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Published: Fri, 09 Dec 2016 00:00:00 -0500

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Can Genetically Modified Mosquitoes Save The World From Zika?: New at Reason

Fri, 02 Dec 2016 14:15:00 -0500

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/4Jow8GFUx0c" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" class="mp4downloader_embedButtonInitialized mp4downloader_tagChecked" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0"> Download Video as MP4 Every Wednesday and Friday, members of the Clovis Mosquito Abatement team pick up a box from the post office, shipped to them from a lab in Kentucky. Inside that box are 20 tubes, each containing 1,000 male mosquitoes infected with a bacterium called Wolbachia that will render the eggs of any female they mate with infertile. Project manager Steve Mulligan says it took a little explaining to persuade residents of a neighborhood in Clovis, Calif., to allow them to dump 40,000 mosquitoes in their front yards every week. "It is unusual," says Mulligan. "The idea of releasing mosquitoes to control mosquitoes, that is thinking a little outside of the box." But in the age of Zika virus, which has spread from South America to parts of Florida and even to Central California, people are open to new ideas to eliminate a species of mosquito that is responsible for millions of human deaths around the world. While the residents of Clovis have been open to the audacious experiment of releasing bacteria-laden insects into their neighborhoods, other proposals have stoked far more controversy. A company called Oxitec engineered a mosquito in a laboratory to produce similar infertility effects to the Wolbachia infection method. But because this approach involves genetic modification as opposed to bacterial infection, Florida Keys residents formed a resistance movement to the GM mosquito. "We don't want to be guinea pigs," says one Florida Keys resident at a town hall meant to field concerns about the mosquito release. But with so many lives on the line, scientists like Zachary Adelman at Texas A&M questions the morality of opposition to genetically modified mosquitoes and has harsh words for those invoking the precautionary principle to halt the release of genetically modified organisms into the environment. "While you're waiting, and while you're being 'precautionary,' tens of thousands of people—children—are going to die of hemorraghic fever from things like Dengue, or thousands of children will be born with microcephaly because of Zika," says Adelman. Adelman and his team have modified the genomes of mosquitoes with the cutting-edge gene-editing technology CRISPR. When the transgenic mosquitoes mate with non-modified mosquitoes, the off-spring will almost all be male. "We can link it with the so-called 'gene drive' where the gene would be inherited beyond 50 percent, at these super rates, where almost all the progeny would carry this gene... And eventually, the mosquitoes would run into a problem. They would run out of females, and then there would be no more eggs, and then that would be that for them," says Adelman. One common objections that Adelman encounters is that wiping out a species of mosquitoes could have unintended consequences on our ecosystem. But he points out the particular mosquito he's targeting, Aedes Aegypti, is only native to certain parts of Africa and has spread across the planet only with human colonization. "There are no species that are dependent on it, that must eat it to survice," says Adelman. The Clovis release program concluded in mid-October, and scientists are still collecting data on the population effects. The trial release in the Florida Keys was approved by public referendum, but the Keys Mosquito District now has to seek FDA approval. Adelman says his CRISPR-modified mosquitoes still need further study in the lab before they're ready to be released into the wild. Watch the full video above. Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Graphics by Joshua Swain. Camera by Alex Manning and Weissmueller. Music by Kai Engel and Jared C. Balogh. Subscribe to our YouTube channel. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes.[...]



Can Genetically Modified Mosquitoes Save The World From Zika?

Fri, 02 Dec 2016 12:39:00 -0500

Every Wednesday and Friday, members of the Clovis Mosquito Abatement team pick up a box from the post office, shipped to them from a lab in Kentucky. Inside that box are 20 tubes, each containing 1,000 male mosquitoes infected with a bacterium called Wolbachia that will render the eggs of any female they mate with infertile. Project manager Steve Mulligan says it took a little explaining to persuade residents of a neighborhood in Clovis, Calif., to allow them to dump 40,000 mosquitoes in their front yards every week. "It is unusual," says Mulligan. "The idea of releasing mosquitoes to control mosquitoes, that is thinking a little outside of the box." But in the age of Zika virus, which has spread from South America to parts of Florida and even to Central California, people are open to new ideas to eliminate a species of mosquito that is responsible for millions of human deaths around the world. While the residents of Clovis have been open to the audacious experiment of releasing bacteria-laden insects into their neighborhoods, other proposals have stoked far more controversy. A company called Oxitec engineered a mosquito in a laboratory to produce similar infertility effects to the Wolbachia infection method. But because this approach involves genetic modification as opposed to bacterial infection, Florida Keys residents formed a resistance movement to the GM mosquito. "We don't want to be guinea pigs," says one Florida Keys resident at a town hall meant to field concerns about the mosquito release. But with so many lives on the line, scientists like Zachary Adelman at Texas A&M questions the morality of opposition to genetically modified mosquitoes and has harsh words for those invoking the precautionary principle to halt the release of genetically modified organisms into the environment. "While you're waiting, and while you're being 'precautionary,' tens of thousands of people—children—are going to die of hemorraghic fever from things like Dengue, or thousands of children will be born with microcephaly because of Zika," says Adelman. Adelman and his team have modified the genomes of mosquitoes with the cutting-edge gene-editing technology CRISPR. When the transgenic mosquitoes mate with non-modified mosquitoes, the off-spring will almost all be male. "We can link it with the so-called 'gene drive' where the gene would be inherited beyond 50 percent, at these super rates, where almost all the progeny would carry this gene... And eventually, the mosquitoes would run into a problem. They would run out of females, and then there would be no more eggs, and then that would be that for them," says Adelman. One common objections that Adelman encounters is that wiping out a species of mosquitoes could have unintended consequences on our ecosystem. But he points out the particular mosquito he's targeting, Aedes Aegypti, is only native to certain parts of Africa and has spread across the planet only with human colonization. "There are no species that are dependent on it, that must eat it to survice," says Adelman. The Clovis release program concluded in mid-October, and scientists are still collecting data on the population effects. The trial release in the Florida Keys was approved by public referendum, but the Keys Mosquito District now has to seek FDA approval. Adelman says his CRISPR-modified mosquitoes still need further study in the lab before they're ready to be released into the wild. Watch the full video above. Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Graphics by Joshua Swain. Camera by Alex Manning and Weissmueller. Music by Kai Engel and Jared C. Balogh. Subscribe to our YouTube channel. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes.[...]



