How Green are my Plastics?

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FINALLY – the Truth about Plastics & the Environment

I recently became aware of this research and video presentation The Great Plastics Distraction  (H/T Patrick Moore).  For those who prefer reading a text to watching a video, I prepared a transcript of the talk below in italics with my bolds added.

My name is Dr Chris DeArmitt and I’m going to tell you about plastics and the environment.

But first i’m going to start with a story. I once read a wonderful book called Factfulness, and it told a story about how important it is that we act based on facts. Before the early 1990s parents were advised to place their infants to sleep on their front, contrary to advice from clinical research. If they had listened to that scientific evidence then they might have prevented over 10,000 infant deaths in the UK and at least 50,000 infant deaths in Europe, the USA and Australasia. But they didn’t listen. In fact it took decades for doctors to change their advice even when the data was so clear that thousands more died unnecessarily.

This talk aims to reset the way we think about plastics in the environment by showing that our current beliefs don’t match reality. The science tells us the exact opposite of what we’re being told online. And the reason it’s important to know the truth is that when we ignore the facts and the science we end up destroying the very thing we set out to protect.

Here’s an outline of the topics we will cover. First a summary of what we believe now. Then a look at what the evidence tells us, and finally we examine reasons why these two things don’t match up.

We all recognize that we can’t believe everything we see in the media. Traditional media is less reliable than it used to be and social media is even worse. Here’s a study that shows us some numbers. Only 20 percent of people believe in the local news and only four percent of people strongly believe in social media. So we all know that we can’t trust the usual sources of information that we use. And yet that’s where our information is coming from.

So how bad is the accuracy of this information? Well they did a study on millions and millions of tweets and they found out that the lies are 70 more likely to be spread than the truth. That means that we absolutely cannot trust anything we hear on social media. Why? Because the lies are more sensational and sound newer than the truth. The truth’s too boring and even when the truth is spread it never really catches up with the lies.

That’s part of what I’m trying to address here. So what are the consequences of being told all of these lies online? Well it turns out that if you repeat a lie enough times people believe it, and it doesn’t matter how smart you are or how good you are at critical thinking, everybody’s susceptible to this. They’ve done large studies on it.

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So these lies that we’re being told all the time sound like the truth because they sound familiar after a while, and we end up becoming brainwashed. And you’ll notice on all the slides that I’m presenting here there’s a little text at the bottom which (I don’t know if you can see it) here at the bottom of the page. “Every time I say something because I’m a scientist I support it with scientific evidence.” That means that there are giant scientific studies to prove what I’m saying and that’s the opposite to what you hear online. When you see something online they just claim something sensational with zero proof. Everything I say here and everything I say in my book is proven.

I just mentioned my book The Plastics Paradox. Let me tell you a little bit about that. I’ve made it my personal mission to collect and read hundreds of scientific articles to uncover the truth. I didn’t go around looking for articles that supported a pre-existing opinion. I went out and found every single piece of information I could. And why me? Well for one thing my kids were being taught lies at school and I found that totally unacceptable. So I decided to go and find the information to present to the teachers and it mushroomed into the book.

Also I’m a leading PhD. polymer scientist, so I’m uniquely qualified for this task. As a scientist I do not make, market or sell plastics. Some people say that they can’t trust a plastics expert to talk about plastics. And I find that interesting. I ask them whether they refuse to speak to a medical expert when they’re sick. Or if they’re sick do they ask a car mechanic for an opinion or a journalist. Of course you go and ask a medical expert when you want a medical opinion. So when you want an opinion about the technical details of plastics, go and ask a doctor in plastics. And that’s me.

Some of my friends ask me why I’ve devoted thousands of hours and thousands of dollars of my own money to this topic when it’s not my job. I sometimes ask myself the same question. This is why. I’m a professional scientist so I believe we should base our opinions and our actions on fact not fiction. Everything we do has an impact on the environment so we have two choices: Either we have to go and move back into caves or we can continue to enjoy the modern lifestyle we love so much while making choices that minimize our impact.

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How do we do that? Well life cycle analysis is the only proven and accepted way to know what is green and what is less green. It considers all environmental impacts. That means raw materials, the manufacturing of a product, the transporting the product, the function of the product in use (for example driving your car around), repairing the product, and also waste and recycling. Companies, governments and environmental groups all rely on life cycle analysis: It’s standardized and also peer-reviewed for consistency and to make sure that nobody cheats. Any system can be improved upon but if we were to abandon life cycle analysis then we’d have to toss a coin to decide what’s green? It’s better to use a tool that’s good but imperfect than to have no tool at all.

The outcome of a life cycle analysis depends on many things including the geographical location that you’re considering so there’s no universal answer. However if you read a hundred of these life cycle analyses, the geographical aspects start to cancel out and average out. And you get some trends. So here are the trends that I’ve noted after reading a bunch of these life cycle analyses. If you can make something out of a hunk of wood, that’s usually the greenest option. So for example, wood decking and wine corks are examples where wood is greener than plastic.

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But most things can’t be made out of wood, so plastic is then usually the greenest choice.  Paper is sometimes greener than plastic, but usually it isn’t. Examples where plastic are greener include shopping bags or grocery bags. I found 24 life cycle analyses on grocery bags and plastics coming out greener in every single case, in every country no matter where they analyzed it. In 24 studies plastic bags were greener than paper bags and not a single case saying the opposite so here we are banning something which is categorically proven to be the greenest option. Banknotes is another example. A lot of bank notes are made of plastic and they’re proven to be greener than the paper ones because they last so much longer.
And mailer envelopes is another example.

Steel, aluminium and glass are far worse due to the extreme heat and the energy needed to make them, and their density which increases the impact of transportation. So these are the general trends that we see.

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Here’s a quick summary of what I discovered when writing The Plastics Paradox and reading all the science. As I said, all of this is soundly proven and you’ll find all the citations in the book and on the website. Statements I quote are verbatim so I copy and paste the statements from the scientific articles to make sure that there’s no spin on it. And as i said it’s all cited so you can check it yourself. If this information is different to what you’ve heard online or in the press, that’s because this is the first time you’ve actually heard the truth backed by hard data and presented by a professional scientist instead of some hack.

Now I want to show you some very very powerful new information I discovered after the book was published. So part of the reason for this talk is to zoom out and not just focus on plastics but look at the overall picture. I was reading a book about materials and the environment and I was absolutely shocked to my core when I turned the page and saw this pie chart on the left.

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The pie chart shows that plastics are only about one percent of the material we use. All we hear about all day long is plastic, as if it were the only material, and we’re drowning in plastic. And now i suddenly discover from this book that plastics are less than one percent. I found this information so incredible that i decided to double and triple check it. And when i did I found out that a number was actually wrong. It’s actually too high: The amount of plastics we use is only 0.4 percent of materials. You can check this yourself using siri and alexa and google to ask: What’s the annual global consumption of plastics; what’s the annual global consumption of materials? And then work out the percentage.

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This is absolutely shocking to hear that we’re obsessing about plastics and it’s 0.4 percent of our problem. So based on that finding I decided to do a little bit more digging. We’re told every day that we’re drowning in plastic waste. Of course no data is ever given. So I decided to go and check the data on how much of this waste is actually plastic. In the book I already found out that 13% of household waste is plastic and about 10 percent of what goes into a landfill is plastic. What i didn’t know then was that household waste is just 3% of all waste; the other 97% is industrial waste. So it turns out that plastic waste is 13% of 3%, which is 0.3% of all waste. So once again we’re told online without evidence that plastic is the cause of all of our worries and it turns out to be 0.3 percent of the waste problem.

And as we saw in The Plastic Paradox book and on the website plastics have actually dramatically reduced waste on top of that. So we’re obsessing about a tiny fraction of the problem. There’s no way we can solve the world’s problems by putting a hundred percent of our effort into 0.3 of a problem.

We hear about plastic in the oceans all the time. In the book I explained there are no huge floating islands, they just don’t exist. Scientists say they don’t exist; the man who discovered the gyres also say that they don’t exist. And there’s no soup either; it’s just been all dramatized for the sake of getting your money out of your pockets by certain environmental groups and journalists who don’t care about the facts. It turns out even in these gyres the maximum amount of plastic that you is about one game die if you were to take a game die from monopoly and put it in an olympic-sized swimming pool. that would be too much.

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I decided to check how much plastic is actually entering the ocean. We see and hear big numbers but we don’t know what it means. It’s very hard to conceptualize these numbers. So it turns out that the amount of plastic entering the oceans is this tiny tiny number I can’t even say it, but the percentage is many many zeros with a six at the end. Clearly I’m not saying there should be plastic in the oceans, but the number is rather small compared to what we’ve been led to believe. No, there will not be more plastic than fish in the sea; that was debunked as well.

I showed that last slide to a friend and he said it would be more meaningful to compare the amount of solid sediment being washed into the oceans from rivers to the amount of plastic. So once again i went looking for the scientific data and I was able to find it. Plastics make up about 0.05 percent of the solid sediment being dumped into our oceans and rivers. It’s mainly polyethylene polypropylene polyethylene terephthalate and polystyrene; which means the plastics that we eat our food out of every day, so they’re not very much of a concern from a health point of view.

