Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Pecunia non olet

Though the name of this blog has its roots in medicine my interest has become more general. In fact, I seem to be more and more interested in the maltreatment of science and how certain factions prefer misrepresenting the facts to serve their ideology.

Just recently have I written about an exposé showing science is for sale. Meaning, you can now buy the outcome you require to protect your financial interests. Unsurprisingly there are more examples to add to that unethical behaviour.

As I initially observed, Emilie Udell for the Center for Public Integrity reported how
Critical Reviews in Toxicology and Regulatory Toxicology and  Pharmacology 
 are the go-to journals for
misleading, industry-backed articles that threaten public health by playing down the dangers of well-known toxic substances such as lead and asbestos. The articles often are used to stall regulatory efforts and defend court cases.
The article showed how the asbestos industry bought scientists to opine the link between asbestos and mesothelioma is in dispute. For an explanation on the technique used see manufactroversy.

Climate Progress updates the #Exxonknew-meme  by reporting and showing a reportage by Frank Capra from 1958:
In this film, Dr. Research (Dr. Frank Baxter) explains to The Writer (Richard Carlson) that unrestricted carbon dioxide emissions could lead to a world where “Tourists in glass bottom boats would be viewing the drowned towers of Miami.”
They conclude
Scientists have been warning us about the dangers of unrestricted CO2 emissions, global warming and climate change for over six decades. So much for the myth that climate scientists used to believe in global cooling a couple of decades ago — a myth that has been utterly debunked in the scientific literature (see here). Heck, thanks to excellent reporting by InsideClimate News, we now know oil giant ExxonMobil had been told by its own scientists in the 1970s and 1980s that climate change was human-caused and would reach catastrophic levels without reductions in carbon emissions.
Another example of politicians confusing facts for fiction: voter-fraud. John Oliver shows us the utter fiction of it.

But, this is not about science, it is about politics. By corrupting science the usual suspects are able to sabotage necessary legislation: f.e. to combat smoking related deaths, global warming, gun control, derail vaccination programs, et cetera,

Nevertheless, as I write this we still are defrauded by politicians invoking the "it is nothing more than a global hoax by liberal-commie-nazi scientists"-tactic.

All the misrepresentations by politicians evoke som paranoid response in me: Cui bono? Which leads me to conclude we are in need of some mandatory regulation in politics.
  1. Politicians must be able to say whatever they want. They should be able to make any suggestion, propose or block any law, make any claim they want.
  2. Following their suggestions (to implement, or block, policy/law) it should be mandatory to show evidence of a) the need for this proposal/its refusal, b) the proposal has the claimed effect, c) the claimed effect outweighs the expected negative impact.
  3. For the purpose of ascertaining the available facts politicians themselves are not considered experts in the field. 
  4. The evidence shown can not be "I strongly believe," or "god said so," but has to be based on a review by an independent expert in the relevant field. This expert has to a) share with us the mainstream view among the relevant experts, b) state that in case of any discrepancy between the politicians statement and communis opinio among these experts this is entirely reasonable and reflects an actual debate among experts, c) in case of politicians withholding  such studies they are obliged to mention the result and reason behind not mentioning it.
  5. In the absence of verifiable evidence politicians are obligated to either withdraw their suggestions/comments or admit they are only sharing their private opinion and that layman opinion is more important than evaluation by people with real knowledge: otherwise known as experts.
  6. Any proposal based on non-expert guestimation shall be publicly presented as make believe or truthiness
  7. Akin to nearly every other profession I would suggest accountability in case of policy that can not be reconciled with expert opinion, or lacks reasonable arguments to ignore the patently fallacious solution presented.
Concluding I think there is to much room for misstatements regarding science, and we should better protect society against those who mislead us for personal gain.


Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Broken record: Homeopathy no better than placebo