Two New Studies Find Psilocybin Relieves Cancer Patients' Anxiety and Depression

Thu, 01 Dec 2016 08:45:00 -0500

Two studies published today in the journal Psychopharmacology indicate that a single dose of psilocybin, the main active ingredient in "magic mushrooms," has large and lasting effects on anxiety and depression in cancer patients. The research, which is consistent with earlier studies suggesting the psychological benefits of psilocybin and LSD for people who are gravely ill, is an important step in the medical and legal rehabilitation of a drug that has been banned since 1970. Both studies used a randomized, double-blind, crossover design in which subjects either took psilocybin in the first session and a placebo in the second or vice versa. To help maintain the mystery of who got what when, both studies used active placebos: niacin in one case and a low dose of psilocybin in the other. One study, conducted by researchers at New York University, involved 29 patients who received either psilocybin or niacin in conjunction with psychotherapy. "For each of the six primary outcome measures," NYU psychiatrist Stephen Ross and his co-authors report, "there were significant differences between the experimental and control groups (prior to the crossover at 7 weeks post-dose 1) with the psilocybin group (compared to the active control) demonstrating immediate, substantial, and sustained (up to 7 weeks post-dosing) clinical benefits in terms of reduction of anxiety and depression symptoms. The magnitude of differences between the psilocybin and control groups...was large across the primary outcome measures, assessed at 1 day/2 weeks/6 weeks/7 weeks post-dose 1." These improvements persisted for at least six-and-a-half months after the psilocybin dose, when the final follow-up was completed. "Single moderate-dose psilocybin, in conjunction with psychotherapy, produced rapid, robust, and sustained clinical benefits in terms of reduction of anxiety and depression in patients with life-threatening cancer," Ross et al. write. "This pharmacological finding is novel in psychiatry in terms of a single dose of a medication leading to immediate anti-depressant and anxiolytic effects with enduring...clinical benefits." The researchers conclude that "the psilocybin-induced mystical experience mediated the anxiolytic and anti-depressant effects of psilocybin," since the intensity of that experience was correlated with the magnitude of the effects. "It is unclear from the data whether the sustained benefits in clinical outcomes were due to psilocybin alone or some interactive effect of psilocybin plus the targeted psychotherapy," Ross et al. say. "Future research would be necessary to separate out the various therapeutic contributions of psilocybin versus psychotherapy." But the other psilocybin study reported in Psychopharmacology today, which was conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University and involved 51 cancer patients, shows that the psychedelic can have similar effects without psychotherapy. Johns Hopkins psychiatrist Roland Griffiths and his colleagues used a design similar to the NUY study's (two sessions, one with a high dose of psilocybin and one with a very low dose) but skipped the psychotherapy. "When administered under psychologically supportive, double-blind conditions, a single dose of psilocybin produced substantial and enduring decreases in depressed mood and anxiety along with increases in quality of life and decreases in death anxiety in patients with a life-threatening cancer diagnosis," Griffiths et al. report. "Ratings by patients themselves, clinicians, and community observers suggested these effects endured at least 6 months. The overall rate of clinical response at 6 months on clinician-rated depression and anxiety was 78% and 83%, respectively." These striking results inspired fear as well as hope. In an interview with The New York Times, William Breitbart, chairman of the psychiatry department at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, worried that improving the lives of cancer patients might be just the first step. "Medical marijuana got its foot in the [...]



FDA Approves Final Stage of MDMA Drug Trials

Wed, 30 Nov 2016 08:15:00 -0500

(image) More than three decades after the Drug Enforcement Administration banned MDMA, federal regulators have approved research that could make the compound legally available as a psychotherapeutic catalyst by 2021. The New York Times reports that researchers studying MDMA as a treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) yesterday received permission from the Food and Drug Administration for Phase 3 clinical trials, the final step before approval of a new medicine.

