The moral equivalent of witchcraft

The New York Times is carrying an unusually in-depth story “What Happened to the Girls in Leroy? on an epidemic of twitching, stuttering, and tics among the high-school girls of a small town in upstate New York.

The reporter didn’t go there, but I couldn’t help noticing strong parallels to what we know about the run-up to the Salem witch trials. The symptoms reported from LeRoy are very like the “sickness of astonishment” which, in the belief context of Puritan Massachusetts in the 1690s, led to accusations of witchcraft and the torture and hanging of twenty people.

Today’s verdict on the epidemic in LeRoy matches what historians generally believe about the causes of the Salem witch trials. Mass hysteria – or, in more modern clinical language, an epidemic of “conversion disorder” in which psychological stressors turn into physical symptoms through unconscious neurological mechanisms that are not yet well understood.

What is yet more interesting, but not as closely examined by the reporter as it should have been, is the secondary illness the girls induced in the community around them. Parents reaching for explanations in Salem in 1692, living within a strongly religious world-view, seized on Satan and hostile witchcraft to explain the twitching, stuttering, and tics. The parents of Leroy, in a more secular world, instantly invented an equally unfalsifiable explanation – one which tells us a great deal about the native insanities of our own time.

Yes, it’s 2012, and trace chemical pollutants have become the new witchcraft.

They’re perfect for the role. Because they’re believed to be able to cause harm in sub-microgram amounts, absence of evidence can never be evidence of absence. They’re just like Puritan sinfulness – if you don’t find them, it’s because you’re not looking hard enough. Worse, your failure to find witchcraft pollutants can and will be taken as evidence that you are in league with Satan the polluters.

By the time Erin Brockovich and a media posse come to your town (which actually happened in Leroy, yes) rationality is out the window. Nobody has the capability or the desire to confront the actual demons haunting these children – the long dying of the town’s economy and pride, fraying trust networks, disintegrating neighborhoods, absent or abusive parents – so hate and fear is displaced onto “chemicals” and unspecified but sinister corporations who might as well be standing in for the Princes of Hell.

I’ve written before that environmental panics often seem like a sort of sorcerer hunt – a frenzy for finding someone to blame, a human cause that can be punished so that we can evade the truth of our ignorance of and powerlessness over impersonal causes. The Leroy case illustrates this exceptionally well – and it shows us something else as well. When those causes might in fact be partly under human control – when our children are ill and failing because we have failed them – the frenzy can get even worse.

341 thoughts on “The moral equivalent of witchcraft

  1. There are pollutants who can cause neurological and skin afflictions. So these should not simply be dismissed.

    Indeed, as you state, such pollutants should actually be found to poison the children and cause the problems before they can be designated the “cause”. We had massive problems with formaldehyde in schools over here due to the use of bad building materials. These caused quite distinct breathing problems. This was more definite as the pollutant could be measured and it affected smaller children too.

    But your “mass hysteria” hypothesis is equally unfalsifiable. The fact that hysteria can explain several historical cases is just as weak as saying earlier poisonings with heavy metals or dioxin caused comparable problems. Luckily, we can detect heavy metals and chlorated chemicals is really small amounts.

    However, when I hear about sections of high-school students being afflicted like you describe, I think of poltergeists and the Salem trials too. I would still check the usual suspects, though.

  2. Even when chemicals can be detected, there has been little evidence that they actually caused any harm. For example, in Love Canal, there was no evidence that there was any effect from the chemical exposure, just like Gulf War disease and Agent Orange hoopla. The first thought for any similar claims should be Lazarus’s “Never underestimate the power of human stupidity.”

  3. @William B Swift
    “Even when chemicals can be detected, there has been little evidence that they actually caused any harm.”

    Indeed. But the problem is the exact same has been said about thalidomide, Tetraethyllead, Asbestos, DES, Tobacco smoking, Dioxin, Methyl Mercury (Minamata Disease), DDT et al., and plutonium dust. So it is understandable that the public has doubts about arguments like “these chemicals are harmless”. Especially when simple toxicology shows them to be poisonous.

    I am all for evidence based toxicology. But I also know how much money has been spend over history defending the use of horribly toxic substances. Reading about the history of thalidomide or DES birth defects would make anyone paranoid.

  4. ‘So it is understandable that the public has doubts about arguments like “these chemicals are harmless”. Especially when simple toxicology shows them to be poisonous.’

    And especially when they have been lied to again, and again, and again. “That’s perfectly safe. Trust us. Would we lie to you?” Well, let’s see: you lied to us about thalidomide, and about MTBE, and about aspartame, and about dioxins, and … well, yes. Yes, you TOTALLY would lie to us. And, oh, hey! Daylight savings time! That’s another lie…

  5. I was recently re-reading a compilation of papers on the Salem witch trials and thought I would share. It was actually a text book in a history class I took on Witchcraft (what a great class!) and lays out the various theories that have been accepted over time as to the cause of the girls afflictions. It was interesting to read how the accepted view on the causes for the episode changed over time. The “mass hysteria” psychological explanation, while one of the more recent, isn’t the only viable theory – including the theory they actually *were* witches :)

    Marc Mappen’s Witches and Historians, Interpretations of Salem
    http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Witches-and-Historians/Marc-Mappen/e/9780894649998

  6. Absence of evidence is indeed evidence of absence if you interpret evidence probabilistically.

    I have some 20% belief that a pirate ship is sunk within a given 20 mile radius. I explore 25% of the area don’t find it (absence of evidence). If I am rational, and I didn’t discover any other new information, my belief that the pirate ship is within that area should shrink (evidence of absence).

  7. Should I assume that you heard the same NPR story that I did yesterday? I had the exact same reaction as you did to the suggestion that chemical pollutants were responsible, especially since the spill which people were fingering as the cause happened forty years ago.

    However, I’m not a lot happier about the “conversion disorder” theory, especially since conversion disorder sounds a lot like medical jargon for “witches did it”. We’re talking about a “disease” that has no clear etiology, no well-understood physical mechanism, and a hand-wavy allusion to stress as the ultimate cause. Conversion disorder isn’t really an explanation. It’s a non-explanation, an admission that we don’t know what’s going on, but we’re going to make something up so that it sounds like we do.

  8. What’s the likelihood that it isn’t stress related or “mass hysteria”?

    1) All the victjms are female.
    2) The ones interviewed in detail all had bad or nonexistent relationships with their fathers.
    3) Any form of “treatment” seems to be helping, which points to the placebo effect.

    In other words, it’s all in their heads.

  9. @brian
    Now that is solid evidence that these are not poisons related. Interesting to know why “Fathers” should be a problem? How about children from gay/lesbian couples?

  10. @Winter
    > Interesting to know why “Fathers” should be a problem? How about children
    > from gay/lesbian couples?

    Try s/their fathers/one of their parents/

    Parses the same. Although, given they are female, a bad father relationship has more specific psychological connotations.

  11. @winter –

    It’s just as valid as anything else that’s been offered, in other words it’s unfalsifiable.

    Except for that last bit. If the source article is to be believed, then once these girls think they are in “treatment” they start getting better.

    Which means what, precisely?

    I don’t know, but it sounds an awful lot like a self-reinforcing feedback loop among already damaged and vulnerable teenage girls.

  12. >Well, let’s see: you lied to us about thalidomide, and about MTBE, and about aspartame, and about dioxins, and … well, yes. Yes, you TOTALLY would lie to us.

    Yep, the environmentalist and “Fear of Food” scum have lied about all of those and more. There is an old saw, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” But what about the great mass of morons out there (70% or more of the population) who will believe anything; “Fool me forever, that’s what it means to be human”?

  13. All that fear of trace chemicals is but another aspect of the desire for control of your life. Early man feared the world he lived in, and so belief in evil spirits and methods of placating them were born. Today, people have the same fears and their own magic spells:

    “Go jogging every day and I won’t get a heart attack.”
    “Clean out the chemicals and eat organic food and I won’t get cancer.”

    It’s not true folks. It won’t work. You *will* get sick and die eventually. (No, I’m not telling you to smoke, or eat a lot of junk food – just stick to the better-established medical information and don’t be a fanatic.)

  14. Well, to be fair, there are other benefits to jogging every day – like being able to run for a while without feeling out of breath. (Every so often, I feel the need to do this.) I’m pretty sure there’s no epidemic of people being irate about having heart attacks even though they regularly jog. (That’s the good thing about heart attack remedies. Not that many people around in a position to claim fraud.)

  15. As for witch hunts – I remember reading Devil in the Shape of a Woman in college history. The argument was fairly clear: the women accused of being witches tended to be affluent; the women accusers tended to be less well off. There practically never arose a case of a woman accusing someone poorer than herself.

    In short: Occupy Salem.

  16. Post-Enlightenment Western civilization does not deal well with, “we don’t know” as an answer. Any time that that is the most honest answer science and the sum of current human knowledge can give, there will be pseudo-scientific, religious, or other explanations given.

    Pre-scientific cultures, despite their strong desire for supernatural explanations that at least gave an apparent cause it phenomenon, were more comfortable with ambiguity. When you ascribe outcomes to the whims of the gods, you are more willing to shrug and say, “the gods do what the gods will do,” or something similar.

    But from, say, 1800 up to the present, society demands an answer to everything, and the typical human is not comfortable with probabililties (“But I know a vegetarian who never smoked, and she was just diagnosed with lung cancer!”), no matter how strong the data. They typical human is hard-wired to need an “If A, then B” belief that can also be reversed, “If I don’t do A, I definitely won’t have B happen to me.”

  17. @Paul Brinkley:

    The argument was fairly clear: the women accused of being witches tended to be affluent; the women accusers tended to be less well off.

    It would have been very surprising for this to not be the case.

  18. @ Cathy

    Quick, quick – let’s semi-anonymously donate to a “think tank” (cue tax breaks!!) to fund and promote an alternative K-12 curriculum!

  19. Dear ESR. Sometimes you are just plain wrong. This is not about finding someone to blame, its about being worried for your family. Sure, there is unscience and speculation, but thats the way we work when panic sets in.

  20. Robert, I don’t see how you’ve disproven anything Eric said. I agree that there exists non-scientific viewpoints and points of pure speculation that are brought out as a result of panic – but how is a emotionally driven placement of blame not an unscientific viewpoint?

  21. Winter said: But the problem is the exact same has been said about thalidomide, Tetraethyllead, Asbestos, DES, Tobacco smoking, Dioxin, Methyl Mercury (Minamata Disease), DDT et al., and plutonium dust. *

    That’s like the “they laughed at Einstein” argument; it doesn’t actually address the epidemiological and physical problems with the thesis. (“They laughed at Bozo, too.”)

    We can detect astoundingly low concentrations of whatever-it-is-we-look-for these days, and we have good evidence from decades and decades of medicine that it takes rather more of Something Chemical than the bare minimums we can detect now in order to induce symptoms.

    (With an infectious vector, all it takes is one, if you’re very unlucky – but the claim here isn’t some novel microorganism, it’s “pollutants”.)

    So it’s going to take more than “they might be entirely wrong about the sum total of knowledge of how tiny amounts of whatever affect people” to counteract “it looks exactly like every case of mass hysteria ever seen”.

    (* Actually, for a fair number of those, it’s uncertain that anyone ever claimed they were harmless. And for a few more, it’s uncertain that the degree of harm is remotely what you thing – DDT and Dioxin are both radically overstated in their harmfulness.)

  22. Great piece.

    You have to admit, though, that Brockovitch has a great racket going. I imagine companies will be so desperate to avoid the kind of exposure she can bring that they will pay out huge sums of money even in the complete absence of wrongdoing.

  23. @TomM:
    “Quick, quick – let’s semi-anonymously donate to a “think tank” (cue tax breaks!!) to fund and promote an alternative K-12 curriculum!”

    Do you really not have a problem with governments dictating how a current-events topic will be taught that could have major repercussions on modern civilization, and on which there is not a societal consensus?

    No, science doesn’t run on consensus, but society does. And when you talk about political diktats on what will be taught in schools, you’ve entered the wonderful world of Lysenkoism.

  24. Phil said: Well, let’s see: you lied to us about thalidomide, and about MTBE, and about aspartame, and about dioxins

    I’d bet pretty big that over 90% of what you believe about those chemicals is without scientific basis – and that your beliefs about the “lies” that “they” told us about them are even more incorrect.

  25. At least (if the story is accurately reported) there are actual symptoms that need some sort of explanation, even if witchcraft is not it. That’s an improvement over the case that made Brockovich famous, where there were no symptoms. Some woman was seen pointing at a cow, so she was accused of casting a spell on it and causing its milk to sour even though the milk continued as sweet as ever. Or Love Canal, where a woman announced that she would be casting a spell, and warned everyone to get their cows out of the way, and someone deliberately stood his cow directly in front of her wand and then accused her of souring the cow’s milk, even though it remained demonstrably sweet.

  26. >I’d bet pretty big that over 90% of what you believe about those chemicals is without scientific basis – and that your beliefs about the “lies” that “they” told us about them are even more incorrect.

    That’s a sucker bet if ever I heard one. Chemophobia, like AGW, is both financially and politically lucrative enough to attract not just a bodyguard of lies but heavy divisions of them.

  27. @Winter
    > I am all for evidence based toxicology.

    Right, but those who have a serious concern about environmental toxins should be first in line to stand against the witchcraft toxicology. Because if you want to be taken seriously, you’d better not align yourself with fools.

    The boy who cried wolf did eventually see a real wolf. Yet his prior foolishness put everyone in danger.

    I don’t know much about the Erin Brokovitch case, I found the movie offensive, emotion claptrap. However, right there, in that movie, the temple of environmental activism, Brockovitch says that the lawyers got 40% of the settlement. Why does nobody get animated about the fact that the fat cat lawyers in the slick suit got a beach house, and the poor kid dying of cancer got slightly better medical treatment. There is an outrage in that movie, and the outrage is the lawyers.

  28. Paul Brinkley said: Well, to be fair, there are other benefits to jogging every day – like being able to run for a while without feeling out of breath.

    Before you start this, please follow the conventional advice and let your doctor check you out. We would see a jogger death on the bridle path in Central Park every 18 months or so. Usually a male, about 38 years old. At that age, they really start to feel that they are ‘losing it’, and start jogging to try to rejuvenate themselves…and give themselves a massive coronary.

  29. It’s not “phobia” to be conservative when dealing with things you don’t understand, just sound epistemology. First, you have to survive. And survival is mostly about avoiding things that look harmful, not optimising. So yeah, I eat 95% fresh vegetation and meat, and 5% modernistic processed food that some labcoat has declared “safe”. Colour me superstitious.

  30. Is it worth being alive if you can’t go for a quick jog down the road? What is fragile will not survive. People want to live forever in hell.

  31. >So yeah, I eat 95% fresh vegetation and meat, and 5% modernistic processed food that some labcoat has declared “safe”. Colour me superstitious.

    And stupid. The vast majority of food caused illnesses come from contaminated fresh foods (and freshly prepared foods). I was working in a produce department when the last big round of E.coli contamination came around a few years ago.

  32. I was astounded that the article made no mention of the Puritan witchcraft hysterias. The parallels just leap from the page.

    RJO (descendant of one witchcraft juror, and of a teenage girl once possessed by a demon:

    http://rjohara.net/gen/knapp/

    )

  33. survival is mostly about avoiding things that look harmful,

    Most of the chemicals the panicmongers worry about don’t “look harmful”. That is to say there is no reason in the world to suspect them of being harmful, and the thought would never even cross your mind if the radicals hadn’t deliberately put it there. There’s no a priori reason why a pesticide, for instance, should be more likely to be harmful than beneficial; on the contrary, the fact that it keeps pests off your food means it’s already doing you good, so why not believe that it does you even more good? You would believe that, if not for liars like Rachel Carson.

  34. @Milhouse, it’s the fact that pesticides are expressly designed to be poisonous that has people scared.

    That being said, foods treated with pesticides are held to such high standards of safety that the end product you buy will have lower pesticide levels than some “organic” foods (which can pick up the pesticides from neighboring farms and, due to clever marketing and naive consumers, are often distributed without being washed.)

  35. @ Cathy

    > No, science doesn’t run on consensus, but society does. And when you talk about political diktats on what will be taught in schools, you’ve entered the wonderful world of Lysenkoism.

    Or, instead, you’ve entered the real world, where it is necessary for states to impose some kind of sensible minimum standards in education so that children don’t grow up believing in the literal truth of the bible, koran or any other magic books.

    (Yes, I am aware that the US still doesn’t do this very well, which might be why half or more of adults in the US believe the earth was created less than 10,000 years ago).

    The issue really is as simple as this: children should be taught (to an acceptable approximation) about the world as it really is.

    This must include a sensible understanding of actual science.

    I suspect we agree on that principle.

  36. In his book, The Medical Detectives, Berton Roueche describes a similar case that took place in Florida in 1974. In it, a fifth-grade girl named Sandy (who, it turns out, really did have a virus of some kind) sparks a psychosomatic epidemic when many students saw the rescue squad take her out of the school on a stretcher. The smell of carpet adhesive in one part of the school was assumed be toxic and near-panic ensued. An astute public health doctor investigated the situation, ruled out other possibilities, and ultimately had to tell everyone to calm down and go back to school. He seemed to find that a harder sell than something with a purely physical cause.

    If you like real-life mysteries, Roueche’s case histories are fascinating. The usual case revolves around a disease outbreak, a poisoning, or an odd medical condition. Note: they’re decades old, so don’t count on them to have the very latest research on their subject.

  37. Interesting story. Reminds me a bit of my favorite modern bogeyman tale, “The Mad Gasser of Matoon.” There are a few obvious connections to the global warming fiasco, given the amount of sputtering fits and tics we’ve seen from many of its proponents. But it reminds me even more of the anitvax crowd, who have no clear political or financial stake it the matter. Much of modern science attempts to describe a world that is invisible to the unaided senses, and while it is still observable and measurable, but it will be indistinguishable from magic for large subsets of people, and as taken-on-faith as the Catholic transfiguration.

  38. > But it reminds me even more of the anitvax crowd, who have no clear political or financial stake it the matter….

    Well, just so it’s not misconstrued, there are certainly hucksters and political hustlers all around antivax, ginning up the panic machine for fun and profit. But the core – the parents and children involved in the hallucinatory pathogenesis – I believe is in the grip of mass hysteria.

  39. There’s no a priori reason why a pesticide, for instance, should be more likely to be harmful than beneficial; on the contrary, the fact that it keeps pests off your food means it’s already doing you good, so why not believe that it does you even more good?

    There are plenty of reasonable heuristics that would lead you to conclude this:

    1) It didn’t evolve with you,
    2) What harms one organism often harms another,
    3) Pests may be beneficial,
    4) Anything new might be harmful,
    5) We have seen examples of man-made substances hurting people in the past.
    etc

    You seem to have a very computer-like, Bayesian way of thinking. It’s rather like saying that I should conclude that steroids are good for you because they help you build muscle. There’s nothing “rational” about this. Society always needs people to test the waters, but let’s not pretend that risks suddenly appear when we have “evidence”.

    I used to spout this kind of nonsense on A&D. It took me a while to figure out that J. Boxer and others were right: humans don’t think according to laws set out by academics. They just do what didn’t get them killed in the ancestral environment.

  40. And stupid. The vast majority of food caused illnesses come from contaminated fresh foods (and freshly prepared foods). I was working in a produce department when the last big round of E.coli contamination came around a few years ago.

    So, I’m stupid because I’m not worried about E.coli, a known risk that that can easily be mitigated? I eat almost all fresh ingredients cooked anyway. Explain to me why I should be worried about food illness outbreaks. You completely missed out on the point of my posts, which is that people focus in on the things they know at the expense of things they don’t know. I don’t eat processed food because my ancestors didn’t. I don’t eat uncooked food because I don’t want to get foodborne infections. How funny that you call others “stupid” for not jumping at the boogedie man of foodborne illness.

  41. “That being said, foods treated with pesticides are held to such high standards of safety that the end product you buy will have lower pesticide levels than some “organic” foods”

    The big question is:
    Why are foods treated with poisons in the field save when they reach consumers?

    That outcome was definitely not a “natural” one. With lax regulations, China has unhealthy food. As a result, China has become the biggest producer of organic foods when consumers started to get the message.

    In the rich world, it was consumers (accused and ridiculed as “environmentalists”) who demanded safe food, free of any “residues”, who forced the regulations. So the fact that we can eat our foods without much fear is actually due to those you ridicule as “environmentalists”.

    It is all a matter of risk assessment: Do you want to err on the side of profit or on the side of health?

    Those who make the profit assess risks different from those who have to bear the consequences.

  42. Btw, people having food tabus and being religious about what is in their food is not particularly new in history. Nor has it anything to do with witchcraft.

    There are few (if any) people in the world that have no food tabus. And these tabus are always arbitrary when judged from the “outside”. Deriding people based on their food tabus is just another form of bigotry.

  43. Those who make the profit assess risks different from those who have to bear the consequences.

    Right – because killing your customers is a sound long-term strategy.

  44. @brian
    “Right – because killing your customers is a sound long-term strategy.”

    Many companies and persons have made that short term trade-off. Eg, see:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_Chinese_milk_scandal

    And I would also like to refer to the histories of the tobacco, asbestos, and mining industries, to name only three global efforts where risks for human life were belittled.

  45. @brian:

    People used to deliberately sell bad milk in this country too:

    http://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlelanding/1877/an/an877020082a

    People have deliberately sold ergot infested crops, as well. When people don’t have a real connection with their end customers, they can be real bastards. Modern day lab techniques might actually make some aspects of libertarianism more viable now than before. Regulatory capture is a bad thing, but many regulations were actually put into place initially because of real safety problems.

    Anyway, there are 7 billion people in the world. What does it matter if your actions kill a few?

  46. “You completely missed out on the point of my posts, which is that people focus in on the things they know at the expense of things they don’t know.”

    If by “focus on” you mean “fear most”, then this is backward. Most people have far more fear of flying than of driving, though an objective deaths-per-mile analysis shows that driving (or riding in a car as a passenger) is far more dangerous. Why? Presumably because

    Likewise, many people seem to fear eating non-organic produce for fear of pesticides. Objective risk analysis would show that the health benefits of eating more of any type of vegetable (and to a lesser extent, fruit) outweigh the risks of trace pesticide ingestion.

    Yet another example is childhood obesity. Obsessive fear of “stranger danger” (“If I let my kids play outside without me there to watch them, they’ll be kidnapped like Elizabeth Smart!”) limits the amount of exercise these kids get, which puts them at far more lifetime risk of obesity and poor health than the miniscule risk of kidnapping or assault by a stranger. (Again, objective data shows that most of these so-called kidnappings actually occur when the child gets in a car with someone he/she already knows; the most common is the non-custodial divorced parent.)

    And so on and so on…people fear the unfamiliar intensely, even when it is low-risk, and they are complacent about the familiar, even when it is high-risk (e..g, driving).

  47. There are few (if any) people in the world that have no food tabus. And these tabus are always arbitrary when judged from the “outside”. Deriding people based on their food tabus is just another form of bigotry.

    I don’t deride the people. I deride their taboos.

    Because believing that some Magic Invisible Sky Daddy doesn’t want you to eat bacon or shellfish is absurd and worthy of mockery.

  48. >I don’t deride the people. I deride their taboos.

    I think we should deride the people, as well as their taboos. Religious insanity won’t end until there is overwhelming social pressure against it. Mockery, as brutal and continuous as possible, seems almost a duty under the circumstances.

  49. @brian
    Do you eat cats, dogs, eartworms, or crickets? Do you eat limburger cheese (the original Belgium one)? Would you drink mother’s milk? Eat a goat’s eye or his balls? Raw?

    If you do, you are one of those tabu-free people. If not, you are simply a hypocrit.

  50. Winter on Tuesday, March 13 2012 at 3:47 am said: Why are foods treated with poisons in the field [safe] when they reach consumers?

    Because the pesticides, properly used in small quantities, prevent infestations by organisms that produce far more dangerous “natural” toxins in dangerous and even lethal quantities.

    It is possible to breed plants that are “naturally” resistant to insects. Unfortunately, the “natural pesticides” in these plants are substantially more toxic and carcinogenic than artificial pesticides.

    Meanwhile, scaremongers (some sincere but confused, like Jenny McCarthy; some outright lying profiteers) bombard us with alarmist fantasies, whihc they justify by distorting history.

    Who lied about thalidomide? No one. Thalidomide went through extensive safety and efficacy testing in several countries, and passed. (It wasn’t tested with pregnant women.) It wasn’t the first drug, nor the last, to have a rare, insidious, and unexpected side effect.

    Who lied about plutonium dust? No one ever said it was not dangerous. But the “Green” claims that it is the most toxic substance in the world are nonsense. (A group of 26 young Manhattan District technicians were assigned to scavenge any bits of plutonium that got loose. They were all mildly contaminated. None of them died. Four several decades after the war, they were called the “UPPU Society”, because their contamination levels were monitored by testing urine samples.)

    Who lied about DDT? There’s no evidence that DDT is a threat to human health at trace levels. But the ban on DDT has cost millions of lives from malaria.

    The world is full of subtle hazards. Superstitious medieval Europeans thought cats were witches’ familiars, associated with the Devil. Today we know that cats are harmless pets. Except that cats are carriers of the brain parasite Toxoplasmosis gondii, which now infests hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of people. T. gondii has no known health effects, so this has not been an issue. Except that recent research indicates T. gondii may have neurological effects ranging from reckless driving to schizophrenia. (It has definite behavioral effects on rats; it makes them do stupid things that will get them eaten by cats.)

    The proposition here seems to be that because one hazard was overlooked or minimized, all hazard claims must be considered true until conclusively proven false. By that logic, all suspected criminals should be imprisoned until proven innocent. Indeed, all persons of belonging to any class members of which have been known to commit crimes should be presumed to intend such crimes. Thus all Moslems should be treated as terrorists, and all men should be treated as rapists, and all university professors should be treated as Communist stooges.

    Right?

  51. @Rich Rostrom
    You evidently did not read up on the history of how thalomide wsd found to harm unborn children. The same for the other subjects.

    Pesticides were most definitely not used in moderation. These sageguards were installed after serious abuses. There are still many farm workers dying in the world from pesticide exposure in countries where there is no propper regulation.

    Given a chance there will always be people who will risk your life for a fast buck.

  52. “The proposition here seems to be that because one hazard was overlooked or minimized, all hazard claims must be considered true until conclusively proven false.”

    You really do not get the point.

    I am talking about concerted actions to hide lethal risks for profit. When the risks of thalidomide, tobacco, tetraethyllead, and asbestos were discovered, no one was really to blame. But when the producers then used their massive resources to suppress this knowledge and harass researchers and doctors to silence them, that is something completely different.

    But I understand that it must be difficult to accept that you got the safety of your food and environment thanks to people you so detest.

    Btw, it seems not everyone reads my comments. I am a staunch supporter of pesticides, artificial fertilizer, and genetic modification, never said differently. And I am all for evidence based toxicology. I used the term “paranoid” to describe the people in the original article because I think they are not rational. But I actually think I understand how they became paranoid.

  53. >You evidently did not read up on the history of how thalomide wsd found to harm unborn children.

    [citation needed]

    In fact, the harm from thalidomide was even less understood than Rich Rostrom says. Not only is it only harmful to fetuses, but even that only happens when the mother has a B-vitamin deficiency (I think it’s specifically folic acid).

    There have been cases of toxins released to consumers because somebody was suppressing risk information to make a fast buck. Thalidomide was not one of them. This one genuinely blindsided everyone involved.

  54. > Conversion disorder isn’t really an explanation. It’s a non-explanation, an admission that we don’t know what’s going on,

    Conversion disorder spreads memetically.. If the ailment spreads memetically, then that is both evidence that it is conversion disorder, and an explanation of what is going on.

