A True Conspiracy Theory?

Over the years, many conspiracy theories have circulated regarding transformative new technologies that were suppressed by entrenched interests. The vast majority of these conspiracy theories are nothing more than absurdly false urban legends. For instance, an infamous one involves a water-powered car that was supposedly suppressed by the oil industry.

This week, however, The Atlantic magazine may have uncovered a true conspiracy to suppress technology, and not surprisingly, the mechanism involves using the coercive powers of government. The story involves the discovery of a low-calorie sweetener that might have prevented the current epidemic of obesity.

Miraculin is a taste-modifier, one of only a handful of such naturally-occurring molecules in the world. It is found in the berries of a plant known as Synsepalum dulcificum or, colloquially, the “miracle fruit,” which grows in parts of West Africa… miracle fruit

The idea of introducing the miracle berry into food as a sugar replacement was actually first conceived almost 50 years ago by an entrepreneur called Robert Harvey who began to create a range of sugar-free products coated with the berry extract. Initially, his company Miralin appeared destined for instant success. In a poll in which schoolchildren were asked to choose between a sugary food and one of Harvey’s new treats, they voted overwhelmingly in favor of the latter.

However, things were about to change rapidly. The sequence of events which ensued would not look out of place in a Hollywood film. Harvey began to suspect that he was being followed on the way home from work; then one night in the summer of 1974, he reported that his office had been raided and his files stolen.

Shortly afterwards, the previously supportive Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declared that miraculin was an additive, meaning that the berries could not be sold as a sugar substitute without further testing. Harvey suspected foul play. He suggested that the FDA had been pressured by the powerful manufacturers of sugar and artificial sweeteners, keen to quash this new challenge to their business, something both parties denied.

“For the FDA to overturn the ruling, as far as I understand it, would require years of testing and a large amount of money, which it was not possible for Harvey to raise in the poor economic climate of 1974,” explains Canadian author Adam Gollner, who chronicled Harvey’s story in his book, The Fruit Hunters.

And so for the next 30 years, the berry was largely forgotten, knowledge of its existence preserved only by a small group of fruit enthusiasts…

So the FDA not only fueled the obesity epidemic by encouraging the consumption of sugars and refined grains through its now-largely-debunked ‘food pyramid,’ but the agency also might have been instrumental in suppressing a healthier sugar substitute.

Obesity is a leading risk factor for all of the deadliest afflictions–cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s. Given that obesity is now the number one threat to public health, the number of lives lost due to the FDA’s actions must be incalculable. This is in addition to the many lives lost due to the FDA holding up life-saving drugs through its costly ‘valley of death’ approval process. As we noted last year, bringing a new drug to market now costs $1.2 billion and takes 12 years.

Since the 1960s, how high is the FDA’s net death toll? Millions?

FDA delenda est.

Drugs and prostitution to be included in UK national accounts

Here is the story from the Guardian:

George Osborne famously declared “we are all in this together” when it comes to Britain’s prosperity. TheOffice for National Statistics has now taken him at his word, adding up the contribution made by prostitutes and drug dealers.

For the first time official statisticians are measuring the value to the UK economy of sex work and drug dealing – and they have discovered these unsavoury hidden-economy trades make roughly the same contribution as farming – and only slightly less than book and newspaper publishers added together.

Illegal drugs and prostitution boosted the economy by £9.7bn – equal to 0.7% of gross domestic product – in 2009, according to the ONS’s first official estimate.

It is well known that excluding the underground or illegal economy downwardly biases official output measures such as GDP.  So there is some logic in trying to measure its size.  But maybe this doesn’t go far enough?  The consumption value of owner occupied housing is accounted for by estimating “implicit rental value”.  So shouldn’t other types of “household production” that are, say, substitutes for prostitution, be measured the same way?  If so, it would at least make discussions of government economic stimulus more entertaining.

Poll: Donald Sterling most hated man in America

Here is the story in the New York Daily News:

Move over O.J. and Bernie Madoff: America’s new No. 1 most-hated man is racist Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.

A stunning 92% of the people asked in a recent poll ranked Sterling as more reviled than any killers, con men, politicians — or even Justin Bieber.

