out on MMR vaccination following the Wakefield scare.

In many ways, vaccines are a victim of their own success, leading us to forget just how debilitating preventable diseases can be – not seeing kids in calipers or hospital wards full of iron lungs means we forget just how serious these diseases can be.

3. More vaccinated people get the disease than the unvaccinated

Although this sounds counter-intuitive, it’s actually true, but it doesn’t mean that vaccines don’t work as anti-vaxers will conflate. Remember that no vaccine is 100% effective and vaccines are not a force field. So while it’s still possible to get the disease you’ve been vaccinated against, disease severity and duration will be reduced…

So since the majority of the population is vaccinated, it follows that most people who get a particular disease will be vaccinated, but critically, they will suffer fewer complications and long-term effects than those who are completely unprotected.

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If you distrust vaccines, you probably believe NASA faked the moon landings

Do you believe that a covert group called the New World Order is planning to take over the planet and impose a single world government?

Do you think the moon landings were staged in a Hollywood studio?

What about 9/11—do you suspect the US government deliberately allowed the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks to happen in order to concoct an excuse for war?

If you believe these sorts of things, you’re a conspiracy theorist. That much goes without saying. But according to new research, if you believe these sorts of things, you are also more likely to be skeptical of what scientists have to say on three separate issues: vaccinations, genetically modified foods, and climate change.

The new study, by University of Bristol psychologist Stephan Lewandowsky and his colleagues in the journal PLOS ONE, finds links between conspiratorial thinking and all three of these science-skeptic stances. Notably, the relationship was by far the strongest on the vaccine issue. For geeks: the correlation was .52, an impressive relationship for social science. Another way of translating the finding? “People who tend toward conspiratorial thinking are three times more likely to reject vaccinations,” says Lewandowsky…

As if the new study won’t provoke enough ire by linking anti-vaccine views to conspiracy theories, Lewandowsky also finds links—albeit much weaker ones—between conspiracy theories and both anti-GMO beliefs and climate change denial. On GMOs, the board of directors of the American Association for the Advancement of Science has stated that “crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe.” Accordingly, Lewandowsky’s survey respondents were asked to react to items like “I believe that because there are so many unknowns, that it is dangerous to manipulate the natural genetic material of plants” and “Genetic modification of food is a safe and reliable technology.”

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Golden Rice – Lifesaver? No matter – pitchforks and torches!

golden rice
Plant biotechnologist Dr. Swapan Datta at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines

One bright morning this month, 400 protesters smashed down the high fences surrounding a field in the Bicol region of the Philippines and uprooted the genetically modified rice plants growing inside.

Had the plants survived long enough to flower, they would have betrayed a distinctly yellow tint in the otherwise white part of the grain. That is because the rice is endowed with a gene from corn and another from a bacterium, making it the only variety in existence to produce beta carotene, the source of vitamin A. Its developers call it “Golden Rice.”

The concerns voiced by the participants in the Aug. 8 act of vandalism — that Golden Rice could pose unforeseen risks to human health and the environment, that it would ultimately profit big agrochemical companies — are a familiar refrain in the long-running controversy over the merits of genetically engineered crops. They are driving the desire among some Americans for mandatory “G.M.O.” labels on food with ingredients made from crops whose DNA has been altered in a laboratory. And they have motivated similar attacks on trials of other genetically modified crops in recent years: grapes designed to fight off a deadly virus in France, wheat designed to have a lower glycemic index in Australia, sugar beets in Oregon designed to tolerate a herbicide, to name a few…

But Golden Rice, which appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in 2000 before it was quite ready for prime time, is unlike any of the genetically engineered crops in wide use today, designed to either withstand herbicides sold by Monsanto and other chemical companies or resist insect attacks, with benefits for farmers but not directly for consumers…

Not owned by any company, Golden Rice is being developed by a nonprofit group called the International Rice Research Institute with the aim of providing a new source of vitamin A to people both in the Philippines, where most households get most of their calories from rice, and eventually in many other places in a world where rice is eaten every day by half the population. Lack of the vital nutrient causes blindness in a quarter-million to a half-million children each year. It affects millions of people in Asia and Africa and so weakens the immune system that some two million die each year of diseases they would otherwise survive.

The destruction of the field trial, and the reasons given for it, touched a nerve among scientists around the world, spurring them to counter assertions of the technology’s health and environmental risks. On a petition supporting Golden Rice circulated among scientists and signed by several thousand, many vented a simmering frustration with activist organizations like Greenpeace, which they see as playing on misplaced fears of genetic engineering in both the developing and the developed worlds. Some took to other channels to convey to American foodies and Filipino farmers alike the broad scientific consensus that G.M.O.’s are not intrinsically more risky than other crops and can be reliably tested.

At stake, they say, is not just the future of biofortified rice but also a rational means to evaluate a technology whose potential to improve nutrition in developing countries, and developed ones, may otherwise go unrealized.

