Quotulatiousness

August 26, 2015

Organic food recalls on the rise

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Health, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 05:00

It must be a trend if even the New York Times is reporting on the increasing number of food safety recalls involving organic food:

New data collected by Stericycle, a company that handles recalls for businesses, shows a sharp jump in the number of recalls of organic food products.

Organic food products accounted for 7 percent of all food units recalled so far this year, compared with 2 percent of those recalled last year, according to data from the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture that Stericycle uses to compile its quarterly report on recalls.

In 2012 and 2013, only 1 percent of total units of food recalled were organic.

Kevin Pollack, a vice president at Stericycle, said the growing consumer and corporate demand for organic ingredients was at least partly responsible for the increase.

“What’s striking is that since 2012, all organic recalls have been driven by bacterial contamination, like salmonella, listeria and hepatitis A, rather than a problem with a label,” Mr. Pollack said. “This is a fairly serious and really important issue because a lot of consumers just aren’t aware of it.”

August 20, 2015

One of the slickest marketing campaigns of our time

Filed under: Environment, Europe, Health, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In Forbes, Henry I. Miller and Drew L. Kershen explain why they think organic farming is, as they term it, a “colossal hoax” that promises far more than it can possibly deliver:

Consumers of organic foods are getting both more and less than they bargained for. On both counts, it’s not good.

Many people who pay the huge premium — often more than 100% — for organic foods do so because they’re afraid of pesticides. If that’s their rationale, they misunderstand the nuances of organic agriculture. Although it’s true that synthetic chemical pesticides are generally prohibited, there is a lengthy list of exceptions listed in the Organic Foods Production Act, while most “natural” ones are permitted. However, “organic” pesticides can be toxic. As evolutionary biologist Christie Wilcox explained in a 2012 Scientific American article (“Are lower pesticide residues a good reason to buy organic? Probably not.”): “Organic pesticides pose the same health risks as non-organic ones.”

Another poorly recognized aspect of this issue is that the vast majority of pesticidal substances that we consume are in our diets “naturally” and are present in organic foods as well as non-organic ones. In a classic study, UC Berkeley biochemist Bruce Ames and his colleagues found that “99.99 percent (by weight) of the pesticides in the American diet are chemicals that plants produce to defend themselves.” Moreover, “natural and synthetic chemicals are equally likely to be positive in animal cancer tests.” Thus, consumers who buy organic to avoid pesticide exposure are focusing their attention on just one-hundredth of 1% of the pesticides they consume.

Some consumers think that the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) requires certified organic products to be free of ingredients from “GMOs,” organisms crafted with molecular techniques of genetic engineering. Wrong again. USDA does not require organic products to be GMO-free. (In any case, the methods used to create so-called GMOs are an extension, or refinement, of older techniques for genetic modification that have been used for a century or more.)

August 17, 2015

Food fears and GMOs

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

Henry I. Miller and Drew L. Kershen on the widespread FUD still being pushed in much of the mainstream media about genetically modified organisms in the food supply:

New York Times nutrition and health columnist Jane Brody recently penned a generally good piece about genetic engineering, “Fears, Not Facts, Support GMO-Free Food.” She recapitulated the overwhelming evidence for the importance and safety of products from GMOs, or “genetically modified organisms” (which for the sake of accuracy, we prefer to call organisms modified with molecular genetic engineering techniques, or GE). Their uses encompass food, animal feed, drugs, vaccines and animals. Sales of drugs made with genetic engineering techniques are in the scores of billions of dollars annually, and ingredients from genetically engineered crop plants are found in 70-80 percent of processed foods on supermarket shelves.

Brody’s article had two errors, however. The first was this statement, in a correction that was appended (probably by the editors) after the article was published:

    The article also referred imprecisely to regulation of GMOs by the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency. While the organizations regulate food from genetically engineered crops to ensure they are safe to eat, the program is voluntary. It is not the case that every GMO must be tested before it can be marketed.

