Friday, November 30, 2007

Night Shift Causes Cancer?

There is no way I could ever be a news reporter or even a headline reading news anchor. I would go to bed at night feeling unclean, with guilty conscience knowing I had fed my audience a spiel full of half-truths, package-deals, out of context statements and a general disrespect for concepts and their meanings. I would get bounced out of any job like that in the first day or so because, in order to sleep at night, I would have to annotate everything.

Case in point: in Friday's Detroit News is a front page, above the fold article by AP writer Maria Cheng which, if I were anchorman--then reporter-- Mike N, I would report thusly, my annotations in brackets:

"The Associated Press reports on a new study which found that working the 'Night shift may cause cancer'. [Which means after tonight there will be no more News at Eleven.] Our ace reporter Mike N has the story from London. Mike?"

*Thanks Mike. 'London--Like UV rays and diesel exhaust fumes, working the graveyard shift will soon be listed as a *probable* cause of cancer.
It is a surprising step validating a concept once considered wacky.'

[Actually folks, it doesn't validate anything. It just identifies itself with that wacky concept which we are to believe was once considered wacky but evidently no longer is.]

"Next month, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the cancer arm of the World Health Organization, will add overnight shift work as a probable carcinogen.

The higher cancer rates don't prove working overnight can cause cancer. There may be other factors among graveyard shift workers that raise their risk for cancer.

However, scientists suspect that overnight work is dangerous because it disrupts the circadian rhythm, the body's biological clock. The hormone melatonin, which can suppress tumor development, is normally produced at night."

[While true, this is a misnomer. According to this source, Melatonin is produced in darkness which for most people is at night. But if you work at night and sleep in a darkened room, you'll still get your melatonin.]

"There are plenty of skeptics. And to put the risk in perspective, the "probable carcinogen" tag means that the link between overnight work and cancer is merely plausible.

Dr. David Decker, an oncologist for Beaumont Hospital said he's never heard of a correlation between cancer and the shift a patient has worked, although he said it's plausible.

"I would take (the study) with interest but I wouldn't change my lifestyle or go out and quit my job," Decker said."

[So we see ladies and gentlemen that the threat is only a plausible one but the IARC is going to call it 'probable' anyway. My advice? Don't lose any sleep over this one.]*

I probably wouldn't make it to the end of the story before security guards escorted me out the door. I do think the reporter Ms. Cheng, and contributing News writer Oralander Brand-Williams did a good job of giving some balanced perspective to the article.

However, one more quote from that article is noteworthy:

""The indications are positive," said Vincent Cogliano, head of the agency's (IARC-ME) carcinogen classifications unit. "There was enough of a pattern in people who do shift work to recognize that there's an increase in cancer, but we can't rule out the possibility of other factors.""

I want to add that what is really going on here with elevating 'plausible' to have the same meaning as 'probable' is another attempt to morph the meaning of correlation into causation. As readers of this blog know from this post, a "positive pattern" is all that is needed for a correlation to be deemed "convincing". Once so ordained, it becomes fact and no more evidence or proof is needed.

The need to end government encouragement of science has never been greater.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Some Positive Posts

Joseph Kellard at The American Individualist has a post on one such individualist, Roger Folz, who built his gumball vending business into a nation wide company from modest beginnings but now is closing the doors having sold it to a larger company. In "Folz is Folding" Mr. Kellard opens with
"They have a cure for old age now," 79-year-old Roger Folz quipped as he slowly, carefully climbed the stairs in his office. "Die young."
Projecting an image of man the achiever, the story is well worth reading.

In addition, Mr. Kellard tells how he came to write that story in another post titled "Anatomy of a Story" in which he shows how a writer can start out thinking he's going to write a certain story but wind up writing a completely different one.
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Sarita at The Kalamazoo Objectivist has a 14 min. video about a man who is not an objectivist but is committed to staying focused on reality 24/7, James Randi. She quotes part of his video:
"Why people are so drawn to the irrational has always puzzled me. I want to, if I can,be as sure of the real world around me as is possible...I want the greatest degree of control. I've never involved myself in narcotics of any kind. I don't smoke. I don't drink because that can easily just fuzz the edges of my rationality, fuzz the edges of my reasoning powers and I want to be aware as I possibly can. That means giving up a lot of fantasies that might be comforting in some ways but I'm willing to give that up in order to live in an actually real world as close as I can get to it."
Admirable code to live by indeed.
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SoftwareNerd has a list of "Ten Simple Poems". I enjoyed them. Hope you do too.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Nonsense

