And we’re back to the Ice Age predictions

I hope you all enjoyed the brief, but glorious Anthropogenic Global Warming/Climate Change era, as it appears Science (ever to be praised, never to be doubted) has now changed her mind again and the Earth is going to be getting colder. But this time it’s not Man’s fault, but rather the Sun’s.

What may be the science story of the century is breaking this evening, as heavyweight US solar physicists announce that the Sun appears to be headed into a lengthy spell of low activity, which could mean that the Earth – far from facing a global warming problem – is actually headed into a mini Ice Age.

The announcement made on 14 June (18:00 UK time) comes from scientists at the US National Solar Observatory (NSO) and US Air Force Research Laboratory. Three different analyses of the Sun’s recent behaviour all indicate that a period of unusually low solar activity may be about to begin.

The Sun normally follows an 11-year cycle of activity. The current cycle, Cycle 24, is now supposed to be ramping up towards maximum strength. Increased numbers of sunspots and other indications ought to be happening: but in fact results so far are most disappointing. Scientists at the NSO now suspect, based on data showing decades-long trends leading to this point, that Cycle 25 may not happen at all.

The amusing thing isn’t so much the about-face, or even the way in which news sites that previously bought into the AGW/CC myth were quick to attempt to minimize the announcement. “However, the temperature change associated with any reduction in sunspot activity would likely be minimal and not enough to offset the impact of greenhouse gases on global warming, according to scientists.”

Of course. How could even a minimal cooling manage to offset something that isn’t even happening. But the statement is literally true since there is no impact of “greenhouse gases”, also known as “carbon dioxide”, on global warming and they were careful to utilize the word “likely” to cover their posteriors in case they happen to be wrong. Again.

But whether the Earth is headed for a mini Ice Age or a maxi Heat Age, we can be certain of one thing. The only possible solution recommended by Science will involve handing over more money and political power to whatever government authority pays the salaries of the scientists involved.

There is no God particle

I am not exactly surprised to learn that the optimistic rumors out of Switzerland were unwarranted:

The quest for the elusive Higgs boson seemed over in April, when an unexpected result from an atom smasher seemed to herald the discovery of the famous particle — the last unproven piece of the physics puzzle and one of the great mysteries scientists face today. Researchers were cautious, however, warning that it would take months to verify the finding. Their caution was wise.

Scientists with the Tevatron particle accelerator at Chicago’s Fermilab facility just released the results of a months-long effort by the lab’s brightest minds to confirm the finding. What did they find? Nothing. “We do not see the signal,” Dmitri Denisov, staff scientist at Fermilab, told “If it existed, we would see it. But when we look at our data, we basically see nothing.”

As a general scientific rule, if you have a reasonable model that doesn’t quite fit the data and are forced to concoct epicycles and hypothetical substances or particles in order to properly align the model with the observable data, you can pretty much count on eventually having to junk the model. This is why I suspect that the Higgs boson will not be found, the reports that dark matter has finally been found will turn out to be false, and the theory of evolution by natural selection will eventually be abandoned in despair.

Of course, as we’ve seen in economics, Max Planck was an optimist. It will take at least two generations of dead scientists before the scientific mainstream will be ready to admit what has been obvious for years to those whose careers don’t depend upon the survival of the model. Look how long it has taken science to discover that it is carbohydrates, not fat, that makes you gain weight, even though anyone can discern those results by simply paying attention to what happens when they vary their diet for a month.

The unreliable history of vaccines

One of the most effective arguments for vaccines is that they have significantly reduced the death rate from the various diseases against which they are supposed to protect. And while there is little question that things have improved, there is unfortunately real cause to doubt that they have improved anywhere nearly as dramatically as nearly everyone on both sides of the issue assumes:

The National Vaccine establishment, supported by Government grants, issued periodical Reports, which were printed by order of the House of Commons, and in successive years we find the following statements:

In 1812, and again in 1818, it is stated that “previous to the discovery of vaccination the average number of deaths by small-pox within the (London) Bills of Mortality was 2,000 annually; whereas in the last year only 751 persons have died of the disease, although the increase of population within the last ten years has been 133,139.”

