Vaccination a partisan issue in the US? (crosspost from Crooked Timber)

Some recent statements by Chris Christie and Rand Paul[^1] have raised the prospect that vaccination, or, more precisely, policies that impose costs on parents who don’t vaccinate their kids, may become a partisan issue, with Republicans on the anti-vax (or, if you prefer, pro-freedom) side and Democrats pushing a pro-vaccine, pro-science line. Christie and Paul took a lot of flak from other Republicans and even Fox News, and tried to walk their statements back, so it seems as if it won’t happen just yet.

But there are some obvious reasons to think that such a divide might emerge in the future, and that Christie and Paul just jumped the gun. The outline of the debate can be seen in the ferocious response to Reason magazine’s endorsement of mandatory vaccination. And, while Reason was on the right side this time, they’ve continually cherrypicked the evidence on climate change and other issues to try to bring reality in line with libertarian wishes.

The logic of the issue is pretty much identical to that of climate change, gun control, and other policies disliked by the Republican/schmibertarian base. People want to be free to do as they please, even when there’s an obvious risk to others and don’t want to hear experts pointing out those risks.[^2] So, they find bogus experts who will tell them what they want to hear, or announce that they are “skeptics” who will make up their own minds. An obvious illustration of the parallels is this anti-vax piece in the Huffington Post by Lawrence Solomon, rightwing author of The Deniers, a supportive account of climate denial[^3].

As long as libertarians and Republicans continue to embrace conspiracy theories on issues like climate science, taking a pro-science viewpoint on vaccination just makes them “cafeteria crazy”. The consistent anti-science position of people like Solomon is, at least intellectually, more attractive.

Note Another issue that fits the same frame is speeding. Anti-science ibertarians in Australia and the UK are strongly pro-speeding, but I get the impression that this isn’t such a partisan issue in the US, the reverse of the usual pattern where tribalist patterns are strongest in the US.

[^1]: Christie was just pandering clumsily, but Paul’s statement reflects the dominance of anti-vax views among his base and that of his father (take a look at dailypaul.com).
[^2]: Of course, the situation is totally different in cases like Ebola and (non-rightwing) terrorism, where it’s the “others” who pose the risk.
[^3]: The Huffington Post used to be full of leftish anti-vaxers. But the criticisms of Seth Mnookin and others produced a big shift – Solomon’s was the only recent example I could find. Similarly, having given equivocal statements back in 2008, Obama and Clinton are now firmly on the pro-vaccine side.

130 thoughts on “Vaccination a partisan issue in the US? (crosspost from Crooked Timber)

  1. @Ikonoclast
    It would be unexceptional to say that relations of power are built into the technology of internet communication. Technology is never neutral. It always bears the imprint of money and power and carries forward ways to extend the existing relations of power that are embedded within the technology itself.

    The political economy of industrial agriculture, including GMO design and production, is antidemocratic, centralising and quite often impoverishing to those least able to stand their ground against corporations. Opposition to GMO’s can often be tactical opposition to specific companies with very poor records of conduct around the world as much as it is by scientific or ecological concern.

  2. @jungney

    I agree and that is part of my reply I think. What gets up my nose is being called anti-science by people who demonstrate;

    (a) a simplistic and deterministic view of modern science;
    (b) a lack of appreciation for unforeseen consquences and emergent phenomena in complex systems; and
    (c) rank naivity or even ideological blindness about political economy and power relations.

  3. Oh dear the cost differential refers to golden mustard not rice. I see faustusnotes has also conflated the two.

  4. Ronald and Paul, just because a product contains a particular nutrient doesn’t mean it will automatically solve that nutritional deficiency. Rice, for example, contains carbohydrates but protein-energy malnutrition remains a common nutritional deficiency in rice-eating areas. You are proposing the use of rice to solve a common nutritional deficiency in rice-eating areas. Do you see the problem?

    The cause of this blindingly obvious issue is delivery, which is a big part of all public health interventions. I gave you examples of reasons for failure of interventions in delivery above, which Ronald has attempted to address but you paul are ignoring. Just selling special rice won’t make those problems go away.

