Junk science

An Epidemic of Bad Epidemiology

Getting Risk Right is a potent antidote to the toxic misinformation peddled by activist scaremongers



Getting Risk Right: Understanding the Science of Elusive Health Risks, by Geoffrey Kabat, Columbia University Press, 248 pp., $35.00

Eating bacon and ham four times a week could make asthma symptoms worse. Drinking hot coffee and tea may cause cancer of the esophagus. South Africa's minister of health warns that doggy-style sex is a major cause of stroke and cancer in men. And those claims are just drawn from the health headlines this week.

The media inundate us daily with studies that seem show modern life is increasingly risky. Most of those stories must be false, given that life expectancy for American men and women respectively has risen from 71.8 and 78.8 years in 1990 to 76.3 and 81.1 years now. Apparently, we are suffering through an epidemic of bad epidemiology.

When it comes to separating the wheat of good public health research from the chaff of studies that are mediocre or just plain bad, Albert Einstein College of Medicine epidemiologist Geoffrey Kabat is a national treasure. "Most research findings are false or exaggerated, and the more dramatic the result, the less likely it is to be true," he declares in his excellent new book Getting Risk Right. Kabat's earlier book, the superb Hyping Health Risks, thoroughly dismantled the prevalent medical myths that man-made chemicals, electromagnetic fields, radon, and passive smoking were significant causes of such illnesses as cancer and heart disease. His new book shows how scientific research, particularly epidemiology, so often goes wrong—and, importantly, how hard it is for it to go right.

Kabat first reminds readers that finding a correlation between phenomena X and Y does not mean that X causes Y. Nevertheless many researchers are happy to overinterpret such findings to suggest causation. "If researchers can slip into this way of interpreting and presenting results of their studies," observes Kabat, "it becomes easier to understand how journalists, regulators, activists of various stripes, self-appointed health gurus, promoters of health-related foods and products, and the public can make the unwarranted leap that the study being reported provides evidence of a causal relationship and therefore is worthy of our interest."

From there he moves to some principles that must be kept in mind when evaluating studies. First and foremost is the toxicological maxim that the dose makes the poison. The more exposure to a toxin, the greater the harm. Potency matters greatly too. Often very sensitive assays show that two different compounds can bind to same receptors in the body, but what really matters biologically is how avidly and how strongly one binds compared to the other.

Another principle: Do not confuse hazard, a potential source of harm, with risk, the likelihood that exposure to the hazard will cause harm. Consider bacon. The influential International Agency for Research on Cancer declared bacon a hazard for cancer last year, but the agency does not make risk assessments. Eating two slices of bacon per day is calculated to increase your lifetime risk of colorectal cancer from 5 to 6 percent. Put that way, I suspect most people would continue to enjoy cured pork products.

Kabat also argues that an editorial bias skews the scientific literature toward publishing positive results suggesting harms. Such findings, he notes, get more attention from other researchers, regulators, journalists, and activists. Ever since Rachel Carson's 1962 book Silent Spring wrongly linked cancer to exposures to trace amounts of pesticides, the American public has been primed to blame external causes rather than personal behaviors for their health problems. Unfortunately, as Kabat notes, the existence of an alarmed and sensitized public is all too useful to scientists and regulators. He quotes an honest but incautious remark in the air pollution researcher Robert Phalen's testimony to the California Air Resources Board: "It benefits us personally to have the public be afraid, even if these risks are trivial."

Kabat suggests that the precautionary principle—"better safe than sorry"—is largely an ideological ploy to alarm the public into supporting advocate's policy preferences. He also decries "the simplistic notion that the 'consensus among scientists' is always correct." He notes that the scientific consensus once held that ulcers were caused by spicy foods and stress instead of bacteria, and that estrogen-progestin therapy protected post-menopausal women against heart disease instead of increasing their risk of breast cancer. "The history of medical science is littered with long-held dogmas that, when confronted by better evidence, turned out to be wrong," Kabat observes.