The number 2,000 is about the average smallpox deaths of the whole eignteenth century, but those of the last two decades before the publication of Jenner’s Inquiry, were 1,751 and 1,786, showing a decided fall. This, however, may pass. But when we come to the Report for 1826 we find the following: “But when we reflect that before the introduction of vaccination the average number of deaths from small-pox within the Bills of Mortality was annually about 4,000, no stronger argument can reasonably be demanded in favour of the value of this important discovery.”

This monstrous figure was repeated in 1834, apparently quite forgetting the correct figure for the whole century given in 1818, and also the fact that the small-pox deaths recorded in the London Bills of Mortality in any year of the century never reached 4,000. But worse is to come; for in 1836 we have the following statement: “The annual loss of life by small-pox in the Metropolis, and within the Bills of Mortality only, before vaccination was established, exceeded 5,000, whereas in the course of last year only 300 died of the distemper.” And in the Report for 1838 this gross error is repeated; while in the next year (1839) the conclusion is drawn “that 4,000 lives are saved every year in London since vaccination so largely superseded variolation (3).”

The Board of the National Vaccine Establishment consisted of the President and four Censors of the Royal College of Physicians, and the Master and two senior Wardens of the College of Surgeons. We cannot possibly suppose that they knew or believed that they were publishing untruths and grossly deceiving the public. We must, therefore, fall back upon the supposition that they were careless to such an extent as not to find out that they were authorizing successive statements of the same quantity as inconsistent with each other as 2,000 and 5000.

The next example is given by Dr. Lettsom, who, in his evidence before the Parliamentary Committee in 1802, calculated the small-pox deaths of Great Britain and Ireland before vaccination at 36,000 annually; by taking 3,000 as the annual mortality in London and multiplying by twelve, because the population was estimated to be twelve times as large. He first takes a number which is much too high, and then assumes that the mortality in the town, village, and country populations was the same as in overcrowded, filthy London! Smallpox was always present in London, while Sir Gilbert Blane tells us that in many parts of the country it was quite unknown for periods of twenty, thirty, or forty years. In 1782 Mr. Connah, a surgeon at Seaford, in Sussex, only knew of one small-pox death in eleven years among a population of 700. Cross, the historian of the Norwich epidemic in 1819, states that previous to 1805 small-pox was little known in this city of 40,000 inhabitants, and was for a time almost extinct; and yet this gross error of computing the small-pox mortality of the whole country from that of London (and computing it from wrong data) was not only accepted at the time, but has been repeated again and again down to the present day as an ascertained fact!

In a speech in Parliament in defence of .vaccination., Sir Lyon Playfair gave 4,000 per million as the average London death-rate by small-pox before vaccination—a number nearly double that of the last twenty years of the century, which alone affords a fair comparison. But far more amazing is the statement by the late Dr. W. B. Carpenter, in a letter to the Spectator of April, 1881, that “a hundred years ago the small-pox mortality of London alone, with its then population of under a million, was often greater in a six months’ epidemic than that of the twenty millions of England & Wales now is in any whole Year.” The facts, well known to every enquirer, are: that the very highest small-pox mortality in the last century in a year was 3,992 in 1772, while in 1871 it was 7,912 in. London, or more than double; and in the same year, in England and Wales, it was 23,000. This amazing and almost incredible misstatement was pointed out and acknowledged privately, but never withdrawn publicly!

The late Mr. Ernest Hart, a medical man., editor of the British Medical Journal, and a great authority on sanitation, in his work entitled The Truth about Vaccination, surpasses even Dr. Carpenter in the monstrosity of his errors. At page 35 of the first edition (1880), he states that in. the forty years 1728—57 and 1771—80, the average annual small-pox mortality of London was about 18,000 per million living. The actual average mortality, from the tables given in the Second Report of the Royal Commission, page 290, was a little over 2,000, the worst periods having been chosen; and taking the lowest estimates of the population at the time, the mortality per million would have been under 3,000. This great authority, therefore, has multiplied the real number by six! In a later edition this statement is omitted, but in the first edition it was no mere misprint, for it was triumphantly dwelt upon over a whole page and compared with modern rates of mortality.

Now, a very good argument in favor of the smallpox vaccine is that the disease has largely been eradicated, even in nations where the hygiene and sanitation does not rise to the level of nineteenth century London. But it does no one any good, and the pro-vaccine cause no service, to resort to citing fictional numbers in order to claim that public health has dramatically improved as a result of certain vaccines.