The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), which is sponsoring the research, funded six Phase 2 studies involving a total of 130 subjects. Hundreds of subjects will participate in the next phase.

In one Phase 2 study, scores on the Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale fell by almost two-thirds, on average, among 19 subjects who underwent MDMA-assisted psychotherapy. A follow-up study found that the improvements generally persisted an average of almost four years later.

"It changed my life," an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran who participated in one of the Phase 2 trials told the Times. "It allowed me to see my trauma without fear or hesitation and finally process things and move forward." Another subject, a firefighter traumatized by "years of responding to gory accidents," said MDMA-assisted psychotherapy "gave me my life back."

The psychotherapeutic potential of MDMA, which enhances empathy, reduces fear, and encourages openness, was apparent back in the late 1970s and early '80s, when the drug gained a following among psychiatrists. But once it was dubbed Ecstasy and became popular as a party drug, its fate was sealed. Like marijuana, LSD, and psilocybin, it has only recently re-emerged as a subject of legitimate medical research.

Reason TV covers the MAPS-sponsored MDMA research:

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Liberals Don't Really F**king Love Science

Mon, 21 Nov 2016 15:25:00 -0500

Democrats tend to fondly think of themselves as being members of "the party of science." As evidence that the Republicans are "anti-science" they point to Republican skepticism about man-made climate change and the efforts by some local bible-believing conservatives to have creationism taught in public school biology classes. But as I have reported, there is plenty of anti-science to go around, especially if science is seen as telling partisans something that they don't want to believe. Unfortunately when science intersects with public policy, it is all too often confirmation bias all the way down. Over at the City Journal, John Tierney, a contributing science columnist for the New York Times, has written a terrific article, "The Real War on Science," which he makes the case that "the Left has done far more than the Right to set back progress." Tierney correctly observes lots of leftwing partisans forget that science is applied skepticism and instead treat "science" as a collection of dogmas. What dogmas? "The Left's zeal to find new reasons to regulate has led to pseudoscientific scaremongering about "Frankenfoods," transfats, BPA in plastic, mobile phones, electronic cigarettes, power lines, fracking, and nuclear energy," summarizes Tierney. And let's not forget Rachel Carson's thoroughly debunked claim that exposure to trace amounts of synthetic chemicals is a major cause of cancer or the assertion the current average consumption of salt is a major cause of cardiovascular disease. Tierney is correct when he writes: [T]he fundamental problem with the Left is what Friedrich Hayek called the fatal conceit: the delusion that experts are wise enough to redesign society. Conservatives distrust central planners, preferring to rely on traditional institutions that protect individuals' "natural rights" against the power of the state. Leftists have much more confidence in experts and the state. Engels argued for "scientific socialism," a redesign of society supposedly based on the scientific method. Communist intellectuals planned to mold the New Soviet Man. Progressives yearned for a society guided by impartial agencies unconstrained by old-fashioned politics and religion. Herbert Croly, founder of the New Republic and a leading light of progressivism, predicted that a "better future would derive from the beneficent activities of expert social engineers who would bring to the service of social ideals all the technical resources which research could discover." This was all very flattering to scientists, one reason that so many of them leaned left. The Right cited scientific work when useful, but it didn't enlist science to remake society—it still preferred guidance from traditional moralists and clerics. The Left saw scientists as the new high priests, offering them prestige, money, and power. The power too often corrupted. Over and over, scientists yielded to the temptation to exaggerate their expertise and moral authority, sometimes for horrendous purposes. Among the horrendous purposes cited by Tierney was the widespread support by leftists of eugenics in the first half of the 20th century. Tierney also describes how the social sciences have evolved into a Leftwing intellectual monoculture that deleteriously and comprehensively distorts the findings of social psychology, political science, anthropology, and sociology. For example, he notes that leftwingers think that genetic causes are just fine when it comes to explaining homosexuality, but totally taboo when differences between the sexes are discussed. Tierney additionally delves into the confirmation biases that are rife in the debate over man-made climate change and how dissent from global warming dogma is treated by political leftists as damnable heresy. The whole article is well worth your attention. For some more background, see my article, "Are Republicans or Democrats More Anti-Science?"[...]



