Published: Wed, 28 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Last Build Date: Wed, 28 Sep 2016 11:55:28 -0400
Mon, 26 Sep 2016 08:00:00 -0400If 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 on which the earlier analysis relied. "Contrary to most previous studies, we found no evidence that comprehensive public place smoking bans lowered hospitalization rates in the short term for AMI or heart failure," Ho et al. write. "The relative[...]
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.
Wed, 14 Sep 2016 07:39:00 -0400The 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.[...]
Tue, 13 Sep 2016 11:33:00 -0400Newly 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 still based more on money and politics than sound science. The latest update to federal dietary guidelines still cautions against saturated fat and sodium. Members of the committee that developed these guidelines have accepted funding from industry [...]
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 keeps science honest." Basically, research detached from trying to solve well-defined problems spins off self-validating, career-enhancing publications like those breast cancer studies that actually were using skin cancer cells. Yet no patients[...]
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.
Thu, 25 Aug 2016 15:03:00 -0400
(image) Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson has apparently had a change of heart with regard to requiring childhood vaccinations. In my earlier evaluation of Johnson's stands on various science policy issues, I reported that I could "find no statements from Johnson suggesting that he thinks that vaccination might cause autism. In 2015, Our America Initiative, a non-profit co-founded by Gary Johnson, announced that it supported a Mississippi advocacy group's effort to place "childhood vaccination decisions into the hands of parents and doctors." I gave Johnson a "PASS" based on the fact that he hadn't fallen for the scientifically false claim that vaccination causes autism.
Now, according to Vermont Public Radio, Johnson has rethought his views on mandatory vaccination. Johnson says in the interview:
I've come to find out that without mandatory vaccines, the vaccines that would in fact be issued would not be effective," he said. "So … it's dependent that you have mandatory vaccines so that every child is immune. Otherwise, not all children will be immune even though they receive a vaccine."
Johnson said he believes vaccination policy should be handled at the local level.
"In my opinion, this is a local issue. If it ends up to be a federal issue, I would come down on the side of science and I would probably require that vaccine," he said.
Johnson said his position changed recently.
"It's an evolution actually just in the last few months, just in the last month or so," he said. "I was under the belief that … 'Why require a vaccine? If I don't want my child to have a vaccine and you want yours to, let yours have the vaccine and they'll be immune.' Well, it turns out that that's not the case, and it may sound terribly uninformed on my part, but I didn't realize that."
Good for him. Johnson clearly recognizes that vaccinations safely protect people from diseases. In addition, he has now come to recognize the importance of herd immunity for protecting vulnerable people who are too young to be vaccinated, whose vaccinations have failed to take, and those whose immune systems are compromised.
For more background, see my article, "Refusing Vaccination Puts Others Risk," in which I explain that there is no principled libertarian case for free-riders to refuse to take responsibility for their own microbes.
For a broader debate, see "Should Vaccines Be Mandatory?"
