November 26, 2017

QotD: The dangers of second-hand smoke

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

What, then, can we say were the lessons of Nuclear Winter? I believe the lesson was that with a catchy name, a strong policy position and an aggressive media campaign, nobody will dare to criticize the science, and in short order, a terminally weak thesis will be established as fact. After that, any criticism becomes beside the point. The war is already over without a shot being fired. That was the lesson, and we had a textbook application soon afterward, with second hand smoke.

In 1993, the EPA announced that second-hand smoke was “responsible for approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths each year in nonsmoking adults,” and that it “impairs the respiratory health of hundreds of thousands of people.” In a 1994 pamphlet the EPA said that the eleven studies it based its decision on were not by themselves conclusive, and that they collectively assigned second-hand smoke a risk factor of 1.19. (For reference, a risk factor below 3.0 is too small for action by the EPA. or for publication in the New England Journal of Medicine, for example.) Furthermore, since there was no statistical association at the 95% confidence limits, the EPA lowered the limit to 90%. They then classified second-hand smoke as a Group-A Carcinogen.

This was openly fraudulent science, but it formed the basis for bans on smoking in restaurants, offices, and airports. California banned public smoking in 1995. Soon, no claim was too extreme. By 1998, the Christian Science Monitor was saying that “Second-hand smoke is the nation’s third-leading preventable cause of death.” The American Cancer Society announced that 53,000 people died each year of second-hand smoke. The evidence for this claim is nonexistent.

In 1998, a Federal judge held that the EPA had acted improperly, had “committed to a conclusion before research had begun,” and had “disregarded information and made findings on selective information.” The reaction of Carol Browner, head of the EPA was: “We stand by our science; there’s wide agreement. The American people certainly recognize that exposure to second hand smoke brings a whole host of health problems.” Again, note how the claim of consensus trumps science. In this case, it isn’t even a consensus of scientists that Browner evokes! It’s the consensus of the American people.

Meanwhile, ever-larger studies failed to confirm any association. A large, seven-country WHO study in 1998 found no association. Nor have well-controlled subsequent studies, to my knowledge. Yet we now read, for example, that second-hand smoke is a cause of breast cancer. At this point you can say pretty much anything you want about second-hand smoke.

As with nuclear winter, bad science is used to promote what most people would consider good policy. I certainly think it is. I don’t want people smoking around me. So who will speak out against banning second-hand smoke? Nobody, and if you do, you’ll be branded a shill of RJ Reynolds. A big tobacco flunky. But the truth is that we now have a social policy supported by the grossest of superstitions. And we’ve given the EPA a bad lesson in how to behave in the future. We’ve told them that cheating is the way to succeed.

Michael Crichton, “Aliens Cause Global Warming”: the Caltech Michelin Lecture, 2003-01-17.

March 14, 2017

DIY Biohacking Can Change The World, If the Government Allows It

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Science, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 13 Mar 2017

Biohackers, much like their computer hacker forebears, prefer asking for forgiveness rather than permission.

December 30, 2016

Thanks to stealth regulations, your shower sucks

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Environment, Government, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Jeffrey Tucker on why it’s not just your imagination — showers really were better in the old days:

Even I, who have been writing about terrible American showers for 10 years, was shocked with delight at the shower in Brazil. Now, here we have a socialist country and an entire population that grouses about how hard it is to get ahead. And yet, step into the shower and you have a glorious capitalist experience. Hot water, really hot, pours down on you like a mighty and unending waterfall, sort of like it used to sea to shining sea.

At least the socialists in Brazil knew better than to destroy such an essential of civilized life.

But here we’ve forgotten. We have long lived with regulated showers, plugged up with a stopper imposed by government controls imposed in 1992. There was no public announcement. It just happened gradually. After a few years, you couldn’t buy a decent shower head. They called it a flow restrictor and said it would increase efficiency. By efficiency, the government means “doesn’t work as well as it used to.”