Bad Food Data and Science Still Make for Bad Food Policy

Sat, 29 Oct 2016 08:00:00 -0400

A new study in the journal Current Problems in Cardiology by researcher Edward Archer, Ph.D. and several colleagues has pointed to serious flaws in the data the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) relies on to calculate the average number of calories that are present in the American diet. The researchers looked at the number of calories the USDA says Americans consume and compared them with the number of calories people generally need to stay alive. Using data from 1971-2010, the researchers found that if the USDA data were correct, then a reference person (a hypothetical American established using algorithmic analysis of the data) would have lost nearly eighty pounds between 1971-1980 and also gained more than 215 lbs. between 1988-2010. While such weight fluctuations aren't impossible, they're a rare occurrence at most. If it were simply the case that the USDA compiled bad data, then there'd be little reason to express alarm. But it turns out the USDA uses these flawed data to inform and set federal dietary policy. It's not just the data that's rotten. The laws and policies that are based on that data are inherently rotten, too. The new research builds upon previous research by Archer, including a study published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings last year, which found—as I wrote at the time—that the federal dietary guidelines "and the research used to support that work... is so off base as to be scientifically useless." The new study doubles down on Archer's earlier work. "These results demonstrate that the USDA's caloric data are meaningless and should not be used to inform public policy," Archer told me this week by email. Besides poking fatal holes in the federal dietary guidelines, Archer's research shows more broadly the perils of relying on bad data to inform law and policy. Those who develop federal dietary guidelines are hardly alone in relying on incomplete, wayward, contradictory, or inconclusive data as the foundation for various food laws and policies. In fact, the push to adopt laws that seem to contravene what data tells us about those laws—namely, that they are uniformly bad ideas—continues headlong. One recent example— menu calorie labeling—illustrates this point. A new study by NYU researchers reports that menu calorie labeling is a totally ineffective tool for helping consumers make lower-calorie food choices. That's just piling on. The fact that menu labeling doesn't achieve its goals is nothing new. The data don't support it, yet mandatory calorie labeling is coming to chain restaurants, vending machines, and movie theaters (and, likely, grocery stores and pizza parlors) in every state in the land in mere months. Data supporting soda taxes as a tool to combat obesity is virtually nonexistent. Yet cities proceed to adopt them. The FDA's own data on the likely impact of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), as I detail in my new book, Biting the Hands that Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food System More Sustainable, shows these bad rules clearly aren't worth their enormous cost. [T]he FDA's own estimates predict these rules could—if implemented to absolute perfection—reduce foodborne illnesses by a maximum of 1.23 million cases. That would represent just a 2.6 percent reduction in total foodborne illness cases. Again, this is the FDA's own best-case scenario for the impact of these two key rules. Relying on bad data to justify food and dietary laws is as absurd, indefensible, and unscientific as it sounds. If we can't trust the government to base those food laws and policies that call for science on actual, you know, science, then maybe that's evidence the government should have far less power to craft those laws and policies in the first place.[...]



Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump: Who Will Be *Worse*? Is Gary Johnson a "Buffoon"? New Reason Podcast

Fri, 28 Oct 2016 10:00:00 -0400

(image) On the latest Reason podcast, Nick Gillespie and Reason magazine editor in chief Katherine Mangu-Ward are joined by Andrew Ferguson, a staffer at The Weekly Standard and author of a series of best-selling books ranging from Land of Lincoln to Crazy U.

The choice between leading presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton has been likened to having to decide between being shot and being poisoned, contracting different sorts of STDs, or electing a giant douche versus a turd sandwich. So which is it? And how do we feel about Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate who is polling at historically high numbers yet still manages to disappoint somehow? (Here's a clue: One of us calls him a "buffoon," another is unimpressed but less caustic, and a third says nice things). While Donald Trump has been rising slightly in the poll, does his likely defeat portend a conservative and Republican crackup that will force the right to rethink a process and set of positions that has kept them out of the White House since George W. Bush left with historically high disapproval numbers?

Mangu-Ward discusses her lead piece in the new issue of Reason (currently available only to subscribers), in which she praises American free-speech laws and traditions even as they permit all sorts of crazy talk to flourish:

There's something heartening, however, to be found in the deep awfulness of [Donald Trump's] public statements over the years: the fact that he remains a free man despite uttering them. Because in quite a few otherwise civilized countries, a good deal of what leaves the GOP presidential nominee's mouth on the topic of Muslims, women, and Mexicans could land him in jail.

And Ferguson explains his description of Tom Wolfe as "America's greatest living essayist" and his new book, The Kingdom of Speech, as doing to uncritical evolutionary scientists what previous tomes did to artists and architects.

It's a lively, fast-paced, and intermittently nasty conversation. Listen by clicking below. Produced by Ian Keyser.

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Tom Hanks Endorses 'Malthusian Theory' of Overpopulation