Interestingly there are also massive amounts of deadly chemicals, munitions and even nerve gas in the ocean, but no one talks about that. I wonder why they would rather focus on plastics and ignore the things which are actually proven to be toxic. So-called environmental groups are very keen to bring out the turtle pictures. There’s even a famous video of a turtle with a brown cylinder of some kind in its nose; but there was never any evidence that it was made of plastic.  They never analyzed it when they were doing the video; in fact they thought it was a worm, as you can hear in the video soundtrack. They say, “Oh, is it a worm, is it a worm?” and then afterwards they suddenly declare it’s plastic without any analysis whatsoever.

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If you’re concerned about turtles you should be looking at these statistics on the left hand side because I looked up turtle mortality rates and here they are. You can see that shrimp trolling accounts for up to 50,000 turtle deaths; fishery is up to 5000; collisions with boats up to 500; dredging up to 50; and other 200. And nothing at all about plastics. So that’s interesting isn’t it? If you do care about turtles, and you’re not just trying to get sympathy votes out of people and pry their money out of their pockets in terms of donations, then you would be looking at these causes of death which are the actual things that turtles suffer. But they’d rather focus on plastics because it suits their purposes.

As well as turtles we hear a huge amount about whales. I saw another article today about whale deaths, so I decided to look up the many studies on whale deaths. And once again I’ve quoted them all. From the scientific studies quoted the causes of whale deaths: entanglement in fishing gear; natural causes, and vessel strikes where boats hit them. So why are they incessantly telling us that plastics are harming whales when not one single one of these articles even had a mention of the word plastic or bag. These are multi-decade studies with thousands and thousands of whale deaths listed and not one mention of plastic or bag.

I find it absolutely reprehensible a while ago several newspapers covered a story saying that there were these massive amounts of micro plastic raining down on our national parks. They said it was several tons of microplastic deposited every year and I thought wow, that’s hard for me to imagine; let me work it out as a percentage, for example, of dust that’s deposited. So I went and found some studies on that; and i can tell you it’s a lot of work to look up all of these studies. The environmental groups like to argue with you and they like to come out with these claims, and they produce no studies whatsoever. And I’ve been working on my own with no funding, and I’ve turned up all of these studies and double checked and triple checked everything. How much hard work it is to actually check the facts, when it’s easier to spout nonsense.

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So anyway let’s look at the grand canyon. You can calculate there’ll be 12 tons per year of microplastic dust on the grand canyon and that sounds like a lot. And it is a lot, but it depends on how big the grand canyon is. So i went and checked that and correlated that with the total amount of dust that would be deposited on an area that size which is 50 000 tons a year; meaning that microplastics make up 0.03% of all the dust deposited per year. So instead of hearing this tonnage number which means nothing to us, while the actual percentage is rather small. I’m not saying it should be there but again it’s safe plastics like polyethylene polypropylene and things we eat our food out of. But what’s the rest of this dust made of? The 99.97% in large proportion is quartz which is known to cause cancer; it’s also made up of a large amount of heavy metals such as lead and cadmium which are known to be toxic.

So isn’t it interesting that people would rather focus on 0.03% of safe material because it’s plastic and easy to demonize, and totally ignore things which are known to be toxic and known to cause cancer and are being breathed in in giant quantities.

There’s an example where ignoring the science leads you in the wrong direction.  Here I’ve put together an NGO scorecard to see how well these so-called environmental groups are doing at telling us what’s green and what isn’t and what to do. In The Plastics Paradox book as you saw I showed that pretty much everything they’ve told us is untrue; meaning that the science says the exact opposite. And in this talk we’ve zoomed out a little bit to look at the bigger picture. And we found that if we were worried about materials use, concrete, metal and woods would be the things we would focus on.

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But instead these non-governmental organizations want us to talk about plastics. If we’re worried about material waste we will be focused on manufacturing, mining, oil and gas, but instead they want us to focus on plastics. If we were worried about turtles we would be worried about trawling, fishing and boat strikes, but they want us to concentrate on plastic instead. If we’re worried about whales we’ll be looking at trawling, fishing and boat strikes, but instead they want us to talk about plastic. If we were worried about dust we’d be worried about this inorganic dust which contains quartz and heavy metals, but instead they want us to look at plastic. If we were worried about materials that use giant amounts of energy and create co2, we would be worried about gold, platinum and palladium, but they want us to talk about plastic instead. And when it comes to grocery bags, if we’re worried about things that cause harm we’d be looking at paper, cotton and bio plastic bags, but instead they want us to focus on plastic bags which are proven in every single study to be the greenest.

So if we look at how well these so-called environmental groups are doing, they’re not doing very well at all. In fact I can’t find a single area where they’re given evidence which helps the environment or matches the evidence and the science. This means one of two things: Either they’re wildly incompetent, in which case they don’t deserve our funding and our donations. Or they’re actually corrupt, in which case they also don’t deserve our funding and our donations.

How do we know which one of these two things it is? Well, it’s impossible to know somebody’s intent without being inside their mind, but recently there have been some very interesting books by former environmental group members. And they’ve come out and said, I’m ashamed to have been a part of this group. They’re just corrupt and they’re just telling you lies and scaring you to get your donations. So there are insider reports like Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout by Patrick Moore; and there’s Apocalypse Never by Michael Schellenberger. You can find several other books along those lines regarding environmental groups where former members have left ashamed and embarrassed, and published books explaining that these guys are just trying to rip you off.

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So here are the conclusions.
We’ve been lied to again and again by groups keen to enrage us and trick us out of our money.
We need to start basing our opinions and our policies on facts and evidence.
Let’s focus on cleaning up the environment by making wise choices

And if you want to do that please tell your friends about the truths you’ve learned today.
If you know a reporter please tell them;
If you know a CEO or a politician, then please tell them.
And if you know Bill Gates or Oprah Winfrey, so we can get some publicity for the truth, then please tell them.

As you’ve seen facts don’t catch up with lies. We need every bit of help we can get because the lies are already in people’s brains. They spread farther and faster than the truth and we’re playing catch up. We really need to make an impact if we’re ever going to change people’s minds. Stop making stupid policies and stop enriching these groups that are lying to us.

The Plastics Paradox book was written so that people could get the story. But all the information is at plasticsparadox.com. And it’s important for you to know I’m not trying to make money out of this presentation. All this information, all the peer-reviewed science is available for free at plasticsparadox.com. No registration; I’m not selling you one thing. All I’m doing as a professional scientist is telling you it’s time to look at the facts and start making progress instead of pedaling backwards.

Sadly some people are so passionately against plastics that they don’t care about the facts. They prefer to attack me online for example and that’s a shame because well-intentioned people are making harmful choices due to bad information. Just like the story about those infant deaths that we told in the beginning. So if you care about making progress please remember what we’ve said here. Go and visit the website and tell anyone you know who’s an influencer that we’ve got to redress this and start to create a brighter future together.

Thank you very much for your time.

Footnote: 

Dr. DeArmitt wondered about why activists target plastics when they are trivial compared to other problems.  To many of us, the answer is obvious:  Plastics are derived from oil and gas, and therefore anathema to climatists.  Fear of climate change is the driving bias behind efforts to demonize plastics, as well as many other products that make modern life possible.

Cogito ergo sum→→Sentio ergo ita est

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Historians consider that this René Descartes statement epitomizes the spirit of the Age of Reason.  The 17th century philosopher was looking for an unalterable foundation to build the knowledge, a fixed point from which knowledge could be erected. The quote comes from the Discourse on Method by René Descartes, writing which altered the course of history, ushering in a transformation also known as the Enlightenment.

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Now we have a new awakening and a shift away from reason and objectivity in favor of emotion and subjectivity.  The effects of this spirit are apparent in the Twitter mobs, legacy media propaganda,  in academic intolerance, and extends into virtue signalling corporate executives.  H/T to Pat Frank for his recent comment summarizing this distubing retreat from rationality.  Excerpt in italics with my bolds.

“In woke “science” there is no falsifiable hypothesis. In its place, we have the official orthodox consensus view.”

These areas of science have succumbed to sociology and culture studies. They not only include Covid and climate change, but extend to gender dysphoria, critical race theory, white supremacy, intersectionality, implicit bias, systemic racism, efficacy of diversity/equity/inclusion (DEI; right-think/quota/prejudice), the root cause of crime, and on and on.

These areas make claims that political extremism and violent riots have leveraged to the status of knowledge. Pseudo-knowledge. Things not true that are accepted widely and hotly.

Their general category is the subjectivist narrative. They assume what should be proved, the assumptions are granted the status of evidence, and all the studies are self-confirmatory.

Equivocal language and the flabby tendentious thinking of critical theorists (academic third-raters, all) makes subjectivist narratives the perfect tool for the political demagogue.

This is where universities are headed. Intolerant, prejudicial mediocrity fiercely overseen by Commisars of right-think.

Overseen because university presidents and boards, and heads of national labs, will be judged by their commitment to right-think. If an unseemly interest in merit undercuts DEI, the Commisar will see to their exit. Today, disemployment; later on, execution.

To this, the halls of science have surrendered.

