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  • Real vs. Hypothetical Deaths

    Posted by Shannon Love on August 24th, 2008 (All posts by )

    So, a mere 50 years after the development of the technology, the FDA has graciously allowed us all to purchase produce irradiated to kill pathogens. Hooray! 

    Too bad so many people had to die needlessly in the last 50 years, and in the last two years in particular. 

    The long saga of irradiation fits the mold of a more general phenomenon: The willingness of many leftists to tolerate very real, actual deaths today in exchange for the hypothetical risk of deaths tomorrow. 

    The strangling off of drug approvals follows this same pattern. People are dying and suffering right now but we view new drugs as greater threats than benefits. We do this not only with minor medications to treat hair loss or fingernail fungus but also with drugs intended to treat otherwise-untreatable fatal illnesses. John Stossel once conveyed the import of delaying new drugs by noting that when you see a story about a new drug that says the drug will save, say 14,000, lives year, that means that for every year that regulators kept the drug off the market 14,000 people died. 

    We’ve created incentives such that the FDA gets no credit for the lives saved by the drugs it approves, but only blame for the much smaller number of people who die from unexpected side effects. The specter of hypothetical deaths looms so large in our minds that every day we let people die in the here and now. 

    You see the same reasoning applied to global warming and nuclear power. GW advocates state emphatically that no reasonable doubt exists that catastrophic global warming is occurring. They reel out grim statistics in which hundreds of millions of people are sure to die unless we act. Yet they shut down nuclear energy, the one proven technology that could put an end to global warming right now, without a doubt, because they fear the hypothetical chance of an accident. Even though we’ve been dealing with millions of tons of nuclear materials for nearly 70 years without an accident that would rank with a refinery fire, they would still rather condemn millions to death rather than face the merest chance of an accident. Worse, even the worst nuclear accident imaginable wouldn’t come close to doing as much harm as catastrophic global warming.

    Too many of our decisions are held hostage by people who make their living selling hypothetical fear. They pursue their own personal interest at the expense of the lives of others, in a way that would shame the worst corporate criminal. These hypocrites need to be put down and put down hard. 

     

    33 Responses to “Real vs. Hypothetical Deaths”

    1. capitano Says:

      You can add the DDT ban to list of eco-frauds that cost millions of real lives.

    2. Swen Swenson Says:

      It’s the Precautionary Principle run amok.

      But back to food irradiation, it’s also a fact that irradiating food makes it less perishable. That would reduce the cost of good, safe, healthy food by eliminating a lot of the waste in distribution and in the store. Hard to imagine the mentality that has a problem with that but unfortunately, no imagination is required.

    3. alejandro Says:

      Excellent post. I can tell this is not just a US problem.

    4. jdm Says:

      I’m a bit disappointed that the post, a very good one, I should add, did not mention how a distaste – or simply an outright loathing – for capitalism plays a role.

      Because the required investments in capital to produce new drugs are great, even in a less restrictive environment, only large entities skilled at merging capital investments, aka corporations, aka Big Pharma, can do such. And when they hit a home run, the money comes pouring in to the annoyance of many. Big Pharma gets “rich off the suffering of others” is the phrase, I believe.

      Worse, when someone suffering a life threatening disease is affected by the side effects (say, the apparent linkage of suicides and Chantix) that’s when the real wailing and gnashing of teeth starts. Now Big Pharma is getting rich causing the suffering of others.

    5. Shannon Love Says:

      Jdm,

      Yes, the Left shifted during the 60’s from being technological optimist to being luddites. For over a century prior, they based their argument for power on the claim that they could deliver the benefits of science and industrialization to the people better than could capitalism. By the 60’s that claim proved false so they switched gears and began to argue they deserved power so that they could protect people from the evils of science and technology.

      It would be darkly humorous if it didn’t run the risk of getting us all killed.

    6. Ginny Says:

      Last fall, thanks to spirited help from Chicagoboyz, my students chose to argue for the importance of an important inventor, general, etc. Easily the best student (imagine a senior taking first class rhetoric & comp, imagine a freshman saying “I just love Ebsco”) wrote on Rachel Carson. Her paper was so good in terms of style and formatting, I’m using it as an example this semester. While acknowledging that many died (not hypothetically) from the bans on DDT, she said that DDT probably would have become ineffective, anyway, etc. etc. When I asked if she didn’t see what actually happened – is happening – as a problem, she said that none of her teachers (obviously she was majoring in some kind of ecology at the big school) had anything but praise for Carson. The student who peer reviewed her paper asked me if she could mark a question about that area – to her it seemed as if the argument was a little weak. I said, sure, it seemed weak to me. But I can see why my doubts might not hold up next to what appeared to be a fairly broad and unanimous feeling by her teachers in her major – about which I know nothing. Maybe I do. It still troubles me, though.

