Thursday, May 31, 2007

Reply To a "Science Debunker"

I wrote this as a comment in reply to this post. It really irritated me, especially with all the posts expressing vacuous agreement.

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You'd get along well with Steven Milloy (the founder of junkscience.com) -- in fact, I wonder if you've been influenced by him.

Check him out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Milloy

A choice quote:

"In 1993, Milloy dismissed an Environmental Protection Agency report linking secondhand tobacco smoke to cancer as "a joke". When the British Medical Journal published a similar study in 1997, Milloy said, "it remains a joke today." When another researcher published a study linking secondhand smoke to cancer, Milloy wrote that she, "…must have pictures of journal editors in compromising positions with farm animals. How else can you explain her studies seeing the light of day?"[4] While at FoxNews.com, Milloy continued to attack research on the harms of secondhand smoke.[5]

During the time that Milloy was attacking the credibility of secondhand-smoke research, his junkscience.com website was receiving editorial oversight and content directly from the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.[6] Milloy's supposedly independent organization TASSC was funded and coordinated by Philip Morris[7] with the goal of "utilizing TASSC as a tool in targeted legislative battles."[8] A confidential 1994 Philip Morris memo listed Milloy's organization under "PM Tools to Affect Legislative Decisions".[9] Milloy himself was listed on Philip Morris' payroll, being budgeted over $180,000 in payments in the years 2000 and 2001.[10]

On June 27, 2006, summarizing over 10 years of scientific research, the United States Surgeon General issued a comprehensive scientific report concluding that secondhand smoke is a carcinogen with no risk-free level of exposure, refuting Milloy's claims.[11] The Surgeon General's report also stated that secondhand smoke exposure is a known cause of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), respiratory problems, ear infections, and asthma attacks in infants and children.[11]"

There are plenty of other similar examples. You would also be a global warming denier, I'm betting, who believes that the synthetic chemicals pervading our environment are getting a bad rap and hurting business.

Mind pointing out some real examples besides alluding to some book with a flashy name?

What's interesting is that in the past "science" (influenced by government) scammed the public into believing things like something like marijuana is harmful and things like DDT are not. Today we've got scientists telling us the opposite.

Today we also have the irrational Christians on the defensive. Coincidence? I think not.

When you discount the danger of synthetic chemicals (enjoy your Teflon fumes and volatile plasticizers with a good dose of cadmium, I'm guessing?) and drugs you serve as a corporate apologist, just like Milloy.

Today health problems are rampant among the masses, yet people who cook their own meals and avoid chemicals tend to go to the doctor sparingly, if at all. That should be encouraged. Many of the chemicals we use today are not actually very necessary, and the more information that people have about their risks the better.

Health effects is one of those areas that we say in economics is dominated by imperfect information, which leads people to make bad choices. If you care more about your health, choose juice instead of soda. The only people you'll be hurting really is the soda companies.

Parkinson's has been linked to pesticides. This is simply a strong statistical correlation. Take of it what you want.

Genetically engineered foods pose significant health risks. Many people are unaware of that, and at first glance it would seem that genetically engineered foods pose little risk. After all, genetic changes happen naturally. But these major changes can produce unexpected side affects. The most blatantly unhealthy modifications get caught in the lab (GM peas cause allergic lung damage in rice), but the others can have slower, long-term, insidious effects, as the researcher Arpad Pusztai has shown.

In conclusion, you are very wrong. The new millennium calls for a different kind of science - but that science should be more cautious, not less, when it comes to potential health effects. After all, what do we have to lose? A few less cans of soda, or rice with human proteins in it?

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I'll add something that isn't on the comment: of course, there is potentially more to lose than the lost opportunity to taste human-rice. There is an argument that GM (genetically modified) foods are necessary to food the world's growing population. I think that's false; we can obviously more than feed the world right now. The poor in developing nations right now don't even accept GM foods (they refuse to take much of that food anyway), and when they do accept GM foods, their farmers are forced to pay pharmaceutical companies. The poor need money and livelihoods. That would be best served by helping them sell their own food; that means we need to reduce trade barriers and food subsidies in the US, as well as do what we can to build basic infrastructure (water and energy) and put pressure on despotic governments.

