ACSH is astroturf, here's why

The American Council on Science and Health recently got some exposure on twitter, then a little too much exposure, after publishing this highly problematic (and hysterically bad) op-ed/infographic on twitter and on their site.

This opinion piece, presented as if there is some method or objective analysis, purports to show which are the best and worst science news sites. But this immediately started to fall apart on the most cursory inspection. First of all, notice the x-axis, it’s clearly some kind of subjective assessment, and it immediately fails to be credible as the New York Times is classified as “more ideological” than Forbes (a source of global warming denialism including writing by James Taylor), or Fox News. Then twitter started in on it and quickly the y-axis started to come apart as well. Phil Plait points out that just on basic inspection it’s a joke:

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Other commentators on Twitter tried to science it up for them by making the y-axis based on pageviews only to learn that oh, that axis was subjective too, based on the author’s idea of what compelling is.

And insult to injury, Nature (from the top left no less) weighs in and calls it garbage in the nicest, Naturiest way possible:

It’s a curious exercise, and one that fails to satisfy on any level. It is, of course, flattering to be judged as producing compelling content. But one audience’s compelling is another’s snoozefest, so it seems strikingly unfair to directly compare publications that serve readers with such different interests as, say, The Economist and Chemistry World. It is equally unfair to damn all who work on a publication because of some stories that do not meet the grade. (This is especially pertinent now that online offerings spread the brand and the content so much thinner.)

Come to think of it “Fails to satisfy on any level” is a bit harsh coming from Nature.

Naomi Oreskes, noted science historian of Merchants of Doubt (albeit wrong on nuclear power and likely GMOs) weighed in:

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So basically, no one is fooled here.

Scienceblogs is also listed as ideological and of little value, maybe because our sciblings from angrytoxicologist to Effect Measure to the Pump Handle, to me (all the way back in 2007) and the excessively thorough Orac (see also) have been pointing out the obvious for years – the ACSH is astroturf. MotherJones, who admittedly have ideological problems from time to time on GMO and nutrition, are also frequent critics of ACSH, pointing out the felonious past of their one-time Director and their funding from industry for whom they provide excellent cover.

The newly revealed documents say that ACSH staffers should approach potential corporate financial backers with pitches geared toward specific issues. Last year, the documents note, the group planned to “seize opportunities to cultivate new funding possibilities (Prop 37, CSC, and corporate caving, etc.).” Proposition 37 was a 2012 California ballot initiative mandating the labeling of genetically modified foods. (It failed.) “CSC” is shorthand for the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a consumer watchdog group that seeks to eliminate dangerous chemicals from cosmetic products. The documents suggest ACSH planned to mention CSC in its fundraising pitches to L’Oreal, Avon, and Procter and Gamble.

Lately, ACSH has become a vocal player in the debate over hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” In February, the council posted an outline of a “systematic, objective review” it intends to publish on the scientific literature covering the potential health effects of fracking. In an April op-ed for the conservative Daily Caller website, Whelan criticized Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) for dithering on whether to allow fracking in New York State and asserted that “publicity savvy activists posing as public health experts are spearheading a disingenuous crusade to prevent the exploitation of the vast quantities of natural gas.” Fracking, Whelan wrote, “doesn’t pollute water or air.”

These links to industry have made their efforts to take on notable quacks such as Mehmet Oz backfire spectacularly because they are easily dismissed as so contaminated with ideology themselves. And we should not be surprised, founded in 1978 as a counterpoint to Nader’s CSPI, they basically exist to push back against attempts to regulate industry in the consumer’s interest.

So what we have here is basically an op-ed in chart form, in which media such as NYT, CNN, Motherjones, and historic critics of ACSH are “ideological” or “not compelling” whereas basic science journals like Nature who do not usually wade into their political waters are high impact along with media politically-aligned with ACSH such as Forbes and the Economist. Great stuff. I agree with Nature, it fails at every level. And in the end such an exercise, even if not performed in such a amateurish and obviously fraudulent way, would be enormously difficult to undertake. Almost all news sources screw up, and I have been critical, at some time, of almost every single one of those sources from MotherJones, to Forbes, to the NYT, the Guardian (where I have also published), Wired etc. This is not a straightforward exercise and only saying Nature itself is reliable for news would be incredibly limiting and absurd, as would saying you should believe sources of journalism such as the NYT without question. It also is a conflation of science reporting with periodic garbage in opinion section (Pollan in the NYT for instance is usually in opinion or food sections, huffpo has a separate science entity that is passable), and if we’re going to weight media down by opinion sections of course Nature will likely win. They’re loath to express an opinion on anything.