While I've spent the week posting short notes on things I'm grateful for, I see this week has been one for the utterly inane and and mindless. First, via Drudge Report is an article by Telegraph writer Roger Highfield about two American cosmologists who claim "Mankind 'shortening the universe's life'. How?
The damaging allegations are made by Profs Lawrence Krauss of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and James Dent of Vanderbilt University, Nashville, who suggest that by making this observation in 1998 we may have caused the cosmos to revert to an earlier state when it was more likely to end. "Incredible as it seems, our detection of the dark energy may have reduced the life-expectancy of the universe," Prof Krauss tells New Scientist.
It's incredible alright, incredible that these two men bought into the nonsense of the Schrodinger's Cat experiment. This theory holds that states of existence are determined not by the nature of the things existing, but by the act of a consciousness perceiving them. The folly of that idea has been exposed before and doesn't need restating by me. Fools and unthinking intellectuals will always be with us but what is really amazing is that these gentlemen are collecting a paycheck and are being taken seriously by others in the so-called intellectual professions.

Paul at Noodle Food has posted on this also. Comments are interesting.
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Next is the report, also from Drudge, by Jeffrey Earl Warren of the San Fransisco Chronicle, that SF is considering banning all fireplaces. Mr Warren makes good practical arguments against such a ban but misses the moral argument. The closest he comes is:
Those of us in rural communities feel bullied by this sort of nanny state legislation. We'd like to believe that a man's home is indeed his castle. Most of us live in small towns or the country for a reason. We don't like cities. We don't like traffic. We don't like noise. We don't like the dirty air.
A good moral argument of course would be that 'a man's home is indeed his castle' by unalienable individual right, and not by permission of the state. The government has no right to ban anything in anyone's home so long as no one's rights are being violated.

BTW, if this goes through can backyard barbecue grills be far behind?

Friday, November 23, 2007

Giving Thanks for Rational Education

It's the day after Thanksgiving and I spent about 6 1/2 hours babysitting my two grandsons. A lot to be thankful for there.

But today, Lisa VanDamme, founder of VanDamme Academy, is also reflecting on some of her favorite things. Because I know a rational education is of crucial importance to human survival, I reprint her latest newsletter below.



Pedagogically Correct Volume 2, Issue 3
November 23, 2007

"Pedagogy": The art and science of teaching.
:: Calling All LifeLong Learners: Learn Science the VanDamme Academy Way!
:: Announcement: Pedagogically Correct Blog


Yesterday's Highlights: Stories From Home

We at VanDamme Academy love hearing stories about things the students do or say at home that reflects their VanDamme Academy education. I recently asked parents to share some stories from home. Here are a few highlights:

Calvin (5):

I was talking to Calvin about the upcoming trip to Schoolhouse Rock, and I told him how much I enjoyed the songs as a child. I started singing "Conjunction Junction for him: "Out of the frying pan and into the fire. He cut loose the sandbags but the balloon wouldn't go any higher. Let's go up to the mountains or down to the sea. Always say 'thank you' or at least say 'please.'" Then Calvin said, "Pan, fire, bag, balloon, mountain and sea are nouns."

Mrs. O'Brien's poetry discussions and literature readings have had an impact on Calvin. He's begun to describe things metaphorically. Yesterday he told his little sister she has a smile of sparkly snowflakes. He told me my eyes are made of fairy dust, ocean water and chocolate milk. (They're green with flecks of brown and a rim of blue.) Later that evening he was thinking of Mrs. Beach and her black hair. He said, "Mama, Mrs. Beach's hair is made of night-time sky and pretty, pretty stars."

Last week we were sitting down to dinner and Calvin said, out of the blue, "Daddy, would you rather eat leather or die?" (I hope my cooking didn't put that idea in his head.) After some prompting from us, he told us he learned from Mrs. Beach that Columbus and the sailors on his ship ran out of food and had to eat leather to survive. He made a little game out of thinking of other things that might have some nutritional value and could pass as food if he were stuck on a ship in the middle of the ocean. "Would you rather eat sawdust or die? Would you rather eat leaves or die?"

