Who are the anti-vaxxers redux

So, I was reading this Slate article on why vaccines should be absolutely mandatory (I wholeheartedly agree)…

There is simply no reason vaccinations should be treated differently than any other form of medical care, and they must be protected within the same framework that has been created for child protection and against medical neglect. There are many ethically gray areas of medicine, but this is not one. Our laws must unambiguously and without loopholes reflect this, and there cannot be conflicting standards of child protection based on race, wealth, and education. By continuing to allow exceptions, we are fueling the misconception that vaccinations are an option, a choice, a subjective topic about which people can have different opinions that ought to be respected, when in fact all of the data proves they are not. Enacting a policy that is consistent with the science would provide clarity for the parents—the majority of whom are loving caretakers trying to do the right thing. We are failing our society by creating unequal standards of parenting, and worse, we are failing our children by not protecting their right to be vaccinated against deadly, preventable diseases. Competent parenting must include fully immunizing all children according to the medical standard of care.

Yes.  But this part really struck me:

Those who refuse vaccines represent a privileged segment of society, making it easier for us to turn a blind eye as part of the systemic racism and classism still deeply embedded in modern medicine. [emphasis mine] We have spent hours explaining to CPS case-workers that it is impossible for the homeless parents of a critically ill infant to simultaneously attend medical rounds, to participate in medical decision-making for their child, and apply for public housing and employment. Then we turn around and treat a purposefully un-immunized child for a serious brain infection caused by vaccine-preventable bacterium—requiring weeks of hospitalization with intravenous antibiotics—and watch his mother continue to refuse vaccines for him or his siblings, and we can’t do anything about it.

Okay, I’m not aware of data as to those who specifically refuse to vaccinate, but when it comes to public  opinion on the matter, there’s really no evidence to suggest its the most “privileged segment of society.”  Actually, much like with politics and vaccines, the striking thing is how small the demographic differences are (from Pew)

 

 

Childhood Vaccines

Views on Childhood Vaccines by Education, Knowledge and Income

No gender difference.  No Black/White racial difference.  Hardly any education difference.  No meaningful income difference.  The big difference?  Age.  Those damn Millennials (okay, and somewhat my Generation X).  They are the ones both breeding and looking to ruin this for everybody.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Democrats– stop panicking about the polls.  If they look like this in 6 weeks, then you can panic.

2) Big Pharma is fighting legal marijuana because where it is legal for medicinal purposes, there are substantially less opiate prescriptions.

3) I do love this new anti-Trump ad.

4) A new study suggests it’s not how much weight you lift to build muscle, it’s mostly how hard you work your muscles (high weight for less reps; or lower weight for more reps).  The key is working your muscles to exhaustion.

5) Jonathan Ladd on how journalistic norms could actually hurt Trump in general election coverage.

6) As much as I love soccer, a lot of the Euro games were pretty disappointing to watch.  Good take from Franklin Foer.

7) EJ Dionne on Pence:

One could multiply the list of lost opportunities, but one of the biggest stories here is just how many Republicans have decided that their futures will be better served by staying away from Trump.

That left Pence as, in Gingrich’s terms, the best “normal person” option. Plusses for Pence include strong ties to Capitol Hill (including a friendship with House Speaker Paul Ryan), an agreeable personality (a Democrats I know in Indiana who has tangled with Pence on issues sees him nonetheless as a nice-guy sort of politician), and an appeal to social conservatives…

And it says something about the doubts so many conservative have about Trump and his need to appease them that he had to go to his right for a running mate. He could not turn instead to someone who might have broadened his appeal to middle-of-the-road voters. Trump received a fair share of the ballots of social-issue moderates in the northeast during the primaries. Those voters and moderate independents will not be reassured by Pence. In fact, social liberals will try to use Pence to tie Trump to the most conservative elements of the GOP.

8) Are conservatives actually serious about ISIS or do they just like to thunder on about how tough they are with no serious solutions to the intractable dilemma?  You know the answer.

9) Slate with a piece on the architectural wonder (Dorton Arena) 10 minutes from my house.