So Sterling is more hated than double and triple murderers (O.J. Simpson and Aaron Hernandez) and also more hated than infamous con man and thief Bernie Madoff? Of course the “poll” is pretty dumb but it does provide a good illustration of the power of the media.  Our guess is that results are likely just driven by name recognition since we find it impossible to believe that Americans really are that stupid.

 

Google Celebrates Junk Science

Google today devoted its daily ‘doodle’ to honoring the 107th anniversary of the birth of author Rachel Carson.

Rachel CarsonRachel Carson is remembered for her 1962 book, Silent Spring, an infamous work of environmental scaremongering and junk science. Carson’s book argued that pesticides, particularly DDT, were having devastating effects on the health of living things that we care about, particularly humans and birds. Hence, she effectively asked us to imagine a world without bird songs: the silent spring.

Carson’s thesis, however, is utterly contradicted by the facts of reality. The fact is that pesticides are extremely beneficial to humanity, and on balance are even good for the environment. Pesticides lower the cost and raise the quality of produce, thus improving human nutrition and health. And the use of pesticides means that farmers don’t need to use as much land, thus leaving more land set aside for forests and wildlife. Partly as a result of the use of pesticides, the total forested area of the United States has been increasing by about one million acres per year. Pesticides have also served to eradicate deadly diseases such as typhus and malaria.

Carson’s hysterical book caused governments around the world to ban DDT, thus impeding the fight against malaria, even though decades of research have established that DDT causes no harm to humans. While deadly to mosquitoes, DDT in the human body gets metabolized in a way that makes it relatively harmless.

DDTOK ‘viridiana’. Here goes.

That was 1947. Want something more recent?

Somehow we suspect that ‘viridiana’, even after watching, would still find a way to move the goalpost and remain unconvinced, as would other modern environmentalists, much like the ignorant African tribesmen.

That DDT was safe to use was known to the EPA, but they went ahead and banned it anyway.

On June 14, 1972…the EPA banned DDT despite considerable evidence of its safety offered in seven months of agency hearings. After listening to that testimony, the EPA’s own administrative law judge declared, “DDT is not a carcinogenic hazard to man…DDT is not a mutagenic or teratogenic hazard to man…The use of DDT under the regulations involved here [does] not have a deleterious effect on freshwater fish, estuarine organisms, wild birds or other wildlife.”

There was also no evidence that DDT was harmful at the time Carson published her book. She chose therefore to variously ignore and misrepresent the available science. Her misrepresentations were manifold, but just to get a taste, consider her claims regarding the effects of DDT on robins. Carson claimed that DDT spraying was driving the robin to the “verge of extinction.” And yet,

In that very same year, 1962, the leading ornithologist in North America also mentioned the status of the robin. That authority was Roger Tory Peterson, who asked in his Life magazine Nature library book, The Birds, “What is North America’s number one bird?” He then pointed out that it was the robin! The Audubon Christmas Bird Count in 1941 (before DDT) was 19,616 robins (only 8.41 seen per observer)—see Table 1. Compare that with the 1960 count of 928,639 robins (or 104.01 per observer). The total was 12 times more robins seen per observer after all those years of DDT and other “modern pesticide” usage. Carson had to avoid all references to such surveys or her thesis would have been disproved by the evidence…

In many feeding experiments birds, including robins, were forced to ingest great quantities of DDT (and its breakdown product, DDE)…Researcher Joseph Hickey at the University of Wisconsin had testified before the Environmental Protection Agency hearings on DDT specifically that he could not kill any robins by overdosing them with DDT because the birds simply passed it through their digestive tract and eliminated it in their feces. Many other feeding experiments by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and various university researchers repeatedly showed that DDT and DDE in the diet could not have killed wild birds under field conditions. If Carson had mentioned these pertinent details it would have devastated her major theme, which continued to be the awful threats posed by DDT to all nonhuman creatures on the face of the Earth. Instead of providing the facts that would clarify such conditions, she spent several more pages on unfounded allegations about DDT and various kinds of birds.