In fact, every so-called GMO used for food, fiber or ornamental use is subject to compulsory case-by-case regulation by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of USDA and many are also regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) during extensive field testing. When these organisms — plants, animals or microorganisms — become food, they are then overseen by the FDA, which has strict rules about misbranding (inaccurate or misleading labeling) and adulteration (the presence of harmful substances). Foods from “new plant varieties” made with any technique are subject to case-by-case premarket FDA review if they possess certain characteristics that pose questions of safety. In addition, food from genetically engineered organisms can undergo a voluntary FDA review. (Every GE food to this point has undergone the voluntary FDA review, so FDA has evaluated every GE food on the market).

The second error by Brody occurred in the very last words of the piece, “the best way for concerned consumers to avoid G.M.O. products is to choose those certified as organic, which the U.S.D.A. requires to be G.M.O.-free.” Brody has fallen victim to a common misconception; in fact, the USDA does not require organic products to be GMO-free.

August 13, 2015

A potential breakthrough in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s research

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

At New Scientist, a report on some very hopeful research findings:

A virus found in sewage has spawned a unique drug that targets plaques implicated in a host of brain-crippling diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD).

Results from tests of the drug, announced this week, show that it breaks up plaques in mice affected with Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease, and improves the memories and cognitive abilities of the animals.

Other promising results in rats and monkeys mean that the drug developers, NeuroPhage Pharmaceuticals, are poised to apply for permission to start testing it in people, with trials starting perhaps as early as next year.

The drug is the first that seems to target and destroy the multiple types of plaque implicated in human brain disease. Plaques are clumps of misfolded proteins that gradually accumulate into sticky, brain-clogging gunk that kills neurons and robs people of their memories and other mental faculties. Different kinds of misfolded proteins are implicated in different brain diseases, and some can be seen within the same condition.

Proteins gone rogue

The Hockey Stick of Human Prosperity (Everyday Economics 1/7)

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

Published on 24 Jun 2014

In this series, Professor Don Boudreaux explores the question economists have been asking since the era of Adam Smith — what creates wealth? On a timeline of human history, the recent rise in standards of living resembles a hockey stick — flatlining for all of human history and then skyrocketing in just the last few centuries. Without specialization and trade, our ancient ancestors only consumed what they could make themselves. How can specialization and trade help explain the astonishing growth of productivity and output in such a short amount of time — after millennia of famine, low life expectancy, and incurable disease?

August 6, 2015

Jeb Bush shows his true colours: “I’m not sure we need a half a billion dollars for women’s health issues”

Filed under: Health, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Ace explains why Jeb’s little mind fart is such a huge gift to the Democrats:

Talking about defunding Planned Parenthood Jeb Bush, the presumptive GOP nominee, went just a bit off message about the whole baby parts for sale in violation of federal law thing and mused….

    “The argument against this is … it is a war on women and you are attacking women’s health issues,” he said. “You could take dollar for dollar — although I’m not sure we need a half a billion dollars for women’s health issues — but if you took dollar for dollar, there are many extraordinarily fine organizations, community health organizations that exist.”

Emphasis mine and everyone elses.

DUDE. NO! BAD JEB! BAD!

So the GOP actually had a reasonable plan, this wasn’t about budget root canal and saving a few bucks, it was about not funding illegal and immoral acts, even indirectly. And hey, we’re going to send this money to decent and honest places that actually, you know, help improve women’s health.

Pretty solid for the GOP.

But instead, Jeb for some reason thought this would be a good time to toss out there the idea that he, and by extension the party he seeks to lead, really just want to stick it to poor women.

Fantastic work!

Well, he did issue a statement saying that’s not what he meant. I’m sure Hillary and every Democratic candidate will be sure to include that correction in the four million ads they’re going to run with the, “although I’m not sure we need a half a billion dollars for women’s health issues” sound bite. So no big whoop.

