Quotulatiousness

May 28, 2015

The ways that scientific journalism fails

Filed under: Media,Science — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At Vox.com, Julia Belluz and Steven Hoffman show how perverse incentives and human frailty contribute to the wasted efforts — and sometimes outright fraudulent methods — that get “scientific” results published. It’s getting so bad that “the editor of The Lancet … recently lamented, ‘Much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue.'”:

From study design to dissemination of research, there are dozens of ways science can go off the rails. Many of the scientific studies that are published each year are poorly designed, redundant, or simply useless. Researchers looking into the problem have found that more than half of studies fail to take steps to reduce biases, such as blinding whether people receive treatment or placebo.

In an analysis of 300 clinical research papers about epilepsy — published in 1981, 1991, and 2001 — 71 percent were categorized as having no enduring value. Of those, 55.6 percent were classified as inherently unimportant and 38.8 percent as not new. All told, according to one estimate, about $200 billion — or the equivalent of 85 percent of global spending on research — is routinely wasted on flawed and redundant studies.

After publication, there’s the well-documented irreproducibility problem — the fact that researchers often can’t validate findings when they go back and run experiments again. Just last month, a team of researchers published the findings of a project to replicate 100 of psychology’s biggest experiments. They were only able to replicate 39 of the experiments, and one observer — Daniele Fanelli, who studies bias and scientific misconduct at Stanford University in California — told Nature that the reproducibility problem in cancer biology and drug discovery may actually be even more acute.

Indeed, another review found that researchers at Amgen were unable to reproduce 89 percent of landmark cancer research findings for potential drug targets. (The problem even inspired a satirical publication called the Journal of Irreproducible Results.)

So why aren’t these problems caught prior to publication of a study? Consider peer review, in which scientists send their papers to other experts for vetting prior to publication. The idea is that those peers will detect flaws and help improve papers before they are published as journal articles. Peer review won’t guarantee that an article is perfect or even accurate, but it’s supposed to act as an initial quality-control step.

Yet there are flaws in this traditional “pre-publication” review model: it relies on the goodwill of scientists who are increasingly pressed and may not spend the time required to properly critique a work, it’s subject to the biases of a select few, and it’s slow – so it’s no surprise that peer review sometimes fails. These factors raise the odds that even in the highest-quality journals, mistakes, flaws, and even fraudulent work will make it through. (“Fake peer review” reports are also now a thing.)

May 26, 2015

Nice guys really do finish last

Filed under: Business,Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At least, that’s what this article in The Atlantic by Jerry Useem says:

At the University of Amsterdam, researchers have found that semi-obnoxious behavior not only can make a person seem more powerful, but can make them more powerful, period. The same goes for overconfidence. Act like you’re the smartest person in the room, a series of striking studies demonstrates, and you’ll up your chances of running the show. People will even pay to be treated shabbily: snobbish, condescending salespeople at luxury retailers extract more money from shoppers than their more agreeable counterparts do. And “agreeableness,” other research shows, is a trait that tends to make you poorer. “We believe we want people who are modest, authentic, and all the things we rate positively” to be our leaders, says Jeffrey Pfeffer, a business professor at Stanford. “But we find it’s all the things we rate negatively”—like immodesty—“that are the best predictors of higher salaries or getting chosen for a leadership position.”

Pfeffer is concerned for his M.B.A. students: “Most of my students have a problem because they’re way too nice.”

He tells a story about a former student who visited his office. The young man had been kicked out of his start-up by — Pfeffer speaks the words incredulously — the Stanford alumni mentor he himself had invited into his company. Had there been warning signs?, Pfeffer asked. Yes, said the student. He hadn’t heeded them, because he’d figured the mentor was too big of a deal in Silicon Valley to bother meddling in his little affairs.

“What happens if you put a python and a chicken in a cage together?,” Pfeffer asked him. The former student looked lost. “Does the python ask what kind of chicken it is? No. The python eats the chicken. And that’s what she” — the alumni mentor — “does. She eats people like you for breakfast.”