On to more important matters, what is the deal with the ACSH anyway? It seems a very contradictory organization. They seem to have lots of legitimate scientific content, a staff with legitimate credentials, and a list of distinguished policy advisors, as well as good articles on anti-vax, ag, alti-med etc. The American Council on Science and Health, is not just astroturf, but may be one of the best astroturf investments out there for those interested in advancing their industry message. Why is this? Because they are really good at using legitimate science reporting and advocacy to camouflage a freemarket fundamentalist product. While railing against politicization of science, they happily submit deeply political material as some kind of nonideological exercise in scientific expertise. Take their review of Trumps nominees for cabinet positions with a scientific mission, in an article entitled Evaluating President Trump’s Science and Health Choices guess what? There were no bad choices.

Given all that, not to mention overruling scientists on Yucca Mountain, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Keystone XL, and more, it seems strange that some activists worry the incoming President will be any more anti-science than the last. The reality is presidents embrace science when it agrees with policy.

Ok that’s a start, apparently scientists are for Keystone XL, Obama is apparently anti-science, or at least, there is no reason to expect Trump (Global Warming is a Chinese Hoax) to be more anti-science than Obama. Fascinating. They clearly hate politics, and are very serious people that aren’t political in their opinions, but Obama is anti-science, and Trump apparently is not. Oh my. It gets better:

Health and Human Services – The position of HHS Secretary is often given to party loyalists with little or no relevant expertise in healthcare policy, but President Trump instead chose Dr. Tom Price, a medical doctor and Congressman. Dr. Price recognizes that the Affordable Care Act needs to be fixed, a necessary reality in 2017. This office also oversees the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Given the attention the opioid crisis has gotten, along with concerns in the science and health community that the CDC has been too aggressive in promoting crises to lobby for funding about, there are a number of challenges that Secretary Price faces beyond health insurance.

Tom Price, plagued from the start with ethics violations for self dealing through legislation (and – failure to disclose – an ACSH supporter!) is great for HHS. The ACA needs to be fixed (apparently not a political statement), and the CDC is “promoting crises to lobby for funding”. For a non-political, non-ideological group this is starting to sound a bit crazy-pants.

His critics tried to drum up controversy, noting that Dr. Price has been affiliated with an organization that has been critical of mandatory vaccines and also some essential ones. However, in Senate testimony, he unequivocally rejected them and embraced evidence-based medicine.

He actually did not reject the AAPS (they who shall not be named), it was not unequivocal, and that organization is more than antivax, it promotes lies about abortion and breast cancer, the link between HIV and AIDS, and Tom Price is a member. But apparently since he’s on the freemarket fundamentalist side, we’ll just ignore this, gloss over his weak non-disavowal, and not even mention the name for fear of reminding people just how anti-science this group is.

It gets even better:

Environmental Protection Agency – On its science findings, the EPA can be terrific, but the accusation by critics has been that they have been picking political goals first, and gathering data later. As mentioned above, the EPA’s “Waters of the United States” rule, where private ponds and creeks can be defined as “navigable waters” that fall under the EPA’s jurisdiction, remains mired in the courts, while pollution experts argue that its mandates on emissions were made using narrow data and ignoring studies which showed pollution is not causing any acute deaths in the U.S. now.

The EPA needs to return to being a data-gathering agency that recommends policies to elected officials and less of an unassailable oligarchy that skirts around Congress by issuing green decrees.

How is this not an intensely political position? The EPA, which has “protection” in its name should no longer be proactive but instead should just gather data? This is a radical reorientation of the function of an agency of government, can you pretend that’s anything but a political goal?

Also they love Scott Pruitt:

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt successfully challenged EPA rulings on scientific grounds, while acknowledging that the office has an important role to play in regulating pollution, including carbon dioxide. The challenge will be convincing lawmakers and the public that EPA is again evidence-based and making decisions to protect the long-term health of all Americans, rather than, as critics claim, used as a way to pass laws without involving Congress.

Tasking someone who has defeated EPA with reforming its work is a bold move, but it won’t be easy taming this bureaucratic leviathan or undoing the carefully groomed relationships anti-science groups have created with career bureaucrats there.