    Thus in order to justify the use of a GMO for health you need effectiveness studies and then cost-effectiveness studies. These are both lacking for GMOs, though they do exist for other products, not all of which are “GMOs” in the sense being used here. Until those effectiveness and cost-effectiveness studies are done, I don’t see why health planners should be considering switching to this intervention.

    paul I am not citing “cost differentials” but cost-effectiveness estimates. Perhaps you don’t understand what that means and so you don’t realize that implicit in the information I am citing is the assumption that golden rice is more effective than supplementation but more expensive. And I am citing golden mustard because as far as I am aware there is no cost-effectiveness analysis for golden rice. If there is then please provide it. Otherwise feel free to admit that you are pushing a product of unknown effectiveness and cost-effectiveness, in the full knowledge that there is an existing cheap intervention that has significantly reduced the burden of VAD in the past 10 years.

    This is why I say that pro-GMO people are being unscientiifc. You sound like the pro-DDT crowd, who insist DDT will end malaria despite repeatedly being shown evidence of resistance. It’s all about the delivery, not the laboratory effectiveness.

  5. @Ikonoclast
    Re your point (c):

    rank naivity or even ideological blindness about political economy and power relations

    ..as a source of offense against common sense.

    The very idea that another wave of industrialized western agro-science, sponsored by you know who (aid agencies and corporations whose embeddedness within the US state ought to be subject to as much critical attention as is the military/industrial complex), can or even might solve the nutritional problems of the peasant classes and the remnant hunter gatherers and feudal groups and the indigenous of anywhere you choose to look … is laughable.

    But it’s a hollow, gallows style laugh.

  6. The precautionary principle sounds like a fine idea until you realize that it is being used as a political tool to restrict the adoption of a safe technology. And it’s being wielded that way because of the anti-corporate political leanings of the groups that love to promote its use.

    The problem with anti-GMO types like Ikonoclast and jungney is that they are looking at the GM technique in isolation, or comparing it to a standard of perfection that doesn’t exist in the real world. At the bottom of this page there is a table that neatly summarizes the ridiculous situation scientists are in with modern crop breeding techniques (except for one thing: it doesn’t list the expense of the additional testing, and de-regulation costs that are only required for the rDNA method). Yes, the GM technique is not perfectly safe but it is safer than all other techniques currently being used, including those approved for use in organic farming.

    For example, did you know that you can use radiation induced mutagenesis to create a herbicide resistant crop that can be released without any testing or de-regulation expense, that can be patented and that can be used in organic farming but if you used the rDNA method to do exactly the same thing you have to spend millions of dollars (and years and years) testing and deregulating the crop even though it is the safer technique. That is why you are being called anti-science. In my 20+ years in biotech I have yet to hear a coherent defense of that situation. Wanna be the first? And please present a defence of the use of the precautionary principle ONLY on rDNA techniques and not on the other, less precise, less safe methods.

    And have either of you ever talked to anybody in agriculture biotech? I mean when I read stuff like “ What gets up my nose is being called anti-science by people who demonstrate;
    (a) a simplistic and deterministic view of modern science;
    (b) a lack of appreciation for unforeseen consquences and emergent phenomena in complex systems”

    I can only presume I talking to people that have never engaged with agricultural biotech researchers.

    Nobody involved with the Golden Rice Project, and none of its’ serious proponents, think that it is a magic bullet (that is a common caricature put forward by the anti-GM crowd). They see it as a complementary, orthogonal and partial solution to the micronutrient deficiency issue. The roll out model was that rice farmers could choose to buy their normal rice seed or the fortified, more nutritious version for the same price and then save the seed if they wanted to. And GRP are not asking for your help, they just want you to get out of the way and stop unnecessarily scaring people and governments about the esoteric biological tool that was used to assemble the more nutritious version.

    And I love how cavalier faustusnotes and friends are about the 1.4 million life years lost. That’s gotta be wrong because of something somebody wrote on WIkipedia??!!! seriously?!
    I’m sorry, but as an engineer I’m choosing to trust published peer reviewed papers such as Wesseler and Zilberman over Wikipedia. Does that make me anti-science?

  7. @faustusnotes
    Your argument seems to go like this:

    1. GM is bad.
    2. GM Rice is an imperfect solution.
    3. Therefore we shouldn’t use it.

    The real problem is proposition 1. If you assume a priori that GM should be avoided wherever possible, well, you will avoid it wherever possible. However, it is not a scientifically creditable position. It is strongly believed by some people – in a way that I would describe as religious – who then use the gamut of poor arguments to support their underlying beliefs. This is exactly equivalent to the way that creationism or AGW denialism arguments run. I could reiterate the science but it there any chance of you changing your mind?