Time and time again science has shown homeopathy is no better than a placebo. An observation I have documented before. Needless to say I was shocked, shocked I tell you, when The Independent reported that:
Campaigners have welcomed the latest study to show that homeopathy "treatments" are no more effective than a placebo, and called for the technique to be cut from the NHS.
It noted:
The Good Thinking Society, which campaigns against homeopathy, said the latest study bolstered scientific consensus that the “treatments” do not work. 
Popular Science has seen the study too:
Homeopathy, the form of alternative medicine in which proponents claim that small doses of natural substances can cure patient’s ailments, has come under fire recently—Australia deemed the practice “useless” in 2014, and last year the FDA considered cracking down on unregulated treatments sold over the counter. Now homeopathy has received another blow: Paul Glasziou, a professor of evidence-based medicine at Bond University in the United Kingdom, called homeopathy a “therapeutic dead-end," according to a blog post published on the website of the British Medical Journal last week and covered by The Independent.
Of course, last year Australia came to the same conclusion:
The draft paper by Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) assessed research into the effectiveness of the alternative medicine on 68 health conditions and concluded “there is no reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective”.
For those new to the world of quackery homeopathy Orac has a  great summary of what it entails, the scientific and legal challenges: 
the developments in homeopathy last year, which have now been recapped in an article in the New England Journal of Medicine. Actually, the developments weren’t so much in homeopathy, which basically never changes, other than sometimes in the extravagant imagination of homeopaths trying to justify their quackery with everything from quantum mechanics to “nanoparticles.” Rather, the developments concerned the regulation of homeopathy in the US.
In light of this latest study, let me leave you with a comment by Emeritus Professor of Complementary Medicine at the Peninsula School of Medicine, University of Exeter, Edzard Ernst:
The National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia recently published what might be the most thorough evaluation of homeopathy ever since it began 200 years ago.
warned against homeopathy in 2002, and a range medical experts have been vocal about the dangers of homeopathy for many years now. Yet homeopaths around the world seemed shocked by the news of this study, and are now on the warpath to suppress it.
Despite the numerous intricate explanations homeopaths have imagined the underlying placebo-effect remains the same: plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.


Monday, 15 February 2016

My collection of films, 2016

Years ago I shared my attempt at helping you play audio-video files on your computer. This for those that lacked adequate equipment. Today I am using a Home Cinema system that makes that post redundant.

As a cinephile I have collected numerous films. You surely are wondering what my preference might be. To share my current collection with you, and as a record for myself, here is an updated version of a previous list. Do comment on my selection and/or feel free to suggest titles you feel should be included.

