April 30, 2008

Why Politics Should Stay Out of Science

Close to 900 scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have experienced political interference in their work in the last 5 years. This study was conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists who sent out 5,419 questionnaires with 1,586 responses. 889 scientists (60%) said they suffered at least one instance of political interference. 224 scientists had been "directed to inappropriately exclude or alter technical information from an EPA scientific document." Full information about the report can be found here.

This shouldn't come as a surprise as the Bush administration's political interference is very pervasive. I'm afraid its at a point where only a complete change of those in charge will release the hold that the corporate handhold has over true study and unbiased information. The EPA scientists obviously have something to say and I wish that they felt like they could come out and say it. The scientists, in fact, are the ones who own the EPA (an organization that means nothing without scientific backing) and all of the information deposited there. They should have ownership over the data, reports, and press releases that the agency constructs. This is bullcrap plain and simple and combined with the pervasive head-turning over the ozone issue leads me to believe that the only ones looking out for our wellbeing is ourselves. I shouldn't have to worry about the government skewing the information to further their corporate measures but I do and you should too.

Here are the report's top findings and quotes:

– 889 scientists (60 percent) said they had personally experienced
at least one instance of political interference in their work over the
last five years.

– 394 scientists (31 percent) personally experienced frequent or
occasional "statements by EPA officials that misrepresent scientists'

– 285 scientists (22 percent) said they frequently or occasionally
personally experienced "selective or incomplete use of data to justify
a specific regulatory outcome."

– 224 scientists (17 percent) said they had been "directed to
inappropriately exclude or alter technical information from an EPA
scientific document."

– Of the 969 agency veterans with more than 10 years of EPA
experience, 409 scientists (43 percent) said interference has occurred
more often in the past five years than in the previous five-year
period. Only 43 scientists (4 percent) said interference occurred less

– Hundreds of scientists reported being unable to openly express
concerns about the EPA's work without fear of retaliation; 492 (31
percent) felt they could not speak candidly within the agency and 382
(24 percent) felt they could not do so outside the agency.

"OMB and the White House have, in some cases, compromised the integrity
of EPA rules and policies; their influence, largely hidden from the
public and driven by industry lobbying, has decreased the stringency of
proposed regulations for non-scientific, political reasons," said a
scientist from one of the agency's regional offices. "Because the real
reasons can't be stated, the regulations contain a scientific rationale
with little or no merit."

"Scientific integrity is the bedrock on which the federal science
establishment must rest," said Bill Hirzy, an EPA senior scientist and
senior vice president of the National Treasury Employees Union, Chapter
280, the union that represents EPA scientists. "Too many EPA scientists
have had to fight interference from political or private sector
interests and fear retaliation for speaking out."

More After the Fold...


Hypocrisy Smells Bad

Yesterday there was a pretty good comment war on this article I posted yesterday, concerning the vaccine-autism misinformation out there. I got a few comments concerned that I don't consider the mercury/vaccine/mitochondrial disorder/antivax flavor of the day to autism connection serious. In fact I do, and fully support continued funding on vaccine research and their singular and cumulative effect on multiple subpopulations of the world. But mercury is gone and every study has either shown inconclusive or negative causation results so I don't like people spreading unnecessary fear about a highly complicated and extremely important public health pillar.

But here's what gets me, the same people telling me that vaccines cause autism and that the government should more highly scrutinize vaccines aren't up in arms over Bush's CO2 and ozone policies. Here's a real fact, in a study of 13 Italian cities (200,000 inhabitants) 0.6% of total mortality (over 500 deaths, equivalent to about 6,000 years) was attributed to ozone levels over 70μg/m3 (micrograms/meter cubed). Using a little math we can put that in a number we use over here in the US at 58.13ppm (for you science nerds who wanna check my math I used the density of dry air at 20C and 101.325kPa). I hope I didn't lose everyone with the science and math cause here comes the important information.

At 58ppm over 500 deaths were attributed Ozone in 13 Italian cities.
This is live data for the ozone levels in Texas in ppm as of 3 pm. 12 out of the 20 monitoring stations reported measurements as high as those that caused 6,000 years of loss in Italian cities, and this is over a much larger population. Now here's the scary part of that important information.
Due to formatting problems (link to full map with legend) I couldn't get the legend up but the green area represents "Good" quality air. That's not what the previous map told me though, it told me that Italians living at that level were dying specifically from the exposure. How can levels of this sort be considered safe, and not only safe but good? There is some sort of hypocrisy going on here because a substance that has been proven (I just used one study of real world data for an example) to harm humans is allowed to persist at these levels. Anybody care to take a guess why?

More After the Fold...


McCain's Healthcare Debacle

Ok, so I know this is becoming a common theme here at StifledMind, but I'm going to hit it again anyway. John McCain is a fucking moron.

I know, I know, we're supposed to be talking about how OUTRAGEOUS the distraction issue between Obama and his former pastor has become. How Obama's statement of disagreement with some of Wright's opinions is THE SURE AND FINAL SIGN that Barack just doesn't have what it takes to be the president.


Ok, but in the real world, children are still missing necessary checkups, the ill are not able to afford their medication, and people are actually dieing because they can't pay to live. Obviously, we are talking about the more impoverished segment of the population, for if a person can afford to provide their children or themselves with healthcare, I would imagine they would. So McCain has devised a solution, and is anyone surprised that its a near mirror-reflection of Bush's laughable proposal in 2007? McBush strikes again. This dottering fool wants to offer tax breaks to individuals who purchase their own health insurance. Sounds good, huh? Except the majority of people who do not have insurance now, do not pay taxes either due to their income levels. A tax break for people who don't pay taxes isn't much of a break is it? And by removing the tax incentives for companies to provide insurance for their employees, those employer programs will also suffer, if not vanish, as a result.

