You Know You Are Suffering from a Mental Disorder When…
As we are hard at work on the next edition of Compelling Investments Quantified, for this week’s Parade, I am updating an article I initially wrote for my Sendero blog. While obviously biased, I think it is well worth a read.
As a bonus, I conclude with a useful list of websites that provide real news and analysis, as opposed to the political fluff that has become the standard.
With that brief introduction, and a reminder to not miss out on the opportunity to add discipline to your investment program with a no-risk trial to Compelling Investments Quantified, it’s on to the Parade…
You Know You Are Suffering from a Mental Disorder When…
This week’s theme leaped to mind after I heard about a former friend who, though endowed with pretty much everything this bountiful world has to offer, immerses herself in bad science, cultish leaps of faith, and self-absorption to the point of delusion.
And she puts it all out there in a blog so the world can share her every painful step to keep from being pulled low by greedy capitalist corporations that put their profits before people’s health by foisting GMO, non-organic foods, vaccinations, and other forms of dangerous medicines on the unwitting public.
Keep in mind, this is an attractive, physically healthy, otherwise intelligent young woman who, if it weren’t for her self-imagined demons, could, I suspect, be a success in any enterprise in any corner of the world.
Instead, she has cooked up a large pot of pity stew with extra measures of pure nonsense and a double dose of fear, turned the heat on high… and jumped in.
As you may have noticed—I certainly have—there’s a lot of that going around these days.
Yet, if these people could manage to pull their misery-laden heads out of their... of their… oversized hats!... and look at the bigger picture, here’s what they’d see:
GMO Is a Net Plus for Humanity
Mass starvation no longer plagues the world.
Didn’t use to be that way. When I was growing up, the lack of food cut down populations in China and Africa like there was no tomorrow. Which, for people without food, there isn’t. In China, from 1959 to 1962, somewhere between 20 million and 40 million people died after having been left with little more than dirt to eat.
And this wasn’t an outlier back in the day… Pearl S. Buck’s excellent book, The Good Earth, written in 1930, tells a similar story about the mass starvation in China in the early 1900s. Of course, many of the mass starvations were caused or exacerbated by governments, but there’s no question the introduction of GMO foods has weighed positively on the supply and demand balance.
Refuting the Malthusian argument that we are all DOOMED, David Lam of the University of Michigan’s Population Studies Center put together a presentation that you can watch here.
In it, he includes the above slide, which he explains as thus:
"The world is producing three times as much food today as in 1960; the population is two times what it was in 1960, so there's 41% higher food production per capita."
Now, before the knives come out, I am not particularly interested in the whole GMO debate. I do recognize certain concerns may have some merit—for example those about monoculture—but it seems to me that those concerns invariably involve the end of life as we know it, which always triggers a strong skeptical response in me.
Rather, I am trying to make a fairly simple point.
And that is that you can choose to spend time and energy worrying about things like GMO and their (scientifically unsupported) negative effects on your body… or you can look around at all the healthy, well-fed people and decide not to give the matter a second thought.
I promise you, not dwelling on GMOs will only be a positive as it will free up all sorts of time for more pleasant activities than checking labels in grocery stores, writing letters no one will read to your congressman, or going about with petitions that ultimately end up in a drawer or a shredder.
Coincidentally, after having written the above, I received a note from dear friend Pete Kofod containing a related link to an excellent article from the archives of wattsupwiththat.com, a good website for doing independent research (more on such sites later).
The article, titled “The Simon-Ehrlich Wager at Seven Billion People,” provides abundant data supporting free-market economist Julian Simon in his 1980 bet against Paul Ehrlich on the matter of resource depletion due to overpopulation.
This article should be required reading for every student in the world. Make that everyone in the world. Only then might we begin dialing back the sheer ignorance that dominates global policy discussions and Internet comment sections on matters related to population and the resources needed to support that population.
Vaccines Are Good… and Don’t Cause Autism
Of all the currently popular delusions and madness, this is one of the most disturbing.
Based on extremely poor science, a whole “anti-vax” movement has arisen that advocates doing away with vaccines against childhood diseases.
In the minds of these people, it’s time to say goodbye to autism and hello again to polio, measles, whooping cough, and all the other wonderful child killers of yesterday.
For a glance at the future, look no further than Afghanistan and corners of Pakistan and Nigeria where forward-looking imams have denounced vaccinations as a Western conspiracy and unleashed new epidemics.
But the anti-vax movement is making inroads in the United States as well. There were more cases of measles in the first month of 2015 than in all of 2014. Well done!
Rather than getting too deep into this topic, I’ll just share a link to a pretty good summary report on the indisputable benefits of vaccines from the World Health Organization.
As far as the correlation between vaccines and autism goes, that contention is usually supported by charts showing the increase in autism and the use of the MMR vaccine—charts such as this:
However, the chart below (which is from an excellent article on the topic on Steve Novella’s blog) points to a far tighter correlation. Which, as we all know, means causation. Right? Here’s the chart:
Speaking of Organic Food
The same mental disorder that causes people to become preoccupied with GMOs and vaccines invariably manifests itself in the belief that if it’s not organic, it’s poison.
I thought this quote from a recent article on the Science-Based Medicine site sums it up pretty well:
There once was a time when all food was organic and no pesticides were used. Health problems were treated with folk wisdom and natural remedies. There was no obesity, and people got lots of exercise. And in that time gone by, the average life expectancy was… 35!
Now, I have nothing against organic food, but per the discussion of food supply a minute ago, eliminating pesticides would be to invite pests back into the global village.
Could the industrial farmers be smarter about their use of pesticides? Of course. And guess what? It is entirely in their best interest to do so. That’s because pesticides and herbicides are the most expensive items when growing a crop.
