Thursday, December 18, 2014

More Climate Change Denial Claptrap

A few days ago, a post appeared on the Kaslo Community Web FB page.  One of the irregular posters on that page had found what he obviously considered the coup de grace in the on-going battle between science and anti-science.  It was a movie trailer for The Global Warming War.  It claims that it is "... not motivated by politics, money or emotionalism".  It also claims that climate change "hasn't been proven scientifically".  I imagine most people will watch it without any analysis or background checks.  Let's see who and what is involved in this expose.

First, just remind yourself that nobody involved in real science every uses the phrase "proven scientifically".  Evidence may build up and persuade based on the sheer volume of that evidence, but the term "proven" is pretty much never used.

The people involved in this video include:

Marc Morano - works for a "think-tank" in Washington DC that receives lots of funding from Big Oil.  Just because he can get on a camera and state that human-caused climate change is "bullshit", doesn't make it so.  Like most climate change science deniers, he presents no evidence to support his position.

Dr H. Sterling Burnett - a philosopher who works for the National Center for Policy Analysis, a "free market" think tank funded by billionaires including the Koch Brothers.  Burnett has been quoted as saying the Gulf Coast disaster was "more hype than reality".  He's also quoted by the Heartland Institute as a climate expert.  He's not.

 Dr Tim Ball - identified in the video as a "climatology professor".  He's actually a geographer.  He is also a "scientific advisor" to the Exxon-funded "Friends of Science".  As an aside, the University of Winnipeg doesn't seem to have a climatology department.

Dr Paul Driessen - associated with the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow.  Among many other climate change science denial activities, he has spoken at the Heartland Institute's ICCC7, which received over $67 million from ExxonMobile, the Koch Brothers and the Scaife Family Foundations.

Dr John Theon - is listed as an "expert" by the Heartland Institute.  He is retired from NASA.

Dr Mark Alliegro - a cell biologist that the Heartland Institute lists as an expert.  He claims that there has been no increase in severe weather.  Interestingly, the insurance industry sees it differently.  Stories about that here and here.

Dr James Wanliss - actually does research into Physics and Space Weather.  His position as a climate change denier seems to be rooted in Christian fundamentalism as evidenced in the following: "it is possible to have a balanced Biblical view of stewardship and conservation to the critical issues of environment and development."

Dennis Avery - is an agricultural economist.  His position can be best described with this quote from him: "Why did most of our moderate modern warming take place before 1940 (with 1934 being the warmest year) and why haven't we had any warming over the last nine years? Could it possibly be the moderate natural 1,500-year cycle revealed in the ice cores and seabed sediments?".  He seems to have missed the warm years in the past few decades.  His biography describes him as "supporter of biotechnology, pesticides, irradiation, factory farming and free trade. He also considers himself an expert on “agriculture, environment, world hunger issues, biotechnology and pesticides, trade, and water issues.  Most warming "before 1940"?  Where has he been?

Then there is FOX News with the story that "It's the Sun's Rays".  Fox News, the mouthpiece of American Conservatism, the Republican Party.  Faux News has a history of inaccurate and misleading coverage of many things, including climate change.  Google lists many sources that have studied this inaccuracy.  More here and here.  It would be safe and fair to say that FOX News has no credibility on anything.

The Cosmic Ray Theory of climate change and Dr Henrik Svensmark.  This could be an interesting explanation, but it appears that it's dead.

John Coleman - the founder of The Weather Channel.  His degree, 50 years ago, was in journalism.  That said, he did spend a few decades in the "weather business".  He is credited with claiming that climate change is a hoax.  Snopes considers the veracity of that here.  Although this item is superficially "true" in the sense that the words quoted above were indeed written by John Coleman, the statement that they "refute" global warming (i.e., prove it to be false) is something of an exaggeration. As Coleman's critics have noted, he does not hold a degree in climatology or any related discipline, nor has he studied or conducted any research in that field; he merely parrots arguments advanced by others. Moreover, much of his criticism of climate change deals with impugning the motives of those engaged in that discipline rather than refuting the science behind their work.