    Conversion disorder dies out when it ceases to attract attention, when people stop caring about it and thinking about it. If the ailment is cured by inattention to the ailment, and perhaps more healthy sources of attention to the afflicted, then that is evidence that it is conversion disorder, and also an effective treatment.

    Girls, Illegitimate children and children from broken families are more prone to conversion disorder. If the disease disproportionately affects females, virgins, and especially fatherless virgin girls, that is evidence it is conversion disorder and also evidence of guilt.

  55. Yes, the risks of thalidomide were not foreseen. And I do not blame anyone for that. What was criminal was that people hid and destroyed trial results and tried to suppress information.

    The real hero of the story is Frances Kelsey from the FDA
    http://blog.seattlepi.com/steveberman/2011/11/02/thalidomide-in-america/

    http://www.thalidomidesociety.co.uk/publications.htm

    The first accusations against Chemie Grunenthal reached the Public Prosecutors Office at the County Court of Aachen by the end of 1961. On May 27, 1968, a criminal lawsuit was started by the Public Prosecutor against seven men of Chemie Grunenthal. The case was that they had put on sale a drug which caused an unacceptable degree of bodily harm without having tested it properly, and that they had failed to react on information on side effects in due time, and instead had tried to suppress information. The first two and a half months of the trial were concerned with peripheral neuropathy caused by thalidomide.

    (emphasis mine)

  56. “I think we should deride the people, as well as their taboos. Religious insanity won’t end until there is overwhelming social pressure against it. Mockery, as brutal and continuous as possible, seems almost a duty under the circumstances.”

    Don’t bother. When you do that, the religious feel that it is a virtue to suffer for the Lord’s sake. It reinforces belief in many of those communities. It also turns many non-religious people against you. (Glenn Reynolds has commented that more people would be atheists if so many atheists weren’t such schmucks. He’s right.)

  57. Rich Rostrom said:

    Ah the DDT canard gets trotted out once again….

    Just for your info, last time I checked there were over 120,000 deaths annually worldwide from ‘banned’ chlorinated hydrocarbon based pesticides EVERY year to date. Wait….they were banned !! what a crock. they were banned in a few countries and produced like usual in other countries who ignored the greenies.

    DDT was NEVER banned in countries using it for disease vector control and over 10 megatons are still being used annually [with UN approval, lol] and have been used annually for DECADES without interruption. DDT has been used NUMEROUS times even in the USA for vector control as needed, with specific exemption provided by the law which limited its use on CROPS. It actually was never even banned in the USA for use in vector control….read the law and note the ‘exception’ for use in public health, which is also the case for the Stockholm Convention.

    Pure bullsh*t agitprop.

    Malaria kills in places where DDT use is often somebodies wetdream. Kinda hard to use pesticide when the people applying the chemical get a spear or AK-47 round in the gut, isn’t it ? Other places use DDT (the small portion that does not get diverted into crop use by corruption) and the skeeters laugh ‘you can’t hurt me’. Read up on pesticide resistance and learn to love bedbugs, fool. Bedbug populations, just as many mossy pops have been immune to DDT for decades.

  58. There is a point to many religeous dietary taboos.

    It’s smart to avoid pork in warm countries, particularly where swine eat whatever they can get. Lets see if I can spell Trichanosis correctly without looking it up.

    It’s also smart not to eat your tractors. Too many beef dinners mean not all the fields will get plowed and those that do won’t produce as well.

    Yes, taboos can get out of hand, but there’s often a core of sense in them.

  59. “Malaria kills in places where DDT use is often somebodies wetdream.”

    Yes, and DDT is renowned for making the pests resistant while killing off all other fauna (“Silent spring”, our birds of prey were all but exterminated by DDT et al). One reason DDT was banned in rich countries was that it became ineffective very fast due to build up resistance.

    Where it has been used extensively against Malaria, it has become completely ineffective.

  60. > When the risks of thalidomide, tobacco, tetraethyllead, and asbestos were discovered, no one was really to blame. But when the producers then used their massive resources to suppress this knowledge and harass researchers and doctors to silence them, that is something completely different.

    It is not true that “producers used their massive resources to suppress this knowledge”. Producers argued their case. They did not silence the other side. When you elide the difference, you are trying to suppress anyone who doubts alleged causes of mysterious harm – you, not the producers, are threatening harm to dissenters, by equating disagreement with evildoing deserving of punishment.

    Thus, for example, in the silicone case, Dow Corning was punished for presenting evidence that it was innocent, on the basis of precisely the arguments that you just made (tobacco was accused, was evil to deny it, Dow is accused, must be evil because they deny it), when it is clear that the evidence was true, Dow was innocent, and Dow Corning was punished precisely because it presented compelling evidence of its innocence, and its accusers presented entirely worthless evidence of its guilt.

    Indeed, it is standard behavior in witchcraft trials to punish people for failure to admit their guilt. You are making the case that the tobacco industry and so forth should have been punished for failing to admit their guilt, but in practice, this principle is primarily applied against the innocent, for example Dow Corning, not the guilty, for example the tobacco industry.

  61. @James A Donald
    In the thalidomide case, evidence was destroyed, researchers and officials were harassed.

    The tobacco industry spend a lot of money stimulating known bad research to poison the literature. No research institute can accept money from the tobacco industry anymore because of their past disinformation behavior. They also went on a misinformation campaign. While their internal communications showed they knew the dangers of smoking, they were telling the public it was safe.
    http://www.defendingscience.org/Doubt-Documents.cfm
    http://www.defendingscience.org/Doubt_is_Their_Product.cfm

    And about tetraethyllead, see
    Bryson, Bill (2003). “Getting the Lead Out”, Chapter 10 in A Short History of Nearly Everything. Broadway Books: New York. ISBN 0-7679-0818-X

    Asbestos was still promoted when people were dying of it.

  62. > DDT is renowned for making the pests resistant while killing off all other fauna (“Silent spring”, our birds of prey were all but exterminated by DDT et al)

    Even resistant mosquitoes flee DDT – they are resistant, not immune. We could, and should, simply increase the dose.

    Possibly if we continue to use DDT it will stop working, but no country has ever given up DDT because it stopped working

    When DDT was banned, malaria resumed. When a country that has problems with malaria or breakbone fever breaks the ban, malaria retreats. And don’t tell me it is not banned. I cannot buy DDT, people at risk from malaria and breakbone fever cannot buy DDT, therefore it is banned.

    DDT remains far and away the most effective tool against malaria, and continues to have a far greater effectiveness against pests relative to its danger to humans than any of the alternatives. Environmentalists hate it precisely because it has a durable long term effect against insects, and thus destroys “the ecology”, hate it because it is the safest, cheapest, and most effective way of destroying “the ecology” when the naturally existent ecology is killing humans, as marshes and suchlike tend to do.

  63. TomM on Monday, March 12 2012 at 10:51 pm said:
    > Or, instead, you’ve entered the real world, where it is necessary for states to impose some kind of sensible minimum standards in education so that children don’t grow up believing in the literal truth of the bible, koran or any other magic books.

    And are taught the truth of hockey stick curve, and not taught that it was patched together out of mutually inconsistent indicators of past temperature (hide the decline) and not taught that it is dependent on a dozen hand picked trees which supposedly outweigh a vast body of contrary evidence, including hundreds of trees that were for some mysterious reason not picked.

    Anthropogenic Global Warming and the Great Chernobyl Disaster are modern religions, manufactured in defiance of the evidence, so that the holy state may restrain sinful man from indulging in sinful technological civilization.

    Teaching Anthropogenic Global Warming, the Great Chernobyl Disaster, the Love Canal, and the rest, is not even teaching Lysenkoism, but rather is teaching Gaia worship and neo paganism.

  64. >Asbestos was still promoted when people were dying of it.

    Asbestos is a particularly bad instance for your argument. My wife is an insurance-law attorney and was up to her eyeballs in that litigation, so I learned a lot about this.

    Asbestos is chemically inert at biological temperature/pressure regimes; that’s closely related to why it’s such a good fireproofing compound. Unless you actually breathe enough of it to mechanically choke you it’s not a prompt danger. The medium-term dangers are similar to silicosis – but we don’t ban processes that produce that risk. The panic about asbestos is because of the long-term cancer risk. Mesotheliomas.

    Except it turns out that risk is is like thalidomide in that people are only vulnerable to being injured by it because of a hidden cofactor. Turns out you need both long-term exposure and the kind of lung damage produced by heavy smoking. Furthermore, the size and shape of the fibers is significant. Without all the right cofactors in place the mesothelioma risk doesn’t rise above statistical noise.

    Because unreasonable panic about the risks has driven out rational evaluation, asbestos is now heavily over-regulated. Worse, inferior substitutes that are both more dangerous in themselves and also expose people to significantly larger risks from fireproofing failures are now mandated. It’s a pretty textbook case of regulatory intervention gone perversely wrong.

  65. And so on and so on…people fear the unfamiliar intensely, even when it is low-risk, and they are complacent about the familiar, even when it is high-risk (e..g, driving).

    Okay I’ve been unclear; the “people” I am referring to are “objective risk managers”. Ordinary people are superstitious. Obviously, there are some problems with this. Stranger-danger has become a ridiculous boogiie man as you point out. The point being made was: many of these superstitions are useful. And performing some silly “objective risk management” in the presence of incomplete data is exactly what I’m talkijng about. Nobody knows what effect eating different foods has on your body. We know smoking is probably bad for your lungs. We know sugar rots your teeth. We know these things weren’t available to our ancestors. That’s all you need to know to avoid indulging in those things too much. Throwing statistics at it doesn’t recover the fact that we don’t know much about how the human body works.

  66. >Gaia worship and neo paganism.

    You had it right until that last sentence. A lot of neopagans, like me, don’t want any part of irrational eco-panics.

  67. James A Donald said: “Even resistant mosquitoes flee DDT – they are resistant, not immune”

    DDT was never banned for use on insect vectors — i will say it again — that is the fact you hate.
    If you don’t like the fact that the government controls insecticide access to prevent abuse by morons, run for congress and change the law. I personally think it would be a good idea for people to be able to kill themselves however they want with the chemical of their choice.

    Insecticide literally means kills insect When DDT does not kill enough resistant insects (and therefore the population persists spreading malaria) and the population becomes even more immune to being killed. As a matter of fact, there ARE mosquitoes totally immune to DDT at ANY concentration.. Some populations of malaria vectors are irritated by the presence of DDT and will not land on it – landing on the people which they then proceed to bite instead. You assume insects are as stupid as some people. WRONG.

    Why don’t you propose spaying pure DDT all over people ? I think the white cystalline powder look would catch on like wildfire !!!

    When it costs more to use more and more of a pesticide than money in your budget, you stop using it because it is insane. Insane is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Once an insect has developed a mechanism to detoxify a chemical like mosquitoes have with DDT, using more only reinforces the selection of that gene-presence of the population. Those are the facts, dood.

    In any case, nobody is stopping governments from using DDT against malaria – period – since DDT WAS NEVER BANNED for use on disease vectors. Go look at how many thousands of tons were used last year for malaria. Nobody hides the number (10 -20 megatons).

    Have you learned that DDT WAS NEVER BANNED yet ? Go read the US law, go read the Stockholm Convention.

    STUPID WAS NEVER BANNED either

  68. @ James A Donald

    So the meltdown at Chernobyl wasn’t a disaster?

    Man, it gets wacky in here sometimes!

  69. > There are still many farm workers dying in the world from pesticide exposure in countries where there is no propper regulation.

    The number of farm workers killed by pesticides, other those that swigged down pesticide to commit suicide, is about equal to the number of people killed by Chernobyl other than those that were killed by radiation received inside the reactor facility (which is to say, probably somewhat less than a dozen) and considerably exceeds the number of people killed by anthropogenic global warming.

  70. @esr
    Asbestos dust is carcinogenic over long timespans. Inhaled dust partcles get stuck deep in your lungs and never leave.

    Long term irritation leads to chronic tissue inflamation and growth. That is the mechanism to cancer. Cofactors help speed up the process.

    Obviously, the size and shape of the asbestos hairs determine their carcinogenic action. But over all, the same factors that make it usefull make it ccarcinogenic.

  71. @James A Donald
    I was talking about the developing countries, Africa, Asia. Not about the USA.

    Most humas live and die outside of the USA. Pesticides are poisons that can kill if applied by unqualified or uninformed farm workers. Which describbes 95% of the worlds agricultural eorkforce.

  72. ESR said: That’s a sucker bet if ever I heard one.

    Damn right it is. That’s why I was willing to make it – the problem is finding someone to take it.

  73. >Asbestos dust is carcinogenic over long timespans.

    Yes, but the added risk is insignificant unless you have simultaneous alveolar damage due to heavy smoking. That’s the point – without that cofactor the carcinogenic risk from asbestosis doesn’t rise above statistical noise. And the asbestosis risk is swamped by other risks associated with smoking – asthma, lung and pleural cancers much more common than mesotheliomas.

    Under a rational regulatory scheme (the sort that might be imposed by a medical-insurance firm working from good actuarial data rather than bureaucrats operating in political-panic mode) asbestos wouldn’t be banned at all. Instead, asbestosis-induced cancers would be classed as an ancillary and self-induced risk of smoking.

  74. > When it costs more to use more and more of a pesticide than money in your budget, you stop using it because it is insane.

    I personally am at risk from dangerous diseases carried by Aedes aegypti, which has no resistance to DDT, and I cannot buy DDT.

    DDT remains the cheapest, safest, and most effective insecticide – even against “resistant” disease vectors. Individuals are banned from using it, even in the presence of dangerous disease vectors with absolutely no resistance and no sign of developing such resistance, such as Aedes aegypti, and governments are subject to severe pressure when they use it.

    Now perhaps if we were allowed to use it ad libitum, so much resistance would develop that it would cease to be the cheapest, safest, and most effective insecticide. Let us try it and see what happens. With antibiotics, we find that with diseases endemic to hospitals, major antibiotics have entirely stopped working, and this is a big problem. It is not a big problem with DDT yet. Hospitals have not been banned from using antibiotics against diseases endemic to hospitals, and show little restraint in using them on such diseases, despite the fact that the problems are actual rather hypothetical. Banning DDT is premature.

    Strains of Aedes aegypti exist that are resistant to DDT. Perhaps they will become a problem in future. They are not a problem now. The most resistant known strain requires four times the usual dose to kill it.

  75. > In the thalidomide case, evidence was destroyed, researchers and officials were harassed.

    No they were not. They were “harassed” the same way that warmists are “harassed” – by existence of people who disagreed with them.

    > The tobacco industry spend a lot of money stimulating known bad research to poison the literature.

    The tobacco industry was unduly biased, and corruptly self deceived. Dow Corning was not unduly biased, and its accusers, not Dow Corning, were lying or corruptly self deceived.

    Dow Corning delivered accurate and truthful information on the safety of silicone, for which it was severely punished, the rationale the punishment being that the absence of evidence for the guilt of Dow Corning was proof that evidence must have been destroyed (since the existent evidence failed to say what it was supposed to), researchers and officials were harassed (by people disagreeing with them), and Dow Corning must have spent a lot of money stimulating known bad research to poison the literature (since there were all these people disagreeing with the accusations against Dow Corning)

  76. @Roger:
    “Okay I’ve been unclear; the ‘people’ I am referring to are ‘objective risk managers’. Ordinary people are superstitious.”

    I think you seriously overstimate the population of “objective risk managers” and underestimate the enormous population of “ordinary people”.

  77. @Max E, then those people are really really stupid. Pesticides are designed to be poisonous to pests, not to humans.

  78. I wrote: There’s no a priori reason why a pesticide, for instance, should be more likely to be harmful than beneficial; on the contrary, the fact that it keeps pests off your food means it’s already doing you good, so why not believe that it does you even more good?

    And Roger Phillips replied:
    There are plenty of reasonable heuristics that would lead you to conclude this:

    1) It didn’t evolve with you,

    So what? Why is that more likely to make it harmful than beneficial?

    2) What harms one organism often harms another,

    Really? How often? Even among mammals this isn’t that true, which is why testing on lab rats is of so little value, but jumping from insects or plants to mammals is even more of a stretch, quite besides the matter of dosage. No normal person would be afraid of something just because it kills insects or plants.

    3) Pests may be beneficial,

    Then by definition they wouldn’t be pests, would they?

    4) Anything new might be harmful,

    Or beneficial. Why would “harmful” be more likely?

    5) We have seen examples of man-made substances hurting people in the past.

    No more than natural substances. And at least as often we’ve seen examples of both man-made and natural substances benefiting people in the past. So what makes anyone assume a new substance will be harmful rather than beneficial?

    It’s rather like saying that I should conclude that steroids are good for you because they help you build muscle.

    Yes, that is the rational conclusion. For you to conclude otherwise you need evidence of their harmfulness. If you conclude that they’re harmful without any specific evidence leading you to that conclusion then you are an idiot and deserve to be mocked even if you turn out by some fluke to have been right.

  79. The big question is:
    Why are foods treated with poisons in the field save when they reach consumers?

    Because insecticides and herbicides are not poisonous to humans. And because even if they were, the doses are way too small to do any harm to even a small human.

  80. Regulatory capture is a bad thing, but many regulations were actually put into place initially because of real safety problems.

    Can you cite some examples, to counter the many examples we have on the other side (such as the regulations sparked by the hysteria whipped up by Chicago’s big meat packers after the publication of Upton Sinclair’s fictional work The Jungle).

  81. There are still many farm workers dying in the world from pesticide exposure in countries where there is no propper regulation.

    Really? Prove it.

  82. Pesticides are poisons that can kill if applied by unqualified or uninformed farm workers. Which describbes 95% of the worlds agricultural eorkforce.

    Yet it seems mighty hard to find actual specific cases of third world farmers killed by pesticides, other than deliberate suicide.

    The situation is similar to Chernobyl. Supposedly millions of people are dying, but just we don’t notice because of the background of people dying from other causes. Similarly, supposedly large numbers of agricultural workers are at slightly higher risk of dying, even if there are very few specific individual agricultural workers where we can point to a particular individual and say “It looks Soleph Asal died from careless use of pesticide”.

    Now in fact Chernobyl radiation and pesticides, did not drift down on everyone evenly. If Chernobyl was killing a lot of people, or pesticides were killing a lot of people, there would be a lot of particular people where we could say that this particular person died of Chernobyl, or this particular person died of careless pesticide use, because among people with this much radioactive waste inside them, or this much pesticide inside them, there are lots and lots of deaths. We cannot seem to find such particular people.

    Supposedly pesticides, and Chernobyl, and love canal, and the rest are killing lots of people, even though we cannot identify specific people that they are killing.

  83. “Conversion disorder spreads memetically.. If the ailment spreads memetically, then that is both evidence that it is conversion disorder, and an explanation of what is going on.”

    Remember multiple personality disorder? Everyone was coming down with that one until the news media moved on. Then it went away.

  84. Can you cite some examples, to counter the many examples we have on the other side (such as the regulations sparked by the hysteria whipped up by Chicago’s big meat packers after the publication of Upton Sinclair’s fictional work The Jungle).

    The Jungle highlighted some real, actual unsanitary work conditions in America’s meat factories. Some sort of oversight was necessary.

    And meat is hardly something that agribusiness in Murka can produce safely and humanely, even today.

  85. James A Donald said: “The number of farm workers killed by pesticides, other those that swigged down pesticide to commit suicide, … less than a dozen”

    EPIC FAIL dood !! Well done, you were only off by a couple of orders of magnitude Do you always just make up your numbers ?

    “The latest estimate by a WHO task group indicates that there may be 1 million serious unintentional poisonings each year and in addition 2 million people hospitalized for suicide attempts with pesticides. This necessarily reflects only a fraction of the real problem. On the basis of a survey of self-reported minor poisoning carried out in the Asian region, it is estimated that there could be as many as 25 million agricultural workers in the developing world suffering an episode of poisoning each year”
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2238694

    Like I said, the last report from WHO I saw said over 120,000 – 200,000 deaths per annum due to chlorinated hydrocarbon pesticides alone. Death rates run 15 – 30 % – do the math – I get alot more than 12.

  86. >The Jungle highlighted some real, actual unsanitary work conditions in America’s meat factories.

    Bad example. Sinclair was a socialist who later admitted that he had lied to advance the socialist propaganda line in the Sacco and Vanzetti case. While it is not documented from his own words that The Jungle was also lying agitprop, given his known politics that’s the way a prudent person would bet.

  87. It’s rather like saying that I should conclude that steroids are good for you because they help you build muscle.

    Ah yes,”steroids.” Those dangerous, synthetic and totally unnatural chemicals are not beneficial to humans in any way, unless you are a hulking, gap-toothed Austrian body builder. Steroids definitely did not “evolve alongside us.” Inside us might be more accurate.

    Did you mean steroid “abuse?” If so, that’s still a very debatable point, given what (I think) you are trying to say in support the precautionary principle. It’s also rather like claiming that *everything* is toxic if we are exposed to a certain dosage — a claim that happens to be true, but not helpful to folks in the ban-everything business. By claiming that steroid abuse is toxic, it is admitting that even chemicals produced by our own bodies can kill us.

    When it comes to toxicology, the real problem has always been determining the dangerous dosage, and eliminating other potential net or contributing causes. But rather than exhaustively strip away possible co-factors, statistical noise and other problems that might complicate the most-favored prescription (banning or severely restricting the substance), too often people prefer to latch on to a single culprit that superficially fits their description of what is “natural” substance. In cases of mass hysteria (like the anti-vax movement), isolating a single cause or enemy alleviates the blind panic of facing the unknown — which in a strange way is actually “therapeutic” I suppose. It’s also a tempting way to make a lot of money if you are a Class-A trial attorney, a quack doctor, or a crusader with organizational skills.

  88. James A Donald said: “I personally am at risk from dangerous diseases carried by Aedes aegypti, which has no resistance to DDT, and I cannot buy DDT.”

    Aedes aegypti eh ? Dengue fever hmmm The mortality is 1–5% without treatment,[5] and less than 1% with adequate treatment

    Yellow fever ? PLEASE – A safe and effective vaccine against yellow fever has existed since the middle of the 20th century.

    You ran the LD50 tests on the populations in your area to note pesticide resistance ? Don’t make me laugh please. Dump water out of outside containers on your property and area weekly and 95% of the problem is solved. Aedes aegypti are homebodies generally do not travel far. For that matter, I bet you most folks could not collect 2 females to rub together on a regular basis. We do have public health systems designed to control this problem you know, if you live in the USA.

    Actually, you CAN buy DDT in lots of places – try India or China, they both still manufacture megatons. There are probably lots to find in Mexico – they only stopped production relatively recently.

  89. @Milhouse:

    > Can you cite some examples, to counter the many examples we have on the other side

    On the one hand, I’m not sure. The problem with most historical accounts is that, like most current accounts, they were written by somebody with an agenda. But with that in mind, here’s a starting point for milk issues in New York:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/30/opinion/30wilson.html

    Then, of course, you have things like doctors refusing to wash their hands:

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

    In some cases, explicitly because it was bad for business:

    http://www.madehow.com/inventorbios/19/Sara-Josephine-Baker.html

    This is still on-going:

    http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/04/25/better-hand-washing-through-technology/

    Of course, I suppose, unlike the milkman, the doctors actually do have a vested interest in sickening their patients, so that’s all good.

    But let’s turn your question around. Modern technology makes it easy to prove what’s going on in China. Why would Chinese milk farmers or distributors be inherently more corrupt than the ones in this country?

    For that matter, why would our own milk distribution people care more about their unseen customers than doctors care about their own patients?

  90. When it comes to toxicology, the real problem has always been determining the dangerous dosage, and eliminating other potential net or contributing causes.

    Wrong. Different people will react differently to a given dosage. Most people are fine with gluten, some people have violent bowel reactions. Some people have insidious, subtle reactions that only show up on a biopsy.

    And yes, I’m clearly making a point about steroid abuse. You are using dishonest sophistry; I never said “natural” substances couldn’t hurt people. Of course they can. But there is a big difference between steroids coccuring naturally inside your body and extracting and productizing them.

    I simply put that one good heuristics is to be cautious of things that weren’t along for the ride of evolution. I put forth a bunch of other heuristics. You dishonestly try to take this as some kind of assertion about natural vs unnatural. It is simply a practise that can save you from some dangers. See gluten.

  91. So what? Why is that more likely to make it harmful than beneficial?

    I didn’t say that. You keep saying that, because you don’t understand that your benefits/harms don’t average out, especially if the harms kill you. If you gamble on 9 substances and the 10th gives you cancer in 20 years you are worse off than if you just forgo all the benefits all together.

    Really? How often? Even among mammals this isn’t that true, which is why testing on lab rats is of so little value, but jumping from insects or plants to mammals is even more of a stretch, quite besides the matter of dosage. No normal person would be afraid of something just because it kills insects or plants.

    Would you eat ratsac? Chlordane? It doesn’t matter if you can find 100 examples that aren’t harmful. It only takes one to remove you from the gene pool. Nature is full of “surprises” that a Bayesian thinker such as yourself would be killed by.

    Then by definition they wouldn’t be pests, would they?

    You waste time on definitions because your argument lacks substance. Whatever you’re trying to kill with pesticide may be beneficial. Getting the flu is “bad” for you, but at the same time it boosts your immunity. So your silly dichotomies don’t exist.

    Or beneficial. Why would “harmful” be more likely?

    At no point did I say it would be more likely. You have completely missed my point. It’s like you don’t even bother reading my posts. My point is unless you’re involved in expert work you don’t need to know anything about probabilities. You just need to avoid danger. If you cross the road with a blind fold on you’re more likely to survive than be hit. Even if there were some benefit to walking blind folded it’d still be a dumb idea.

    No more than natural substances. And at least as often we’ve seen examples of both man-made and natural substances benefiting people in the past. So what makes anyone assume a new substance will be harmful rather than beneficial?

    Sorry, this is simple sophistry. I’m clearly not trying to force a dichotomy between natural vs unnatural. Perhaps you should stop busting my balls about useless details and listen. The point is that if substances were around humans while they were evolving, and they were harmful, humans would tend to either avoid them or adapt to them. There is no such safeguard for something concocted in a lab. It has nothing to do with probabilities or one thing being more or less likely than another. You have to survive to collect benefits.

    Yes, that is the rational conclusion. For you to conclude otherwise you need evidence of their harmfulness. If you conclude that they’re harmful without any specific evidence leading you to that conclusion then you are an idiot and deserve to be mocked even if you turn out by some fluke to have been right.</blockquote

    You are not listening to me at all. The fact that you need to keep saying "idiot" indicates that you have no argument. I don't need to know something is harmful to avoid it. I can see a rock in the distance and avoid it because it might be a tiger. I don't need to know it's a tiger or know anything about the probability of it being a tiger because it's just sound practise.

  92. You are using dishonest sophistry

    There was nothing dishonest about what i right, and aside from a little gentle ribbing about a very obvious failure mode of your chosen heuristics, I wasn’t attacking you. I was just pointing out a flaw in your reasoning. The fact that you presented steroids as an example of a dangerous controlled substance was worth pointing out in an honest debate. Some people might put sugar (another naturally produced substance) in the same category of a dangerous substance that out to be strictly controlled.

    Wrong. Different people will react differently to a given dosage.

    It’s just “different strokes for different folks,” then? That sounds like something one might lump in with “possible co-factors, statistical noise and other problems that might complicate the most-favored prescription.” That fact is that even the net-negative effects of steroid “abuse” remains in dispute, and particularly given your “different strokes” theory (which I happen to agree with, including in a case like gluten).