DDT was not only not harmful to humans, it had saved hundreds of millions of human lives. Three years after Carson’s book, the National Academy of Sciences concluded that

“in a little more than two decades, DDT has prevented 500 million [human] deaths that would otherwise have been inevitable.” WHO issued a statement in 1969: “DDT has been the main agent in eradicating malaria … and [has] saved at least 2 billion people in the world without causing the loss of a single life by poisoning from DDT alone.” It went on to state, “It is so safe that no symptoms have been observed among the spraymen or among the inhabitants of the spray areas which numbered 130,000 and 535 million (respectively) at the peak of the campaign.”

Despite these facts, the EPA and other authorities around the world banned DDT and discourage its use in developing nations. This was done in part due to the hysteria incited by Rachel Carson. The result was millions of deaths from malaria that could have been prevented by DDT.

[I]gnoring his own agency’s ruling and advice, EPA Administrator William Ruckelshaus single-handedly outlawed almost all use of DDT. He made the unscientific assertion that it poses “unacceptable risk to the environment and potential harm to human health.” He had not bothered to attend a single day of the seven-month hearing and, according to aides, had not read any transcripts. Critics quip that his decision shot him to the top of an infamous list: Hitler, 20.9 million deaths; Stalin, 61.9 million deaths; Mao Tse-Tung, 77 million deaths; Ruckelshaus, estimates range from 100 million to more than the competition combined.

If Ruckelshaus deserves a share of the blame for those 100 million or more deaths, because he acted rashly and ignored the available evidence, then also Rachel Carson deserves a share of the blame, and for the same reasons. The Google doodle depicts Carson amidst a diverse assortment of happy wildlife. More appropriately, Google should have shown her surrounded by dead African children.

What’s next for those tech geniuses at Google? A doodle to celebrate the birth anniversary of Trofim Lysenko?

 

 

Children in adult bodies

The Media Research Center visited the campus of George Mason University, where we both used to teach, to ask students some simple questions. What students don’t know can no longer surprise us, although it’s still somewhat jarring to behold. Unlike the students, we did not know the answer to the pop music question. That fact in particular proffers an uncomfortable reminder of the culture and generation gap that exists between us and the college-age Americans we teach.

 

 

Of course, we suspect (hope) that most of these students will take a much greater interest in public affairs once they are married (hope) and in their 30s. Having a job and kids and bills to pay tends to make people grow up real fast. As journalist Michael Barone put it, “America produces the most incompetent 18-year-olds in the world, and the most competent 30-year-olds.” These students are still closer to 18 than to 30.

To a considerable degree, the students can be excused, because they are merely responding to the incentives offered by the culture. Today’s culture seems to expect and demand relatively little of young adults. Obamacare even allows them to stay on their parents’ health insurance until age 26. The appropriate trade-off for that concession should have been to make the voting age also 26.

Twenty-six. Didn’t we see that same age referenced somewhere recently?

Oh yeah.

 

26ageUpdate. Note that even the interviewer errs (at 1:23) by placing Benghazi in the Middle East.

See, he’s young too.

Why Dentists should hand out Smartphones

No, not to coordinate with patients on appointment changes, but to wean them off chewing gum:

Part of the reason smartphones have become so popular is the way in which they combine the functions of so many other devices people used to lug around instead. With the ability to browse the Internet, listen to music, play games, and take high-quality photos, it’s becoming increasingly harder to convince people they need to shell out the cash for a dedicated camera, handheld video game system, or music player.

But why is it that as more people buy smartphones, fewer of them are buying chewing gum?

Masami Yamamoto, president of electronics and semiconductor manufacturer Fujitsu, touched upon the unusual connection in a recent speech he gave on the subject of human-centric innovation. The executive pointed out that sales of chewing gum have begun falling in developed countries just as smartphones are becoming the norm for new mobile phone buyers.

Yamamoto offered an explanation that asserts that when consumers buy a pack of gum, what they’re really after isn’t the malleable flavor tablet itself. Instead, the demand comes from the occasional need to kill time, the president theorizes.

