Scientific American slams Donald Trump in op-ed

It’s not just disillusioned Republican lawmakers who are coming out against Donald Trump…Scientific American, the popular science magazine, has published an op-ed denouncing the GOP presidential nominee’s stances on a variety of science-related issues.

When the major Republican candidate for president has tweeted that global warming is a Chinese plot, threatens to dismantle a climate agreement 20 years in the making and to eliminate an agency that enforces clean air and water regulations, and speaks passionately about a link between vaccines and autism that was utterly discredited years ago, we can only hope that there is nowhere to go but up.

The magazine also takes to task a political system in which it says facts, scientific and otherwise, “have become an undervalued commodity” and in which hostility to science can be found on both sides of the political spectrum. Those are relatively old gripes, but they’ve taken on new resonance this election season.

Science has not played nearly as prominent a role as it should in informing debates over the labeling of genetically modified foods, end of life care and energy policy, among many issues.

The current presidential race, however, is something special. It takes antiscience to previously unexplored terrain.

There’s more to come from Scientific American as the US presidential election unfolds, the publication says. “In October, as we did four years previously, we will assemble answers from the campaigns of the Democratic and Republican nominees on the public policy questions that touch on science, technology and public health and then publish them online.”

I’ll second that emotion.

Milestone: July was the warmest month ever recorded — think any politicians on the payroll of Big Oil noticed?

July 2016 was the warmest month ever recorded, the latest in a slew of new temperature records set in the past several years, according to two new reports.

Scientists have recorded month after month of record-breaking temperatures this year, but July shattered all those records to become the hottest of any month in any year since record keeping began. The data was confirmed separately by NASA and the Japanese Meteorological Agency and provides near certainty that 2016 will be the hottest year in recorded history.

July was 0.78°C (1.4°F) warmer than the 20th century average, according to the JMA. Locations across the globe experienced extreme heat in July, including a so-called heat dome that hit across the U.S. and record temperatures of 54°C (129.2°F) in Kuwait…

Climate scientists attribute the spike in temperatures to man-made global warming along with a number of shorter-term climate patterns. In particular, El Niño — a phenomenon characterized by unusually high temperatures along the equatorial Pacific — drove up temperatures late last year and early this year…

Mail me a penny postcard if you heard anything from the Republican Party about this. Please include Blue Dog Democrats from coal, oil or natural gas-producing states.

TIME tried to include a cop-out at the end of the article, e.g., hopes that La Niña might make a difference. I’m on NOAA’s mailing list for weather events. La Niña is barely 50/50 at the moment to happen and the best description is for extra-normal. Whatever that might mean in your neck of the prairie.

No, the embargo on science, evidence-based reality, by conservative politicians has reached the same high as Earth’s greenhouse temperatures. The latter is a product of natural processes even when reacting to man-made causes. The former is a declaration of war on truth by lying politicians. That especially includes opportunists like Trump and his trumpkins – the usual scum who show up seeking fame and fortune from populist ignorance and stupidity.

Republicans obsessed with Planned Parenthood expand their witch hunt

The federal investigation into the unfounded claim that Planned Parenthood profits off of fetal tissue donations has taken an even darker turn.

A House committee led by anti-abortion Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) is on the verge of issuing 17 subpoenas to medical companies to gather the names of medical researchers, graduate students, laboratory technicians, and administrative staff who are in any way involved in fetal tissue research…

According to Blackburn: “We are going to review the business practices of these procurement organizations and do some investigating of how they have constructed a for-profit business model from selling baby body parts…”

The committee was John Boehner’s personal witch hunt against Planned Planned based on propaganda from scumbags [now indicted] who produced a counterfeit anti-abortion video.

The researchers and technicians in question fear this attack could effectively halt critical research that depends on fetal tissue samples — including researching cures for the Zika virus, Parkinson’s disease, HIV, and many other fatal conditions. Of course, many also fear that making the researchers’ names public could seriously endanger their lives.