That’s right, antiscience groups are in the EPA now, and the guy who is going to fix it is the Oklahoma AG who sues the EPA so his state can have more earthquakes than any other, and who submits proposals from the oil and gas industry to the EPA as if they are his own. But the ACSH, they hate mixing politics and science. Heavens forbid.

Finally my favorite:

Department of Energy – Former Texas Governor Rick Perry has been tapped to head a department that he once said should be eliminated. However, he since admitted he was wrong and had changed his mind – a rare trait in a politician. While many states floundered with the low GDP of the last eight years, Texas did well, and that was because of energy production.The Obama administration too often used this department to subsidize the alternative energy industry. Solyndra, which went bankrupt and cost taxpayers $535 million, is just one example. Tens of billions of dollars were squandered because we subsidized corporations to compete with cheap Chinese labor on solar panels, or promoted wind, which hasn’t been a viable large-scale solution in the last 700 years and isn’t now.

To be successful, Gov. Perry should redirect funds away from corporate subsidies and back to basic research in alternative energy. As a bridge to a pollution-free future, he should encourage the development of America’s natural gas resources which, if done with proper regulatory oversight, will reduce greenhouse gas emissions even farther than it has. Smart natural gas extraction will increase our country’s energy independence and poke Vladimir Putin in the eye, since evidence has shown that the Russians were manipulating environmental activists to prevent America from attaining energy independence and being an energy exporter.

Obama’s secretary of Energy was Ernest Moniz, a nuclear physicist and an expert in the issues that are DOEs mission. Rick Perry’s greatest interaction with the DOE was forgetting its name on a debate stage while trying to list agencies to eliminate. Also I can’t resist this, here is his college transcript.

Note he, unlike Obama’s nominee, is not a nuclear physicist, and he got a D in a class called “meats”. But, the ACSH assures us, they hate politics! Rick Perry is going to be great because he will direct us away from renewables (hey the Chinese have those down anyway) and he’s probably learned a lot about nuclear physics since nearly failing “meats”. There is nothing political to see here. No siree.

Wow. That is the ACSH being apolitical and purely scientific. This is also consistent with a long history that I’m sure they’d wish we’d ignore, for instance of climate denial. Here is S Fred Singer, notorious denialist and ACSH former staff, waxing poetic about fellow climate denier Michael Crichton’s book State of Fear (porn for climate denialists per Chris Mooney)

The not-so-hidden message of State of Fear, spelled out in copious footnotes, a lengthy afterword, an appendix, and a twenty-page bibliography, is an oddly reassuring one for a Crichton book, even if many scientists would disagree with it: There is no such thing as global warming, or at least nothing that anyone can prove or predict — and when it comes to climatic change, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, and the experts who are in the business of purveying it.

For good measure, Crichton’s protagonist, “MIT professor on special leave” John Kenner, also delivers a number of mini-lectures challenging some of the Green movement’s most cherished beliefs, arguing, for example, that DDT is safe enough to eat, that the giant sequoias are practically junk trees, and that the methane emitted by termites is potentially a greater hazard than the atmospheric buildup of carbon dioxide.

I suspect that Michael Crichton is motivated by the same anger as so many of us who don’t want to see science misused for political purposes — or used just to gain grants from government and foundations. These are the sentiments that led to the founding of my organization, the Science and Environmental Policy Project. I was therefore pleased to see the great respect paid by Crichton to the late UCal professor Aaron Wildavsky, a founding director of SEPP.

Tellingly, the book points out that critics of the “consensus” and skeptics about global warming tend to be mainly retired academics — scientists who are no longer in the rat race for tenure, research grants, and career-building honors.

As Crichton states disarmingly (p.573): “Everybody has an agenda. Except me.” Well, there are a few others like him. The hundreds of scientific skeptics who have signed the Heidelberg Appeal, Leipzig Declaration, and Oregon Petition against junk science share the same agenda as Crichton.

There you have it, from the ACSH site, Climate change is fake, it’s a conspiracy to get grant money (by mostly retired scientists? wah?) and insert politics into science, and the noble scientists of the Oregon petition prove Crichton right.