Don’t worry, you’re not too pretty for science

A female scientist desperately wants you to know that someone told her she was pretty, the bastard, and now she can’t wait to tell you about ithow angry that makes her!

I’m ticked off and venting via dashed-off blog rant…. I know Mr. Salesguy was trying to be nice and probably thought he was flattering me, but fer chrissakes, that is NOT the way to go about it. Women in science already frequently feel like “The Other,” that we’re “too XX” to be good at what we do, that our possession of breasts surely must mean that we’re too much of a fragile flower to be able to handle the “man’s work” involved in science and academia, and that we need to go above and beyond what our male colleagues do just to feel the same level of acceptance and appreciation. I’m sure Mr. Salesguy has never thought about the plight of women in science before tonight (and I doubt that my conversation really made him think about it for more than a few fleeting seconds), but it really dragged down what had otherwise been a very nice few days of unadulterated sciencey goodness.

This is a beautiful example of what is one of my favorite female faux outrage poses. Certain women, usually those of average appearance, love to pretend to be furious because someone complimented them, which they believe gives them an excuse to talk to everyone they can get their hands on about the fact that someone thinks they are pretty or whatever. You’ll notice you never see any genuinely gorgeous girl getting her thong in a twist over someone happening to recognize the obvious; she knows she’s hot and it’s no big deal.

And the idea that one can be somehow damaged by one’s looks defying the expectations of one’s occupation is a ridiculous attempt to justify the “look at me, look at me” behavior. At my second book signing, which was a large Barnes & Noble event at which there were some 10 or 12 other much bigger-name SF/F authors, including Gordon R. Dickson, there must have been at least 10 people who told me I didn’t look like a SF writer. I didn’t take any offense, of course, or agonize about how this made it terribly difficult to be taken seriously as a writer. It was not exactly hard to ascertain what they meant by the comment given that in addition to being the youngest one there by a decade or more, I was also the only weightlifter in the bunch. SF/F writers are often fascinating conversationalists and I quite enjoy spending time with them, but as a general rule they tend not to make for the most physically imposing specimens of humanity.

So, Ms Dr Smith needn’t worry. As an expert observer of the opposite sex, I don’t think she’s too pretty for science. I don’t think she’s pretty at all. I’m confident she can rest assured that most men who aren’t of low sexual market value, like the scientists and atheists by whom she is customarily surrounded, will not take any notice of her unless she happens to perform some spectacular feats of science. Which is probably unlikely, since she’s such a transparently superficial twit that she’ll find it hard to pull her narcissistic nose out of her navel long enough to observe anything scientific.


I noticed this little gem among the comments at Science Based Medicine: “Imagine how many unnecessary deaths could be prevented by parents acting responsibly and vaccinating their children.

Imagine… just imagine. It’s certainly interesting how pro-vaccine propagandists, who claim that their position is based in science, rely on nothing more than an appeal to imagination in their rhetoric. But there is no need to imagine how many “unnecessary deaths” could be prevented by 100 percent vaccine compliance since deaths caused by communicable diseases are tracked by the CDC. Here are the number of recent annual deaths attributed to each disease:

Measles = zero deaths
Chicken pox = 66 deaths
Polio = 1 death
Tetanus = 4 deaths
Pertussis = 17 deaths

Throw in a few deaths caused by Rubella, Mumps, and Diptheria, and that indicates around 100 “unnecessary deaths could be prevented by parents acting responsibly and vaccinating their children”. That’s 530 fewer deaths than could be prevented by banning bicycles and 426 fewer deaths than could be prevented by banning swimming pools. And since the CDC refuses to accurately track the number of deaths caused by adverse vaccine reactions, we have no idea how to balance those 100 “unnecessary deaths” against the additional risks posed by the vaccinations.

But it is educational to see how the facts undermine the effectiveness of the pro-vaccine rhetoric and tend to demonstrate the intrinsic lack of integrity demonstrated by the pro-vaccine propagandists.

Vaccine doctor fraud

A pro-vaccine researcher is indicted:

A scientist in Denmark has been indicted by a federal grand jury in Atlanta for allegedly stealing $1 million in grant money that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had earmarked for autism research. U.S. prosecutors on Wednesday said they are seeking to extradite Poul Thorsen, 49, accused of wire fraud and money laundering. He used the stolen money to buy a home in Atlanta, a Harley Davidson motorcycle and two cars, prosecutors said.