Jonathan (7):

Allie, Johnny's younger sister, received a copy of the Disney film Pocahontas. She was telling him about the movie when he said to her: "That's not the real story at all." He then proceeded to tell her his entire history lesson on the subject. When I asked him if it bothered him that the movie wasn't the real story, he said, "No, movies aren't real."

Lana (8):

Yesterday, on the way to a birthday party, we passed La Paz Rd., and Lana declared, "La Paz is the capital of Bolivia!" (A fact learned in Mr. Mizrahi's geography class.) Later that day, she feared Greta was being too rough on their dog Gracie, and said, "Be careful not to hyperextend her paw." (A term learned in Mr. Krieger's science class.) Over the summer, when I was at the gym with the girls and Lana heard someone say his son didn't "do too good in school," Lana waited until he was gone and whispered to me, "Don't worry, Mom. I corrected his grammar in my mind."

Darcy (4):

Darcy was telling me that she missed her family in Virginia and wanted to move back. I told her I understood how she felt and that it would be so nice to be near her aunt and grandma. I then said that if we did go back it would mean that Darcy wouldn't have her friends Lana and Greta nearby, wouldn't be in Mrs. Beach's class, wouldn't have her classmates, etc. Darcy said, "I have an idea. We can do what they did in olden times and start a colony."

Bianca (8):

At home one evening, Bianca was plotting schemes to steal balls from the boys at recess in their benevolent, ongoing boy-girl rivalry. She read her plans to me in the car on the way to school. I was instantly struck and thrilled by her scheme: it was in outline form! I thought to myself, "My child has an orderly mind! She THINKS in outlines!" This is unquestionable the result of the structured note- taking and writing she does at VanDamme Academy.



Calling All LifeLong Learners: Learn Science the VanDamme Academy Way!
Now Anyone Can Understand The Fundamental Principles of Science Better than Most Scientists
"Fundamentals of Physical Science: A Historical, Industive Approach"
By David Harriman, Historian and Philosopher of Physics

Learn all about it at our brand new website.

Here's what other Pedagogically Correct Readers are Saying:

"I am currently a Ph.D. candidate in physics, and I was amazed at how much I learned from David Harriman's course. This course stands head and shoulders above any other course or textbook I have encountered."

"It's perfect for someone relatively new to physics like myself; it's perfect for even advanced people who want a deeper historical perspective than is usually taught...I found Mr. Harriman's physics course to be an exciting walk through the fascinating world of physics."

"I think this type of course is needed for everyone, as in my experience, it's so far above the courses I've had throughout my life as far as the actual transmittal of knowledge is concerned...In short, this course has made science and math much more intelligible for me, and was completely worth the time and cost - I highly recommend it."

I was a physics major when I entered college, yet I can easily say that my actual understanding of physics is much greater as a result of this course than I can credit to any other class I've taken.

www.vandammescience.com

With this course you will:
* Finally understand the world around you, the world of science and technology, in a way you never thought possible. (No, you don't have to be a math wiz.)
* Learn the thinking methods of the greatest minds in history.
* Understand what all those physics equations and formulas you once memorized really mean.
* Be inspired by scientists' amazing 2500-year quest to unlock the mysteries of the physical world.
* And have a great time in the process!

All thanks to a one-of-a-kind science teaching methodology available in no other course or textbook.


www.vandammescience.com


Announcement: Pedagogically Correct Blog
www.pedagogicallycorrect.com
Check out our 'blog, which will contain much (but not all) of the material we sent out in our newsletters. Spread the word!




VanDamme Academy encourages you to forward our newsletter to your friends or post it on your website or blog. If this newsletter has been forwarded to you, you can sign up to receive Pedagogically Correct for free, at www.vandammeacademy. com.

Happy Learning!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Giving Thanks to Soldiers and Pioneers

Today is Thanksgiving Day and I had a great meal with family today. I have several groups I want to thank. The first is all the soldiers who fought and risked their lives so that their families and country could continue to have joyous holidays like today.