In Grant’s framework, the mentor in this story would be classified as a “taker,” which brings us to a major complexity in his findings. Givers dominate not only the top of the success ladder but the bottom, too, precisely because they risk exploitation by takers. It’s a nuance that’s often lost in the book’s popular rendering. “I’ve become the nice-guys-finish-first guy,” he told me.

Give and Take seeks to pinpoint what, exactly, separates successful givers from “doormat” givers (the subtleties of which we will return to). But it does not consider what separates successful jerks, like Steve Jobs, from failed ones like … well, Steve Jobs, who was pushed out of his start-up by the mentor he’d recruited, in 1985.

The fact is, me-first behavior is highly adaptive in certain professional situations, just like selflessness is in others. The question is, why — and, for those inclined to the instrumental, how can you distinguish between the two?

May 22, 2015

QotD: Triggers and triggering

Filed under: Health,Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The thing is, triggering is a valid concept in psychology and counseling. But it has been swiped and used inappropriately.

The area I’m familiar with is Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), but it’s a useful concept in other areas, like PTSD. DID is what used to be called “multiple personality disorder.” Years ago I married a woman with DID. She was high functioning, but under stress, she started switching alters (terms of art). In other words, she started changing personalities. I didn’t know it at the time, so the behavior appeared either deliberate and purely evil, or it was some form of extreme psychosis. I didn’t know. I couldn’t tell. This is where a little knowledge on my part would have gone a long way.* It turns out I was triggering her. I know this in retrospect, having put the pieces together in the time since. I’m the one who increased her stress. My stark reactions to her behavior made her switching worse. I was, frankly, scared out of my wits, and my honest what the hell? responses were damaging. I was a machine gun of triggers. Worst of all, I eventually brought out her protection alters. These personalities will defend the ego at any cost. They lack empathy and, indeed, appear sociopathic. They have to. They have a job to do.

    * She didn’t tell me. Knowing what was going on — knowing about DID and triggering — would have allowed me to respond properly. The right way is to a) be attuned to the possibility of a switch and b) be polite and respectful when one arises and kindly explain to the “new personality” things like where you are, how you got there and, most importantly, that everything is okay. Here’s an example of when this would have been helpful: she switched in a grocery store checkout line once. She suddenly appeared surprised and bewildered to be standing there. She seemed amazed at her clothes. I didn’t know what was going on, but at least I didn’t say anything that time. My private reaction: “What the hell was that?” The best reaction would have been something like, “Hi, hon. We stopped by here on the way home from work. So glad it’s Friday. I’m looking forward to the cookout tonight.”

Another thing caring family members and friends can do is develop a mental list of potential triggers and try to avoid them. The point is, this is what the the concept of “triggering” is all about. This is who triggering is for. It’s for people who have serious medical issues. It’s not about the New Victorians and things that make them uncomfy, even if they do get the vapours on occasion.

The concept of triggering is for those who are close to a person who is hurting: family members, close friends, and mental health professionals. It is for when you are knowingly dealing with someone who has a problem. If you know a topic, a word, or an image that might cause someone difficulty, you can avoid it. Accordingly, trigger warnings are for known situations where sufferers might encounter common triggers, like if you’re conducting a seminar for people with PTSD or writing a book for people with DID. Triggering is not a concern for the general public. You and I do not have to worry about triggering some unknown person. There is no way to trigger-proof our entire culture on the chance you might affect a stranger with an emotional or mental problem. And there is absolutely no need to worry about triggering Social Justice Warrior snowflakes and prudes. No one has to walk on eggshells around them. They need to learn to own their feelings.

Speech police types who use triggering improperly to shut down speech are misguided. Opposing political views should be discussed. Comedy does not have to be anodyne. Stories and movies need not be bland, and we do not need to live in a way that kowtows to those with aggressively delicate sensibilities. Unless you’re dealing with a family member or a friend who has a real problem, say what you want to say. Don’t allow the speech police to make fun, free expression taboo.

rdbrewer, “Triggers and Triggering”, Ace of Spades H.Q., 2015-05-13.