Rep. Jerrod Nadler has warned her of the serious implications of her witch hunt…”The committee has no rules in place to protect the names of those subpoenaed — raising the possibility of Congress effectively painting targets on the backs of scientists and researchers for no particular reason other than the Republicans’ desire for a culture war,” he said…

The looming subpoenas are especially unsettling for universities, whose lead researchers and students are at risk. Some schools and organizations have blacked out the names of the researchers in documents already requested by the House committee — but this new round of subpoenas wouldn’t allow for this security measure.

Congressional Republicans are notorious for their 14th Century religious hangups, dedication to myth and ignorance. That they use their majority in Congress – undeserved and ill-acquired – to assault constitutional protections in parallel with witch hunts against women’s rights and science in general is especially contemptible.

Republican “academic freedom” unchanged – backwards, bigoted and anti-science

The first state bills of the year that would interfere with science education have appeared in Oklahoma. There, both the House and Senate have seen bills that would prevent school officials and administrators from disciplining any teachers who introduce spurious information to science classes.

These bills have a long history, dating back to around the time when teaching intelligent design was determined to be an unconstitutional imposition of religion. A recent study showed that you could take the text of the bills and build an evolutionary tree that traces their modifications over the last decade. The latest two fit the patterns nicely.

The Senate version of the bill is by State Senator Josh Brecheen, a Republican. It is the fifth year in a row he’s introduced a science education bill after announcing he wanted “every publicly funded Oklahoma school to teach the debate of creation vs. evolution…”

The one introduced in the Oklahoma House is more traditional. Billed as a “Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act” (because freedom!), it spells out a whole host of areas of science its author doesn’t like…

The bill…ensures educators can just teach whatever they want as long as they think it’s science, and nobody can discipline them. Students, meanwhile, cannot be penalized if they “subscribe to a particular position on scientific theories.”

As usual, if your particular flavor of fundamentalist hooey favors a Flat Earth or the sun revolving around the Earth it’s OK. Want to teach the kiddies scumbag theories about natural subservience for women or ethnic minorities? No harm, no foul.

The stupidity, the harm of abstinence-only sex education

Lacey Kennedy, who graduated from a high school in northern Alabama in 2010, remembered students being told to sign an abstinence pledge and to fold the pledge down to the size of a condom wrapper and keep it in their wallet.

“The idea was when you open your wallet to reach for a condom, instead you find this conveniently condom-wrapper-size abstinence pledge,” she said, “and that was supposed to be useful to us.”

According to the most recent National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 50 percent of high school students in Alabama have had sex, and nearly half have had sex without condoms. Over the past few years, according to the Alabama Department of Health, people ages 13 to 24 are the only cohort in the state to see an increase in new HIV diagnoses. In 2013 people 13 to 24 accounted for almost half of new HIV infections in the state.

Alabama has high rates of STD infections. Data from the CDC in 2013 show that the state capital, Montgomery, had the highest STD rate in the nation. That year the state ranked third in the U.S. in numbers of chlamydial and gonorrheal infections, and the infection rate skyrockets in young adults 15 to 24 years old.

The CDC issued a report in December of last year criticizing middle school and high school sex education programs across the U.S. for not teaching all the recommended sexual health topics. The least covered topic, the report noted, was how to get and use condoms…

In Alabama, public schools have to teach health — includes topics like bullying, hygiene, substance abuse and HIV — but Alabama and 38 other states do not require schools to teach sexual education

The article wanders around through the rationales still offered by education officials challenged by state legislators elected to represent folks even more ignorant than they are. They do that job well enough to get re-elected. Isn’t that what American politics is all about?

The high school I attended in New England added sex education to the curriculum in the early 1950’s. I presume it’s still happening.

Meanwhile, you can figure out in your own mind how much of this policy is “stupid” and how much is “ignorance-based”.

The world wonders why a climate debate persists in the United States

conservative view of science
Conservative politicians’ view of science

At the U.N. climate summit in Paris, the U.S. has a big footprint. Cabinet officials scurry from meeting to meeting, trying to get a binding deal that would help some 200 countries slow the planet’s warming. Yet in some ways, the United States is an outlier.