Once again, just because someone wants to claim climate change isn't happening doesn't mean they have "refuted" climate change.  They need evidence.  

Dr David Deming - He is another climate change denier affiliated with the National Center for Policy Analysis, funded by the Koch Brothers, among others. One quote of his: "The largest mistake would be to start to move away from petroleum, a proven and economic energy source, to more speculative and expensive sources…The world will eventually leave the age of oil, but there is no geologic reason for this to happen until near the end of the 21st century."

Lawrence Solomon - a journalist who describes himself as "one of Canada's leading environmentalists".  He has an interesting mix of affiliations, one being as the Executive director of Energy Probe, a fossil fuel lobbyist group.

To summarize:  no politics, no money?  I don't think so.  Massive funding from the Big Oil lobby and many associated foundations.  Politics?  Well, it sure isn't science that they're espousing.  This is typical of climate change science deniers.  They spend all their time pointing fingers, jumping up and down, accompanied with lots of arm waving, but they DO NOT present any evidence that climate change isn't happening or that we're not the main cause.  What is true is that there's no science in what they're claiming.

If anyone wants the real story, there is a good article in Science or Not? which lays out the extent of our current knowledge on climate change and the role of humans in it.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Debunking Denialism

If you spend much time on-line, you will have been exposed to an increasing number of sites that are anti-this and anti-that.  Examples abound - the anti-vaccine, anti-science, anti-climate change.  Then there are all the sites that try to promote nonsense like creationism, alternative medicine, various conspiracy theories.

Here is one site that tries to look at and debunk a good deal of that kind of claptrap.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Don't Move to Florida

There was an interesting interview on CBC Radio's Sunday Edition this morning with a climate scientist from Florida.

I know, I know, the climate change science deniers will scoff and claim BS, but those "skeptics" aren't science researchers.

What this scientist has to say is very interesting and disturbing.  Read more and see a link to the full audio interview here.

The Anti-Anti-Vax - Part 3 - No Benefit?

An article was posted to Kootenay Debates that claimed little benefit from vaccines.  The article can be seen here

This is typical of the anti-vax movement, an attempt to discredit vaccines, the science behind the vaccines and public health in general.

My response went like this:  

Wow.  One rarely sees a web page that is so long and so filled with half-truths and misinformation and inaccuracies.  It would be almost the work of an honors thesis to refute all of their claims.  Doing some research takes time and most people will see the sensational headline of sites like these and go no further.

Seriously.  What are these assertions based on?  A serious belief that government and "Big Pharma" are out to kill us all or do us harm in some other way?  If that's the case, my questions would be "Why?" and "How"?  For what benefit to whom?  And how could a giant conspiracy like that actually be kept secret?  I do hope that believers in such conspiracies aren't suggesting that we go back to faith healing.

First, though, obviously your personal decision is yours to make.  I would just hope that it's based on real facts and not what's on this website.  There are a few medical reasons not to use a certain vaccine like MMR.  1) people with serious allergies to any of the components of the vaccine, 2) women who are pregnant or trying to conceive, 3) immunocompromised persons, 4) persons receiving cancer chemo, 5) people receiving blood products, and, 6) people who are seriously ill.

Otherwise, vaccines help and have been very valuable in combating certain diseases.  The history and the facts show it, clearly.

Also keep in mind that any individual choice doesn't just affect you.  It potentially affects every single person you come into contact with.  Just so you know.

As for the website's "expose".....  Let's deal first with measles and the MMR vaccine.

Before the first measles vaccine was licensed in 1963, almost everyone got measles by the time they were 20.  Since then, there HAS been a 99% reduction in CASES of measles.  This graph shows the drop in cases as well as deaths, starting around 1963 with a further reduction in cases and deaths after the MMR vaccine was introduced in the 1980s.

Websites like the so-called "child safety" site, usually focus on deaths (mortality), not "cases" (incidence or morbidity). actually supports the benefits of vaccines.  Just look at the reduction of deaths after 1963 and again after 1988.  And these are just "deaths", not "cases" of measles.