Wed, 24 Aug 2016 14:35:00 -0400Have you ever looked at "MILF" photos? Lusted after someone with "dad bod?" Congratulations, you might be a mesophiliac! "Mesophilia"—a sexual attraction to middle-aged adults—is one of dozens of potential sexual-orientations explored in a new paper from forensic psychologist Michael Seto, an associate professor at the University of Toronto and director of forensic rehabilitation research at the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group. Seto's research has long focused on sexuality, especially the psychology of sex offenders and of pedophiles. In his latest paper, published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, Seto returns to and expands upon "the idea that pedophilia, a sexual interest in prepubescent children, can be considered a sexual orientation for age, in conjunction with the much more widely acknowledged and discussed sexual orientation for gender." The gendered direction of attraction is usually what we mean when we talk about sexual orientation: are you gay? straight? bisexual? But a burgeoning idea among sex researchers and psychologists is that this defines things too narrowly. As Jesse Singal explains at New York mag, "given the current scientific understanding of what sexual orientation is — that it is a deep-seated attraction toward certain sorts of people that first manifests itself around puberty, tends to be stable across the lifespan, and can't be altered by any intentional means — there's compelling reason to think gender is just one piece of a bigger, more complex puzzle." Even the gender dimension is more complex than most realize, writes Seto, with some people "attracted to gynandromorphs, that is... individuals with physical features of both sexes ... other individuals who are attracted specifically to transgender people, and those who would describe themselves as more pansexual with regard to gender, for example, being attracted to both cis- and trans-gender women or men." According to Seto—who defines sexual orientation as "essential aspects of one's sexuality that organize sexual attention, sexual response, and sexual behavior"—all of us have "multiple sexual orientations, rather than a single sexual orientation, across a variety of different dimensions." In his paper, Seto looks at seven chronophilias—orientations where sexual attraction hinges on age—and various paraphilias, the term given to sexual desires such as sadism, masochism, and exhibitionism. After gender, the second most-studied dimension for sexual attraction has been age. The vast majority of people are teleiophilic—that is, preferring sexually mature but pre-middle-age adults. For men, data indicates that around one percent are pedophilic (attracted to prepubescent children), notes Seto, while nepiophilia (attraction to infants and toddlers) is much more rare and hebephilia (attraction to children around ages 11-14) and ephebophilia (attraction to adolescents) both more common. Good estimates are hard to come by, however, as "little is known about noncriminal variations in age interests" and most of the research that does exist is exclusive to men. Sexual orientations are thought to be innate—i.e., a person can't choose to stop getting turned-on by feet or dominance or dad-bod anymore than they can choose to stop sexually reacting as they do to the opposite or same sex. This tends to alarm folks who think that calling something natural is to condone anything it inspires. But psychopathy and sociopathy are innate, or natural, too. The born-this-way element of sexual orientation doesn't mean that acting on an orientation is OK when it conflicts with other moral or social norms we've nurtured. Likewise, sexual orientations are psychologically neutral, notes Seto—that is, having an unusual orientation isn't, in itself, enough to raise mental-health concerns. But any particular sexual orientation might rise to the level of disorder i[...]
Wed, 24 Aug 2016 12:35:00 -0400When you find yourselves turning to the lyrics of a Lady Gaga song as evidence of a widespread "myth" about scientific research, maybe take a step back for a moment and reconsider your angle, The New Atlantis is a journal about science published by the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center. It's not a peer-reviewed science journal—it's an opinion journal about science. Don't take this as criticism—we're not hypocrites. We write opinion pieces frequently that are informed by science but are also intended to push forward liberty-minded policies. They have a brand new journal out getting attention in conservative circles that purports to provide "the most up-to-date explanation of many of the most rigorous findings produced by the biological, physiological, and social sciences related to sexual orientation and gender identity." What this report is really about is pointing out how many theories about sexual orientation and gender identity are exactly that—theories. Lady Gaga's song "Born This Way," is invoked early on in the study as an example of pushing a theory that sexual orientation is innate and that the science on the matter is settled when it is not. Essentially, what this "Sexuality and Gender" report is intended to do is increase an emphasis on the ambiguity of the research to help push against public policies that want to treat everything about sexuality and gender identity as "settled science." The reality, though, is that much of what is in the report is not in any way, shape, or form "debunking" any "myths," as David French puts it at the National Review, because while some people may believe sexuality is innate, the science has been fairly consistent in saying the reasons currently remain inconclusive. (And since we don't have a scientifically confirmed explanation of where sexual orientation comes from, nothing has even been "debunked.") In fact, here's how the American Psychological Association (APA) itself responds to the question "What causes a person to have a particular sexual orientation?" There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles; most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation. That the APA doesn't classify homosexuality as a "mental illness" any longer and opposes efforts by therapists to change people's sexual orientation does not mean that the APA has concluded that sexual orientation is inherent or unchanging. The New Atlantis study also puts out these nuggets: Members of the non-heterosexual population are estimated to have about 1.5 times higher risk of experiencing anxiety disorders than members of the heterosexual population, as well as roughly double the risk of depression, 1.5 times the risk of substance abuse, and nearly 2.5 times the risk of suicide. Members of the transgender population are also at higher risk of a variety of mental health problems compared to members of the non-transgender population. Especially alarmingly, the rate of lifetime suicide attempts across all ages of transgender individuals is estimated at 41%, compared to under 5% in the overall U.S. population. What's fascinating about tossing out these numbers is that, first of all, they have nothing to do with the legitimacy of non-heterosexual orientations on gender identity. It's information intended to cast doubt on the state of minds of gay and transgender people without actually establishing a correlation. (To the study's c[...]
