Scientists offered cash to dispute climate study

According to a report on Friday, February 2, 2007 in The Guardian, scientists are being offered bribes of up to $10,000.00 to dispute the findings in a UN report on climate change by the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank funded by Exxon Mobil with close ties to the Bush Administration. This is an example of how the Bush administration is not making Americans or people around the world safe for future generations. This kind of lying and distorting of scientific evidence for the sake of the corporate bottom line is morally dispicable. Scientists and economists have been offered $10,000 each by a lobby group funded by one of the world's largest oil companies to undermine a major climate change report due to be published today.

Letters sent by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), an ExxonMobil-funded thinktank with close links to the Bush administration, offered the payments for articles that emphasise the shortcomings of a report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Link: Scientists offered cash to dispute climate study | The Guardian | Guardian Unlimited.

Menstruation and masturbation should be illegal


According to Stuart Coleman at Daily Irreverence, menstruation should be illegal as well as masturbation.

Since there’s just as much “potential” for a single egg to come to term as an externally-fertilized embryo, logically we should ban menstruation as immoral. Women of the earth, lend me your eggs, I mean, ears! Every time you menstruate, you murder a potential child! You must stop this indiscriminant killing! Each egg is precious, it carries with it the potential to make a human, for all it needs is sperm! Indeed, every sperm is sacred, and male masturbation kills thousands of potential children, and should thusly be outlawed!

Go to Stuart's post clicking on the link above and be sure to watch the YouTube video which is amusing and cute.

Quote of the day

"One of the most pernicious effects of religion is that it tends to divorce morality from the reality of human and animal suffering. Religion allows people to imagine that their concerns are moral when they are not - that is, when they have nothing to do with suffering or its alleviation. Indeed, religion allows people to imageine that their concerns are moral when they highly immoral - that is, when pressing these concerns inflicts unnecessary and appalling suffering on innocient human beings. This explains why Christians like yourself expend more 'moral' energy opposing abortion than fighting genocide. It explains why you are more concerned about human embryos than about the lifesaving promise of stem-cell research, And it explains why you can preach against condom use in sub-Saharan Africa while millions die from AIDS there each year."

Sam Harris, Letter To A Christian Nation, p. 25

Bush administration compromises scientific inquiry and understanding

The Bush Admininstration and the religious right have corrupted scientific inquiry and the dessemination of scientific information. The United States will only stay strong if its policies and actions are based on rational and scientific knowledge instead of religious and ideological "faith". Therefore, the Union of Concerned Scientists have a statement which you can sign calling for the restoration of integrity to governmental scientific work.

Please go to the web site and read the statement. If you agree, please sign it, and spread the word that the strength of our country depends on reason and science not on fundamentalist superstitions.

Link: Scientists Sign-on Statement.

Is the Bush administration anti science?

In the March 13, 2006 issue of The New Yorker, Michael Specter has an interesting article entitled "The White House vs. the laboratory". Mr. Specter describes the Bush Administration's ignoring of scientific findings, and lack of interest in using science as a means of addressing society's problems. This administration seems more influenced by religious belief than scientific discovery. This article is important in contributing to an understanding of how politics and science relate.

Specter does a little Q & A on line about his article.

The Administration simply doesn’t seem to rely on the advice of scientists on a wide range of issues: climate change, pollution, and biomedical research, for example. Previous Administrations have taken science as an area that is above the political fray—this one does not seem to operate that way.

Link: The New Yorker: Online Only: Content.

Texas Teens Increased Sex After Abstinence Program

Not_me_not_now The teen pregnancy rate is down across the country at the lowest levels since World War II. This is a good thing and it is not clear to me what the explanation is. Abstinence based sex education programs have been proliferating and I wondered if they were contributing to this finding, but Reuters reports on a study in Texas which found that abstinence based programs had no effect on the teens in Texas and may have actually increased sexually activity.

I favor abstinence based education but I am against programs which advocate for abstinence only. Kids also need information about contraception and other sexual practices. For example, there is evidence that kids now days engage in more oral sex to avoid genital intercourse because they believe this protects their virginity and is not "real" sex.

Governmental policies shaped by religious agendas rather than public health science is bad practice. It bothers me, and I believe it should bother every intelligent American, that increasingly public health and human service programs are being run by "faith based" organizations which have religious agendas with governmental tax dollars rather than by health care and human service professionals who base their practice, as best they are able, on science rather than religious ideology and dogma.

While we castigaged and drove the Taliban from power in Afghanistan, it appears that we, increasingly, have our own home grown version here in the United States.