10) Invisibilia is an amazing podcast.  Really nice piece about it from Sarah Larson.  It is simple overwhelming how many incredibly good podcasts are being produced now.

11) White people really want their kids to go to school with other white kids.

12) The biggest challenges facing academic science.

13) I had no recollection of the Judo Olympian disqualified for (inadvertently) eating a marijuana brownie shortly before the 2012 games.  This is so stupid.  As if that would give an athlete any unfair advantage whatsoever.  Meanwhile, you can get roaring drunk every day and it’s all good.  And worst part is all the abuse the guy took.  Seriously, what’s wrong with people.

14) What college sports recruiters can teach your child.

15) I’m so going to start paying my horribly picky kids to eat healthy foods:

The researchers also found that the effects lingered after the experiment ended, though they did subside somewhat. Two months after the end of the experiment, kids who had been rewarded for their health behavior for a period of five weeks were still eating 44 percent more fruit and vegetables than they had before the experiment begun.

16) Title of this Wonkblog post is, “One way to curb police brutality that no one is talking about.”  I guessed the answer– more female cops.

17) George Packer on Nice:

The killer in Nice locked on in his own way. Maybe it happened in the space of a few hours, a few days. We’re a long way from the grand ideologies of Sayyid Qutb and Osama bin Laden. This is jihadism as impulse, as excuse. It hardly matters, because the result is always the same: a pile of bodies, a world of pain and grief.

Liberal democracies like ours seem, for the most part, to have learned how to avoid meticulously planned mass-casualty plots with the complexity and scale of 9/11. But they don’t know how to keep their citizens safe at night clubs and concerts, in supermarkets, on beachfront promenades, from truck drivers. Nor do the leaders of liberal democracies know how to reassure their publics. So citizens, who have a right to demand safety, will turn to leaders offering simpler and more radical solutions—to Marine Le Pen or Donald Trump—who will fail even more spectacularly, inflicting great damage on liberal societies.

No revelations come from the massacre in Nice. There is nothing to be learned. This is what we live with, what we are getting used to living with. None of it is surprising—that’s the most frightening thing of all.

18) Nate Silver on Pence as Trump’s “least worst choice.”

19) Why, yes, we are sending kids (back to) Central American countries to be raped and murdered.  Kristof.

20) Ezra Klein on Trump’s crazy speech announcing Pence and how it is ever more evidence of his extreme unfitness to serve as president.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Really, really informative piece on Wahhabism, it’s history, and how it shapes life (dramatically for the worse) in Saudi Arabia.

2) John Judis on the lasting impact of Bernie:

What Sanders was advocating — beyond the specifics — was strengthening and broadening social security in the broadest sense of the word so that even as Americans are tossed to and fro in the information economy, they can feel a certain sense of security — one that is currently lacking for many, many people in this country.

Sanders’ support for these kind of political demands may set the Democrats eventually on a more visionary and inspiring course – one that isn’t bounded by the shadow of Republican congressional dominance and the business campaign funding that has narrowed the Democratic vision for thirty years or more. That’s really the message behind Sanders’ call for a “political revolution.”

I know some sophisticates find this call laughable, but I think many young voters understood what Sanders was saying: that the only way to overcome the oligarchic, plutocratic tilt of our political system is by the massive, determined participation in politics of those determined to change it. Sanders’ campaign may, of course, become a footnote in political histories, a curiosity in a trivia question like Fred Harris’s 1972 campaign, but I have a feeling it will survive his defeat. At least I hope it will.

3a) Pretty cool interactive feature to see how a social media feed looks for conservatives compared to liberals.

3b) Speaking of which, really nice essay in the Guardian on “how technology disrupted the truth.”

4) Not sure I’ve ever seen a craze blow up as quickly as Pokemon Go (and yes, I have it).  Nice Wired piece on the technology.

5) New study on the gender pay gap for physicians.  Hard not to conclude that a significant portion of good old fashioned sex discrimination.