But remember, the ACSH is not political! They don’t deny climate science, or maybe they don’t anymore, they’re very reasonable people. They’re much better these days I’m sure! Except how they refer to Al Gore as “still demented” for his advocacy of climate science, promoting the Lomborgian distraction:

The real cause of so much suffering in the world is not climate change but poverty. In a more prosperous world, diseases like malaria and cholera largely will go away. And deaths from preterm birth complications and birth asphyxia/birth trauma — both of which are in the top 10 causes of death in poor countries — will also vanish.

When it comes to human disease, climate change is mostly a distraction. Eliminating poverty will do far more to save people’s lives than lowering the temperature a notch.

That’s Steve Berezow, who insists he is not a climate denialist. Here is Steve calling David Gorski (an MD/PhD surgeon, scientist, and tenured professor) a liar over it:

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Note Gorski was saying ACSH denies climate change, which as we can see from Singer’s article above, is without question at least a historical fact. These days though, ACSH being the savvy astroturf that they are, they don’t take the same hard line. Instead they go for the Lomborgian middle – don’t deny climate change, just say there is no point doing anything significant to address it, address poverty instead, because hey, we can’t chew gum and walk at the same time and only one issue should get funding at a time. All problems will be addressed serially, starting with Malaria. Charming. If someone holds a gun to your head say, “I support a carbon tax”, which is safe because it’s now probably inevitable (move those goalposts!).

Berezow, who in his free time does cosplay as a cantankerous middle-schooler, also loves climate denialist Richard Lindzen, and as we can see above, “maverick” social scientist Bjorn Lomborg of the “do-nothing” school of climate change:

Consider Alfred Wegener, the father of plate tectonics. In his day, he was mocked and ignored. Today, his theory forms the foundation of geology, but it took more than 30 years for that revolution to occur.

Surely, there are other scientists in the world today whose ideas are scorned but may very well be correct. Only time (and more data) will tell. Let’s consider a few of those “scientific outcasts” here.

Bjorn Lomborg, Roger Pielke, Jr., Cliff Mass, and Richard Lindzen. These four distinguished thinkers come from different backgrounds. Lomborg is a political scientist and statistician; Pielke, Jr. is an environmental policy analyst; Mass is a meteorologist; and Lindzen is an atmospheric physicist. What they all have in common is a rejection of climate change alarmism. And that has unfairly earned each of them the label of “climate denier.”

To varying extents, all of them have caused trouble for themselves by daring to question the common refrain that global warming is the world’s #1 problem and is exacerbating most other problems. Lomborg believes, for instance, that fighting infectious disease and malnutrition are far bigger priorities than fighting climate change. Pielke, Jr. disagrees that climate change is responsible for the increasing cost of disasters. Similarly, Mass refuses to blame climate change on phenomena such as oyster deaths and unusually warm weather in the Pacific Northwest. Lindzen critiques climate models as inaccurate.

This is the classic Galileo Gambit. These are the Galileos (or Wegeners) of our day, misunderstood geniuses or “distinguished thinkers”. They should be listened to, not Michael Mann, or Gavin Schmidt. They aren’t ideological hacks who have no countervailing theory to explain the data, nothing to offer that survives in the literature. They are just geniuses oppressed by the dogmatic consensus scientists! Just like Galileo!

But of course, they’re not like Galileo, they’re denialists. Well documented (Lomborg Lindzen) fact-denying, politically-motivated denialists moving the goalposts and making up conspiracies about climate scientists and emails and trying to convince us that global warming might just be a party and not a threat to civilization. **Cliff Mass, it should be noted, is mixed in with less reputable scientists by Berezow, but he doesn’t deserve this company. While he does have his critics it’s more about conflict over framing the debate on climate change, he accepts the science and is not a denialist. I would argue this is another example of ACSH mixing the real with the fake, and if this wasn’t clear I was targeting Lindzen and Lomborg for my criticism then this was an error. Finally, Roger Pielke Jr. is also problematic, characterized as a climate misinformer by John Cook, he doesn’t deny the science but is something of a lukewarmer like Lomborg, downplaying our knowledge of global warming in a fashion that some believe is dishonest. **

On topics relative to their industries ACSH are of course quite favorable. It’s easy for them to be good on antivax, or big ag, their agenda has been consistently documented for almost 40 years to deny any harm from these industries (minus tobacco). But where there is ideological (or likely financial) conflict with the industries they serve and protect we of course see denialism. Their response is to scream “liar” at the top of their lungs but all we’re doing is pointing out their words. When challenged, they go into hysterics, the thread on the BS infographic alone is hysterical with Berezow responding to any critique with ad hominem at anyone – reporters, scientists, whoever – calling them liars and lunatics. They certainly comport themselves as cranks when criticized, and despite being challenged by legitimate scientists from Phil Plait, to Oreskes, to Nature itself their little BS infographic stands and I’m sure they remain quite proud of it. But that’s pretty typical of cranky denialists, they can’t even tell when they’re generating crap because they tend to be so incompetent at evaluating science they probably think their little Op-Ed in graph form is super clever. And certainly not political. Never that. It’s not I tell you!