Wed, 26 Oct 2016 10:30:00 -0400

Yes, of course, Tom Hanks is out flogging his latest movie Inferno, the central plot of which involves an evil scientist who attempts to release a virus to kill off the world's excess population. Although both promote delusions about Malthusian overpopulation, the movie plot is even more dire than that of the novel of the same title by Dan Brown on which it is based. (See my colleague Jesse Walker's amusing review of the novel here.) In any case, Tom Hanks on Today appears to be persuaded by Malthusian population doom prognostications. He told his NBC hosts that he had been taught the word "triage" by a history professor when he was a student at Chabot College. Hanks said that his professor told him that the word "represented the concept that eventually, the world will have too many people in it in order to subsist on its own." He added that that was what Inferno is about - "the quantum physics of overpopulation - in an instant there could be too many people on the earth. And actually the math does add up." Well, while Malthusianism might make a good movie plot, it has certainly advanced the careers of many false prophets. Foremost among the false prophets of Malthusianism is Stanford University biologist Paul Ehrlich. In his 1968 screed, The Population Bomb, Ehrlich endorsed the notion of "triage" by which he meant that countries would be ranked by their ability to feed themselves. If they were deemed to be too overpopulated, then food aid would be cut off. For example, Ehrlich stated in 1968 that he agreed with an expert who predicted that India couldn't "possibly feed 200 million more people by 1980." Actually, India's population grew by 170 million between 1968 and 1980 and the country was by then exporting grain to the Soviet Union. To control the world's burgeoning population Ehrlich proposed the idea that the world's governments might introduce sterilants into supplies of water or staple foods. But he decided the notion was impractical due to "criminal inadequacy of biomedical research in this area." While Ehrlich did not suggest releasing a virus to reduce surplus population, Britain's more bloody-minded Prince Philip did. "In the event that I am reincarnated, I would like to return as a deadly virus, to contribute something to solving overpopulation," said the consort of the U.K.'s queen in 1988. With regard to Hanks' odd claim that the "math does add up," I suspect that he may be thinking of Ehrlich's famous lily pad growth analogy. As one contemporary Malthusian explains it: "A farmer's pond had a tiny lily pad that was doubling in size every day. He was warned that it would choke the pond in 30 days. He didn't worry about it for 28 days because it seemed so small. On the 29th day it covered half the pond. He had to solve the problem in one day." World population was 3.5 billion in 1968 and is now 7.4 billion. Despite the latest rejiggering of the U.N.'s population trend projections, most demographers believe that the world's population will never double again. So much for lily pad analogies. Hanks is a wonderful actor. He should make it clear that his movie is based on fiction. Otherwise he may mislead his fans about the real and positive prospects for the human future. For more background on the myths of overpopulation, see Reason TV's interview with filmmaker Jessica Yu about her documentary Misconception below. src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/hqBTGA6vKFI" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0">[...]



Time Magazine Promotes Superstitious Chemophobia

Tue, 18 Oct 2016 16:00:00 -0400

When environmental activists could no longer maintain with a straight face that exposure to trace amounts of synthetic chemicals is a significant cause for cancer in people, the endocrine disruption hypothesis was ginned up. The idea is that chemicals that mimic estrogen are causing epidemics of deformed penises, lower sperm counts, premature development of breasts in girls, shorter anogenital distances in men, diabetes, ADHD, and reduced cognitive function. Today, Time magazine is reporting a correlational study that claims to have sufficiently tortured the data, ah, quantified the economic harm that these estrogen-fueled epidemics is causing. The researchers had previously calculated the losses from endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) have imposed on hapless Europeans at annual cost of €163 billion (1.28 percent of EU Gross Domestic Product). "We conclude that endocrine disrupting chemical exposures in the EU are likely to contribute substantially to disease and dysfunction across the life course with costs in the hundreds of billions of Euros per year," they report. "These estimates represent only those endocrine disrupting chemicals with the highest probability of causation; a broader analysis would have produced greater estimates of burden of disease and costs." These intrepid researchers have now turned their attention to the United States. Of course, they find, that the situation is even worse here than across the pond. From the study: The disease costs of EDCs were much higher in the USA than in Europe ($340 billion [2·33% of GDP] vs $217 billion [1·28%]). The difference was driven mainly by intelligence quotient (IQ) points loss and intellectual disability due to polybrominated diphenyl ethers (11 million IQ points lost and 43 000 cases costing $266 billion in the USA vs 873 000 IQ points lost and 3290 cases costing $12·6 billion in the European Union). Time does acknowledge that the results are correlational (and if you read through the earlier European study you will find that torturing the data will in fact make them confess to anything). However, Time continues, "But while research showing the connection between many chemicals and endocrine disruption remains correlational, many scientists say the burden should still rest on manufacturers to prove a substance is safe before selling it to the public." Pure precautionary principle nonsense. In any case, a group of real toxicologists in their scathing article, "Endocrine Disruption: Fact or Urban Legend?," have likened endocrine disruption research to homeopathy. Why? Because many endocrine disruption researchers claim that lower doses of EDCs cause more harm than higher doses. No really. The toxicologists make fun of this "interesting hypothesis" by suggesting if it were true then that would mean eating Chinese meal containing low-doses of estrogenic compounds found in soybeans would be far more dangerous than taking a daily birth control pill. As I report in The End of Doom, the toxicologists note that during the past twenty years hundreds of millions of euros and dollars of taxpayer money have been spent on endocrine disruptor research with essentially no results. They bluntly suggest that all this funding has likely produced "a vested interest of scientists in the endocrine disruption field to keep the endocrine disruption hypothesis on the agenda in order to stay in business." Decades of research and hundreds of millions of dollars in funding have resulted in the publication of more than 4,000 diff erent articles. "Taking into account the large resources spent on this topic, one should expect that, in the meantime, some endocrine disruptors that cause actual human injury or disease should have been identified," the researchers argue. "However, this is not the case. To date, with the exception of natural or synthetic hormones, no[...]