Dutch
Cloaca    
Loft   
De Eetclub
Spoorloos
Karakter
De Ontdekking van de Hemel
Schemer   
Het Meisje met het Rode Haar
Soldaat van Oranje
Zwartboek     
Oorlogswinter
French
Être et Avoir        
Bienvenue Chez les Ch'tis
Tu Dors Nicole       
Sous le Sable
5X2
Avant L'Hiver  
L'Homme Qui Aimait Les Femmes        
Persécution    
Les Amant De Pont-Neuf         
Amélie
L'Ours    
Le Hérisson 
La Tourneuse de Pages
La Double Vie de Véronique    
Je Vais Bien, Ne T'En Fais Pas 
L'Empreinte de l'Ange
Il y a Longtemps Que Je T'Aime    
Les Âmes Grises
Le Temps Qui Reste
Intouchables      
Code Inconnu
Mémoires Affectives
Voleurs de Cheveaux 
La Haine
Un Prophète
Caché    
Trois Couleurs: Bleu, Blanc, Rouge     
Jean de Florette 
Manon des Sources                
Les vacances de M. Hulot    
Mon Oncle    
Spanish
Los Amantes del Círculo Polar
En la ciudad sin límites
La Noche de los Girasoles
El Aura        
Tesis
Matador    
La Mala Educación    
Son de Mar   
La Ardilla Roja  
Lucia y el Sexo    
Abre los Ojos
¡Átame!   
Amores Perros     
El Secreto de sus Ojos
El Laberinto del Fauno   
Todo Sobre Mi Madre  
Biutiful   
Hable Con Ella   
Volver        
Scandinavian
Insomnia 
Hodejegerne       
DeUsynlige 
Kautokeino-Opprøret
Submarino 
Idioterne
Låt den Rätte Komma In     
Slipp Jimmy Fri     
Nói albinói     
Italian
Agata e la Tempesta      
La Doppia Ora
Non Ti Muovere
Trilogy of life:     
Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma
Other
Das Leben der Anderen    
Der Untergang    
Die Fälscher   
Cidade de Deus  
Depuis qu'Otar est parti...
Левиафан      
Возвращение    
Солярис  
Mongol   
Шар нохойн там        
Андрей Рублёв         
Tallinn pimeduses      
臥虎藏龍 - Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon      
霸王別姬 - Farewell My Concubine                   
Rashomon         
Κυνόδοντας       
English
Oliver!
The Merchant of Venice
Romeo and Juliette
Richard III
Hamlet
Macbeth
The Cook, The Thief, The Wife and Her Lover
Trainspotting
Wallstreet
The Wolf of Wall Street    
The Shock Doctrine    
Inside Job   
The Insider
Merchants of Doubt  
Wild     
In The Name of the Father
Blow 
The People vs. Larry Flint
Lenny  
Good Night, and Good Luck       
All the President's Men  
Mississippi Burning      
Infamous      
Capote     
Guess Who Is Coming To Dinner  
In the Heat of the Night    
Cry Freedom    
Malcolm X  
Bird      
Ghandi      
The Cotton Club   
Citizen Kane
Lawrence of Arabia  
The Elephant Man  
Ole Bull
Mahler
Death in Venice        
Amadeus
Papillon   
The Mission  
The Great Gatsby  
Death of a Salesman
On the Waterfront
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
The Manchurian Candidate
Apocalypse Now
Easy Rider
Back To The Future          
Ferris Bueller's Day Off
A Christmas Carol
The Nightmare Before Christmas
Silent Running
Flight of the Navigator
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial   
The Dark Crystal
Legend     
Bram Stoker's Dracula  
Lord of the Rings Trilogy    
Highlander
Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes     
The Last of the Mohicans  
Vidoq
The Dark Knight Trilogy
Snowpiercer
The Time Machine     
Primer    
2001: A Space Odyssey    
Gravity     
The Martian   
Interstellar   
Alien I-IV  
Star Wars I-VI
Dune
AI
Ex Machina    
Her  
Gattaca 
V for Vendetta    
Children of Men
Blade Runner 
Terminator I-II
Oblivion   
The Matrix Trilogy          
The Thirteenth Floor   
eXistenZ  
Inception           
Upstream color    
91/2 Weeks
The Unbearable Lightness of Being     
The Remains of the Day      
Atonement 
The English Patient     
Clouds of Sils Maria     
When Harry Met Sally ...  
As Good As It Gets  
Chocolat
Don Juan De Marco   
Before Trilogy:
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Sex, Lies and Videotape
Lantana      
American Beauty
A Clockwork Orange        
One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest   
Being There
The Machinist
Spider    
Picnic at Hanging Rock      
Donnie Darko
Angel Heart
The Weight of Water      
Fight Club
Intacto
Sleepy Hollow
The Name of the Rose    
Sineater
The Blair Witch Project
Fallen
Wisdom of Crocodiles
The Ninth Gate
Se7en      
The Sixth Sense
12 Monkeys
Л     
Memento     
Duel     
Taxi Driver 
12 Angry Men         
And Justice for All   
Serpico
3 Days of the Condor
The Conversation    
Enemy of the State          
The Parallax View 
Bullit
Rumblefish
Gosford Park  
LA Confidential   
The Usual Suspects 
Chinatown   
Scarface  
The Godfather Trilogy 
Once Upon a Time in America
Goodfellas
Donnie Brasco
Léon       
Ghost Dog
The Bourne Trilogy:
Ronin
Traffic      
The Sting
The Italian Job   
Reservoir Dogs 
Snatch   
Pulp Fiction
Very Bad Things
Blue Ruin    
American Psycho
Natural Born Killers
Henry 1 & 2
Kiss Before Dying
Transsiberian     
Mystic River  
The Life of David Gale
Cube   
Hellraiser
Television
The Blackadder
I Claudius                      
Black Books   
Coupling     
Gimme Gimme Gimme    
Will & Grace
Married with Children   
The Wonder Years    
Soap    
St. Elsewhere
ER       
Scrubs         
Due South
The Wire   
The Blacklist        
Spooks    
The Practice  
Boston Legal
Suits      
The Good Wife            
Murder One         
Moonlighting     
Remington Steele  
White Collar             
Heroes            
FlashForward      
The Event  
Dark Skies
Babylon 5   
Earth 2         
Borgen      
Forbrydelsen  
Broen    
Documentaries
How The Universe Works
Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey     
Cosmos: A Personal Voyage
Seven Ages of Starlight      
Microcosmos          
Great Migrations
Planet Earth    
Yellowstone
Human Planet
Frozen Planet  
Great Barrier Reef
North America    
Wild Russia     
In Search of the Trojan War
The Truth of Troy
In Search of Myths and Heroes  
Ancient Rome - The Rise and Fall of an Empire  
Horizon    
The Bush Tucker Man    
The Power of Nightmares
Animation
Tintin             
Shrek I-IV   
Ice Age I-IV 
Inside Out          
Despicable Me I & II  
Epic       
Rio I & II
Lorax   
Le Parfum de la Carotte    
Pim & Pom: Het Grote Avontuur       
Pinky and the Brain
Batman: The Animated Series   


..................................................................................................................................

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Corrupting science

As been noted before science is not necessarily reliable. Since monetary gains trump scientific integrity it is difficult to prevent the misrepresentation or fabrication of science. A previous post explained the use of claimed uncertainty in science confabulated by the  Merchants of Doubt.