    Statement 2 is completely black-and-white fantasy thinking. There are virtually no perfect solutions in the real world. “You are proposing the use of rice to solve a common nutritional deficiency in rice-eating areas. Do you see the problem?” Well actually, there may be practical problems but on the face of it it sounds like exactly the strategy that should be looked at first. It fits with existing practices in the target areas, it is practicable, it has minimal costs, and it very likely to eliminate at least some serious disease. Sure, it is unlikely to solve every case of vitamin A deficiency on it’s own but it could be a significant part of the mix. If a naturally occurring non-GM strain of rice containing beta carotene were found would you be claiming that it couldn’t work? Of course not. Your would have had no reason to dream up this silly argument.

    But let’s assume, to further explore your argument, that GR doesn’t work completely and only solves 50% or 30% or even 5% of the cases in the target areas. Would it be still be ok? I say yes. How many cases of blindness in poor Pakistani girls would it need to alleviate to get your stamp of approval?

    You might have some wonderful plan for a 100% solution to this problem with no downsides or risks that can be actually be put into practice more quickly than Golden Rice, but I seriously doubt it. All I have heard is Motherhood statements. It seems to me yet another case of rich people with excess nutrition and one of the world’s best health systems deciding that other people should suffer to suit their aesthetic preferences.

  8. Jim, my argument does not go like that. It is this:

    1. GM Rice is an imperfect and potentially expensive solution
    2. We have an existing solution that seems to work well
    3. Therefore we should test GM rice properly before diverting resources to it

    Statement 1 is not black and white fantasy thinking, in combination with 2 it is the standard approach taken to all public health interventions. Your answer (practical, minimal costs) doesn’t seem to match published studies, which suggest that bio-fortified foods may be more expensive than supplementation. There are several non-GMO crops being trialed now, and they do seem positive though a little more expensive but the key point is they are being tested.

    To get my stamp of approval GR would need to be a cost-effective alternative to the existing interventions, with effectiveness proven in field trials. I would also like to see that there is no serious effect on other (more significant) nutrient deficiencies. In particular, the model that Neil proposes seems to carry a risk of increasing the price of rice, which could lead to an increase in protein-energy deficiency, which is already significantly associated with VAD. So instead of curing blind Pakistani girls it might lead to more undernourished, blind Pakistani girls.

    Note that existing interventions for VAD rely on distribution of cheap or free supplementation, while the golden rice proposal relies on people switching food from one source to another. For those who have insecure nutrition this model won’t work, and it won’t work in areas with high levels of diarrhoea and inadequate breastfeeding.

    The thinking at play here is the same thinking that underlies claims that GMOs will solve world hunger. World hunger (and VAD) do not arise because we aren’t producing enough food, or enough food with vitamin A. It arises because some people cannot get access to food, and because adequate nutrition is not by itself sufficient where diarrhoea is widespread. There are new theories coming out now about the role of open defecation in creating community-wide malnutrition even where food is widely available. You can’t just hand wave these away and claim that GMOs will solve problems that have persisted throughout a 40 year green revolution.

    Neil, I wasn’t using wikipedia stats, but those from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (world recognized experts on measuring the burden of disease), and I wasn’t being cavalier – just pointing out that 1.4 million YLLs is not actually very much over 10 years in the context of the burden of undernutrition in India and the huge changes that have occurred there.

  9. For example, if you use the GBD Cause patterns tool, you can see the relative scale of attributable risks for different nutritional issues in India. You need to change settings: choose risk, number, select YLLs, type India for the location, and at the bottom choose year. Then on the right hand side deselect all the irrelevant risks, but keep unimproved sanitation, childhood underweight and inadequate breastfeeding. You can then see the attributable YLLs for different risks.

    In 1990
    VAD: 8.6 million
    Unimproved sanitation: 13 million
    Childhood underweight: 64 million
    Inadequate breastfeeding: 25 million

    (Note that the GBD project doesn’t yet handle the correlations between these risks, as far as I know)

    In 2010.
    VAD: 1.2 million
    Unimproved sanitation: 5 million
    Childhood underweight: 18 million
    Inadequate breastfeeding: 10 million

    VAD is fast on the road to being largely eliminated, and it’s likely that the last bit of it will not be fully eliminated until the other problems are further reduced.