This hypocritical refrain is my favorite part of all this, I had previously mocked their arguments against a science march and it’s part of a general pattern in their writing. They admonish us to keep science out of politics, and politics out of science (an impossibility as I argued), don’t march against Trump, it will stain science as political, then they publish op ed pieces saying Trumps picks are great on science and Political correctness prevents advancement of science. They’re trying to have it both ways, they don’t want politics out of science, just the politics they disagree with, which kind of proves my point. Science is fundamentally political since it’s a human endeavor, and humans think ideologically, not scientifically – including these guys.

Their other defense is one of distraction. They’re not antiscience because – look over there! We’re fighting antivax! And altie-meds! This is true. But this is like standing over a dead body with blood on your hands and exclaiming, “But I give to charity!” It doesn’t matter that they’re very good on other topics. This is part of the slickness of this operation. They generate lots of good content to mix with the bad, package it as “apolitical” and pure science, then pass off their politics and their brand of anti-science with the rest of the good stuff. It’s camouflage. It’s very clever, and it clearly works. Lots of folks I respect will defend ACSH because they are good on their issues. I would just ask them to take the 30,000 ft view here of what is going on.

So, yet another piece of hackery from a very old, very ideological, astroturf organization. One of the oldest, and to their credit, one of the best at the game. I can’t wait for them to lose their minds at me, spew childish insults and try to attack me personally (per usual). They can’t deny their words though, and they can’t defend the ideological garbage they insist is “apolitical”. Anyone who has eyes to see understands their record, their own words, and their actions dealing with critics show who they really are.

**updated to clarify Cliff Mass is not to be confused with Lindzen or Lomborg as a denialist or lukewarmer.

Abortion can be lifesaving

While I realize Joe Walsh lost his election bid, it is still worth emphasizing that his infamous statements about abortion are false, especially considering efforts like those in Ohio to pass a “heartbeat bill”. Abortion is sometimes necessary to save the life of the mother. Via the Irish Times we hear the sad story of a woman being allowed to get sicker and sicker, while a non-viable but “living” fetus kills her.

“The doctor told us the cervix was fully dilated, amniotic fluid was leaking and unfortunately the baby wouldn’t survive.” The doctor, he says, said it should be over in a few hours. There followed three days, he says, of the foetal heartbeat being checked several times a day.

“Savita was really in agony. She was very upset, but she accepted she was losing the baby. When the consultant came on the ward rounds on Monday morning Savita asked if they could not save the baby could they induce to end the pregnancy. The consultant said, ‘As long as there is a foetal heartbeat we can’t do anything’.

“Again on Tuesday morning, the ward rounds and the same discussion. The consultant said it was the law, that this is a Catholic country. Savita [a Hindu] said: ‘I am neither Irish nor Catholic’ but they said there was nothing they could do.

At this point the story is mostly upsetting because of the pain and distress the patient was undergoing for a nonviable fetus. But in the next sentence the story goes from describing mere horrific, dangerous medical care and patient abuse to total medical incompetence and wrongful death:

“That evening she developed shakes and shivering and she was vomiting. She went to use the toilet and she collapsed. There were big alarms and a doctor took bloods and started her on antibiotics.

If this timeline is correct, this sounds like “rigors”, a classic sign of impending sepsis. Her collapse is concerning for impending septic shock. One of the most important factors in preventing worsening sepsis after infection, per the Surviving Sepsis guidelines, is source control. That is, if there is a source for the sepsis – a foreign body, and infected wound, etc., it needs to be removed/drained so that the condition doesn’t worsen. This, in addition to being common sense, is medically imperative to prevent the worsening of symptoms.

However, for the sake of a non-viable fetus in the midst of a miscarriage, source control was ignored, and the patient proceeded to worsen and die.