Second, I thank the pioneers who settled Jamestown in a for-profit adventure funded by a global corporation 400 years ago this year. America really was founded on the principles of capitalism.

Both the pioneer and the soldier are cut from the same moral cloth. Both were willing to make the ultimate trade: their life in return for a better future.

To Them I say a profound thank you!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Giving Thanks for Capitalism

Today I want to give thanks to our founding fathers for establishing a rights respecting social system called Capitalism. This rights honoring system allowed men to create material and intellectual values they could trade with other men. This led to the incredible technology we have today.

Recently a relative gave birth to a baby 2 months premature. When I went to visit, I noticed all the tubes and monitor wires attached to these little beings. I also noticed 4 other premies in the same unit and I realized how fortunate we were to have this technology at our disposal. It occured to me that before Capitalism, most if not all of these babies would not have survived.

So I say thanks Founders for creating Capitalism and the life-sustaining modern technology that it has made possible.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Giving Thanks For Earth's Gravity

Just two days before Thanksgiving, I want to give thanks to the fact that I live on Earth and not Jupiter. You see Jupiter is 318 times more massive than Earth and I think the gravity ratio would be about the same. That means that since I am about 30 lbs overweight on Earth, (I'm working on that) I would be 9,540 lbs overweight on Jupiter. Now that would require one helluva diet and excercise plan! No thank you!

(On the other hand, if I went to the moon, which has only 1/6 of the Earth's gravity, my 208 lbs would reduce to only about 35 lbs and mother nature would owe me some pounds. Seconds anyone?)

Monday, November 19, 2007

Giving Thanks to Carbon

Since this is Thanksgiving week, I have decided to give thanks for a few of my favorite things. Today I give thanks to the element Carbon. After all it is what I am made of. Without it I wouldn't be here. In fact, all living things are made of it. Carbon is unique in that it can easily combine with so many other elements to make so many different and useful--that is, life sustaining--compounds.

It is true that Carbon can unite with oxygen to form the deadly gas Carbon Monoxide. But it redeems itself beautifully by also forming Carbon Dioxide which is a life giving food for all plants. It is an indispensable gas without which there would be no life on this earth. It can be said that we humans are this element's greatest achievement thanks to its magnum opus--the DNA molecule.

I personally can't do justice to this excellent element. But John Brignell at Number Watch has come pretty darn close with a superb essay titled "In Praise of Carbon" which I highly recommend. In fact, that essay inspired this little thank you note.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Right to Paradise

Planet Ark has a Reuters news story by Ajay Makan titled:"Climate Change Threatens Human Rights - Small Island States" (h/t Junkscience.com of Nov 14th) In it Mr. Makan writes:
MALE - Representatives of 26 of the world's small island states met in the Maldives capital Male on Tuesday to draft a resolution identifying climate change as a threat to human rights.
That's right! Rising seas and other natural forcings can be guilty of violating your rights. This isn't a misunderstanding. Mr. Makan removes all fog with this clarification:
Delegates are expected to agree a declaration that climate change threatens the fundamental right to a safe, secure and sustainable environment, forcing developed countries to view rising seas through the prism of human rights.
Have you ever heard more unthinking drivel before? If these delegates sign this declaration they will be displaying a total ignorance of the concept rights, its source, its purpose and its nature.

In her essay 'Man's Rights' Novelist/Philosopher Ayn Rand pointed out that:
The concept of a "right" pertains only to action—specifically, to freedom of action. It means freedom from physical compulsion, coercion or interference by other men.
It does not mean freedom from the requirements of nature including one's own. It does not mean freedom from the responsibility of using one's mind to provide for one's survival. It does not mean that one can call on governments to force someone to somehow provide one with a "safe, secure and sustainable environment."

The intellectual deterioration of our age is really getting bad. People like these delagates can look at the phrase "right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" (our Constitution is not a secret) and not have a clue as to its meaning. This is the age of whim worship. Like our Supreme Court, if you wish to declare a life-giving gas like carbon dioxide a pollutant, go ahead and it shall be so. If you want to stamp your feet like a 12 year old spoiled brat because no one has provided you with a safe, secure and sustainable environment, have at it. It's standard procedure nowadays.