    If you use the Heat Map tool you can see how the ranking of risks has changed. In 1990 in India VAD was ranked 10 and childhood underweight 1 (suboptimal breastfeeding 3 and sanitation 8). Now the ranking is 17 for VAD, 5 for childhood underweight, 10 for suboptimal breastfeeding and 13 for sanitation.

    Given the effectiveness of existing programs in eliminating this problem, it is really reckless to propose a more expensive alternative without proper testing and program consideration, and given the cluster of risks that affect all nutritional deficiencies in south Asia, it’s unlikely that a program based on simply changing the composition of products in the food market is going to work.

    Malnutrition is caused by environmental risks and inequality, not by the composition of the rice market.

  10. @Neil

    For the record, I am not anti-science, nor anti-genetic research in general nor anti-GMO in particular. When one advocates suitable precautions for an activity that does not mean that one is against that activity. Indeed, advocating precautions for an activity indicates a presumption that that activity can go ahead… with precautions. Thus the area of contention is about the level of the precautions and regulations not about the activity itself.

    Indeed, I would support greatly increased public funding for science education, pure research science and applied science at the laboratory trial and (isolated) field trial levels. This increase in funding would include extra funding for genetic research and GMOs. I would also support increased funding to assist with trials to meet compliance and regulation requirements. At the same time, I would support “competing” research into ramifying biological and ecological impacts (if any) of GMO and like technology. All such research should of course be open to peer review, replication studies, confirmation or refutation.

    Also, at the same time I would maintain stringent regulations and testing regimes for GMOs and like technologies on a strong precautionary principle. The principle “primum non nocere” or “first, do no harm” applies in medicine to human health and should also apply to ecological and biosphere health (on which human health is dependent). Certainly, there must be tolerance for error and uncertainty. No science is perfect, nor perfectly foresighted, nor without measurement error, nor without differential impacts.

    If testing regimes and regulations for other genetic techniques (mutagenesis) are lax or non-existent, this is no argument for making testing regimes and regulations for GMO lax or non-existent. Indeed, it is an argument for bringing regimes and regulations for other genetic techniques up to standard. The equation, by some GMO advocates, of scientific artificial genetic manipulation with natural breeding and human selection of traits is prima facie not valid. Some scientific artificial genetic manipulation techniques might constitute a marked qualitative change in inter-species gene transfer which might lead to effects not yet seen in nature. These are “mights” of course. However, our knowledge and experience is not yet advanced enough to answer these questions with certainty. Neither are these “mights” enough to justify stifling GMO research and even measured commercial application.

    As I say above, the pace of implementation must be slow and careful and as I have said elsewhere the motives of food corporations and the patenting of food genes must be viewed with great caution and concern.

    I am not cavalier about 1.4 million life years lost if that is the claim. This (potential years of life lost (PYLL)) is an interesting “construction”. I am assume this measure is chosen as it sounds more dramatic. If one divides by 35 years for each life lost (a modest assumption of life loss) then the number of premature deaths is 40,000. There would be many causes of premature death globally that resulted in 40,000 or more premature deaths. For example, global road fatalities are about 1,250,000 people. I could latch onto any one of these many causes of premature death and cavalierly accuse people of not caring about that particular issue because they don’t oppose or support some policy or other. It is the accusation of not caring which is cavalier. Most people care where they can and most care is proximal. Most can’t be aware of or care about everything in the world as that is impossible at a knowledge level, at an emotional level and at a practical response level.

    I could equally say this. As we don’t have perfect knowledge, widespread GMO use could cause some new attendant problem, for example more pesticide deaths from more pesticide use. “The World Health Organisation (WHO) says acute pesticide poisoning affects 3 million people and accounts for 20,000 unintentional deaths a year.” If this were doubled through GMO use, then another 20,000 unintentional deaths a year could occur. I could equally cavalierly accuse overzealous pro-GMO advocates of cavalierly not caring about this danger. The “cavalier game” is cavalier.

  11. @faustusnotes

    Correct. And if the local diet is deficient in fat then the beta-cartenes are not absorbed properly as they are lipophilic. Again, this goes to show that overzealous GMO advocates can be simplistic in their assessments and can assume that GMOs are a silver bullet without considering all attendant problems.

  12. re: YLLs, I put up a long comment that is in moderation because it has two links to the data visualizers at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. I reproduce here with the links removed …

    For example, if you use the GBD Cause patterns tool, you can see the relative scale of attributable risks for different nutritional issues in India. You need to change settings: choose risk, number, select YLLs, type India for the location, and at the bottom choose year. Then on the right hand side deselect all the irrelevant risks, but keep unimproved sanitation, childhood underweight and inadequate breastfeeding. You can then see the attributable YLLs for different risks.