Case in point, Emilie Udell for the Center for Public Integrity reports how a lawyer (Evan Nelson of the law firm Tucker Ellis & West) invited a scientist to publish a "scientific theory" regarding the cause of mesothelioma. Coincidentally:
Nelson defended companies that had exposed people to asbestos .........
Luckily for his clients
Nelson came up with a new culprit: tobacco.
But:
There was an obvious problem with Nelson’s “science.” Researchers for decades have exhaustively analyzed data on the health of hundreds of thousands of smokers. Since 1964, the U.S. Surgeon General has summarized the findings of study after study, none of which shows evidence that tobacco causes mesothelioma.
The scientist involved offered to write "scientific articles" meant to be used in court cases. A firm offering such services is Gradient.
A group of academic researchers were so outraged by an article on BPA [bisphenol A, which, according to hundreds of studies is linked to health problems] written by Gradient’s Julie Goodman and Lorenz Rhomberg that they wrote a lengthy response with a table listing all the “false statements” in it.
In the words of the report:
Gradient has become a leading scientific voice in trying to prevent further regulation of air pollution.
Continuing the exposé the Center for Public Integrity recounts the case of Pam Collins, who was suffering from mesothelioma allegedly caused by asbestos gloves. Shawn Acton, one of the lawyers, was confronted with a novel theory regarding the cause of mesothelioma:
Acton did a little research and discovered that Valberg [the aforementioned scientist] had just co-authored an article in the Journal of Environmental Radioactivity saying that cigarette smoke emits radiation. And he noticed that the article was funded by the law firm representing the maker of the gloves.
Acton had no idea that months earlier a lawyer at the firm, Evan Nelson, had concocted the scientific theory that Valberg was using against Collins. Or that Valberg and colleague Goodman had emailed drafts of the article in advance to the lawyer, as their contract required.
In another court case lawyers
decided to subpoena all records .....
The discovery led to e-mails showing how Nelson had commissioned three scientific articles and how its authors struggled to get it published. Eventually two got published.
Pam Collins’s lawyer said efforts by industry consultants to absolve asbestos of blame show they will say almost anything.
“Why are some of these companies putting so much money into research to be published in scientific and medical journals years and sometimes decades after they stop making the product?” Acton asked rhetorically. “Is its purpose for the advancement of medicine? Is its purpose to address a public health concern? Its purpose is for litigation. It’s science for sale.”
The article proves that even scientists are not above human nature.


Saturday, 23 January 2016

Politics vs. Reality revisited

There are many that fail to appreciate how their lack of knowledge leads them to feel they are experts, this infliction has unfortunately been diagnosed among politicians.

As you undoubtedly remember this has led me to suggest limiting the politicians ability to view their job description to be ideology-driven as opposed to reality-based

Recent events appear to justify that. Several news items show how today we have unfortunate situations that might have not occurred had politicians adhered to Evidence-Based Policy. However, considering the total failure of the media one does have to admit the problem is not just politicians. We lack incentives to adopt an approach that puts the best for society at the top of the politicians to-do list.

The events in Flint illustrate the tension between responsible governance and opportunism:
As (Governor) Snyder was testing the presidential waters, however, his government was being shamefully unaccountable to constituents who were concerned about their water supply. The city of Flint switched its primary water source from Lake Huron, through Detroit’s system, to the Flint River in April 2014. Approved by an emergency manager appointed by the governor, the move was supposed to save the beleaguered city millions of dollars. But residents soon began reporting tap water that appeared discolored, smelled rotten, and caused kids to break out in rashes. Today, Flint has become a nightmarish example of how misguided austerity policies can literally poison the public.
The article continues to explain this by mentioning the moronic "let's get rid of the government"-zealots:
Unfortunately, the biggest obstacles to desperately needed public investments are politicians like Snyder who conflate “accountability” with austerity. For Republican technocrats in particular, more accountability almost always means less spending on government programs that help ensure the public good.
But of course, we are not allowed to know the details of the decision making process. Unlike scientists who are unrelentingly harassed in the name of transparancy by agents of Big Industry, otherwise known as politicians. Take the case of using politics to sabotage science in order to serve Global Warming denialism:
If you don’t like a particular scientific study, attack the scientists who produced it. It’s a tried and true method of manufacturing controversy around inconvenient scientific analysis. And now, Lamar Smith, Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, is using the sledgehammer of a congressional subpoena to bully National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists for their research on climate change.
I cannot help but think of the following article:
Coal subsidies are costing US and Australian taxpayers billions of dollars a year, according to a new report.
It continues by citing Tim Buckley, who worked on the report:
“Any discussion of cost competitiveness of renewable energy and energy efficiency needs to take into account the decades of extensive subsidies evident for the coal industry and that, in many cases, remain in place today.”
Another example of reality-challenged action is Michigan no longer requiring the use of helmets for motorists:

In the three years after Michigan repealed a mandatory motorcycle helmet law, deaths and head injuries among bikers rose sharply, according to a recent study.