Link: MedlinePlus: Texas Teens Increased Sex After Abstinence Program.

Trust the government and the drug companies? What were you thinking?

There is an interesting article in yesterday's, 12/28/04, New York Times about the public's reaction to the negative news recently about pain killers like Vioxx, Celebrex, and Aleve.

It reminds me of the joke that goes:

Q: What's the three biggest lies ever told?

A: I'll still love you in the morning.
    The check is in the mail.
    I'm from the government. I'm here to help you.

Ha, ha, ha.

Now the joke can be:

Q: What's the four biggest lies ever told?
A: In addition to the three answers above add this fourth.
    We manufacture this drug and our studies prove that it is good for you.

"Some doctors say they are concerned their patients may be overreacting, but psychologists who study how people evaluate risks say the widespread anxiety, raft of lawsuits and feelings of broken trust are neither surprising nor, necessarily, unwarranted.

"Based on what we know so far, it's understandable that people are worried that any risk that emerges with these drugs is probably the tip of the iceberg," said Dr. George Loewenstein, a professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon University.

"They hear that there was one study that didn't find an increase in heart attacks, but then they think, 'O.K., but how many studies have been suppressed?' " Dr. Loewenstein said. "There's a danger of a cataclysmic reduction or collapse of trust in physicians and in the government, and what we're seeing now could be a leading indicator of that."

Studies show that most people, learning of a drug's potentially deadly side effects or some other potential hazard, will accept a certain amount of danger if they feel they have unfiltered information and can properly weigh the risks. But in the last few months, the bad news trickling out of drug companies and from federal health officials has been murky and confusing, psychologists say.

"It's not like there's good information and people don't understand it," said Dr. Baruch Fischhoff, a professor of decision sciences at Carnegie Mellon. "There's lousy information and people are frustrated and acting appropriately."

I am reminded of the old saying, "When you wonder if its the money or the principle of the thing, you can bet your last buck it's the money."

So, gentle reader, if you want to know the truth about what you are being told about what's good for your health, follow the money. Unfortunately, health care in the last 30 years has become big business and you can't trust that the pharmaceutical companies, the HMOs, the government, the hospital, or even your health care provider (and there are some honest, caring ones out there) have your interests primarily at heart.

Since the day of snake oil, Americans have always been very gullible when it comes to their health. Unfortunately, many health care providers are as well. When the drug company salesperson brings gourmet sandwiches for the office staff for lunch, leaves oodles of free samples, leaves imprinted prescription pads, offers to send you to a "conference" in the Bahamas in February, their drugs look mighty fine.

When patients come in asking for the pill they saw on TV last night to take their pain away so they can ice skate like an Olympic star, get a hard penis like an 18 year old, eat spaghetti sauce and pepperoni without heart burn, get out of the doldrums and love life large, shoo their anxieties away so they can be social butterflies, what's a physician to say with a closet full of freebies and 9 more patients to see out in the waiting room before the end of the day in 45 minutes?

What Americans need is good information and health care providers they can trust who will give them the straight scoop, and not prostitute themselves on the altar of commerce.

Link: The New York Times > Health > Health Care Policy > Vioxx. Celebrex. Now Aleve. What's a Patient to Think?.

Bias seen in U.S. drug study reporting

It has been known for years among professionals that drug studies are often biased and questionable for several reasons.

Drug studies are often sponsored by the pharmaceutical companies that have a financial interest in findings that their drugs work and have few side effects. Therefore they have a huge bias and a conflict of interest.

Drug companies have been known to pay some prestigeful academic physician or other scientist to put their names on ghost written articles. There are all kinds of shennanigans like sending physicians to pharmaceutical company sponsored "conferences" in resort areas where they have these bogus "researchers" spout the company line about their drug to entice physicians to prescribe it, etc.

In Wednesday, December 15, 2004 issue of JAMA, there is a report of a meta-analysis of drug studies. Here is further evidence of the scamming that pharmaceutical companies perpetrate.

"A review of 48 U.S. drug studies in the American Journal of Medicine Wednesday showed apparent bias in those sponsored by pharmaceutical companies.

Of the 48, every one of the 30 sponsored papers reported favorable results, while only 12 of the 18 not supported by a pharmaceutical company were positive.

The authors propose three principles for medical societies to maintain the integrity of presentations about commercial products -- a requirement for full disclosure of financial support, an explicit policy of accepting negative studies as well as positive studies, and a series of lectures, discussions and debates at the annual meetings to help everyone recognize conflicts of interest and scientific bias."