He’s got a point, as a single piece of gum is cheap enough that spitting it out after five minutes doesn’t feel like a waste, but can also be chewed on for much longer if need be. When their client or date is running late, rather than standing around doing absolutely nothing, some people will choose to pop a stick of gum in their mouth, if for no reason other than to distract themselves from the tediousness of waiting.

Hey, Progressives, This is Your Single-Payer Health System

Back in the 1980s, Secretary of the Interior James Watt said that if you want to see the failure of socialism, you don’t need to go to a Communist Bloc country, you can just visit an American Indian reservation. Likewise, if you want to see the failure of socialized medicine, you don’t need to go to the UK, or even to read the gruesome medical horror stories routinely reported by the British press. No, you can just visit an American Veterans Administration hospital.

Recently, media attention has focused on a ‘scandal’ in which the VA was illegally putting veterans seeking care on secret waiting lists. It’s possible that, as a result, dozens of veterans died while waiting for care. While people are treating this news as a scandal, it’s really just an inevitable result of ‘single-payer’ health care; that is, putting the government in charge of delivering free medical care. Since resources are scarce, demand at a price of zero will exceed supply, so treatment has to be rationed. The rationing takes place through waiting lists. While waiting for care, people suffer, and some die.

The obvious question to ask about the VA scandal is: Why? Why would a VA hospital administrator direct doctors not to perform colonoscopies until patients had three positive tests for bloody stools? Or why were VA employees ordered to “cook the books” and hide long wait times that veterans faced when seeking care from heart, cancer, or other specialists? Why did some VA administrators go so far as to create a secret waiting list to hide year-plus wait times?

There’s only one plausible answer to these questions: rationing. The VA is but a smaller version of the sort of government-run, single-payer health care with which the political left is so enamored.

When individuals receive care through the VA, it becomes the only payer and hence, the only decision-maker. The VA decides who gets care, when, and how much. Moreover, as the single payer, the VA bears the risk of loss: If tax dollars aren’t enough to pay for the care demanded, there’s only one result — rationing of care.

Rationing care can take many forms. It can be overt, like the Canadian or British health care systems, which have unambiguous, publicly-announced waiting times and coverage denials for certain procedures. Or rationing can be more subtle, with little or no public participation. This latter, covert form of rationing is what the VA has adopted.

At nationalreview.com, Charles C. W. Cooke quotes the following excerpt from a news report.

one in four hospitals is recording false waiting list times, with patients waiting on average three weeks longer than NHS records show.

Patients groups have said the findings were “scandalous,” and that hospital managers had been able to routinely fiddle figures so they could claim to be hitting Government waiting time targets, when patients were enduring far longer waits for care.

That’s a pretty accurate description of the VA scandal except that…surprise!…it’s not the VA. As Cooke indicates, that excerpt is from a 2013 report on Britain’s National Health Service. ‘Scandalous’ rationing is endemic to socialized medicine.

Of course, critics point out that even a market-based health system must ration care. That is true. But rationing via the price system at least leaves producers with some incentive to efficiently supply the good. Removing the price mechanism undermines efficiency, and leads to perverse incentives and a perpetual crisis of accountability. Hence veterans in Albuquerque with heart problems are waiting four months on average to see a cardiologist.

There are eight physicians in the cardiology department. But at any given time, only three are working in the clinic, where they see fewer than two patients per day, so on average there are only 36 veterans seen per week. That means the entire eight-person department sees as many patients in a week as a single private practice cardiologist sees in two days, according to the doctor.

For perspective, 60% of cardiologists reported seeing between 50 and 124 patients per week, according to a 2013 survey of medical professionals’ compensation conducted by Medscape. On the low end, the average single private practice cardiologist who participated in the study saw more patients in a week than the Albuquerque VA’s entire eight-person cardiology department.

Leave it to government to get less production out of eight people than the private sector gets from one. And yet the familiar chorus of statist voices will claim that the problem is that the VA doesn’t receive enough funding. As P.J. O’Rourke once quipped, wait till you see how expensive health care gets once the government is providing it for ‘free.’