Kabat then offers two case studies in how epidemiology has been misused. The first involves cell phones. After a couple of decades of research, the bulk of epidemiological evidence has found that cell phones have not increased the incidence of brain cancer, although a recent experiment reported that exposure to cell tower radio waves for nine hours per day boosted cancer in male, but not female, rats. Despite the overwhelming evidence that cell phones are safe to use, the city council of Berkeley, California succumbed to activist scaremongering and passed an ordinance last year requiring cell phone retailers to warn consumers not to carry their cell phones in pants or shirt pockets or tucked into bras.

Kabat's second example involves "endocrine disruption," an idea attributing ill effects to man-made substances, such as the plastic softener Bisphenol A (BPA), that supposedly mimic the behavior of hormones like estrogen and testosterone. Exposure to such substances has allegedly produced epidemics of lower sperm quality and hypospadias, in which the opening of the urethra is on the underside of the penis.


This hypothesis developed after the discovery that women who took therapeutic doses of the synthetic estrogen DES to prevent miscarriages were associated with higher risk of vaginal cancer in their daughters. To make a long story short, BPA also binds with estrogen receptors, but the amount of DES to which people were exposed was 100,000 times greater than average BPA exposure today. On top of that, BPA's potency is 10,000 times lower than that DES, which means that the estrogenic effects of current exposures to BPA is 1 billion times lower than the exposures to DES that were associated with increased risks of cancer.

In the face of such minuscule exposures and weak effects, proponents of the endocrine-disruption theory throw away the maxim that the dose makes the poison. Instead, they propose the novel notion that small doses might actually have bigger effects than larger doses. They even claim to have experiments to prove this. Unfortunately, nobody outside of their insular world has been able to replicate their studies. In a 2013 review article, a group of toxicologists damningly concluded, "Taking into account the large resources spent on this topic, one should expect that, in the meantime, some endocrine disruptors that cause actual human injury or disease should have been identified." Yet "with the exception of natural or synthetic hormones, not a single, man-made chemical endocrine disruptor has been identified that poses an identifiable, measurable risk to human health."

What about falling sperm counts and the alleged increase in deformed penises? Kabat reports that the research has not actually found that sperm counts are down. A 2010 review concluded that "the epidemiologic data on this issue amassed to date clearly demonstrates that the bulk of evidence refutes claims for an increase in hypospadias rates."

Turning from the cell phone and endocrine disruption scares, Kabat shows how good epidemiology can identify the real causes of real diseases. He traces how researchers linked renal failure in Belgian women to a Chinese herbal weight loss concoction mistakenly adulterated with the Aristolochia plant, which contains a toxin peculiarly damaging to kidneys. An American researcher then connected the Belgian cases to an epidemic of renal failure among farmers in the Balkans. It turns out that the farmers ate bread made from their own wheat, which was grown in fields infested with Aristolochia.

Kabat also recounts how researchers determined that human papilloma virus (HPV) is the chief cause of cervical cancer. This process began when a physician in the 1960s figured out that a type of lymphoma afflicting African children must be associated with some infectious disease. Kabat traces the epidemiological and experimental work that led to the finding that HPV causes about 5 percent of all cancers in the world. A woman infected with HPV is at a 100- to 500-fold greater risk of getting cervical cancer than a woman without such an infection. (By comparison, a smoker is at a 20- to 50-fold greater risk for lung cancer than a nonsmoker.) Thanks to these discoveries, there is now a vaccine that can prevent this scourge. Given the risks, any parent who does not have his or her children vaccinated against HPV is a fool.

"As we have seen," concludes Kabat, "the landscape in which health risks are studied and in which findings are disseminated is pervaded by false claims, oversold results, biases operating at the level of observational studies as well as psychological and cognitive biases, and professional and political agendas." Getting Risk Right is a potent antidote to the toxic misinformation polluting our public health discourse.