May 21, 2015

Jonathan Kay, ebike martyr

Filed under: Cancon,Environment,Humour,Media,Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Despite having become the editor-in-chief of The Walrus, poor Jonathan Kay suffers the slings and arrows of all those who condemn and ridicule his ridiculous choice of transportation ebike (especially from his own staff):

City planners think of transportation in terms of its logistical and infrastructural components. That’s also how the issue gets discussed in the context of, say, energy conservation and traffic management. But when it comes to the transportation products we actually buy, our utilitarian calculus is overwhelmed by our aesthetic biases. When the Segway scooter had its great reveal in 2001, few observers cared about its groundbreaking self-balancing technology. All they saw was a nerd standing upright, wearing a funny helmet.

It is a lesson I have learned again over the last year, at great cost in dignity and personal reputation, as I have motored around Toronto on an ebike — a zero-emission electric scooter that travels at speeds of up to 32 km/h. As I noted in an essay last year, ebikes combine the low cost and convenience of a bicycle, while allowing a user to get to work without an ounce of sweat or a stitch of lycra.

In a more perfect world, the streets of our cities would be humming with ebikes. But that is not the world we inhabit. After a year of evangelizing these fantastically useful, earth-friendly contraptions among my peer group, I’ve failed to gain a single new convert.

Just the opposite, in fact: I have become a figure of overt and willfully cruel mockery.

Jonathan Kay - ebike ad

May 20, 2015

Scuttled Soviet submarines in the Arctic

Filed under: Environment,Europe,Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

The Soviet Union had a remarkably casual approach to disposing of nuclear-powered submarines that were no longer useful in active service:

Russian scientists have made a worst-case scenario map for possible spreading of radionuclides from the wreck of the K-159 nuclear-powered submarine that sank twelve years ago in one of the best fishing areas of the Barents Sea.

Mikhail Kobrinsky with the Nuclear Safety Institute of the Russian Academy of Science says the sunken November-class submarine can’t stay at the seabed. The two reactors contain 800 kilos of spent uranium fuel.

The map shows expected spreading of radioactive Cs-137 from potential releases from the K-159 that still lays on the seabed northeast of Murmansk in the Barents Sea.

The map shows expected spreading of radioactive Cs-137 from potential releases from the K-159 that still lays on the seabed northeast of Murmansk in the Barents Sea.

At a recent seminar in Murmansk organized jointly by Russia’s nuclear agency Rosatom and the Norwegian environmental group Bellona, Kobrinsky presented the scenario map most fishermen in the Barents Sea would get nightmares by seeing.

Some areas could be sealed off for commercial fisheries for up to two years, Mikhail Kobrinsky explained.

Ocean currents would bring the radioactivity eastwards in the Barents Sea towards the inlet to the White Sea in the south and towards the Pechora Sea and Novaya Zemlya in the northeast.

May 18, 2015

Your diet isn’t working. And neither is yours. And yours, too.

Filed under: Health — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In the Washington Post, Roberto A. Ferdman dishes the dirt on every diet guru’s most brilliant brain-fart … they don’t actually work.

For centuries, men and women have worked tirelessly to fit the physical molds of their time. Diets, which have ranged from the straightforward to the colorful and kind of silly, have produced a wide range of results — and all sorts of followings.

Not long ago, the Atkins diet villainized carbohydrates and convinced millions to avoid starches of any kind. Today, the Paleo diet, which purports to emulate the eating habits and digestive systems of ancient humans who lived for many fewer years than people on average do today, is perhaps the most popular — or at least talked about — dietary fad. Soon there will be another fad that sweeps the dieting conversation. And another one.

The question that seems to hover over all this diet talk is whether any of the myriad weight loss schemes have worked. If one had, shouldn’t it have survived the test of time? And if we’ve gone this long without a diet that has been shown to work — according to science, not simply the sellers of the fad — will one ever emerge that actually does?