National Study Debunks Helena Smoking Ban Miracle (Again)

Mon, 26 Sep 2016 08:00:00 -0400

If the people who promote the idea that smoking bans immediately slash heart attacks were interested in the truth, as opposed to another argument for a policy they already support, a study published this month in the journal Medical Care Research and Review would make them retract that outlandish, biologically implausible claim. Looking at county-level data from 28 states, the study finds "smoking bans were not associated with acute myocardial infarction or heart failure hospitalizations." That will come as a surprise to anyone who accepted the propaganda peddled by anti-smoking activists at face value. Since 2003, when supporters of a smoking ban in Helena, Montana, announced that the ordinance had miraculously cut heart attacks in half during the first six months it was in effect, such claims have become conventional wisdom within the tobacco control movement. They were even endorsed by the Institute of Medicine, a division of the National Academy of Sciences, in an embarrassing 2009 report that disregarded obvious methodological problems and replaced science with wishful thinking. As Rice University health economist Vivian Ho and the other authors of the new study point out, "Each of the studies the Institute of Medicine reviewed had at least one important limitation, such as a small study population, lack of a contemporaneous control population, or failure to account for the full range of factors that could influence hospitalizations for smoking-related conditions, such as increased cigarette taxes and local patient and health care market characteristics." Ho et al., by contrast, studied 390 counties that adopted "comprehensive public place smoking bans" from 2001 through 2008, along with 1,511 counties that did not. They controlled for potential confounding variables such as cigarette tax rates and local demographics, and they took into account pre-existing local trends. Heart disease death rates have been declining for decades in the United States, so a drop in the hospitalization rate for acute myocardial infarction (AMI) after the implementation of a smoking ban could be due to that nationwide trend rather than any local development. Furthermore, thousands of jurisdictions around the world have adopted smoking bans, and some of them were bound to see above-average reductions in AMI admissions afterward purely by chance. Focusing just on those places, as anti-smoking activists tend to do, creates a misleading impression. And even if it turned out that jurisdictions with smoking bans tended to see bigger reductions in AMI hospitalization rates than other jurisdictions, that difference could be caused by factors other than the ordinances. Ho et al. found, for example, that jurisdictions adopting bans during the study period tended to tax cigarettes more heavily in 2001 and impose larger tax hikes by 2008. "In adjusted analyses that accounted for cigarette tax rates and population and health care market characteristics," the researchers report, "comprehensive public place smoking bans were not associated with lower AMI or heart failure hospitalization rates." As they note, that result is consistent with the findings of another national study, published by the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management in 2010, in which Kanaka Shetty and his colleagues at the RAND Corporation found "smoking bans are not associated with statistically significant short-term declines in mortality or hospital admissions for myocardial infarction or other diseases." Although those data were available in a working paper when the Institute of Medicine studied the issue, they were conveniently omitted from its report. Ho et al. say their study, while reaching essentialy the same conclusion as Shetty et al., is stronger because it used comprehensive hospitalization data rather than the 20 percent sample[...]



Gary Johnson Answers 20 Questions on Science Policy

Tue, 20 Sep 2016 09:30:00 -0400

(image) The group ScienceDebate.org argues that the folks who would be our leaders should be knowledgeable about how scientific evidence and research effects public policy and economic growth. So they have asked each of the leading four candidates 20 questions related to science policy. Among them are questions on government funding of research, how to handle man-made climate change, what role does vaccination play in protecting public health, how protect biodiversity, what role is there for nuclear power in our energy mix, and what should be done about the problem of opiod addiction.

Just few excerpts from the Johnson/Weld campaign's answers are below

On innovation: First, true leadership in science and engineering cannot happen without a robust economy that allows the private sector to invest and innovate. Conversely, in times of slow or nonexistent growth and economic uncertainty, basic research and higher-risk development are among the first items to be cut. Thus, the most important policies for science and engineering are those that reduce the burdens on the economy of deficit spending and debt, and which reduce a tax burden that siphons dollars away from investment and into government coffers....

On climate change: We accept that climate change is occurring, and that human activity is contributing to it, including through greenhouse gases like methane, nitrous oxide, and carbon dioxide. Unfortunately for policymakers - the very activities that appear to contribute to climate change also contribute to mankind's health and prosperity, so we view with a skeptical eye any attempts to curtail economic activity....

On energy: The Johnson Weld administration takes a holistic, market-based approach to energy policy. We believe that no source of energy is categorically wrong or right, but some sources of energy may be procured or used incorrectly or used in the wrong applications, too often as a consequence of government interference and manipulation....

On vaccination: We believe the current legal infrastructure regarding vaccination is basically sound. There are currently no federal vaccination requirements, leaving those requirements largely to the states and school districts, consistent with the legal requirement that children attend school.

On scientific integrity: Science has too often been encouraged to oversell its results in the political theater. In order to have a fully informative exchange between politics and science, investigators and reporters should be as transparent as possible with respect to the degrees of uncertainty findings have.