NEXT: George Bailey's Revenge

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  1. A twitch within the margin of error of occurances that happen very rarely can cause a 150% jump in probability while still not being significant. But they will report the big scary number for the revenues.

  2. If you assume that any health threat that is only supported by epidemiology is pigswill, you won’t be wrong often enough to matter.

    1. Not exactly; John Snow, the 19th century British epidemiologist, discovered the transmission mechanism for cholera and successfully implemented policies that ended cholera outbreak well before anyone knew about microbes causing the disease.

      Nowadays, there’s a selection bias: the most tenable epidemiological hypotheses tend to get wet lab scientists to test them and determine the mechanism, while the more iffy ones get ignored or, when tested, negated, but persist nonetheless due to negative results in general being ignored.

      1. And they say he knows nothing…

    2. Epidemiology is for mortals. Pfffttt.

  3. Holy fuck-balls, a new thread. Thank you for this Christmas gift, Ron!

    1. We can’t go mucking this one up like…

      Why am I bothering, we muck up all the threads.

      1. Who the hell is “we”? I do nothing but bring the class.

        And anal/poop jokes. Nothing classier than that.

  4. doggy-style sex is a major cause of stroke and cancer in men.

    The CDC is THE authority on epidemiology and dog sex

    1. Kimberly Lindsey, 44, a deputy director at CDC, is charged with child molestation and bestiality for two incidences involving a 6-year-old child.

      The real crime, against the English language.

      1. Depends on if he used his feets or foofus, yes?

      2. In fairness. they might mean that there were two periods of time in which Lindsey had different probabilities of doggy-diddling and kiddy-cuddling. When it comes to bureaucratic statements I never attribute to illiteracy that which is adequately explained by a desire to obfuscate, and vice-versa. They are two different (though not mutually exclusive) phenomena with substantially different incidents.

    2. Actually Kimberly Quinlan was acquitted in 2016
      acquitted news

    3. http://www.ajc.com/news/crime-…..SO3RRpMML/

      I had a feeling that story was BS

  5. The German truck driver was a refugee. If only the Germans had used the magic vetting wand reason is so sure exists.


    1. Not only that he was on a list of the 500 or so most dangerous “refugees”. He was a known quantity.

      1. Apparently he did a 4-year stint in the poke with the Eye-Ties for arson at some point, also. German efficiency my fucking arse.

        1. Italy put him in prison, then shot him today.

          When the Italians make your national security look incompetent, run for your life.

          1. Don’t forget, he was looking suspicious when they decided to ask him for some ID.

            I wonder how that is going to fly when Reason sicks the Ferguson excuse making team on it?

        2. For burning down a refugee center. Talk about ingratitude!

          1. No shit? I didn’t catch that part. Man what an asshole.

    2. I thought they did identify him as a radical but didn’t do anything since Tunisia wouldn’t take him back.

      1. Drop him off on the shore of Tunisia and sail away.

        1. Or off the shore of Tunisia, either way.

          1. That’s the second time around.

            Third time is out the back of a plane instead of a boat…

            1. Third time is a helicopter, like in “Scarface” …

      2. I think it is at least in part the same problem every time. The authorities are so scared of losing their careers by looking politically incorrect, they never crack down even on horrible and dangerous people. They are too scared a Guardian or Spiegel writer will give them or their district heat for being politically incorrect, and thereby end their career in the bureaucracy, that they prefer to let their citizenry be raped or blown up.

        1. It is dumbfounding that a political and bureaucratic culture could even exist that encourages such behavior. I realize the Germans have Nazi derangement syndrome, but punishing people for serious crimes and deporting criminal foreigners do not exactly make for the next holocaust.

          1. That’s not how the Guardian sees it.

            1. Somebody should tell them that the “The Who Cried Wolf” is a parable not an instruction manual.

              1. The Who Cried Wolf

                It’s one of those “long-lost” albums that got buried in a record studio archive.