The short answer is no, according to Traci Mann, who teaches psychology at the University of Minnesota and has been studying eating habits, self-control and dieting for more than 20 years. Over the course of her research, largely conducted at the University of Minnesota’s Health and Eating Lab, Mann has repeatedly asked these sorts of questions, and always found the same disappointing answers.

May 15, 2015

QotD: Portuguese genetics

Filed under: Europe,History,Quotations,Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

On the face of it it sounds like the nice narrative we are fed every time something like this happens. I haven’t been following the international scene, and frankly it wouldn’t even surprise me if Europe headed for nativism and blood-related nationality. It is what is at the basis of their nation states (even if it’s often a lie. For instance I’d hazard that a lot of people in Portugal — yes, d*mn it, I’ll do the DNA testing. Let the house sell and let me have some money first — are as mixed as Americans. My kids call Portugal the reservoir tip at the end of Europe, which is unkind but somewhat accurate since that portion of land was part of the Celtic commonwealth, before being invaded by Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Germanic tribes, Moors (though their contribution in the North is minimal as the North was usually administered by overseers with little or no actual colonization) French crusaders, Viking raiders. Then there were British and Irish merchants due to ties going back before the Carthaginians who would set up trading posts, send their younger sons over, sometimes engage in a bit of raiding, etc. There are unkind proverbs about blue eyed Portuguese, but there are also a lot of them. (Two of my grandparents. A third was green eyed.) And in the end sometimes I think all of us are the result of some girl who tripped (on purpose or not) while evading a foreigner. All this to say that when my dad talks of the “The Portuguese Race” (and boy, does he) he’s mostly talking of a mythical entity. But it’s one they all believe in as hard as they can.)

Sarah A. Hoyt, “Multiculturalism IS Racism”, According to Hoyt, 2015-04-04.

May 10, 2015

“…the Venn diagram circles of ‘scientists’ and ‘Lord of the Rings fans’ have a large overlap”

Filed under: Media,Science,Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In The Atlantic, Julie Beck wonders “What has it got in its academic journals, precious?”

Though at first glance, science and fantasy seem to be polar opposites, the Venn diagram circles of “scientists” and “Lord of the Rings fans” have a large overlap. One could (lovingly!) label that region “nerds.”

Fight me on that if you want, but there’s plenty of evidence that suggests scientists love J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic. Several newly discovered animal species have been named after characters from the books — a genus of wasps in New Zealand is now called Shireplitis, with species S. bilboi, S. frodoi, S. meriadoci, S. peregrini, S. samwisei and S. tolkieni. The wasps bear the names of the hobbits because they too are “small, short, and stout,” according to a press release. On the other side of the size spectrum, paleontologists named a 900-pound ancient crocodile Anthracosuchus balrogus, after the Balrog, a giant whip-wielding fire monster from The Lord of the Rings. There is also a dinosaur named after Sauron, which seems kinda harsh to me. And many, many more, if the website “Curious Taxonomy” is to be believed.

“Given Tolkien’s passion for nomenclature, his coinage, over decades, of enormous numbers of euphonious names — not to mention scientists’ fondness for Tolkien — it is perhaps inevitable that Tolkien has been accorded formal taxonomic commemoration like no other author,” writes Henry Gee in his book The Science of Middle Earth.

May 8, 2015

QotD: The barbarians in our midst

Filed under: Quotations,Science,Technology,USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

… possibly the most dangerous barbarians live in the West. These, by being born there, assume they are Westerners by inheritance or osmosis. They also regard Western civilization as “found”, its goodies a stash waiting to be used or distributed. Nor do they trouble themselves as to its provenance, for there has always been plenty more where the stash came from.

For these barbarians Western civilization and its associated quest for God or Truth are a bothersome impediment, a “white man’s culture”, a hundred year old relic ideology nobody bothers with, some irksomely judgmental superfluity that gets in the way of fun and spreading the fruits to arrivals at the border and various victim groups.