The more fertile the land, the fewer chemicals have to be applied and the bigger the profit margin. Thus, they really don’t need to be beaten over the head by governments to continually look for ways to reduce the use of chemicals.
For example, instead of spraying an entire crop with herbicides, farmers are now using pattern-recognizing laser technology to deliver tiny drops of herbicides to individual weeds as the equipment passes through a crop.
Regardless, the link between the use of pesticides and herbicides and cancer is tenuous at best. After reviewing a long list of purported research studies on the connection between various widely used chemicals and cancer, a Sweden-based research team concluded:
Few, if any, of these associations can be considered established and causal. Hence, further epidemiologic studies are needed with detailed exposure assessment for individual pesticides, taking into consideration work practices, use of protective equipment, and other measures to reduce risk.
And again, when you look at the broader cancer data for industrialized countries, you see that rather than the much-talked-about “cancer epidemic” that is so often pinned on the tail of GMO, pesticides, herbicides, etc., death by cancer has been in a steady decline.
Of course, behind the data are many variables, not the least of which are the improvements in medical technology that helps explain the reduction in deaths. However, some of those variables, including the fact that we now live a lot longer and therefore have more time for cancers to develop, would seemingly be negatives.
Yet, taken as a whole, the odds of you or anyone you know dying of cancer are steadily falling.
In other words, don’t worry about it.
Of course, anyone—myself included—will reflexively support their bias by cherry picking data. Should even that fail to make their case, some researchers are not opposed to fudging the data, which has been the case with recently retracted papers linking vaccines to autism and another linking herbicides to cancer that loaded the proverbial dice by using a strain of mice specifically bred to develop cancers.
In the quest for a more reliable source of information, we turn to the actuarial tables used by insurance and pension companies to predict health outcomes in the population. You can trust these tables to be generally correct because if they were substantially wrong, both of those very large industries (and a number of others) would fail.
Well, in 2014 the “static mortality table” was updated from the previous version last published in 2000 and revealed a shocking outbreak of good health. In one analysis, the impact on pension liability funding was summed up as follows:
SIGNIFICANTLY IMPROVED MORTALITY
The most significant piece of RP-2014 is the new set of generational mortality tables. These tables reflect significant improvement in mortality relative to the rates in the current regulatory framework (RP-2000 plus Mortality Improvement Scale AA). To put that in English: the conclusion of the SOA is that the current rules significantly understate how long DB plan participants will live because they do not reflect changes (improvements) in life expectancy that have happened since Scale AA was published.
While we all know people who have cancer or some other dread disease and are naturally sad about it, it’s important to keep these and other afflictions in perspective. In time, medical advances will keep chipping away at these largely gene-triggered conditions, either outright solving them or at least mitigating them to the point of insignificance.
In reality, tackling these diseases will prove far easier than doing away with the widespread affliction of bad science—an affliction with serious societal consequences, including a steady stream of bad government policy and a massive waste of resources.
As for the aforementioned young woman and the millions like her… seriously, don’t be so serious.
No one gets out alive, so enjoy your (longer) life to the fullest.
Good News Sites
In a recent posting entitled Media Rats, I was a bit unkind to the world’s popular media outlets, comparing them to the producers of “snuff films.”
However, I failed to propose alternative information sources you might want to visit instead of the news fabrication sites.
Winemaker and fellow Bad Brother, Bill Knuttel, asked for ideas for good sites, a partial list of which I present below. If any of you have resources to add to the list, drop them into the comments section below, and I’ll keep a record and periodically post an update.
Giving credit where credit is due, many (most?) of these sites were originally brought to my attention by my wife, the chief science officer of the household. As such, the sites tend to be fact based and not of the fluffy-headed pablum pawned off as news these days.
- Matt Ridley’s Rational Optimist. Here’s a recent edition where he talks about the government’s about-face on e-cigarettes. While I personally think using e-cigarettes is unaesthetic, to lump them into the same category as sucking burning leaves into your lungs is ridiculous.
- Science-Based Medicine. A useful site in exploring and debunking the latest health memes.
- New England Skeptical Society. These days, it pays to be skeptical, the focus of this site.
- Dr. Steven Novella’s Neurologicablog. A sub-blog that hangs on the New England Skeptical Society site.
- The Incidental Economist. That’s where I took the following cartoon from, but it also covers a lot of interesting topics.
- Climate Depot. Head writer/researcher Marc Morano is probably Enemy #1 for the enviro-Nazis, which means he must be doing something right.
- Heartland Institute. A bit more on the advocacy side of things, their publications can be counted on to cover topics you’ll never find covered—at least not intelligently—in the mainstream media.
I’ll have other sites to share down the road, but time is running out, and so must I.
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Here Come the Clowns
A Hair-Raising Example of Clownery. Some years back, a friend of mine who owns a hair salon was ratted out by a competitor for having a small dog in the shop. In response, the local Cosmetology Board made her close her shop for something like two months.
Maybe it’s something in the hairspray, but the State Cosmetology Board in Arizona called the cops on an unlicensed hair dresser—a well-intentioned college student who offered free haircuts to homeless people. Despite a small uproar, the board is sticking with its guns and proceeding with its investigation. And who says the US has too much regulation? Here’s the story, from Reason.com.
In a somewhat happier update, Arizona’s Republican Governor Doug Ducey strongly condemned the actions of the board, demanding it should cease its ridiculous witch hunt of “the kind of citizenship we should be encouraging and celebrating.” Let’s hope reason will prevail here.
Thanks for reading! Until next week, enjoy the Parade!
Managing Editor, The Passing Parade
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