It seems far too many scientists are just methodological hacks. Unable to distinguish knowledge from pseudo-knowledge, the cultural theorists have effortlessly rolled them over.

Background from previous post Revolution: Sentiment Now Overrules Sense

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Dominic Green describes the sociopolitical coup in his Spectator article Meghan ’n’ Joe’s empire of the sentiments.  Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

Biden dispenses serotonin the way Barack Obama dispensed drone strikes

If your facts don’t care about my feelings, then my feelings aren’t obliged to care about your facts. The facts in Joe Biden’s energetic, inspiring and exhilarating address to the nation last night were frequently as unsteady as the speaker. But the feelings that Biden expressed were, unlike the previous president who must not be named, unimpeachable.

He knows how it feels, he said with that now-customary surge of anger, as if he’s not fully in control of his frontal cortex. And we know how it feels when someone says they know how we feel. Consider everything fixed: COVID, racism, opioids, deficits, the collapse of the schools, the children at the border. The Therapeute-in-Chief is here, dispensing serotonin the way Barack Obama dispensed drone strikes.

It doesn’t matter whether Biden means what he says, any more that it matters whether Meghan Markle told the truth when she implied that her son was denied a prince’s title because he might have dark skin. It’s the feelings that matter: feelings of security, empathy and contentment, and especially the feeling that Nietzsche correctly foresaw as the root feeling of modern life, resentment.

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The result is the rule of sentiment over thought and symbols over reality. The Biden administration didn’t invent the moral and humanitarian disaster at the southern border. But it has produced a new crisis by altering the laws to satisfy sentiment.

It feels cruel to return unaccompanied minors, as the Trump administration did, and to hold them in prison-like conditions, as both the Obama and Trump administrations did. But the fact is, Biden’s policies have fostered a greater cruelty.

Biden has created new incentives for human trafficking and the worse kinds of child exploitation.

The result is a surge in border crossings that even a professional euphemist like secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas calls ‘overwhelming’, and the spectacle of would-be illegal immigrants kneeling at the border while wearing t-shirts reading ‘Biden let us in’.

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This is what Biden gets for taking a knee as a craven genuflection to BLM. This is what he gets for accusing Donald Trump of being a racist and sadist for caging unaccompanied minors — even though Biden was vice president when the cages were built, and even though Biden now presides over a greater influx. And this is what we get: a theater of the sentiments, in which the actors and audience are so jaded that their senses and check books can only be stimulated by that reliable and obscene soap-opera trick, putting children’s lives in the balance.

Asked if the word ‘crisis’ applied, the President’s spokeswoman, Jennifer Psaki, refuses to call it anything at all — because she would feel bad, and we would feel bad, and Biden would look bad, if we called it for what it is. It is easier for the administration to resent the Mexican children for putting us in this moral bind, and resent the Republicans, who aren’t short of their own resentments when it comes to immigration, for making hay with it.

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The fact is that this is a crisis. It reflects the corrupt failure of Washington DC and the cold self-interest of corporations who want cheap labor, unions who don’t want it, and, in the middle, the upper-middle-class donors who dislike foreigners who don’t speak English, but need them to bus their tables, do their lawns and wipe their children’s backsides.

Given the complexities of the facts and the appeal of a flight into sentiment, it’s no wonder that this week the administration and media did direct us to pity the children. Meghan and Harry, that is.

Jennifer Psaki commends Meghan and Harry for the ‘courage’ it took to sit down with Oprah and make unsubstantiated allegations against his family. Their kind of fact-light, sentiment-heavy self-promotion and self-therapy was, Psaki told us, one of the areas that Biden is ‘committed to in the future’.

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Biden’s increasingly vague routines of empathy are the symbolic face and velvet glove of a bureaucracy of the sentiments whose offices run from government to the media.

Biden is very old. After him, the gloves will be off and the face will be hardened with more than Botox. We’ll get this decayed form of democracy good and hard, and we’ll be told it should feel good. And that’s a fact.

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See also Head, Heart and Science

Tom Wolfe tells the story about the Revenge of the Humanities against science and engineering disciplines. Synopsis and link to full essay in post Warmists and Rococo Marxists.

On “Following the Science”

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This week Tucker Carlson weighed in on Arkansas legislation, the Save Adolescents from Experimentation Act, which prohibits minors from receiving hormones, puberty blockers, and surgeries related to a gender transition.  In response, Ross Pomeroy claimed in a Real Science article, Tucker Carlson Misrepresents the Science on Transgender Youth.  Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

Carlson’s first misleading assertion was that using hormonal treatments to halt puberty constitutes “chemical castration”. It’s true, some of the same drugs used to help dysphoric youth transition were used in the past to reduce libido and sexual activity in criminals convicted of sex crimes, and this was termed “chemical castration”. When used in adolescents, however, studies have suggested that the drugs are safe, and their effects both well-tolerated and reversible.

Puberty-blocking hormones have actually been used safely for decades to treat precocious puberty, where a child’s body begins changing to that of an adult too soon, before age 8 for girls and age 9 for boys.

Carlson terming the use of these drugs for gender dysphoric youth “chemical castration” was really an attempt to poison the well of the debate.

Tucker’s next question for Hutchinson was prefaced with outright misinformation.

“This is an emerging field. There’s not a lot of research, but the research that exists suggests that depression and the urge to self-harm and commit suicide is a side-effect of taking these hormones. A study in the U.K. showed the overwhelming majority of children on puberty-blocking hormones had the urge to hurt themselves. Why is that responsible medicine to do that to children?” he asked.

To directly resolve Tucker’s ignorance, here are two systematic reviews published late last year which document improved mental health outcomes for gender dysphoric youth given puberty-blockers.

Youth gender dysphoria and transgender medicine are complex issues. That’s why, when discussing them, it’s important to be intellectually humble, deferential to patients, doctors, and parents, and informed and honest about available scientific evidence. Tucker Carlson failed in all of these respects on Tuesday night.

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The is a classic example of social ideology mixed with science.  Pomeroy is right about the complexity of the science, but fails to recognize the ideological bias driving the transgender phenomenon and the corruption of science in the process.  Note he makes no distinction between hormone treatments to delay puberty consistent with birth gender, and use of those agents to reverse the birth gender.  All of this is driven by a “social justice” agenda claiming that equality between men and women depends on making genders all the same, two optional identity choices among dozens of others.  The ramifications of overturning these biological and social realities goes far beyond the destruction of female sports and locker room privacy (serious as those issues are.)  The Arkansas legislation is asserting a traditional set of values and social mores, which science cannot and should not attempt to dictate.  For some clarity on why, see the video below.

For more on science on males and females see On Sexual Brains: Vive La Difference!

Richard Lindzen pointed out the abuse of scientific knowledge at the hands of social elites in his recent talk The Imaginary Climate Crisis: How can we Change the Message?  Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

If this weren’t silly enough, we are bombarded with claims that the impacts of this climate change include such things as obesity and the Syrian civil war. The claims of impacts are then circularly claimed to be overwhelming evidence of dangerous climate change. It doesn’t matter that most of these claims are wrong and/or irrelevant. It doesn’t matter that none of these claims can be related to CO2 except via model projections. In almost all cases, even the model projections are non-existent. Somehow, the sheer volume of misinformation seems to overwhelm us. In case, you retain any skepticism, there is John Kerry’s claim that climate (unlike physics and chemistry) is simple enough for any child to understand. Presumably, if you can’t see the existential danger of CO2, you’re a stupid denier.

And, in case this situation isn’t sufficiently bizarre, there is the governmental response. It is entirely analogous to a situation that a colleague, Bruce Everett, described. After your physical, your physician tells you that you may have a fatal disease. He’s not really sure, but he proposes a treatment that will be expensive and painful while offering no prospect of preventing the disease. When you ask why you would ever agree to such a thing, he says he just feels obligated to “do something”. That is precisely what the Paris Accord amounts to. However, the ‘something’ also gives governments the power to control the energy sector and this is something many governments cannot resist. Information is unlikely to change this despite the fact that even the UN’s IPCC acknowledges that their warming claims would only reduce the immensely expanded GDP by about 2-3% by the end of the century – something that is trivially manageable and hardly ‘existential.’

In trying to understand the success of this claim that climate change due to CO2 is an existential threat, I propose to look at an analogous scare: the widespread fear in the US in the early 20th Century of an epidemic of feeblemindedness. I will also return to C.P. Snow’s two-culture description in order to see why the alarmist scenario appeals primarily to the so-called educated elite rather than to the common people.

Details of this situation are in my paper which you can request by email. The major takeaway points are the following:

  1. Elites are always searching for ways to advertise their virtue and assert the authority they believe they are entitled to.
  2. They view science as source of authority rather than a process, and they try to appropriate science, suitably and incorrectly simplified, as the basis for their movement.
  3. Movements need goals, and these goals are generally embedded in legislation.
  4. The effect of legislation long outlasts the alleged science. The Immigration Reduction Act of 1924 remained until 1964.
  5. As long as scientists are rewarded for doing so, they are unlikely to oppose the exploitation of science.