It is very true that deaths from measles were in decline before the vaccine was introduced.  There is no argument that improved sanitation, improved medical care of ill patients, even Vitamin A and better nutrition for young children, have all helped.  Just take a look at undeveloped countries who don't have those benefits.  Measles cases are still very high.

Speaking of undeveloped countries.  Some of these anti-vax websites cast aspersions on using vaccines in these countries.  I would agree that improving sanitation, medical care and nutrition in these countries would be a great help.  However, I see, on various social media sites, lots of bitching about how much money we're spending on foreign aid.   So the real story here is that many wealthy westerners aren't prepared to support foreign aid to improve basic conditions in poor countries and also don't think we should be providing vaccines either.  I have no polite words to describe how I feel about those kinds of attitudes.

By the way, measles is NOT a minor childhood disease.  It's not as bad as smallpox, but it's serious and often leads to deadly complications.

Those complications are: 1) pneumonia - about 5% develop this.  Treatable in western countries but a death sentence in undeveloped countries, 2) encephalitis, a brain infection, can develop, resulting in permanent brain damage, 3) SSPE - rare but fatal, 4) other conditions such as croup, conjunctivitis and diarrhea (very serious in small children).  I would NOT want my children, or my grandchildren, to be at greater risk of any of these.

Mercury.  Some chemistry wold be helpful here.  The mercury that "was" used in some vaccines wasn't elemental mercury or methyl mercury.  It was ethyl mercury, called thimerosal.  There is a big difference.  Look it up.  In any case, the MMR vaccine in Canada has NEVER contained thimerosal.  Most other vaccines have not contained thimerosal since 2000 or earlier, yet autism rates continue to rise.  How could that be?

Risks and Effectiveness: Yes, vaccines have risks.  Any medical procedure has risks.  Nothing is 100% safe.  Nothing is 100% effective.  Just compare the risks from vaccines (negligible) to the risks from contracting a disease like measles, polio, smallpox.  Obviously we've forgotten what those diseases were like.

Autism.  Still, years after a fraudulent paper was published, we still hear about this supposed link.  The evidence doesn't support it.  And yet this single report, unproved, unsupported, proven to be fraudulent, has been responsible for large increases in measles cases and more deaths because of it.  It was blamed on thimerosal, yet that additive hasn't been in vaccines for years, and, in some vaccines, ever.

A recent article in the G&M perhaps puts it best, although with some sarcasm.

There is a more serious series of articles about measles and the vaccines here:

The Anti-Anti-Vax - Part 2 - Aluminum

Aluminum, in the form of aluminum salts, is added to some (but not all) vaccines in Canada. The salts are in the form of aluminum hydroxide, aluminum phosphate or potassium aluminum sulfate (alum). These are the only adjuvants added to vaccines in Canada. An adjuvant is used to enhance the response of the immune system and means a smaller amount of antigen material can be used in the vaccine. An antigen is the weak or dead virus or bacteria. The antigen is what stimulates the immune system to develop antibodies. This is what happens naturally every time you are exposed to a virus or a bacterium. It starts when you’re born and continues for your whole life.

These aluminum salts have been used in vaccines in Canada since the mid-1920s.

Aluminum is pretty common everywhere in our environment. Some examples: cast aluminum pots, cookie sheets, cars, airplanes, some antacids, baking powders, Asprin coatings, antiperspirants and tap water worldwide. It also found naturally in potatoes, tea and spinach.

It’s been estimated that each person’s average intake of aluminum is about 5 mg/day. That’s 25 times more than what you would get from using aluminum cookware. If you take an antacid, you’ll be getting about 1000 times as much aluminum as you get from your veggies.

The LD50 for aluminum sulfate is 6200 micrograms/kilogram (oral,mouse) which would be about 500 grams in an 80 kg person. Realistically, the greatest concern would be excessive use of antacids and antiperspirants and there has been some toxicity shown for daily amounts in excess of 40 mg/kg (about 3.2 g in an 80 kg person).

