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Don't worry, be happy

August 7th, 2003

I’m a worrier. I worry about the economy, global warming, cancer, even about whether life has any meaning. But now, thanks to the guys over at Troppo Armadillo*, most of my worries are over. Reading the ‘always excellentJunk Science site run by Steven Milloy, I’ve learned that

How did I come to get the wrong idea on all these questions? Well, it turns out that the National Academy of Sciences, Environmental Protection Authority, Intergovenmental Panel on Climate Change, NASA and a host of individual scientists are engaged in a vast leftwing conspiracy to alarm and deceive us.

Only a handful of scientists have had the courage to resist this conspiracy. They can be recognised by the fact that they are typically affiliated with right-thinking think tanks like the Cato Institute (where Milloy works) and prefer to publish their work with Fox News (‘we report, you decide’), rather than in corrupt journals like Science and Nature, where ‘referees’ from the scientific establishment censor the truth. Fortunately, their work is now being recognised with generous grants from the tobacco, coal and oil industries.

The good news doesn’t stop there. According to this morning’s email, I am about to receive a substantial commission on a transaction involving Nigerian gold (as long as I can beat ASIC to the punch). And beautiful girls from all over the world are just waiting to meet me.

I’m glad I’ve stopped worrying. Now if I could only cure my addiction to irony …

* More exactly, to Geoff Honnor who provided the link to Milloy’s Junk Science site, and to Ken Parish who linked to the similarly-styled Bizarre Science site.

Boring disclaimer A link to a site doesn’t imply endorsement of everything that appears on that site.

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  1. Mork
    August 7th, 2003 at 10:14 | #1

    John – this post is unworthy of your usual honesty and rigour.

    It’s silly enough that you sarcastically dismiss dissenting views merely on the basis of their source. But you just have to click through your links to see how mischeviously you’ve mischaracterised the articles you deride.

  2. Jason Soon
    August 7th, 2003 at 10:24 | #2

    Mork
    I don’t know about the other articles, you might be right, but I for one am extremely disappointed and shocked that someone from Cato would be willing to associate himself with a nortorious anti-Darwinist and closet creationist preacher like Philip Johnson – this sort of thing is normally done by the neo-Con Grand Inquisitor (‘elites can be atheists but hell will break loose if the masses believe we are descended from monkeys) crowd.

  3. Mork
    August 7th, 2003 at 10:35 | #3

    Sure, Jason, I agree with what you say about Johnson, but the article itself is a fairly innocuous WSJ op-ed piece. While Johnson’s writings, as a whole, might sustain John’s label, this piece by itself certainly doesn’t. And I haven’t spent much time on junkscience, but I can’t see much evidence that it’s carrying a torch for the creationists.

  4. John Quiggin
    August 7th, 2003 at 10:40 | #4

    Mork, which articles do you think I’m mischaracterising? I admit that the link on passive smoking isn’t a perfect illustration of Milloy’s views on this subject, but if you look around his site you’ll find ads for books like “Slow Burn: The Great American Antismoking Scam” and “Passive Smoke: The EPA’s betrayal of science and policy”.

    Or you might prefer this article, with quotes like “”Secondary smoke is one of the leading causes of death,” Giuliani announced, as he lit up his cigar. At the moment that the Congressional Research Service, an independent arm of Congress, said that there was no scientific basis for the EPA’s report.

    In March, the World Health Organization was caught with the lie. It is the SS of the Nicotine Nazis. The WHO ran a multi-million-dollar study dedicated to proving that passive smoke causes cancer. It came up empty.

    The media censored that story. If you didn’t read it in my column, you don’t know it. “

  5. John Quiggin
    August 7th, 2003 at 10:50 | #5

    From the Johnson article:

    “Here’s just one example of how real science is replaced by flim-flam. The standard textbook example of natural selection involves a species of finches in the Galapagos, whose beaks have been measured over many years. In 1997 a drought killed most of the finches, and the survivors had beaks slightly larger than before. The probable explanation was that larger-beaked birds had an advantage in eating the last tough seeds that remained. A few years later there was a flood, and after that the beak size went back to normal. Nothing new had appeared, and there was no directional change of any kind. Nonetheless, that is the most impressive example of natural selection at work that the Darwinists have been able to find after nearly a century and a half of searching.