For the barbarian the only reality is appearances. Cargo cultists, for instance, believe that function comes from form. If they build something which resembles an airport then gift giving airplanes will arrive there to bring goodies. The 21st century barbarian completely lacks the attitude of Roger Bacon, who lived in the 13th century. Bacon knew that the truth was not a “white man’s” culture — in fact in his day nearly all learning came from the East — but believed the truth was nature’s culture; baked into reality; another word for what used to be called God. Of barbarian ignorance Bacon wrote:

    Many secrets of art and nature are thought by the unlearned to be magical. … The empire of man over things depends wholly on the arts and sciences. For we cannot command nature except by obeying her.

In today’s post-Western environment, we’ve forgotten Bacon’s adage.

Richard Fernandez, “Sword and Sorcery”, Belmont Club, 2014-06-23.

May 6, 2015

QotD: “Science needs women”

Filed under: Humour,Quotations,Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Science does not need women any more than it needs foot fetishists, pole-vaulters, or Somalis. What science needs (if an abstraction such as science can be said to need anything) is scientists. If they happen also to be foot fetishists, pole-vaulters, or Somalis, so be it: but no one in his right mind would go to any lengths to recruit for his laboratory foot fetishists, pole-vaulters, or Somalis for those characteristics alone.

[…]

It is true, of course, that women are demographically underrepresented in the ranks of scientists, but so are many other groups. (This means, of course, that others are overrepresented.) This may be for more than one reason: lack of aptitude or interest, for example, or deliberate or subtle obstructiveness. But historical attempts to recruit scientists according to some demographic criterion or other have not been met with success, even as far as the advancement of science itself is concerned, and have been made by the very worst dictatorships that in other respects have been abominable. Social engineering and engineering are two very different activities. It would be no consolation to know while on a collapsing bridge and about to plunge into the deep ravine below that it had been built by a truly representative sample of the population, and was therefore a monument to social justice.

Suppose that, instead of Science needs women, other slogans based upon exactly the same logic hung over the arrivals hall: Heavyweight boxing needs Malays, for example, Football needs dwarf goalkeepers, Quantity surveying needs bisexuals, Lavatory cleaning needs left-handers: the absurdity of the argument would be immediately apparent. In fact the categorization both of human activities and humans themselves being almost infinite, the obsession with demographic representation as the most important criterion of fairness or social justice is virtually without end. The search for social fairness in this sense can lead only to perpetual conflict, much as the imposition of parliamentary democracy has done in countries in which it is not an organic outgrowth of their history, and as a true parliamentary regime in the European Union would very soon do.

Theodore Dalrymple, “A Miasma of Untruth”, Taki’s Magazine, 2014-06-29.

May 3, 2015

Charles Stross – “Vampires are not sexy. At least, not in the real world.”

Filed under: Media,Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

He’s quite right … and he drives home the point in a recent blog post:

Desmodus rotundis isn’t sexy. (Except insofar as small furry rodents that carry rabies aren’t as un-sexy as some other obligate haemophages.) Bed bugs are really not sexy. But if you want maximally not-sexy, it’s hard to top Placobdelloides jaegerskioeldi, the Hippo Arse Leech.

The Hippo Arse Leech is a leech; it sucks blood. Like most leeches, its mouth parts aren’t really up to drilling through the armour-tough skin of a hippopotamus, so it seeks out an exposed surface with a much more porous barrier separating it from the juicy red stuff: the lining of the hippo rectum. When arse leeches find somewhere to feed, in due course happy fun times ensue — for hermaphrodite values of happy fun times that involve traumatic insemination. Once pregnant, the leeches allow themselves to be expelled by the hippo (it’s noteworthy that hippopotami spin their tails when they defecate, to sling the crap as far away as possible — possibly because the leeches itch — we’re into self-propelled-hemorrhoids-with-teeth territory here), whereupon in the due fullness of time they find another hippo, force their way through it’s arse crack, and find somewhere to chow down. Oh, did I mention that this delightful critter nurtures its young? Yep, the mother feeds her brood until they’re mature enough to find a hippo of their own. (Guess what she feeds them with.)