I don't know how much attention the world will pay to these delegates but if past performance is any indication, they'll get all the press they want and then some. The only way to combat this kind of ignorance is with a clear understanding of the concept of rights which can be gained by reading Ms. Rand's essay Man's Rights in her book Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, or in the book Virtue of Selfishness. A collection of her quotes on 'rights' can be viewed here.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Unearned Guilt via Environmentalism

Lubos Motl at The Reference Frame has a great post titled "Trillions for CO2 regulation and guilt propagation". In it he points out how expensive carbon mitigation really is, provides another proof that the whole AGW campaign is driven by politics not science, and shows how China may be blaming the western nations for its emissions. Mr. Motl talks about how the west should not accept this guilt because it is just typical communist propaganda as well as being inherently unjust. All true but I want to focus on the concept he correctly identifies as "guilt propagation." Regarding guilt Mr. Motl says:
This question about the propagation of "guilt" is another important aspect of this whole debate. Imagine, for a little while, that CO2 emissions are harmful. Who is responsible for the Chinese emissions? Is it the buyers?
A few paragraphs later he correctly points out that:
But one of the principles of an enlightened modern society is that guilt simply cannot propagate in this way. For example, you shouldn't be held responsible for your parents' being killers even though you have had relationships of many kinds with your parents.
On close inspection one can see that the kind of guilt Mr. Motl is referring to is unearned guilt. I want to pursue this concept further for it is indeed an "important aspect of this whole debate."

The entire AGW-equals-catastrophe movement is spread by employing two main techniques; the propagation of fear and the propagation of unearned guilt. We all know about how the greens propagate fear. Just pick up any newspaper or magazine or consult any evening news broadcast and you'll see enough half-truths, package deals, out of context assertions and nonsequiturs to fill a book of logical fallacies.

But it's the propagation of an unearned guilt that is the most insidious. The main tool used in this technique is the concept "the environment." Let's look at that concept a little closer.

My Webster's college dictionary defines 'environment' as "1.surrounding or being surrounded, 2.something that surrounds,3.all the conditions, circumstances and influences surrounding and affecting the development of an organism or group of organisms: often contrasted with heredity." We see then that the concept 'environment' is local and/or regional.

If we look around the world, we see many different species of organisms living in a discernible environment. Some even share the same environment like predators and prey or competitive species. The sum total of all these environments is what we refer to as nature. Just as there is no such thing as a global climate, only local or regional ones, so the same is true for the concept global environment. It refers to the total of all the environments.

As an aside, notice how a trick is being used with both above mentioned concepts. Both 'global climate' and 'the environment' are being sold to American citizens as if they were individual things, single entities which can be controlled with a few tweaks by knowledgeable 'experts.' But if one remembers that global climate actually refers to hundreds if not thousands of local and regional climates all dynamically interacting with each other, and it is these the enviros are claiming we must--and they know how--to control, one sees the utter absurdity of their claims. Well, the same is true for 'the environment'. And this is where the selling of unearned guilt comes in.

To get a person, or nation, to accept an unearned guilt, one must get them to believe they are responsible for something which in reality they are not. The method used is the cognitive package deal. It takes the valid meaning of environment, an organism's surroundings that influence it, and stretches its meaning to include everyone else's environments. If he accepts this new meaning, he is agreeing to be held responsible for whatever happens to anyone's environment. It is a guilt he has not earned but has accepted. Thus, if he can be told that his actions or lack of same, had a negative impact on someone's environment halfway around the world, his guilt will make him want to atone by offering sacrifices (like donating to green foundations) or performing rituals (like recycling). {The former is what the enviro movement is all about}

Just as it would be immoral to hold Antarctic penguins responsible for the environment of a tree frog in Argentina, and that frog responsible for the environment of a sparrow in Michigan, and that sparrow responsible for the environment a Hudson Bay polar bear, so it is equally immoral to hold a man in New York responsible for the environment in Miami, or that Miami man responsible for the environment in Tokyo. It isn't their environment. They are not responsible for it. And no one should accept an unearned guilt from anyone for any reason.