“Everybody else is taking climate change really seriously,” President Obama said during his visit to Paris at the start of the summit. “They think it’s a really big problem.”

As the president acknowledged, he leads one of the few advanced democracies in the world where climate change is still the subject of political debate.

As the summit began, House Republicans in Washington were debating a bill to gut the Obama administration’s clean energy plan…

This is not just small-ball domestic politics that the rest of the world ignores. The debate in Washington shapes the perception of the United States in Paris. Some countries at the summit accuse the U.S. — which, in the 20th century, has emitted more carbon than any other — of trying to have it both ways: emitting more carbon per capita than almost any other country, while wagging fingers at the rest of the world…

Hanging over all of this is the fact that the U.S. has walked away from global climate deals before — most notably, the landmark 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

The question now is whether the hot political debate in Washington is tying the hands of American negotiators in Paris. U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz says it isn’t.

“The programs that have been put forward will be executed,” he said in an interview this week in Paris. “They are based on existing authorities, whether it is efficiency standards for vehicles or the clean power plan for power plants…”

“I think the phrases that you hear here are that everybody understands that the American delegation is negotiating in good faith,” says Rachel Kyte, the World Bank’s special envoy for climate change.

They also understand that Congressional conservatives – Republicans in particular – can’t be trusted to support a principled, informed position on any issue.

Unlike the USA, Ireland hopes to treat drug addicts like addicts

On Monday, the minister in charge of national drug strategy said that Ireland’s next government will likely move toward decriminalizing all drugs, the Irish Times reported. Aodhán Ó Ríordáin also said that the country will open up injection rooms for heroin addicts, where users can obtain and use the drug — under strict medical supervision — without resorting to criminal traffickers and dealers.

This does not mean that Ireland stores will begin selling marijuana, heroin, and cocaine anytime soon. But if the next government takes up the plan outlined by Ó Ríordáin, it would remove criminal penalties for the possession of these drugs, eliminating the risk of prison time for drug possession, while criminal penalties remain for manufacturing, trafficking, and selling the substances.

Ireland wouldn’t be the first country to do this. In a move that got a lot of media attention, Portugal in 2001 decriminalized all drugs, including heroin and cocaine. Reports from Portugal have found largely promising results, with drug use remaining relatively flat as more people get treatment for their drug problems.

But Portugal didn’t just decriminalize; it also paired up decriminalization with a much greater emphasis on public health programs for drug addicts. That seems to be what Ireland is trying to do, as well. And at a time when the US is dealing with a harrowing opioid painkiller and heroin epidemic, Portugal and Ireland’s radical approaches could provide a lesson to America.

Which presumes the United States once again recognizes health as a public need with public solutions.

…Eliminating or at least diminishing the stigma surrounding these drugs could also come with a public health benefit: It would make it so that people aren’t as scared to get help when they need it. This is what a 2009 report from the libertarian Cato Institute found when it looked at Portugal’s decriminalization scheme: “The most substantial barrier to offering treatment to the addict population was the addicts’ fear of arrest. One prime rationale for decriminalization was that it would break down that barrier, enabling effective treatment options to be offered to addicts once they no longer feared prosecution. Moreover, decriminalization freed up resources that could be channeled into treatment and other harm reduction programs.”…

The details of Ireland’s new drug policies are still being worked out. But the country’s current government seems interested in adopting an approach that focuses first on treating instead of imprisoning drug users. And Ó Ríordáin seems convinced that the next government will continue along that path with full decriminalization…

But more broadly, the new Irish approach is increasingly becoming the new norm. As more countries take another look at the war on drugs and its failures to significantly cut down on drug use, they’re looking to rely less on law enforcement and more on doctors and hospitals to deal with drug abuse and addiction. Ireland is just the latest high-profile example of this shift. America, as it deals with its opioid epidemic, might not be too far behind.