                1. It was also the title of Dr. Suess’s worst book.

      3. They keep calling him a “lone wolf.” Some analyst on the TV uses a better term: “Known Wolf.”

        I know, that one will get into the Reason style guide right after “illegal alien.”

    3. They just don’t give a shit. If the people want to be safe, they’ll have to deal with terrorists themselves.

      1. It will come to that soon. Especially since the vigilance the supposed “proper authorites” have stepped up is “against islamophobia” instead of against murderers and rapists.

        1. 1. Take away the means of self-defense, but promise to provide security
          2. Fail to provide said security and actively restrict attempts to obtain it
          3. ???
          4. Profit!

          These people seem to forget that they are in charge of democracies, not autocracies.

          1. I knew it! It’s the underpants gnomes!

          2. Yes, everyone should get their bulldozers backs. For self-defense against a bus

      2. Pretty much and they are going to start doing just that. Fuck you die so Muslims can roam free is not answer people are going to take for long.

        1. They may not, but then they’ll be surprised by how swift and powerful western security agency can be when they want. And that is exactly what politicians and cops dream of – a native response they can really crack down, smear opposition with and use it to tuck away all the Badly Behaved Diversity they’d rather not speak of.
          E.g. Dylan Roof vs San Bernardino reaction.

      3. They give a shit about cashing their paychecks.

        They sound just like my local police. I am so on the verge of making “Drive Around, Cash A Check” stickers for their cars.

  6. South Africa’s minister of health warns that doggy-style sex is a major cause of stroke and cancer in men.

    This is why I only make sex missionary-style, under a blanket, in a darkened room.

    Safety first, people.

    1. See, and I thought you did that so that your partner didn’t run away screaming because of the boils.

      1. Do you really think they’re conscious when Crusty gets to them?

        1. What was it that Dahmer did to make his victims compliant? Inject acid into their brains?

    2. Through a hole in the sheet?

    3. This is why I only make sex missionary-style, under a blanket, in a darkened room.


      1. Like he said: safety first. Of course, if anybody could catch an STD from themselves, it’s Crusty.

    4. South Africa

      Maybe the South African AIDS denialists think doggy style sex is a cause of AIDS too.

      1. South Africa’s Ministry of Health has been a joke since at least the end of Apartheid. Who would think that appointing ANC flunkies into every government office might have tangible consequences?

      2. Are they like the American AIDS denialists who said there was no link between HIV and AIDS?

    5. Some of us don’t have the luxury of having a lady who’s face we’re not afraid to look at.

      When the CDC convinces ugly chicks that they should where paper bags on their heads during sex, then I’ll consider missionary again.

  7. Another principle: Do not confuse hazard, a potential source of harm, with risk, the likelihood that exposure to the hazard will cause harm. Consider bacon. The influential International Agency for Research on Cancer declared bacon a hazard for cancer last year, but the agency does not make risk assessments. Eating two slices of bacon per day is calculated to increase your lifetime risk of colorectal cancer from 5 to 6 percent. Put that way, I suspect most people would continue to enjoy cured pork products.

    Duh doy.

    What about falling sperm counts and the alleged increase in deformed penises? Kabat reports that the research has not actually found that sperm counts are down. A 2010 review concluded that “the epidemiologic data on this issue amassed to date clearly demonstrates that the bulk of evidence refutes claims for an increase in hypospadias rates.”

    *wipes brow*

      1. You ARE a Prog (MJG)|12.23.16 @ 2:13PM|#
        “Can’t get lower than zero.”


    1. Makes me want to go back to the mid-50s and make a sci-fi movie about radiation making giant sperms that go on a rampage through NYC trying to impregnate the Statute of Liberty.

        1. Because back in the mid-50s Gojira would not have had to share a bathroom with a colored man, or listen to mouthy dame’s plea for affection.