    In 1990
    VAD: 8.6 million
    Unimproved sanitation: 13 million
    Childhood underweight: 64 million
    Inadequate breastfeeding: 25 million

    (Note that the GBD project doesn’t yet handle the correlations between these risks, as far as I know)

    In 2010.
    VAD: 1.2 million
    Unimproved sanitation: 5 million
    Childhood underweight: 18 million
    Inadequate breastfeeding: 10 million

    VAD is fast on the road to being largely eliminated, and it’s likely that the last bit of it will not be fully eliminated until the other problems are further reduced.

    If you use the Heat Map tool you can see how the ranking of risks has changed. In 1990 in India VAD was ranked 10 and childhood underweight 1 (suboptimal breastfeeding 3 and sanitation 8). Now the ranking is 17 for VAD, 5 for childhood underweight, 10 for suboptimal breastfeeding and 13 for sanitation.

    Given the effectiveness of existing programs in eliminating this problem, it is really reckless to propose a more expensive alternative without proper testing and program consideration, and given the cluster of risks that affect all nutritional deficiencies in south Asia, it’s unlikely that a program based on simply changing the composition of products in the food market is going to work.

    Malnutrition is caused by environmental risks and inequality, not by the composition of the rice market.

  13. Also Ikonoklast, YLLs are usually calculated using an ideal life expectancy of about 79 at birth, and most YLLs are lost to VAD near birth, so it’s better to divide that 1.4 million by about 70 to estimate the number of deaths that could have been averted. Even if the study used an actual Indian life table (i haven’t checked) you would still need to divide by something like 60, not 30.

    You can get deaths rather than YLLs from the IHME visualizers, but it might be better to use DALYs (which include disability) because as the war on VAD ramps up it’s likely death will decline faster than disability.

  14. Sgh. knclst hds bhnd th fg lf f th prctnry prncpl t spprt hs nt-gm bs. Snc th nly mss dth vnt n rcnt yrs n th wst lnkd t grcltr rc s 50 dd dths rltd t fcs cntmmtd rgnc sprts ‘m wndrng why rgnc fd gts th bl yd by trtmnt.

    Th slly smr bt gm bng rltd t ncrsd pstcd dths rks f mrl pnc. n fct t hs bn wdly rprtd tht n f th rsns why nrly ll ndn cttn frmrs prfr GM btcttn s bcs thy ndn’t spnd s mch tm n hz f pstcds.

    ‘m ls stndd by knclsts gnrnc f mtgnss. t hs bn wdly rprtd fr yrs tht sd cmpns hv rmpd p mtgnss s n nntndd cnsqnc f GM scrmngng. Thnks, lns.

    t th nd f th dy, n rn lw f hstry s tht whn th nt-cptlst lft gt thr hnds n grcltr, ppl d n thr drvs. Qggn’s cngrgnts r mch mr scry thn cpl f nt-vx flk.

  15. @faustusnotes

    I initially thought of using 70 but then thought I might be attacked by the GMO zealots for doing that so I chose a very conservative 35 to avoid such an attack. I suspected all along I was being over-conservative.

  16. paul, there are scientific concerns about the spread of herbicide resistance and its potential effect on yields. See for example the collaborative efforts of states using roundup ready soybeans to fight resistance. From one of their publications:

    Glyphosate has been heavily relied upon for weed management since the introduction of Roundup Ready soybeans in 1996. This widespread use has resulted in the selection of GR biotypes throughout Iowa. Now that resistant biotypes are present, the spread of GR across the
    landscape is probably greater due to gene flow rather than the independent selection of resistant biotypes. This is due to the low initial frequency of glyphosate resistance within weed populations.

    I guess it’s anti-science to quote the research work of experts in the field, right?

    Agricultural interventions can have unexpected effects, such as the growth of DDT-resistance that rendered DDT useless in the control of malaria vectors. It’s worthwhile considering the potential impacts (ie applying some form of precautionary principle) before rolling it out. This hardly seems like a controversial or radical idea to me, and it certainly doesn’t represent the “anti-capitalist left” getting their hands on agriculture.