    Terminology matters at this point, though. Someone who has an adverse reaction to the amount of gluten they consume could technically be considered a “gluten-abuser”, just as a pack-a-day cigarette smoker could considered a “nicotine-abuser.” At what level does damage occur? Where is the line drawn between draws the line between consumption and abuse, and who draws it? When does John stop being a steroid user and start becoming a steroid-abuser, and how does that relate to Don’s steroid use? I still contend it is a very poor example of good regulatory capture in action. Steroid users have dies in gutters, murdered their families, won Olympic gold and become U.S. governors. That doesn’t strike me as a substance that must be banned by our social betters for the common good. The connection between all of these substances, whether they occur naturally or are synthesized in a lab has little to due with consumer protection, and much to do with “control.” ESR seems to have a firm grasp on that, which is probably why he takes a more stoic line even on more controversial turf like thalidomide and asbestos.

  93. The invocation of the Salem witch trials is always interesting. I think the closest recent parallel to the mass hysteria in Mass. in 1692-93 was the ritual child abuse epidemic of the late 1980s and 1990s. the Puritans of the 1690s come off far more rational than the politicians of recent days. the Mass governor, William Phipps, and leading ministers like Cotton Mather, squelched the with trials.
    from wikipedia.org–
    Cotton Mather’s father, Increase Mather, published “Cases of Conscience Concerning Evil Spirits,” dated October 3, 1692, after the last trials by the Court of Oyer & Terminer, although the title page lists the year of publication as “1693.” In it, Mather repeated his caution about the reliance on spectral evidence, stating “It were better that Ten Suspected Witches should escape, than that one Innocent Person should be Condemned”.[65]

    compare their good sense to the idiocy of the Mass system of today, led by gold-plated idiot Martha Moakley.

  94. John Cunningham,

    It can’t be worse than the Texas system, where women who want to exercise their right to termi.ate a pregnancy are required, by law, to submit to vaginal violation by a doctor’s sonic dildo.

    Werent intimate-parts-probing exam8nations a major component of the witch trials? My how far we’ve come…

  95. @BioBob:
    “Dump water out of outside containers on your property and area weekly and 95% of the [Aedes aegypti] problem is solved.”

    You are making huge assumptions about (1) where James lives, and (2) why he wants to eliminate A. aegypti.

    f he lives in a marsh or swamp, “dumping water out of containers” isn’t going to begin to fix the problem. You may tell him to move, but he may not have the option of selling, as no one else may want swampy land either. He could drain it, but then he runs into wetland preservations legislation. Or perhaps he bought some land cheaply that has wetlands nearby and wants to develop it, but can’t, because he can’t get rid of the mosquito disease vector.

    I doubt any of the above is literally true for James, but the points made are valid.

  96. Sorry Cathy, but you are obvious not up to snuff on your mosquito ecology and your points are just WRONG. You know how forensic scientists know stuff from looking at insects on bodies ? When someone mentions A. aegypti, an entomologist knows stuff.

    Aedes aegypti is an introduced species (from Africa) which is primarily a cavity/container breeder. It does not compete well with the extant mosquito populations in the wild and is in fact currently under extreme pressure from Aedes albopictus which is pushing it out of much of its current urban range. Of course, A. albopictus also spreads dengue, but James insisted on the deadly danger from A. aegypti which MUST be assuaged, hopefully by the liberal use of DDT. Feh. This is idiotic on it’s face. The number of Dengue and Yellow fever cases in the US are quite small, although increasing due to general ignorance.

    A. aegypti is an URBAN mosquito in the USA and does not live in swamps. Other nasty species are found in swamps.

    Dumping containers with standing water is the ONLY way you will eliminate A. aegypti from your locale which is always urban (or suburban) in nature. This includes flower urns, old tires and tin cans, garbage cans, stagnant water barrels, toilet tanks, foot prints, etc. Window screens that effectively prevent access to indoors are always a good idea. These points remain accurate and valid, rofl.

    It’s not wise to argue about insects unless you too are an entomologist….

    Now if you want to discuss some other species or genera of mosquitoes, I would be glad to provide the education you need. It’s not my main area of expertise but I am always happy to educate.

  97. Modern technology makes it easy to prove what’s going on in China. Why would Chinese milk farmers or distributors be inherently more corrupt than the ones in this country?

    For that matter, why would our own milk distribution people care more about their unseen customers than doctors care about their own patients?

    The nice thing about a society ruled by law with established principles of liability is that milk farmers and distributors don’t have to be inherently less corrupt–their self-interest leads them to avoid both bad publicity and lawsuits.

  98. @milhouse & James A Donald
    “prove it”

    This link came up in Google after I typed pesticides poisoning global. It contains references to original studies etc.

    What does this show:
    Both of you
    1 cannot use a search engine
    2 have no idea what you are talking about, but argue loud anyway
    3 consider your political agenda more important than human lives
    4 cannot cope with reality

    Acute pesticide poisoning: a proposed classification tool
    http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/86/3/07-041814/en/

    Studies from developing areas in Central America (El Salvador and Nicaragua) have indicated an overall incidence rate of 35 per 100 000 for APP in the general population11 and 17.8 per 100 000 occupationally-related APP in Thailand.12 In Belize, it has been estimated that 17 pesticide poisonings per 100 000 residents and 4142 preventable poisonings occur each year.13 Previous research has demonstrated that reported occupational and non-intentional causes vary from 10% to 50% in developing countries.14 The reason for this variation is unclear, but is likely contributed to by inconsistent recording methodology and lack of a standard case definition for an APP.14 These variations may result in an underestimation of the true incidence of APP.

  99. @James A Donald
    About the silicone.

    Silicone breast implants were never shown to be dangerous.

    So why bring that up? Just to show that the USA has rotten laws and a fitting legal and judicial system is not enough.

    On the other hand, thalidomide was shown to be dangerous and the producer destroyed evidence of that danger, falsified trials, and harassed officials and researchers who said it was unsafe. That was even proven in trial in German (who have a much better legal system than the USA).

  100. @esr
    Asbestos

    It is not completely clear why it would matter if asbestos kills you on its own, or whether it needs an accomplice. You are dead both ways while you would live without asbestos.

    I do not believe I can convince you. You would not believe people die from peanut allergy, but argued it must be from molds toxins (again, these people still die). Giving you links to studies that showed otherwise did not seem to help.

    But here are some links anyway

    The quantitative risks of mesothelioma and lung cancer in relation to asbestos exposure
    http://annhyg.oxfordjournals.org/content/44/8/565.short

    Update of Potency Factors for Asbestos-Related Lung Cancer and Mesothelioma
    http://informahealthcare.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10408440802276167

    Asbestos-induced lung diseases: an update
    http://www.translationalres.com/article/S1931-5244%2809%2900009-7/abstract

  101. >It is not completely clear why it would matter if asbestos kills you on its own, or whether it needs an accomplice.

    It matters because if you have a causative theory that centers on the wrong cofactor, you end up overregulating the wrong thing. That’s what happened in this case, and there have been lots of bad consequences in the real world as a result. Going by the morbidity statistics, it’s smoking that kills you, with asbestosis as one (relatively unimportant) accomplice.

    >But here are some links anyway

    You need to learn to read more critically. None of these papers have any surprises in them for me (well, except for the mention of p53 apoptosis, which is an interesting but minor technical point). Of course rates of asbestosis and mesothelioma go up with exposure, this is not news. Two things you should have noticed: (a) none of these papers addresses the prevalence of smoking in the target populations or how that might confound a causal model, and (b) all the populations studied had extremely high and long-term exposure due to unusual occupational situations.

    Part of what went awry in the asbestos cases was a very elementary but common error in extrapolating toxicological results – taking risks from very high exposures in small populations (as in these studies) and assuming they scale linearly down to low exposures in larger populations. The papers you’re citing are probably basically sound (the second one smells a little bad methodologically, but I’ll ignore that for the sake of argument). The problem is that to make asbestos into a general public-health danger their results have to be interpreted using some extremely dubious background assumptions (no dominating cofactors and response to dose that is linear downwards).

    This sort of overinterpretation – actually with these specific two dubious assumptions – is very common when either bureaucratic empire-building or the prospect of large tort settlements is motivating the panic.

  102. It’s Brockovich without a ‘t’, i.e. she’s not a vitch.

    ESR says: Corrected, thanks.

  103. @esr
    “The problem is that to make asbestos into a general public-health danger their results have to be interpreted using some extremely dubious background assumptions (no dominating cofactors and response to dose that is linear downwards).”

    Epidemiologically, reducing asbestos will reduce mortality and morbidity. But I cannot find a good causal model and have no inclination to delve into this matter. So, I will take your word for it.

    Getting people to stop smoking will be more effective. But, smoking is a free choice, asbestos exposure is not. That is a huge regulatory difference. Workers were not told they should stop smoking when they start working in the industry.

    Note that I am talking about occupational hazard, I grant you the public health scare. I have not seen much evidence of public hazards. Although there has been a case in the Netherlands where waste from the asbestos industry was used on roads. There were some deaths (very few) that could be attributed to the asbestos. In this case, the blame seems to have been put not on the producers but on the owners of the roads.

    You are right in that most estimates seem to have been based on epidemiology, which does not distinguish between causative factors and other risk factors. But the facts remain, the rise of asbestos production caused a rise in deadly cancers which will decline slowly after the production of asbestos stopped.

    I am not going to argue about the risk assessment and whether or not the regulations are appropriate. Indeed, I expect overregulation in such a case. And I detest the legal tort industry in the USA. Such kind of mortality and morbidity disasters should be settled in a completely different way.

    In the end, asbestos might indeed not be the best example because there were “other responsibilities”. I agree that any smoker who gets ill should not complain as he has taken a calculated risk and lost.

    Conclusion, I will have to come up with better examples in future.

  104. “Under a rational regulatory scheme (the sort that might be imposed by a medical-insurance firm working from good actuarial data rather than bureaucrats operating in political-panic mode)”

    So, what does your hypothetical medical insurance firm do if an employer has not followed the regulations? Deny the workers’ claims? Sue the employer? What if it doesn’t have the money?

  105. Epidemiologically, reducing asbestos will reduce mortality and morbidity.

    This is precisely the sort of broken-windows thinking that epitomizes bureaucratic decision-making. Reducing asbestos will reduce mortality and morbidity from asbestosis. What about all of the injuries and deaths that have resulted from fires that would have been prevented or controlled by careful use of asbestos? As Thomas Sowell is fond of pointing out, there are no solutions, only trade-offs. Deciding to ban asbestos (or DDT, or futures contracts, or what-have-you) has side effects that an honest person can’t just handwave away.

  106. @BioBob:
    “Aedes aegypti is an introduced species (from Africa) which is primarily a cavity/container breeder. It does not compete well with the extant mosquito populations in the wild and is in fact currently under extreme pressure from Aedes albopictus which is pushing it out of much of its current urban range.”

    Thanks, Bob (no sarcasm intended). Unlike some posters, I am happy to learn something new on this blog. I knew that A. egyptii was an introduced species, but not the rest of your statement. Much appreciated!

  107. @Christopher Smith
    “This is precisely the sort of broken-windows thinking that epitomizes bureaucratic decision-making. Reducing asbestos will reduce mortality and morbidity from asbestosis.”

    The sentence should have ended in “…from asbestos related cancers.” I was not discussing the cost-benefit balance, but the relation between asbestos and cancer.

    I was also mostly discussing asbestos as an occupational hazard. The trade-off would be between saving consumers and killing miners. And I fully agree that the USA regulatory and legal systems are dysfunctional. But that is something the US population will have to sort out.

  108. >So, what does your hypothetical medical insurance firm do if an employer has not followed the regulations?

    Cancel the coverage. Or refuse to do business with that employer at all. This is not a hypothetical, by the way; insurance firms actually do this.

  109. The hypothetical part is that you’re giving the medical insurance company the sole enforcement responsibility, and they don’t have as many teeth as the government. (whether this is good or bad is another matter, but clearly what you’re describing isn’t how things are now, therefore “hypothetical”)

    Canceling coverage impacts the workers as much as the employer. Also, what stops them from canceling the coverage retroactively, beginning from when they were actually first in breach of the regulations rather than when it is discovered? [and therefore it may be too late for the workers to choose not to work there even if they had that option] The workers (or the insurance company, for the higher premiums they ought to have been getting if they’re still on the hook for the costs) could sue the employer, but what if the employer doesn’t have the money?

  110. “10 megatons”.

    Total bullshit. I’d have made the charitable assumption that this was a typo/thinko but you repeat this “megaton” crap in several of your later comments.

    In fact, during DDT’s peak use year (1962), about 85,000 tons were produced. That’s 0.085 megtons, not ten. You’re off by a factor of over 100, even for the peak use year.

    Current global production is about 2,000 tons annually, which means your “10 megaton” malarky is off by a factor of over 5,000 based on current production figures.

    Total worldwide production since DDT was first discovered in 1874 is estimated at 2 million tons (i.e., 2 megatons). You’re claiming that 5 times more is produced each and every year than the actual amount that’s been produced in 138 years. Total, unmitigated crap.

    Source:

    http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp35.pdf

  111. While it is not documented from his own words that The Jungle was also lying agitprop, given his known politics that’s the way a prudent person would bet.

    What is documented is that President Theodore Roosevelt — himself, like you, not a fan of Sinclair, sent a pair of investigators to look into the truth of the meat-packing industry. What they found was horrifying. The only claim from The Jungle that they could not find evidence of was workmen falling into rendering vats and being turned into meat products. Roosevelt had their report suppressed for some time, because like you he was also not a fan of extensive government regulation; and such regulation would indeed be called for if the truth were known.

    Eventually, the report was released, the regulation passed, and we are all healthier for it.

    A prudent person bets the way the facts are pointing.

  112. >workmen falling into rendering vats and being turned into meat products

    So, yes, it was lying agitprop. Nice to have that confirmed.

  113. >…what if the employer doesn’t have the money?

    You’re overfocusing. The right way to think about this is by considering how employers’ incentives change when they have foreknowledge that their premiums – or their ability to get coverage at all – depend on their willingness to implement best-practice safety rules.

    Historically, this has been a particularly successful mechanism in fire, casualty, and marine insurance. In fact, many insurance companies serving industrial customers retain safety engineers who audit their customers. Because this system of risk management isn’t as subject to regulatory capture it has probably saved more lives than government regulators in those areas.

  114. @Grantham:

    Someone who has an adverse reaction to the amount of gluten they consume could technically be considered a “gluten-abuser”,

    This is bullshit. Some people have zero tolerance for gluten, go out of their way to avoid it, and wind up eating some anyway because of mislabelling or others not thinking it is a big deal.

    @CHristopher Smith:

    The nice thing about a society ruled by law with established principles of liability is that milk farmers and distributors don’t have to be inherently less corrupt–their self-interest leads them to avoid both bad publicity and lawsuits.

    I’m sure this helps, but you still have doctors not washing their hands. Aren’t they asking for bad publicity and lawsuits?

  115. Jeff Read: The Jungle highlighted some real, actual unsanitary work conditions in America’s meat factories.

    No, it didn’t. Sinclair spent all of one week on his “research”. None of his exposés were true.

    What is documented is that President Theodore Roosevelt — himself, like you, not a fan of Sinclair, sent a pair of investigators to look into the truth of the meat-packing industry. What they found was horrifying. The only claim from The Jungle that they could not find evidence of was workmen falling into rendering vats and being turned into meat products.

    I don’t believe you. Partly because of your next claim:

    Roosevelt had their report suppressed for some time, because like you he was also not a fan of extensive government regulation; and such regulation would indeed be called for if the truth were known.

    Roosevelt not a fan of regulation?! Ha! He was a “progressive” and loved regulation.

    Eventually, the report was released, the regulation passed, and we are all healthier for it.

    The regulation was pushed by the big meat packers of Chicago, in order to drive out their smaller competitors.

  116. Re: doctors washing their hands, they started doing so when the evidence for it came out. No regulation was needed, and no regulation makes them do it.

  117. I’m sure this helps, but you still have doctors not washing their hands. Aren’t they asking for bad publicity and lawsuits?

    In fact they are, but your example proves too much: The doctors also have a legal requirement to practice proper hygiene, and yet their rate of handwashing remains unconscionably low.

  118. It just seems to me that a business willing to engage in ‘regulatory capture’ (bribery by any other name) would also be willing to engage in insurance fraud. My hypothetical example was of a business willing to agree to the insurance company’s conditions and then violate them anyway – insurance fraud exists today, do you think it would not exist if there is more to gain from it?

    What if it is (perceived as, along with a perceived low risk of getting caught in the first place) cheaper to do this and then fight any attempt to call them on it (via harassment, destroying evidence, etc) than to comply? How do the incentive structures work then?

    @Milhouse, @Jeff Read: “What they found was horrifying. … Eventually, the report was released” “I don’t believe you.”

    Can a record be found that the report exists and of what it says? It doesn’t seem like this sort of thing should be a matter of belief.

    I couldn’t find much, but http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F30610FD395512738DDDA00894DE405B868CF1D3 says it was denounced by an industry group.

  119. @Milhouse:

    Re: doctors washing their hands, they started doing so when the evidence for it came out. No regulation was needed, and no regulation makes them do it.

    Absolutely untrue in the aggregate and shows you haven’t read any of the links I posted.

    @Christopher Smith:

    In fact they are, but your example proves too much: The doctors also have a legal requirement to practice proper hygiene, and yet their rate of handwashing remains unconscionably low.

    Do you have a cite for the legal requirement, and does it involve potential jail time?

  120. We’re not going to get perfect compliance with best practices. I don’t care if you burn violators at the stake. It’s not going to happen. It’s the 90% rule.

    UL (Underwriters Laboratories) is a good model. Insurance companies started UL in an effort to reduce their exposure. If actuaries can’t tell a difference in claims in favor of UL listed products then insurers will stop giving discounts. UL would then die on the vine. I don’t see a similar mechanism for government regulation.

  121. @Milhouse:
    “Re: doctors washing their hands, they started doing so when the evidence for it came out.”

    You don’t seem to recognize how much resistance doctors had to accepting Semmelweis’ findings in the late 19th century. It was not an easy sell.

    From Wikipedia:
    “Despite various publications of results where hand-washing reduced mortality to below 1%, Semmelweis’s observations conflicted with the established scientific and medical opinions of the time and his ideas were rejected by the medical community. Some doctors were offended at the suggestion that they should wash their hands and Semmelweis could offer no acceptable scientific explanation for his findings. Semmelweis’s practice earned widespread acceptance only years after his death, when Louis Pasteur confirmed the germ theory. In 1865, Semmelweis was committed to an asylum, where he died, ironically, of septicemia at age 47.”

  122. This is bullshit. Some people have zero tolerance for gluten, go out of their way to avoid it, and wind up eating some anyway because of mislabelling or others not thinking it is a big deal.

    Why the rancor? In any case, if what I said was “bullshit”, then your reply was “utterly vague bullshit”, and about as assailable as pure vapor. “Some people…other people?” Who? How many? What else is in their diets? Where do they work? Do they smoke and drink excessively? Are they overweight? Diabetic? Asthmatic? What medications do they take?

    If you take the Manichean view that it doesn’t matter I think very well demonstrates the point of the OP. Toxicity isn’t black and white, and one man’s poison is another’s cure. The need to target “alien” agents is a breed of cargo cult science.

  123. You don’t seem to recognize how much resistance doctors had to accepting Semmelweis’ findings in the late 19th century. It was not an easy sell.

    Of course it wasn’t. It was completely counterintuitive, especially before the germ theory became widespread. But it was eventually accepted, and regulations had nothing to do with it. On the contrary, the regulators you think are so necessary sided (as they should) with the “scientific consensus” of the day, and locked Szemelweisz up! So to the extent that there was regulation of medicine, it did harm rather than good. And that must necessarily be so.

  124. If doctors aren’t washing their hands it might be useful to find out why, and try to fix it, rather than decree that they be struck by lightning six times and then crushed by an elephant.

    When our children were infants we washed our hands every time we touched them. Our hands took a real beating.

  125. Roosevelt’s report is available here. SparkNotes claims Sinclair spent seven weeks on the research, but doesn’t provide a citation for that. Then again, neither does Milhouse.

    Just to get it out of the way: everyone’s going to claim that Charles Neill wanted to find problems. The evidence for this will be that he was a labor sympathizer. It is inconceivable that Neill became a labor sympathizer because of the labor conditions he observed because we all know labor conditions were fine at the turn of the century. We know they were fine because the only people who complained about them were labor sympathizers, and labor sympathizers did not become sympathetic because of bad work conditions.

    I dunno. It doesn’t actually discredit libertarian philosophy if you admit that working conditions were crappy way back when; you just have to admit that people weren’t quite as good at enlightened self-interest in 1900 and accept that corporate entities — and the people controlling them — made some short-sighted decisions as a result. You can even say you’re glad things are better but you wish they’d taken another path to get here, because the path they took causes long term regulatory problems. But what do I know?

  126. FWIW, hand-washing compliance was estimated at under 50% back in 2001. This seems to have remained consistent for the next decade. The really important thing about that article is that it doesn’t call for more regulation: it talks about voluntary process improvement.

    Again, there’s this subtle but important point here: just because the government is trying to regulating a practice doesn’t mean the practice is a bad idea.

  127. From the article I linked to earlier:

    Historians with an ideological axe to grind against the market usually ignore an authoritative 1906 report of the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Animal Husbandry. Its investigators provided a point-by-point refutation of the worst of Sinclair’s allegations, some of which they labeled as” willful and deliberate misrepresentations of fact,” “atrocious exaggeration,” and “not at all characteristic.”7

    Instead, some of these same historians dwell on the Neill-Reynolds Report of the same year because it at least tentatively supported Sinclair. It turns out that neither Neill nor Reynolds had any experience in the meatpacking business and spent a grand total of two and one-half weeks in the spring of 1906 investigating and preparing what turned out to be a carelessly-written report with preconceived conclusions. Gabriel Kolko, a socialist but nonetheless an historian with a respect for facts, dismisses Sinclair as a propagandist and assails Neill and Reynolds as “two inexperienced Washington bureaucrats who freely admitted they knew nothing”8 of the meatpacking process. Their own subsequent testimony revealed that they had gone to Chicago with the intention of finding fault with industry practices so as to get a new inspection law passed.9

    7. U.S. Congress, House, Committee on Agriculture, Hearings on the So-called “Beveridge Amendment” to the Agriculture Appropriation Bill, 59th Congress, 1st Session, 1906, pp 346-350
    8.Kolko, p. 105.
    9. Hearings, p. 102.

  128. > > workmen falling into rendering vats and being turned into meat products

    > So, yes, it was lying agitprop. Nice to have that confirmed.

    Wait, are you saying that Soylent Green *isn’t* people?

  129. @Grantham:

    Why the rancor?

    It’s bullshit to claim that “terminology matters” and then in the very next sentence claim that an individual with an adverse reaction to substance ‘x’ could technically be labelled an ‘x’ abuser if they ever had enough contact with ‘x’ to cause them a problem.

    Using ‘gluten’ as ‘x’ was just the icing on the cake. I’m sure there are a few gluten-intolerant people who abuse cinnamon rolls, but most people either don’t know about their own gluten intolerance, or try really hard to avoid it. Someone who actively seeks to avoid that which harms them is not an ‘abuser’ when their best efforts fail due to external circumstances. The best smoking analogue of that would be someone who is really allergic to cigarette smoke and sometimes encounters enough second-hand smoke to cause problems, not someone who buys and smokes a pack a day.

    In any case, if what I said was “bullshit”, then your reply was “utterly vague bullshit”, and about as assailable as pure vapor. “Some people…other people?” Who? How many? What else is in their diets? Where do they work? Do they smoke and drink excessively? Are they overweight? Diabetic? Asthmatic? What medications do they take?

    Celiac disease is not fully understood. Cofactors may include genetic disposition, gut bacteria (but there is a cause and effect problem there), and infant feeding practices. I know of no studies linking it to occupation, exercise, weight, smoking, drinking, or diabetes (except as a possible partial cause of diabetes due to poor nutritional uptake). As far as I know, there is no “wheat would be OK for you if you only did ‘x'” pronouncement (except possibly for a few drugs which aren’t themselves side-effect free)

    If you take the Manichean view that it doesn’t matter

    Which I don’t.

    Toxicity isn’t black and white, and one man’s poison is another’s cure. The need to target “alien” agents is a breed of cargo cult science.

    And the need to sanctimoniously preach about how terminology matters, while simultaneously labelling those who can’t get away from that which damages them as substance abusers is a breed of what?

  130. It’s bullshit to claim that “terminology matters” and then in the very next sentence claim that an individual with an adverse reaction to substance ‘x’ could technically be labelled an ‘x’ abuser if they ever had enough contact with ‘x’ to cause them a problem.

    And the need to sanctimoniously preach about how terminology matters, while simultaneously labelling those who can’t get away from that which damages them as substance abusers is a breed of what?

    Oh, well in that case you missed the point. My point was actually in line with what you are saying above — in other words “terminology matter” meaning that labeling someone a “steroid abuser” is the nonsensical equivalent to labeling someone a “gluten abuser.” In other words, these labels are equally unscientific, and don’t tell us anything meaningful about their actual toxicity. Sorry if that wasn’t obvious from the original post… it seems we actually agree on this after all.

  131. @Milhouse:

    Of course it wasn’t. It was completely counterintuitive, especially before the germ theory became widespread. But it was eventually accepted, and regulations had nothing to do with it.

    What about later in New York, when doctors complained that excessive sanitation was keeping kids from getting sick and not providing them enough business? What about today when doctors still don’t always wash their hands?

    So to the extent that there was regulation of medicine, it did harm rather than good. And that must necessarily be so.

    I could believe this, except every time I check, the heavy hitters aiming for fewer regulations are the same ones aiming for “tort reform.”

    @BobW:

    If doctors aren’t washing their hands it might be useful to find out why, and try to fix it, rather than decree that they be struck by lightning six times and then crushed by an elephant.

    There has been some progress made on this front. Signs in bathrooms exhorting to wash up for their patients’ sake rather than their own seem to help. But really, this was just an example, as was the example about milk sanitation in New York in the 1800s. People don’t always do right by their customers, even when they absolutely know what “right” is.

  132. > the heavy hitters aiming for fewer regulations are the same ones aiming for “tort reform.”

    Oh, and I forgot — mandatory arbitration clauses disallowing class action, too.

  133. @Grantham:

    Sorry, looks like my eyes glazed over and I didn’t read your previous post well enough.

  134. PS: The version of Reed’s article that I originally read was in the August 2006 issue of Liberty. A PDF of the entire issue is here; the article is on pages 23-26.

    I misremembered the time Sinclair spent on his “research”; it was not one week but a few weeks. But since the point he intended to make with the book was about labour conditions, not food safety, it’s safe to say that not much of those few weeks was spent investigating food safety. And Neill & Reynolds did spend a total of 2.5 weeks, on a subject they knew nothing about before they started.

  135. In other words, these labels are equally unscientific, and don’t tell us anything meaningful about their actual toxicity. Sorry if that wasn’t obvious from the original post… it seems we actually agree on this after all.

    I didn’t introduce this term into the conversation! I studiously avoided it, until someone else introduced it. I was simply trying to get on with the business of conversing with that person. The point is that if you’re going to tweak with nature by trying new things, that is a risk. This goes whether you’re isolating steroids and reintroducing them to your body or ingesting pesticides. FWIW I eat pesticides every day because I’ve accepted that risk. But I also don’t deceive myself into think it’s justified by some numerical idiocy. These risks don’t “average out” with benefits. If I win the lottery and then get cancer those two things don’t cancel in any way. There is a lot of silly numerical thinking going on in this thread that has no relation to reality, all in the name of eliminating “irrational” cautions. Someone who avoids sugar or exercises may in fact live shorter than someone who indluges in food. But they are going to live at least as well as their best-fed ancestors, which is to say at least as well as a human is ecologically adapted to.