    7. virgil xenophon Says:

      Blame for the resistance of the general public to food irradiation may be traced to the general deterioration of our education system, lack of even the most basic knowledge of all things scientific, and high levels of functional illiteracy. Thus fears that such food might be dangerously “radioactive” were easily played upon.

      I am old enough to remember when propane tanker trucks, etc., were labeled with the grammatically correct term “inflammable,” but had to be re-labeled “Flammable” (a non-word) due to the fact that so many thought the former
      meant “impossible to set alight,”.i.e., “in” equaling “non.” With such a level of general public ignorance, why should anyone be surprised?

    8. fred lapides Says:

      Either the FDA is a function of govt or it ought not be. It has stayed in place under “the left” and “the right.” If you simply do not believe in govt “interference,” then say so…allow transfat, smoking in stores etc. Libertarians do not like the govt setting standards, and I can appreciate that, but in fact much that FDA has done has been questionable because of lobby groups and self-interest and this has been so under the right and the left. In fact, simply sticking a label on the Left is an oversimplification of the way our govt has run since, say, Madison, who noted the impact of self interest groups upon democracy but wanted not to place limits on govt functioning…he seems in retrospect to have been wrong.

    9. fred lapides Says:

      Here, a free country where DDT is legally used. Alasd, now they too find that…
      http://www.iol.co.za/?click_id=31&art_id=vn20040304024049913C197502&set_id=1

      yep. causes cancer etc etc

    10. david foster Says:

      Part of the problem is the incentive structure for government agency heads and their subordinates. If you approve a drug or procedure that later turns out to kill or seriously harm a lot of people, you will be demonized on the nightly news and in almost every publication in the country. If you defer approval, and people die or suffer because of it, it’s unlikely that anyone is going to pin it on you.

    11. Boonton Says:

      I think the more fundamental problem is one of human nature and how we overestimate certain types of risks while underestimating others. Some people will buy extra life insurance if they have to fly on a plane but few people will track how many miles they drive per year and increase their insurance if mileage increases by 20%. This is despite the fact that driving 20% more is much more likely to kill you than taking a single flight.

      Likewise, we fear the brand new pill that might end up killing thousands because it happens to interact with some obscure gene that wasn’t present in the Phase III study group more than we fear the known diseases that kill us today.

      What I notice Shannon didn’t touch upon was the precautionary principle which isn’t totally irrational. For everything you have costs and benefits. For things that have been around a long time, the costs and benefits are known with pretty good certainity. New things, though, have more uncertainity on both sides of the equation. Hence computer users don’t immediately grab the checkbook when Microsoft releases a new OS or version of Office.

      We do have a good sense of how many people die in refinary fires every year. How many are saved by a new drug, though, is a lot harder to answer and usually the guy with the best numbers is a drug rep whose bread is buttered by selling us (and himself) on the idea that this drug is the best thing since sliced bread.

      Is it not a bit rational then to apply a type of discount to all cost benefit calculations of newer technologies? One that increases costs and lowers benefits estimates?

    12. Shannon Love Says:

      Fred Lapides,

      As one trained in biology I am aware of the studies you link to. They’re crap based on mass dosage testing of amphibians. We know with absolute certainty that DDT is not a major cause of cancer because of the stupendous quantities of DDT that people where exposed to from 1940-1970. During WWII, soldier were drenched in the stuff routinely, they were issued a powder to put in their socks and underwear. Every fabric was impregnated with the stuff. As a result, WWII became the first American war wherein more soldiers died of disease than died of enemy action. After the war, it was sprayed everywhere for everything. Hillary Clinton tells a story of being encouraged as a child to follow the spray trucks down the street and to play in the DDT spray. People didn’t believe her but that did happen.

      For post-WWII American and the world, DDT was as amazing as penicillin. DDT was used in concentration thousands of times higher than contemporary pesticides. If it was the death dealer fanatics claim, we’d all be dead.

      In fact, simply sticking a label on the Left is an oversimplification of the way our govt has run since…

      Think about it. Who is that constantly beats the drum warning us about the dangers of technology. Who shuns nukes for windmills. Who pushes “alternative” medicine? Who pushes “organic” farming? Who stands up everyday and proclaims that the corporations who provide us these advanced technologies are completely unprincipled and must be watched like hawks by a benevolent state? Leftist have a political motive to get people to see technology as dangerous so that people will vote for Leftist in order to protect from said dangerous. Whether the dangers exist or exist at the level claimed, doesn’t really matter.

      Editorials about slow drug approval come the Wall Street Journal not the New York Times.

    13. Shannon Love Says:

      Booton,

      Is it not a bit rational then to apply a type of discount to all cost benefit calculations of newer technologies? One that increases costs and lowers benefits estimates?