6) Really good Tom Edsall on Trump and the anti-PC vote from last month.  Here’s the section where he interviews John Haidt:

Jonathan Haidt, a professor at N.Y.U., suggested to me that one way to better understand the intensity of Trump’s appeal is by looking at something called “psychological reactance.” Haidt describes reactance as

the feeling you get when people try to stop you from doing something you’ve been doing, and you perceive that they have no right or justification for stopping you. So you redouble your efforts and do it even more, just to show that you don’t accept their domination. Men in particular are concerned to show that they do not accept domination.

The theory, first developed in 1966 by Jack W. Brehm in “A Theory of Psychological Reactance,” is directly relevant to the 2016 election, according to Haidt. Here is Brehm’s original language:

Psychological reactance is an aversive affective reaction in response to regulations or impositions that impinge on freedom and autonomy. This reaction is especially common when individuals feel obliged to adopt a particular opinion or engage in a specific behavior. Specifically, a perceived diminution in freedom ignites an emotional state, called psychological reactance, that elicits behaviors intended to restore this autonomy.

Haidt applies this to the 2016 election:

Translated to the Trump phenomenon, I would say that decades of political correctness, with its focus on “straight white men” as the villains and oppressors — now extended to “straight white cis-gendered men” — has caused some degree of reactance in many and perhaps most white men.

In both the workplace and academia, Haidt argues,

the accusatory and vindictive approach of many social justice activists and diversity trainers may actually have increased the desire and willingness of some white men to say and do un-PC things.

In this atmosphere, according to Haidt,

Trump comes along and punches political correctness in the face. Anyone feeling some degree of anti-PC reactance is going to feel a thrill in their heart, and will want to stand up and applaud. And because feelings drive reasoning, these feelings of gratitude will make it hard for anyone to present arguments to them about the downsides of a Trump presidency.

Trump’s anger at being policed or fenced in apparently speaks to the resentment of many American men and their resistance to being instructed, particularly by a female candidate, on how they should think, speak or behave.

7) I keep meaning to write a post about how we’ve been apparently getting it wrong on Telomeres.  Not going to happen, so quick hits it is.

8) The ethics of sex robots.

9) Yes, we absolutely need more investment in public pre-K.  Alas, we still don’t have as good an understanding as we’d like about what really works in these programs.

10) How come we cannot really remember anything from before we were 3 1/2?

11) The Tea party nuts in Kansas are now railing against “government schools.”  Ugh.  As always with this nuttiness, I worry how long until our Republicans in the NC legislature decide it’s a good idea.

12) Evan Osnos on the NRA, anti-government rhetoric, and race:

For critics of the N.R.A., it was an awkward exposure of what is usually left unsaid: the organization is far less active in asserting the Second Amendment rights of black Americans than of white ones…

The Dallas ambush has also exposed an uncomfortable fact for the gun-rights movement: for decades, even as it maintains its abstract tributes to law enforcement, it has embraced a strain of insurrectionist rhetoric, overtly anti-government activism that endorses the notion that civilians should have guns for use against American police and military. In a 1995 fund-raising letter, the executive vice-president of the N.R.A., Wayne LaPierre, called federal law-enforcement agents “jack-booted thugs,” and suggested that “in Clinton’s administration, if you have a badge, you have the government’s go-ahead to harass, intimidate, even murder law-abiding citizens.” In Texas, where the police ambush occurred, an open-carry advocate last year urged the killing of state legislators if they do not approve a more relaxed policy. (“They better start giving us our rights or this peaceful non-cooperation stuff is gonna be gamed up . . . We should be demanding [Texas legislators] give us our rights back, or it’s punishable by death. Treason.”) At the annual N.R.A. convention last year, the board member Ted Nugent said, “Our government has turned on us.” Stopping short of calling for violence, he urged members to focus their ire on “the bad and the ugly.” He said, “It’s a target-rich environment. If it was duck season, there’d be so many ducks, you could just close your eyes and shoot ’em.”

13) Using computers to analyze the emotional arcs of stories.

14) This is pretty great– best goals of 2016 so far.

15) Sure, I use safety pins in my bib when I run in a race. I had no idea that the elites still did this.  Or that bibs are just there for sponsors now.

16) Fighting back against modern debtor’s prison.  I would love to see this win:

A suit filed July 6 against the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles alleges the DMV indefinitely suspends driver’s licenses of those too poor to pay fines and court costs in an “unconstitutional scheme.”

“Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their licenses simply because they are too poor to pay, effectively depriving them of reliable, lawful transportation necessary to get to and from work, take children to school, keep medical appointments, care for ill or disabled family members, or, paradoxically, to meet their financial obligations to the courts,” reads the suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Western Virginia.

The suit, filed by the Legal Aid Justice Center, which represents low-income Virginians, says more than 940,000 people in Virginia currently have their licenses suspended for nonpayment.

According to the Legal Aid Justice Center, the suspension of driver’s licenses for nonpayment can prevent people from keeping or obtaining jobs, leading to a vicious cycle of additional fines, unemployment and, sometimes, incarceration. The suit says more than one-third of suspensions for failure to pay are related to convictions unrelated to motor vehicles.

17) I’ve been slacking off with the high-intensity interval training of late (it’s hard; I’m lazy), so how nice to read this study in the NYT that (admittedly, based on rats) suggests that good old-fashioned moderate-paced jogging may be the best for your brain:

Those rats that had jogged on wheels showed robust levels of neurogenesis. Their hippocampal tissue teemed with new neurons, far more than in the brains of the sedentary animals. The greater the distance that a runner had covered during the experiment, the more new cells its brain now contained.

There were far fewer new neurons in the brains of the animals that had completed high-intensity interval training. They showed somewhat higher amounts than in the sedentary animals but far less than in the distance runners.

And the weight-training rats, although they were much stronger at the end of the experiment than they had been at the start, showed no discernible augmentation of neurogenesis. Their hippocampal tissue looked just like that of the animals that had not exercised at all.

Obviously, rats are not people. But the implications of these findings are provocative. They suggest, said Miriam Nokia, a research fellow at the University of Jyvaskyla who led the study, that “sustained aerobic exercise might be most beneficial for brain health also in humans.”

18) Okay, I still need to fully read this, but, sadly, I’m not at all surprised that a disturbingly inaccurate $2 drug test is regularly sending people to prison.

19) What we can learn from the Nordic countries:

Lakey: A lot of people mistakenly believe that the countries with Viking ancestry—Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Iceland—have always had the high standard of living that they do today. That’s not the case, and people don’t realize what it took to create the kind of society we see today in each of these countries.

A century ago, the economic elite ran each of those countries. There was the pretense of democracy, but it was always the decisions of economic elites that carried the day. There was poverty and a lack of empowerment of the people. The change that came about in the Nordic countries so that they eventually moved to an economic model where there was less of a wealth gap, and better quality of life, came about after everyday people made demands on their governments to change.

The 1 percent may occupy state power, but when the majority of the country stands up in opposition to the 1 percent, they can make the country ungovernable. That’s what happened in Nordic countries, and that’s what opened up the political space in which they could build an economic model that far outperforms the economic model of the United States.

20) So, just when are you an adult?  I recently went to Old Salem— a recreation of a historic 19th century Moravian town.  They talked about all the children leaving home at 15 and essentially assuming adult responsibilities.  The person I talked to was all like, “well, it was just different back then.”  My thinking, well, sure, it was, but I’m pretty sure the human brain did not mature any faster in 19th century North Carolina.  And, these kids may have taken many an adult responsibility, but they sure didn’t have an adult brain.

21) Great NYT piece on Trump dividing the country by race.  And Greg Sargent’s take on it.

22) Jay Rosen (as smart an observer of the media as there is) on how Trump takes advantage of journalistic norms.

23) I’ve got no use for the Gladwell haters.  Gladwell is awesome and so is his new podcast series.  This recent episode about college as engines of social mobility (or not) is especially good).

 

The future of food is almost here

Listened to an excellent Ezra Klein interview recently with Patrick Brown— the man who is revolutionizing plant-based meat.  It’s totally fascinating what he’s doing.  He’s trying (and succeeding) at making plant-based meat to appeal to carnivores, not just an acceptable substitute for somebody who wants a vegetarian burger.  This is a much higher bar.  And it is pretty fascinating how he is figuring out all this stuff about meat that none of the other meat-substitute people even really bothered with before.  Lots of great science involved.  And he’s doing it all to help save the planet  An excellent piece from NPR:

This summer, diners in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles will get their hands on a hamburger that has been five years in the making.