    We have the same essential attitude in this thread as the idiots who want to extend life forever. All because they don’t see a “reason” that people should die. They can’t grasp simple analogies such as the need to turn over the soil. Science is for harnessing nature, not changing everything just for the sake of it. But don’t let that stop you from enabling 1000 years of whoever the next version of Hitler/Stalin is. Nature has puts a limit on the life time of any single organism. Nature eventually kills things that are too big. The complete opposite of stupid rationalists who try to control everything. Anyone who is a libertarian and supports small government should understand these concepts, or else they are being highly domain dependent and hypocritical.

  136. @Random832

    It just seems to me that a business willing to engage in ‘regulatory capture’ (bribery by any other name) would also be willing to engage in insurance fraud. My hypothetical example was of a business willing to agree to the insurance company’s conditions and then violate them anyway – insurance fraud exists today, do you think it would not exist if there is more to gain from it?

    The major difference lies in incentives: The insurance company has a very strong incentive to ensure, both before and after the fact, that the insured complies with proper safety measures. Contrast, e.g., the coke-and-sex parties that certain oil companies threw for their MMS regulators to see the difference in diligence that the principal-agent problem can bring you.

    @Patrick Maupin:

    I’m trying and failing to find the regulations applicable to Texas; the online version is a complete and hopeless mess. I’ve been told before by friends who are medical professionals that they’re required by law to wash their hands between patients and at other times, and based on the standard food-service requirements I believe them, but I doubt such requirements involve anything more than cursory jail time that a judge would waive, if that.

  137. Tony said: Total bullshit. I’d have made the charitable assumption that this was a typo/thinko but you repeat this “megaton” crap in several of your later comments.

    you are CORRECT in part – I was using mega thinking it was 1,000 – my “thinko” bad,
    that is the FULL EXTENT OF MY ERROR – sorry – all numbers should be accurate with that in mind.

    Some of your other numbers are suspect however.

    “a peak 80 million pounds were used annually” in the USA
    “and a peak of 70 million pounds were exported annually from the USA” alone
    “During the 30 years prior to its cancellation, a total of approximately 1,350,000,000 pounds of DDT was used domestically.” in USA
    http://www.epa.gov/aboutepa/history/topics/ddt/02.html

    DDT was also produced by dozens other countries like USSR, Mexico, China, India, etc etc.
    The fact is that nobody knows how much total DDT was produced.

    Current Production:
    Hindustan Insecticides Limited (HIL) is the government-owned company responsible for estimated 9,000 metric tons of DDT per year.
    Shenzhen Jiangshan Commerce and Industry Corporation in Shenzhen produces DDT in China.
    but no production or export information is avail-able from the Shenzhen plant in China.
    The last estimate I saw was in the same range as the HIL plant
    http://www.ipen.org/ipenweb/documents/…/ddtenglish.pdf

    I used 10,000 tons — your 2,000 tons may or may not be correct but my source state more than 9,000 which was my 10 -20 “Mega should have been KILO”

  138. @Bryant

    You have a few good points in our post, and I agree with them to a degree. I suppose the problem many have is with the deification of liars like Sinclair, for whom the ugly truth wasn’t “ugly” enough to realize his goals. Sinclair lied about men being ground into sausage meat not merely because he thought the ends (better conditions for the workers) might justify the means (scaring people with fictitious horseshit about mincemeat men), but because he rightly assessed that his real aim (socialist revolution) wasn’t palatable enough on its own merits. Unless he was just a patholgocial liar, he knew that people would weigh his findings about some of the bad things going on in the meatpacking industry against their aversion to the brand of politics he prescribed, and that — although the working conditions were far from perfect according to his SES — his argument would ultimately come up short in at the polling booth. So, he inserted the hogwash about the sausage-d men to sex things up a bit.

    Based on what he wrote above, Jeff Read doesn’t seem to think this is a legitimate tactic – that there can be “good lies” in service of a noble cause. I think this is a foolhardy stance to take, no matter what solution is being prescribed. Claiming it’s fine for Sinclair to lie in the service of his political ideology the same as admitting that you might also lie whenever it suits your own ideological ends. Not “little white lies,” either – great big whoppers about men being ground into meatballs. If that is the case, why should anyone pay attention to a single word such a Machiavellian liar says or writes, particularly when they announce that they consider lying to be fair game? In my opinion, people with that mindset might do better to declare themselves as con-men or partisans, and excuse themselves from serious debates about ideas. They’d do more damage to their own fellow travelers than to their opponents.

  139. @Patrick Maupin

    I will endeavor to make future posts less glaze-inducing by cursing like a fucking sailor.

  140. Obama is working hard to be re-elected. He needs to motivate his base constituency. The polluter boogeyman is a good whipping boy with which to inflame the enviro-sheep. The NYT is doing all it can to help sell this Jerry Springer themed canard. The degree to which this ploy works is in direct correlation to the success of the public school system in indoctrinating stupidity into the nation’s youth.

  141. “The major difference lies in incentives: The insurance company has a very strong incentive to ensure, both before and after the fact, that the insured complies with proper safety measures. ” How does the insurance company not have an incentive to use the fact that they didn’t comply with proper safety measures as an excuse to walk off without paying any claims, leaving the workers with no remedy except to sue the employer for damages they can’t cover?

  142. How does the insurance company not have an incentive to use the fact that they didn’t comply with proper safety measures as an excuse to walk off without paying any claims, leaving the workers with no remedy except to sue the employer for damages they can’t cover?

    I didn’t say they didn’t—in fact, as I mentioned (“after the fact”), they do have an incentive to use the fact that the insured breached its contract not to pay out, just like if you tell your health-insurance company that you don’t smoke and they find out after you get lung cancer that you do, they’ll justifiably refuse to pay for your treatment.

  143. >How does the insurance company not have an incentive to use the fact that they didn’t comply with proper safety measures as an excuse to walk off without paying any claims, leaving the workers with no remedy except to sue the employer for damages they can’t cover?

    That’s not an “excuse”. That’s exactly what should happen. You’re not thinking through the second-order effects clearly.

  144. > “The latest estimate by a WHO task group indicates that there may be 1 million serious unintentional poisonings each year and in addition 2 million people hospitalized for suicide attempts with pesticides. This necessarily reflects only a fraction of the real problem. O

    But, just as with Chernobyl, they can find very few specific identifiable cases of serious unintentional poisoning

    We asked you for evidence. That the most holy synod of the Cathedral proclaims X to be true is not evidence of X. How does WHO know that there are lots of unintentional pesticide poisonings each year.

    That WHO supposedly believes X is not in itself reason to believe X, indeed it is reason disbelieve X. What is WHO’s evidence for X?

  145. I’m stuck on “damages they can’t cover”. It seems like your system leaves workers with no way at all to pay for their medical problems, and doesn’t punish the employers at all beyond bankruptcy (and that’s assuming the workers aren’t deterred by the high transaction cost of suing them)

    What “second-order effects” am I not thinking through?

  146. @James A McDonald
    “How does WHO know that there are lots of unintentional pesticide poisonings each year.”

    The WHO points you to specific country studies on which they base their estimates. You are free to follow these references and look up the numbers. If I would have to chose between the WHO or Your opinion, I would go for the WHO.

    The WHO document their case, you simply dismiss any evidence presented. Not a good basis for a discussion. More like a televised debate or court case where the point is *not* to let the truth come out.

  147. I think that you are all missing the forest because of the trees.

    The essence of this story is NOT about a small group of teenagers is an obscure town experiencing an anomalous behavior due to environmental poisoning. It’s about meme infection of society via popular news programing of carefully scripted messages. Meme infection can harm mental reasoning capability as surely as TB can harm respiratory function. TB is virulently contagious and, if untreated, may lead to premature death.

  148. What “second-order effects” am I not thinking through?

    A plausible example: FooCorp operates a factory with heavy machinery. In order to reduce its liability in case of an accident, it purchases insurance from BarMutual. Bar sets as a condition of coverage that Foo has to maintain specified safeguards to prevent injuries.

    The way that insurance works is that Foo looks at Bar’s conditions, which are going to be at least reasonably cost-effective (or Bar would lose business to BazLife, which has more favorable conditions). Foo implements the requirements (safety training, hearing protection, LOTO), reducing the amount that Bar will have to pay by reducing the number and severity of accidents. Foo maintains the policies because it knows that if it doesn’t, Bar won’t cover it in the case of an accident.

    Now let’s look at your scenario, where Bar has to pay out regardless of Foo’s compliance with the safety standards. Those safeguards aren’t free, and Foo now has no reason to pay for them; after all, if somebody gets hurt, it’s not Foo’s problem. In fact, Foo now has less incentive to protect its workers than it did before it purchased the insurance since it’s shifted all of the costs of injuries to Bar, so requiring Bar to pay out even if Foo ignores the safety standards harms both Bar and the workers who are supposed to be protected.

  149. @ Christopher Smith

    You have neatly explained why a compulsory no-fault insurance scheme under which workers are covered for all work-related injuries (as operates in Australia) is a sensible solution.

    Injured workers recover, and employers are incentivised to comply with safety requirements because a poor claims record will lead to an increase in premiums.

    Of course, in Australia we also have relatively.stringent occupational health and safety laws that, for example, impose personal criminal liability on officers of a company which does not take all reasonable steps to avoid harm.

  150. > The WHO document their case, you simply dismiss any evidence presented. Not a good basis for a discussion. More like a televised debate or court case where the point is *not* to let the truth come out.

    The WHO document their case same way the way you do: The holy priesthood cites the holy priesthood as proof of their general holiness, proving that their holiness is in line with the general consensus on holiness.

    Actual documentation would lead me to specific actual cases of poisoning, or to a specific and identified medical facility that claimed to count cases of poisoning that they treated.

  151. > Of course, in Australia we also have relatively.stringent occupational health and safety laws that, for example, impose personal criminal liability on officers of a company which does not take all reasonable steps to avoid harm.

    You seem to be succumbing to the myth that the US is a hellhole of unbridled capitalism where fat capitalists wearing top hats buy slaves at auctions, which auctions are held on every street corner.

    Having done business in both places, I would say that US health and safety is a lot more stringent and bureaucratic than Australian, and is fairly counterproductive in both places.

  152. Now let’s look at your scenario, where Bar has to pay out regardless of Foo’s compliance with the safety standards. Those safeguards aren’t free, and Foo now has no reason to pay for them; after all, if somebody gets hurt, it’s not Foo’s problem.

    If Bar is obliged to pay out, but is allowed to charge whatever premiums he likes, then he jacks up premiums on Foo to recover costs if he doesn’t comply with the safeguards. It’s like the fuss about minimum wages. We (Australia) have higher minimum wages than the US but we have pretty consistently out-performed it on employment rates.

    The true problem here is size. Welfare, etc need to be dolled out locally, as used to be done by the churches. Both the receiver and the priest feel bad about doing the wrong thing because they see each other every Sunday. Anything less is just individuals trying to get the best deal they can. Australia had socialised policies going back a long time, but it’s more recent to have universal coverage that’s managed federally. As far as cash benefits go, the parasites are moving in and you can smell the end of a good thing.

    God is often a better regulator than the state.

  153. Having done business in both places, I would say that US health and safety is a lot more stringent and bureaucratic than Australian, and is fairly counterproductive in both places.

    Reading Tom’s comment, I thought much the same thing. Is it really possible he’s never heard of O.S.H.A? I haven’t done business in Australia, but have collaborated with Australian citizens and Australian firms. I’ve found most of them to be more generally aware of the reality of American regulatory regimes and bureaucracy — as opposed to, say, continental Europeans, who in my experience are much more likely to buy into the mythology of a Rand-ian America of robber barons and wage slaves, with massive poverty, hunger and men ground into sausage meat on factory floors. I’ve worked on plenty of development projects here in New York City and abroad, and New York City certainly is no picnic when it comes permits, licenses, inspections and safety regulations. At times, it can be a byzantine nightmare of paperwork, where a firm is punished even when they meet the highest standards of safety on the work site because one form or another got screwed up by the regulators themselves.

    On top of all that, be prepared to pay purchase group policies and pay big rates negotiated by parties who have no relationship to your project, business or industry, even when you could get a better deal across state lines. And if something goes horribly wrong? Prepare to be sued anyway, by a plaintiff who stands to lose nothing by filing their lawsuit, even if they were 100% responsible for the accident. The present tort system in the States is a disaster in slow-motion, and from what I understand the situation in Australia is much better when it comes to limited liabilities and damages, and I think we would be better off if we adopted some of their policies in that respect.

  154. @ Grantham, James A Donald

    I think you infer too much from my comment, which made no reference to the regulatory environment in the US at all.

    All I was trying to point out, in response to an earlier comment about incentivisation from Christopher Smith, was that a State-backed compulsory insurance scheme, with laws that criminalise poor practices that lead to avoidable injuries, seems to me to provide the sorts of incentives Christopher Smith might expect.

  155. All I was trying to point out, in response to an earlier comment about incentivisation from Christopher Smith, was that a State-backed compulsory insurance scheme, with laws that criminalise poor practices that lead to avoidable injuries, seems to me to provide the sorts of incentives Christopher Smith might expect.

    Except that you run into massive principal-agent problems. When the peril insured against isn’t personal injury but some other catastrophic loss, no-fault insurance invites moral hazard, and criminal penalties are simultaneously inflexible and arbitrary.

    As a few examples, DMCA notices are filed under penalty of perjury. Warner Brothers has publicly acknowledged that it has knowingly filed false takedown reports, but because criminal prosecutions are handled by a public prosecutor, who’s not interested in prosecuting employees of a big media company, the individuals directly harmed have no recourse. Similarly, the BP oil spill occurred under the most stringent regulatory regime in the world—on paper. In practice, as I’ve referred to earlier, the government regulators were going on drug-and-sex parties with the people whose work they were supposed to be reviewing. Finally, witness the brouhaha currently in vogue over so-called “pink slime”.

    Government enforcement of standards—whether workplace safety, food safety, or even weights and measures—usually runs into the problem that the people who are allegedly doing the protecting don’t have incentives aligned with the interests of those whom they’re supposed to protect.

  156. All I was trying to point out, in response to an earlier comment about incentivisation from Christopher Smith, was that a State-backed compulsory insurance scheme, with laws that criminalise poor practices that lead to avoidable injuries, seems to me to provide the sorts of incentives Christopher Smith might expect.

    Right, but the point is that this compulsory system operates within a more business-friendly tort environment, which makes it a realistic alternative. Insurance, tort law and government regulation aren’t really separate, portable systems, even though political charlatans will often present them as such. In the case of insurance, incentivisation varies depending on the options available and the risks involved with each course of action. The most obvious example is medical malpractice liability, in which case the incentives would not be provided in a no-fault system without a serious reform on liability and damages, as well as a deregulation of interstate insurers.

    Again, I think Australia has a system closer to what I’d like to see in the U.S, (particularly in the area of tort reform). but the problems of scale here are exasperated by the political environment and by our radical expansion of the Commerce Clause, which gives the federal government undue influence over pricing. But all the stars have to be in alignment; no-fault worker insurance would only break the system further.

    From what I understand, Australia itself suffered the downward market pressures of their own scheme, and many of their (so-called “controversial”) reforms were spawned because of it. My fear in the U.S. is that the expansion of the Commerce Clause coupled with the massive power grabs by the Executive branch over the past three generations will reduce our flexibility to respond to price increases in a resonable time frame. If recent history serves as a teacher, we can no longer afford to “mess up” by putting the cart before horse and later self correcting when the money crunch hits. That’s because demagogues in the political class and the media present insurance not only as an independent system that operates in a vacuum, but as a zero sum game. To them, insurance is either a tool for social justice (i.e. wealth transfers adjudicated in the court system) or an obstacle against it. Our antibodies against corrosive public spending have dwindled almost to nothing at this point, mostly because of the massive failing of our public schools. No one seems to know how money works anymore.

    It sounds simplistic — and it is — but shockingly ignorant propaganda about the insurance industry (and social security, and taxation, and a litany of other fiscal subjects) is par for the course in American politics these days. Even rational reforms to MMI that would expand health coverage are constantly demagogued-away because their political narrative demands purity of form (businesses and insurers are always bad and exploitative; employees are always exploited and deserving of settlement). To be fair, some on the right also demagogue the issue and demand ideological purity, but they at least have the benefit of reality when it comes to the actual inputs and outputs. They know that nothing is free — that someone always pays — and that mechanisms for determining degree of fault at the very least will discourage moral hazard.

  157. Or, put more briefly: a state-backed compulsory scheme would indeed induce the incentives we would prefer – except that the state is now a player. That up-ends the entire thing.

  158. Unlike Grantham, however, I don’t find propaganda about the insurance industry shockingly ignorant at all. It’s perfectly expected, given the stakes and pressures at play. (I actually suspect he’s not really shocked either, and is simply making a rhetorical point.)

    Information is only rarely free to obtain (albeit nearly free to copy). More interestingly, it is not always free to infer from other information, even if one has it right in front of oneself. If I know P, Q, and (P&Q)->R, I don’t automatically know R; I have to think about it. If P, Q, and (P&Q)->R are all I have to think about, it’s trivial, sure. But if they’re three propositions among dozens, it’s no longer trivial. If they’re three propositions among quadrillions, it’s not even trivial if I happen to be a computer program.

    If P is “the source of proposition S is X” and Q is “if source T benefits if U is true, then it is not the case that ‘T reports U’ implies U”…

  159. (I actually suspect he’s not really shocked either, and is simply making a rhetorical point.)

    Yes, true. Very little actually shocks me anymore. The only thing that’s mildly weird to me is that the same old canards are hauled out over and over with the result of diminishing returns and very little in the way of political re-alignment.

  160. The only thing that’s mildly weird to me is that the same old canards are hauled out over and over with the result of diminishing returns and very little in the way of political re-alignment.

    And I’m trying to drop a hint that it might be worth applying scientific method to this and see if we can model why people really do this – assuming they do it as reliably as you and I suspect they (we) do.

  161. Our antibodies against corrosive public spending have dwindled almost to nothing at this point, mostly because of the massive failing of our public schools. No one seems to know how money works anymore.

    We need students to be drilled with an ethic that encourages small systems. We can have welfare, but it has to be controlled locally as part of “something bigger” like we used to have with the churches (I am an atheist so I have no religious axe to grind here). Students need to know that debt is for responsible optimisation, not putting off the inevitable. I no longer understand peoples’ attitudes.

  162. @James A Donald
    “Actual documentation would lead me to specific actual cases of poisoning, or to a specific and identified medical facility that claimed to count cases of poisoning that they treated.”

    At your service, just a single reference from one of the links given above (you did not look at the link, it seems):

    Survey of acute pesticide poisoning among agricultural workers in four Asian countries*
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2491026/?tool=pubmed

    The clinical records from the local hospital near the
    project area were analysed to estimate the number of
    hospital admissions due to acute pesticide poisoning,
    this group of patients being identified from the
    records of all cases of poisoning admitted to the
    hospital between 1 January and 31 December 1983.
    All the hospital cases classified as poisoning in 1983
    were specially reviewed for the study by the principal
    national investigator in each country. The class of
    pesticide responsible for the poisoning and the reason
    for the poisoning were obtained from the clinical
    records.

    @James A donald
    “The WHO document their case same way the way you do: The holy priesthood cites the holy priesthood as proof of their general holiness, proving that their holiness is in line with the general consensus on holiness.”

    Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.. In your case, I would think it is both.

    It is obvious from your comment that you are not interested in reality nor in the health of poor farm workers, just in getting your political agenda through. You therefore seem to think think that others, eg, medical researchers, too are not interested in the health of people, but just in pushing their agenda to the detriment of millions of poor people.

  163. > It is obvious from your comment that you are not interested in reality nor in the health of poor farm workers, just in getting your political agenda through.

    I notice that page 523 of the link you give tells us they found two cases of accidental poisoning with pesticides that resulted in a hospital visit in Indonesia, four cases in Malaysia, a whopping thirty in Sri Lanka, so on and so forth. That is not all the victims in the world, or even in these countries, but that is the victims their survey turned up.

    Not sure how you and WHO extrapolate from that to two million victims of the evil big bad pesticide companies.

    Indeed, the number of identified victims of evil big bad giant capitalist pesticide corporations seems strikingly similar to the number of identified victims of Chernobyl.

  164. @James A Donald,

    The WHO considers, as a matter of opinion, suicides as deaths. A suicide prevented, is a death prevented.

    Anyhow, this is a study of 4 areas in 4 countries. These are not numbers for all people from these countries. Just samples. The number of agricultural workers involved were (total population in millions, 2010/2011):
    Indonesia – 1192 (237M)
    Malaysia – 4351 (28M)
    Sri Lanka – 3439 (20M)
    Thailand – 4971 (66M)
    (note that in 1985, the total populations would have been a lot lower)

    If you look at table 2, page 523, between 10-20% of pesticide users told they have been poisoned at least once. And 4-13% of all agricultural workers answered they had been poisoned ever. That would be hundreds of participants reporting having been poisoned by pesticides at least once.

    The hospital data are for a single year only (1983). Looking at the accidents, 30 occupational and 27 non-occupational hospital admissions for accidental pesticide poisonings were reported in the study area in Sri Lanka. That is not small given the small samples and short time span.

    Extrapolating from these numbers for the countries is tricky. But it is foolish to think the rest of the country will have zero incidences. In general, every incidence in the samples would represent thousands of cases on the national level, tens of thousands in the case of Indonesia.

    So I stick with my earlier conclusions.

  165. > If you look at table 2, page 523, between 10-20% of pesticide users told they have been poisoned at least once.

    That is what they said when someone pressed them for that answer. Had the researchers instead asked them had they been to a medical facility and treated for pesticide poison, they would have gotten far lower numbers – as they did get vastly lower numbers when asking the medical facility

    As I said, strikingly similar to the data for Chernobyl, where we do indeed have evidence for large psychological effects, but a strange absence of leukemia and such.

    This data does not show that twenty percent suffered pesticide poisoning, it shows that twenty percent found it advisable to at least pretend to worship by the official approved religion. Try asking members of the audience of Oprah if they have been harmed by the psychic influence other people’s negative thoughts. I am pretty sure you would get one hell of a lot more than twenty percent claiming harm.

  166. @James A Donald
    “That is what they said when someone pressed them for that answer.”

    When everybody lies, why do research? The hospitals will lie, as will the doctors and the coroners. And the researchers will just write down what they want anyhow. Only when you will be poisoned yourself will you, maybe, admit to poisoning. Just maybe, if it suits you.

    I stick to my conclusions: You are not interested in understanding the problem, just in denying it.

  167. @James A Donald, @Winter

    So the disagreement you two are having is on whether “self-reports having experienced symptoms of poisoning” or “successfully obtained medical treatment for poisoning” are better proxies for who was actually poisoned.

  168. Winter, you just committed one of the classic blunders. The most famous of which is: never get involved in a land war in Asia; but only slightly less well known is this: never go in against a libertarian when facts are on the line.

  169. @Jeff Read
    I know. For certain people “facts are in the eye of the beholder”. Some people do not want to cope with any form of reality, just opinion.

    Not really limited to specific political convictions, I think.

  170. > When everybody lies, why do research?

    Everyone feels a bit off color from time to time. If you are working with pesticides, then perhaps you have been poisoned – especially if you are supposed to have been poisoned, you are politically incorrect if you failed to be poisoned, and you have no idea what the symptoms of pesticide poisoning are.

    If you are working with pesticides, you are a sinner, but if your sore back might have been caused by pesticides, you are now in the elevated holy status of victim – which your interviewer is looking for. It is as if missionaries were going around asking people were they saved. They would find out that just about everyone was saved. Is everyone who says they are saved lying?

  171. James A Donald
    You seem to have no clue about neither empirical research nor agriculture in these countries.

    You simply deny that empirical medical research is possible.

  172. I don’t think James is denying that empirical medical research is possible. He just outlining the failure modes for the particular research being brought up here.

    The research most appealing to hard science geeks would probably be the type exemplified by Einstein predicting the degree to which light would appear to bend around our sun, according to relativity theory. In general, devise a rule, and then claim that if this rule holds, then we’ll observe this future event, and if we observe that that event didn’t occur, we can conclude that the rule does not hold. Before the event is even checked, we can recognize that this is good science: predictive theory with a definitive, falsifiable test. Furthermore, it couldn’t be faked: the equipment needed to check for the event was widely(?) available, and everyone agreed that no one could cheat and affect the movement of Mercury or the sun or of light.

    Studies of health problems and pesticide use exemplify very little of this. We can’t use a lot of pesticide in some country and then measure the rate of health problems, or eliminate its use in an identical control country and measure the same thing; we can’t repeat that experiment to account for potential errors in measurement; we can’t say that if the former country shows health problems, they must necessarily have been a result of increased pesticide use; and we can’t be reasonably sure that there is no possibility of someone surreptitiously altering health problems due to having an economic stake in the outcome.

    To lament that this is unfair, because it would mean empirical medical research is impossible, is like lamenting that Olympic gold medals are unfair, because it would mean that everyone winning at the Olympics is impossible. It is what it is. Starting with the possibility of empirical medical research as a premise and then inferring that it has happened in all these cases leads to absurd situations where if it looks like science – at least N people in lab coats spending at least G dollars and outputting K papers – then it is science.

  173. @ Christopher Smith
    > Except that you run into massive principal-agent problems. When the peril insured against isn’t personal injury but some other catastrophic loss, no-fault insurance invites moral hazard, and criminal penalties are simultaneously inflexible and arbitrary.

    Criminal penalties are “inflexible and arbitrary”?

    In what sense?

    A wrongdoer who breaches a health and safety regulation may be exposed to liability to pay a penalty if convicted of the relevant offence. The amount of the penalty will (at least in Australia) be set at the discretion of the sentencing judge.

  174. @TomM:

    > Criminal penalties are “inflexible and arbitrary”?

    Quite often, yes. Just look at the example I posted a few comments before yours.

  175. @ Patrick Maupin

    Nothing about the link you posted was “arbitrary”, though.

    Envirionmental (and safety) offences are usually strict liability, which means the prosecution doesn’t have to prove you intended to cause the harm, just that you caused it.

    If your objection is that this is “inflexible” I’d point you again to the discretion usually allowed to judges in sentencing.

  176. Criminal penalties are “inflexible and arbitrary”?

    In what sense?

    And on the other side of the sort of thing Patrick pointed out, I noted false DMCA notices already, and environmental concerns are another. In Britain, anglers’ clubs have successfully sued polluters and won judgments requiring them to clean up rivers. In the United States, the much-balleyhooed Cuyahoga River had been the subject of prior attempts at lawsuits by private organizations which were thrown out because of laws which specified that the government had taken over control of enforcement.

    For all the insane overreaches of prosecutors and compliant juries, there are legions of cases which conveniently don’t get prosecuted, and if the prosecutor (either an elected or politically-appointed official) decides not to press charges, there’s nothing anyone else can do about it. Think how different the outcomes would have been with W’s and Al Gore’s “youthful indiscretions” if they weren’t the scions of powerful families.

  177. Winter on Friday, March 16 2012 at 3:39 pm said:
    > You simply deny that empirical medical research is possible.

    Not impossible, but difficult. And since you already know what the answer must be, and getting the wrong answer would get you into trouble, you don’t even try, but instead do whatever will generate the politically correct result, and refrain from doing whatever would generate the politically incorrect result.

    Asking people if pesticide made them sick will generate a lot of positives, as would asking people if demons made them sick. So if you want to get the result that pesticides make people sick, you ask that question.

    If, however, you really wanted the true answer to whether pesticides make people sick, you would locate cases of illness characteristic of pesticide overdose, and measure the amount of pesticide in people showing these symptoms, and compare it with the amount of pesticide in people of similar occupations but healthy, or in hospital for ailments unlikely to be related to pesticide.

    But you don’t want the true answer, as it would surely destroy your career and destroy the educational institution that you were associated with, you don’t locate cases of illness characteristic of pesticide overdose, and don’t measure the amount of pesticide in people showing these symptoms.