Lubos Motl nailed it when he said:
Guilt for well-defined sins must be localized to those who are really responsible.
Amen


(I am indebted to Peter Schwartz for his identification of 'the environment" as a cognitive package deal in his lecture set "Clarity in Conceptualization: The Art of Identifying 'Package-Deals'" which can be purchased here.)

Update: fixed a typo in headline.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Flushing Meadows?

I have sometimes heard the expression that our world was going down the toilet. I always thought that was just a metaphore, until now. My comcast news page reports that "Mr. Toilet" in Korea, has built a two story house in the shape of one. Toilet that is. For now, ABC News online has a short video here.

I suppose he's just trying to be ac-commodating!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Socialized Medicine

Sarita at The Kalamazoo Objectivist has a good post on socialized medicine. She has a link to a 9 minute video titled "Uninsured in America" by Blain Greenberg which I recommend viewing. She says about the video:
It explains how this 45 million uninsured figure is a canard to get us all up in a tizzy about the shamefulness of it all. But actually if one examines the number closer a different picture emerges.
Indeed it does.

Evidently, this video is at a website called Free Market Cure with other similar videos on how subhuman socialized medicine really is. I've added it to my favorites list.
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About why it has to be subhuman, Myhraf has a perceptive observation in his post "It's Over" about why he thinks Hillary doesn't stand a chance in 08. It is:
Clinton is a statist through and through. She sees the American people as helpless, deluded creatures who need to be forced and controlled for their own good by altruist philosopher-kings like Hillary Clinton. She thinks of herself as having "compassion" and "caring for the common man," but when one thinks of people as inferior children who need to be lied to, there is another feeling just beneath the surface: contempt. Her contempt and condescension shine through on TV.
I couldn't agree more. When I watch her on TV she just looks condescending to me. Anyway I do think contempt for the unwashed masses is shared by many on the left.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Reducing CO2 Emissions, It's So Simple Even a....

In my last post "New Paradigm: Correlation=Causality" I wrote about what it can look like when scientists consider the issue of truth and falsehood irrelevant. In it I wrote that
So, if one becomes indifferent to truth and therefore reality, one will also become indifferent to the meaning of those things that identify reality--concepts and their symbols, words. Words then become nothing more than tools that one uses to get what one wants in a social context. Sometimes all one might want is to do is observe a problem, like a lady's splitting grocery bag dumping its contents onto the floor, and write an essay on the need for double-bagging.

This article at the Times of India (h/t Benny Peiser) is about:
The UN Human Development Report's core message is that climate change could cause reversal of human development in
the 21st century, particularly in developing countries. Lead author Kevin
Watkins tells Narayani Ganesh that rich countries ought to take drastic,
mandatory action to prevent global catastrophe:
It continues with my comments in brackets:
Q: Should India set hard targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions (GHGe)?

A: No. I said rich countries ought to undertake mandatory, binding emissions
cuts to stabilise GHGe during 2012-2050. It is unrealistic to expect developing countries to do so. The aim should be to gradually reduce emissions from
developing countries after 2020 [This sounds like a marketing ploy: sign up now and you won't have to make any payments-sacrifices-till 2020.] but at a rate which is consistent with expanding
access to electricity [what is that rate? How is it determined? Who determines it?] for the 1.6 billion who don't have access and in improving [how?]
energy services for the five million people who manage their energy needs
through collecting firewood and dung.
And:
For this to happen we need to transfer financial and technological resources [whose?] through multilateral ways [multilateral means ganging-up-on the owners and producers of those resources], expanding access to energy and improving efficiency
through low carbon technology. Funds [whose?] should also be made available for adaptation. This mechanism should be part of whatever replaces the present Kyoto Protocol (KP) that culminates in 2012.
What does 'made available' mean? Notice how all the problems are only problems because of a lack of access? Evidently people don't have energy, technology and riches because they don't have access to them. Presumably, rich people are rich because they have access to riches. In Mr. Watkins mind, it is access that the haves have, and access that the have nots have not. The obvious solution then is to 'transfer' the resources of the haves so that the have nots have access to them. Have you ever heard of a more simplistic view of reality?

(Nowhere is there any recognition of the fact that prosperity, energy and technology are things that have a specific nature and very specific requirements to bring them into existence. If the have nots are ever to have, it is these requirements they need to discover then have, capitalism, individual rights, reason, freedom.)