  17. @paul keating

    Sigh, paul keating continues his excessive pro-GMO zealotry hiding behind the fig-leaf of being “pro-science” when he clearly understands little about science and its applications at all.

    He says, “Since the only mass death event in recent years in the west linked to agriculture iirc is 50 odd deaths related to faeces contamimated organic sprouts I’m wondering why organic food gets the blue eyed boy treatment.” This is cherry-picking of data. Though I should say I am not a particular supporter of so-called “organic” food in some of its more ludicrous claims.

    The WHO reports; “Unintentional poisonings kill an estimated 355,000 people globally each year (1). In developing countries – where two thirds of these deaths occur – such poisonings are associated strongly with excessive exposure to, and inappropriate use of, toxic chemicals. In many such settings, toxic chemicals may be emitted directly into soil, air, and water – from industrial processes, pulp and paper plants, tanning operations, mining, and unsustainable forms of agriculture – at levels or rates well in excess of those tolerable to human health (2,3,4).”

    Many of the poisons in question are agricultural chemicals and agricultural pesticides. So any cherry-picked claims about agricultural deaths “mass” or “multiple singular” being linked only to “organic” food are absurd.

    Anyway, I can see that paul keating is part of the loony right who don’t understand science in its complexity nor in its complex relation with the political economy. Rather they hold that oligarchs and corporations should be able to use science in any way they see fit to increase profits without concern for other humans, other animals (and plants), the ecology, the biosphere or long term sustainability. The blind rush for instant commercialisation and immediate profits must in their judgement trump every other concern.

    Footnote: funny story about “organic” claims.

    My standard response to claims about “organic” food is that all foods are organic. They are all based on molecules containing carbon.

    I was watching a TV documentary many moons ago about so-called “organic foods”. A woman being interviewed claimed her dog was organic too as it ate organic foods. Her exact words were “My dog is organic.” I burst out laughing and said to my wife: “I’d love to see an inorganic dog. What would it be made out of? Brass? It would be a sculpture.”

    Second Footnote:

    “There is no single “official” definition of an organic compound. Some textbooks define an organic compound as one that contains one or more C-H bonds. Others include C-C bonds in the definition. Others state that if a molecule contains carbon?it is organic.[citation needed]

    Even the broader definition of “carbon-containing molecules” requires the exclusion of carbon-containing alloys (including steel), a relatively small number of carbon-containing compounds such as metal carbonates and carbonyls, simple oxides of carbon and cyanides, as well as the allotropes of carbon and simple carbon halides and sulfides, which are usually considered inorganic.” – Wikepedia (“The People’s Encyclopedia”).

  18. John, the NZ Green MP’s call for homoeopathic solutions to Ebola last November. As observed at the time by an astute John Armstrong in the New Zealand Herald:

    As the 60-year-old backbencher soon discovered, the party hierarchy is no longer tolerant of MPs who hand detractors an excuse to paint them as still being as wacky as ever.

    Browning was told to retract his thoughts and musings forthwith to stop them gaining momentum in the media. He followed that up with an admission that he had been “unwise” to have signed an Australian-based petition plugging a homeopathic solution to the pandemic.

    When Browning entered Parliament in 2011, there had been hopes his track record in campaigning for food safety would see him fill the role opened up by the retirement of the unflinching, uncompromising and hugely media-savvy Sue Kedgley, one of the party’s greatest assets.

    For reasons inexplicable to me, the green MP who retired, Sue Kedgley, gave a speech linking vaccinations to autism was nonetheless looked upon as an asset to the party.

    I do not use Australian examples because their are paywalls on most Australian newspapers these days. Hard to keep up because of that.

  19. @Jim Rose

    Well, homeopathy is quackery. It’s as simple as that. Claims linking vaccinations to autism are probably quackery too in most cases. There may be the very rare case where vaccination has caused autism but I am not aware of any confirmed cases as a layperson who internet surfs. The benefits of vaccination (properly regulated, controlled, administered and tested) far outweigh the dangers.

    Claims that GMO science is known to be totally or substantially unsafe are also quackery. We simply don’t know yet in detail. GMO might well be safe in most cases but it needs to be properly regulated, tested, controlled and administered on a case by case basis. There should be no rush to commercialisation and widespread application. The speed of progress on Golden Rice testing and implementation seems about the right speed to me.