    To make the story look better, the National Academy of Sciences removed some facts in its 1998 booklet on “Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science.” This version omits the flood year return-to-normal and encourages teachers to speculate that a “new species of finch” might arise in 200 years if the initial trend towards increased beak size continued indefinitely. When our leading scientists have to resort to the sort of distortion that would land a stock promoter in jail, you know they are in trouble.

    If this is innocuous, I’d hate to see him when he gets going.

  6. Mork
    August 7th, 2003 at 11:03 | #6

    John: there is a big difference between “cigarette smoke is good for you” and “some sections of the scientific community, regulatory agencies and media have vastly overstated the strength of the evidence linking passive cigarette smoke and cancer”, which I think is a fair summary of the article you linked.

    And, yes, for an op-ed piece, I’d describe the quote from Johnson’s piece as “innocuous”. If he’s correct on the facts that he cites (and I have no idea whether he is or not), then his gybe seems to me to be well within the bounds of fair (if colourful) comment.

  7. August 7th, 2003 at 12:35 | #7

    Pr Q laments:

    I’m a worrier. I worry about the economy, global warming, cancer, even about whether life has any meaning.

    I have noticed the tendency of our bearded sage of the blogosphere to fret, hand-wring, brow-knit and generally howl at the moon over the odd drift in the tea-leaves.

    But Pr Q seems to have an Asymmetrical Angst Function, whereby he was fine with UN politics but has issues with US economics:
    UN politics: in the Gulf security issue he believed that the status-quo was ok, “relaxed policy” and “muddle through”, “it ain’t broke so don’t fix it”, “do no harm.”
    US economics: in the New Economy issue he belives that “free market free-for-all” leads to bubbles and spend thrift behaviour which means “we will all be ruined” and “there will be tears before bedtime”

    Yet the UN did nothing to stop the Saudi terrorism and has no real plan to stop fundamentalism. And the signs are there that Gulf political culture has the makings of an Appolaclypse Soon:
    booming young male demography
    surging theocratic ideology
    dwindling hydrocarbon/aquatic geology
    proliferating WMD technology
    Whereas the US is now looking at converging fundamental technologies (pdf) in the info-, nano-, and bio-tech sectors. If only a fraction of these are succesful, you can forget about most serious economic problems.

    Why does Pr Q wear rose-coloured glasses when contemplating the static UN policy towards the armed and dangerous fascist militarists and fundamentalist terrorists threatening the Gulf, whilst donning the gloomiest of shades when peering into the dynamic US economic tea-leaves?
    After all, the evidence is in that:
    Technological Revolutions have occurred and this cause high growth
    Political Reactions are occurring and this causes massive attacks

  8. Homer Paxton
    August 7th, 2003 at 13:20 | #8

    Sorry for being lazy but is there any reputable study which shows a statistical link between passive smoking and cancer?

    I could find any many moons ago. Has this changed in recent times?

  9. August 7th, 2003 at 13:26 | #9

    John,

    I enjoy a good dose of heavy sarcasm (as opposed to irony) as much as the next person. In fact I’ve even been known to practise it from time to time myself in my more petty, self-indulgent moments (like now, for instance). However, it doesn’t relieve you of the obligation to characterise fellow bloggers reasonably accurately. it might have been nice had you:
    (1) avoided using the general expression “guys at TA” when in fact only Geoff Honnor gave a positive mention to Bizarre Science even in passing;
    (2) As soon as he was challenged, Geoff acknowledged that BS was “‘Excellent’ as in interesting read, not necessarily empirically sound.” I’d be rather more blunt, and suggest that its initials are very frequently (though not always) an accurate summary of the quality of its content.
    (3) I’ll leave aside the question of whether you’ve accurately characterised BS on the specific issues you list (because I can’t be bothered reading it to find out). However, to the best of my knowledge, no-one at TA has ever argued a position even remotely like the ones you list, regarding smoking, guns, global warming or evolution. In fact, on all these issues my own position is almost diametrically opposite. Of course, you don’t expressly claim otherwise, but you certainly manage to create (perhaps inadvertently) an impression of ratbaggery that might well be deserved by BS but not IMO by any of the bloggers at TA.