The words and concepts for solving GW problems are slung together by the Gores and Watkins of the world in such a concrete bound, obvious, but-of-course, simplistic kind of way, one gets the impression that intellectual cavemen would be able to understand them. Alas, it's not an impression, that's to whom that essay is appealing.

Update: edited last sentence for clarity.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

New Paradigm: Correlation=Causation

In my recent post "Lil' Junk Science Roundup" of 10/29, I linked to an article at JunkfoodScience.com about how epidemics are created by changing the definitions of diseases and how the definition of heart attack will soon be expanded to include detection of elevated Troponin levels. But as JFS moderator Sandy Szwarc points out, there are things other than heart attacks that can cause such elevated Troponin levels.

Now I have no problem with advances in science that expand our knowledge of reality. Maybe medical science will integrate the addition of Troponin rationally. But I do have a problem with widening the goal posts to increase one's chances of achieving a scientific/political/funding/publishing score. In that post Ms. Szwarc reveals that in 1997/98 the goal posts were moved adding millions of people to various sick or unhealthy lists. For example:
“Overweight:”Definition changed from BMI ≥ 27 to BMI ≥ 25 by the U.S. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute in 1998, instantly increasing by 43% the numbers of Americans, an additional 30.5 million, deemed ‘overweight.’
Obesity epidemic? Now you know where a large chunk of it came from. The article also shows this was done to "hypertension", "high cholesterol" and "diabetes" just to name a few.

All this demonstrates once again the truth of "Governmental encouragement does not order men to believe that the false is true, it merely makes them indifferent to the issue of truth or falsehood."-Ayn Rand.

But what does it mean to be indifferent to truth or falsehood? In what concrete forms would that manifest itself? First, we have to ask what is truth? Objectivism answers that it is that which corresponds to reality. So, if one becomes indifferent to truth and therefore reality, one will also become indifferent to the meaning of those things that identify reality--concepts and their symbols, words. Words then become nothing more than tools that one uses to get what one wants in a social context. (Whoops! My mistake. There is no longer any such thing as a context or hierarchy into which concepts are integrated. There are only paradigms which have a mysterious power to change now and then. How? Somehow.)

The meaning of words is no longer determined by reference to reality but by whatever seems to be socially acceptable in the current paradigm. Thus it should come as no surprise that another JFS article informs us that the words 'correlation' and 'association' are now deemed to have the meaning 'causal'. Ms. Szwarc informs us:
How did they define associations as being causal? They created three grades of evidence:


· Convincing: Associations deemed as strong enough evidence to call ‘convincing’ of a causal relationship included: “at least two independent cohort studies...and a plausible biological gradient (‘dose response’) in the association. Such a gradient need not be linear or even in the same direction across the different levels of exposure, so long as this can be explained plausibly.”


· Probable: They defined associations as being strong enough to label as ‘probable’ of a causal relationship if it included: “at least two independent cohort studies, or at least five case control studies” and they could find a biological plausibility.


· Limited: The label of “limited, but suggestive” included associations “too limited to permit a probable or convincing causal judgement, but where there is evidence suggestive of a direction of effect. The evidence may have methodological flaws, or be limited in amount, but shows a generally consistent direction of effect. This almost always does not justify recommendations.” It included “at least two independent cohort studies or at least five case control studies.” And evidence labeled “limited, no conclusion” was that so limited no conclusion could be made.
So, if you wish upon a star, causal is what correlation and association are. In fact, 'plausible' can even become 'convincing'. Man,what magical power these words can have if you only put them in the right paradigm. (I recommend reading the whole article. It's packed with info.)

Obviously the above is nothing more than the attempt to declare something to be causal without having to do the rigorous work usually involved in identifying a causal mechanism. For a long time now, science, the media, academe, and the body politic have treated statistical studies as if they were a substitute for actual scientific experiments. This study is an attempt to put over the notion that there is no difference, they are the same.

Expanding the goal posts of existing disease definitions by including an ever growing number of non-essentials will serve only to obliterate the essential defining characteristics of those diseases and lead to chaos in medicine. So will the packaging together of different meaning concepts and pretending they have the same meaning.