    I cannot find any data on current commercial tonnages of Golden Rice. Its commercial promoters complain a lot about being impeded but they decided not to grow it commercially in the developed world and they washed their hands of actually seriously promoting it anywhere else (no profit for them). If the Humanitarian Board for Golden Rice has made little progress, one could mainly blame developed world governments for not aiding the project enough… you know the governments who put corporate interests and endless war ahead of everything else.

  20. @Jim Rose

    homoeopathic solutions to Ebola! That really is a bit much I agree. What do you recommend we should do to The Greens for this egregious piece of anti-science? Ban the whole lot of them because anti-science?

    Did you know that Paul Sheehan, the journalist – using the term loosely here – was an advocate of the magic water?

    Apparently in April 2002 this magic water featured on the cover of the Herald’s Good Weekend magazine (claimed readership 1.8 million) under the headline “Miracle Water? Can something as simple as this mineral-rich water really combat arthritis, fatigue and osteoporosis … help you live longer?”

    That article was by Paul Sheehan, a devotee of homeopathy who believes it helped him to health after suffering from a “constellation of auto-immune diseases” and that endorsement by Sheehan – and the five other people, one dog and one cat (deceased) whom he cited in the article as having benefited from the water – was picked up by the TV networks and triggered a gold rush for the manufacturer of what was then called Unique Water.

    But perhaps this was not a silly anti-science brain fart and was just good marketing by Sheehan, like he had shares in the Unique Magic Water company or something, and so he was really creating wealth and maximising those profits that trickle down. That would be okay with you I suppose?

  21. @Jim Rose

    I’m uninterested in the craziness of minor parties in other countries. Paywalls don’t stop me from finding out that nearly all the senior figures in the Liberal and National parties in Australia are anti-science loons, or else choose to pander to such loons. You know this as well as I do, which is why you are searching desperately for a tu quoque

  22. Sue Kedgley’s views on vaccination and autism appear to stem from an unfortunate incident with her own child, and have a lot to do with mercury – a debate of course that was kept going by Wakefield’s Lancet paper. Kedgley also seems to have a bit of a boner going on for vaccine side-effects in general, her comments on Gardasil being suggestive of a general over-willingness of Greens to engage the precautionary principle. She seems to be quite good on sunbeds, though, for example.

  23. But perhaps this was not a silly anti-science brain fart and was just good marketing by Sheehan, like he had shares in the Unique Magic Water company or something, and so he was really creating wealth and maximising those profits that trickle down. That would be okay with you I suppose?

    Nice pun!

  24. @Jim Birch
    You seem to have confirmed my analysis by presenting hopeful arguments and irrelevant factoids.

    I’m not arguing that VAD is increasing. I’m not arguing that diarrhea, other forms of malnutrition, or whatever, are not problems. I’m not even arguing that Golden Rice must be the solution, will 100% solve the problem, or whatever. I’m not saying that the problem can never be solved by other means. What I am saying is that it is an available option that, for a variety of reasons, looks likely to help and is certainly worth trying. OTOH, the reasons for avoiding it are irrational and unscientific. I am not demanding that some poor farmers somewhere must use Golden Rice. I’m happy to them to choose based on their production and the the health of their families. You are not.

    You say GM products may be more expensive. This sounds like wishful thinking but in any case the obvious implication of this statement is that it may not. Why not find out? Guess what: if the first adopters don’t like it, they will switch back and the whole thing will be over.

    GM has technology been used for decades without new types of disasters or significant problems. Biological analysis suggest that GM products are likely at least or more safe than other forms of breeding. Major scientific organisations have OKed it. (Are they part of some kind of weird conspiracy like is claimed of climate scientists by some climate denialists?) Why does this need repeating?

    Imagine what we would hear if anti-GM campaigners actually had a real GM-attributable disaster to point to. Instead they rely on shaky long-winded “what-if” arguments, irrelevant factoids, misrepresentations, outright lies, and top it off with some spooky stuff that belongs in a Harry Potter films. Like Creationism, it is a emotional fixed belief in a search of supporting evidence, not the result of a free enquiry. Religion rather than science. You have not demonstrated otherwise.

  25. Funny Jim. I present evidence for my statements: links to the world experts on assessing disease burden, links to a scientific network devoted to researching the environmental impact of GMOs for the benefit of farmers, quotes from their research, and links to papers assessing the risk factors for VAD as well as cost-effectiveness analyses of potential GMO interventions. You dismiss these as “hopeful arguments” and “irrelevant factoids”, and in their place you offer – nothing. No scientifically supported information of any kind.