  10. August 7th, 2003 at 13:48 | #10

    Ken, you are mixing up Bizarre Science and Junk Science. Give the lack of quality of both, it’s an easy mistake to make.

  11. August 7th, 2003 at 14:03 | #11

    Ken,

    Quite right.

  12. August 7th, 2003 at 14:43 | #12

    OK – I’m a CATO loving radical capitalist. The short hand would be ‘evil’. I believe:

    cigarette smoke is bad for you, but the evidence of second-hand smoke isn’t as good as what it’s been made out to be.

    guns kill people, but they also create a dissincentive so they can reduce crime. the net effect could go either way, but on balance I think gun laws should be relaxed.

    global warming is not a myth, but it is not a fact and more evidence is necessary before dedicating the world to a multi-billion cost

    I guess we evolved – I don’t really know too much about it and will continue to live in blissfull ignorance as my time is finite.

  13. John
    August 7th, 2003 at 16:56 | #13

    Homer, as far as I know, there’s no statistical evidence (the word ‘proof’ is not really meaningful here) that smoking, say, Winfields causes cancer. The only reason for supposing that Winfields cause cancer is that the smoke they produce contains the same carcinogens as the smoke from any other cigarette.

    The same reasoning applies to passive smoking – the specific study being criticised by Milloy cemented one link by showing that passive smokers display the same biochemical evidence of smoke exposure as other smokers.

  14. August 8th, 2003 at 00:22 | #14

    Ah, Steve Milloy. I wrote something on his double standard here. I emailed him about it and his response was that just because he had Lott’s stuff on his website and had no criticism of it, it didn’t mean that he believed it.

  15. John
    August 8th, 2003 at 06:38 | #15

    Tim, your link doesn’t work

  16. August 8th, 2003 at 10:29 | #16

    Sorry, try this.

  17. August 8th, 2003 at 11:48 | #17

    Did Jack Strocchi once buy a really bad kebab? He seems to have it in for towelheads.

  18. August 8th, 2003 at 16:53 | #18

    You couild be onto something here nardo. I bought a bad kebab in Athens once … never been back since.

  19. Geoff Honnor
    August 9th, 2003 at 13:25 | #19

    Yes it’s all true John. I firmly believed that Darwinism was an atheistic plot, that cigarettes were good for one and that we needed to warm the planet up quick smart! Were it not for your dazzling glissades of insightful and ironic instruction, I might have continued in my wrong-headed beliefs forever. As I’m obviously so profoundly ill-equipped to make my own way through the perilous gorges of unsanctioned thought, I’ll be relying on you in future to guide me every step of the way.

    BTW, irony is less an addiction and more a way of life…

  20. Clem Snide
    August 10th, 2003 at 02:28 | #20

    nardo: I suspect Jack Strocchi has looked at the overwhelming evidence that Islam is dangerous to individual, economic, cultural, political and social health, and has drawn the obvious conclusion. Jack seems rather less convinced on some of the theories that Prof Q subscribes to because the evidence is either sparse or questionable, and because those espousing them seem to have an anti-American, anti-capitalist agenda. Furthermore, Jack seems to be asking why Prof Q seems more willing to accept the latter theories, especially given that the USA is likely to provide technological solutions to numerous environmental (and other) problems if it’s not hobbled by the doctrines of millenarian Gaia cults and those envious of America’s success in so many fields of human endeavour.

    Note that with the various genome projects, there is now substantial solid evidence for evolution far beyond the dimensions of Galapagos finch beaks, and nobody I know has claimed that finch beaks were the best evidence for evolution even before genome projects began.

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