          1. I only don’t want to share the bathroom with them because they shame me with their enormous African penises.

        2. Because it has to star John Agar.

          1. And be directed by Bert I Gordon, one of the MST3K saints?

            1. You read my mind.

              Or if we want it to be really fucked up, Hershel Gordon Lewis.

  8. Unlike some things of late, this is an example of a peaceful protest: http://www.breitbart.com/londo…..-nativity/

    I wonder what this bodes for her party’s electoral chances next time around (or if it will have been forgotten)

    1. Carmena raised eyebrows in September when she celebrated 100 migrants jumping a fence from Morocco to enter Spanish territory illegally, saying of the migrants: “We want them to come with us and we really want them, dear friends, because they are the best, the bravest.

      “The history of humanity is full of the great wealth that race-mixing and migration brings.”

      Damn, Trump-speak has infected Europe! Or at least its begoateed mirror universe version.

      1. To be fair, this is Spain, the country that crippled its financial sector by kicking out the Jews and spending all that sweet, sweet Mesoamerican gold on killing the Orangies.

        1. And after they spent seven hundred years getting Islam out the first time around, you’d think they’d be more hesitant about letting it back in.

          1. +1 cave of Covadanga

          2. LIke Hungary and Poland? EU would be very, very, very upset with them.
            Besides, they need those migrants. Their youth unemployment rate has cratered to mere 43.6%.

            1. Spain is going for the ultimate immigration solution: Fuck the country up so badly people start going the other direction.

      2. She might be within reach of being right if these immigrants adopted Spandex sh law as enthusiastically as the Franks adopted Roman law.

  9. “The history of medical science is littered with long-held dogmas that, when confronted by better evidence, turned out to be wrong,” Kabat observes.

    Everything in science needs to be revised given new evidence that contradicts what we knew before.

    That doesn’t mean the scientific consensus isn’t important. The scientific consensus reflects all previous revisions.

    It just means that there’s a difference between the scientific consensus and the absolute truth.

    We’re all subject to perspective, and so is the scientific consensus. The truth, on the other hand, is what it is regardless of how or whether we perceive it. The confusion comes from people conflating the terms “science” and “truth”. The scientific truth is necessarily falsifiable and its conclusions are necessarily uncertain to some extent–however small.

    But pointing out the uncertainty inherent in science is like pointing out the wetness of water. It shouldn’t be a revelation to anybody that the scientific consensus can be challenged with new data that contradicts the consensus. On the other hand, no one should expect to get much attention for challenging the scientific consensus without any data handy that contradicts the consensus either.

    1. It’s a revelation to the so-called skeptic community. The only thing those assholes are skeptical of is astrology and sky daddies.

      1. I think the skeptic community is right to call bullshit on scientists who are making supposedly scientific observations about what amount to qualitative issues.

        Whether and how much people should be willing to sacrifice their quality of life and standard of living is simply not a scientific question, and anyone who presents “science” as if it has an answer to that question rightly deserves the ridicule of stupid rednecks.

  10. The biggest problems come from people (sometimes scientists) doing advocacy that’s masquerading as science. Whether the polar bears will be extinct in 40 years is a scientific question. Much of what we hear, however, is about whether we should make sacrifices to save the polar bears–which isn’t a scientific question at all.

    Yeah, whether bacon increases the chances of cancer is a scientific question, but whether I should deprive myself of what I like to eat in order to avoid cancer is a question only I can answer. We could say it isn’t a scientific question at all, or we might say that every individual has a PhD in his or her own qualitative preferences.

    When scientists try to impose their own personal preferences on the rest of us from above, though, they are not behaving as scientists–any more than they are when they get down on their knees and pray. Most of the problems I hear today aren’t about science per se–it’s about people we call scientists behaving unscientifically.

    If results aren’t reproducible, for instance, that doesn’t mean the science is bad. Maybe the publication’s editors are bad. For something to be science, the results should be reproducible. Maybe the scientists are bad. If someone is publishing peer reviewed results that can’t be reproduced, then we’re looking at a failure of certain individuals–not science.