For how this played out with coronavirus contagion see On Following the Science

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Footnote: 

Religious creeds are a great obstacle to any full sympathy between the outlook of the scientist and the outlook which religion is so often supposed to require … The spirit of seeking which animates us refuses to regard any kind of creed as its goal. It would be a shock to come across a university where it was the practice of the students to recite adherence to Newton’s laws of motion, to Maxwell’s equations and to the electromagnetic theory of light. We should not deplore it the less if our own pet theory happened to be included, or if the list were brought up to date every few years. We should say that the students cannot possibly realise the intention of scientific training if they are taught to look on these results as things to be recited and subscribed to. Science may fall short of its ideal, and although the peril scarcely takes this extreme form, it is not always easy, particularly in popular science, to maintain our stand against creed and dogma.
― Arthur Stanley Eddington

See Also: 

Data, Facts and Information

Three Wise Men Talking Climate

Head, Heart and Science

Post-Truth Climatism

How Science Is Losing Its Humanity

 

Wokeness Perverting Science Institutions

Race Card

Lawrence M. Krauss explains in his Quillette article Science Goes Rogue.  Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

Social justice activists have been arguing for some time that scientific societies and institutions need to address systemic sexism and racism in STEM disciplines. However, their rationale is often anything but scientific. For example, whenever percentages in faculty positions, test scores, or grant recipients in various disciplines do not match percentages of national average populations, racism or sexism is generally said to be the cause. This is in spite of the fact that no explicit examples of racism or sexism generally accompany the statistics. Correlation, after all, is not causation.

Without some underlying mechanism or independent evidence to explain a correlation of observed outcomes with population statistics, inferring racism or sexism in academia as the cause is inappropriate.

One might have hoped for more rigor from the leadership of scientific societies and research institutions. Alas, this has not been the case. In the current climate, many have simply adopted popular rhetoric and the jargon of critical theory has begun to dominate communications by these institutions. Pandering and virtue signalling have begun to generate proactive initiatives by the highest levels of the scientific community, often replacing the focus on science itself. Here are a few examples from the past few weeks alone.

American Physical Society (APS)

In December, the American Physical Society (APS), the largest society of physicists in the world, sent out a letter to its membership arguing that Trump’s Presidential Executive Order 13950 on Combatting Race and Sex Stereotyping was “in direct opposition to the core values of the American Physical Society.” The order therefore needed to be rescinded in order to “strengthen America’s scientific enterprise.” The order (since rescinded by Biden) quoted Martin Luther King, stating that in government-supported scientific institutions people should “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” The order argued that materials from places like Argonne National Laboratories that equate “color blindness” and “meritocracy” with “actions of bias,” or from Sandia National Laboratories which state that an emphasis on “rationality over emotionality” is a characteristic of “white male[s],” were inappropriate training materials for government-supported science institutions.

The rescinded order concluded that “it shall be the policy of the United States not to promote race or sex stereotyping or scapegoating in the Federal workforce.”

APS did not stop there.  .  . This week it was announced that the American Physical Society will examine the demographic information associated with police behavior and the use of force in the cities considered. No criteria have been provided according to which these statistics will be scientifically evaluated. Poor areas afflicted by high crime may see racial minorities disproportionately reflected in arrest statistics. Will they now be disqualified, even though those very areas might benefit from the economic influx associated with huge scientific meetings? Possible evidence of systemic racism in police conduct—as opposed to the existence of isolated racist police officers—remains hotly debated with different studies reaching divergent conclusions.

Nevertheless, the APS appears to have embraced the ad hoc assumption that a police force may be deemed racist if its arrest rate or use of deadly force does not mimic population percentages for different racial groups.  

National Institutes of Health (NIH)

Scientific societies like the APS are, for practical purposes, often managed by functionaries rather than scientists, so perhaps this kind of development is not all that surprising. More surprising, however, was a statement from Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health, the largest single agency supporting scientific research in the country. Collins apologized for existing “structural racism in biomedical research” and pledged to address the problem with sweeping changes. He did so at the behest of an Advisory Committee to the Director working group report that called on the NIH to “acknowledge the prevalence of racism and anti-Blackness in the scientific workforce.” And what evidence is provided of this alleged racism and anti-blackness? In 2011, a study found that black investigators had research funding rates 11 percent lower than white researchers, although by 2020 the success rate of black investigators had doubled to 24 percent, compared with 31 percent for white investigators.

Disparities in outcomes are, however, not themselves evidence of racism within the NIH. There is no evidence that the grant committees adjudicating these applications judged the proposals on anything but merit. Equality of opportunity is necessary to counter racism. While such equality did not exist in the past, recent gains suggest that the situation has changed. Assertions of structural racism and anti-blackness within the NIH community today are unwarranted based on this data alone. For the NIH leadership to take actions based on this unscientific conclusion is even more inappropriate.

Nonsensical Educational Initiatives

These actions at the APS and NIH, while scientifically questionable, are nevertheless understandable, given societal pressures to address what are undoubtedly real sources of racism that exist in society. Other recent actions, however, make neither scientific nor logical sense. Some examples would seem comical were it not for their sinister implications.

A California initiative entitled “A Pathway to Equitable Math Instruction,” funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, with partners including Lawrence Hall of Science at UC Berkeley among others, was recently sent to Oregon teachers by my state’s department of education. It identifies mathematics education as a potential source of racism. It is hard to imagine a field of intellectual inquiry more removed from human foibles than mathematics, but this 82-page document is largely devoid of mathematical concepts. Instead, its authors’ design was to “deconstruct racism in mathematics education.” To this end, various teaching methods are presented as characteristic of white supremacy, including an emphasis on getting the “right” answer, a requirement that students “show their work,” and an adherence to state standards. [For more on this see Why Progressives Hate Math ]

Meanwhile, a Canadian academic initiative entitled “Decolonizing Light” and sponsored by the “New Frontiers in Research” fund announced its commitment to studying “the reproduction of colonialism in and through physics” and examining “how colonial scientific knowledge authority was and is still reproduced in the context of light.” The description of the program on their website is as muddled as one might imagine: “Physics is considered as ‘hard’ and objective science, disconnected from social life and geopolitical history. This narrative both constitutes and reproduces inequality.”

This week, Scientific American, once a rigorous scientific publication, published an opinion column by several young scientists known for their campaign to call a “scientific strike” against racism following the death of George Floyd. The authors advocate changing the name of the James Webb Space Telescope because Webb, a former NASA administrator, was administrator when the federal government did not adequately respect LGBTQ rights. Webb is not incriminated as a racist or bigot, but as a servant of bigots. So who do the authors suggest that the telescope be named for? If encouraging diversity is the issue, perhaps it should be named the Vera Rubin Space Telescope, after the deceased astronomer who in the 1960s and ’70s provided some of the first compelling evidence of dark matter in our galaxy. Or perhaps the Jocelyn Bell Burnell Space Telescope, after the astrophysicist who, as a graduate student, help discover the first pulsars in 1967 and who some claim was overlooked when the Nobel Prize was awarded to her supervisor. Instead, the proposal is to rename the telescope the Harriet Tubman Space Telescope. Why? Not because Tubman might have made any contributions to astronomy, but because she was a conductor on the Underground Railroad that helped free black slaves in the South, during which she “likely used the North Star” to navigate to freedom.

In a more subtle way, reasonable advocates for greater diversity in science have also recently begun to suggest that racism in science at higher education institutions might explain existing group disparities. Shirley Malcom is a scientist and educator I know and admire for her tireless efforts at improving diversity. The American Association for the Advancement of Science recently named her to help lead their SEA (STEM Equity Achievement) Change effort, aimed at addressing “systemic problems of sexism and racism in STEM.” Malcom noted that the distinguished higher education institutions from which she earned degrees did not set out to serve black women. As she put it, “How do you begin to identify and support people like me?” I find this statement troubling. What identification is she seeking? Surely it shouldn’t be her race, but rather the talent she clearly possesses. Such universities are there to serve all talented students and help them fulfil their potential, independent of race, gender, or religion. When I first arrived at MIT I felt lucky. It was made quite clear to me what a privilege it was to be there. It was not a right, and I certainly never felt they had any obligation to serve me on the basis of my self-identification.

Backlash Against Racism Posing as Anti-Racism

In the face of this transformation, there has been little organized outcry from the scientific community. However, some are now speaking out. The Princeton mathematician Sergiu Klainerman has spoken out strongly against these intrusions of activism into science in particular and academia more generally. Most recently, Jeffrey Burl, an associate professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Michigan Technological University bravely wrote an open letter demanding an apology for what he called the “racist sentiments” expressed in his university’s Senate Resolution, which condemned white supremacy and racially motivated intolerance at his institution. He argued that these sentiments constituted a hostile work environment for white male scientists like himself, and that he had seen no signs of discrimination against women and people of color in his 28 years at the university. Instead, he argued that “I, as a white male, have been systematically discriminated against for 40 years.” He referred to the fact that when he was hired, there were two job openings, one of which was available to anyone, and one of which was only open to women. Since only a small percentage of the candidates were women, he argued that this hiring was clearly discriminatory. Needless to say, Burl now faces a petition demanding that he be fired.