People are generally more worried about newborns. According to one source, in the first 6 months, a baby will receive about 4 mg of aluminum from vaccines, about 10 mg from breast milk, about 40 mg from infant formula and over 120 mg from soy-based formula.

Aluminum is eliminated from the body fairly quickly. About half in the bloodstream is eliminated within 24 hours and 75% within 2 weeks. Some does remain in the body, mostly in the bones (60%) and in the lungs (25%). About 1% remains in the brain. By adulthood, a child will have accumulated between 50-100 mg of aluminum. Most of that will have come from food. 

Health Canada limits aluminum level in vaccines to no more than 1.25 mg/single human dose. That’s pretty much the same standard as the WHO and standards in Europe.

Aluminum is used in vaccines for Hepatitus A&B, DPT, etc but is not used in vaccines for flu, polio and live viral vaccines such as measles, chickenpox, mumps, etc.

Although aluminum salts are considered to be generally pretty safe, intake of high amounts can be of some concern. The amounts in vaccines are considered to be small enough to be trivial, considering other normal sources that individuals are exposed to.

Conversations with Libertarians - Part 4

Somehow...don't ask me how these things happen...the Facebook discussion turned to the concept of a public good.  It's been interesting to see the posts from the free-market Libertarian anti-government faction.

One thing that gradually became clear early in the discussion was that few understood the meaning of "good", as in "public good".  The term as used here refers to "item" or "thing".  It doesn't necessarily mean that whatever we're talking about is good for society, although usually is, in some way or another.  Here is an explanation of "public good".  Here is a shorter explanation for those on a time budget.

But the lack of understanding of this basic economic fact was clear: So you are saying public goods are the stuff that was paid for with tax dollars, right?  You say public can have feelings and emotions outside of the feelings of the individuals in the group called "public"? That is double counting. See you're missing my point. If you want to say they need to be funded by government because they were funded by government, fine. But that is circular reasoning.

<facepalm> <sigh>

Public goods are things built/developed with tax money and which are available for everyone to use, pretty much without restriction, without a direct cost to use, and available to everyone no matter where they live.

Examples are: public non-toll roads, the public education system, provincial and national parks, national defense, public health and safety, food inspection systems, public libraries, transportation networks, even, at one time, the Internet.

When I posted this, the response was: My argument is the market can and has and will supply all those things so they are not public goods.

When I mentioned libraries, this was the response: Only because someone decides to call them that. You admit yourself that a building called a library is a public good but I assume a building called a bookstore isn't. It's just an arbitrary classification that means you think it should be managed by government. But if access to reading materials or traffic free roads or any other good and service is the desire then the government is the most inefficient and the market the most productive means to that end.

My response went like this: Nonsense. A library is not a building. It may be housed in a building, but it's much more than a building. Check one out sometime. You'll see. A bookstore isn't built and paid for from tax revenue. Bookstores sell things. Libraries don't. Libraries aren't "managed" by governments. In my experience, they are managed by independent volunteer boards, certainly here in BC they are. They receive tax-based funding to provide a public good. And they do that much, much cheaper than a private business could which would have to make a profit. You really should learn more about libraries.

The "discussion" went on for some time, my point being that some things (goods) are best provided by government through tax revenue at least partly because there was little profit incentive for private business to provide such goods.  There are other reasons as well but you'll have to read the information from the link provided above.

The Libertarian view was, so far as I could see, for no role for government, nothing should be public goods, everything should be private goods, private ownership.... and so it went.

There was more...much more.  About roads: No. they aren't a public good. They are just long and thin and that confuses people. Roads are property like anything else. Every good reigns down benefits on more than just the purchaser. My neighbours garden is beautiful and I enjoy the view. It doesn't make it a public good because of my enjoyment of it. "Good" implies someone values it. Someone is an individual. The public can't value something, that is anthropomorphic metaphor.