3 comments:

Simple Minded said...

I won't get into the GM foods thing with you because I didn't have time to research it even marginally (and we do this like every week anyway) but let me quote some stats to you from the EPA Study entitled "Respiratory Effects of Passive Smoking: Lung Cancer and Other Disorders" which, by the way, was actually lambasted by a federal judge as using bad data, cherry-picked data and being needlessly alarmist.

According to the 31,000 lung cancer cases they dealt with in women, around 5,000ish were unrelated to smoking. 24,000ish were directly a result of smoking or were assumed to be (i.e. those 24,000 all smoked heavily). 1,500 exactly were exposed to ETS (environmental tobacco smoke) via their spouse or other means. Please note two things, first, the number is lower than the amount of women who got lung cancer from just standing around breathing smoke-free air. I'm not implying that second hand smoke wards off lung cancer, but if the numbers are that far off it makes one wonder at the methods utilized to obtain them. Secondly, by using these numbers provided by the EPA we arrive at a rate per 100,000 of .015 or 1.5 percent. The EPAs own study notes that a value less than .01 or 1 percent is of NO STATISTICAL SIGNIFICANCE.

Finally, in men the EPAs study notes that the rate of risk for men exposed to ETS is 2.4 per 100,000 and 3.2 per 100,000. This comes out to roughly 500 deaths per 100,000 attributable to ETS or .5 percent of every 100,000 people will die from this horrible health hazard. (Found on Page 211 of the study in section six it's a horrendously boring read)

Now, I've strictly dealt with the adult exposure aspects in regards to lung cancer not other potentially aggravating effects or what it might do to children or infant/toddler lungs. Regardless of all of his funding, he was definitely right about the ETS study being a joke.

Anonymous said...

As for the GM foods, I'll copy one of your debate tactics and suggest you look at a wikipedia article.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_Borlaug

undergroundman said...

Dave: I wish you would have posted the source of all that information. I'm suspicious. I managed to find this:

http://www.epa.gov/smokefree/pubs/etsfs.html

It claims that 3000 deaths/year are caused by secondhand smoke as well as "impairs the respiratory health of hundreds of thousands of children."

Finding statistical significance is not so easy as taking the amount of people who are selected in a sample and dividing that by 100,000. We could take all the people who live around smokers and find the percentage of those who got lung cancer. The number would likely be much higher. Saying that 1.5% of the population gets lung cancer as a result of secondhand smoke if we don't know what percentage of the population is regularly exposed to secondhand smoke. You know?

Abstract #1 on Pubmed: "A meta-analysis of over 50 studies on involuntary smoking among never smokers showed a consistent and statistically significant association between exposure to environmental tobacco smoke and lung cancer risk..."

#2 on PubMed: "RESULTS: The excess risk of lung cancer was 24% (95% confidence interval 13% to 36%) in non-smokers who lived with a smoker (P < 0.001)."

Anonymous: I was tempted to take a page out of your book (not mine, I'm afraid - I do like to link to Wikipedia pages in hopes that people will educate themselves and make substantial comments) and simply link here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plant_breeding

However, I was afraid you wouldn't get it. Let's forget the fact that just because Norman Borlaug (or any other expert) says something is good doesn't mean it is so - check out the informal fallacies I linked to. The Green Revolution wasn't about genetic engineering as it is practiced. It was accomplished through cross-breeding which created hybrids such as the IR36. The risks of these are quite different. Today it is an entirely different ballgame, with entirely different risks.

Also, I never said that GM food couldn't be beneficial and increase crop efficiency - it just has to be pursued cautiously, with close attention to its safety and with full information divulged to consumers.