Whatever one thinks of his interpretation of his experience, Burl was openly stating what many male scientists are afraid to discuss—that there is no clear evidence of systemic discrimination on the basis of race in academia, and that any examples of gender discrimination in recent decades have not involved discrimination against females. Rather, there has been a concerted effort at universities for at least 25 years to attempt to achieve gender equity in faculty ranks, often using affirmative action techniques that Burl suggests are discriminatory.

Science as a discipline is supposed to be based on empirical evidence. But if repeating a falsehood often enough makes it true, then science now risks creating a false reality, with grave implications for the future of research and for society more generally.

Lawrence M. Krauss is a theoretical physicist who has also written about science and public policy and about how science confronts religious dogma. He is president of The Origins Project Foundation and his newest book is The Physics of Climate Change.

Postscript No Wonder the French are Worried about American Institutions

From the Daily Mail:

‘Out-of-control woke leftism and cancel culture’ from the U.S is a threat to FRANCE because it ‘attacks’ the nation’s heritage and identity, 

  • French politicians, prominent intellectuals, and academics are arguing against the influence of America’s ‘out-of-control leftism and cancel culture’
  • They claim it is undermining French society and an attack on French heritage
  • French President Emmanuel Macron in October cautioned against ‘certain social science theories entirely imported from the United States’
  • His Education Minister also warned of a ‘battle to wage against an intellectual matrix from American universities’

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Why Progressives Hate Math

Two recent posts (links at end) discussed the progressive attack upon classical liberal knowledge and natural law.  One includes a series of questions getting at the difference between liberal and leftest orientations on many cultural issues of the day.  A thoughtful comment educated me on the question of musical greatness by referencing a number of classical greats who were not  dead white guys.  That led me to this post concerning mathematics and racial identity groups.

When the comment appeared, I happened to be reading a substack article by John McWhorter Is it racist to expect black kids to do math for real?  Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

Yes, serious people are arguing this. Make sure they don’t infect your school district.

There is a document getting around called Dismantling Racism in Mathematics Instruction, a guide put together by a group of educators. It has a black boy on the cover.

The idea is to show us how our racial reckoning of late ought change how we expose black kids to math. I suppose the counsel is also intended for kids of other types of melanin, but this is in essence a document that could be called “Math For Black Kids.”

The latest is that state-level policy makers in Oregon are especially intrigued by this document. There is all reason to suppose that its influence will spread more widely.

And this is to be resisted, as this lovely pamphlet is teaching us that it is racist to expect black kids to master the precision of math.

To wit – its message, penned by people who consider themselves some of the most morally advanced souls in the history of the human species, is one that Strom Thurmond would have happily taken a swig of whiskey to.

Now, part of “antiracist math teaching” here is to teach about black mathematicians (the authors have this as kids “reclaiming their mathematical ancestry” – the jargon is, we must admit, beautiful) or to air facts such as that the traditional Yoruba approach to numbers (and wow, numbers in Yoruba, I note as linguist me, are indeed fierce!) use base 20. No one would object to these things, nor to the idea that we “teach students of color about the career and financial opportunities in math and STEM fields.”

But 96% of people reading this kind of thing will be thinking “Yeah, but what about the math??”

And there is nothing white supremacist in that question. The substance of a serious proposal about teaching math will be, well, teaching how to do math itself, not its history and sociology.

More to the point is that this entire document is focused on an idea that making black kids be precise is immoral.

Yes, the document pays lip service otherwise, claiming at one point to seek to “teach rich, thoughtful, complex mathematics.” And rather often, the word praxis is used. But the thrust of this pamphlet is that:

1. a focus on getting the “right” answer is “perfectionism” or “either/or thinking;”

2. the idea that teachers are teachers and students are learners is wrong;

3. to think of it as a problem that the expectations you have of students are not met is racist;

4. to teach math in a linear fashion with skills taught in sequence is racist;

5. to value “procedural fluency” – i.e. knowing how to do the fractions, long division … — over “conceptual knowledge” is racist. That is, black kids are brilliant to know what math is trying to do, to know “what it’s all about,” rather than to actually do the math, just as many of us read about what physics or astrophysics accomplishes without ever intending to master the math that led to the conclusions;

6. to require students to “show their work” is racist;

7. requiring students to raise their hand before speaking “can reinforce paternalism and powerhoarding, in addition to breaking the process of thinking, learning, and communicating.”

You may wonder if this is a cartoon but no, this is real! This is actually what this document tells us, again and again. This, folks, is the “Critical Race Theory” that so many of us are resisting, not a simple program for “social justice.” To distrust this document is not to be against social justice, but against racism.

Many will dislike the general flavor of it but, amidst so much we all have to pay attention to, may question just what we must object to specifically about Dismantling Racism in Mathematics Instruction.

There are two things. Racism and religion. Just those.

As in, first it is racism propounded as antiracism. Black kids shouldn’t expected to master the precision of math and should be celebrated for talking around it, gamely approximating its answers and saying why it can be dangerous? This is bigotry right out of Reconstruction, Tulsa, Selma, and Charlottesville.

Second, it is not science but scripture. It claims to be about teaching math while founded on shielding students from the requirement to actually do it. This is unempirical. It does so with an implication that only a moral transgressor numb to some larger point would question the contradiction. This is, as such, a religious document, telling you to accept that Jesus walked on water.

Humans may grievously sacrifice the 9-year-old, the virgin, or the widow upon the pyre in worship of a God. Too, humans may sacrifice the black kid from the work of mastering the gift of math, in favor of showing that they are enlightened enough to understand that her life may be affected by racism and that therefore ,she should be shielded from anything that is a genuine challenge.

This is not pedagogy; it is preaching.

My Comment:

In addition to the above, progressives attack math on grounds of gender equality.  You see, the majority of serious mathematicians are not only white, but male.  Here’s where progressives and their identity politics are so wrong and destructive.  In some fields of human endeavor, such as the arts or entertainment, the judgment of quality is a individual right and freedom, a matter of opinion.  People who attend to music, for example, develop a sense of excellence informed by their experiences.  Despite differing musical tastes, there are still standards that determine what will be widely appreciated as high quality.  Genres involve their own measures and disciplines by which performances are judged.  Renowned classical pianist Arthur Rubinstein commented:  “If I miss a day of practice, I can tell it in my performance.  More than a day, and the critics take note.  Skip a week, and the world knows.”

Science and especially mathematics are different because they contain elements of knowledge, not subject to opinion.  When asked how many apples you have after adding two more to the two you already have, the only answer is “four’, by the laws of mathematics.  It is not a matter of opinion.  Of course, beyond the core of scientific knowledge and logic, many questions arise and diverse theories form and are debated.  But this is about the data and facts.  Referring to identity groups of scientists is a distraction and undermines the process of finding truth.

Sports is an interesting field combining science and art.  A movie about basketball was titled after the cliche: “White Guys Can’t Jump.” There are other cliches like “Black Guys Can’t Skate.”  But those who follow a sport, like NBA players and their fans, know that it is the jumping (and associated skills) that matter, and that some white guys are also world class.  Importantly, there are rules dictating game play, and scores define winners and losers.  Talent, discipline and hard work are rewarded without appeal to victimage or racial injustice.  As McWhorter says above, overloading math (or science, or sport) with sociology and history only inflames emotions and destroys both the art and the science.

See also 21 Perversions Inflicted by Wokeness

How to Know a Liberal from a Leftist by Asking

Desire for Power Hiding Behind Health and Climate Concerns

Theodore Dalrymple writes at Epoch Times The Desire for Power Hiding Behind Health and Climate Concerns.  Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

There is a threat of creeping totalitarianism in western societies that comes from health and climate activists. Who (except unfeeling monsters) could possibly be against the saving of human life or the preservation of the planet from future catastrophe? Often the two strands of redemptive enthusiasm go together: after all, environmental degradation is hardly good for health.

Since almost all human activities have health or environmental consequences, especially bad ones, it follows that those who want to preserve either human health or the environment, or both, have an almost infinitely expansible justification for interfering in our lives, indeed they have it to the nth degree.

These days, much medical research that is published in the general medical journals such as the Lancet or the New England Journal of Medicine is epidemiological rather than experimental.

It finds associations between factor a (shall we say, the consumption of bananas) and illness x (shall we say, Alzheimer’s disease).

Once an association is found that is unlikely to have arisen by chance (unlikely, that is, but not impossible), an hypothesis is put forward as to why the eating of bananas should conduce to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Before long, the statistical association and its alleged explanation leaks out into the press or social media, and people start to be afraid of bananas. The more enthusiastic and less sceptical of the epidemiologists begin to call for banana controls: anti-banana propaganda, extra taxes on bananas, no bananas on sale within a hundred yards of anywhere there might be a child, and so on.

And of course, a reduction in the demand for bananas will assist those tropical countries large parts of which are given over to environmentally-degrading banana monoculture. Banana republics are not called bananas republics for nothing.

Often in the medical literature, the statistical associations are weak: someone who consumes a is, say, 1.2 times more likely to develop disease x than someone who does not. This is described as being a statistically significant increase in risk, but it is not significant in any other humanly important way, especially where the initial risk of contracting the disease is very low in any case. These caveats are often, even usually, missing from not only the scientific literature itself, but from the reports of it that filter into the general public’s awareness.