Your party has already been castigated — extensively — for the “War on Women” they’ve apparently been waging for years … so you just casually drop in an aside that totally justifies all the accusations? Man, that’s a serious day’s work in this election campaign! I’m not sure even his brother George could have malapropped his way quite so convincingly.

July 29, 2015

Apparently human ingenuity didn’t stretch as far as remote-controlled sex toys … until now!

Filed under: Health, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Who would ever have thought of combining wireless computing with sexual appliances? Nobody, right? There’s no possible way that anyone could have even imagined such a thing could happen … otherwise this patent would not have been issued:

Alright, people, strap in and keep the laughter to a minimum because we’re going to talk dildos here. Specifically, remotely operated dildos, and other sex apparatuses, including those operated by Bluetooth connections or over the internet. It seems that in 1998, a Texan by the name of Warren Sandvick applied for a patent that casts an awfully wide net over remotely controlled sexual stimulation, specifically any of the sort that involves a user interface in a location different from the person being stimulated. You can find the patent at the link, but here’s the abstract:

    An interactive virtual sexual stimulation system has one or more user interfaces. Each user interface generally comprises a computer having an input device, video camera, and transmitter. The transmitter is used to interface the computer with one or more sexual stimulation devices, which are also located at the user interface. In accordance with the preferred embodiment, a person at a first user interface controls the stimulation device(s) located at a second user interface. The first and second user interfaces may be connected, for instance, through a web site on the Internet. In another embodiment, a person at a user interface may interact with a prerecorded video feed. The invention is implemented by software that is stored at the computer of the user interface, or at a web site accessed through the Internet.

Great, except that nothing in the above is an actual invention; it’s essentially an acknowledgement that a dildo could be controlled remotely and an attempt to lay claim to that function exclusively. The description of the art outlaid in the patent rests solely on the claim that sexual stimulation devices have always been either self-stimulation devices or that any remotely operated stimulation devices still required close proximity. But it all rests on what you consider a stimulation device.

Even before this patent was filed, there was a term for this kind of thing in use: teledildonics.

July 27, 2015

GMO food is safe, says … Slate

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

In Slate, William Saletan on the FUD campaign that has been waged against genetically modified foods:

Is genetically engineered food dangerous? Many people seem to think it is. In the past five years, companies have submitted more than 27,000 products to the Non-GMO Project, which certifies goods that are free of genetically modified organisms. Last year, sales of such products nearly tripled. Whole Foods will soon require labels on all GMOs in its stores. Abbott, the company that makes Similac baby formula, has created a non-GMO version to give parents “peace of mind.” Trader Joe’s has sworn off GMOs. So has Chipotle.

Some environmentalists and public interest groups want to go further. Hundreds of organizations, including Consumers Union, Friends of the Earth, Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Center for Food Safety, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, are demanding “mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods.” Since 2013, Vermont, Maine, and Connecticut have passed laws to require GMO labels. Massachusetts could be next.

The central premise of these laws — and the main source of consumer anxiety, which has sparked corporate interest in GMO-free food — is concern about health. Last year, in a survey by the Pew Research Center, 57 percent of Americans said it’s generally “unsafe to eat genetically modified foods.” Vermont says the primary purpose of its labeling law is to help people “avoid potential health risks of food produced from genetic engineering.” Chipotle notes that 300 scientists have “signed a statement rejecting the claim that there is a scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs for human consumption.” Until more studies are conducted, Chipotle says, “We believe it is prudent to take a cautious approach toward GMOs.”

The World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science have all declared that there’s no good evidence GMOs are unsafe. Hundreds of studies back up that conclusion. But many of us don’t trust these assurances. We’re drawn to skeptics who say that there’s more to the story, that some studies have found risks associated with GMOs, and that Monsanto is covering it up.