“Grant money for disease research is a precious commodity,” said Sally Yates, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, in a news release. “When grant funds are stolen, we lose not only the money, but also the opportunity to better understand and cure debilitating diseases.”

Thorsen, a visiting scientist at the Atlanta-based CDC in the 1990s, helped two government agencies in Denmark obtain $11 million in research grants. He moved back to Denmark in 2002 to be principal investigator for the program. Prosecutors said he was also in charge of administering the research dollars, earmarked in part to study the relationship between autism and exposure to vaccines.

The response from the vaccine propaganda camp is interesting. David Gorski at Science-Based Medicine writes: “If there’s one thing about the anti-vaccine movement, it’s all about the ad hominem attack. Failing to win on science, clinical trials, epidemiology, and other objective evidence, with few exceptions, anti-vaccine propagandists fall back on attacking the person instead of the evidence.”

The problem with Gorski’s attempted defense is that in the field of research science, an ad hominem attack is a valid and rational one because all of the other elements, the “science, clinical trials, epidemiology, and other objective evidence” are only as reliable as the scientific integrity of the researchers involved. Peer review, as we all know, is worthless, being nothing more than what in other fields is known as “editing”; if the underlying experiment has not been replicated then it has not actually been scientifically verified regardless of how many credentialed individuals have read the paper. If the “principle investigator” for the research program is financially corrupt, there is no reason to assume that the rest of the program, indeed, the rest of the field is devoid of similar corruption, particularly when such corruption has long been suspected of researchers working in the interests of Big Pharma and funded in part by it.

Moreover, Gorski’s argument is on the shady side, given that there is very little objective evidence that can be presented for the safety of vaccines and a good deal of circumstantial evidence that the dangers they pose to children’s health is both real and underreported. The millions of dollars paid out annually of the VAERS system, which despite the reluctance of doctors to admit or report negative reactions still records around 4,500 cases of “permanent disability, hospitalization, life-threatening illnesses or death”, is almost never mentioned by the “vaccines are totally safe” crowd. Nor do they admit that there is not a single double-blind experiment comparing the health of a control group of children receiving the current American vaccine schedule with groups receiving a partial schedule or a series of placebo shots.

Gorski also shows his own lack of integrity when he correctly points out that Thorsen was not the principle author of the NEJM and Pediatrics papers, but pretends not to know that “whatever leadership position he may have held at Aarhus University and in its vaccine studies group” was actually the chief of the North Atlantic Neuro-Epidemiology Alliance group based at the University of Aarhus, Denmark and funded in part by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Science cannot be said to be on the pro-vaccine side for the obvious reason that its “scientists” simply have not been willing to do the relevant science. In fact, the vaccine propagandists have spent decades producing various statistical surveys and writing acerbic blog posts in an attempt to avoid doing the only sort of scientific experiment that would be conclusive on the matter.

Now, before the vaccine propagandists leap in, I will again point out that I am not an anti-vaccine activist; I got a tetanus shot myself not long ago. I am, rather, a vaccine safety advocate. Real doctors, with real concerns about real risks to children for whom they are responsible, do not blindly advocate the macro one-size-fits-all approach and sacrifice the vaccine sensitive upon the altar of herd immunity. No pediatrician worth his salt is going to administer vaccines according to the schedule once he hears that a child had a serious adverse reaction to a vaccine. The goal of herd immunity does not trump the physician’s oath to first do no harm.

The problem is not that parents are overprotective of their children or that they are too stupid to understand the potential benefits of herd immunity. The problem is that the vaccine propagandists have been deeply dishonest in the past and therefore rightly lost the trust of many parents. Vaccine advocates have not been straightforward with the actual risks of vaccines because they are afraid that fully informed parents will not abide by the program that they believe will be best for the entire community, but will instead do what is best for the individual child, which is a delayed and staggered schedule that ensures the child gets all the necessary vaccines without putting a risky amount of stress on their developing systems.

The solution is honesty, scientific integrity, and openness. Until the pro-vaccine camp is willing to be honest about the risks as well as the benefits of vaccines to the individual child, all of their efforts to convince parents will not only be in vain, but will be counterproductive.

Why Vox Day is chick crack

Over at Alpha Game, Susan Walsh has posted about a recent scientific study which delineated certain aspects of male and female appeal for the opposite sex. The key summary, at least as it related to the post title, was provided by the headline of one article related to the study.