At lunchtime the foetal heart had stopped and Ms Halappanavar was brought to theatre to have the womb contents removed. “When she came out she was talking okay but she was very sick. That’s the last time I spoke to her.”

At 11 pm he got a call from the hospital. “They said they were shifting her to intensive care. Her heart and pulse were low, her temperature was high. She was sedated and critical but stable. She stayed stable on Friday but by 7pm on Saturday they said her heart, kidneys and liver weren’t functioning. She was critically ill. That night, we lost her.”

This appears to be death from a critical delay in source control, in the face of septic shock. Removal of the fetus should have occurred emergently when she presented with signs and symptoms of sepsis in order to save her life. This was not done, and she almost certainly died as a result of this delay.

Maternal mortality in pregnancy is very rare thanks to modern medicine. However, when ideology trumps medically-appropriate care we turn back the clock to when women died routinely in childbirth.

Maryland how I love thee

I’m so proud of my home state for affirming equality for all in the ballot box rather than in the courts. I was born and raised in Maryland, although I’ve spent more of my adult life in Virginia, one of the big things I’ve noticed in the divide between the two states (and I love both of them) is that Marylanders do a better job at taking care of each other, and running an effective state with high quality services. Marylanders believe government can work, and generally (outside of Baltimore) it does. Marylanders also reject bigotry, and with question 4 (the Maryland Dream act) and question 6 affirming the rights of LGBT to marry, I’m so proud of my state for rejecting bigotry and electing to give everyone a chance at the dream.

Another lesson learned from this election is to follow Lincoln’s advice, “it’s better to be quiet and be thought of a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” Moron fundamentalists’ ideas of how lady parts work and divine rape plans have been extraordinarily costly for the Republicans, and provide hope for the future that voters will reject some of the truly contemptible unscientific beliefs of these bigoted old men running our government. I’m pleased to see there might be an actual limit on the incredibly stupid things one may say, and still expect election to congress. So remember Republicans, you can’t piss off the ladies and expect to keep winning elections. They need to shape up, or at least keep their incredibly stupid ideas to themselves. As women represent more and more of our delegations to congress, hopefully statements like Akin’s and Mourdock’s will just be embarrassing historical footnotes. Although, the continued presence of Michelle Bachmann is reminder that being female is, of course, no protection from believing incredibly stupid things.

Did anyone else snort when Romney mention the “enduring principles on which our society is built” and the first he listed was honesty?

Finally, I’m very curious to see the effect of the decision by Coloradoans and Washingtonians to openly defy Federal law and legalize, not just decriminalize, marijuana use. In this second term of a moderate Democratic president, will this showdown over drug laws finally result in a pull-back in the drug war? The amount of money, time, and jail-space devoted to criminalizing marijuana use is a national disgrace. Maybe these state reversals of marijuana prohibition will result in a more mature national conversation on drug policy?

This election has left me optimistic we will take the right steps to shore up our economy, make the right policy on healthcare, and increase the investment in science and research, which are my priorities. It’s been a good day.

Conspiracy-targeted Campaigning from Romney

Slate has an interesting article about Romney campaign mailings that appear to contain buzzwords for chronic Lyme disease advocates in Virginia. Romney’s plan for Lyme disease includes these two points:

IMPROVE SYNERGY
Ensure that government agencies have an open line of communication and work with patients, researchers, doctors, and businesses in an objective, comprehensive manner.

SUPPORT TREATMENT
Encourage increased options for the treatment of Lyme Disease and provide local physicians with protection from lawsuits to ensure they can treat the disease with the aggressive antibiotics that are required.

Note the “aggressive antibiotics” line. This refers to a bogus medical practice of prescribing long courses of antibiotics, often in IV form, for “chronic Lyme” syndrome. While people can have chronic complications of actual Lyme disease, another, crankier disease entity has been promoted by irresponsible doctors who treat a syndrome similar to fibromyalgia, or chronic fatigue, or maybe even depression, with long-term IV antibiotics. These treatments are administered at their own clinics, usually without insurance paying for it (insurance companies can smell this BS and won’t cover it), at great expense because IV antibiotics cost a lot more to administer, and often without evidence of Lyme infection by tests or history.