We’ve been acculturated to lame showers, but that’s just the start of it. Anything in your home that involves water has been made pathetic, thanks to government controls.

You can see the evidence of the bureaucrat in your shower if you pull off the showerhead and look inside. It has all this complicated stuff inside, whereas it should just be an open hole, you know, so the water could get through. The flow stopper is mandated by the federal government.

To be sure, the regulations apply only on a per-showerhead basis, so if you are rich, you can install a super fancy stall with spray coming at you from all directions. Yes, the market invented this brilliant but expensive workaround. As for the rest of the population, we have to live with a pathetic trickle.

It’s a pretty astonishing fact, if you think about it. The government ruined our showers by truncating our personal rights to have a great shower even when we are willing to pay for one. Sure, you can hack your showerhead but each year this gets more difficult to do. Today it requires drills and hammers, whereas it used to just require a screwdriver.

While the details are American, the Canadian market generally operates in lockstep with theirs, so when Tucker talks about the regulated reduction in both water heater maximum temperature and available water pressure, it’s probably the same here in Canada (and possibly worse, given our longer history of regulatory interference).

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.

November 12, 2013

Corruption watch: US government edition

Filed under: Government, Law — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 13:10

In his weekly NFL column, Gregg Easterbrook frequently has extended discussions of non-football items like this week’s quick tour of recent US federal, state, and local government agencies’ corruption news:

This column contends that corruption in government is a larger problem than commonly understood — that a reason expenditures at the federal, state and local levels keep smashing records, yet schools and bridges don’t get built, is that a significant fraction of what government spends is not just wasted, it is stolen.

Last week’s news that two senior admirals have been placed on leave on suspicion of corruption, while two Navy commanders and a senior official of the actual NCIS, not the TV show, have been arrested and charged with corruption, might be just the tip of an iceberg, to employ a nautical metaphor. Here’s a quick tour of recent corruption charges:

In federal government, a top EPA official stole nearly $900,000 from the agency, including through his expense account and by not reporting to work for months at a time yet receiving full pay. Absurdly, he was believed at the EPA when he claimed to be on assignment for the CIA. If the CIA needed an environmental specialist, there is a system by which one would be “detailed,” and the EPA would know.

Recently, an Army contractor was sentenced to 20 years in prison for stealing about $30 million using false invoices. Former congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. recently was sentenced to prison for embezzling from campaign funds; his wife was sentenced for income-tax evasion. (The campaign embezzlement did not cost taxpayers anything, the tax evasion did.)

In state government, the Securities Exchange Commission has accused the state of Illinois of pension bond fraud. The S.E.C. has charged the former head of the California state pension fund with fraud. Members of the New York Senate have been arrested on bribery charges. The lieutenant governor of Florida resigned over involvement with a fake charity.

In local government, the former mayor of Detroit just went to prison for corruption. Several members of the Washington, D.C., city council have been jailed or indicted for corruption, including one in jail for stealing from a youth-sports fund. A former California mayor just pleaded no contest to corruption charges. A former Chicago alderman just pleaded guilty in a corruption case. Chicago might be “the most corrupt city in the country,” with kickbacks and embezzlement costing Chicago taxpayers $500 million per year, a rate that works to $185 annually stolen from each resident.


In a big, complicated world, there will always be some who steal. Most public officials are honest and work hard to administer public funds properly. But we tend to think of theft in government as a problem of bygone days of bosses in smoke-filled rooms. With evermore money flowing into government, evermore corruption might be one result.

September 24, 2012

Flying cars are still (mostly) future-tech, but amphibious cars are almost here

Filed under: Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:23

Except for the WW2-era Schwimmwagen, no other amphibious car has gone into mass production. That might change soon, if Gibbs Technologies can square the circle between US highway regulations and US Coast Guard regulations:

Gibbs Technologies, based in Nuneaton, England, is the only major company now making a serious push into the amphibious car. Its Gibbs Amphibians Inc. division, in Auburn Hills, Mich., has developed the Aquada, a sports car that can hit speeds of more than 100 miles per hour on the road and then, with a press of a button, turn into a boat that can do more than 30 mph.