The burger looks, tastes and smells like beef — except it’s made entirely from plants. It sizzles on the grill and even browns and oozes fat when it cooks. It’s the brainchild of former Stanford biochemist Patrick Brown and his research team at Northern California-based Impossible Foods.

The startup’s goal is like many in Silicon Valley — to create a product that will change the world.

“The demand for meat is going through the roof, and the world is not going to be able to satisfy that using animals — there’s just not enough space, not enough water,” says Brown, Impossible Foods’ founder and CEO.

Global meat production is expected to increase by 612,000 tons, or 1 percent, this year, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

So Impossible Foods has developed a burger that it says is less resource-intensive, healthier and will eventually be cheaper to produce than red meat…

The Impossible Burger is more than just peas and carrots smashed together: It’s the result of some pretty high-tech research.

Brown’s team analyzes meat at a molecular level to determine what makes a burger taste, smell and cook the way it does. He wants his burgers to be squishy while raw, then firm up and brown on the grill. He believes everything from an animal’s fat tissue to muscle cells can be replicated using plant compounds.

Before starting the company, Brown had a hunch that a certain ingredient made meat taste different than other foods. “I had a very strong suspicion early on that heme would be the magic ingredient for flavor,” said Brown.

Heme is an iron-containing molecule in blood that carries oxygen. It’s heme that makes your blood red and makes meat look pink and taste slightly metallic.

It’s highly concentrated in red meat, but it can also be found in plants. And that was the trick to giving Brown’s meat-free burgers that blood-pink look when raw and meaty taste once cooked.

Brown could have extracted heme from legumes like soybeans, which contain leghemoglobin in nodules on their roots. Except, that would have been expensive and time consuming, and unearthing the plants would release carbon into the atmosphere.

So, he decided to use yeast instead. By taking the soybean gene that encodes the heme protein and transferring it to yeast, the company has been able to produce vast quantities of the bloodlike compound. [emphasis mine] Each vat of frothy red liquid in the lab holds enough heme to make about 20,000 quarter-pound Impossible Burgers. “We have to be able to produce this on a gigantic scale,” says Brown.

“Ultimately, we want it to be practical to produce enough of our product to match what’s currently consumed in the U.S. or the world. Well, that’s a lot of heme,” he says…

The taste is unreal. When I tried a mini burger slathered in vegan mayo, mashed avocado, caramelized onions and Dijon prepared by San Francisco chef Traci Des Jardin at the company’s headquarters in Redwood City, I was floored. The flavor was slightly less potent than meat, but if I didn’t already know this burger was made from plants, I wouldn’t have guessed it. The texture as I chewed was just like ground beef…

Impossible’s plant burger is still more expensive to produce than beef patties. But Brown says the goal is to increase production so the “meat” becomes less expensive than ground chuck. The company is already leasing a 66,913-square-foot manufacturing facility in Oakland to ramp up production…

“If people are going to be eating burgers in 50 years, they’re not going to be made from cows,” said Brown. “We’re saving the burger.”

This is such great news.  As discussed in much detail in the Klein interview, real meat is way more resource intensive than plant-based meat and that has huge environmental consequences.  Not to mention, the suffering of the animals in our meat-industrial complex.  Personally, I’d happily pay twice as much for Brown’s burgers, but that won’t change the world.  If he really gets the prices down to compete with meat– and it is a lot easier raising soybeans, etc., than cows– this is technology that really will change the world.

Also, I’m sure you noticed that part I emboldened.  Sadly, I’m sure many people will resist this because it is based on GMO technology, but to me this is a great example of how this technology can really change the world for the better.  And I’m not really worried about mutant heme-producing yeast destroying the world as we know it.

Finally, I assume that replicating ground beef is the easiest place to start with all this, but hopefully the technology can essentially be replicated for other meats.  Until then, I do find it encouraging that at least some big companies are starting to take the health of the chickens they raise at least somewhat seriously.

In short, lots of reasons to feel optimistic about the future of meat.