    That no one is doing this research, or the analogous research on Chernobyl, tells me that they know what the truth is, and that the truth would destroy their lives and institutions.

  178. TomM on Friday, March 16 2012 at 7:43 pm said:
    > Envirionmental (and safety) offences are usually strict liability, which means the prosecution doesn’t have to prove you intended to cause the harm, just that you caused it.

    They don’t have to prove you caused harm, either in Australia or in the US.

    A not unusual health and safety lawsuit in the US goes like this: A business dumped one truckload of worthless household furnishings and equipment that it received as trade ins on a dump. The government dumps one million tonnes of some material that is subsequently deemed to be toxic waste on the same dump. Perhaps the subsequent redesignation is reasonable. Usually it is not. Either way a remediation order is issued that the dump has to be returned to the condition of unspoilt nature. The business that dumped one truckload of household items finds itself with equal joint and several liability as the government that is suing itself for dumping one million tonnes of material that was subsequently deemed to be toxic waste. So the government sues itself, convicts itself, and various random innocents are deemed to be equally convicted, thanks to strict liability.

    Then of course, there is the lunatic over reaction: Someone uses a small amount of hydrofluoric acid, the men in moon suits show up, impose an evacuation order, and the guy who used the hydrofluoric acid is deemed to have caused harm by causing the men in moon suits to show up and force an evacuation.

  179. What discretion?

    Not to mention the fact that felonies (which, thanks to the tough-on-crime ratchet, are effectively all crimes in the United States except crimes against persons, which largely remain misdemeanors) carry with them a slew of collateral punishments, from revocation of the right to own firearms to the complete inability to work in numerous jobs.

  180. @ Patrick Maupin

    I agree that mandatory sentencing regimes are obnoxious.

  181. @ Christopher Smith

    “cause the harm” was a poor word choice on my part. I should have just said “commit the proscribed act or omit to do the prescribed act”.

  182. @ Chistopher Smith

    My apologies, my comment above was directed at James A Donald.

  183. @James A Donald
    “Not impossible, but difficult. And since you already know what the answer must be, and getting the wrong answer would get you into trouble, you don’t even try, but instead do whatever will generate the politically correct result, and refrain from doing whatever would generate the politically incorrect result.”

    I will refrain from writing down insulting remarks. So I will limit to say that this is wrong.

    Here is a paper where people in four countries have gone to an enormous amount of trouble and effort to collect data on a (potentially) serious health problem. They went on the ground and collected real data from thousands of persons.

    Over half the links in the WHO pages I pointed to are about methodological problems and how to interpret the collected data. These people worry endlessly about the validity and meaning of their data. You have obviously skipped those methodological papers. Furthermore, there are other, more recent studies linked to that collect comparable data from other localities, using other methods.

    The correct response to all this effort is to see what we can learn from these data. Because these are real data. Scrutiny might or might not show that the data support the conclusions of the researchers, but this is real empirical data, not speculation.

    The fact that your response is looking for unsubstantiated innuendo as excuses for dismissing all data they gathered shows me you are absolutely not interested in knowing what is really going on.

    Your behavior is advocacy and lobbying at its worst: You do not want to know whether people die or not on the other side of the globe, you just want to fight some local political foe at any cost.

  184. > Over half the links in the WHO pages I pointed to are about methodological problems and how to interpret the collected data. These people worry endlessly about the validity and meaning of their data.

    If, instead of collecting data on the evil effects of pesticides and whatnot, they had collected equivalent data on the evil effects of demonic possession, their data would be about the same, and they would also be worrying about the validity and meaning of their data – in the sense that they are worrying how to spin their data as having meaning and validity.

    This looks to me mighty like the methods that produced the hockey stick curve: You collect sows ear data, and supposedly you magically turn it in to silk purse data by applying unusual and innovative statistical techniques.

    It is easy to collect data that does not mean very much, and then torture the data till it confesses. With the best will in the world it is really hard to collect data that really that really does mean something, and I am not seeing the best will in the world.

    You could equally say that the Climate Research Unit worried a lot about data and methodology, but when we read the climategate files, we find that they worried about data and methodology not from the point of view of a scientist seeking the truth but instead from the point of view of a prosecutor searching for evidence to convict. In the climategate files we see that data was accepted or rejected on the basis of whether it could help the cause, and methodology was examined from the point of view of “how can we spin this data to help the holy cause”, not from the point of view of “what does this data tell us about reality”

    What tends to happen with peer review, even in areas less political than those that WHO deals with, is that instead of the experimenter telling his peers what he saw, his peers tell him what he damn well better see. That does not mean that science is impossible, but science is hard, and gets a great deal harder when funding is political.

  185. @James A Donald
    South Asian peasants in the 1980s being political correct about the environment. That is a sketch from Monty Python (and the holy grail). That movie was historically not completely accurate.

    So we end with the WHO having hard empirical data and you political speculation, ignorance and inuendo. Who is in denial here?

  186. > Mockery, as brutal and continuous as possible, seems almost a duty under the circumstances.

    Eh. This seems to be something we can never really agree about. Look, the basic problem of human existence is the Absurd: that we live a purpose-oriented life in a human microcosmos (city) where everything is purpose-made, embedded in the greater macrocosmos which isn’t purpose-oriented, isn’t teleological.

    To withstand this contradiction, to cope with it, takes either stupidity (not noticing it) or a heroic kind of character strength. People who have it are admirable but it simply not a standard to be expected and demanded from everyone.

    Those who cannot cope with it have broadly three strategies open for them:

    1) Try claim that the universe is purpose-oriented (religion, magic, superstition).

    2) Try to find a human purpose and inflate it into something akin to a cosmic purpose: this results in this-wordly pseudo-religions like Marxism, the problem with it is that a person who wants to create his kind of heaven on Earth is always more dangerous to liberty than a person who preaches an other-wordly heaven, he automatically leaves less wriggling room open for others.

    3) Try to deny humans are purpose-oriented, which leads to a dehumanized view, opens the door for decadence and mindless short-term-oriented hedonism which in the longer run opens the door for violence which in the longer run opens the door for tyranny.

    Of these three it is still the first one that at least offers some hope for respecting human freedom and dignity and worthy goals.

    Lately I was thinking a lot about how honor-based ethics could be rediscovered, reintroduced in the modern world because it seems like we need it badly, or else the Rorty-Dworkin types win. No, it does not require a concept of god – but it does require many great layers of purpose-orientedness, generally more than our current culture acknowledges. Some folks will simply have the need to derive those all from an ultimate purpose, god. I don’t agree with that but on the other hand I don’ think that deserves mockery, that is more like an acceptable mistake, a lesser evil than the other two.

  187. Winter on Sunday, March 18 2012 at 4:39 am said:
    “So we end with the WHO having hard empirical data . . .”

    What a fascinating choice of adjectives.

  188. > So we end with the WHO having hard empirical data and you political speculation, ignorance and inuendo. Who is in denial here?

    The WHO’s data is not hard. Had it collected the same data about the harm done by witches and demonic possession, as it collected about the harm done by pesticides, the numbers would be very similar.

    That the WHO’s data is this sort of rubbish is itself hard empirical data about the political character of WHO – it tells us not that pesticides are dangerous to rural workers, but that real science is dangerous to the careers of WHO workers.

  189. I wrote: “Had it collected the same data about the harm done by witches and demonic possession”

    Obviously, would not work if the survey actually used the term witchcraft, but would work if it used new age equivalent language from Oprah

  190. that we live a purpose-oriented life in a human microcosmos (city) where everything is purpose-made, embedded in the greater macrocosmos which isn’t purpose-oriented, isn’t teleological.

    I don’t understand why a purpose-oriented agent necessarily requires a purpose oriented macrocosm. Can you not simply accept that, despite the psychological need of humanity to find purpose, the greater universe does not care? While certainly this way lies your option 3, the additional qualifier is that while the universe does not care, the humans around me DO(or should) care. Thus leading naturally to your honour-based ethics point.

    I think i’d feel saddened by a universe that had a purpose for me. If it wants me to do something it should probably have left instructions for me when I was born.

  191. >If it wants me to do something it should probably have left instructions for me when I was born

    Indeed. Also there’s the fact that belief systems which place people in a purposive universe tend strongly to be the ones that motivate them to fly airliners into skyscrapers and otherwise butcher their neighbors in the name of spooks.

  192. > Can you not simply accept that, despite the psychological need of humanity to find purpose, the greater universe does not care?

    Unfortunately, there are large numbers of people who, if deprived of spooks to give life purpose, are apt to find purpose in Marxism, Global Warming, and such.

    Armed with spooks, those who hate western civilization can fly planes into our building. Disarmed from using spooks, those love western civilization are reluctant to defend it, when defending it would require killing a large number of women and children who happen to be in the general vicinity of a tiny number of crazy fanatics.

  193. @James A Donald
    “That the WHO’s data is this sort of rubbish is itself hard empirical data about the political character of WHO – it tells us not that pesticides are dangerous to rural workers, but that real science is dangerous to the careers of WHO workers.”

    Actually, the question whether applying poisonous substances without proper care leads to accidents is an uninteresting one. It can be answered by empirical research. The empirical research done shows that indeed, when unqualified, even illiterate, personnel use toxic pesticides, accidents happen. But as another commenter wrote, always happy to inform and educate.

    I am sure Libertarian philosophy can handle the resulting moral and economic questions perfectly well.

    What is much more interesting to me was to what extend you would go to fight facts and reality to salvage your ideological purity.

    It was fascinating to see in what tortuous winds you twist to deny the existence of simple empirical observations. It just totally reminds me of Creationists tackling biology.

    Obviously, you have shown no sign of actually knowing anything at all about the WHO, epidemiology, pesticide toxicology, or the situation of peasants in rural South Asia. Heck, you even show complete ignorance about the way research is organized and evaluated in your own country.

    You always fall back to the old adage if they disagree with me, they must be lying frauds and criminals conspiring against truth.

    So we come back to my earlier conclusion:
    If everybody lies all the time, why do research at all?

  194. >Can you not simply accept that, despite the psychological need of humanity to find purpose, the greater universe does not care?

    I can, I am merely saying that psychological need is very big and a huge motivating factor in history, and on the social level we can find different ways of coping with it but simply ignoring it or simply choosing to mock one possible coping mechanism without an eye to what happens if the other kinds get stronger as a result, well that is not going to work.

    It’s not simply that kind of psychological need as say the need for the respect or acceptance of others, it is something much more fundamental, what I gathered from reading Weber and Voegelin is that basically every society in history saw itself as a representation of some kind of cosmic order, which requires a human-like “making sense” of the universe, i.e. purposiveness. Again this not necessarily a good thing, this should be seen merely as raw data, input about one of the most influential aspects of human behavior & history.

    I will put it simpler: mock religion when we have found adequate replacements for it. In the 19th century it seemed higher art and culture will be the replacement for it… but the problem is that that, too, was mocked to death (“a curriculum of dead white males”) so at the moment there seems to be no adequate replacement – of course we can keep on looking for it.

  195. > The empirical research done shows that indeed, when unqualified, even illiterate, personnel use toxic pesticides, accidents happen.

    But the research done by WHO fails to demonstrate that such accidents are common.

    Indeed, the reseach done by WHO tells us much about WHO’s political agenda, and very little about the empirical world.

  196. > You always fall back to the old adage if they disagree with me, they must be lying frauds and criminals conspiring against truth.

    WHO are doubtless telling the truth that they believe that pesticides cause immense harm – but have no evidence for this confident belief, and no interest in testing this confident belief against the evidence.

  197. @James A. Donald
    “WHO are doubtless telling the truth that they believe that pesticides cause immense harm – but have no evidence for this confident belief, and no interest in testing this confident belief against the evidence.”

    That is the point. The WHO have empirical data, ie, evidence, to support their believes. Data collected by named persons, on the ground in different countries, over decades. And they have mountains of it. And they publish the evidence and the numbers they find. You can make your own calculations using their numbers.

    You have no data nor any other evidence to support your claims of a global conspiracy involving not only researchers all over the world colluding over the last half century, but also including peasants and hospitals on every continent.

    The only thing you have is slander, libel, innuendo, and baseless accusations. You do not even have any understanding about the subject matter, people, or research involved. And the thing you repeat, over and over again is just they disagree with me, so they must lie, cheat, and conspire against the truth.

    Indeed, just like those Creationists.

    I think every language has a proverb along the line that you can be trusted yourself like you trust others. I think the world can be very, very, glad you did not pursue a career in science.

  198. > The WHO have empirical data, ie, evidence, to support their believes.

    No they have not. Had they asked peasants had they been harmed by the evil eye, about the same number would have reported being harmed by the evil eye, as reported being harmed by pesticides.

    Empirical data on harm caused by pesticides would be a measurement of the correlation of symptoms with pesticide levels in the body of the person suffering the symptoms. Anyone who collected that sort of data would speedily find himself unemployed and permanently unemployable.

  199. I wrote: “Empirical data on harm caused by pesticides would be a measurement of the correlation of symptoms with pesticide levels in the body of the person suffering the symptoms. ”

    And, of course, a measurement of how common it was for people who worked with pesticides to have pesticide levels in them that were strongly associated with serious and obvious symptoms.

    Weak associations are notoriously noisy and difficult to measure, and with the best will in the world, it is easy to overanalyze data on weak associations to produce fictitious connections.

    The phrase “poisoned by pesticide” is a claim of strong association – which association no one wants to measure.

  200. Shenpen says: I will put it simpler: mock religion when we have found adequate replacements for it. In the 19th century it seemed higher art and culture will be the replacement for it… but the problem is that that, too, was mocked to death (“a curriculum of dead white males”) so at the moment there seems to be no adequate replacement – of course we can keep on looking for it.

    In last Sunday’s New York Times there is a review of a book that tries to address this:
    “Religion For Atheists – a Non-Believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion” by Alain de Botton.

    The reviewer, David Brooks, was not enthusiastic. His concluding sentences: “The atheists know what they don’t believe in, but they don’t seem to know what they don’t feel. This is a gap that has existed for centuries, and de Botton doesn’t fill it.”

  201. @James A Donald
    This becomes tiresome. You draw up some arbitrary conditions which needs to be fulfilled before you accept research as “evidence”. Hospital records stating “pesticide poisoning” is not enough etc.

    I saw the same before when people claimed smoking does not cause cancer or HIV does not cause AIDS. Still no evidence all these researchers and the WHO were conspiring against the pesticide industry.

  202. @Tom
    “Empirical data on harm caused by pesticides would be a measurement of the correlation of symptoms with pesticide levels in the body of the person suffering the symptoms.”

    Do you realize that, given the farmacology of most modern pesticides, you are requiring a controlled, double blind poisoning experiment on humans?

    @Tom
    “Anyone who collected that sort of data would speedily find himself unemployed and permanently unemployable.”

    Yes, even jailed. Modern laws on ethical behavior in medical research are quite draconian, indeed.

  203. @Winter “Do you realize that, given the farmacology of most modern pesticides, you are requiring a controlled, double blind poisoning experiment on humans?”

    I do not agree with him, but that is going too far. He’s simply suggesting that when you go out and ask people questions about if they’ve been harmed by pesticides (and what symptoms etc) to also take blood samples (and of people who work with pesticides and don’t report such symptoms, and of the general population)

    Or are you suggesting that it will have been metabolized to the point of being undetectable?

  204. I don’t see what is wrong with saying a rigorous scientific approach analogous to that employed in physics, chemistry, molecular biology, etc. would require a controlled double-blind poisoning experiment on humans. And of course it’s unethical. I took James McDonald’s point as suggesting that the proper response to this is not to damn the ethics and poison away, but rather to acknowledge the flaw inherent in the polling technique used instead, rather than pretending that it’s as scientific as the unethical approach would have been.

  205. “I took James McDonald’s point as suggesting that the proper response to this is not to damn the ethics and poison away, but rather to acknowledge the flaw inherent in the polling technique used instead, rather than pretending that it’s as scientific as the unethical approach would have been.”

    If that is the what he meant, it leaves us with the rather convenient (for those who do want to “damn the ethics and poison away” on an industrial scale) problem that there’s _no_ ethical way to satisfactorily prove to his satisfaction that there are harmful effects.

  206. @Winter, James A Donald, Random832, Paul Brinkley

    We want the answers. We need the answers. We also need not to do double-blind poisoning experiments on human beings.

    James A Donald’s problems with the WHO methodology are valid. You can get huge differences in survey results depending on how you ask the questions. There is a measurable effect just from people’s general desire to please the questioner. It’s a mistake to wave your hands and call the results scientific.

    It will take real ingenuity to get accurate results given these constraints. Social science is difficult. I think it’s much more difficult than physics.

  207. Agreed. If there was a way to manufacture mass quantities of pseudo-people with all of the biological responses and none of the ethical concerns, social science would probably be as easy (and therefore well-advanced) as physics.

    Computers may be able to simulate people within a couple of decades. That may be the way out (unless we convince ourselves that those simulations have rights in the process). Until then, it doesn’t matter how badly we need answers; needing something badly doesn’t mean the solution will spontaneously appear; it just means people are more likely to work on the problem. And it also means people are more likely to pretend they have the answer, if it turns out to be easier than actually having it, and there’s money to be made.

    So yes, Random832, polling won’t satisfy James A Donald’s (sorry for mistyping the name earlier) criteria for scientific rigor. Nor mine, for that matter. It’s not really convenient, though, if we’re being honest. If there were a rigorous way to prove that historic pesticide use caused historic health problems, I, and probably James, would have long since accepted that result and we wouldn’t be having this conversation. For what it’s worth, in some cases, we *can* draw useful conclusions from carefully controlled polls. Maybe even this one. Just not the conclusion currently claimed, given what we (don’t) know about its controls. Note that we don’t even know it’s definitely false; we literally can’t tell.

  208. > If that is the what he meant, it leaves us with the rather convenient (for those who do want to “damn the ethics and poison away” on an industrial scale) problem that there’s _no_ ethical way to satisfactorily prove to his satisfaction that there are harmful effects.

    Sure there is an ethical way to make a reasonable estimate of the harmful effects.

    If people really believed that pesticide poisoning really was a significant problem, pathology labs would have standard tests for common pesticides in blood, and a standard for what constitutes normal and abnormal test results, and would run such tests whenever doctors requested them, and doctors would request them when patients feared they may have suffered excessive exposure to pesticides.

    Now in fact no one has such tests as standard pathology lab procedures, and no one runs such tests, and no standards for normal or abnormal are proposed, which tells me that they believe in pesticide poisoning the way that Roman Catholics believe that biscuit is miraculously transformed into the flesh of Christ, not the way that travelers believe that flight DF1775 will take them to Australia.

    But, supposing that we were actually serious about our purported belief that pesticides provoke the wrath of Gaia upon us, then we would have such tests available in at least some pathology labs.

    And, such tests being available to doctors, we could then collect data on what proportion of people got sick when they scored more than X on such a test. And if quite a lot of people got sick when they scored more than X, that would indeed be poisoning, and we could then add up the number of tests where people tested out as having more than X, and that would be a good measure of the number of pesticide poisonings. And the number of pesticide poisonings where people scored more than X unintentionally, not a result of suicide attempts, would be a good measure of the number of accidental pesticide poisonings.

    But we don’t do any of this, revealing that no one really believes this stuff the way that they believe that a runaway truck will kill you. Rather they believe in it the way that they believe that the wrath of God will cause eternal damnation.

  209. > This becomes tiresome. You draw up some arbitrary conditions which needs to be fulfilled before you accept research as “evidence”. Hospital records stating “pesticide poisoning” is not enough etc.

    Hospital records stating poisoning report very few pesticide poisonings, most of them, very possibly all of them, attempted suicides.

  210. “Sure there is an ethical way to make a reasonable estimate of the harmful effects.” – just to reiterate, I was responding to a theory of what you were thinking in an earlier post that I did not actually believe to be the case.

    That being said, I have already suggested one way in which such a test would be impossible (if the pesticide is metabolized and out of someone’s system before the test can be run) – and your suggestion also fails to control for the fact that people who work with pesticides will report symptoms at higher rates even if it is purely a “placebo” effect. (which conveniently leaves you with another route to dismiss the results even if they did do as you suggested)

  211. @Random32
    “Or are you suggesting that it will have been metabolized to the point of being undetectable?”

    Enough to make past exposure estimation unreliable.

    Many people here are speculating about the polling technique. And all assume the researchers are frauds and criminals who falsify research by messing with polling. No one has gone through the trouble of actually looking at the relevant (methodological) papers. But that seems to be the norm, assume fraud and take it proven-by-assumption.

    @James A Donald
    “Hospital records stating poisoning report very few pesticide poisonings, most of them, very possibly all of them, attempted suicides.”

    Table 3 in the paper, total numbers for columns
    68 Accidents (Occupational&Non-occupational)
    150 Intentional (Suicides&Homicides)
    273 Total

    Most accidents by far in Sri Lanka, 38 unstated causes in Indonesia. These countries have populations totaling some 350 million people now. Well over 200 million then. The records were from a (one) local hospital in each research area and over 1983 only. To extrapolate from these samples, we would have to multiply with the population over sample size. Think a factor 1000-10,000. Multiply by years.

    As the Spanish say: No one so blind as he who does not want to see

  212. @Winter – wait, don’t you have to multiply the suicides/homicides by that amount, too? Are there really so many people using pesticides as a weapon, or is something else going on?

  213. > Most accidents by far in Sri Lanka, 38 unstated causes in Indonesia. These countries have populations totaling some 350 million people now. Well over 200 million then. The records were from a (one) local hospital in each research area and over 1983 only. To extrapolate from these samples, we would have to multiply with the population over sample size. Think a factor 1000-10,000. Multiply by years.

    The multiply factor came out of your ass – much like the original WHO numbers came out of their ass.

  214. > That being said, I have already suggested one way in which such a test would be impossible (if the pesticide is metabolized and out of someone’s system before the test can be run)

    You are inventing conjectures to make science impossible, as an excuse for WHO’s disinclination to do science. Your rationale admits what is denied – that WHO is not doing science, but religion.

    If people really believed this nonsense, they would do the relevant tests. That there is no demand for the relevant tests, shows that no one really believes in the evils of pesticides, the way they believe in the evils of trucks with failed brakes. Rather, they believe in the evils of pesticides the way they believe in the wrath of Gaia.

  215. > To extrapolate from these samples, we would have to multiply with the population over sample size. Think a factor 1000-10,000. Multiply by years

    Which magic rationalization factors give us a remarkable number of suicides.

    If suicides by pesticide and homicides by pesticide outnumber accidental poisonings by pesticide, there are not very many accidental poisonings by pesticide.

  216. @Random832 &
    “wait, don’t you have to multiply the suicides/homicides by that amount, too? Are there really so many people using pesticides as a weapon, or is something else going on?”

    @James A Donald
    “Which magic rationalization factors give us a remarkable number of suicides.”

    You never follow the links, don’t you?

    The answer is yes, people do use pesticides for suicide attempts on an alarmingly large scale. Poor peasants get depressed and despaired too. And, like most people, they use what is available. Note that suicide is a major cause of death of adolescents and young adults.

    The literature about suicides with pesticides is more extensive than that about accidents (follow the links). Many WHO recommendations are about preventing the use of pesticides for suicide (or homicide). Note that the suicide numbers reported are about suicide attempts. They are not telling us these people actually killed themselves, just that they tried.

    It is you (JAD) who seem to be fixated about the “liability” of the industry, instead of the health of the peasants.

    In the rest of the world, people are trying to save lives and the health of people. And as I wrote very early in this thread, the WHO see a prevented suicide as a life saved too.

  217. > And as I wrote very early in this thread, the WHO see a prevented suicide as a life saved too.

    At the risk of sounding callous, why should anyone care whether a suicide takes his life by ingesting a pesticide or hanging himself from a tree? Both Romeo’s potion and Juliet’s happy dagger were damned effective, and citing suicides in a case for greater regulation is gilding the lilly (with apologies to the bard).

  218. @Grantham
    Suicides are most often performed on an impuls. Any delay significantly reduces the number. Just the pressence of a poison will increase the number of suicides.

  219. > Just the pressence of a poison will increase the number of suicides.

    Many common household products are poisonous and potentially fatal, even in small doses. Suicide doesn’t not even represent a shred of a serious argument about pesticide control, unless we are planning on launching a worldwide crusade against bleach and rope next.

  220. @Grantham
    People generally do not want to torture themselves to death. The expected amount of pain is always taken into account.

  221. @Winter At the risk of sounding like I agree with JAD (which I don’t), if the proposed solution is to restrict or ban the use of pesticides, saying it’s not about liability is a distinction without a difference.

  222. Who wants to ban pesticides? Not the WHO. Neither anyone I know is involved in this research.

  223. @Patrick Maupin

    There has been some progress made on this front. Signs in bathrooms exhorting to wash up for their patients’ sake rather than their own seem to help. But really, this was just an example, as was the example about milk sanitation in New York in the 1800s. People don’t always do right by their customers, even when they absolutely know what “right” is.

    Yes, nagging works, sorta. I would rather remove the reasons not to wash. Don’t discount them. As I said above, my wife’s and my hands got throughly beaten up. It was miserable. I can only imagine how a doctor’s hands would feel.

    I suspect we really need a quick and easy method to clean hands between patients that doesn’t leave the doctor feeling as though his/her hands had been through the wringer.

    And yes, disincentives for handwashing might vary by sex.

  224. @Winter – Your last two posts seem anecdotal, but without an anecdote attached. If that’s the debate standard here, than allow me this: people “generally” don’t know what it going to happen to them when they attempt suicide by any novel method. And don’t make me quote Shakespeare’s “undiscovered country”; the poor fellow is already spinning in his grave!

    But let’s try to deal in dispassionate facts, instead

    http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/86/9/07-043489/en/index.html

    Accroding to WHO’s study, hanging is by far the most common method of suicide according to worldwide averages. I suspect that for those who want to take their lives rather than merely “attempt” suicide, I suspect speed and reliability of method is a more important factor than what they believe the suicide might feel like. The signals for what motivates a suicide to choose a particular method will be noisy by design (even WHO admits this noise in their list of challenges), so the default position should probably be to not drawing policy conclusions that will affect vast numbers of non-suicidal people based on the method that a relative few desperate people use to end their lives.

    For instance, applying the same logic that WHO does in its policy implications, I could quite easily suggest a prescriptive action to reduce the number of hangings. Perhaps the large number of hanging deaths correlates to the wide availability, deregulation and convenience of items that can be tied in a knot. We might easily be able to find out by banning various knot-able items for a five year period and than doing another study, but I have noted that not many people seem particularly concerned about Rope & Bedsheet Regulation. The same goes for the wide range of barbituates, narcotics, sterilizers, disinfectants, and other prescription and non-prescription products that benefit our modern world. Few people think suicide is a wonderful thing. But I’d imagine people even fewer think it be worth the hardship to impose restrictions on all instruments that could be used to self-terminate, regardless of how beneficial those instruments might be to those of us who, for instance, just want to shave our beards, moor our boats, kill our pests and protect our families and property.

    Regardless, altering available methods of suicide does not get within ten miles of saving lives. At the risk of agreeing with JAD’s conspiracy theories above, there is enough interesting language in WHO’s suicide study to suggest a preexisting political motive for presenting data in a certain way and prescribing certain action.

    My first inkling of subtle manipulation was in the method categorization itself:

    “The ICD-10 codes for suicide are in the range X60–X849. We differentiated suicides due to a pesticide or an unspecified poison (X68–X699), other poisons (X60–X679), hanging (X70–X709), drowning (X71–X719), firearms and explosives (X72–X759), and jumping from a height (X80-X809).”