I’ve spent much of the past year digging into the evidence. Here’s what I’ve learned. First, it’s true that the issue is complicated. But the deeper you dig, the more fraud you find in the case against GMOs. It’s full of errors, fallacies, misconceptions, misrepresentations, and lies. The people who tell you that Monsanto is hiding the truth are themselves hiding evidence that their own allegations about GMOs are false. They’re counting on you to feel overwhelmed by the science and to accept, as a gut presumption, their message of distrust.

H/T to Coyote Blog for the link.

July 24, 2015

The long-term damage to scientific credibility

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

Matt Ridley on the danger to all scientific fields when one field is willing to subordinate fact to political expediency:

For much of my life I have been a science writer. That means I eavesdrop on what’s going on in laboratories so I can tell interesting stories. It’s analogous to the way art critics write about art, but with a difference: we “science critics” rarely criticise. If we think a scientific paper is dumb, we just ignore it. There’s too much good stuff coming out of science to waste time knocking the bad stuff.

Sure, we occasionally take a swipe at pseudoscience — homeopathy, astrology, claims that genetically modified food causes cancer, and so on. But the great thing about science is that it’s self-correcting. The good drives out the bad, because experiments get replicated and hypotheses put to the test. So a really bad idea cannot survive long in science.

Or so I used to think. Now, thanks largely to climate science, I have changed my mind. It turns out bad ideas can persist in science for decades, and surrounded by myrmidons of furious defenders they can turn into intolerant dogmas.

This should have been obvious to me. Lysenkoism, a pseudo-biological theory that plants (and people) could be trained to change their heritable natures, helped starve millions and yet persisted for decades in the Soviet Union, reaching its zenith under Nikita Khrushchev. The theory that dietary fat causes obesity and heart disease, based on a couple of terrible studies in the 1950s, became unchallenged orthodoxy and is only now fading slowly.

What these two ideas have in common is that they had political support, which enabled them to monopolise debate. Scientists are just as prone as anybody else to “confirmation bias”, the tendency we all have to seek evidence that supports our favoured hypothesis and dismiss evidence that contradicts it—as if we were counsel for the defence. It’s tosh that scientists always try to disprove their own theories, as they sometimes claim, and nor should they. But they do try to disprove each other’s. Science has always been decentralised, so Professor Smith challenges Professor Jones’s claims, and that’s what keeps science honest.

What went wrong with Lysenko and dietary fat was that in each case a monopoly was established. Lysenko’s opponents were imprisoned or killed. Nina Teicholz’s book The Big Fat Surprise shows in devastating detail how opponents of Ancel Keys’s dietary fat hypothesis were starved of grants and frozen out of the debate by an intolerant consensus backed by vested interests, echoed and amplified by a docile press.

July 23, 2015

QotD: Lifestyle choices

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

The brother-in-law of a friend of mine died recently. He was 76, a good age considering his lifestyle. He had spent many years from morning till night sitting in a corner with his Spanish red wine, smoking and watching television. It was not a way of life that attracted me, but it was his choice and he stuck to it with a fine determination.

No doubt if he had followed doctors’ orders from the moment he first came to their attention (he had suffered, not surprisingly, a progression of serious illnesses) he would have survived a few years more. Clearly he did not think the bargain a good one: twenty years of abstinence for an extra four years, shall we say, of boredom. In a way I admired him for his utter rejection of what most people would consider common sense. A world ruled by common sense would be intolerable in its smug dullness.

The other admirable thing about the deceased was that he would have never claimed, never have dreamed of claiming, that his mode of life was anything but his own choice; he was responsible for its consequences, up to and including his death. He had made his bed, in fact his deathbed, and he was content to lie in it.

Theodore Dalrymple, “Warning: May Cause Lawsuits”, Taki’s Magazine, 2014-07-30.

July 5, 2015

A half-baked theory from John Derbyshire

Filed under: Health, Randomness — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

How much reality can you stand? John Derbyshire says it’s less than we used to be able to cope with:

T.S. Eliot’s observation that “human kind cannot bear very much reality” is surely up among the half-dozen wisest things ever said about our common nature.