Not infrequently, sweeping policy changes are proposed on the basis of weak evidence which not only is likely to be superseded in time by new research (though dietary recommendations for the most part they are not very different from those recommended by physicians such as Dr. George Cheyne in the first half of the eighteenth century), but which fail to take into account that health, while an important consideration, is not an all-important consideration, and sometimes must be balanced against others.

For example, it would be easy to reduce the fatal road accident rate to zero by forbidding everyone to leave his house, but this might not be a wise prohibition. Sport is one of the most frequent causes of injury in the western world, yet sport is encouraged because of its other (alleged) benefits.

Good Intentions a Smokescreen

Supposed good intentions are often a smokescreen for an almost sadistic desire to exercise power, or at least influence. A writer of editorials for the influential British newspaper, the Observer, Sonia Sodha, has suggested, for example, that meat should be rationed. She suggests such a measure not because there is a shortage of meat, but because the environmental cost of producing it is too great.

She opposes a tax on it to lower consumption because raising the price would affect the poor more than the rich. The only other solution is to ration it, so that everyone has access to an equal, but small, quantity.

The author is honest enough to admit that she is a hypocrite in the sense that, while she strongly believes meat consumption should decrease in order to save the planet, she will continue to eat it in her accustomed quantities so long as it is available to her. She needs a dictator to get her to do the right thing.

The really striking thing in her article is that she does not consider the kind of apparatus that would be necessary to ration a commodity such as meat. Someone would have to set the ration and many people would have to enforce it.

Evidently, she has never heard of or experienced black markets; nor does she seem to be aware that, where a bureaucracy allocates or distributes goods and services, especially when they are in short supply, privilege flourishes rather than withers.

Nor does she acknowledge that meat is far from the only commodity with a high environmental cost, and that the argument for the rationing of meat could be used for the rationing of many, if not most or even all, commodities.

What the author is proposing, then, implicitly or explicitly, is a kind of communism, in which an administrative class under the direction of an even smaller class of enlightened and informed individuals doles out to the populace what it thinks it ought to have—for its own ultimate good, of course.

The author is certainly intelligent enough to realize that this is the implication or corollary of what she writes (and, to do her justice, she writes very clearly), so one must conclude that a society in which a great deal, if not everything, is rationed first in the name of protecting the environment and second in the name of social justice is one that would be pleasing to her—at least to contemplate in the abstract, if not actually to live in.

That this drastic and very far-reaching scheme is based upon evidence that is itself far from rock-solid or indisputable would probably not worry her very much, because the end result (the theoretical end result, that is, not the end result in practice) is one which she desires a priori: in other words, first the policy, and then the evidence to justify it.

As it happens, more and more young people in western countries are turning to vegetarianism by means of persuasion. I have no objection to this; I think on balance that it is probably a good thing. But no giant state apparatus was necessary to bring this about. It is a change that has welled up from below, not imposed from the top down, and requires no corrupting means of coercion to enforce.

Theodore Dalrymple is a retired doctor. He is contributing editor of the City Journal of New York and the author of 30 books, including “Life at the Bottom.” His latest book is “Embargo and Other Stories.”

R.I.P. American Science

Alex Berezow describes the demise in his ACHS article The Slow Suicide Of American Science.  Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

Science in the U.S. is under assault by postmodernism, political partisanship, and trial lawyers. Without a change in the direction of our culture, American technological supremacy is facing an existential threat.

I’ve always been bullish about American scientific and technological supremacy, not in some starry-eyed, jingoistic way, but due to the simple reality that the United States remains the world’s research and development engine.

This is true for at least four reasons, which I detailed previously: (1) Superior higher education; (2) A cultural attitude that encourages innovation; (3) Substantial funding and financial incentives; and (4) A legal framework that protects intellectual property and tolerates failure through efficient bankruptcy laws. There’s a fifth, fuzzier reason, namely that smart and talented people have long gravitated toward the U.S.

But while Americans believe in unalienable rights endowed by our Creator, we are not similarly guaranteed everlasting technological supremacy. China is already challenging the U.S. in computer science, chemistry, engineering, and robotics. Without a consistent and relentless pursuit of excellence, the eagle risks losing its perch.

Unfortunately, there are a confluence of factors that, when combined, constitute an existential threat to American science: Postmodernism, political partisanship, and trial lawyers.

Postmodernism.

Though nobody can actually define postmodernism, it is characterized by a rejection of objective truth. This toxic ideology is rampant in academia and gaining popularity in the broader culture. Its most nefarious manifestation is Critical Theory, which derives from Marxism and posits that society is nothing but a hierarchy of oppressors and the oppressed. Out of this nonsense comes the absurd belief that the scientific method and even knowledge itself are tools of the white patriarchy.

Does this all sound too ridiculous to be real? Alas, it is. Until it received a public backlash, the Smithsonian published a web page claiming that an “emphasis on the scientific method” and a focus on “objective, rational linear thinking” are examples of “white culture.” Investigations into the biological differences between men and women (of which there are many) are deemed sexist. Information of any kind that offends the listener is labeled “fake news.”

In reality, a nation that can no longer tell the difference between truth and lies may be facing societal decline.

Political partisanship.

There was a time when scientists knew better than to deal in politics. That time is now gone. Openly cheering for one side of the political spectrum over the other, scientists and science media outlets are gambling with their reputation.

For the first time in its 175-year history, Scientific American foolishly endorsed a presidential candidate, apparently blind to the fact that the once esteemed magazine avoided politics for nearly two centuries for a very good reason. Not to be left behind, the editor-in-chief of the internationally renowned journal Science penned an editorial about why he doesn’t like President Trump. 314 Action, a political group that seeks to elect scientists into public office, doesn’t even bother reaching out to the other side of the aisle.

This will all backfire. One of the quickest ways to destroy one’s credibility is by being overtly political, yet more of the scientific community is doing precisely that. Once credibility is lost, trust and funding often go along with it.

Trial lawyers.

Like vultures hunting for a carcass on a desert highway, trial lawyers lurk in the background, swooping down to win jackpot verdicts against large firms, often those in the agricultural technology and pharmaceutical industries. The pattern is always the same: Activists blame chemical X for causing disease Y, usually based on very flimsy evidence, and then lawyers sue the largest multi-billion-dollar company they can find in the hope of making it rain money. Because of this, we have termed this cabal the activist-legal complex. Its arsenal of pseudoscientific tricks often works. Just ask Monsanto or Johnson & Johnson.

Worse, trial lawyers undermine the integrity of science by pitting one scientist against another. Usually, one of them is correct and endorses the scientific consensus, while the other is spouting nonsense. (As it turns out, you can find a crackpot on just about any given topic. There are a handful of biologists who deny that HIV causes AIDS, for instance.) This gives juries and judges (and the public) the impression that scientific analysis is simply one opinion among many.

Self-Inflicted Wounds Cut the Deepest

Societal decline is a choice. So is the coming decline of American technological supremacy. The good news is that, though these self-inflicted wounds are substantial, they are not irreversible. Postmodernism could be an intellectual fad that evaporates in the coming years. Likewise, political partisanship has waxed and waned over the decades and will hopefully wane once again. Laws can be implemented that put a leash on trial lawyers.

But these things require effort and a change in mindset. Barring a substantial shift in the cultural winds, we may be witnessing the slow suicide of American science.

Background:  Warmists and Rococo Marxists.

EPA Plans for a Bright Environmental Future

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler delivered an address laying out the agency vision for fulfilling its mission.  Excerpts in italics with my formatting and bolds.

EPA’s mission has been straight forward since its founding. Protect human health and the environment. Doing this ensures that all Americans – regardless of their zip code – have clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and clean land to live, work, and play upon. Under President Trump, we have done this as well, if not better, than any recent administration.  This is great news, and like most great news, you rarely read about it in the press.

  • During the first three years of the Trump Administration, air pollution in this country fell 7 percent.
  • Last year, EPA delisted 27 Superfund sites, the most in a single year since 2001.
  • And agency programs have contributed more than $40 billion dollars to clean water infrastructure investment during President Trump’s first term.

For much of the latter part of the 20th century, there was bipartisan understanding on what environmental protection meant. Some of it was captured in legislation and some it by established practice. These principles formed a consensus about how the federal government did its job of protecting the environment.

But unfortunately, in the past decade or so, some members of former administrations and progressives in Congress have elevated single issue advocacy – in many cases focused just on climate change – to virtue-signal to foreign capitals, over the interests of communities within their own country. Communities deserve better than this, but in the recent past, EPA has forgotten important parts of its mission. It’s my belief that we misdirect a lot of resources that could be better used to help communities across this country.

So, if this is where we are – with misdirected policies, misused resources, and a more partisan political environment – and we want an EPA for the next 50 years – how do we get there? One way to do this – and I’ve spent more than 25 years thinking about this problem – is to focus on helping communities become healthier in a more comprehensive manner.

Communities that deal with the worst pollution in this country – and tend to be low-income and minority – face multiple environmental problems that need solving.  Many of the sites EPA has responsibility for are in some of the most disadvantaged communities in this country. And I will point out a truism. Neglect is a form of harm, and it’s not fair for these communities to be abandoned just because they don’t have enough political power to stop the neglect.