I manage to be both an optimist and a cynic. I believe much of the educated world will continue to move towards solving substance abuse questions as a public health issue. I don’t include the United States in that equation.

Quakes growing in frequency, strength, near world’s biggest oil storage hub

And they’re caused by oil-production wastewater injected back into the ground!

Cushing, OK Google Maps
Click to enlarge

A sharp earthquake in central Oklahoma last weekend has raised fresh concern about the security of a vast crude oil storage complex, close to the quake’s center, that sits at the crossroads of the nation’s oil pipeline network.

The magnitude 4.5 quake struck Saturday afternoon about three miles northwest of Cushing, roughly midway between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. The town of about 8,000 people is home to the so-called Cushing Hub, a sprawling tank farm that is among the largest oil storage facilities in the world.

Oil pimps in Cushing say it is the largest.

Scientists reported in a paper published online last month that a large earthquake near the storage hub “could seriously damage storage tanks and pipelines.” Saturday’s quake continues a worrisome pattern of moderate quakes, suggesting that a large earthquake is more than a passing concern, the lead author of that study, Daniel McNamara, said in an interview.

“When we see these fault systems producing multiple magnitude 4s, we start to get concerned that it could knock into higher magnitudes,” he said. “Given the number of magnitude 4s here, it’s a high concern.”

…Major tank ruptures could cause serious environmental damage, raise the risk of fire and other disasters and disrupt the flow of oil to refineries nationwide, said Dr. McNamara, a research geophysicist at the National Earthquake Information Center in Colorado.

The Cushing quake is among the largest of thousands of temblors that have rocked central and northern Oklahoma in the past five years, largely set off by the injection of oil and gas industry wastes deep into the earth. The watery wastes effectively lubricate cracks, allowing rocks under intense pressure to slip past one another, causing quakes.

The tens of millions of barrels of injected wastewater have helped make Oklahoma the second most seismically active state, behind Alaska. Although quakes have damaged or destroyed buildings and roads and, in a few instances, injured people, regulators do not have the authority to seriously curb waste disposal, and politicians in a state dominated by the energy industry have made no move to give it to them.

The state had three earthquakes of magnitude 3 or greater in 2009. Last year, it had 585, and this year’s total exceeds that.

Politicians – and the citizens who elect those politicians – who dedicate their service to lies and those who profit from lies may have lucrative careers for as long as they last. The fools who continue to vote them back into office are leaving their children and grandchildren a heritage of nature thrown directly into imbalance by fossil fuel profiteers.

Sometimes you not only get what you want – you get what you deserve.

Herd Immunity against measles won’t hold as vaccination rates fall

Avoiding or delaying the measles vaccine has left nearly 9 million children in the U.S. vulnerable to the disease, including roughly 2 million children too young to receive the vaccine…

“With the number of outbreaks that we are seeing around the country, with the increase of events of the virus being imported into this country, it really gives the sense that there’s some work to do to make sure that our kids are safe. The whole world is connected on this issue,” Matthew M. Zahn, MD, medical director for epidemiology for Orange County Public Health in California…

Based on data from the National Immunization Survey-Teen, the researchers estimated the number of measles-susceptible children and adolescents, ages 17 and younger, in the U.S. “This allowed us to look at, not only those who had ever gotten a dose of the measles vaccine, but also at children who have gotten doses late because of parents who choose to delay vaccinations,” Robert Bednarczyk, PhD, of Emory University said…

The investigators estimated that 12.5% of U.S. children were at risk for measles, and for children ages 3 and under, that rate of susceptibility could be as high as 24.7%…

Zahn encouraged primary care providers to avoid the mindset that because there is a low rate of measles incidence that it’s acceptable for parents to delay vaccination.

None of the sillyass reasons for skipping vaccination are legitimate. The mindset – all too often – has nothing to do with the effectiveness or safety of vaccination; but, rather myth, unfounded fears, misconception and very often – folks being deliberately misled.

That last reason usually profits someone other than kids and families.