There is, of course, individual variation in how much reality we can bear. I flatter myself by believing I am up toward the high end. I readily admit, however, that I have spent not insignificant portions of my life in a state of self-delusion driven by wishful thinking — a hugely underestimated force in human affairs. Some humility is in order, and not just for me.

There is group variation, too. Speaking generally, and again with much individual variation, the old can bear more reality than the young; men more than women; people in up-against-it professions like medicine or law enforcement more than those in comparatively sheltered occupations; people educated in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, math) more than humanities majors; and so on.

I am now going to propose a half-baked theory to you.

Theory: In advanced societies, the average amount of reality people can bear has declined across the past few decades.

This, I believe, has something to do with the ever-increasing availability of screen-based entertainment (movies, TV, the internet), something to do with the decline of religion, something to do with the revolution in manners that we call “political correctness,” and something to do with the falloff in violence, as chronicled by Steven Pinker.

There are surely connections there; but which is cause, which is effect, and which mere symptom, I don’t know. That’s why the theory is half-baked.

Illustrations: As we have seen these past few days, the whole zone of “identity” is shot through with barefaced, unblushing denial of reality.

All but a very tiny proportion of human beings are biologically male (an X and a Y chromosome in the genome) or female (two X chromosomes). A person who is biologically of one sex but believes himself to be of the other is in the grip of a delusion. That is what everybody would have said 50 years ago.

Some of those who said it would have followed up with an expression of disgust; some with unkind mockery; some with sympathy and suggestions for psychiatric counseling. Well-nigh nobody would have said: “Well, if he thinks he’s a gal, then he is a gal.” Yet that is the majority view nowadays. It is a flagrant denial of reality; but if you scoff at it, you place yourself out beyond the borders of acceptable opinion.

July 3, 2015

The unintended consequences of a bottled water ban

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Economics, Health, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Mark J. Perry talks about the outcome of a well-intended ban of bottled water at the University of Vermont:

Here’s the abstract of the research article “The Unintended Consequences of Changes in Beverage Options and the Removal of Bottled Water on a University Campus,” which was just published in the July 2015 issue of the American Journal of Public Health (emphasis added):

    Objectives. We investigated how the removal of bottled water along with a minimum healthy beverage requirement affected the purchasing behavior, healthiness of beverage choices, and consumption of calories and added sugars of university campus consumers.

    Methods. With shipment data as a proxy, we estimated bottled beverage consumption over 3 consecutive semesters: baseline (spring 2012), when a 30% healthy beverage ratio was enacted (fall 2012), and when bottled water was removed (spring 2013) at the University of Vermont. We assessed changes in number and type of beverages and per capita calories, total sugars, and added sugars shipped.

    Results. Per capita shipments of bottles, calories, sugars, and added sugars increased significantly when bottled water was removed. Shipments of healthy beverages declined significantly, whereas shipments of less healthy beverages increased significantly. As bottled water sales dropped to zero, sales of sugar-free beverages and sugar-sweetened beverages increased.

    Conclusions. The bottled water ban did not reduce the number of bottles entering the waste stream from the university campus, the ultimate goal of the ban. With the removal of bottled water, consumers increased their consumption of less healthy bottled beverages.

[…]

Wow, nothing worked out as expected by the college administrators at the University of Vermont: a) the per capita number of bottles shipped to the University of Vermont increased significantly following the bottled water ban, and b) students, faculty and staff increased their consumption of less healthy bottled beverages following the bottled water ban. Another great example of the Law of Unintended Consequences. And the bottled water ban was not costless – the university paid to modify 68 drinking fountains, they paid for a publicity campaign, and they paid for lots of “free” reusable water bottles; and what they got was more plastic bottles on campus of less healthy beverages!