Wed, 24 Aug 2016 06:30:00 -0400
(image) Rick Doblin, who as head of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) has been trying for years to jump through the hoops required to get marijuana approved as a medicine, says the Drug Enforcement Administration's new willingness to license more than one producer of cannabis for research will finally make it at least theoretically possible to complete that process.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has long had exclusive control over the legal supply of marijuana, which is grown by a single contractor at the University of Mississippi. In a legal battle that lasted more than a decade, MAPS tried to break that monopoly, which was a crucial barrier to meeting the Food and Drug Administration's requirements for approving a new medicine. The problem was not just the quality and variety of marijuana available from NIDA, or the agency's lack of enthusiasm for studies aimed at demonstrating the drug's benefits rather than its hazards. It was also the fact that NIDA's marijuana is available only for research, not for sale to patients following FDA approval.
"The FDA requires the Phase III studies be conducted with the exact same drug that the sponsor of the research is trying to market," Doblin explained in a recent interview on the Pacifica drug policy show Century of Lies. "So as long as the NIDA monopoly was in existence, FDA would never accept its marijuana for use in Phase III, and we could never get data that was necessary to reschedule."
MAPS is about to start a Phase II study of marijuana as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans, for example, but it has to use marijuana from NIDA. Since federally approved researchers are not allowed to buy marijuana from state-licensed suppliers in Colorado or Washington, NIDA is the only legal source. One problem with that is MAPS could not get all the strains it wanted: It asked for one with 12 percent THC and 12 percent cannabidiol (CBD), which NIDA did not have. But even if NIDA had a bigger variety, its marijuana would not be suitable for Phase III studies should the Phase II results look promising.
Now that the DEA has agreed to authorize other growers, research sponsors like MAPS can apply for licenses or contract with new licensees, which will make it possible to ensure that the marijuana used in their studies is the same as the marijuana they plan to make available as a medicine. "What's been so frustrating [is] that, on the one hand, the federal government has said there's not enough evidence to reschedule marijuana," Doblin said, "but on the other hand, they've blocked the ability to get the evidence. And so now that DEA has said that they'll end the NIDA monopoly, that evidence can be gathered....It's going to take four to six years, it could be $15 to $25 million, to gather it. But at least it's possible now, whereas before it was not possible."
Thu, 11 Aug 2016 06:30:00 -0400Today the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is expected to reject two petitions asking it to reclassify marijuana while agreeing to loosen restrictions on the supply of marijuana for medical research. Although the drug's legal status will remain the same, the DEA's willingness to allow competition among marijuana suppliers should facilitate research by removing a bureaucratic bottleneck and improving the quality and variety of cannabis available to scientists investigating the plant's medical benefits. The Washington Post reports that the DEA, despite much speculation to the contrary, is sticking to its longstanding position that marijuana belongs in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), a category supposedly reserved for drugs with "a high potential for abuse" and "no currently accepted medical use," drugs so dangerous that they cannot be used safely even under a doctor's supervision. It is doubtful that marijuana meets any of those criteria, let alone all three. But the DEA, which has wide discretion to interpret and apply the CSA criteria, has always insisted that marijuana must stay in Schedule I until its medical utility is proven by the sort of large, expensive, randomized clinical trials the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) demands before approving a new pharmaceutical. While such studies have been conducted with marijuana's main active ingredient (which is how Marinol, a capsule containing synthetic THC, was approved by the FDA in 1985) and are under way with Sativex, an oral cannabis extract spray, they have not been conducted with the whole plant. Consultation with the FDA is part of the scheduling process, and the Post reports that the agency unsurprisingly "concluded that medical and scientific data do not yet prove that marijuana is safe and effective as a medicine." The Post says that conclusion "prohibits the DEA from reclassifying the drug," which is not quite true, because the DEA is not obligated to define "currently accepted medical use" as narrowly as it does. But unless the DEA decided to repudiate that court-approved interpretation, it was inevitable