McDumbass, like the modern GOP, is disastrously out of touch of the needs of Americans. We don't need crumbs-from-the-table tax deals to help us afford private insurance. Hell, we don't need any damned insurance at all. What we need is heathcare. We need the profit calculations to be removed from decisions about our physical well-being. We need a government which advocates for the People, not the corporations. Take a look at McSame's proposal, and guess which of those two it favors...

Yeah, I'm sad too.

And we're not following the media on this issue today, here's a post from March 11th featured on StifledMind detailing why McCain's plan will fail.

More After the Fold...


April 29, 2008

Someone Buy Me This, Ok Thanks

Best toy ever or best single item in the history of the world? Yes, its a freakin wing that you strap up to and jump out of a plane called the Gryphon glider. It expands paratroopers range to 125 miles (from 30 miles), can hide 100lbs of combat gear and can be fully weaponized. Check it out in action.

Here's a Fox News (Faux News) report on the thing.

More After the Fold...


April 28, 2008

You Wanna Get High?

So there is a pretty potent legal (for now) drug out there called "salvia," or Salvia divinorum for you science geeks out there. Scientists at the US Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory have performed brain imaging studies on primates to try and find out the abuse mechanism and potential of the drug.

The drug is basically a mint plant you can smoke as dried up leaves or resin (serum to the scientists). A chemist and the lead author at Brookhaven said salvia "is probably one of the most potent hallucinogens known," meaning that people in most states can still get there hands on one of the most psychadelic drugs out there.

Anyway, the researchers estimate that it takes as little as 10 micrograms (10-6) in the brain to cause psychoactive effects in humans. The peak concentration of salvinorin A (the active hallucinogen) hit the brain nearly 10 times faster than the rate at which cocaine enters the brain, and by 16 minutes later the drug was all but gone.

The cerebellum and visual cortex were the only place that high concentrations were found. These parts of the brain responsible for motor function and vision, respectively. So if you do it now you know pretty much exactly what's going on in ya brain.

Salvia is getting a good bit of attention in the scientific news which means that lawmakers are sure to pop their heads in and make it illegal soon, so if you like getting high on it you may want to stockpile your resources. I in no way condone the use of any illegal drug but I guess its legal and we're finally getting some credible scientific evidence on it, so rock on hippies.

More After the Fold...


Huffington Post is a Denialist Website

There's no other explanation for a site that regularly publishes David Kirby's anti-vaccination denialism, Jenny McCarthy's insanity, and conspiracy theories from the like of Diedre Imus.

The latest came this weekend from David Kirby and his goalpost-moving piece, which based on the egregious misinterpretation of the Hannah Poling case, represents the new front of anti-vaccination denialists in their war on reason. In the never-ending quest to pin autism on vaccines no mater what the evidence, the anti-vaccine denialists now are trying to make autism a mitochondrial disorder in order to fit their latest imagined victory. Despite the obvious fact that the disorder in the Poling case was a pre-existing genetic dysfunction that was possibly aggravated by vaccines, Kirby has decided to add to the confusion by now suggesting that this was a "concession" by the government of a causative link between vaccines and autism.

There is no evidence of a link between autism and vaccines.

This post from Kirby is joined by this article from Barbara Fischkin which has the chutzpah to blame autism on thimerosal:
These people were poisoned. One of the culprits is, no doubt, the mercury preservative that was put willy-nilly into so many vaccines.
Let's make this completely clear, the thimerosal-autism link is one of the clearest examples of a failed hypothesis that I can think of. It was extensively studied, and roundly disproven by the fact that 6 years after it's removal autism diagnoses continue to increase (A longer discussion for why this is). Even Kirby won't support this nonsense, yet the HuffPo will gladly let other cranky celebrities and other morons write whatever the hell they want about science as if they have any idea what they are talking about.

This is something that concerns the scientific community as all overvalued ideology ultimately represents a threat to scientific or rational thinking. Science doesn't respect political values or preconceived notions about how the world works. Liberals may side with global warming because it fits with their preconceived paranoia of corporations and technology, and conservatives may love evidence-based medicine because it protects Dick Cheney from the Grim Reaper but its clear no matter what the ideology, whenever there is a conflict between science and politics there is always a constituency that favors rejection of fact to maintain a fixed belief.

Medicine is no exception. Conservatives don't generally object to medicine, but are happy to lie about contraception, abortion, embryonic stem cell science or the evil FDA regulators when it conflicts with their pro-life or fundamentalist free market agenda.

Public policy should be informed by the evidence first, and ideology should always play a second fiddle to what can be demonstrated by facts. When that order is reversed you are playing a dangerous game. HuffPo, by supporting this denialist claptrap is risking its reputation on writers who are little more than kooks. I hope that contributors to HuffPo who care about science will realize that HuffPo shouldn't get a pass just because they might happen to be right on global warming or evolution. These types of posts from pseudoscientific crackpots are an embarrassment, and the inclusion of these kooks undermines the legitimacy of the site as a whole. If there are people who care about making HuffPo sound like a source of legitimate opinion and analysis, they should take a stand, now, before its too late.

More After the Fold...