RTFA. Especially if you are unused to wandering the world of scientific abstracts and peer-reviewed journals. Unfortunately, though my peers and friends in dissent from status quo politics often can rely on well-informed sources footnoted by left-wing journalists on issues ranging from war to peace – questions of advances in food crops are crippled by an anti-science bias worthy of any 19th Century Luddite.

Anti GMO foot soldiers deny that identity, of course. In truth, it’s the exact quality common to middle class radicals who rely on as little reading and research on their own as any Tea Party bigot.

Golden rice is open source. Corporate agribusiness makes no special profit from the crop. Aside from anything else, the product adds Vitamin D to the diet of most of the 3rd World.

I’m embarrassed by some stalwarts who say they’re on my side in the confrontation of workingclass needs versus the class of profiteers who control our world. I spent 2 years reading, defining my own understanding of climate change. Years before the IPCC Report and Al Gore. It was worth the debate, worth learning. I’ve done the same with genetics, though admittedly easier for knowing scientists active in microbiology for decades.

I still don’t recommend relying on priests, politicians or pundits.

Anti-Vaccine body count

anti-vaccine body count

The United States Anti-Vaccination Movement is composed of a variety of individuals ranging from former doctors who should know better, to semi-celebrities who have no medical training, to anti-government conspiracy theorists who distrust anything that the government says. They all hold onto the mistaken belief that autism is caused by receiving childhood vaccines.

Most anti-vaccination believers claim that the compound Thimerosal led to an increase in autism cases. The Measles/Mumps/Rubella vaccine is their usual target. However, Thimerosal was never used as a preservative in the Measles/Mumps/Rubella vaccine. No vaccine licensed since 1999 has contained Thimerosal as a preservative, except a few multi-dose container vaccines such as some (but not all) HIB and Influenza vaccines. Autism has not declined since 1999, thereby disproving this connection. However, this has not stopped anti-vaccination believers from claiming that it was the MMR vaccine itself that caused autism or that it was vaccines in general that caused autism. All of these ideas have been disproven in multiple scientific and legal examinations of the evidence. The primary scientific reason for the increase in autism diagnoses is due to more disorders being included in the Autism Spectrum and doctors getting better at diagnosing the characteristics of autism…

The Anti-Vaccination Movement has a body count attached to its name. This website publishes the total number of vaccine preventable illnesses and vaccine preventable deaths that have happened in the United States since this 2007 increase in speaking out against vaccines.

“Is the United States Anti-Vaccination Movement directly responsible for every vaccine preventable illness and every vaccine preventable death listed here? No. However, the United States Anti-Vaccination Movement may be indirectly responsible for at least some of these illnesses and deaths and even one vaccine preventable illness or vaccine preventable death is too many.”

Fools!

HPV vaccination succeeds in Australia – why not in the USA?

The American government’s goal of vaccinating young girls against the human papillomavirus has been disappointing, with less than a third of teenagers having completed a full course of HPV vaccine. But now the United States can look to Australia, which six years into a successful nationwide HPV vaccination campaign has experienced a sharp decline in the number of new cases of genital warts among young men and women.

The country, one of the first to establish a nationally financed HPV vaccination program for girls and young women, has also seen a decrease in the number of cases of cervical abnormalities, a precursor to cervical cancer.

Australia’s program, which started in 2007, offers free HPV vaccination to girls who are 12 and 13 years old, and catch-up programs for girls and women under 26. The vaccine protects against genital warts as well as cancers of the cervix, head and neck…

The findings suggest that Australia’s program, which has experienced little of the resistance that has stymied vaccination efforts in the United States, has been an overwhelming success, said Basil Donovan, an author of the study and a professor at the University of New South Wales in Sydney…

Australia’s vaccination campaign sharply contrasts with the program in the United States where, studies show, parents often opt out of HPV vaccination for their children, calling the vaccine unnecessary, citing concerns about its safety or saying they have difficulty explaining to their teenagers what the shots are for. Some parents have also hesitated over fears that HPV vaccination might give their teenagers license to have sex, even though studies have countered the notion that the vaccine alters sexual behavior.

“There was little resistance to the HPV vaccine in Australia, just the usual anti-vaccination people and a few religious groups,” Dr. Donovan said. “But even the religious groups have gone quiet, and I suspect that many of them are quietly getting their children vaccinated.”

Will anyone ever come up with a vaccine against the ignorance and bigotry that fuels the anti-science crusade in the American Right?

Global Temperatures are the highest in 4,000 years

Global temperatures are warmer than at any time in at least 4,000 years, scientists reported Thursday, and over the coming decades are likely to surpass levels not seen on the planet since before the last ice age.

Previous research had extended back roughly 1,500 years, and suggested that the rapid temperature spike of the past century, believed to be a consequence of human activity, exceeded any warming episode during those years. The new work confirms that result while suggesting the modern warming is unique over a longer period.