that it would respond to the two latest rescheduling petitions the same way it responded to three earlier ones. The DEA's decision to start licensing additional suppliers of marijuana is more surprising. Currently the only authorized source is the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which obtains marijuana from a contractor at the University of Mississippi. That monopoly is anomalous, since the DEA allows multiple licensees to produce other Schedule I drugs for research. Scientists have complained that NIDA, whose mission emphasizes marijuana's hazards, has been reluctant to share its stash with researchers interested in marijuana's benefits. They also have been frustrated by the mediocre quality and minimal variety of NIDA's marijuana. Although the agency recently started offering strains that are high in cannabidiol, a compound in marijuana that shows promise in treating seizures, it still does not offer the high-THC strains that some researchers are interested in studying. Despite these problems, the DEA has until now insisted on maintaining NIDA's marijuana monopoly, which is one of the ways it has obstructed the research it says is necessary to move marijuana out of Schedule I. A 2001 attempt to get DEA approval for a private source of marijuana, backed by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), dragged on for a decade and ultimately failed, despite a positive ruling from an administrative law judge. The DEA rejected the MAPS petition in January 2009, just before Barack Obama took office. Instead of reversing that decision, Obama appointed the acting administrator who made it, Michele Leonhart, to head the agency. Now Leonhart, wh[...]
Fri, 29 Jul 2016 11:04:00 -0400After pulling over the aptly named Daniel Rushing for failing to make a complete stop as he left the parking lot of a 7-11 in Orlando and driving 12 miles an hour above the speed limit, Cpl. Shelby Riggs-Hopkins "observed in plain view a rock-like substance on the floor board where his feet were." The eagle-eyed, street-savvy cop later recalled that she "recognized, through my eleven years of training and experience as a law enforcement officer, the substance to be some sort of narcotic." The suspect "stated that the substance is sugar from a Krispy Kreme Donut that he ate," but Riggs-Hopkins knew better: Two field tests of the "rock-like substance" gave "a positive indication for the presence of amphetamines." Rushing was handcuffed, arrested, and taken to the county jail, where he was strip-searched and locked up for 10 hours before being released on $2,500 bail. Three days later, after a lab test found no illegal substance in the evidence recovered by Riggs-Hopkins, the charges against Rushing were dropped. The lab test was not specific enough to identify which brand of donut the glaze came from, so we'll just have to take Rushing's word that it was indeed a Krispy Kreme. "I kept telling them, 'That's…glaze from a doughnut," Rushing said in a recent interview with the Orlando Sentinel. "They tried to say it was crack cocaine at first. Then they said, 'No, it's meth, crystal meth.'" While the story sounds funny from a distance, Rushing was not laughing then, and he isn't now. He plans to sue the Orlando Police Department for arbitrarily depriving him of his liberty. "I got arrested for no reason at all," he said. "It feels scary when you haven't done anything wrong and get arrested.…It's just a terrible feeling." Riggs-Hopkins was surveilling the 7-11 in response to "citizen complaints about drug activity" and thought it was suspicious that Rushing, who was giving a lift to a friend who worked at the convenience store, left without buying anything, in the company of a "black female employee of the 7-11." So in addition to the faux expertise of overconfident drug warriors, this episode illustrates the dangers posed by pretextual traffic stops, which are often followed by searches. Like many innocent people, Rushing agreed to let the cops search his car, and they found another nugget of glaze/meth. "I didn't have anything to hide," Rushing explained. Or so he thought. He did not understand the incriminating power of innocuous substances combined with faulty field tests. "I'll never let anyone search my car again," he told the Sentinel. Although Rushing learned a valuable lesson from this episode, it is doubtful that police did. Even after years of stories like this one, cops either do not know or do not care that the tests on which they rely to arrest people for drug offenses routinely react to legal substances as if they were contraband. A few days before the Sentinel ran its story about Rushing's pending lawsuit, officials in Hugo, Colorado, rescinded warnings that residents should not drink the local tap water because it was contaminated by THC. As in Rushing's case, multiple field tests of Hugo water supposedly showed it was psychoactive. Denver's CBS affiliate reports that the Colorado Bureau of Investigation "ultimately determined there was no THC in the town's water after six of 10 tests were said to be false positives."[...]