So where does this put us as a country in 2020? The truth is this country is facing a lot of environmental and social problems that have not been dealt with the right way up until now. And while the focus of the next 50 years should not be like the last 50, it should be informed by it.

Many towns and cities in the United States are using the same water infrastructure they’ve used for over 100 years, and many schools use lead water pipes long after such pipes were banned from new buildings. The American public views our pesticide program through the lens of the trial lawyers who advertise on television instead of the way we manage the program. And the Superfund Program – which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, has become focused on process, rather than project completion.

These issues are challenging and would be difficult for any administration in office. But they would be easier to solve if people in power were more aware of the consequences of poor environmental policies.

It’s very disappointing to see governors on the East Coast, such as Governor Cuomo, unilaterally block pipelines that would take natural gas from Pennsylvania to New York and New England. These poor choices subject Americans to imports of gas from places like Russia, even in the face of evidence that U.S. natural gas has a much cleaner emissions profile than imported gas from Europe. Governor Cuomo is doing this in the name of climate change, but the carbon footprint of natural gas to New England through pipeline is much smaller than transporting it across the ocean. It also forces citizens in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine to use more polluting wood and heating oil to heat their homes because of gas shortages in the winter months, which in turn creates very poor local air quality.

And there are many examples of poor environmental outcomes here in California, despite its environmental reputation. It should go without saying that dumping sewage into San Francisco Bay without disinfection, indeed without any chemical or biological treatment, is a bad idea, but that’s what been happening for many years, against federal law.

And just last month, the rolling blackouts created by California’s latest electricity crisis – the result of policies against power plants being fueled by natural gas – spilled 50,000 gallons of raw sewage into the Oakland Estuary when back-up wastewater pumps failed. As state policymakers push more renewables onto the grid at times of the day when renewables aren’t available, these environmental accidents will happen more often. CARB seems to have no appreciation for baseload power generation. Or at least their regulations don’t.

Instead of confusing words with actions, and choosing empty symbolism over doing a good job, we can focus our attention and resources on helping communities help themselves. Doing this will strengthen this country from its foundation up – and start to solve the environmental problems of tomorrow. We could do a lot of good if the federal government, through Congress, puts resources to work with a fierce focus on community-driven environmentalism that promotes community revitalization on a greater scale.

This will do more for environmental justice than all the rhetoric in political campaigns.

Over the next four years the Trump Administration is going to reorganize how it approaches communities so it can take action and address the range of environmental issues that need to be addressed for people and places in need. In President Trump’s second term, we will help communities across this country take control and reshape themselves through the following five priorities.

  • Creating a Community-Driven Environmentalism that Promotes Community Revitalization.
  • Meeting the 21st Century Demands for Water.
  • Reimagining Superfund as a Project-Oriented Program.
  • Reforming the Permitting Process to Empower States. And,
  • Creating a Holistic Pesticide Program for the Future.

For communities, traditionally, EPA has focused on environmental issues in a siloed manner that only looks at air, water and land separately, and states and local communities end up doing the same. We will change this, and look at Brownfields grants, environmental justice issues, and air quality in each community at the same time and encourage them to do the same.

Since EPA’s Brownfields Program began in 1995, nearly $1.6 billion dollars in grants have been spent to clean-up contaminated sites and return blighted properties to productive reuse. To date, communities participating in the Program have been able to attract an additional $33.3 billion dollars in cleanup and redevelopment funding after receiving Brownfields funds.

And when combined with the Opportunity Zones created in the landmark 2017 Trump tax bill, economic development, job creation and environmental improvements can truly operate together at the same time. A study published last month found that Opportunity Zones, which have only been in existence since 2018, have attracted about $75 billion dollars in private investment, which in turn has lifted about one million people out of poverty through job creation in a very short time. While all the economic data isn’t available yet for 2019, it’s possible that Opportunity Zones are one of the biggest reasons black unemployment in this country fell to its lowest recorded levels ever in 2019.

One other way we are going to help communities is by creating one consolidated grant program that combines several smaller grants from multiple programs. It will help focus local communities to view environmental problems holistically, and it will help refocus EPA.

We can meet the 21st Century Demands for Clean Water by creating an integrated planning approach using WIFIA loans, our Water Reuse Action Plan, and our Nutrient Trading Initiative to improve water quality and modernize legal frameworks that have been around since the 19th Century. Over 40 percent of water utility workers are eligible to retire. We need to do a better job recruiting and training for 21st century threats to the water utilities industry.

And we can reinvigorate the Superfund Program. Roughly 16 percent of the U.S. population lives within 3 miles of a Superfund site today. That’s over 50 million Americans. EPA has allowed litigation and bureaucracy to dictate the pace of Superfund projects, instead of focusing on improving the environmental indicators and moving sites to completion. We need to fully implement the recommendations of the 2018 Superfund Task Force and reimagine the approach to clean up sites using the latest technologies and best practices.

We can improve the way we handle pesticide regulation. We do a good job approving pesticides on an individual basis, but we have not excelled in explaining to the public our holistic approach to pesticide management. The media and the courts tend to view our individual pesticide decisions in a one-off fashion, which has left the American public uninformed on our science-based process.

We will take into account biotech advances and better examinations of new active ingredients. Just this week, we announced a proposed rule that would remove onerous and expensive regulation of gene-edited plant protectants. We will safeguard pollinators to support the agriculture industry. And we can decrease reliance on animal testing to a point where no animal testing takes place for any of the agency’s programs by 2035.

Here are five things EPA is doing – five new pillars that have gone largely unnoticed by the public – that are changing the way the agency operates today.

The first pillar is our Cost-Benefit Rulemaking.
We are creating cost-benefit rules for every statute that governs EPA. The American public deserves to know what the costs and the benefits are for each of our rules. We are starting with the Clean Air Act, which will provide much better clarity to local communities, industry and stakeholders. And we will implement a cost-benefit regulation for all our environmental statutes by 2022.

Our second major pillar is Science Transparency.

The American public has a right to know the scientific justification behind a regulation. We are creating science transparency rules that are applied consistently. This will bring much needed sunlight into our regulatory process. Some people oppose it, calling it a Secret Science rule. Those who oppose it want regulatory decisions to be made behind closed doors. They are the people who say, “Trust us, we know what’s best for you.” I want to bring our environmental decision-making process out of the proverbial smoke-filled back room. The Cost-Benefit and Science Transparency rules will go a long way in delivering that. After finalizing the Science Transparency rule later this year, EPA will conduct a statute by statue rulemaking, much like the Cost-Benefit rule.

Guidance documents are the third pillar of agency change, and it’s an area we’ve made a lot of progress, and we have shined even more light.

The agency for years was criticized for not making guidance documents – which have almost the force of law – available for public review. The costs involved to uncover guidance documents became a major barrier for anyone wanting to improve their communities. Last year, EPA went through all our guidance documents from the agency’s beginnings, and we put all 10,000 documents onto a searchable database. We also rescinded 1,000 guidance documents. Now all our guidance documents are available to the public, for the first time. This is a huge change in administrative procedures at EPA, perhaps the biggest change in at least a generation.

The fourth pillar is our reorganization of all 10 of our regional offices to mirror our headquarters structure.

All the regional offices across the country now have an air division, a water division, a lands division, and a chemical division. This was a change that was needed for decades.

As the fifth pillar of EPA fundamental change, we have implemented a Lean Management System that tracks real metrics with which the agency can measure success or failure.

There is a lot of good news in these changes, but the best news is this: the problems I’ve highlighted are structural, and when a problem is structural or organizational, an agency can be changed. Until the Trump administration, EPA was not able to track how long it took to complete a permit, a grant process, or a state implementation plan, or really any meaningful task the agency had before it. Organizations do change; it can be hard, but they do change, and when they change, it’s usually for the better.

Conclusion:
As I said at the beginning, EPA data points to 2020 air quality being the best on record. Here in California, where the modern environmental movement began – and from where President Nixon brought it to the rest of the country – it’s important to acknowledge the role states have in being laboratories for democracy, and in this case, laboratories for environmental policy.

But for environmental policy to work nationally, the federal government and states must work together as partners, not as adversaries. To do this involves a new vision, and for a country searching for a new consensus, on the environment as well as on many other things, this can seem tough. But I believe we can find a new consensus, if we strive to.

I believe that by focusing EPA toward communities in the coming years, our agency can change the future for people living in this country who have been left behind simply for living in polluted places. We are a nation made up of communities, and communities are the foundation of this nation, not the other way around.

If we can do the work before us – break down the silos between us as an agency and elsewhere – I believe we can both protect the places we love and bring back the places that have been hurt by pollution – and make them even better than they were before.

I see EPA beginning its second half century with big challenges, but ones that can be overcome with the same skill and tenacity that helped this agency, and this country, overcome the challenges of the last 50 years.  I hope everyone can support our agency as we work to deliver this vision of a great environmental future for all Americans – regardless of where they live.

Thank you.”