The real funding problem at the VA is that the funding is not coming directly from the patients, as it would in a market system. In a market system, providers have every incentive to treat you, because that’s how they get paid. In a single-payer system, the incentive is reversed. With single-payer, the provider saves money by not treating you. ‘Free’ healthcare sounds good, but when you’re not paying, how do you get them to give it to you? In matters of life and death, human experience teaches that it’s not wise to rely solely on the goodwill and efficiency of relatively unaccountable bureaucrats and politicians.

ABC television in Phoenix has the story of a veteran with cancer who kept a journal of his fruitless attempts to get treatment from the VA. Finally, a card arrived confirming a doctor’s appointment. The VA sent his widow the card a year after he died.

In any system, single-payer or market-based, money or political clout will always secure treatment.

Keeping a journal, not so much.

 

 

A School for Dummies

St. Thomas University is a Catholic school in the Twin Cities. Several years ago, we had a colleague who was an alumnus. He had an office right next door to ours for three years, but we rarely spoke with him, because he seemed like a dummy. Eventually, he showed what a big dummy he was by getting himself arrested, fired, and jailed for a sex crime. (No, really.) This event validated the wisdom of the old aphorism that, if you live long enough, you will eventually see all of your enemies die or discredit themselves.

News reports this week demonstrated that our former colleague was not the only dummy to attend St. Thomas.

Students at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota have cancelled an event to celebrate the end of the year after complaints that bringing a camel on campus could offend those of Middle Eastern cultures.

The “Hump Day” event, put on by the Residence Hall Association (RHA), was supposed to be “a petting zoo type of atmosphere” in which students could hang out and take photos with a live camel. According to Aaron Macke, the group’s advisor, the camel is owned by a local vendor and trained for special events.

“It appears however, this program is dividing people and would make for an uncomfortable and possibly unsafe environment for everyone attending or providing the program. As a result, RHA has decided to cancel the event.”

The Facebook group called “Protest Hump DAAAAAAY!” had more than 100 RSVP’d attendees…

The camel wouldn’t have been the first animal brought to campus to be fawned over. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the school brought a reindeer to campus in December apparently without incident.

Didn’t those dummies realize that the reindeer was racist against laplanders?

Blogger Ace drew the appropriate conclusions.

stthomas1stthomas2

Seemingly good advice that UD should have followed back in the ’90s.

 

Schooling the Billionare

Here is a sad story about pouring money down the public education sinkhole:

In the fall of 2010, Mark Zuckerberg announced on Oprah that he’d be making a generous gift to Newark, New Jersey.

As Oprah said in her Oprah way, “one … hundred … million … dollars” would be given to Newark Mayor Cory Booker and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as the three began the Startup: Education foundation.

The plan was to turn Newark into what Zuckerberg called “a symbol of educational excellence for the whole nation,” spent on retaining the best teachers, and creating environments that would produce successful students and, one day, graduates.

Newark is a city wrought with crime. Its graduation rate is about 67%. It needed the help, and Booker’s vision sounded promising.

Between 2010 and 2012, The New Yorker reports that “more than twenty million dollars of Zuckerberg’s gift and matching donations went to consulting firms with various specialties: public relations, human resources, communications, data analysis, [and] teacher evaluation.” Many of the consultants were being paid upwards of $1,000 a day.

“Everybody’s getting paid but Raheem still can’t read,” Vivian Cox Fraser, president of the Urban League of Essex County, was quoted saying.

Today, the money is pretty much gone, and Newark has hardly become that symbol of excellence.

Consulting firms?? Why not just come up with a way to pass out the $100 million as vouchers to the KIDS stuck in these schools rather than feed the culture of incompetence, corruption, dysfunction and waste that is the public schooling industrial complex?

Annals of the One Percent

Columbia economist Joseph Stiglitz claims to have originated the term ‘the one percent’ to describe those people in America who he and other ‘progressives’ believe are making too darn much money. stiglitzHe has even published a book, “The Price of Inequality,” about the supposed evils of income inequality. The book argues that free markets create too much income inequality and wealth concentration, and therefore markets need to be “tempered and tamed” by government intervention.

If you like, Joseph Stiglitz will come to your school or organization to speak about the evils of income inequality.

For a fee.

Stiglitz2Just wondering: Is the market for speakers one of those markets that needs to be tempered and tamed?