Tue, 26 Jul 2016 08:00:00 -0400Flying is the worst. With each commercial flight, Americans get groped, jostled, cramped, and corralled like cattle. But the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) isn't the only government agency that needlessly adds to our jet-setting woes. If not for Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) meddling in supersonic flight innovation, we could zip around the world in a fraction of the time. Five decades ago, the future of aerospace engineering was incredibly bright. As international rivals raced to put humans into space, scientists applied new technologies to improve the speed, comfort, and safety of terrestrial air travel. The U.S.-based McDonnell Douglas and Boeing spearheaded the era of commercial jet transportation with the introduction of the Douglas DC-8 and Boeing 707 in the late 1950s. Our European friends got into the aviation game in the 1970s with the Airbus A300, while Lockheed Martin followed up with the L-1011 TriStar around the same time. With competition and research came innovation. By the mid-1970s, engineers were building "supersonic" aircraft capable of traveling well above 767 miles per hour (mph), the speed of sound. In one decade, the top airplane speed on record more than doubled, from 698.5 mph in 1952 to 1,665.9 mph in 1962. By 1976, U.S. military pilot Eldon W. Joerz managed to navigate the Lockheed SR-71 "Blackbird" to a blazing 2,193 mph, almost three times the speed of sound. Commercial crafts never traveled quite that fast. But supersonic civilian flight was indeed once a reality. From 1976 to 2003, passengers in a hurry could hop on a majestic Concorde supersonic airliner in London's Heathrow Airport and arrive in New York City in a little over three measly hours. Try the same on a boring old Boeing 747 and you're looking at a travel time of at least 7 or 8 hours. Very few of us have enjoyed the thrill and convenience of a supersonic flight. This is partly due to economics: Both the Concorde (1,350 mph) and the Soviet Union's Tupolev Tu-44 (1,200 mph) faced early retirements for financial reasons. But this does not explain why top airplane speeds have lagged behind for so many decades. Today, most airlines cruise at altitudes well below the speed of sound, with a standard Boeing 747-B clocking in at a ho-hum 570 mph cruising speed. My Mercatus Center colleagues Eli Dourado and Michael Kotrous recently dug into airspeed data compiled by Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), an international sports aviation measurement and standard-setting body. Their finding: Innovation in air travel speeds came to a grinding halt after Joerz's still-unbroken record-setting feat in 1976. You can thank the FAA for this continued mediocrity in air travel. In 1973, amid ample developments in supersonic flight, the FAA bizarrely decided to prohibit supersonic travel (SST) over the US. Why? When an aircraft travels faster than the speed of sound, it generates shock waves that become compressed into one super-loud "sonic boom." The FAA and other civilian activists were concerned about the potential damage that SST flights could do to the environment or to civil infrastructure. Unfortunately, evidence-based policy-making did not guide the FAA's supersonic ban. Knee-jerk techno-skepticism did. When the development of the Concorde was announced in 1962, a group of anti-SST scientists and concerned laypeople rallied to stop the march of progress in aviation. A Swedish aeronautics engineer named Bo Lundberg provided much of the academic antagonism, publishing articles through his aviation research institute suggesting that the public would reject the nuisance of SST sonic booms. A British primary-school teacher and environmentalist named Richard Wiggs also activated the publ[...]