And my response: Your neighbour's garden wasn't developed and paid for with tax dollars. It isn't a public good, by definition. I'm glad you like it, but it's not a public good. The use of the term "good" here is a synonym for a "thing" or an "item". A public park, built and paid for with tax $$ is a public good... a public "thing". Public goods are generally developed because sufficient numbers of tax payers, though their government, decide that something is worthwhile. Often because private enterprise has no interest in providing that something because there isn't a profit motivation available to them. Anthropomorphism refers to attributing human feelings to inanimate objects or to non-human organisms. Since the public is made up of people, it's entirely appropriate to argue that the public can value something. Just go see how much a city park is enjoyed by the public on a hot summer's day. The "public" is just a collective (oooops, "collective", that nasty socialist word...) of individuals, all liking something together. Have you ever been to a park? Did you like it? Or did the fact that it was created using tax $$ completely sour the experience for you?

Just for interest, there are other categories of "goods" - private goods, which are easily exchanged through markets, common-property goods, which aren't easily exchanged through markets and where government is often called upon to regulate (air, water), and near-public goods.

The "common-property " goods are another interesting case because this is where we have so many problems related to overuse (fisheries) and pollution (oceans, lakes, air, water).  Since they are not owned by anyone directly, nobody seems to look after them properly.  There was a term that appeared some years ago: "The Tragedy of the Commons" that describes the failure to look after common-property goods.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

The Anti-Anti-Vax - Part 1 - Mercury

Mercury has not been in most vaccines for many years.  Currently, only the multi-dose flu vaccines and the Hepatitis B vaccines have any mercury-based preservative in them at all.  However, because of the recurring assertions that somehow mercury in vaccines has some link with autism, it’s worth taking one more look at this additive.

One sad fact about this is how one fraudulent story convinced many people that vaccines might not be safe.  That view exists today.  The short version is displayed here.

The kind of mercury at the center of all the furor is ethyl mercury.  It’s NOT elemental Mercury (the silvery liquid we might remember from high school chemistry).  It’s NOT methyl mercury either.  The difference is important.

The actual additive that was used in some vaccines starting in the 1930s was thimerosal.  It was added as a preservative to make sure that the vaccine didn’t contain mold or bacteria.  Thimerosal is made of ethyl mercuric chloride, thiosalicylic acid, sodium hydroxide, and ethanol and is more properly called sodium ethylmercuric thiosalicylate, C9H9HgNaO2S.  Once in the body, it breaks down rapidly to release ethyl mercury.

In the body, ethyl mercury has a half-life of about 18 days so it disappears from body tissues quite rapidly.  In this way, it behaves differently from methyl mercury.

Methyl mercury, on the other hand, IS serious stuff.  It accumulates in body tissue and can cause neurological damage.  One classic case happened in Japan in 1956.  Waste from a chemical plant was dumped into Minamata Bay.  It accumulated in fish and shellfish, which people ate.  By 2001, almost 1800 people had died, many others were seriously ill and damaged.  By 2004, almost $100 million had been paid in compensation.  Methyl mercury is quite common in the environment and if you eat fish, you’re taking on some methyl mercury along with your Omega 3 fatty acids.

Methyl mercury is not and has never been, in vaccines.  Only ethyl mercury, from thimerosal, used to be in many vaccines and is now only used in multi-dose versions of flu and Hep B vaccine.

Thimerosal has many accepted uses as an antiseptic and antifungal agent.  It has been marketed as  Merthiolate, an antiseptic that older people might remember.  It is used in a variety of products such as antivenins, nasal preparations and tattoo inks.

Over health-risk concerns, thimerosal was removed from almost all vaccines that contained it starting in 1999.  At this point, only one variety of the flu vaccine and the Hep B vaccine still contain Thimerosal.

Since 1999, continued research has failed to find any link between thimerosal, ethyl mercury and autism in children.  

In BC, no routine childhood vaccine has contained thimerosal since 2001.  Autism rates have continued to rise, even though mercury was removed from vaccines a decade and a half ago.  All of this contributes to the conviction that there is no link between mercury in vaccines and autism or any other condition.