Even if the temperature increase from human activity that is projected for later this century comes out on the low end of estimates, scientists said, the planet will be at least as warm as it was during the warmest periods of the modern geological era, known as the Holocene, and probably warmer than that…

In the new research…Shaun Marcott, an earth scientist at Oregon State University, and his colleagues compiled the most meticulous reconstruction yet of global temperatures over the past 11,300 years, virtually the entire Holocene. They used indicators like the distribution of microscopic, temperature-sensitive ocean creatures to determine past climate…

Though the paper is the most complete reconstruction of global temperature, it is roughly consistent with previous work on a regional scale…

Scientists say that if natural factors were still governing the climate, the Northern Hemisphere would probably be destined to freeze over again in several thousand years. “We were on this downward slope, presumably going back toward another ice age,” Dr. Marcott said.

Instead, scientists believe the enormous increase in greenhouse gases caused by industrialization will almost certainly prevent that…

The modern rise that has recreated the temperatures of 5,000 years ago is occurring at an exceedingly rapid clip on a geological time scale, appearing in graphs in the new paper as a sharp vertical spike. If the rise continues apace, early Holocene temperatures are likely to be surpassed within this century, Dr. Marcott said.

Dr. Michael Mann pointed out that the early Holocene temperature increase was almost certainly slow, giving plants and creatures time to adjust. But he said the modern spike would probably threaten the survival of many species, in addition to putting severe stresses on human civilization.

We and other living things can adapt to slower changes,” Dr. Mann said. “It’s the unprecedented speed with which we’re changing the climate that is so worrisome.”

The science is clear. It has been for a while, now. I first engaged in this debate over a decade ago and it only took me a couple of years of examining research – mostly from the Max Planck Institute – to come to conclusions requiring a commitment to action.

The opposition which fraudulently abuses the term of skeptic is well-funded by enterprise profiting from exploiting fossil fuels, populated by opportunists who hope for a pimp’s share of the action – and by the superstitious and ignorant who fear science as much as they cringe from progress.

Responsibility still accrues to those who recognize the need to act.

The Ignoranus Caucus in Congress

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Last week Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, gave what his office told us would be a major policy speech. And we should be grateful for the heads-up about the speech’s majorness. Otherwise, a read of the speech might have suggested that he was offering nothing more than a meager, warmed-over selection of stale ideas.

To be sure, Mr. Cantor tried to sound interested in serious policy discussion. But he didn’t succeed — and that was no accident. For these days his party dislikes the whole idea of applying critical thinking and evidence to policy questions. And no, that’s not a caricature: Last year the Texas G.O.P. explicitly condemned efforts to teach “critical thinking skills,” because, it said, such efforts “have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”

And such is the influence of what we might call the ignorance caucus that even when giving a speech intended to demonstrate his openness to new ideas, Mr. Cantor felt obliged to give that caucus a shout-out, calling for a complete end to federal funding of social science research. Because it’s surely a waste of money seeking to understand the society we’re trying to change.

Want other examples of the ignorance caucus at work? Start with health care, an area in which Mr. Cantor tried not to sound anti-intellectual; he lavished praise on medical research just before attacking federal support for social science. How much money are we talking about? Well, the entire National Science Foundation budget for social and economic sciences amounts to a whopping 0.01 percent of the budget deficit…

The desire to perpetuate ignorance on matters medical is nothing compared with the desire to kill climate research, where Mr. Cantor’s colleagues — particularly, as it happens, in his home state of Virginia — have engaged in furious witch hunts against scientists who find evidence they don’t like…Republicans in the State Legislature have specifically prohibited the use of the words “sea-level rise…”

O.K., at this point the conventions of punditry call for saying something to demonstrate my evenhandedness, something along the lines of “Democrats do it too.” But while Democrats, being human, often read evidence selectively and choose to believe things that make them comfortable, there really isn’t anything equivalent to Republicans’ active hostility to collecting evidence in the first place.

The truth is that America’s partisan divide runs much deeper than even pessimists are usually willing to admit; the parties aren’t just divided on values and policy views, they’re divided over epistemology. One side believes, at least in principle, in letting its policy views be shaped by facts; the other believes in suppressing the facts if they contradict its fixed beliefs.

In her parting shot on leaving the State Department, Hillary Clinton said of her Republican critics, “They just will not live in an evidence-based world.” She was referring specifically to the Benghazi controversy, but her point applies much more generally. And for all the talk of reforming and reinventing the G.O.P., the ignorance caucus retains a firm grip on the party’s heart and mind.

Paul Krugman is too polite to use a word more commonly found on the Web – “ignoranus”. It more thoroughly describes Republican philosophy and practice. Ignorance pursued as an end unto itself – which only provides satisfaction to dimwits whose mental processes are confined to the southern end of the alimentary canal.