Silly Science Questions

Here at RealClearScience, a lazy blogging day can prompt a torrent of laughter! That’s because we occasionally return to the well of humor available at a crudely-named subreddit of the popular website Reddit to bring you “hilariously stupid science questions”. Be prepared to drown in terrible puns, painful fallacies, and poor logic. Should you survive (and somehow enjoy the experience), you can check out some of the other installments in this recurring series. H/Y Ross Pomeroy

Attempts to “Connect the Dots” With Few or No Clues

If we lose net neutrality, will the net become acidic or basic?
If global warming was real, wouldn’t the ice wall melt and let the oceans drain away? So then why is the sea level rising?
Why do meteorites always land in craters?
My pizza says to bake for 18-21 minutes, how do I bake something for -3 minutes?
Are children actually small or are they just far away?
The first dog in space died of stress. Was that because of all the vacuums up there?
If Mercury is so close to the sun how come we can get it inside thermometers???
Why are so many products harmful only to Californians?
How much higher would the sea level be if there were no sponges?
If setting off nukes creates “nuclear winters”, why don’t we set off a few nukes to offset global warming?
If electricity always follows the path of least resistance, why doesn’t lightning only strike in France?
What happens if a very stoppable force meets a very movable object?
If Pi is never ending, why is there still world hunger?
Is HIV considered a “retro virus” because it started to be a problem in the 80s?
Why does alcohol need proofs? Shouldn’t we just take their word for it?
Do strippers in the southern hemisphere spin around their poles in the opposite direction as strippers in the northern hemisphere?
If sound can’t travel through vacuums, why are they so loud?
How can we trust atoms if they make up everything?
If the human body is ~90% water, why can’t we put out fires with our bodies?
If there’s a new moon every month. Where does the old one go?
Why did ancient people bury so many buildings?
How can fish hold their breath for so long underwater?
If Corn Oil is made from corn, and Olive Oil is made from olives, where does Baby Oil come from?
Before light bulbs were invented, how did people get ideas?
Does it take 18 months for twins to be born?
I just found out I am bipolar. Should I avoid magnets?
From which sheep do we get steel wool?
When will the gorilla at the zoo turn into a person?
Is the water bug the natural predator of the firefly?
Did Schrödinger ever consider the fact that his cat had nine lives?
If oxygen was discovered in 1783 by Antoine Lavoisier, how did people breathe before then?

Hydroxychloroquine: A Morality Tale

Norman Doige writes in The Tablet A startling investigation into how a cheap, well-known drug became a political football in the midst of a pandemic.  Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

We live in a culture that has uncritically accepted that every domain of life is political, and that even things we think are not political are so, that all human enterprises are merely power struggles, that even the idea of “truth” is a fantasy, and really a matter of imposing one’s view on others. For a while, some held out hope that science remained an exception to this. That scientists would not bring their personal political biases into their science, and they would not be mobbed if what they said was unwelcome to one faction or another. But the sordid 2020 drama of hydroxychloroquine—which saw scientists routinely attacked for critically evaluating evidence and coming to politically inconvenient conclusions—has, for many, killed those hopes.

Phase 1 of the pandemic saw the near collapse of the credible authority of much of our public health officialdom at the highest levels, led by the exposure of the corruption of the World Health Organization. The crisis was deepened by the numerous reversals on recommendations, which led to the growing belief that too many officials were interpreting, bending, or speaking about the science relevant to the pandemic in a politicized way. Phase 2 is equally dangerous, for it shows that politicization has started to penetrate the peer review process, and how studies are reported in scientific journals, and of course in the press.

What is unique about the hydroxychloroquine discussion is that it is a story of “unwishful thinking”—to coin a term for the perverse hope that some good outcome that most sane people would earnestly desire, will never come to pass. It’s about how, in the midst of a pandemic, thousands started earnestly hoping—before the science was really in—that a drug, one that might save lives at a comparatively low cost, would not actually do so. Reasonably good studies were depicted as sloppy work, fatally flawed. Many have excelled in making counterfeit bills that look real, but few have excelled at making real bills look counterfeit. As such, as we sort this out, we shall observe not only some “tricks” about how to make bad studies look like good ones, but also how to make good studies look like bad ones. And why should anyone facing a pandemic wish to discredit potentially lifesaving medications? Well, in fact, this ability can come in very handy in this midst of a plague, when many medications and vaccines are competing to Save the World—and for the billions of dollars that will go along with that.

So this story is twofold. It’s about the discussion that unfolded (and is still unfolding) around hydroxychloroquine, but if you’re here for a definitive answer to a narrow question about one specific drug (“does hydroxychloroquine work?”), you will be disappointed. Because what our tale is really concerned with is the perilous state of vulnerability of our scientific discourse, models, and institutions—which is arguably a much bigger, and more urgent problem, since there are other drugs that must be tested for safety and effectiveness (most complex illnesses like COVID-19 often require a group of medications) as well as vaccines, which would be slated to be given to billions of people. “This misbegotten episode regarding hydroxychloroquine will be studied by sociologists of medicine as a classic example of how extra-scientific factors overrode clear-cut medical evidence,” Yale professor of epidemiology Harvey A. Risch recently argued. Why not start studying it now?

Norman Doige tells the story in some detail (see article link in red at the top)

  • the history of quinine, chloroquine, and HCQ medical effectiveness;
  • how HCQ was used against SARS CV2 early on;
  • how Raoult was the one in his lab who came up with the idea of combining the two older drugs, HCQ and azithromycin, for COVID-19;
  • the criticisms of the French studies exemplifying “unwishful thinking”;
  • Trump’s interest in HCQ and the media backlash against the medicine;
  • the failure of ICU treatment protocols with ventilators and no alternatives to off-label prescribing;
  • the insistence upon Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs) as the only valid test for HCQ;
  • the confounding factors in such studies and the problems replicating RCT results; and,
  • the publication in high-profile journals of studies structured for HCQ to fail to help infected patients.

Conclusion from Doige

Lots and lots of COVID-19 studies will come out—several hundred are in the works. People will hope more and more accumulating numbers—and more big data—will settle it. But big data, interpreted by people who have never treated any of the patients involved can be dangerous, a kind of exalted nonsense. It’s an old lesson: Quantity is not quality.

On this, I favor the all-available-evidence approach, which understands that large studies are important, but also that the medication that might be best for the largest number of people may not be best one for an individual patient. In fact, it would be typical of medicine that a number of different medications will be needed for COVID-19, and that there will be interactions of some with patient’s existing medications or conditions, so that the more medications we have to choose from, the better. We should be giving individual clinicians on the front lines the usual latitude to take account of their individual patient’s condition, and preferences, and encourage these physicians to bring to bear everything they have learned and read (they have been trained to read studies), and continue to read, but also what they have seen with their own eyes. Unlike medical bureaucrats or others who issue decrees from remote places physicians are literally on our front lines—actually observing the patients in question, and a Hippocratic Oath to serve them—and not the Lancet or WHO or CNN.

As contentious as this debate has been, and as urgent as the need for informed and timely information seems now, the reason to understand what happened with HCQ is for what it reflects about the social context within which science is now produced:

  • a landscape overly influenced by technology and its obsession with big data abstraction over concrete, tangible human experience;
  • academics who increasingly see all human activities as “political” power games, and so in good conscience can now justify inserting their own politics into academic pursuits and reporting;
  • extraordinarily powerful pharmaceutical companies competing for hundreds of billions of dollars;
  • politicians competing for pharmaceutical dollars as well as public adoration—both of which come these days too much from social media; and,
  • the decaying of the journalistic and scholarly super-layers that used to do much better holding everyone in this pyramid accountable, but no longer do, or even can.

If you think this year’s controversy is bad, consider that hydroxychloroquine is given to relatively few people with COVID-19, all sick, many with nothing to lose. It enters the body, and leaves fairly quickly, and has been known to us for decades. COVID vaccines, which advocates will want to be mandatory and given to all people—healthy and not, young and old—are being rushed past their normal safety precautions and regulations, and the typical five-to-10-year observation period is being waived to get “Operation Warp Speed” done as soon as possible.

This is being done with the endorsement of public health officials—the same ones, in many cases who are saying HCQ is suddenly extremely dangerous.

Philosophically, and psychologically, it is a fantastic spectacle to behold, a reversal, the magnitude and the chutzpah of which must inspire awe: a public health establishment, showing extraordinary risk aversion to medications and treatments that are extremely well known, and had been used by billions, suddenly throwing caution to the wind and endorsing the rollout of treatments that are entirely novel—and about which we literally can’t possibly know anything, as regards to their long-term effects. Their manufacturers know this well themselves, which is why they have aimed for, insisted on, and have already been granted indemnification—guaranteed, by those same public health officials and government that they will not be held legally accountable should their product cause injury.

From unheard of extremes of caution and “unwishful thinking,” to unheard of extremes of risk-taking, and recklessly wishful thinking, this double standard, this about-face, is not happening because this issue of public safety is really so complex a problem that only our experts can understand it; it is happening because there is, right now, a much bigger problem: with our experts, and with the institutions that we had trusted to help solve our most pressing scientific and medical problems.

Unless these are attended to, HCQ won’t be remembered simply as that major medical issue that no one could agree on, and which left overwhelming controversy, confusion, and possibly unnecessary deaths of tens of thousands in its wake; it will be one of many in a chain of such disasters.

Norman Doidge, a contributing writer for Tablet, is a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and author of The Brain That Changes Itself and The Brain’s Way of Healing.