    But *I’m* the one who has the religious thinking and “spooky stuff that belongs in a Harry Potter film”. You’ve given literally no evidence of any kind here, just blather, and yet you think you’re scientific.

    Just like the DDT crowd. What a waste of time.

  26. I agree that we should use 70, since a lot of the dead are children and infants. So where does that leave the body count? 20,000?

    No professional organization involved with agriculture uses “natural breeding” anymore, it’s too slow and inefficient. There is nothing “natural” about any method on that list I provided.

    “Doing no harm” sounds fine in theory, but the end result of the plan to “bringing regimes and regulations for other genetic techniques up to standard“ would be to surrender complete control of our food supply to the Monsantos of the world. The main reason why the majority of commercialized rDNA crops have come from Monsanto (and the rest of the ag-bio corporations) is because they have the deep pockets required to overcome the expense of deregulation. There are many, many rDNA agricultural products – products that have direct benefit to consumers and/or the environment – languishing in the basements of public universities around the world because of the expense and time required for deregulation. And now you want to make all methods that expensive, even those methods that we have been using since the start of the Green Revolution in the 1950s.

    At the end of the day all these crop breeding methods are nothing but tools used in the construction of a product. The tool gives you little-to-no information about the safety of the product or its effect on the environment. For that you need to review the product on a case-by-case basis based on the function of the product, not the tool used to assemble it. When you do that, it makes sense that low-risk, humanitarian uses of a particular tool should have little-to-no regulation or else you end up doing harm.

    If you want to educate yourself on GM issues I’d suggest talking to Prof Jim Dale at QUT (his group is working on Golden Bananas), Prof Pamela Ronald (UC Davis), Prof Margaret Smith (Cornell), Prof Kevin Folta (University of Florida) or the folks at Biology Fortified.

  27. Neil, please engage with the science. I have given you evidence. You are responding with assertions and normative statements (“it makes sense to…”, for example).

    The introduction of roundup ready in the USA has been directly linked – by agricultural scientists, not “the anti-capitalist left” – with the spread of herbicide resistant weeds. This is a harm. It’s a fact, that was predicted by environmentalists before roundup ready was introduced. The harm is manageable but it now affects farmers not using roundup ready (see the scientific material i linked to). Glyphosate resistance is now widespread in American farms. GMOs have real and sometimes unexpected consequencs for the environment that need to be monitored. Even if Golden Rice was free of regulatory barriers, as are some other products being tested in e.g. Zambia, it would still need to go through effectiveness and cost-effectiveness trials. As it stands, there is no evidence that it would work or be cost-effective, and strong evidence that an existing intervention has nearly eliminated the problem you are so concerned about. Until you engage directly with this science, you need to accept that Golden Rice is a distraction.

    GMOs are not the solution to world hunger. They are a boutique product to enhance agribusiness profits. While these businesses may have a case for regulatory reform, couching it in terms of solving world hunger is misleading and cynical.

  28. @Ikonoclast
    If we have to wait for your ideal political economy to exist before action on real human problems can take place we are crazy. The fact that you still want to tie GMO to ME wars is a clear indication of fluffy thinking. It is extraneous. Corporations are going to be around, and continuing doing something like what they do now, for some time. The US government will continue to do seriously crazy things. We might as well take a piecemeal approach and solve some real problems while waiting for the golden age.

    The green movement (in general) has and continues to conduct a campaign against GM that is unscientific and unreasonable from a risk management perspective. (VAD induced blindness is a risk too.) Whether Green propaganda is the “primary” cause – or a secondary cause – for the non-implementation of GR is a rhetorical issue. In either case it doesn’t justify their actions. The fact is that it is a significant factor and it is shoddy.

    No one claims that GR is a magic bullet, I don’t know you keep saying this. The contrary claim, that has been made here, that it is useless, is equally ludicrous.

    Likewise I don’t claim that there are no risks with GM products. The question is whether they are better or worse than alternatives. All introduced species alter ecosystems. Farming, especially row farming trashes the pre-existing “natural” environment. Plants in general are loaded with natural insecticides that impact ecosystems. If this stuff is allowed with attendant costs, benefits and risks is it reasonable to stop GM plants on the basis of relatively tiny absolute risks where significant upsides are present? Applying the risk aversion standards you want to set for GM would lock in current crops and farming techniques indefinitely.

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