Unfortunately, as medicine has become increasingly a "business" in the last 30 years instead of a human service, patients have to become increasingly knowledgeable about the treatments being offered them so they can be responsible and informed consumers. Most patients don't have the medical training to sort through the information, but increasingly, with the internet for example, it has become easier to get information if patients are willing to invest the time and energy. At the very least ask questions and more questions and more questions until you feel comfortable with the treatments being proposed.

Link: MedlinePlus: Bias seen in U.S. drug study reporting.

Antismoking Laws Curb Smoking And Lung Cancer

Smoking_in_a_bar There is a report in the December, 2004 medical journal, Chest, about a study in Findland which found that laws restricting smoking and advertising of tobacco in the 60s and 70s has decreased the number people with lung cancer and cardiovascular diseases in the 80s and 90s.

" In response to an increase in smoking-related diseases in the 1960s and 1970s, the Finnish government took legislative steps that banned all tobacco advertising, restricted public smoking, prohibited the sale of tobacco to minors, added health warnings to smoking packages, and used a portion of the tobacco tax revenue for smoking prevention.

To investigate whether these measures had any effect on smoking habits nationwide, the researchers reviewed smoking rates from 1960 and 2000, as well as the incidence of diseases linked to tobacco.

According to the report, the rate of smoking among men fell from 58 percent to 28 percent between 1960 and 2000. After 1971, the rate of lung cancer among men dropped from 80 cases per 100,000 men to 32 cases per 100,000 men. Likewise, death rates from respiratory disease also fell during the study period."

New York is only the sixth state in the United States to pass Clean Indoor Air Legislation. It expanded its law in July of 2003 to make it illegal to smoke in any building where there are employees. This means that bars, restaurants, factories, stores, office buildings, etc. have to be smoke free. There has been some resistance to this law especially from bar owners who claim that this law has hurt their business. The facts seem to say otherwise when sales tax receipts are analysed. At any rate, the bar owners association are kind of like holocaust deniers. They want to argue with the scientific evidence that smoking and second hand smoke causes disease. Here is more evidence.

It is also evidence that passing this kind of legislation improves the public health and saves lives as well as the costs of treating tobacco related diseases.

Link: MedlinePlus: Antismoking Laws Curb Smoking And Lung Cancer.

Iraq Prison Scandal Illustrates Basic Psych Principles

There have been many studies in social psychology that explain the abusive behavior of guards at Abu Ghraid, Guantanamo and other prison situations. Stanley Millgram did studies back in the 50s and 60s that demonstrated the capacity of good, moral, healthy human beings to committ atrocities. This human behavior is more a function of social context than individual personality as much as we don't want to acknowledge this. An article published in the magazine, Science, on November 26, 2004 reports findings from Princeton social psychologists which remark that this kind of behavior is more a function of the environment of social context than individual morality. These social science findings fly in the face of the myth that it is just a few "bad apples". Those in leadership positions have the responsibility to develop a positive social context that does not encourage or allow this kind of behavior.

"The acts of torture committed by United States soldiers at Abu Ghraib last year that prompted protests and disgust were an example of the power of social context, according to a team of Princeton psychologists.

Their report suggests that the individuals involved were not simply a "few bad apples," but rather ordinary men and women who were influenced by complex social forces.

"People like to explain other people's behavior in terms of unique personality, but the social context matters more than people think it does," Susan T. Fiske, a psychology professor at Princeton University in New Jersey told Reuters Health.

"In short, ordinary individuals under the influence of complex social forces may commit evil acts," Fiske and her team write in a policy forum published in the journal Science.

Fiske and her colleagues cite examples from various well-known psychological experiments that point to the influence of social context on behavior, which may explain why the soldiers abused the Iraqis placed in their custody.

Previous research shows that just about anyone can become aggressive under certain conditions, particularly if an individual is stressed, disgruntled or greatly provoked. The soldiers in the 800th Military Police Brigade involved in the prison scandal were no exception, the report indicates.

In addition to the stress of being at war and in constant danger and of being provoked and harassed by Iraqi citizens, these soldiers were reportedly untrained for the work they were assigned to do, and insufficiently supervised by their commanding officers."

A film which depicts this kind of dynamic convincingly is The Experiment, which is a German film distributed in 2001 and which I reviewed on this blog on November 24, 2003 over a year ago.

Link: MedlinePlus: Iraq Prison Scandal Illustrates Basic Psych Principles.