    1. A still hold that peer review should involve the peer attempting to replicate the results of the experiment and adding their own data to the final output presented to the public.

      If your ‘study’ is such that it cannot be reproduced in such a manner, it should not get such a stamp of authority.

      1. [I] still hold that peer review should involve the peer attempting to replicate the results of the experiment and adding their own data to the final output presented to the public.

        I like this idea. At the very least, people should treat “peer review” with no more credence than a book being sent to the editor for minor corrections. Unless and until the study has been thoroughly replicated, it is just “somebody said this happened”.

      2. How would you do it with 5 year study? I mean, you can get the questionnaires and work out the percentages yourself, you can look at the questions and reported answers, but how would you replicate it?

        1. I think the idea of peer replication is untenable. However what can be done is some scientists can actively try to replicate the headline findings that just came out to confirm or dispute them. The idea is that every major finding should be replicated at least once.

          The problem is that unless the original finding was false, all the glory goes to the original discoverer. No one wants to be a second string researcher. So unless scientist B is working on the same problem as scientist A and has a competing hypothesis, when scientist A publishes his finding, B has no reason to try to replicate them.

          Perhaps each field should have. ‘Journal of Replication’ that solely publishes research replicating already published findings.

          1. by ‘publication’, we mean something more akin to yelp than a journal? Here’s a catalog of experiments detailing the setups, users conduct them and attach their results to the entry, then a rating for how well submitted results agree with the original. More real-time than a periodical.

            1. Actually, something like a database of results may be what’s needed. They’re already are such things for highly structured data. For example, when you sequence a cancer or discover a new gene or determine the structure of a protein, you are suppose to upload it to the appropriate data bank (e.g., the Protein Data Bank for protein structures), which is publicly available for all to see, and replicate if they choose to see if you’re right. Some journals (fortunately) will only accept papers that agree to make their DNA sequencing data publicly available so if they screw up, anyone who bothers to look at the database can find out.

              The big issue is, most scientific papers’ conclusions aren’t as ‘structured’ as simply positing that ‘this is the sequence of this gene in mice’ or whatever. It’s often some complicated relationship between many variables that can’t be so easily logged in a database. Doesn’t mean it’s impossible though.

        2. questionnaires + another 5 years + another group of people = replicated. Did I misunderstand the question?

          1. So do a 5 year study, send results in, then wait 5 more years to be published so your results can even be discussed by other scientists?

            That sounds less efficient than current FDA approval process!

            1. If you’re trying to track something over the course of years, there’s really no way around it taking years.

              I bet you’re the kind of guy who tapes a 30min workout then plays it at doubletime to get it done in 15mins.

          2. Alternatively, the longer and more costly the study, the more care the researchers should take to make sure they are fully transparent the first time. Just making all the data publicly available will be enough to allow other scientists to see if they screwed up the analysis.

            You don’t necessarily have to replicate the data; just replicating the analysis (perhaps employing different methods) can help determine how robust the conclusion is.

            But yeah, no one’s likely to spend millions of dollars to redo the decades long Framingham Heart Study just to most likely find out that ‘yeah, what they said the first time, was actually right.’

            The Framingham study is an interesting and exceptional example though. It’s basically a perpetually ongoing study where new data is collected every year and occasionally someone writes a paper on what new findings there are.

      3. “If your ‘study’ is such that it cannot be reproduced in such a manner, it should not get such a stamp of authority.”

        Why aren’t the universities taking this into account?

        Part of it must be expectations at the universities.

        To get a PhD, you’re supposed to add something to the field. It isn’t just science; they have a problem with graduate students submitting absurd ideas for consideration simply because they’re novel. When you insist that history or anthropology students do something no one has ever done before, we shouldn’t be surprised when they chase down ideas that no one did before–because they were ludicrous.