Deaths at the scene of the crash more than quadrupled, while deaths in the hospital tripled for motorcyclists. Head injuries have increased overall, and more of them are severe, the researchers report in the American Journal of Surgery
Then we have the odious example of white terrorists in Oregon. A situation hinted at in a report deemed unacceptable by ideologues:
Daryl Johnson, a former analyst for the Department of Homeland Security, wasn’t surprised when Ammon Bundy and his group of right-wing gunmen took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. His office was responsible for the famous 2009 report, “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment,” which suggested right-wing groups would be an emerging domestic terror threat if left unchecked.
However, the report, which was published in the fraught political climate shortly after the first inauguration of Barack Obama, created outrage amongst Republicans and right-wing media outlets, and the political pushback resulted in the burying of the report, an apology from DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, and the eventual closure of Johnson’s office.
Then we have the blooming Big Brother industry attemting to mandate the software industry to grant automatic (without the need for any court of law), and unrestricted access through so-called backdoors to our information. Again, against the advise of those more knowledgable:
The Dutch government has released a statement in which it says that "it is currently not desirable to take restricting legal measures concerning the development, availability and use of encryption within the Netherlands." It also notes that forcing companies to add backdoors to their products and services would have "undesirable consequences for the security of communicated and stored information," since "digital systems can become vulnerable to criminals, terrorists and foreign intelligence services."
President Obama, increasingly annøyed with repeated gunmassacres in the US announced he intends to unilaterally implement some restriction on the spread of killing machines among people needing to assert their manhood. The obligatory gun fetishists are increasingly seperated from reason, to the point of them opposing even saint Ron:
... in 1991, former president Ronald Reagan wrote an op-ed endorsing federal gun control legislation; in 2016, Obama’s proposed to do less on gun control than even Reagan wanted is seen by Reagan-worshipping Republicans as unconscionable tyranny. 
Maybe Richard Feynman can help us interpret politicalese more reliable and reality-based.

Update 1:
Regarding the dubious handling of water poisoned with lead in Flint:
Water authorities across the US are systematically distorting water tests to downplay the amount of lead in samples, risking a dangerous spread of the toxic water crisis that has gripped Flint, documents seen by the Guardian show.
        ........................................................................................................
..................  the issue of misleading test results was widespread. “There is no way that Flint is a one-off,” [Lambrinidou] (a senior environmental scientist at the department of health) said.“There are many ways to game the system. In Flint, they went to test neighbourhoods where they knew didn’t have a problem. You can also flush the water to get rid of the lead. If you flush it before sampling, the problem will go away.
“The EPA has completely turned its gaze away from this. There is no robust oversight here, the only oversight is from the people getting hurt. Families who get hurt, such as in Flint, are the overseers. It’s an horrendous situation. The system is absolutely failing.”
The Centers for Disease Control is very clear about lead’s impacts on children. The agency emphasises that lead has no biological function in humans, and even the smallest exposure can developmentally impair children.
Not entirely safeguarding the publics health.

Update 2:
David Gorski has a good analysis of the unfortunate choices made resulting in the poisoning of Flint:
For those of you who haven’t heard of it yet, the Flint water crisis refers to the ongoing contamination of the tap water in Flint, MI with unacceptably high levels of lead that resulted from change in its water supply nearly two years ago to Flint River water.
 His conclusion hints at the root cause:
Now we will now be forced to use science-based medicine to treat potentially thousands of children for lead poisoning and science to try to fix the problems caused by this colossal failure of science-based public policy. Worse, it’s still going on, as The Guardian just reported on Friday that water authorities across the US are systematically distorting water tests to downplay the amount of lead in samples.
As I think about that, seeing the Governor throwing mid-level bureaucrats under the bus and other politicians saying that the Flint water crisis is a hoax does not give me confidence in how this crisis will ultimately turn out or that the aging infrastructure that allows such a catastrophe to occur will be fixed any time soon.
There is more out there for those interested in the Flint disaster. ProPublica has a podcast about what caused the problem, who dropped the ball, and what happens next. Or, try Mother Jones, which uses the deteriorating health of LeeAnne Walters and her family to tell the underlying story. And, then there is Dah Wiki.