June 23, 2015

QotD: The Physician

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

Hygiene is the corruption of medicine by morality. It is impossible to find a hygienist who does not debase his theory of the healthful with a theory of the virtuous. The whole hygienic art, indeed, resolves itself into an ethical exhortation, and, in the sub-department of sex, into a puerile and belated advocacy of asceticism. This brings it, at the end, into diametrical conflict with medicine proper. The aim of medicine is surely not to make men virtuous; it is to safeguard and rescue them from the consequences of their vices. The true physician does not preach repentance; he offers absolution.

H.L. Mencken, “Types of Men 5: The Physician”, Prejudices, Third Series, 1922.

June 22, 2015

QotD: Obesity

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

The most maddening example of this is, of course, the case of thin people, or folks who could really stand to lose ten pounds, lecturing the obese on how stupid they are for letting themselves get fat. […]

As a friend who really struggles with his weight points out, the author seems not to understand that for people with a weight problem, weight loss often involves both: you’re tired and miserable and overweight, and also, you’re spending a huge amount of mental energy counting calories and making time for exercise.

Moreover, this really underplays the amount of mental energy we’re talking about. When you talk to people who have successfully lost really large amounts of weight as adults — amounts that bring them from the really risky “super-obese” category into something more normal — you find two things. First, that most of them don’t keep it off, unless they have bariatric surgery, in which case, 50 percent of them keep it off. And second, that the people who are keeping the weight off without surgery are going to extreme lengths to maintain their weight loss, lengths that most of us would probably find difficult to fit into our lives: weighing every ounce of food they consume, counting calories obsessively, exercising for long periods every day, and constantly battling “intrusive thoughts of food.”

It’s not quite fair to say that most of the public health experts I’ve seen talking about obesity are thin people brightly telling fat people that “Everything would be fine if you’d just be more like me!” But it’s not really that far off the mark, either. In the words of another friend who struggled with his weight, and got quite testy when I suggested weight loss was easy, “You’ve hit the pick six in the genetic lottery, and you think you earned it.”

Megan McArdle, “Dinner, With a Side of Self-Righteousness”, Bloomberg View, 2015-03-27.

June 18, 2015

Nutrition … what we thought we knew is wrong, again

Filed under: Government, Health, Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

At Real Clear Science, Ross Pomeroy explains how historical “expert knowledge” and government cheerleading pointed in exactly the opposite direction of today’s experts and government regulators:

For decades, the federal government has been advising Americans on what to eat. Those recommendations have been subject to the shifting sands of dietary science. And have those sands ever been shifting. At first, fat and cholesterol were vilified, while sugar was mostly let off the hook. Now, fat is fine (saturated fat is still evil, though), cholesterol is back, and sugar is the new bogeyman.

Why the sizable shift? The answer may be “bad science.”

Every five years, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, composed of nutrition and health experts from around the country, convenes to review the latest scientific and medical literature. From their learned dissection, they form the dietary guidelines.

But according to a new editorial published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, much of the science they review is fundamentally flawed. Unlike experiments in the hard sciences of chemistry, physics, and biology, which rely on direct observational evidence, most diet studies are based on self-reported data. Study subjects are examined for height, weight, and health, then are questioned about what they eat. Their dietary choices are subsequently linked to health outcomes — cancer, mortality, heart disease, etc.

That’s a poor way of doing science, says Edward Archer, a research fellow with the Nutrition Obesity Research Center at the University of Alabama, and lead author of the report.

“The assumption that human memory can provide accurate or precise reproductions of past ingestive behavior is indisputably false,” he and his co-authors write.

Two of the largest studies on nutritional intake in the United States, the CDC’s NHANES and “What We Eat,” are based on asking subjects to recall precisely what and how much they usually eat.

But despite all of the steps that NHANES examiners take to aid recall, such as limiting the recall period to the previous 24 hours and even offering subjects measuring guides to help them report accurate data, the information received is wildly inaccurate. An analysis conducted by Archer in 2013 found that most of the 60,000+ NHANES subjects report eating a lower amount of calories than they would physiologically need to survive, let alone to put on all the weight that Americans have in the past few decades.

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