        Same thing happens in science, I’m sure. In science, falsifying other people’s work is progress, but somehow doing that isn’t as impressive as coming up with a novel idea yourself. And what are you supposed to do if you spent four years on a dissertation, and your theory turned out to be bunk–start over again on something else?

        Same thing with getting published, if you’re on staff, you’re supposed to get published every so often. And the journals want to see something new.

        1. “In science, falsifying other people’s work is progress…”
          Sometimes you don’t falsify it though; you just find out they were right. And that’s just as worthwhile, because after all you usually don’t know before hand which hypotheses need to be reconsidered.

          Part of it is the ‘glory’ of novel breakthroughs, but a lot of it (maybe most) traces back to the journals, which want ‘sexy’ science, and the popular science news distributors, which also get clicks by sensationalizing science. There’s a reason many of us in scientific fields dislike ‘popular science’ publications so popular among the ‘I fucking love science’ crowd. Then there’s the broader media reporting on science, regulators, industries looking for excuses to market new goods, donors too who want to see grandiose results, etc.

      4. There’s an important cross-section where fallibilism and epistemological anarchism come together. There’s like a libertarian science in there somewhere. There’s no telling where our scientific advances will come from.

        The breakthroughs aren’t foreseeable–we only come to recognize them after they’ve survived rigid scrutiny. Markets work that way. You can’t centrally plan them successfully. Even financing them is squirrely. For every legitimate breakthrough, there are dozens like Theranos. Evolution works that way. Porpoises didn’t invent the blowhole or the dorsal fin. That’s just what survived rigorous scrutiny. Science works that way, too.

        No one knows where the next breakthrough is going to come from, but the universities have a ton of overhead, and they need funding. Getting that funding isn’t about science–it’s about marketing and politics. The scientific journals make their money selling subscriptions to the people who are submitting research in the hope of getting published. No wonder they try to turn science into an indecipherable priesthood, where if you question their funding or what they’re saying, it’s because you don’t understand their priestly mysteries.

    2. “whether I should deprive myself of what I like to eat in order to avoid cancer is a question only I can answer”

      Not when the government has taken over the health care industry under a veterinary model. You have a responsibility to the taxpayers to eat what the government says is good for you. Just like a hen in a Tyson chicken farm must eat what agricultural scientists say is best.

  11. Merry Christmas, Ron. You’re too good to us.

  12. Not enshrining rights for trannies makes North Carolina no better than Iran or Cuba.

    Shit, at least this asshole manages to admit that Cuba isn’t a real democracy. That’s…progress?

  13. More on the asshat who harassed Ivanka the other day

    Highlights include:
    -Jessica Valenti (famous for whining about mean comments on her articles) saying that this was fair play
    -a previous incident from the same asshat’s husband where he hassled somebody for wearing a Reagan shirt.

    1. Also, it’s infantilizing & sexist to argue that Ivanka should be shielded from public criticism.

      OK, Valenti, you fucked up. This decisively puts you in conwoman column with Sarkeesian, instead of ideologue with Merlan. Should have kept it more ambiguous – Robby can mansplain if you want.

      And can I add how delightful it is that writer is Ian Miles Chong, the only man I know of who recovered from from Guardian-style feminism? Of course he was attacked too when he broached the idea of not being a total dick and liar, so he knows of what he speaks.

    2. This strikes me as such a stupid thing for an academic in particular to have done. I would think academics would be smart to slink through the next 4-8 years as quietly as possible. Fucking with Trump’s family will be a great way to draw Trump’s attention to academia, whose use of government funds is ripe for reform to say the least.

      1. From Twitter: “Trump’s fascism is so terrifying that two gay Jewish guys felt free to harass his daughter and grandkids on a public jet.”

  14. If I have doggy-style sex with bacon, what will that do to my sperm count and life expectancy?

    1. Depends on when in the bacon’s life cycle.

      1. as far as life expectancy goes. his sperm count should be fine, regardless.