Go here to read and compare the answers to the 20 science policy questions of all four leading candidates.

Disclosure: The Johnson/Weld campaign asked me to provide some input into their answers which I did.




Study Suggests Pot Has Been Blamed for Fetal Risks Caused by Tobacco

Wed, 14 Sep 2016 07:39:00 -0400

The evidence that cannabis consumption during pregnancy harms fetuses has never been as strong as the evidence that tobacco use and heavy drinking do. One reason for the lack of clarity is that pregnant women who use marijuana are more likely to smoke tobacco, which is known to raise the risk of premature birth and low birth weight. Hence tobacco smoking could be the actual cause of the negative effects associated with marijuana use in some studies. A new review of the research, published last week in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, confirms that possibility, finding that tobacco use and other confounding variables account for fetal risks that are sometimes ascribed to marijuana. After a systematic review of the literature, Washington University obstetrician/gynecologist Shayna Conner and her colleagues selected 31 studies for a meta-analysis. "Based on the pooled unadjusted analysis," they report, "women using marijuana in pregnancy were at increased risk for low birth weight...and preterm delivery." But those associations disappeared after the researchers took into account tobacco use and other potential confounders. Likewise elevated risks of placental abruption and small size for gestational age (SGA). "We found that maternal marijuana use during pregnancy is not an independent risk factor for low birth weight or preterm delivery after adjusting for factors such as tobacco use," Conner et al. write. "There also does not appear to be an increased risk for other adverse neonatal outcomes such as SGA and placental abruption once we account for other influencing factors....These data suggest that the association between maternal marijuana use and adverse pregnancy outcomes may be attributable to concomitant tobacco use and other confounding factors." The researchers caution that "we did not investigate long-term neurodevelopmental outcomes after exposure to marijuana in utero, and further study is warranted in this regard." But they conclude that "the increased risk for adverse neonatal outcomes reported in women using marijuana in pregnancy is likely the result of coexisting use of tobacco and other confounding factors and not attributable to marijuana use itself." While "these data do not imply that marijuana use during pregnancy should be encouraged or condoned," the authors say, "the lack of a significant association with adverse neonatal outcomes suggests that attention should be focused on aiding pregnant women with cessation of substances known to have adverse effects on the pregnancy such as tobacco." On the question of whether "marijuana use during pregnancy should be encouraged or condoned," it seems to me that depends on the benefits as well as the risks. In the case of medical use (which Conner et al. do not address), the risks and benefits should be evaluated the same way they are for pharmaceuticals, many of which pose potential hazards to fetuses but are nevertheless prescribed to pregnant women if the therapeutic payoff is big enough. When it comes to recreational use, pregnant women who use marijuana are no more reckless than those who drink an occasional glass of wine (which, unlike heavy drinking, is not associated with birth defects), and they are running less risk than they would if they smoked tobacco. Since the government does not automatically assume that pregnant drinkers and smokers are unfit parents, it makes no sense to treat pregnant cannabis consumers that way.[...]



Drafter of U.S. Dietary Goals Was Bribed by Big Sugar to Demonize Fat

Tue, 13 Sep 2016 11:33:00 -0400

Newly released historical documents show how the sugar industry essentially bribed Harvard scientists to downplay sugar's role in heart disease—and how the U.S. government ate it up. The link between a high-sugar diet and the development of metabolic problems had begun emerging in the 1950s. In 1965, a group called the Sugar Research Foundation (SRF) funded a study assessing previous studies on this possibility. That literature review, published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine in 1967, concluded that fat and cholesterol were the real culprits when it came to coronary heart disease. "The SRF set the review's objective, contributed articles for inclusion, and received drafts," according to a new paper published in JAMA Internal Medicine "The SRF's funding and role was not disclosed." The New York Times wants this to be a story about junk-food bigwigs screwing with science to the detriment of American health. And it is, in part. But beyond that, the findings also indict "dietary science" that the U.S. government has been pushing for decades, and still continues to push. As we know now, high cholesterol levels in the blood may portend heart problems, but consuming high-cholesterol food—such as eggs, long demonized as a heart-health no-no—doesn't correlate to high blood-cholesterol. And saturated fats come in many forms, some bad for you and others some of the healthiest things you can consume. But for decades, conventional wisdom in America said that dietary fats and cholesterol were to be extremely rare in a nutritious diet. Meanwhile, sugar got a rep for rotting your teeth (and maybe packing on a few pounds) but was otherwise considered benign. And this demonization of fat actually helped increase U.S. sugar consumption, as health conscious Americans replaced morning eggs and sausage with carbs like bagels, or turned to low-fat and fat-free offerings where added sugar helped fill the taste void. How did Big Sugar pull this off? With a little help from Harvard scientists, for starters. SRF—now called the Sugar Association—paid three of them the equivalent of $49,000 in today's dollars to publish the misleading literature review. One of these scientists, the late D. Mark Hegsted, went on to become a major driver of U.S. dietary advice. In the early '60s, Hegsted had developed what came to be known as the "Hegsted equation," which allegedly showed how saturated fats in eggs and meat raise blood cholesterol. A few years after he was paid by the sugar industry to demonize fat and cholesterol, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and edited its Nutrition Reviews for a decade. Hegsted would also go on to help the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) draft its first "Dietary Goals for the United States," a 1977-precursor to today's federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and to be hired by the agency as the head of its nutrition division, a position he held from 1978-1982. "Even though the influence-peddling revealed in the documents dates back nearly 50 years, more recent reports show that the food industry has continued to influence nutrition science," the Times notes. That's also true. What the Times doesn't say, however, is how much the food industry continues to influence federal food policy and advice even independent of any shady research. At the 2015 National Food Policy Conference, a two-day affair I attended in downtown D.C., food-industry associates gave talks alongside federal officials and their logos— Nestlé, Dannon, Cargill—were splashed everywhere. The food industry has and continues to influence nutrition "knowledge" because federal agencies encourage it. A report published last fall found that government nutrition rules have been and are sti[...]