The ideology GMO disjunction

So, I was recently reading Randolph Court’s take on liberals anti-science failure on GMO’s:

Take the oddly contradictory issues of climate change and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). There is near-universal consensus among the world’s scientists that man-made pollutants are trapping heat in the atmosphere and wreaking havoc on the environment. Yet when pollsters ask voters whether they believe temperatures are climbing because of human activities, most Democrats say yes and most Republicans say no.

Democrats may wag their fingers contemptuously at this, but the pot would be calling the kettle black, because many of them are just as stubbornly skeptical on the issue of genetically improved foods, even though the scientific consensus about their virtues is no less universal.

Here’s the thing, the very Pew data that Court links to suggests his entire premise is wrong!  In aggregate polling data, liberals are no more anti-GMO than are conservatives (and partisan differences are there, but very small):

No Differences in Views About GM Food Safety by Party, Ideology

They even run a series of regression models, and ideology plays no factor whatsoever.

The data is actually publicly available and I’ve had a lot of fun playing around with it (lots of fun stuff in there).  Pew collapses their ideology data so I ran a cross-tab with their full ideology measure.  You can see a bit more daylight here– only 39% of very liberal respondents think GMO is generally safe as compared to 49% of very conservative, but that’s still not a lot of daylight as these things go.

libcon5

Anyway, what strikes me as interesting about this is that there really is something going at the elite level.  Liberal interest groups, like Greenpeace, really hate GMO food and fearmonger it relentlessly.  Conservative groups don’t.  But among ordinary Americans, there’s just really not much ideological difference at all on these issues.

Where the difference really is?  Gender.  Actually, gender and race.  All the bad stuff one can say about white males in our society, but they do get the GMO food issue more right than other groups.

Safety of Eating Genetically Modified Foods

And while throwing in a bunch of other variables typically makes the race variable lose it’s impact in a multi-variate regression, the gender variable is remarkably robust.  Women are less trusting of GMO food safety no matter what possible controls you can throw in there (and, yes, look for a publication on that with my name some day).

Life is chemicals

Loved this post last month on “chemophobia:”

However, even as much of the world became cleaner, the anti-chemical movement became so polarised that allartificial chemicals are now considered tainted. This false assumption has led to a popular demand for products that are ‘natural’ or even ‘chemical-free’.

In reality, ‘natural’ products are usually more chemically complicated than anything we can create in the lab. To demonstrate, I broke down the components in an ordinary banana. (For brevity’s sake, I omitted the thousands of minority ingredients, including DNA.) Here is the result:

INGREDIENTS:

WATER (75%), SUGARS (12%) (GLUCOSE (48%), FRUCTOSE (40%), SUCROSE (2%), MALTOSE (<1%)), STARCH (5%), FIBRE E460 (3%), AMINO ACIDS (<1%) (GLUTAMIC ACID (19%), ASPARTIC ACID (16%), HISTIDINE (11%), LEUCINE (7%), LYSINE (5%), PHENYLALANINE (4%), ARGININE (4%), VALINE (4%), ALANINE (4%), SERINE (4%), GLYCINE (3%), THREONINE (3%), ISOLEUCINE (3%), PROLINE (3%), TRYPTOPHAN (1%), CYSTINE (1%), TYROSINE (1%), METHIONINE (1%)), FATTY ACIDS (1%) (PALMITIC ACID (30%), OMEGA-6 FATTY ACID: LINOLEIC ACID (14%), OMEGA-3 FATTY ACID: LINOLENIC ACID (8%), OLEIC ACID (7%), PALMITOLEIC ACID (3%), STEARIC ACID (2%), LAURIC ACID (1%), MYRISTIC ACID (1%), CAPRIC ACID (<1%)), ASH (<1%), PHYTOSTEROLS, E515, OXALIC ACID, E300, E306 (TOCOPHEROL), PHYLLOQUINONE, THIAMIN, COLOURS (YELLOW-ORANGE E101 (RIBOFLAVIN), YELLOW-BROWN E160a), FLAVOURS (3-METHYLBUT-1-YL ETHANOATE, 2-METHYLBUTYL ETHANOATE, 2-METHYLPROPAN-1-OL, 3-METHYLBUTYL-1-OL, 2-HYDROXY-3-METHYLETHYL BUTANOATE, 3-METHYLBUTANAL, ETHYL HEXANOATE, ETHYL BUTANOATE, PENTYL ACETATE), 1510, NATURAL RIPENING AGENT (ETHENE GAS).