        No Worries M8!

  15. Today’s heap of word salad is brought to you by Salon. It features a conflation of libertarians, Trump, alt-right, PUAs, and other assorted boogeymen. Nick Gillespie gets a mention.

    1. That’s some 24-karat derp there, Derpetologist.

    2. That is some paranoid shit.

    3. This trend cannot be mere coincidence. While the more ideologically committed libertarians have remained averse to Trump and his authoritarianism, many others who previously espoused the non-aggression principle have fully embraced him as their strongman. What’s going on here?

      A 2013 survey from the Public Religion Research Institute provides some insight. “Compared to the general population,” observe the researchers, “libertarians are significantly more likely to be non-Hispanic white, male, and young. Nearly all libertarians are non-Hispanic whites (94%), more than two-thirds (68%) are men, and more than 6-in-10 (62%) are under the age of 50.”

      In other words, if you’re a libertarian, chances are you’re a youngish white guy.

      I am shocked – SHOCKEDED!! – that a Salon writer would avoid any actual analysis of Trump’s actual policies …

      (e.g what’s so ‘authoritarian’ about things like school choice, reduced labor regulation, making the FDA drug-approval process less onerous, liberating Energy-policy from being hostage to a fringe group of luddite environmentalists, making a “commitment to only engage the use of military forces when it’s vital for national security interests of the United States….stop trying to build foreign democracies, topple regimes and race recklessly to intervene in situations….“, and so on?)

      …and instead decides to focus on *race*

  16. A reporter attending the event wanted to know exactly what the Austrians suddenly considered “winter delicacies” and asked the embassy for a clarification.

    The ambassador then admitted that the traditional Christmas foods had been rebranded out of respect for Islam.


    I’m not sure “respect” is the right word there. Especially since:

    Dutch town cancels Christmas celebrations for fear of Berlin-style jihad massacre

    1. Serious talk, I think even Mullah Omar would be like “What? Of course they are Christmas foods, because you’re infidel and that’s what you call it. Why would you do something so stupid?”

      1. He would also say: “Our slow-motion takeover plan is working!”

  17. Courtesy of my delightfully cynical buddy Hamster of Doom comes this gem. The “research” is shaky at best, the popular article about it is blatantly dishonest in the desire to forward a particular narrative.

    1. Well of course. They give the easy cases to the woman “doctors.” *Ducks incoming tomatoes, and apologies to my very competent sister if she ever comes across this…*

      1. Jokes aside, I do think that you’d have to control very carefully for differences in the cases men and women take on, their differing sub-specialties, etc. We know that men and women have rather different career trajectories in medicine, even as surgeons, and it would be surprising if those differences didn’t lead to differences in the cohorts treated by male and female physicians.

        I meant the above comment as a bit of a joke, but the Atlantic was apparently quite serious in saying: “If male physicians were as adept as females, some 32,000 fewer Americans would die every year?among Medicare patients alone.” I guess they fucking love science over at the Atlantic, since fucking loving science seems to be in direct contradiction to having the faintest clue about it.

        I do wonder if they would have framed things the same way if the numbers went the other way. Can you imagine “If female physicians were as adept as males, some 32,000 fewer Americans would die every year?among Medicare patients alone” appearing there? I kind of suspect the Atlantic’s staff and writers would suddenly discover the notion of confounding factors in that case.

        1. What bothered me most was that the Atlantic writer assumed innumeracy of its readers, and the writer clearly had known well enough to cause a 0.42% difference to turn into a 5% difference by silently changing the basis of the percentage. I think the authors of the actual study went beyond their data to get to their conclusion, but the popular accounts represented it as something it was not. “All possible confounders”? Puh-leez.

          It looks deliberate and dishonest.

  18. The author missed one of the best (worst) examples: The linear no-threshold theory of exposure to ionizing radiation. Used to implement unattainable and unreasonable regulation of the nuclear power industry.


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