Here ‘s a video by Mark Siddall, professor of invertebrate zoology at the American Natural History Museum, a noted expert on leeches, describing how he discovered P. Jaegerskioeldi, just in case you think I’m making this up.

By the end of my description Jim and Freda were both … well, I wish I’d thought to photograph their faces for posterity. So were the audience. And that’s when I got to the money shot: the thing about fictional vampires is, vampires are only sexy when they’re anthropomorphic.

May 2, 2015

A revolutionary fix for California’s water problems – pricing

Filed under: Economics,Environment,USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Last month, Megan McArdle pointed out that the state of California is reacting to the water shortages in one of the least effective ways by mandating rationing, rather than addressing the absurd under-pricing of the resource:

I’ve seen a lot of apocalyptic writing about California only having a year of water left (not true), and I’ve heard some idle talk about whether California can continue to grow. But California’s problem is not that it doesn’t have enough water to support its population. Rather, the problem is that its population uses more water than it has to. And the reason people do this is that water in California is seriously underpriced, as Marginal Revolution‘s Alex Tabarrok notes. While the new emergency rules do include provisions for local utilities to raise rates, that would still leave water in the state ludicrously mispriced. According to Tabarrok, the average household in San Diego pays less than 80 cents a day for the 150 gallons of water it uses. This is less than my two-person household pays for considerably less water usage, in an area where rainfall is so plentiful that the neighborhood next door to me has a recurrent flooding problem.

Artificially cheap water encourages people to install lush, green lawns that need lots of watering instead of native plants more appropriate to the local climate. It means they don’t even look for information about the water efficiency of their fixtures and appliances. They take long showers and let the tap run while they’re on the phone with Mom. In a thousand ways, it creates demand far in excess of supply.

Having artificially goosed demand, the government then tries to curb it by mandating efficiency levels and outlawing water-hogging landscaping. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work nearly as well as pricing water properly, then letting people figure out how they want to conserve it. For one thing, you can only affect large and visible targets, such as appliance manufacturers or lawns. For another, people will often try to evade your regulations — my low-flow showerhead came with handy instructions on how to remove the flow restrictor. And, perhaps most important, you limit the potential conservation to the caps. So people have an efficient dishwasher but don’t consider doing small loads by hand; they have a low-flow showerhead but don’t consider taking shorter showers. In short, no one is looking for ways to conserve more than whatever you’ve mandated. This may be enough to temporarily manage the current crisis, but it does nothing to set California’s water usage on a more sustainable path.

May 1, 2015

Statistical myths in California’s water shortage

Filed under: Bureaucracy,Economics,Environment,Media,USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Devin Nunes debunks the common claim that California’s farmers use “80 percent” of the available water in the state:

As the San Joaquin Valley undergoes its third decade of government-induced water shortages, the media suddenly took notice of the California water crisis after Governor Jerry Brown announced statewide water restrictions. In much of the coverage, supposedly powerful farmers were blamed for contributing to the problem by using too much water.

“Agriculture consumes a staggering 80 percent of California’s developed water, even as it accounts for only 2 percent of the state’s gross domestic product,” exclaimed Daily Beast writer Mark Hertsgaard in a piece titled “How Growers Gamed California’s Drought.” That 80-percent statistic was repeated in a Sacramento Bee article titled, “California agriculture, largely spared in new water restrictions, wields huge clout,” and in an ABC News article titled “California’s Drought Plan Mostly Lays Off Agriculture, Oil Industries.” Likewise, the New York Times dutifully reported, “The [State Water Resources Control Board] signaled that it was also about to further restrict water supplies to the agriculture industry, which consumes 80 percent of the water used in the state.”