    Now, I know that we probably won’t agree on much, but hopefully we can agree that the bolded distinction above is manipulative – if not downright sneaky – way to draw a large assumption about the pesticide method. I read WHO’s pesticide mortality report, so I already know that they found a lot of difficulty getting hard, useful data out of the (particularly east-Asian) countries in which they suggest that pesticide toxicity is a serious problem. In that report, they noted a few studies to promote the idea that many unsolved deaths are due to pesticide suicides, but they also noted to their credit the difficulties in distinguishing such deaths from more mundane causes such as heat stroke. But in this report not only does WHO seem lump all such “unspecified” deaths into the suicide statistics, but specifically into the “pesticide” toxin category. Why? Even if the authors decided not to segregate those deaths into an “unspecified toxin” category (which would be the most logical and transparent way to present the data), it would make much more sense to co-categorize with “other poisons.” The fact that they don’t doesn’t make much sense until you get down to the conclusions and recommendations section, when it becomes clear that the deaths they are most interested in are those by firearms and pesticides, regardless of their proportional representation of total suicide by method.

    But this points to a larger problem I have with the report, because they often present conclusions that seem at odds with their own citations, and fixated on certain politically-charged methods. It leads the unbiased reader to conclusion that the report isn’t so much about suicide prevention, but rather about gun and pesticide prevention, presenting suicide as risk factor. For instance, in their correspondence analysis they say:

    “….. the opposite slopes seen in the correspondence maps and the degree of displacement indicate that there is a substantial substitution effect: pesticide suicide and firearm suicide are not only associated with new suicide behaviour, but also tend to substitute hanging. The introduction of specific prevention programmes focusing on pesticides or firearms would be expected to reverse this substitution to some extent. In fact, this reversal was observed when firearm availability was restricted in Australia and Canada at the same time, the proportion of suicides due to hanging increased.”

    I chased their citations down, and these appear to be factual statments (based on the abstracts, at least; I’m not paying to investigate further.) It’s also a perfectly logical assumption: when one method ceases to be as readily available, suicides will choose a substitute method in roughly equal proportion. It’s always a nice surprise when the data dovetails neatly with logical assumptions! However, WHO then goes on to make the following claim in their implications section (my emphasis added):

    Given that the relationship between the availability of suicide methods and the level of suicide is principally mediated by firearm and pesticide suicide, it could be concluded that these two methods should be the main targets for prevention. In practice, many deaths due to pesticide poisoning and firearm suicide could easily be prevented if progress in public health were to outweigh the inertia of political and economic interests. Given that the relationship between the availability of suicide methods and the level of suicide is principally mediated by firearm and pesticide suicide, it could be concluded that these two methods should be the main targets for prevention. In practice, many deaths due to pesticide poisoning and firearm suicide could easily be prevented if progress in public health were to outweigh the inertia of political and economic interests.28 However, the outcome is not certain. The above analysis indicates that we should differentiate between preventable suicides and suicides that will be carried out by hanging instead. With regard to poisoning and firearm suicide, preventive efforts are likely to have the greatest impact on the subgroup who carry out unplanned impulsive acts. Perhaps 20–30% of all suicides in industrialized countries belong to this subgroup and might be preventable, and a similar figure has been reported for China.

    The problem with the first bolded statement is that WHO offers no citations to support this premise. Besides the obvious begging on display, it does not line up with the data they present in the report. This “principally mediated” nonsense is an attempt to torture a causal relationship out of their hangings-firearms-pesticides “triangle” (i.e. the hangings-to-firearms proportion in the West versus the hangings-to-pesticide proportion in the East.), without stating the obvious percentile gap between instruments (rope, bridges) without an obvious political angle. Then, as if WHO felt they weren’t quite making the point as unscientifically as they’d like to, they throw in that “inertia of political and economic interests” crap. Without rehashing the argument about whether NGO synthesis reports count as “science,” this entire section seems to support the notion that there’s a bit of “post-normal” science sneaking into the conclusions.

    The second bolded statement, despite all its broad qualifiers, only cites a single paper from Cambridge University Press. Based on the abstract, it appears to deal solely with Chinese statistics, thereby leaving the “Perhaps 20%-30%… in industrialized countries” palaver without even a perfunctory citation. Standing by its lonesome, this is a murderously vague and therefore uninteresting statement. Frankly, even the CUP paper about China they offer up seems incredibly uninteresting (not to mention the possibility that the vast majority of their data is likely to have been filtered by the PRC). If anyone wants to pay $45.00 to discover what WHO found so useful about it that they think 20-30% of worldwide suicides “perhaps… might be” prevented by solving the intractable “political and economic” inherent in modern agriculture, free trade and the right to bear arms, please be my guest.

    Anyway, I think this kind of policy-market science is at best useless, and at worst damaging to the public’s confidence in science. Typically, this is the sort of report that a lobbyist will stuff into a handout, while presenting his case to a bored, brainless politician who is barely listening.

    If the politician’s staffers like the anti-gun message and the “political and economic inertia” quote, they’ll keep it on file for their next policy meeting, and it might sneak into the congressman’s next speech as a sound byte (something along the lines of “.. and recent worldwide studies show a link between guns and increased rates of suicide”, even though the study shows no such link.)

    If the staffers don’t like the message? They’ll file it directly in the trash along side the latest IPCC assessment report. That’s a big problem, in my view, since most of these kinds of global reports are engineered from their conclusions outward, presenting only the data and visualizations that support the desired policy outcome and downplaying the amount of uncertainly, oversimplification and error involved in collecting, homogenizing and interpreting the data. That’s why they arrive at some of the weird and contradictory conclusions above. This is not necessarily evil; providing ammunition for use policy debates is what these reports are designed to do. The only evil involved would be in trying to whitewash their design, and pretend it is something that it isn’t (which, regrettably, happens often).

  225. @Grantham
    “I suspect speed and reliability of method is a more important factor than what they believe the suicide might feel like. The signals for what motivates a suicide to choose a particular method will be noisy by design (even WHO admits this noise in their list of challenges), so the default position should probably be to not drawing policy conclusions that will affect vast numbers of non-suicidal people based on the method that a relative few desperate people use to end their lives.”

    Bleech seems to be seldomly used in suicides because it is slow, extremely painful and uncertain.

    I have no intention on arguing about WHO’s policies wrt to suicides. They seem to want to reduce the number of deaths for any cause, including suicides. There is a concensus (not only at the WHO) that quite a number of suicides are preventable when the tool-of-first-choice could be made harder to obtain. That would include a shift to less poisonous pesticides and better application control. Which would also reduce accidents with pesticides.

    I have no position in this. And if you can argue convincingly that this would not help, I would happily accept that.

    This whole thread started with James A Donald claiming that pesticides are not poisonous, and if the are poisonous, they do not cause a measurable number of accidents. After I refered to WHO studies showing that there are indeed considerable numbers accidents, the whole discussions derailed into attempts to discredit the WHO. This stuff about suicides came about as another attempt to discredit each and every study by the WHO.

    If you have better data than the WHO, please publish them. A lot of people are waiting desperately for reliable numbers. The WHO not the least.

  226. “That would include a shift to less poisonous pesticides and better application control. Which would also reduce accidents with pesticides. ”

    How do you (or the WHO) propose to implement such a shift?

  227. “…most of these kinds of global reports are engineered from their conclusions outward…”

    Appropos of this, the NYT recently reviewed Jonathan Haidt’s recent book, The Righteous Mind:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/books/review/the-righteous-mind-by-jonathan-haidt.html?_r=1

    One of Haidt’s claims is that people are naturally intuitive, rather than rational – based on his research, they tend to use reason in order to develop justifications for what their intuitions already tell them. People don’t tend to use reason to take them somewhere counter-intuitive (if they do, Haidt would likely claim they’re more often to conclude there was some flaw in their reasoning); there are few “huh – I hadn’t thought of it that way” moments. People who do that, had to spend a lot of effort learning to do it.

    Haidt has stood out in the press for years for being one of the few liberally-minded psychologists willing to entertain the notion that conservatives (or rather, I suspect, non-liberals) have the views they have because of a possibly *richer* moral system than liberals, as opposed to merely being mentally deficient. It’s hard for me to say exactly what the conservative reaction is to him. Most probably just write off yet another psychologist. I’ve seen quite a few, however, express dark amusement at how, even now, academics can’t get out of the bubble of seeing conservatives in a fishbowl, a mysterious enigma to ponder, that inexplicably occupies half the US.

  228. @Winter
    > Bleech seems to be seldomly used in suicides because it is slow, extremely painful and uncertain.

    I was making a passing reference to bleach as an example of a very poisonous, very common substance, not as an popular (or unpopular) alternative to insecticides. I don’t know (or care) how many people kill themselves with bleach, rat poison, OTC painkillers or any other normal household product. I’m not going to make any grand assumptions about why suicides (and, in many cases, “attempted” suicides) prefer one method over another. Frankly, toxic overdose is the least reliable way to kill yourself, due to metabolic variance and body’s tendency to regurgitate the agents.

    The problem for me is that WHO seems to have an ulterior agenda due to the language it uses to present its findings. One of the worst aspects of both the report you cited and the one I cited is their inclusion of vague, sound-byte-friendly language (like the “political and economic inertia” pablum I pointed out). Even worse is the somewhat lame trick it used to inflate and misrepresent the pesticide danger, first by lumping in suicides with accidental deaths and chronic exposures in the paper you cited, then by lumping in “unknown poisons” with “pesticides” in the paper I cited. In the latter case, it isn’t only bad because adds an obscuring layer to already noisy data, but because WHO never again refers to this category as “pesticides & unknown poisons,” but merely as “pesticides.” These are not the sort of tactics someone uses when trying to present unvarnished facts. Its very dishonest and begging, and its similar to the abuse of language and proportion you find in a typical political campaign. Worse, WHO manages to cite two papers that state the obvious – that when one method of suicide is subjected to greater controls, the reduction in that category is met with a proportional rise in another ( and here is another study that shows how a fall in (in this case, specifically pesticide-related) deaths due to restricted availability was met with a rise in other methods, without the difficulties inherent in rural Asia data). Then, despite contrary evidence that they themselves present, the authors conclude that the best course of action (or, “main target”) to decrease instances of suicides is torestrict the availability of guns and pesticides.

    Why? Though, I hate to read minds, but the answer seems obvious: the “conclusions” sections of these reports is usually the only section that their core audience of policymakers and journalists read, so the author writes exactly what they want to hear. It’s not really as insidious as James A. Donald wants to make it sound. It’s just that in many cases WHO and other NGOs are participating in a micro-industry that supplies its customers with what they need: simplified white papers to present in their policy hearings and editorial copy.

    Politicians love to wave these reports around and point their fingers at, declaring that “Science” is on their side in some or other debate. But the reports themselves are often commissioned by policy advocates who are shopping for a very particular set of findings, sometimes to prey on the kind of medieval mindset that ESR suggests in the OP.

    In those case, their constituents want to hear that chemicals, plastics, fossil fuels and other modern materials and processes are 1) net dangers with few redeeming qualities and that 2) something is can and will done about it. In its nascence, I think WHO was an entity that was largely immunized against the kind of corrupt back-scratching that would cause them to write about “political and economic inertia” on gun and pesticide control. For a very long time WHO received almost all of its funding from member dues. But starting in the early 90’s, WHO’s proportion of extrabudgetary funds (essentially donations from a variety of public and private sources, other NGOs, corporations, foundations and individual) began to skyrocket. Donations now represent almost 60% of their total yearly budget. This is also around the time that they shifted their mission statement away from directly confronting health crises directly on the ground and towards policy recommendations and general health concerns. Perhaps there is a connection there, perhaps not – but it certainly tends to deflate the notion of WHO as an unassailable and disinterested authority on pesticides, suicides, or any other matter they might deign to file a brief report on.

  229. >One of Haidt’s claims is that people are naturally intuitive, rather than rational – based on his research, they tend to use reason in order to develop justifications for what their intuitions already tell them

    Certainly. This is why I advocate killing the Buddha as a regular exercise.

  230. Winter on Monday, March 26 2012 at 10:10 am said:
    > Who wants to ban pesticides? Not the WHO. Neither anyone I know is involved in this research.

    I cannot buy DDT, nor any surface adherent insecticide with similar persistence, even though I have a clear and pressing need for such an insecticide, since the mosquitoes that carry breakbone fever hang out on the eves of my house and my garage roof, so someone sure wants to ban pesticides.

    Your statement is true only in the sense that they don’t want to “ban” as such, they want power and control, and the joy of power comes from making people suffer, and the sense of righteousness that comes from condemning other people’s sins and then making other people suffer for their imagined sins, so they want people to suffer and, sometimes, die for their sins against Gaia, or their sins against the proletariat, or sins against whatever.

    Their power, wealth, and pleasure comes not from “banning” but from demanding that people seek permission for as many things as they can possibly be made to need permission for, and then not granting that permission.

  231. @Grantham
    “Though, I hate to read minds, but the answer seems obvious: the “conclusions” sections of these reports is usually the only section that their core audience of policymakers and journalists read, so the author writes exactly what they want to hear.”

    The “conclusions” sections are written for those who cannot understand the article. They have to make sense to the uninformed. I routinely ignore “Conclusions” sections. All you write could very well be true, and I do not care much. Public health policy is complicated and intricate, however you slice it. And it was not the point in this thread.

    This whole, silly, thread was about whether or not pesticides are toxic, and whether or not accidents happen with them. All the rest were diversions to avoid the conclusion that indeed, many pesticides are toxic to humans and indeed, people get poisoned by pesticides in work-related accidents.

    James A Donald is again commenting about yet another diversion just above. DDT was “banned” in many countries for good reasons. Any role of the WHO in this ban was auxiliary at most. His delusions of evil global conspiracies seem to be based on complete ignorance (or paranoia?). He should fight it off with USA lawmakers, not random bystanders.

  232. > James A Donald is again commenting about yet another diversion just above. DDT was “banned” in many countries for good reasons

    Every single pesticide that will continue killing for a good long time if applied on the house eaves was also banned, DDT arguably being the best, cheapest, and most effective among them.

    Aside from the power that comes from making people suffer, what were the good reasons for banning all of them?

  233. @James A Donald
    “Aside from the power that comes from making people suffer, what were the good reasons for banning all of them?”

    I think this question signifies your problem.

    These are USA laws, made by USA citizens for the USA. So, a correct answer would be to ask your representative in the US Congress and US Senate. Or to read US newspapers or websites to see what your lawmakers are doing. In short, inform yourself.

    You should know that. Instead, you come here blaming foreigners for the things your compatriots are doing to you. Making up some evil, global conspiracy to make you suffer.

    There is a disease that the British call the French Disease, the French call the Italian Disease, the Italian call the Spanish disease, and the Spanish the New World Disease. Everyone is blaming some foreigners for their own ills.

    Your behavior is exactly this denial.

  234. @Winter

    This thread was originally about trace amounts of various chemicals causing illness. Not clinically significant doses, but trace amounts. Modern methods can detect such small amounts that the results are meaningless. Every molecule known to science exists in nature somewhere. When you point out how tiny the amounts detected really are they start talking about cumulative effect.

    People want perfect safety. Perfect safety doesn’t exist.

  235. @Bob
    “This thread was originally about trace amounts of various chemicals causing illness. Not clinically significant doses, but trace amounts.”

    Not the sub-thread I was involved in. I am all for evidence based toxicology. I was just responding to someone who denied evidence of toxicity for political reasons.

    @Bob
    “People want perfect safety. Perfect safety doesn’t exist.”

    People demand the impossible? What’s new.
    Next you know, they want lower taxes and more government spending.

  236. @Winter – But if nobody had political reasons, how would anything ever get done? (I’m only half joking). ESR and JAD are, after all, both reacting to people asserting toxicity for political reasons (or, at least, whose reasons they percieve to be political). That their own reasons and those of the people they are arguing against are both political is theoretically orthogonal to the factual question (whichever question, and whatever the facts may be) itself.

    @Bob “they start talking about cumulative effect.” On the other hand, cumulative effects don’t simply not exist because you don’t want them to exist. Wishing it so also doesn’t magically make amounts “trace” (and clinically insignificant) just because you think the numbers look small.

    Also @Winter – You did not answer my question “That would include a shift to less poisonous pesticides and better application control. Which would also reduce accidents with pesticides. ” How do you (or the WHO) propose to implement such a shift?

    I’ve been reading Less Wrong recently – the article “Blue or green on regulation?” seems relevant here.

  237. >ESR and JAD are, after all, both reacting to people asserting toxicity for political reasons (or, at least, whose reasons they percieve to be political).

    Speaking for myself, I wouldn’t describe the assertions of toxicity that the affected childrens’ parents were making as “political”. They have much more in common with religion and superstition than politics. They’re a kind of psychological displacement maneuver, not a move in a power game. Such assertions become political only at the point where they are used to justify force against someone – which would probably be “evil corporations”, in this case.

    JAD is arguing that politics has overwhelmed any rational evaluation of pesticide risks. Whether or not that’s true, it’s a different argument than the psychological case I was making.

  238. @ESR when I mentioned the political aspects relative to you I was referring to “Erin Brockovich and a media posse”, rather than the parents. As for “justify force against someone” – ultimately, isn’t it a question of liability? Is a lawsuit force, or is it the system working – you’ve previously, IIRC, endorsed lawsuits (and therefore liability in cases like this) as how a libertarian/anarcho-capitalist system deals with externalities.

    How does an ideal AC system deal with it if different parties (and the different private courts in which they would seek to settle their differences, since AIUI in an AC system there isn’t one court system endorsed by the state) have different beliefs about this sort of thing, different standards of evidence, etc?

  239. This whole pesticide residue business is political in the sense that it appeals to people’s emotional needs. They want to believe that if there weren’t all these poisons lying around, then they would not have any cancer, or autism, or etc. It’s false, but we are dealing with emotional arguments, not logical ones. Politicians have no trouble gaining support if they play to them. You don’t get elected if you tell people bad news about their most fervent desires.

  240. >How does an ideal AC system deal with it if different parties (and the different private courts in which they would seek to settle their differences, since AIUI in an AC system there isn’t one court system endorsed by the state) have different beliefs about this sort of thing, different standards of evidence, etc?

    Off topic, this thread is not about libertarianism. Go read The Machinery of Freedom

  241. dom832 on Wednesday, March 28 2012 at 6:01 pm said:
    > How does an ideal AC system deal with it if different parties (and the different private courts in which they would seek to settle their differences

    If clients generally have long term insurance like arrangements with their defense organizations, rather than pay by the case arrangements, then everyone’s incentives are correctly aligned. Then defense agencies only want law abiding clients, so if no one thinks you are law abiding, you can be killed with impunity. The defense agencies have an interest in doing justice, and being seen to do justice on behalf of their clients, and in allowing justice to be done and seen to be done to their clients.

    This, however, does not answer your question: What happens if some organizations have false beliefs about causes of harm, witchcraft like beliefs?

    Then trouble will ensue.

    However, such beliefs would be extremely costly under anarcho capitalism, whereas in our present society they are apt highly profitable – (see for example the silicone lawsuits), I think such beliefs would be substantially less common. However, violence ensuing from such beliefs would be substantially more common.

    Ultimately, believers in witchcraft like evils might fight it out with non believers. However, the possibility of fighting it out would encourage both sides to be more careful with evidence. The silicone trials were show trials, an outrageous parody of justice. The same might well happen under anarcho capitalism – and if it did happen, there is a substantial possibility that judge, jury, lawyers, and plaintiff might find themselves in a gun battle.

    So, under anarcho capitalism, chance of show trials down, chance of trial by combat up.

  242. @Random832
    “But if nobody had political reasons, how would anything ever get done? (I’m only half joking).”

    I used “Political” as opposite to “factual evidence” or even “any evidence at all”. I chose “political” instead of “religious” out of politeness. As I wrote above, I see solid commonalities between JAD’s arguing and, eg, Creationists.

    @Random832
    “How do you (or the WHO) propose to implement such a shift?”

    Policy recommendations. The communities involved (countries mostly) then do their own cost-benefit analysis and decide how to regulate practices. If that sounds like how the current situation should work in theory, that is intentional.

    All this paranoid ramblings about the WHO/UN secretly running the world is too delusional to discuss.

    @esr
    “JAD is arguing that politics has overwhelmed any rational evaluation of pesticide risks.”

    My point being that JAD supports this believe with wholly irrational arguments, and irrational arguments only. Replacing superstition about “invisible poisons” with superstition about “they are all out to get us/me” is still superstition.

    Btw, the original witch hunts were about destroying a global conspiracy of witches against the “righteous”. A conspiracy lead by the ultimate “foreigner”. So, we have come to the point where the WHO/UN is lead by Satan, just like in the “Left behind” series.

    Talk about superstitions.

  243. > As I wrote above, I see solid commonalities between JAD’s arguing and, eg, Creationists.

    Creationists reject both the scientific method and the authority of official science.

    You and WHO accept the authority of official science and reject the scientific method, as do warmists, and so forth.

    I, like creationists, but also like Richard Feynman, and like Galileo, reject the authority of official science, and like Richard Feynman, Galileo, and warmism skeptics, and unlike creationists, accept the authority of the scientific method.

    Around the time that the Royal Society started weaseling on “nullius in verba” and the journals stopped insisting that those supplying politically correct science conclusions needed to provide their data and their methods of analyzing their data that supposedly led to their conclusions, official science and the scientific method parted company.

    Though in truth, the scientific method was in a bad way once they introduced peer review after World War II. If one reviewer of n can block unwanted truths, unwanted truths are never going to get through. For science to work, you need a system where you only have to impress one editor of n editors, not a system where you have to refrain from offending any one reviewer of n reviewers.

  244. @James A Donald
    “For science to work, you need a system where you only have to impress one editor of n editors, not a system where you have to refrain from offending any one reviewer of n reviewers.”

    From your comments I conclude that you have no clue at all about how peer review works, or scientific publishing. Neither seem you to be able to evaluate a scientific paper.

    None of your comments on “The Scientific Method” have a counterpart in reality. It is a completely made-up reality you are condemning. Dragging Galileo and Feynman into the discussion is a sign you *do* fall for authority.

    Remains that you accuse thousands of researchers of fraud without even a shred of factual evidence. And you accuse international organizations of trying to subvert your life in “Left Behind” style. All this to divert attention from the fact that you yourself have no data or insight about the subject matter at all, but only wild speculations based on paranoia.

    Actually, you seem to believe in some distorted form of “The Scientific Method” but insist all human Scientists are frauds (each and every one of them) who will lie and falsify data for any reason and publish falsified and corrupted measurements more often than not, if not every single time. The only exception are people (not necessarily scientists in a regular sense) who say things that agree with your own prejudices.

    I would say, delusional.

  245. > Remains that you accuse thousands of researchers of fraud without even a shred of factual evidence.

    The shortest summary of the scientific method is the Royal Society’s “nullius in verba”

    Which means that when expert authority claims to know X, you are supposed to ask how they know X, and if they don’t have a good answer, you are not supposed to believe them.

    The second shortest summary is that given by Richard Feynman “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts”

    According to you, believing in the scientific method is a belief in a conspiracy theory. According to you I am ignorant of real science, real science being the holy consensus of the most holy scientific synod.

    On the contrary, I am entirely familiar with the holy consensus of the most holy scientific synod.

  246. @Winter – If they have actual control (which he has not actually claimed, you are saying he’s claimed this) or simply recommend a policy JAD finds harmful, is a distinction without a difference. (And anyway, I think what he’s saying, right or wrong, is that the WHO is _controlled by_ the governments of countries, which want excuses to increase their power – not that it is controlling them for some hidden evil agenda). With my question, I was _trying_ to lead you to the question of how someone (whether the WHO or the countries on their recommendation) would implement such “policies” _without_ any liability for people who violate those recommended practices, since you seemed to be claiming that there is no issue of liability and that only JAD thinks it is.

    @JAD – I think you should read “Blue or Green on Regulation” – it’s possible for the policies to be wrong without the science being wrong.

  247. @JAD
    “The shortest summary of the scientific method is the Royal Society’s “nullius in verba” ”

    We finally come to the heart of the matter. Because, if truth is not in the words, where is it?

    The answer is simple, the truth is in the data. (that is also the background of your misunderstood Feynman quote)

    As scientists are human, they can only work under mutual trust. If you do not trust that observations and data are truthfully reported, you cannot do science. Anyone who does not accept that the data and facts are what they are until proven untrue places himself outside of scientific discourse.

    And that is what you do. You call all scientists liars who have fabricated and corrupted their data. So, effectively, you are saying science does not work, and cannot possibly work. This has always been the recourse of the desperate, who cannot accept reality as it is, so must “shoot” all messengers who bring the unwanted truth.

    @Random832
    “how someone … would implement such “policies” _without_ any liability for people who violate those recommended practices”

    You have it backward. Advice influences decisions because that is what advice is for. But the adviser does not make or implement the decisions.

    The WHO collects data and gives advice about health related matters, eg, smoking and alcohol kill, some pesticides kill too. These are based on observations that can be checked and repeated. It is not the function of the WHO to decide what will be done with those advices. It is for the people themselves to decide what action to take.

    To me, it looks a lot like the proverb “knowledge is power” is seen by many in the USA as a call to topple the power by destructing knowledge.

  248. > If you do not trust that observations and data are truthfully reported, you cannot do science

    But the observations and data reported by WHO do not support WHOs conclusions. As I said, a similar study of the harm done by witches and demons would have produced very similar results to their studies of the harm done by pesticides.

    Further, their approach to studying the harm done by pesticides is very similar to the approach one would take to studying the harm done by witches and demons – a religous, rather than scientific approach.

    If people believed in the harm done by pesticides the way they believed in the harm done by brake failures in trucks, pathology labs would have tests for pesticides, and standards for what levels were dangerous, and *then* we would be able to obtain genuinely scientific data for the harm done by pesticides. We don’t have such pathology data, because pathology labs don’t have such tests, which shows that they believe in the harm done by pesticides the way they believe in the Wrath of God, not the way they believe in the impact of trucks with failing brakes.

    And without such pathology tests and results from such tests, there is no scientific basis to WHO’s power grab.

  249. @JAD
    “But the observations and data reported by WHO do not support WHOs conclusions.”

    You were attacking the data in the papers referred. To quote:

    That the WHO’s data is this sort of rubbish is itself hard empirical data about the political character of WHO – it tells us not that pesticides are dangerous to rural workers, but that real science is dangerous to the careers of WHO workers.

    …..

    What tends to happen with peer review, even in areas less political than those that WHO deals with, is that instead of the experimenter telling his peers what he saw, his peers tell him what he damn well better see.

    This is not about the WHO drawing incorrect conclusions from their data. This is about researchers fabricating and corrupting data. You simply will not accept any empirical data that do not align with your prejudices.

    You seemed to be convinced researchers will not try to find out the truth, but will fabricate and falsify data to fit some global conspiracy. However, you have not data that contradict the findings of these WHO studies, nor have you any evidence to show that they actually did falsify their results. You simply are not “into” science, or reality.

    Your request for destructive toxicity testing of humans is disingenuous, and would be completely unethical and illegal. You conveniently ignore the hospital and medical records used in many studies, as these too must be fraudulent, in your view. You would not believe the results of a double blind poisoning test anyway.

    This discussion has become completely useless. No one can prove an observation, it just is there. Consequently, if everybody is considered lying, there is no science.

  250. @Winter “Your request for destructive toxicity testing of humans ” – his ‘request’ was _clearly_ for blood testing for presence of the chemicals at the time an incident is reported. There are problems with this (if it doesn’t get reported until after the chemicals have passed out of their system he would wholly discount the case), and it’s not actually clear this would yield less biased (but in the opposite direction, which he favors) results, but he’s most definitely not asking for what you are claiming he is, and this has been pointed out to you before.

  251. > This is not about the WHO drawing incorrect conclusions from their data. This is about researchers fabricating and corrupting data

    He is not so much corrupting his data, as making sure that he accurately collects, and truthfully reports, the kind of data that is highly unlikely to get him into trouble.

    Typical example: The Urban Hotspot effect.