Most Scientific Findings Are Wrong or Useless

Fri, 26 Aug 2016 13:30:00 -0400

"Science, the pride of modernity, our one source of objective knowledge, is in deep trouble." So begins "Saving Science," an incisive and deeply disturbing essay by Daniel Sarewitz at The New Atlantis. As evidence, Sarewitz, a professor at Arizona State University's School for Future Innovation and Society, points to reams of mistaken or simply useless research findings that have been generated over the past decades. Sarewitz cites several examples of bad science that I reported in my February article "Broken Science." These include a major biotech company's finding in 2012 that only six out of 53 landmark published preclinical cancer studies could be replicated. Researchers at a leading pharmaceutical company reported that they could not replicate 43 of the 67 published preclinical studies that the company had been relying on to develop cancer and cardiovascular treatments and diagnostics. In 2015, only about a third of 100 psychological studies published in three leading psychology journals could be adequately replicated. A 2015 editorial in The Lancet observed that "much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue." A 2015 British Academy of Medical Sciences report suggested that the false discovery rate in some areas of biomedicine could be as high as 69 percent. In an email exchange with me, the Stanford biostatistician John Ioannidis estimated that the non-replication rates in biomedical observational and preclinical studies could be as high as 90 percent. Sarewitz also notes that 1,000 peer-reviewed and published breast cancer research studies turned out to be using a skin cancer cell line instead. Furthermore, when amyotrophic lateral sclerosis researchers tested more than 100 potential drugs reported to slow disease progression in mouse models, none were found to be beneficial when tested on the same mouse strains. A 2016 article suggested that fMRI brain imaging studies suffered from a 70 percent false positive rate. Sarewitz also notes that decades of nutritional dogma about the alleged health dangers of salt, fats, and red meat appears to be wrong. And then there is the huge problem of epidemiology, which manufactures false positives by the hundreds of thousands. In the last decade of the 20th century, some 80,000 observational studies were published, but the numbers more than tripled to nearly 264,000 between 2001 and 2011. S. Stanley Young of the U.S. National Institute of Statistical Sciences has estimated that only 5 to 10 percent of those observational studies can be replicated. "Within a culture that pressures scientists to produce rather than discover, the outcome is a biased and impoverished science in which most published results are either unconfirmed genuine discoveries or unchallenged fallacies," four British neuroscientists bleakly concluded in a 2014 editorial for the journal AIMS Neuroscience. Some alarmed researchers refer to this situation as the "reproducibility crisis," but Sarewitz convincingly argues that they are not getting to the real source of the rot. The problem starts with the notion, propounded in the MIT technologist Vannevar Bush's famous 1945 report Science: The Endless Frontier, that scientific progress "results from the free play of free intellects, working on subjects of their own choice, in the manner dictated by their curiosity for exploration of the unknown." Sarewitz calls this a "beautiful lie." Why it is a lie? Because it makes "it easy to believe that scientific imagination gives birth to technological progress, when in reality technology sets the agenda for science, guiding it in its most productive directions and providing continual tests of its validity, progress, and value." He adds, "Technology[...]



Most Research Results Are Wrong or Useless: New at Reason

Fri, 26 Aug 2016 13:30:00 -0400

(image) "Science, the pride of modernity, our one source of objective knowledge, is in deep trouble." So begins "Saving Science," an incisive and deeply disturbing essay by Daniel Sarewitz at The New Atlantis. As evidence, Sarewitz, a professor at Arizona State University's School for Future Innovation and Society, points to reams of mistaken or simply useless research findings that have been generated over the past decades.

Some alarmed researchers refer to this situation as the "reproducibility crisis," but Sarewitz convincingly argues that they are not getting to the real source of the rot. The problem starts with the notion, propounded in the MIT technologist Vannevar Bush's famous 1945 report Science: The Endless Frontier, that scientific progress "results from the free play of free intellects, working on subjects of their own choice, in the manner dictated by their curiosity for exploration of the unknown." Sarewitz calls this a "beautiful lie." Why is it a lie? Read the article and find out.