Fri, 15 Jul 2016 06:30:00 -0400
(image) Although field tests for illegal drugs are notoriously unreliable, the law enforcement agencies that use them don't seem to have heard the news. In my latest Forbes column, I note that cops and prosecutors continue to put unjustified faith in these tests despite the national publicity attracted by cases in which people are falsely incriminated by them:
In 2007 Don Bolles, drummer for the punk rock band the Germs, was arrested for possession of the banned depressant GHB, commonly known as the "date rape drug," after police in Newport Beach, California, pulled over his van because of a broken taillight. The charges were dropped after a lab test showed that the bottle of "yellowish goop" in his toiletry bag contained exactly what the label said: an all-natural, peppermint-infused cleanser produced by Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap.
In 2012 Robert and Adlynn Harte were awakened by sheriff's deputies pounding on the door of their house in Leawood, Kansas, demanding entry so they could search the place for the marijuana plants they were sure they'd find there. The deputies forced Robert Harte to the floor at gunpoint and then confined him, his wife, their 7-year-old daughter, and their 13-year-old son to the living room sofa while they spent two and a half hours looking in vain for evidence of criminal activity. It turned out that the "saturated plant material" deputies found in the couple's kitchen garbage was not marijuana but loose tea.
In 2013 Alexander Bernstein spent a month in a Pennsylvania jail after state troopers pulled over the rental car in which he was riding, found "two brick-size packages" of white powder in the trunk, and charged him with possessing and conspiring to distribute cocaine. His bail, originally set at $500,000, was reduced to $25,000 four weeks later, which is how he finally managed to get out of jail. Five days after his release, a lab test showed the white powder was what he had claimed all along: homemade soap.
These are just a few examples of the periodically publicized brushes with the law caused by unreliable but widely used field tests for illegal drugs. Many people suffer consequences worse than the embarrassment, legal costs, and temporary loss of freedom experienced by Bolles (who spent three days in jail), the Hartes (who had to mount an expensive legal battle just to find out why their house was searched and so far have been rebuffed in their attempt to win compensation), and Bernstein (who last fall sued the state troopers responsible for his arrest and detention). In this week's New York Times Magazine, ProPublica reporters Ryan Gabrielson and Topher Sanders estimate that thousands of Americans have been not just falsely accused but falsely convicted of drug crimes based on erroneous field test results.
Thu, 14 Jul 2016 13:03:00 -0400
(image) While the Food and Drug Administration and Congress dither over what to do about the high probability that the Zika virus will start spreading via Aedes aegypti mosquitoes later this year, GMO mosquitoes are reducing their numbers dramatically in tests in Brazil. The FDA issued a finding of no significant impact back in March, but at the behest of anti-biotech activists kept the comment period open until mid-May. Consequently, communities are not permitted to deploy biotech mosquitoes to protect their citizens. The technology acts by creating male mosquitoes that pass along a gene that is fatal to mosquito larva. Does it work?
In a press release, the company reports the results of a test deployment in the city of Piracicaba in Brazil:
Piracicaba's Epidemiologic Surveillance service released new data this week which showed a 91% reduction of dengue fever cases registered in the CECAP/Eldorado district, an area of 5,000 residents, in the 2015/2016 dengue-year as compared to the 2014/2015 period. The incidence decreased to just 12 cases in 2015/2016, the first year in which Friendly™ Aedes, the genetically engineered mosquitoes that fight wild Aedes aegypti, were released there, versus 133 cases in the previous year. According to Epidemiologic Surveillance the rest of the municipality saw a 52% reduction in dengue fever incidence during the same period, from 3,487 cases in the 2014/2015 period to 1,676 cases in 2015/2016.
Additionally, the overall incidence rate in CECAP/Eldorado for the dengue-year 2014/2015 was 195% larger than the rate recorded for the rest of the municipality. In the dengue-year 2015/2016, the rate in CECAP/Eldorado was 45% lower than the rate in the rest of the municipality.
Would releasing GMO mosquitoes help control Zika virus in the U.S.? Since Aedes aegypti is a vector for both dengue and Zika, the answer is very likely, yes. So get with it regulators: Free the Friendly Aedes!