    The obvious way to measure the Urban Hotspot effect is to drive a thermometer from the countryside through the center of town then out into the countryside on the other side of town. Repeat at various times of day.

    Now obviously no officially endorsed government funded scientist has ever done such a thing, because if he did, his career would come to an abrupt end, because anyone who has ever gone looking for a picnic spot while driving through a rural highway on a hot day has noticed that the Urban Hotspot effect, if measured in such a fashion, would be quite high.

    So instead, he measures the urban hotspot effect in some highly indirect fashion involving alleged Chinese historical records (I am not making this up) or some such, that does not involve leaving his office.

  252. … but he’s most definitely not asking for what you are claiming he is, and this has been pointed out to you before.

    Yes, that assumption of a “request” for human testing struck me as very dishonest, too. Just because James A. Donald is a racist doesn’t mean anyone should put words in his mouth, or bash a bunch of strawmen around in his name. He wasn’t saying that. Also, he was correct that the strength of WHO’s methodology in the linked paper is far out of proportion with its conclusions. It’s enough of a disconnect to suspect there are at least a few hidden influences at play in global pesticide regs, if not outright corruption or eco-zeal.

  253. @Random832
    “@Winter “Your request for destructive toxicity testing of humans ” – his ‘request’ was _clearly_ for blood testing for presence of the chemicals at the time an incident is reported.”

    Sorry, I thought he was asking for real science. He definitely wanted to link measured pesticide exposure to medical problems. His scheme would only work in a controlled double blind lab trial. Blood samples from rural areas in the developing world are really not the way to go there.

    But if he just wants to select some data that fits into his agenda, then he could try that and be booed out of any conference. He should look up the pharmacology of pesticides before he tries to fool people.

    @James A Donald
    “He is not so much corrupting his data, as making sure that he accurately collects, and truthfully reports, the kind of data that is highly unlikely to get him into trouble.”

    Selective data collection is simply called “FRAUD” in the contracts of universities and grants and a reason for dismissal and possibly prosecution. At least if you assume anything other than all relevant data. If patients and health are involved, things can get very unpleasant. I know of people who lost everything (PhD, job) because they left out a patient in the report of their study.

  254. @Grantham
    “Just because James A. Donald is a racist doesn’t mean anyone should put words in his mouth, or bash a bunch of strawmen around in his name. He wasn’t saying that.”

    I had truly forgotten about that piece of information. Would have been irrelevant anyway. He should not try to fool me with his “real science”. See my previous comment.

    @Grantham
    “Also, he was correct that the strength of WHO’s methodology in the linked paper is far out of proportion with its conclusions. It’s enough of a disconnect to suspect there are at least a few hidden influences at play in global pesticide regs, if not outright corruption or eco-zeal.”

    As I wrote before: The conclusions section in any scientific paper is for the uninformed. It also represents the personal opinion of the authors.

    Journals and peer reviewers look at this section different than they do at the Methods and Results sections, and even different than at the Introduction and Discussion sections. Authors have a lot of leeway to pick the message they want to convey from all the results and discussions presented.

    Your “outright corruption” needs evidence, not mere suggestions. Your, and JAD’s, words suggest all kinds of things, but I do not assume you are “corrupted by hidden influences” unless I have evidence.

    You might have noticed that I never ever referred to the Conclusions written in the paper. I was always referring to the primary data.

  255. > His scheme would only work in a controlled double blind lab trial.

    You are being deliberately stupid.

    A controlled double blind lab trial could not answer the question: “How often does normal pesticide use result in unintended dangerous pesticide levels in people?”

    That can only be discovered by measuring pesticide levels in people who believe that they have been exposed to dangerous pesticide levels.

    And it cannot be answered by asking people if they believe they have been exposed to dangerous pesticide levels, because one would get much the same answers for exposure to the evil eye.

  256. Grantham on Sunday, April 1 2012 at 11:42 pm said:
    > Just because James A. Donald is a racist

    I am not a racist. You are a moron. It is not racism to believe that evolution did not end seventy thousand years ago, nor is it racism to apply Bayes theorem to differences in distributions between groups.

    Rather, to refuse to apply evolutionary theory and probability theory because the answers are disturbing, is self induced stupidity.

  257. @JAD “A controlled double blind lab trial could not answer the question: “How often does normal pesticide use result in unintended dangerous pesticide levels in people?” Actually… I’d missed it the first time around, but… you’d really need a controlled double blind lab trial to answer the question “what pesticide levels are dangerous?” in the first place.

    “If people believed in the harm done by pesticides the way they believed in the harm done by brake failures in trucks, pathology labs would have tests for pesticides, and standards for what levels were dangerous” – How do you propose to get the “standards for what levels were dangerous” without the sort of thing Winters is accusing you of wanting? You can’t just wave your hands and pull the numbers out of the air. – I would further state that they believe in the harm done by pesticides in _exactly_ the same way they believe in the harm done by brake failure

  258. @JAD “A controlled double blind lab trial could not answer the question: “How often does normal pesticide use result in unintended dangerous pesticide levels in people?” Actually… I’d missed it the first time around, but… you’d really need a controlled double blind lab trial to answer the question “what pesticide levels are dangerous?” in the first place.

    “If people believed in the harm done by pesticides the way they believed in the harm done by brake failures in trucks, pathology labs would have tests for pesticides, and standards for what levels were dangerous” – How do you propose to get the “standards for what levels were dangerous” without the sort of thing Winters is accusing you of wanting? You can’t just wave your hands and pull the numbers out of the air. – I would further state that they believe in the harm done by pesticides in _exactly_ the same way they believe in the harm done by brake failures in trucks, since we’re not doing double blind tests on the latter either.

  259. @JAD
    “It is not racism to believe that evolution did not end seventy thousand years ago, nor is it racism to apply Bayes theorem to differences in distributions between groups.”

    Actually, the way you apply both of these *is* racism. Especially as you are (intentionally?) ignoring human population genetics. But we already saw you have a problem with empirical data and facts.

    Btw, human population genetics teaches us that you should have children with a person whose early (pre-dzengis khan) ancestors lived on a different continent than your own (roughly speaking). Is already true for most people born in one of the Americas.

    That gives you the healthiest kids and abolishes “racism” in one go. Obviously, people will find another bone of contention, eg, religion.

  260. Btw, human population genetics teaches us that you should have children with a person whose early (pre-dzengis khan) ancestors lived on a different continent than your own

    1. The PC definition of race as continent of ancestral origin is obvious PC nonsense. No one except the politically correct think that Persians are “Asians”, or that Nilotics are “Africans”, let alone that Tunisians are “Africans”. The English government has successfully intimidated its subjects into calling Indians “Asians”, with the unintended but unsurprising result that its subjects have stopped calling Chinese “Asians”, and started calling North Africans “Asians”, much as when everyone was forced to call homosexuals “gay” this had the unintended but unsurprising result that people stopped using “gay” to mean cheerful and lighthearted, and started using “gay” to mean weak, false, wrong, and perverse

    2. Even supposing that universal mixing would improve the average, one can see that areas that are roughly half black tend to have levels of violence near those characteristic of black societies. The high level of criminality, lack of trust and lower average IQ also damages the economy, as well as the violence simply killing people. When blacks move in, everyone who can move out does move out. Observe that to make Trayvon appear less menacing, his image was not only photoshopped to look younger, but was photoshopped to look Euro and femme, implicitly admitting what was explicitly denied. If blacks were not dangerous, they would have merely made him younger and femme.

    3. The genetic differences between Negroes and the rest are sufficiently large that hybrid vigor does not work in all respects. Health benefits from hybrid vigor in such crosses, but IQ tends to be closer to that of negroes, indicating the reverse, and fertility less than either parent, indicating the reverse. There is a small but significant amount of hybrid infertility, not enough for speciation, but enough to be readily detectable. However hybrid vigor does work between the other races.

  261. Random832 on Monday, April 2 2012 at 7:27 am said:
    > How do you propose to get the “standards for what levels were dangerous” without the sort of thing Winters is accusing you of wanting?

    The same way we got standards for what blood sugar levels and blood pressure levels are dangerous – the same way every pathology test winds up getting standards.

    If people really believed pesticides were dangerous in the way that they believed trucks are dangerous rather than the way they believe the wrath of God is dangerous, they would proceed with pathology tests on pesticides the way they proceed with any other pathology test. That they don’t shows that belief in evil of pesticides is more akin to belief in the evil of haraam food. No one would attempt to do a pathology test for haraam, and there is not much interest in doing a pathology test on pesticides.

  262. J.A.D says “hybrids,” to describe human beings. He is a truly nasty piece of business.

    Anyway, Trayvon Martin was not “photoshopped to look more Euro and femme”, you dope. The media just used a much, much younger picture of him that was supplied by the family. The idea was to make him look smaller, younger and weaker, since adolescence lengthens and hardens the morphological features of all people regardless of race. The fact you feel you have to make up a bunch of crap about photoshopped Euro features, instead of seeing the real (and obvious) age manipulation makes you sound like a spluttering fool. Please refrain from making any more simple blunders like the next time you want to run-around pontificating on Bayes theorem or intelligence distribution or anything else.

    Anyway,the case of Trayvon Martin and Zimmerman appears to have set up permanent shop in the heads of both white racists like renowned geneticist James A. Donald and black, race-hustling demagogues like Al Sharpton and the sort of weak-minded individuals who buy into their nonsense. But for rational people, the story and what was driving it was transparent the instant it hit the airwaves. The pattern is obvious to those who pay attention to the timing of these kinds of minimax news items. First, a gay college student suicide is “cyber-bullied into suicide” during the SOPA debate. Then a 30-year old “college student” is called a slut on the radio, giving the vapors to hard-nosed feminists during a debate about conscientious exemption from supplying abortifacients and condoms. Both were losing issues for the president and his party, but lessened the damage by finding stories to gin up the base.

    Now, a month-old local story of a shot teenager is inflamed into a national racial catastrophe the same week that the Democrats’ Healthcare bill is scheduled to be ripped to shreds by SCOTUS and another one of the President’s harebrained budgets is set to be unanimously voted down by both parties in the House. Trayvon Martin and similar faux-viral stories are hardwired to Obama’s reelection strategy of targeting the same young fools and jobless minorities that his policies victimize, by making them believe he can fix larger social problems that don’t really exist. It’s an age old political trick but it works well, because it makes powerless pawns feel more actively involved in their own fates.

    There will be more such memetic campaigning this spring and summer. Logic dictates we will probably be subjected to the next nationwide “scandal” the same week as the April 24th Pennsylvania primary or the week after Santorum drops out of the primaries, whichever comes first. My guess is it will involve some sort of a eco-cover-up and/or corporate malfeasance scam with a Class A suit pending. It probably won’t be of the “equivalent witchraft” variety, but I’d bet the bogeyman will be linked to a “health crisis” of some sort, that can of course be solved through greater federal intervention.

  263. >Logic dictates we will probably be subjected to the next nationwide “scandal” the same week as the April 24th Pennsylvania primary or the week after Santorum drops out of the primaries, whichever comes first. My guess is it will involve some sort of a eco-cover-up and/or corporate malfeasance scam with a Class A suit pending. It probably won’t be of the “equivalent witchraft” variety, but I’d bet the bogeyman will be linked to a “health crisis” of some sort, that can of course be solved through greater federal intervention.

    I wish I could find someone idiotic enough to bet against this possibility, because I’d love to skin said idiot for money.

  264. > Anyway, Trayvon Martin was not “photoshopped to look more Euro and femme”, you dope. TThe media just used a much, much younger picture of him that was supplied by the family. The idea was to make him look smaller, younger and weaker,

    The original pictures appeared in the earliest versions, which are still available here and there on the web. But original pictures were not Euro enough, femme enough, or young enough, so were professionally photoshopped by the press, and the photoshopped versions have in large part replaced the originals. You can compare the originals with the photoshopped versions. In the example I show, you can see the photoshop artifacts on the chinline and the lips.

  265. >The original pictures appeared in the earliest versions, which are still available here and there on the web. But original pictures were not Euro enough, femme enough, or young enough, so were professionally photoshopped by the press, and the photoshopped versions have in large part replaced the originals. You can compare the originals with the photoshopped versions

    I remain disgusted with JAD’s racist spewings, but they cannot be permitted to obscure the factual point here (and this is a good illustration of why I don’t ban people from A&D even for opinions I find as noxious as his). Many of the images we’ve been seeing do in fact look as though they have been modified to make Martin look less threatening.

    Ordinarily, in a situation like this, conscious manipulation is not the first explanation I would reach for. I think this sort of bias is usually unconscious, and people at JAD’s source have pointed out that many of the image alterations were individually reasonable if directed at cleaning up the image to enhance details.

    But the now-undisputed fact that MSNBC edited the 9/11 tape to make Zimmerman sound racist changes the prior probabilities in my Bayesian. We know we’re being subjected to conscious and deliberate racial agitprop, and it seems unpleasantly likely that the photoshopping was part of that.

  266. “I wish I could find someone idiotic enough to bet against this possibility, because I’d love to skin said idiot for money.” That’s an awfully specific prediction, if you’re talking about the whole thing of what he said (rather than a more general “there will be some scandal in the news any given week” sucker bet)

  267. > and people at JAD’s source have pointed out that many of the image alterations were individually reasonable if directed at cleaning up the image to enhance details.

    While most of the adjustments were individually defensible (while somehow in every case adding up to a younger, gentler, more euroe, and more cute and victimized Trayvon Martin) the jawline alteration and the lip line alteration were not reasonable if directed at cleaning up the image to enhance details. Nor was giving him a bit of eyeliner for the femme look.

    Those three changes were to create hatred and provoke murderous attacks on whites, were conscious, not subconscious, manipulation of the story.

  268. Many of the images we’ve been seeing do in fact look as though they have been modified to make Martin look less threatening.

    Sure, but the baloney is that they’ve used digital tricks to “whiten him up.” Major press outlets disseminated younger photos to present the image of a helpless child instead of a 6′ 1″ physical threat requiring lethal self-defense. This is still being done, despite numerous recent pictures making the rounds, but it’s all about making the “right” age, not the “right” race.

    In fact, the “whiter” they made Martin, the less it would serve their desired narrative: Evil White Gun Nut slays Innocent Black Child. When you consider it objectively, exaggerating Martin’s “whiteness” to evoke sympathy doesn’t make any logical sense, either from the point of view of Obama’s palace guards in the media or from the point of view of a race-obsessed crank like Donald. The point is to make the hispanic Zimmerman as white as possible, and to make Martin as black as possible.

    Although his vague rants about bell curves don’t help matters, this disconnect from reality is what makes really makes Donald an irrational racist. He regularly attempts to marry two or more antithetical premises that can’t co-exist. Often, one of the premises actually makes logical sense — in this case, the manipulative media portrayal of Trayvon Martin. It was obvious to any thinking person that the photo of the boy saturating the media was incredibly selective. It did not seem to depict a 6′ 1″17-year-old high school footballer, but rather a much younger version of him (this has since been confirmed).

    But then, Donald claims that the photos were altered in order to “Europeanize” him. Altered by who? By the same lefty press who was hoping to spin this story into a race war? If that was the case, logic insists you make him look “blacker” not whiter, and if that’s not the case than Donald doesn’t have any logical complaint. In fact, his entire worldview cracks apart if that’s the case, since whitening Martin as a way of evoking his innocence means that the race construct is actually working in J.A.D’s favor, even though he insists it isn’t. He short-circuits himself, because the most important thing to him aren’t the logical particulars of any argument, but rather the message behind it. In his case, the message is incredibly evil, and only worth noting as a cautionary tale.

    As bad as the media-assisted age-manip was, Donald’s characterization of race-manip is irredeemably stupid, the product of a disturbed mind. Do only white eleven year-olds have baby fat that make them look cute and innocent? According to JAD they do. Are there no eleven or twelve year-old black children look like the manipulative younger pictures of Martin being distributed? Of course there are, except in JAD’s twisted, race-obsessed world. The fact is, there are lots of cute, chubby cheeked black children in the world, and I have no doubt Martin looked quite a bit like his so-called “Europeanized” photos being bandied about… five or six years ago. If you don’t hold these bastards in the press accountable for what they’ve actually done instead of Donald’s fantasy version, it’s like inviting them to do it again.

  269. “I am not a racist. You are a moron. It is not racism to believe that evolution did not end seventy thousand years ago. Rather, to refuse to apply evolutionary theory…”

    @JAD: You are a racist moron. Natural selection might favor light or dark skin, depending on how much sun a region gets, but it never favors stupidity under any circumstances.

  270. > Natural selection might favor light or dark skin, depending on how much sun a region gets, but it never favors stupidity under any circumstances.

    Doubtless a chimpanzee can do better than I can at finding food in the jungle, but surviving in regions with cold and foodless winters requires forethought and artifacts. We should therefore expect that people who were until very recently living very much as chimps lived in the jungle should be less adapted to a lifestyle of clothing, agriculture, and artifacts, than people who had to survive severe winters, and used comparatively elaborate housing, clothing, and food stockpiles to do it, adapting by their brains rather than their cold tolerance – hence the readily observable and measurable North-South gradient in brain size.

    Ever since 1830, certain facts became impolite.

    After 1890, they became unspeakable, and every year since then has been further out of contact with reality that the year before.

    Esr pats himself of the back because he is two or three decades less politically correct than the official truth, but someone from back in the days when it was permissible to notice reality would not perceive any difference between esr and the Harvard Dean of Victim Studies. Esr believes in the official truth which was taught back when he was in school, which was far to the right of today’s official truth, but far to the left of the official truth a of a few decades earlier.

    So which of these official truths are actually in contact with reality? If you read old materials, you will find that official reality has been mutating with the same rapidity as the infamous Soviet Line.

    It is pretty easy to check out that the 1830s version, back when debate and facts were permissible, was pretty much the true version, and we have been going from barking mad to even madder ever since.

  271. Ever since 1830, certain facts became impolite.

    Hysterical. Good to know that JAD’s benchmark of “truth in science” was also the birthplace of phrenology, homepathic medicine, spirit photography and Martian canals.

  272. >In fact, the “whiter” they made Martin, the less it would serve their desired narrative: Evil White Gun Nut slays Innocent Black Child. When you consider it objectively, exaggerating Martin’s “whiteness” to evoke sympathy doesn’t make any logical sense, either from the point of view of Obama’s palace guards in the media or from the point of view of a race-obsessed crank like Donald. The point is to make the hispanic Zimmerman as white as possible, and to make Martin as black as possible.

    This almost echoes a post I was in the progress of writing on the topic when I read your comment.

  273. …but [evolution] never favors stupidity under any circumstances.

    I think it sometimes can, depending on the timescale and the skills at stake. It gets even trickier at the individual human level. Stupid sapien mutants abound, often with very high degrees of success. I recall that a young drunkard from the “Jersey Shore” recently a national bestseller recently, and received 30K to give a speech at Rutgers.

    I know there are quite a few dilettantes who frequent this site, ranging subjects as varied as neurology, particle physics, paleoclimatology and Eastern philosophy, but the lack of rigor apparent when Mr. Donald yammers about racial hierarchies is even more revealing about mental pathology than when Jeff Read unironically quotes Karl Marx.

    According to JAD’s reasoning, we learned all we needed to know about human husbandry during the Triangle Trade, a time when white slavers were actively breeding blacks towards a purpose like farm animals. This wasn’t natural selection, but rather a form of domestication, with white slavers purposefully try to breed out traits that might challenge the social hierarchy through arranged marriage. While this tactic didn’t succeed in permanently crippling black intelligence, it still did quite a bit of damage, much of which is still apparent today. Dubois noticed this as well and looked to remedy it by rallying the “talented tenth”, but the degree to which intelligence was inherited was even less understood in JAD’s “Golden Age of Science” than it is now, the depth of the damage caused by this period of unnatural selection/ domestication wasn’t fully apparent.

    With the end of slavery, segregation and anti-miscegenation laws, I think some people assumed they’d see a flattening of the intelligence curve by now — especially considering that “race” is a subjective construct, rather than something that can be scientifically measured. As important as the heritability of intelligence is (and yes, that is often suppressed by academics for political reasons) there is enough noise to warrant restraint. For instance, the number of black children educated in cities that are controlled by left wing political majorities and their patrons in the teachers’ unions is too vast to be reasonably ignored. So is the number of single parent black households. Even the liberal D.P. Moynihan recognized this disparity 40 years ago, but his fellow travelers on the left abandoned him because they didn’t like the social implications for the hedonistic generation they were trying to court at the voting booth. But claiming that these realities don’t add noise to the intelligence signal is as ludicrous as claiming that intelligence isn’t inherited at all.

  274. Grantham on Monday, April 2 2012 at 7:49 pm said:
    > Sure, but the baloney is that they’ve used digital tricks to “whiten him up.” M

    You guys are seriously out of contact with reality. Compare the photoshop job with the original They lowered Martin’s age, whitened him up, and demasculinized him, making him into a little boy femme.

    > In fact, the “whiter” they made Martin, the less it would serve their desired narrative: Evil White Gun Nut slays Innocent Black Child.

    This presupposes that everyone believes that blacks are not dangerous. Since in reality everyone, especially other blacks, knows that blacks are dangerous while piously denying that they know what they know, everyone on seeing a black Martin, would instantly believe Zimmerman’s account, that Martin chimped out on Zimmerman while Zimmerman was walking away, attacking Zimmerman from the rear.

    You don’t want to believe that Martin was whitened up, because on seeing the real Martin, you are going to believe or very strongly suspect what you deny believing: that Martin chimped out on Zimmerman.

    (esr is going to loudly and piously deny that he knows what he knows, since knowing what he knows, or very strongly suspects, would be “racist”)

    In order to preserve your faith, you have to refuse to see the real Martin and only see the whitened up media Martin.

    Should you see the real Martin, you will doubt what you are forbidden to doubt, and believe what you are forbidden to believe, and so you have to believe that Martin is as white as he is painted.

  275. Grantham on Monday, April 2 2012 at 10:05 pm said:
    > According to JAD’s reasoning, we learned all we needed to know about human husbandry during the Triangle Trade, a time when white slavers were actively breeding blacks towards a purpose like farm animals

    That was the last time that people could talk freely about these matters, the last time they could openly examine the facts, the last time they were allowed to rationally discuss these matters and the evidence.

    We did not learn all we needed to know, but since then we have learned nothing, and forgotten much.

  276. James A Donald said:
    In order to preserve your faith, you have to refuse to see the real Martin and only see the whitened up media Martin.

    Try this simple experiment: type the words “Trayvon Martin” into a Google query, and then click on the image tab. You will see immediately how “white” the prevailing media images of Trayvon Martin are. The lone grayscale “hoodie” image you refer to was clearly an attempt to reduce the shadows on Martin’s face. This is because shadows are equated with menace, and no art department in 2012 America wanted to be accused of trying to make Martin seem menacing. For an example of the reverse technique, look no further than the Atlantic’s shoot of John McCain during the 2008 campaign:

    http://animalnewyork.com/2008/09/lefty-photographer-shoots-mccain-in-the-face-for-the-atlantic/

    The reason this technique is so common is because — reaching back through the centuries of portraiture and landscape art — hard shadows and lines have always represented tension, debauchery and danger. Harsh shadows and angles play into our worst fears about crime and age, and a photographer or editor can choose to play up these traits by altering the contrast and light curve of an image. That appears to be the simplest answer to what happened with the B&W image in question. Of course, there is room for reasonable dispute in the margin, both artistically and psychologically. With ESR, I supsect he just hasn’t fully examined the limited points of contact for the various optics that have been blasted around the media sphere, and he may not have the proper knowledge base to know why race manipulation is a less likely factor in the re-contrasting of a grayscale photo than de-shadowing in order to make the subject appear more likable.

    With James A. Donald, I don’t suspect a goddamned thing. Instead, I know exactly what kind of man he is — it is every bit as transparent to me as the machinations of the Obama campaign in this case. I’d say they were equally repugnant, but the truth is that Obama and his media lapdogs worry me more than JAD’s rantings, because despite their lies they have a better grip on reality than cranky racist buffoons who believe that all valid scientific thought ended in 1830..

  277. > “Trayvon Martin” into a Google query, and then click on the image tab.

    I get four black children in a red sweater, one black child in football uniform, two whitened up babies, three whitened up youthened and femmed children in hoodies, one slightly whitened up child in a black shirt, one non whitened child in a black shirt, and one, count them, one black teenager, actual age seventeen, (slightly whitened, though not ludicrously so)

    So, you have a point. Contrary to what I implicitly claimed, not all images are whitened, But enough are whitened to show that whitening renders Martin less threatening, and all images are selected and/or modified to be non threatening.

  278. > he may not have the proper knowledge base to know why race manipulation is a less likely factor in the re-contrasting of a grayscale photo than de-shadowing in order to make the subject appear more likable.

    Does de-shadowing usually reduce the subjects age to a child and make the child substantially more femme looking? De-shadowing usually makes males look more masculine.

    And why is it that Martin gets modified to look more likeable, while the most unflattering possible photos of Zimmerman are selected?

    As I said, it is part of a program to spread hatred and encourage race hate attacks on whites (even though Zimmerman was mestizo by birth, appearance, and self identification). “Making the subject more likeable” is pretty inflammatory in this situation.

  279. @JAD
    “Even supposing that universal mixing would improve the average, one can see that areas that are roughly half black tend to have levels of violence near those characteristic of black societies.”

    You claim all kind of things about genetics, but really have a high school level of understanding of human genetics, and a bad one at that.

    You obviously are unaware of the fact that there is an order of magnitude more genetic diversity in sub-Saharan Africa than there is in the rest of the world combined. Any generalization about the genetics of people with African roots is utter non-sense.

    @JAD
    “tend to have levels of violence”

    But you missed the biggest conspiracy of all.

    The genetic basis of crime and violence are well known. But you never read about it. There is a gene, TDF, that predisposes those who carry it to crime, violence, and mental diseases. Carriers of TDF make up 90% of the prison population, even more of violent offenders, and two thirds of the inmates of mental asylums. It is prevalent in all races, it has evolutionary advantages. The masses who do not carry the gene have to pay the price for the massive damage done by the carriers.

    This is all well known, but little talked about. Simply, because no one wants to keep a watch on all the carriers. But simply putting all carriers under surveillance could reduce crime to 10% of current levels.

    Actually, JAD, from what you have written, I think you might carry TDF too.

  280. James, your moronic jibbering is hard to take seriously.

    What’s amazing to me is that all of this started with me defending your dumb ass on a point of principle regarding the WHO’s obvious bias. But pointing out the plain fact that you are a racist set off a string of uncanny fireworks. Normally, I’d wonder why a racist would be so damned pissed off about being called a racist, but you demonstrate why with each predictably stupid post.

    Still, I am going to try to educate you.

    Does de-shadowing usually reduce the subjects age to a child and make the child substantially more femme looking? De-shadowing usually makes males look more masculine.

    De-shadowing obviously de-ages the subject, as any Hollywood starlet from 1910 onwards would attest. Certainly, lack of shadow does NOT make males look either older nor more masculine. It doesn’t make them look more or less white either, except in the fevered dreams of neo-Nazi idiots like you.

    And why is it that Martin gets modified to look more likeable, while the most unflattering possible photos of Zimmerman are selected?

    Aww… does that mean that you liked Martin’s picture when you saw it? I hate to break it to you, James, but that just means you are experiencing normal human empathy. The fact you are trying to link this empathy feeling to some nefarious “Europeanization” of the image has to do with you being a pathological racist who can’t understand why normal people want to protect the young.

    Even more strangely, you already know the answer to your own question — Martin gets better optics because we are supposed to see him as the victim, while Zimmerman gets the shaft because we are supposed to see him as the villain. You really think yourself a genius for figuring that out? Sorry, that doesn’t make you a genius here. It just makes you less naive than Jeff Read, which isn’t much to brag about.