This has been a season of bizarre political conspiracy mongering with everything from birtherism from Mitt Romney, Sheriff Joe’s craziness, magic Kenyan Telegrams, Aurora conspiracies, job numbers conspiracies, polling conspiracy theories from America’s least-accurate pollster Dick Morris, and my favorite Obama is buying bullets for the Social Security Administration to kill all Americans conspiracy theory. Now, rather than coming up with Obama conspiracies it looks like they’re trying to solicit vocal conspiracy theorists who think the pharma/CDC/infectious disease society illuminati are trying to suppress a bogus diagnosis their doctor has successfully treated by emptying out their wallets.

It’s very sad, really. People with a legitimate medical disorder, likely along a similar spectrum with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue that have a disordered sense of pain perception, are being exploited by quack physicians who directly profit from a dangerous course of powerful antibiotics. Antibiotics are not benign drugs, and should not be used carelessly, as they too often are. And the non-evidence based used of megadoses of these drugs, often without any actual evidence of infection should result in a campaign to revoke these physicians’ licenses, not to solicit their votes by hinting at support of quack medical theories and protection of irresponsible physicians from liability. Is this a new all time low for a political campaign?

Keep Akin in the race!

Everyone has heard about Akin’s comments about “legitimate rape” and the push now coming from the GOP to get him out of the race. But is this really fair or ideal? The problem with removing Akin from the race over this is that his gaffe was not just one exposing his scientific ignorance, but because it was a Kinsley gaffe. That is, it’s a gaffe because it unintentionally revealed the truth.

I’m not saying that his medieval medical hypothesis has any scientific validity, he is after all just parroting pro-life misinformation spread to attack scientific data about the frequency of pregnancy after rape. The Kinsley gaffe in this case is that he revealed the truth about what he, and other pro-life politicians who support no-exception abortion bans, believe.

Why should we punish this truth-telling with removal of Akin from the race? All that will happen is that the GOP will replace Akin with another pro-life fanatic who is simply better at hiding what he actually believes about women, reproduction, sexual assault, and their autonomy over their own bodies.

I’m thankful for Akin’s honesty, because he has dropped the facade that the radical right cares about women, respects their autonomy, understands sexual assault or has any place in this century. He has pulled back the curtain and shown what they really believe. Other examples of this attitude abound, from the abusive ultrasound bills, to this comment from Idaho Republican Chuck Winder in March wondering if women even know what rape is, to American Vision’s comparison of the blowback against Akin as “like gang-rape”. He has only further exposed the misogyny of the pro-life movement and brought some of their more despicable lies front and center for all to see. We should be thanking him for his honesty.

Demanding women deliver dead babies is unethical and unsafe

In a debate on the floor of the Georgia State house over a bill to force women to bring all pregnancies after 20 weeks to term, even in cases of dead or non-viable fetus, this Georgia representative reaches a new low. State Rep Terry England seems to be suggesting pigs and cows do it, why can’t humans?

Rep. Terry England compares women to cows, pigs and chickens. from Bryan Long on Vimeo.

Aside from this genius on-the-farm reasoning of Mr England, the failures of reasoning and misrepresentations of scientific knowledge engaged in to pursue this legislation are many.

The legislation is justified ostensibly because of the ability of the fetus to feel pain after 20 weeks, but there is no data or a legitimate scientific basis for this claim. Our knowledge of neurological development would suggest that conscious perception of pain may not be possible for a fetus at any point and the neural framework for transmission of pain is not even mature before 29-34 weeks.

Second is the issue that concern for the pain for a nonviable or dead fetus should not outweigh medical risk to the mother. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend dilation and extraction or induction of labor once the diagnosis of stillbirth has been made. The risks of carrying a non-viable fetus are the higher complication rate of delivery versus dilation and extraction, as well as a very high risk to the mother of complications like disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) if the amniotic sac is ruptured and she is exposed to the dying tissue. For stillbirth or nonviable pregnancies, dilation and extraction is far safer and more effective with 24% of patients undergoing labor experiencing complications compared to 3% for D&E.

It has been under-reported that since the 2010 election, the rate of anti-contraception, anti-abortion, and frankly anti-woman legislation has shot through the roof. In 2011 state legislatures have enacted a record number of laws restricting reproductive rights:

In the 50 states combined, legislators introduced more than 1,100 reproductive health and rights-related provisions, a sharp increase from the 950 introduced in 2010. By year’s end, 135 of these provisions had been enacted in 36 states, an increase from the 89 enacted in 2010 and the 77 enacted in 2009.