This exercise illustrates a larger point. The distinction between natural and synthetic chemicals is not merely ambiguous, it is non-existent. The fact that an ingredient is synthetic does not automatically make it dangerous, and the fact that it is natural doesn’t make it safe. Botulinum, produced by bacteria that grow in honey, is more than 1.3 billion times as toxic as lead and is the reason why infants should never eat honey. A cup of apple seeds contains enough natural cyanide to kill an adult human. Natural chemicals can be beneficial, neutral or harmful depending on the dosage and on how they are used, just like synthetic chemicals. Whether a chemical is ‘natural’ should never be a factor when assessing its safety… [emphasis mine]

Misconceptions about natural versus synthetic compounds can have devastating consequences. The anxiety over formaldehyde is a telling example. Formaldehyde occurs naturally in fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs and foliage. It is found in high concentrations in Peking duck (120 parts per million), smoked salmon (50 ppm), and processed meats (20 ppm) as a normal result of traditional curing processes. It is found at levels of around 2 ppm in a healthy human body, where it plays an important role in the production of DNA. Formaldehyde is also used in various industries as a preservative.

People automatically accept the many ‘natural’ sources of formaldehyde that are present all around, but minuscule traces of ‘artificial’ formaldehyde in vaccines and cosmetics have caused public outcry – even though all formaldehyde is chemically exactly the same: CH2O. One such incident in 2013 forced Johnson & Johnson to spend more than $10 million reformulating its skincare range. They did so even though the amount of formaldehyde present was so low that the average person would need to take 40 million baths per day before it posed any serious threat…

The roots of chemophobia run deep. We are irrationally hard-wired to overestimate the magnitude of risks that are imposed upon us. Americans are 35,000 times as likely to die from heart disease as from terrorism, yet terrorism tops people’s list of worries. It’s only through a better knowledge of chemistry and toxicology that we can begin to assess chemical risks in a more rational, healthier way. Then perhaps we can bend chemophobia back toward biophilia – creating an awareness that humans are chemically connected to all of the world around us.

Yes!!!  Of course we need to be extra cautious about newer synthetetic chemicals when we really don’t understand all their effects (we do have thousands of years of experience with bananas, apples, and honey), but, in general, when people are simply railing against “chemicals,” they pretty much have no idea what they are talking about.  Okay.  No go back to consuming some chemicals for breakfast.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Nate Cohn on Trump’s real potential with working-class white voters.

2) John Dickerson makes the case for restraint.

3) Best way to get out of rip current to swim parallel to the shore– right?  Maybe not.

 4) Lee Drutman suggests that the over-population of lawyers in politics in America may be partially responsible for our high inequality.

5) NYT Op-Ed on bringing basic principles of deterrence to corporate crime (I love my Jetta, but some VW execs need some prison time):

If we are serious about preventing corporate crime, we must change the corporate calculus. First, we need to increase the chances that white-collar criminals will be punished. One approach is an “enforcement pyramid” in which corporate infractions are met with graduated responses that start with education and end, if necessary, with prosecution.

Second, corporate executives must face the very real prospect of doing time in prison and not just pay fines. Judges have handed out very long sentences in well-publicized cases — Bernie Madoff and Jeff Skilling of Enron, for example. But these few severe penalties are not nearly as effective a deterrent as imposing relatively short prison sentences on a much larger number of white-collar defendants.

6) Dressers that can fall over when not anchored to the wall are not “defective” dressers, they are just plain dressers.  Physics.  Seems to me Ikea is doing due diligence through anchoring kits and public awareness.  I’ve put together a number of Ikea products in the past few years and they all come with anchor systems built in and very strong encouragement to use them.

7) Fascinating detective story to try and uncover if “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” is real.