  281. > De-shadowing obviously de-ages the subject, as any Hollywood starlet from 1910 onwards would attest. Certainly, lack of shadow does NOT make males look either older nor more masculine.

    But obviously the “deshadowing” of Martin made him not only look younger, a lot younger, but also more euro and more femme. So they were not “merely” deshadowing him, but distorting the narrative – and distorting the narrative in a way that implies that they, you, and everyone else, knows that blacks are violent.

  282. Winter on Tuesday, April 3 2012 at 3:23 am said:
    > You obviously are unaware of the fact that there is an order of magnitude more genetic diversity in sub-Saharan Africa than there is in the rest of the world combined. Any generalization about the genetics of people with African roots is utter non-sense.

    I am fully aware of the astounding ignorance and self induced stupidity of the politically correct.

    I recommend that you look at the map of human relatedness on the front cover of Professor Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza’s book. “The History and Geography of Human Genes”

    He says of the map on the front cover of his book:
    “The most important difference in the human gene pool
    is clearly that between Africans and non-Africans”

    “The color map of the world shows very distinctly the
    differences that we know exist among the continents:
    Africans (yellow), Caucasoids (green), Mongoloids .
    (purple), and Australian Aborigines (red). The map
    does not show well the strong Caucasoid component in
    northern Africa, but it does show the unity of the
    other Caucasoids from Europe, and in West, South, and
    much of Central Asia.”

    I also recommend the wonderfully politically incorrect “The Root of the Phylogenetic Tree of Human Populations”, with its most charming figure 5, (The other four figures are less disturbing, though none of them are all that politically correct.)

  283. Winter on Tuesday, April 3 2012 at 3:23 am said:
    > The genetic basis of crime and violence are well known. But you never read about it.
    > There is a gene, TDF, that predisposes those who carry it to crime, violence, and mental diseases.
    >
    > Carriers of TDF make up 90% of the prison population, even more of violent offenders, and two thirds of the inmates of mental asylums. It is prevalent in all races, it has evolutionary advantages. The masses who do not carry the gene have to pay the price for the massive damage done by the carriers.
    >
    > This is all well known, but little talked about. Simply, because no one wants to keep a watch on all the carriers. But simply putting all carriers under surveillance could reduce crime to 10% of current levels.
    >
    > Actually, JAD, from what you have written, I think you might carry TDF too.

    I am indeed a carrier of TDF, just as every single great scientist and every single great music composer has been, just as has the originator of every important advance in the history of mankind has been, and just as those who arguably create 90% of the wealth of the world are. Civilization, every civilization, was created and maintained by carriers of TDF, and civilization tends to collapse when the propensity of TDF carriers to engage in protective and defensive violence is restrained by the state.

  284. @JAD
    You did not understand the work of Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza. The big difference between Africa and the rest being that Africa harbors most of the genetic variation between humans.

    Ah, and you are a sexist too.

    But as my little example illustrates, what differences there are between human populations is vanishingly small compared to individual variation. Even the ever popular “violent crime” is mostly determined by something we all share. But you are quick to jump to all the “good” things the crime gene did produce. You never do that when discussing negative traits in other people.

    So, according to you, we can dismiss all the damage of the crime gene, because, oh, it did so much good. But we should do very ugly things to a major part of the population for a statistically very small difference in crime statistics, for which you cannot even prove it has a genetic basis.

    Come to think of it, if people used your standards for evidence of genetic inferiority on harm by pesticides, even soap would have been banned.

  285. Winter on Tuesday, April 3 2012 at 5:59 am said:
    > You did not understand the work of Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza. The big difference between Africa and the rest being that Africa harbors most of the genetic variation between humans.

    I am quite sure I understand “The Root of the Phylogenetic Tree of Human Populations”, which, just like Cavalli-Sforza, tells us that subsaharan Africans are more closely related to each other than they are to the rest of humanity, and that the big split in human “populations” aka races, is the split between subsaharan Africans and the rest.

    > and you are a sexist too.

    I see: Pointing out that men do 90% of the violence is not sexist, but pointing out that they do 100% of the great science and good musical composition is sexist.

    > what differences there are between human populations is vanishingly small compared to individual variation

    Not it is not. No great scientists are female, and no great scientists have substantial negro blood. So differences between human populations are quite large.

    If someone is stupid, you cannot conclude he is black, and if someone is violent you cannot conclude he is black, but if someone is stupidly violent, you can be pretty sure that the offender is black. Differences between populations in great science are very large, and differences in stupid violence are very large.

    As Chris Rock observed, if someone has killed a little old lady to steal fifty dollars, it is a black man. If he stole a million dollars, it is a white man.

  286. >I am quite sure I understand “The Root of the Phylogenetic Tree of Human Populations”, which, just like Cavalli-Sforza, tells us that subsaharan Africans are more closely related to each other than they are to the rest of humanity, and that the big split in human “populations” aka races, is the split between subsaharan Africans and the rest.

    In this JAD is correct, even if the use he wishes to make of that fact is invidious. There is strong evidence from mitochondrial DNA lines that the founder group that made it out of Africa was very small, no more than a few hundred individuals. That genetic bottleneck produced the phyletic distances he’s talking about.

    >No great scientists are female, and no great scientists have substantial negro blood.

    Marie Curie and Barbara McClintock didn’t win Nobel Prizes for their hairdos. Emily Noether was undoubtedly a mathematician of the first rank (similar claims are often made for Sophie Germain but I don’t think they stand scrutiny). To be fair, Emily Noether never married and has rather masculine features in her pictures; I have long suspected she was helped along by an abnormal dose of fetal androgens or possibly a chromosomal intersex condition.

    Your second claim is impossible to evaluate without a definition of “substantial”. It is probably true that there has never been a research scientist of the first rank that self-identified as “black”, but there’s a long history of blacks doing first-rate work in medicine and engineering.

    >if someone is stupidly violent, you can be pretty sure that the offender is black.

    Not a justified inference. Contemplating some of my own ancestors, he might just be Irish. ;-)

  287. > Marie Curie and Barbara McClintock didn’t win Nobel Prizes for their hairdos.

    No, they won Nobel prizes for doing science while in possession of a pussy.

    That you have heard that Marie Curie discovered radium, but have not heard who discovered the other hundred elements is a dead give away that it was an affirmative action Nobel.

    Marie Curie was the third person on the three man team that discovered radium, the most junior and least impressive person on the team, and arguably only on the team at all through what we now call affirmative action. Radium is important because it led to the discovery of Radon, and Radon is important because it led to the discovery of radioactive transmutation of the elements, yet somehow strangely you have not heard of the men who discovered transmutation of the elements, nor the men who discovered radon, or the men on the team that discovered radium, or the men that discovered the other hundred elements.

    > Emily Noether was undoubtedly a mathematician of the first rank

    OK, Emily Noether made it on ability, and was indeed a mathematician of the first rank, but your two female scientists are the product of mythmaking, affirmative action and poster girl manufacture. Marie Curie was targeted to become a poster girl before she set foot in the lab, and no one can remember whatever it was that Barbara McClintock got her Nobel prize for. (She made discoveries in maize genetics that would have been important if someone else had not made them in other organisms first, and discoveries about gene transposition that would have been important had she understood what she was looking at at the time)

    > but there’s a long history of blacks doing first-rate work in medicine and engineering.

    The examples that people manage to dig up are more strained and obscure than Marie Curie. I know some black engineers that do fine work, in the sense that most engineers do fine work, and doubtless Marie Curie did fine work, but her Nobel prize was nonetheless affirmative action.

    Indeed, as a general rule, if a black engineer graduates from an elite university, he is trained in grievancing, being black, and being a victim, rather than in engineering. Historically black universities actually train blacks to do engineering rather than victimhood, but they are at best ordinary engineers, adequately qualified and reasonably competent.

  288. @JAD
    “tells us that subsaharan Africans are more closely related to each other than they are to the rest of humanity, and that the big split in human “populations” aka races, is the split between subsaharan Africans and the rest.”

    You are mixing up two different things. Which was to be expected as you want a certain outcome.

    1 Your inference is right that all humans outside Africa are very closely related genetically.

    2 But you are completely wrong about the variation inside Africa. Subsaharan human populations differ as much from each other as they differ from non-African humans.

    What you are saying is that because Germanic languages are more alike to each other than to Turkish, Mandarin, or Japanese, you can easily generalize over Turkish, Mandarin, Japanese, and any number of Austronesian languages.

    Anyhow, the genetic differences between humans (with only a few exception) are minimal anyway. Much smaller than between any pair of individuals from another species of apes.

    Your desire to generalize over all people descending from sub-Saharan Africa is not supported by genetics. But you will not care one way or another.

  289. @JAD
    “>No great scientists are female, and no great scientists have substantial negro blood.”

    You are such a comic book bigot.

    But you are out of touch with the times. Women are taking over the academic world and science. But as you are also completely out of touch with any form of science, you would not know.

    The world class women scientists I know personally (yes, I do) are convincing enough, I do not feel any desire to defend them. They most certainly outclass everyone I have seen appearing here (most certainly including myself). You can easily look them up yourself if you wanted.

    And about blacks. I would exchange the lot appearing on this blog for a single Nelson Mandela. I met some convincing black scientists. But they were USA born, so most likely genetically more like Whites than like the people living in the African land of their black ancestors.

    And, obviously, Obama outclasses JAD and most others here on intelligence hands down. (that is a calculated remark)

  290. Winter on Wednesday, April 4 2012 at 11:39 am said:
    > But you are completely wrong about the variation inside Africa. Subsaharan human populations differ as much from each other as they differ from non-African humans.

    That is ignorant PC poppycock and self induced stupidity: “The Root of the Phylogenetic Tree of Human Populations” has tables showing who is related to whom. Subsharan Africans are, unsurprisingly, more closely related to each other than they are to out of Africa humans.

    You can only get the result you want if you count Tunisians and such as “African”, which obviously they are not.

  291. > Women are taking over the academic world and science.

    Indeed they are, thanks to affirmative action, and, by an amazing coincidence, science has largely ceased to progress, replacing replication with consensus.

    Science accommodates female graduates by replacing science with bullshit. Engineering cannot afford bullshit, so it accommodates female computer science graduates by placing them in jobs that are nominally engineering, but are in fact data entry, secretarial work, and human resources work. The proportion of female computer science graduates that can actually write a program is very low, lower than the proportion of black and Hispanic computer science graduates that can actually write a program, though the absolute number of female computer science graduates that can actually write a program may well be higher than the number of black and Hispanic computer science graduates that can actually write a program.

  292. Winter: But you are completely wrong about the variation inside Africa. Subsaharan human populations differ as much from each other as they differ from non-African humans.

    JAD: Subsharan Africans are, unsurprisingly, more closely related to each other than they are to out of Africa humans.

    Actually, both claims are true. In sub-Saharan African populations there are a lot of variations in things like globulin structure that aren’t found anywhere else on Earth because the exodus population of emigrants only sampled a small subset of the diversity that then existed. And there are at least one, maybe two Africam remnant populations that probably shouldn’t be considered homo sapiens at all by the usual interfertility criterion (Bushmen and the Ituri-forest pygmies). So Winter is right.

    On the other hand, post-exodus humans have adaptively radiated a great deal more than their African ancestors did – this was inevitable as they got selected in a broader range of environments. So JAD is also right.

  293. @esr
    “On the other hand, post-exodus humans have adaptively radiated a great deal more than their African ancestors did”

    Sorry, but you are wrong about this: There has not enough time since the exodus for genetic changes to come even close to the original diversity. See the two papers below. Be aware that Cavalli-Sforza’s work is from the early nineties. A lot has been discovered since.

    Like all racists I ever met, JAD is a blind fool, who suffers from the bigot version of attentional neglect.

    Note that the environmental pressure on African populations is much higher than on non-African populations. Africa is adapted to humans, and the disease load is orders of magnitude higher than outside Africa.

    Everywhere humans went, big game got extinct, except in Africa, where animals know how to handle humans. Everywhere Eurasians went, people dropped like flies from plagues. Except in Africa, where it was the whites and Arabs who dropped like flies initially.

    High resolution of human evolutionary trees with polymorphic microsatellites
    A. M. Bowcock*, A. Ruiz-Linares†, J. Tomfohrde*, E. Minch†, J. R. Kidd‡ & L. L. Cavalli-Sforza
    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v368/n6470/abs/368455a0.html
    http://medicine.yale.edu/labs/kidd/BowcockJRKidd.pdf

    GENETIC variation at hypervariable loci is being used extensively for linkage analysis1 and individual identification2, and may be useful for inter-population studies2–5. Here we show that polymorphic microsatellites (primarily CA repeats) allow trees of human individuals to be constructed that reflect their geographic origin with remarkable accuracy. This is achieved by the analysis of a large number of loci for each individual, in spite of the small variations in allele frequencies existing between populations6,7. Reliable evolutionary relationships could also be established in comparisons among human populations but not among great ape species, probably because of constraints on allele length variation. Among human populations, diversity of microsatellites is highest in Africa, which is in contrast to other nuclear markers and supports the hypothesis of an African origin for humans.

    AFRICAN GENETIC DIVERSITY: Implications for Human Demographic History, Modern Human Origins, and Complex Disease Mapping
    Michael C. Campbell and Sarah A. Tishkoff
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2953791/

    Comparative studies of ethnically diverse human populations, particularly in Africa, are important for reconstructing human evolutionary history and for understanding the genetic basis of phenotypic adaptation and complex disease. African populations are characterized by greater levels of genetic diversity, extensive population substructure, and less linkage disequilibrium (LD) among loci compared to non-African populations. Africans also possess a number of genetic adaptations that have evolved in response to diverse climates and diets, as well as exposure to infectious disease. This review summarizes patterns and the evolutionary origins of genetic diversity present in African populations, as well as their implications for the mapping of complex traits, including disease susceptibility.

  294. And for those who want a more readable story on human ancestry, more recent, and more extensive ancestor trees (this is less original research than the previous links).

    Take a look at the trees they draw, very clear and insightful.

    Genetic variation, classification and ‘race’
    Lynn B Jorde & Stephen P Wooding
    http://www.nature.com/ng/journal/v36/n11s/full/ng1435.html

    New genetic data has enabled scientists to re-examine the relationship between human genetic variation and ‘race’. We review the results of genetic analyses that show that human genetic variation is geographically structured, in accord with historical patterns of gene flow and genetic drift. Analysis of many loci now yields reasonably accurate estimates of genetic similarity among individuals, rather than populations. Clustering of individuals is correlated with geographic origin or ancestry. These clusters are also correlated with some traditional concepts of race, but the correlations are imperfect because genetic variation tends to be distributed in a continuous, overlapping fashion among populations. Therefore, ancestry, or even race, may in some cases prove useful in the biomedical setting, but direct assessment of disease-related genetic variation will ultimately yield more accurate and beneficial information.

  295. inter on Thursday, April 5 2012 at 2:37 am said:

    @JAD
    > > “Science accommodates female graduates by replacing science with bullshit.”

    Winter:
    > Out of touch with reality, like usual. Check out the female directors Max Planck Gesellschaft:
    http://www.mpg.de/115929/scientific-members

    That they were appointed to high status posts is no indication that they accomplished anything other than consensus – and indeed they accomplished nothing other than consensus.

    And that people are politically appointed to high status posts on the basis of group membership without corresponding accomplishment is itself a demonstration that the group to which they belong is inferior in that accomplishment. Women are better than men at making babies, men are better than women at creating a world for those babies to live in.

  296. @JAD
    “and indeed they accomplished nothing other than consensus.”

    Silly man, you should not check out their names, but their work. But that is maybe over your head.

    You are missing out on Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, though. Her work on the genetics (evolution) of embryo development is really, really interesting. It was a brilliant idea to create lots of mutant fish eggs and then use the fact that these eggs are transparent to follow changes in embryo development.

    But you would not understand anyway.

    Sad, though. Not wanting to know about the world because you cannot accept who is doing the research.

  297. > Her work on the genetics (evolution) of embryo development is really, really interesting. It was a brilliant idea

    “Her” work?

    As with the discovery of radium, it was a three person team. Two actual scientists and an affirmative action girl to make them tea and wash the bottles.

  298. @JAD
    You do sound like that that man who refused to look through Galileos telescope because there could be no moons circling Jupiter.

    Your world must be a depressing place.

  299. @JAD
    “Two actual scientists and an affirmative action girl to make them tea and wash the bottles.”

    Just to add. Ignoring the obvious trolling remark, it all boils down to you accusing them of fraud. Because all universities and grant agencies would consider this behavior scientific fraud.

    And so we are back again. All scientists are liars who commit fraud the moment they start working. Except, of course, those who say what you want to hear. Like Cavali-Sforza. But, then you ignore them when they write things you do not want to hear, as in the paper I linked to.

    But we know you are a “people person”. As we say over here, in a soccer game you rather kick the player than the ball.

  300. > it boils down to you accusing them of fraud.

    Affirmative action is fraud. Where there is affirmative action, there is fraud.

    If there were great female scientists, there would be great female scientists who made discoveries on their own.

  301. As always, you fly around accusations of fraud without evidence. All others are liars, all others commit fraud.

    It is a good bet you never met any of the people who did the research, have never even visited their MPI (or any other MPI), never even spoke to anyone involved in the research you now claim was fraudulently attributed. No evidence, just baseless accusations.

    @JAD
    “If there were great female scientists, there would be great female scientists who made discoveries on their own.”

    If you were serious, you would look for such examples yourself. But you are not serious. You do not even look.

    It is also another example of how out of touch you are with scientific practice. In this example, constructing a “library” of development mutant zebra fish is more work than any single person can do in their lifetime.

    A great mind looks for examples that falsify her believes. A closed mind looks away from such examples that do not fit his believes.

  302. “If you were serious, you would look for such examples yourself. But you are not serious. You do not even look.” Without taking sides any more than I already have, I would just like to point out that this is HILARIOUSLY ironic given this is precisely what he accuses scientists of.

  303. > If you were serious, you would look for such examples yourself.

    I have looked. What I have found is efforts to fabricate such examples, for example Marie Curie’s second Nobel prize, which efforts imply the nonexistence of such examples.

  304. Winter
    > Facts, my dear Watson, facts.

    You are incurious about why you know who the discover of radium is, yet do not know the discoverer of any of the hundred odd elements. That fact should cast doubt on all your other alleged facts.

    And, in fact, you do not know who the discoverer of radium was, for radium was discovered by a three person team, two men and a woman, and the person on that team with the least scientific accomplishments was the woman, a woman who had already been targeted to become a poster girl before she had set foot in the lab.

  305. @JAD
    “You are incurious about why you know who the discover of radium is, yet do not know the discoverer of any of the hundred odd elements.”

    I neither know nor care. It is original thinking to use Curie’s second Nobel price as evidence that women cannot be real scientists. It also suggest to me you might need professional help.

    The question here is whether women can be real scientists. That question can be answered by going to a research institutes and talk (or work) with scientists M/F. Everyone can do that and draw her own conclusions. I have done that for 3 decades and found there is no qualitative difference between men and women as scientists.

    But no one needs to go over third hand accounts of a century old case to determine whether current day women can be scientists.

  306. >. It is original thinking to use Curie’s second Nobel price as evidence that women cannot be real scientists

    If women could be real scientists, they would have found a more credible excuse for giving a Nobel to woman. The first Nobel showed they were hard up The second Nobel showed they were really hard up.

  307. > The question here is whether women can be real scientists. That question can be answered by going to a research institutes and talk (or work) with scientists M/F

    This presupposes that official scientists are necessarily real science, and official science is necessarily real science. Obviously, for the most part, official science these days is not science. Indeed that is how we got into discussing women “scientists” – I pointed out that WHO was not practicing the scientific method.

  308. @JAD
    And you showed ignorance about what the scientific method actually means.

    In short, you believe in a religion you call science. But you do not believe in scientists. Odd.

  309. There’s nothing odd about that at all, Winter, if you acknowledge the falseness of your premise that he and you agree on your definitions of “science” and “scientist”.

  310. @Paul
    Believing in science but not in scientists remains odd.

    Also called the “no real Scotsman” fallacy.

  311. “The first Nobel showed they were hard up The second Nobel showed they were really hard up.”

    You are now saying that the work in question was not Nobel-worthy at all. This is distinct from your previous claim that Marie Curie did not in fact do what she got credit for. Your unwillingness to continue standing by your original claim is noted.

    “This presupposes that official scientists are necessarily real science, and official science is necessarily real science”

    It presupposes nothing but that you can make observations and draw conclusions from those observations. If your conclusions end up being that none of the “scientists” are doing real science, so be it. But if you’re not willing to make the observations… well, then one has to assume it’s because you don’t really believe in your conclusions the way you believe brake failures in trucks cause accidents.

  312. > You are now saying that the work in question was not Nobel-worthy at all

    You seem to be reading impaired. I have been saying in almost every post that giving Marie Curie a Nobel for radium is like giving a bear a prize for dancing – it is an implicit admission that bears cannot dance.

    No one else got a Nobel, let alone two, primarily for discovering an element. Further, one of her Nobels was the chemistry prize, despite the fact that most of the work on the chemistry of radium was done by one of the men on the team that discovered radium, as separate and independent work, not as part of the team that she on, despite the fact that she had no chemistry experience, despite the fact that she very little work on the chemistry of radium.

    Further, the discovery of radium was primarily important because it led to the discovery of radon, and the discovery of radon led to the discovery that elements were undergoing transmutation, and although the discoverers of transmutation got a well deserved Nobel, they did not get a couple more Nobels for radon.

  313. Winter
    > In short, you believe in a religion you call science. But you do not believe in scientists. Odd.

    Every major and famous exponent of the scientific method tells us that official “science” is inherently unscientific, that official science is not science, that consensus science is not science. Science is the use of the scientific method, and faith in the authority of the scientific method. Official science and consensus science is faith in some other authority, which authority necessarily and unavoidably becomes hostile to the scientific method, perceiving respect for, and practice of, the scientific method as a challenge to its authority.

  314. @Paul
    It is always likely that I misunderstood. I do that often.

    @JAD
    so you *do* follow authority. Preferably not of those who disagree with you. Or so you think.

  315. Winter
    > so you *do* follow authority. Preferably not of those who disagree with you. Or so you think.

    I know that Galileo, Feynman and Roger Bacon are rightful authorities on the scientific method, because I personally have checked their work: For example Venus does show phases, and this does show that Copernicus was right and Ptolemy was wrong.

    I doubt that official science is a rightful authority on anything, because they don’t want anyone to check their work – observe, for example the endless lawsuits to fight freedom of information requests, and because when their work is checked, it turns out to be false, for example the Yamal scandal, “the most important tree in the world”.

    And because people who are rightful authorities on the scientific method denigrated official science as inherently opposed to the scientific method.

    As Richard Feynman, who I doubt you have heard of, told us: “Science is belief in the ignorance of the experts”. That, of course, was a snarky summary of a more complex and subtle position. It is OK to ask someone “what happened” provided you also ask them “how do you know what happened”.

  316. @JAD
    Richard Feijnman was a brilliant mainstream scientist who would have felt at home at CERN.

  317. Of course he was a brilliant mainstream scientist, as the mainstream of science used to be – that science was the community of people practicing the scientific method, of which method he was the most prominent and respected advocate, popularizer and explainer.

    Today, however, any scientist who practices the scientific method as explained and described by Feynman is likely to find himself permanently unemployed, so I doubt that Feynman would be at home in today’s Cern.

  318. “You are now saying that the work in question was not Nobel-worthy at all.”

    Hey, this is fun in a disgusting sort of way: arguing with a deranged racist and sexist person. Now JAD, you’ve disposed of both Curie and Nusslein-Volhardt. Did you try Levi-Montalcini yet?

  319. > Now JAD, you’ve disposed of both Curie and Nusslein-Volhardt. Did you try Levi-Montalcini yet?

    If one lie, all lies. If the number one poster girl was manufactured by affirmative action and pious pretence, then they are all manufactured by affirmative action and pious pretence. If women could do science, the establishment would have been able to produce a more credible poster girl than Marie Curie.

    That you know who discovered radium, but do not know who discovered the other one hundred elements, shows that women cannot do science

    That you do not know who discovered radium (for it was discovered by a three person team, Marie Curie being the least accomplished and experienced person on the team) shows that women cannot do science.

  320. “That you know who discovered radium, but do not know who discovered the other one hundred elements, shows that women cannot do science”

    It shows no such thing. At best, it shows that the establishment doesn’t find men’s accomplishments to be as important to talk about. It doesn’t actually show that the accomplishment is not real, especially since you backed away from “You are now saying that the work in question was not Nobel-worthy at all.” That it admits accomplishments by women are (or were a century ago) rarer than by men does not amount to a concession of your theory of _why_ they are rarer, nor your belief that they are nonexistent.

    And saying “the other one hundred”… Subtracting out all the elements that can’t be said to have been discovered by one person at all because they were known [as materials] before science was invented, I suspect you end up with less than 100. I guess if anyone these could be attributed to Boyle, who put forward the idea that the elements weren’t earth fire, air, and water.

    Oh, and I didn’t want to post this alone because it felt like a cheap shot, but since I’ve decided to post, here it is: Venus having phases doesn’t prove Copernicus right – it proves Ptolemy wrong, but leaves Tycho’s model equally valid.

  321. > > “That you know who discovered radium, but do not know who discovered the other one hundred elements, shows that women cannot do science”

    > It shows no such thing. At best, it shows that the establishment doesn’t find men’s accomplishments to be as important to talk about. It doesn’t actually show that the accomplishment is not real

    Supposing the accomplishment to real, it was an accomplishment that was no big deal when men did it. Therefore, a woman doing it is remarkable, while a man doing it is unremarkable, which implicitly admits what is explicitly denied: That women are not good at science.

    That you do not remember that the accomplishment was done as part of a three person team, with Marie Curie the most junior and least qualified scientist on the team, gives reason to doubt that the accomplishment was real.

    > Venus having phases doesn’t prove Copernicus right – it proves Ptolemy wrong, but leaves Tycho’s model equally valid.

    The moon having mountains like the earth and Saturn moons like the earth does not prove Tycho wrong, but, as Galileo correctly argued, it supports the Copernican model, in that the Earth is a planet like the others.

  322. > specially since you backed away from “You are now saying that the work in question was not Nobel-worthy at all.”

    Obviously the accomplishment was not Nobel worthy, since no man would have gotten a Nobel for that accomplishment. Compare with the discovery of Radon.

  323. esr:

    “…when our children are ill and failing because we have failed them – the frenzy can get even worse”

    Not to side with anti-science hysteria or anything, but just a note effectively in their defense: It’s kind of understandable that they lash out at something, any possible external explanation they can find (or even make up), because the realization that you have failed your child is among the most painful things imaginable.

    One doesn’t have to agree to sympathize.

  324. “Obviously the accomplishment was not Nobel worthy, since no man would have gotten a Nobel for that accomplishment.” Two men did. It was a shared prize, after all. And in fact I _did_ know that it was a three-person team before your most recent post [at the very least it's not the first time you've mentioned it]. Oh, you didn’t mean _that_ accomplishment?

    The simple fact is, you’ve provided absolutely NO evidence that her contribution consisted of “making tea and washing bottles”.

    “Therefore, a woman doing it is remarkable, while a man doing it is unremarkable, which implicitly admits what is explicitly denied: That women are not good at science.”

    No, you’re getting confused again. What it admits is that women _have had_ fewer such accomplishments. Your theory of women being inherently less suited to science is only one possible explanation for that fact.

  325. > > “Obviously the accomplishment was not Nobel worthy, since no man would have gotten a Nobel for that accomplishment.”

    > Two men did. It was a shared prize, after all.

    Since no Nobel for radon, they got the prize for affirmative actioning a woman onto their team, not for discovering radium.

    > What it admits is that women _have had_ fewer such accomplishments.

    Despite being affirmative actioned into science and engineering for over a hundred years.

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