“Brooding, Proud Guys Score High on Sex Appeal”

As I mentioned in the comments to Susan’s post, this provided Spacebunny with no little amusement, given her observation that my tendency to brood is apparently on par with that of Heathcliff and Darcy. My protests that I merely engage in the moderate amount of contemplation that is necessary to anyone dwelling in this vale of tears were met with a) a burst of incredulous laughter, and b) an appeal to the dictionary: “to dwell on a subject or to meditate with morbid persistence”. Emphasis, it would appear, on the morbid….

(Full confession: I tend to think of “brooding” in the sense of incubating eggs rather than a gerund indicating contemplative activity, which in part accounted for my protest.)

As for the other part, well, I am informed that every so often, I am inclined to comport myself in a manner that is indicative of an inclination to consider myself in a rather favorable manner. I would merely point out that these things are relative and is not that I think so well of myself, only that I am so often given reason to think little of others.

In any case, this new scientodical expansion of scientage may help explain why women continue to email me and send me their pictures after expressing their outrage concerning my written opinions and threatening not to have sex with me. I’d like to say that it is hard being an intellectual sex symbol, (although let’s face it, the bar is an extraordinarily low one), but frankly, my dears, I don’t give a damn.

Stay away from fatties

They’re contagious:

It may seem like bad news for the thin among us, but socialising with people heavier than yourself could make you put on weight…. where two people who are friends for a long time, and where one is heavier than the other, the thinner friend tended to increase in weight by up to 57 per cent over time.

No offense to the heavyset, you understand, it’s just that it’s catching….

Education vs Economics

Nature questions the assumed wisdom of churning out more PhDs:

In developed nations, the number of PhDs given in the sciences each year has grown by almost 40 percent since 1998, reaching about 34,000 doctorates in 2008. This type of expansion sounds great in theory: interest in the sciences is growing, and we now have a population that is more educated than ever. However, the effects of this worldwide trend are troubling. The workforce cannot absorb all these highly trained graduates, there is little money to support these expensive programs, and the quality of education is often low, among other problems. This week’s issue of Nature examines the problems with the expansive growth of the PhD.
A worldwide phenomenon

Worldwide, the plan is essentially the same: to stimulate the economy by educating the population. Increasing the number of students that pass through the higher education system isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but the resources must be there to make the system work. In much of the world, this just isn’t the case.

I have three observations. First, why are we supposed to respect scientists for their intelligence when they obviously can’t figure out simple concepts like “supply and demand” or bother to do enough research to see if there will be any jobs available in their field by the time they finish collecting degrees.

Second, the idea that education produces economic growth is one of the more obvious post hoc ergo propter hoc arguments I’ve ever seen. Given that there is now sufficient empirical evidence gathered in numerous countries to prove this is untrue, how many decades will need to pass before it is abandoned as a political policy? I would say the over/under must be at least two.

Third, I contend this supports my point that the advancement of science is a consequence of societal wealth, not a cause of it.

The peril of the popular intellectual

No matter how copiously one cites the pertinent studies which purportedly prove your assertions, there is always the danger that someone might actually take your ideasthe ridiculous ideas of someone else you have popularized seriously enough to put them to an empirical test:

On his 30th birthday, June 27, 2009, Dan had decided to quit his job to become a professional golfer.

He had almost no experience and even less interest in the sport.

What he really wanted to do was test the 10,000-hour theory he read about in the Malcolm Gladwell bestseller Outliers. That, Gladwell wrote, is the amount of time it takes to get really good at anything — “the magic number of greatness.”…

The Dan Plan will take six hours a day, six days a week, for six years. He is keeping diligent records of his practice and progress. People who study expertise say no one has done quite what Dan is doing right now.

It’s not exactly a secret that the middlebrow Gladwell is completely full of it. His books appeal primarily to the half-educated, -1 to +1 SD intellects that soak up information insufficiently critically to notice the unsound foundation upon which most of his conclusions are based. Of course, Readers Digest created a small empire catering to the tastes of such readers, so there are not only a lot of them, but they tend to read more than the norm in search of that feeling of intellectual self-improvement that Gladwell sells so effectively.

It should be interesting to hear Gladwell attempt to explain away the inevitable failure of his thesis. Perhaps he’ll even get another best-selling book out of it.