This is a textbook example of how the media perpetuates a false narrative based on a phony statistic. Farmers do not use 80 percent of California’s water. In reality, 50 percent of the water that is captured by the state’s dams, reservoirs, aqueducts, and other infrastructure is diverted for environmental causes. Farmers, in fact, use 40 percent of the water supply. Environmentalists have manufactured the 80 percent statistic by deliberately excluding environmental diversions from their calculations. Furthermore, in many years there are additional millions of acre-feet of water that are simply flushed into the ocean due to a lack of storage capacity — a situation partly explained by environmental groups’ opposition to new water-storage projects.

April 30, 2015

Organic wines as mere marketing buzz and gimickry

Filed under: Business,Health,Science,Wine — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At VinePair, Kathleen Willcox explains why the “organic” label on your wine may be little more than a marketing ploy:

A lot of the buzz and imagery about organics appears to be just that – empty sound bites and gimmicks created by folks eager to cash in on the increasingly lucrative organic market. Where does that leave us? Not in an easy place.

Falling for marketers’ ploys is practically a full-time occupation in America (I’m not the only one who’s bought multiple cartons of fat-free ice cream hoping, this time, to finally find “creamy fat-free vanilla bliss” right?). Consumers’ perception of what organic agriculture is vs. the reality, and the halo of virtue with which it is bequeathed (and conventional agriculture’s implicit pair of devil’s horns) is, arguably, one of the biggest boondoggles in our culture today. More than half of Americans (55%) go organic because they believe it’s healthier. Meanwhile, there is really no evidence to back that assumption up. And even organic farmers use pesticides (sorry random lady at the bar). They just happen to be “natural.”

It’s never been a better time for organic marketers and companies. The market for organic food and beverages worldwide was estimated to be $80.4 billion in 2013 and is set to reach $161.5 billion in 2018, a compound annual growth rate of 15% per year. North America has the biggest market share, and will be responsible for roughly $66.2 billion by 2018.

But in the rush to get organic products out the door (and fulfill the public’s desire for healthier, more environmentally responsible products), some producers are often doing little more than following the letter of the USDA law to earn the “organic” label, consequences to the environment and our overall health be damned. In fact, from what producers and studies revealed, it may actually be worse for the environment and your body to buy organic wine from a large manufacturer instead of buying wine produced from grapes on a smaller vineyard sprayed judiciously with synthetic pesticides by a hands-on farmer.

April 28, 2015

QotD: Pursuit of truth

Filed under: History,Humour,Quotations,Science — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Truth, indeed, is something that is believed in completely only by persons who have never tried personally to pursue it to its fastnesses and grab it by the tail. It is the adoration of second-rate men — men who always receive it at second-hand. Pedagogues believe in immutable truths and spend their lives trying to determine them and propagate them; the intellectual progress of man consists largely of a concerted effort to block and destroy their enterprise. Nine times out of ten, in the arts as in life, there is actually no truth to be discovered; there is only error to be exposed. In whole departments of human inquiry it seems to me quite unlikely that the truth ever will be discovered. Nevertheless, the rubber-stamp thinking of the world always makes the assumption that the exposure of an error is identical with the discovery of the truth — that error and truth are simple opposites. They are nothing of the sort. What the world turns to, when it has been cured of one error, is usually simply another error, and maybe one worse than the first one. This is the whole history of the intellect in brief. The average man of to-day does not believe in precisely the same imbecilities that the Greek of the fourth century before Christ believed in, but the things that he does believe in are often quite as idiotic. Perhaps this statement is a bit too sweeping. There is, year by year, a gradual accumulation of what may be called, provisionally, truths — there is a slow accretion of ideas that somehow manage to meet all practicable human tests, and so survive. But even so, it is risky to call them absolute truths. All that one may safely say of them is that no one, as yet, has demonstrated that they are errors. Soon or late, if experience teaches us anything, they are likely to succumb too. The profoundest truths of the Middle Ages are now laughed at by schoolboys. The profoundest truths of democracy will be laughed at, a few centuries hence, even by school-teachers.

H.L. Mencken, “Footnote on Criticism”, Prejudices, Third Series, 1922.

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