Bryan Walsh at Time has a nice deconstruction of the recent cluster of sudden animal deaths he sardonically refers to as
the Aflockalypse, the Aquapalypse or some other clever term that will soon be trending on Twitter.
With so many mass animal deaths occurring together in such a short period of time, it seems perfectly reasonable to ask the question: are the end times nigh?
Actually, no, it’s not reasonable at all. While it is possible that these string of suspicious animal deaths could signal some kind Revelations-like event a third of the living creatures in the sea died“), it’s really, really, really unlikely. For one thing, as they examine the deaths, scientists are already beginning to come up with explanations””none of which so far involves a pale horse and pale rider.
Goes to this cautionary flashback:
I love the New Yorker and over the years they have published many fine articles on science by bright and knowledgeable writers including Lehrer (e.g., John McPhee, Jonathon Schell, John Hersey, Rachel Carson, Jeremy Bernstein, Atul Gawande, Malcom Gladwell). Despite this excellent record of science translation, it is useful to remember that the New Yorker published another fine scientific writer (Paul Brodeur) about 20 years ago who claimed that power lines were leading to brain cancer. It was compelling writing and it had a big effect on public opinion and science, but ultimately none of the breathless claims panned out despite the fears struck in the community. Decline effects, though rarely referred to that way, are widely recognized in science (often meta-analyses will divide up the sample of studies depending on when they were conducted–early vs. late).
But I view this recurring issue the same way I view revelations of juiced baseball players: Yeah, it happens, and it sullies the game, but not nearly enough to make me consider stop watching baseball. In other words, has the use of steroids fatally compromised the sport? No.
So there’s two ways to look at this NYT story about an ESP study getting published in a prominent journal:
1) Proof positive, as some well known climate scientists have asserted in the last year, that crap science can always find its way into a scientific journal.
2) Proof positive, as some climate science critics have asserted in the last year, that peer review is corrupted.
There is, of course, a third view, that is more nuanced (and which those in the first category would wholeheartedly agree):
Peer review is flawed but the best we’ve got
Then there is this tongue-in-cheek, sky-is-falling perspective.
But those of us who love baseball (or any sport) or politics the way we love science know that there’s always going to be cracks in the system that can be exploited. And when that happens, “sunlight,” as a U.S. Supreme Court justice once famously said, “is the best disinfectant.”
If you’re gonna be a doomer, this seems like the right attitude to take:
I begin the year convinced that our civilisation will collapse soon but at the same time enjoying the continuous Mozart on Radio 3, abandoning alcohol for the month with enthusiasm, and committing myself to three runs and 70 000 steps a week.
This mindset reminds me of a heroin addict I once knew who was also a health food nut and strict vegetarian. I once asked her why she was such a dietary stickler when she was poisoning herself with smack. “That’s even more the reason to pay attention to what I eat,” she said.
On the passing of Gerry Rafferty, Stoat reminisces about that famous line from “Stuck in the Middle with You” and remarks:
the same problems exist: remaining sane and balanced between we’re-all-going-to-die and there-is-no-problem.
Many people will undoubtedly associate the song with a classically twisted Tarantino scene. I’m glad Stoat chose this great clip in memoriam.
It’s “dangerously naive” and an “indulgent form of self-interest,” writes an engineering professor in this provocative essay. Oh, and also “seriously mistaken”:
An insular community which does not trade regionally or internationally is at risk from the most basic threats, such as crop failure due to local extremes of weather. The evidence for this is all too apparent in the developing world. In a global community, local crop failure is not a life-or-death issue since food can be temporarily imported in exchange for other goods or services. During times of plenty, excess food can be exported and the long-term surplus and deficit balanced out. The community is buffered against extremes of weather through international trade. While an isolated village has to depend on its own grain store to smooth out times of feast and famine, a trading nation has the entire world as its grain store.
Is he throwing out the baby with the bathwater? I shop in local farmer’s markets and patronize my local merchants (and I prefer my local independent bookstore over Amazon), but I also have no illusions that I could be self-sufficient if I was to be a strict localist. Is that really what the localism movement advocates, swearing off all global means of production?
Yesterday, after the news broke of an extensive investigative report by Brian Deer, a British journalist, CNN’s Anderson Cooper took it from there and completed the evisceration of huckster Andrew Wakefield, whose infamous 1998 study supposedly linking autism to the MMR vaccine was retracted last year by the journal Lancet.
Cooper doesn’t mince words, and neither does the British Medical Journal editorial accompanying the investigative report:
Who perpetrated this fraud? There is no doubt that it was Wakefield. Is it possible that he was wrong, but not dishonest: that he was so incompetent that he was unable to fairly describe the project, or to report even one of the 12 children’s cases accurately? No. A great deal of thought and effort must have gone into drafting the paper to achieve the results he wanted: the discrepancies all led in one direction; misreporting was gross.
Additionally, the editorial chastises the media for “unbalanced” reporting on the bogus vaccine-autism link, and also blames the continuing vaccine scare on
an ineffective response from government, researchers, journals, and the medical profession.
There’s also this that seems to get lost in all the controversy:
But perhaps as important as the scare’s effect on infectious disease is the energy, emotion, and money that have been diverted away from efforts to understand the real causes of autism and how to help children and families who live with it.
So will this news of “elaborate fraud” by a champion of the debunked vaccine-autism connection give pause to the the anti-vaxxers, who regard Wakefield as their hero? Of course not.