[. . .]

The reason it is still in dry dock, he says, is a conflict between U.S. government regulations for vehicles on land and on water.

For example, air-bag sensors must be set according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration standards for the car to be approved for the open road. But on the water, the settings are too sensitive. Waves that crash on the vehicle deploy the air bags. Another problem: An Environmental Protection Agency rule requires a catalyst to control emissions which can heat up several hundred degrees. The Coast Guard bars anything even half that hot operating in the engine compartment.

The Aquada is on the sidelines for now, but Gibbs is moving ahead with a drivable jet ski it calls the Quadski that will be on the market by year-end. With wheels that fold out horizontally when it is afloat, the Quadski can travel as fast as 45 mph on water and on land. And it has fewer regulations to meet because it is classified as a personal watercraft.

Flying cars have shown up closer to the showroom in recent years, but they’re still not available to the general public.

October 19, 2011

Regulators back off (temporarily)

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Economics, Environment, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 09:08

Walter Olson reports on some recent regulatory retreats:

Are there enough data points yet to call it a trend? I think there are: the Environmental Protection Agency is now backing off a whole series of deeply unpopular Obama-era initiatives. This time it’s the idea of tightening the federal standard for coarse airborne particulates — better known as “dust” — from the current 150 micrograms per cubic meter to a figure somewhere between 65 and 85, depending on what assumptions are used. That change could have dealt a tough economic blow to businesses, notably farms and ranches, that kick up quantities of dirt in the ordinary course of operation. Unfortunately, the EPA — unable to resist the urge to lash out against its critics — is being less than candid about its latest turnabout.

The retreats have been coming steadily in recent months, since President Obama’s popularity ratings began to tank. In July, following protests from Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and other lawmakers, the administration dropped a proposal that would have required lead-dust lab testing as part of even relatively minor renovations to older homes. Last month it scuttled costly new smog regulations. A couple of weeks ago it relaxed its so-called Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which was menacing the continued operation of power plants. And it remains under heavy pressure to scrap its ultra-expensive “Boiler MACT” rules, another utility nemesis.

EPA administrator Lisa Jackson has made it clear that she isn’t happy about some of these about-faces, and her staff spun the latest dust decision in remarkably graceless fashion, accusing critics of spreading “myths” and claiming the agency never had any intention of going after farm dust in the first place.

December 9, 2009

The EPA wants to regulate, well, everything

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Economics, Environment — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:12

The EPA’s decision that greenhouse gases fall under their regulatory control, while not surprising, should be overturned:

What Jackson has done, though, is inadvertently offer the strongest case against the EPA’s dubious decision on carbon dioxide. If the EPA’s actions really converge on as many spheres of public life as Jackson asserts, then a single crusading regulatory agency is in no position — and should have no authority — to regulate all of them.

No worries, we’re told. The EPA wouldn’t do it. It’s a bluff. It has other things in mind. In this case, it is all about hastening much-needed “action” on climate change by employing a technique universally known as blackmail.

The timing of the EPA announcement gives President Barack Obama the ammunition he needs to make a climate deal in Copenhagen, where leaders from around the world have gathered for one last chance to save mankind — until they all fly to by-then temperate Mexico next year for the last last chance to save mankind.

Obama, as we know, has no authority to enter into a binding international treaty (isn’t the Constitution irritating?), as any treaty must be ratified by the Senate — a Senate that won’t pass a cap-and-trade scheme any time soon if we’re lucky.

Now that the EPA can duplicate any suicidal emissions pact world leaders can cook up (exempt: emerging nations, poor nations, and nations that value prosperity), the president would not need to ratify a thing. And who needs treaties when the Obama administration has already threatened the Senate with unilateral regulations on greenhouse gases unless a cap-and-trade bill is passed? The administration need only mirror the agreement it can’t make.

Powered by WordPress