These include everything from preventing physicians from using telemedicine to prescribe medication to requiring ultrasounds prior to abortion despite the fact no association of OB/Gyns supports universal ultrasound prior to abortion. In an effort to legislate their control of women’s reproductive systems, they are interfering more and more with the physician-patient relationship. It has become so extreme that in 11 states they have legislation requiring physicians to perform unnecessary invasive procedures, basically forcing physicians to engage in unethical medical practices. There is no legitimate medical reason for these measures. These exist to shame women, and increase the expense and difficulty of constitutionally-protected medical procedures and medical decisions like birth control and abortion.

These efforts to ban abortion after 20 weeks, which have succeeded in several states including Nebraska, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Oklahoma,Alabama and Utah, are a highly intrusive attack on women’s reproductive freedom. It is once again, an attempt to insert politics in the doctor-patient relationship. Finally it is medically unethical, dangerous, and morally bankrupt to expose women to greater risk by preventing them from having the option of safe termination of pregnancy all for the sake of a dead fetus.

Via Jezebel

Rick Santorum: usually wrong, never in doubt

There is a joke expression about surgeons, “sometimes wrong, never in doubt.” Depending on how you feel about surgeons I’ve heard it begin “sometimes right” and “even when wrong.” Applied to Rick Santorum, I think it has to be “usually wrong” if not “always wrong” given the serious of ridiculous distortions, lies, and made up statistics in the last week.

Starting with his claim that 62% of people that go to college religious graduate without their faith. It seems plausible. College expands peoples experiences and exposes them to new ideas, and such experiences are not going to always mesh with fundamentalist writings of long dead priests. Well, while counterintuitive it actually turns out to be the opposite case. Those who do not attend college may be at higher risk of losing their religion.

“There is no statistical difference in the dropout rate among those who attended college and those that did not attend college,” said Thom Rainer, president of the Southern Baptists’ LifeWay Christian Resources research firm. “Going to college doesn’t make you a religious dropout.”

A 2007 LifeWay survey did find seven in 10 Protestants ages 18 to 30 who went to church regularly in high school said they quit attending by age 23.

The real causes: lack of “a robust faith,” strongly committed parents and an essential church connection, Rainer said.

“Higher education is not the villain,” said Catholic University sociologist William D’Antonio. Since 1986, D’Antonio’s surveys of American Catholics have asked about Mass attendance, the importance of religion in people’s lives and whether they have considered leaving Catholicism.

The percentage of Catholics who scored low on all three points hovers between 18 percent in 1993 and 14 percent in 2011. But the percentage of people who are highly committed fell from 27 percent to 19 percent.

“Blame mortality,” D’Antonio said, “The most highly committed Catholics are seniors, and they’re dying out.”

Do colleges indoctrinate the young to turn on their parents and reject religion? Salon argues they do a little bit, but the indoctrination that tends to be found on college campuses is on pretty universally accepted issues like rejecting racism and homophobia, both of which a majority of Americans now believe are repellent. But to politicians like Santorum, teaching tolerance is a major drawback to college attendance. The claim that colleges engage in indoctrination against religion is bogus, however, unless one is referring to religious beliefs in discrimination against other races and homosexuals.

If anything the opposite is the case as studies have shown higher rates of religious “drop out” among the less-educated. Politifact also challenges his statement that Obama wants everyone to go to college cause he’s a snob.

And how about all his other wacky claims? That prenatal screening causes abortion? Or that JFK believed religious people shouldn’t serve in government?
Continue reading “Rick Santorum: usually wrong, never in doubt”

A global warming conspiracy theorist has won 4 states, should we be worried?

The states in Green have gone for Rick Santorum, who besides having a a Google problem also believes in one of the wackiest conspiracy theories there is – the climate change hoax. That is, the belief that there is a shady group of Illuminati that have power over thousands of climate scientists from all over the world, and in their greed for sweet sweet grant money scientists uniformly falsify all their data to serve this power-hungry cabal. Is that an exaggeration? Nope, that’s what people who believe in the “hoax” ascribe to (see skeptical science’s thorough debunking of Evans here). This is a more severe form of the denial by Newt or Romney, who claim “insufficient evidence”, the more basic goalpost moving of half-hearted global warming denialism.

But now we have a full-blown global warming hoax-promoting conspiracy theorist picking up momentum to become a candidate for president. Should we be worried?

Continue reading “A global warming conspiracy theorist has won 4 states, should we be worried?”