Friday, June 30, 2006

Cell phones cause accidents, new study fancifully pretends.

Wired has an article about cell phones being just as dangerous as alcohol, when it comes to traffic accidents. That's pretty scary, when you consider the fact I see people talking on the phone on every trip I make. I only see drunk drivers one in every two trips.

Luckily, it's all bullshit.

In the US, total highway fatalities have remained essentially the same, maybe declined slightly since 1982, even while cell phone use has grown dramatically.

Meanwhile, alcohol is responsible for about half of those fatalities, about 20,000 per year.

If cell phones are just as deadly, why hasn't the number of highway fatalities increased by 50%? Why haven't highway fatalities increased AT ALL?

Maybe they meant some new type of dangerous, one where no one actually gets hurt.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Going Yellow

"Our ethanol subsidy is... particulary disgraceful..., especially given the availability of much cheaper sugar-based Brazilian ethanol blocked by a high tariff from competing with the ethanol produced from our corn. It is possible though unproven that ethanol as a fuel involves a net reduction in carbon dioxide emissions compared to gasoline and so may help to limit global warming. I qualify with "unproven" because while ethanol is not a fossil fuel and so burning it does not emit carbon dioxide, its production requires fossil fuel. Even if ethanol as a fuel has definite advantages from the standpoint of controlling global warming, this is a poor argument for a subsidy of it, as the subsidy can distort the efficient choice of inputs into the manufacture of fuel. Better would be a tax on carbon dioxide emissions; this would give producers and consumers of fuels and of products utilizing fuels, such as cars and electricity, an incentive to search out the cheapest substitutes for fossil fuels, which might or not include ethanol."
- Judge Posner, The Becker-Posner Blog, on Agricultural Subsidies

So with Ethanol, Bush looks like he actually cares about global warming or our dependence on (foreign) oil, but actually just provides a fat disguised subsidy to corn farmers. I thought the Republican party was supposed to be against welfare. The worst bit is the repackaging of this agenda, as if he's too scared to just tell people where his interests lie (as if we haven't figured it out by now). Yellow, indeed.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Mad USDA Disease

The USDA has threatened Creekstone Farms, a KS meatpacker, with prosecution. For unsafe handling of meat? No. For misleading labeling? No. The USDA is trying to prevent Creekstone from testing its beef for BSE, or mad cow disease.

Some isolated reports have appeared on this issue, on NPR
and in The Chicago Tribune., a website for meat producers, had an article on the issue (mirrored here by

BSE infected meat, when ingested by humans, can lead to vCJD: a horrible and irreversible disease of the brain that is inevitably fatal.

In other words, exactly the sort of contamination the USDA should be fighting before transmission.

The Agency insists that the restrictions in place (on feed, and on animal importation) already protect US beef from contamination, that testing would be unhelpful. This is despite three recent cases of BSE in America, and the Agency's own estimates of 4-7 unreported cases of BSE somewhere in the US. To be fair, this is a small number compared to the large population of cattle in the US. But the severity of the disease, its inability to be cooked out (BSE is not transmitted by microbe, but by a protein), along with the difficulty of detection by natural observation might leave some consumers wanting greater assurances.

Even if not all beef was required to be tested, is there any reason to prevent an individual beef supplier from testing its own beef to cater to its own consumers?

Creekstone is suing the Agency for its refusal to allow them to test their own beef. Creekstone's complaint has been filed in the DC Circuit. Review of Agency action is usually an uphill battle, however.

What can we do?

1) Stop eating beef until the USDA comes around. It's not a boycott if it's for your own protection.

2) Contribute some of your idle computing time to Folding@home. Folding@home is a distributed computer network (the second largest in the world). It uses your computer (but only when you are not) to run simulations to help scientists understand why proteins misfold (like in the case of BSE). The cost to you is negligible, as it only uses your computer when you aren't. But the contribution is positive: scientists have already published research using some of the data. Download it here.

Environmental Defense Fraud?

The science community should be a bastion of truth, an entity working for the greater good, but it has come to my attention recently that it is not, and has not. Organizations one would think worked towards scientific endeavors are in fact organisms themselves (concerned only in their own vitality). I say this after having read State of Fear, a new Michael Crichton novel which I highly recommend, if only to shake certain paradigms you might hold dear (Its like Da Vinci Code for environmental groups, only with an actual bibliography).

I decided to do some research on a particularly harrowing assertion in the book:

"(banning DDT is one of) the greatest tragedies of the 20th century".

Seemed like a stretch to me, since I had last heard that DDT was a carcinogenic pesticide. Apparently, this is an utter fabrication, as the Sweeney Committee noted:

"Extensive hearings on DDT before an EPA administrative law judge occurred during 1971-1972. The EPA hearing examiner, Judge Edmund Sweeney, concluded that "DDT is not a carcinogenic hazard to man... DDT is not a mutagenic or teratogenic hazard to man... The use of DDT under the regulations involved here do not have a deleterious effect on freshwater fish, estuarine organisms, wild birds or other wildlife."

[Sweeney, EM. 1972. EPA Hearing Examiner's recommendations and findings concerning DDT hearings, April 25, 1972 (40 CFR 164.32, 113 pages). Summarized in Barrons (May 1, 1972) and Oregonian (April 26, 1972)]

Nevertheless, William Ruckelshaus, the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency who made the ultimate decision to ban DDT in 1972, was a member of the Environmental Defense Fund. Ruckelshaus solicited donations for EDF on his personal stationery that read "EDF's scientists blew the whistle on DDT by showing it to be a cancer hazard, and three years later, when the dust had cleared, EDF had won."

These environmental activists planned to defame scientists who defended DDT. In an uncontradicted deposition in a federal lawsuit, Victor Yannacone, a founder of the Environmental Defense Fund, testified that he attended a meeting in which Roland Clement of the Audubon Society and officials of the Environmental Defense Fund decided that University of California-Berkeley professor and DDT-supporter Thomas H. Jukes was to be muzzled by attacking his credibility.[21st Century, Spring 1992]

In addition, scientific journals have begun to issue directives to scientists requesting their journals be identified more often to increase their impact ratings (like Nielsens for scientific journals).

What is the solution? Double-blind funding for the sciences? Do we need change or is the natural state of scientific research and political meddling that will lead us (eventually) to the proper medium. I personally don't mind a ban on DDT, but what about the 300 million people per year that are affected by malaria?