8) Nobel Laureate scientists take on Greenpeace over their anti-science, anti-GMO agenda (there’s a reason I contribute to environmental causes but never Greenpeace):

More than 100 Nobel laureates have signed a letter urging Greenpeace to end its opposition to genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The letter asks Greenpeace to cease its efforts to block introduction of a genetically engineered strain of rice that supporters say could reduce Vitamin-A deficiencies causing blindness and death in children in the developing world.

“We urge Greenpeace and its supporters to re-examine the experience of farmers and consumers worldwide with crops and foods improved through biotechnology, recognize the findings of authoritative scientific bodies and regulatory agencies, and abandon their campaign against ‘GMOs’ in general and Golden Rice in particular,” the letter states…

Nobel laureate Randy Schekman, a cell biologist at the University of California at Berkeley, told The Post, “I find it surprising that groups that are very supportive of science when it comes to global climate change, or even, for the most part, in the appreciation of the value of vaccination in preventing human disease, yet can be so dismissive of the general views of scientists when it comes to something as important as the world’s agricultural future.”

9) Interesting take on why GOT’s High Sparrow is so hated.

10) Okay, yes, it seems wrong to mention female pubic hair “grooming” in this family-friendly blog😉, but what I found disconcerting in this NYT article about the amazing prevalence of the practice was just how many women seemed to think that allowing your body to keep it’s natural hair is somehow unhygienic.  On a quasi-related note, it is interesting that in TV and movies about dystopias, there’s not always enough razors for men to shave their beards, but there’s always something for the women to shave their legs and armpits.

11) In case you weren’t clear, the government’s no-fly list is a horribly Orwellian policy utterly lacking in due process.  Should we keep dangerous people from flying?  Sure.  Should there be due process?  Hell yes.

12) OMG we have a lot of people in military bands.  The Republicans might not be wrong to suggest we could have some cutbacks here.  For what it’s worth, when I was a kid, I first took percussion from a drummer in the US Navy Band before moving to a teacher in the US Air Force Band.

The Pentagon fields more than 130 military bands worldwide, made up of about 6,500 musicians, and not just in traditional brass and drum corps like the kind that will march in many Fourth of July parades on Monday. There are also military rock acts with artsy names, conservatory-trained military jazz ensembles, military bluegrass pickers, even a military calypso band based in the Virgin Islands.

All of this cost about $437 million last year — almost three times the budget of the National Endowment for the Arts.

13) Former Bush administration CIA official explains why not saying “radical Islam” is smart strategy.  I’m sure Donald Trump is listening.

14) On the challenges of adult male friendships.  I find it just sad that so many men feel they cannot discuss matters beyond sports, etc., with their male friends.  I have friends with whom I just discuss sports, work, politics (hey, that’s work!), etc., with, but my truest and closest friends are certainly those with whom I can share (and listen) what’s actually going on in my life that matters.  I cannot imagine not having that in my friendships.

From childhood on, Dr. Olds said, “men’s friendships are more often based on mutual activities like sports and work rather than what’s happening to them psychologically. Women are taught to draw one another out; men are not.”

15) As I mentioned in an earlier post, the best predictor of future violence is uncontrolled anger.  Here’s a take from a psychologist on using mindfullness to help control anger.  Policies that help encourage this sort of psychological treatment with populations prone to anger can surely help.

16) Jordan Weissman on how Bernie doesn’t really get global trade.  And Drum on how to do Free Trade better.

17) This was a really interesting/disturbing review of a new Mercedes with self-driving technology.  Seems that the car does not do such a great job of letting you know whether you, the human, or the computer is in charge.  That’s just asking for trouble.   Reminded me of a terrific 99% Invisible from just about a year ago about how the real difficulty in autonomous control systems is the impact that has on human psychology and decision-making.

18) One hell of an optical illusion.

19) Seriously, we have to find some way to limit the amazing amount of damage Saudi Arabia is doing to the world through relentlessly exporting their awful form of Islam.

20) Ended up attempting to explain “literary fiction” to my oldest son yesterday.  He was not impressed with my answer, even though I thought I did pretty well.  It’s complicated!  Anyway, I actually liked this take as much as any I came across.

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