      Sounds good on paper but by the time you run the concept through the real world political system, you end up with groups with significant motive to suppress new technologies. You complain about the drug reps conflict of interest but how about the conflict of interest of politicians and “activist” who sell fear of corporations and their products? Clearly, the system creates a powerful incentive to shutdown new technologies.

      Clearly, the system does not work as you describe. Nuclear power has a staggeringly high safety record yet people remain absolutely convinced it is fantastically dangerous. Millions die every year from want of DDT. Patients with terminal illnesses cannot try a hail mary pass with an unproven medication.

      One thing that separates the classic liberal from other political ideologies is our keen interest in the nuts and bolts detail of the political mechanism that turn concepts such as yours into concrete action. Applying a discount to new technologies is a fine idea. No one in principle would disagree with it. However, actually accomplishing that task is impossible with our current mechanisms. Instead we take council of our fears and let people die before our eyes without even trying to save them.

    14. Boonton Says:

      I think the ‘new discount’ happens in human nature and not on paper. Like I said, Microsoft announcing a new operating system does not easily cause a stampede of people itching to try it. Why? As bad as their stuff is now we at least know how it is bad and work around it. Not too long ago I remember being in more than a few discussions about Merk’s Guardisal vaccine for cervical cancer. Many parents seem to gravitate towards the stance of “let me wait a few years and see if this thing is ok or not”.

      I think nuclear power is actually three different types of fears. One is the fear of an accident which I agree is low when best practices are applied. At that level the case for it is strongest. The other fear is human nature. As it becomes routine best practices will be ignored and then the chances of an accident increase. Third is long term fears about the storage of nuclear waste…there I feel somewhat mixed feelings about. What we have today is untrustworthy for the time needed but I suspect we are perfectly able to secure the stuff for a few hundred years at which point its danger decreases and technology to cope with it hopefully will be higher.

      The second is just a restatement of your gripe with ‘the system’. Essentially people are betting that once all the scrutiny dies down and people go home the old story of capture the regulator will go on and the safety provisions will get lax.

    15. david foster Says:

      “Is it not a bit rational then to apply a type of discount to all cost benefit calculations of newer technologies?”…only if you also do an honest assessment of the costs/benefits of the *existing* technologies. For example, if you are looking at nuclear power you should also consider the people killed every year in the mining & transportation of coal for conventional power plants. Most opponents of nuclear don’t do this, preferring instead to make unrealistic assumptions about solar & wind.

      Also, discounting the value of newer technologies tends to undervalue uses that will show up only later. A cost-benefit assessment of electricity in Edison’s time would have looked at lighting, but probably not at air conditioning or even trolleys..and certainly not at computers.

    16. Shannon Love Says:

      Booton,

      I think the ‘new discount’ happens in human nature and not on paper.

      In this context I disagree. Humans do wisely fear the unknown. However, prior to the 60’s people grabbed hold of new technology as fast as they could. New power sources, new motors, new communications, new medicines. Politicians fought over the right to associated themselves with each new technology. The only people who grumbled were religious conservatives. Unless, you’ve studied the history of technology as I have, you might not be aware of how sharp the discontinuity of the 60’s was.

      Not too long ago I remember being in more than a few discussions about Merk’s Guardisal vaccine for cervical cancer. Many parents seem to gravitate towards the stance of “let me wait a few years and see if this thing is ok or not”.

      Guardisil is interesting because it fits the pattern that leftist are far less concerned about technology that relates to sex than they are about technology in other areas. In this case we see a reversal in which leftist disdain those who don’t embrace the vaccine and an embracing of a partial vaccine given to children.

      I would argue that this is an exception that proves the rule. The rule is that Leftist seed fear against technology to reap the political power created by that fear. However, Leftist also reap power by selling the idea of sexual freedom. By reducing the consequences of sex, especially in the young, Guardisil would help the Left in this core “product” area. If Guardisil hadn’t been related to sex, you would see the usual dynamic.

      What we have today is untrustworthy for the time needed…

      There is no evidence this true. No one not associated with Leftist activist organizations sees serious flaw in anyone of dozens of different system. Even long term problems did exist, we have millions of tons of waste today that we have to deal with. It is unlikely that increasing that amount will significantly increase the harm, especially since we’re told that we without a doubt face catastrophic global warming.

      In short, we are told we face the absolute certainty of mass killing global warming versus the hypothetical harm of a nuclear spill or two. In this context, the benefits of nuclear power outweigh the risk given even the most pessimistic assessments of the technology.

      The “system” is broken. It does not evaluate the benefits and risk of technology (most of which are unknowable in any case). Rather it becomes the stage for some to act the part of virtuous and wise altruist versus greedy corporations.

    17. Tyouth Says:

      Shannon said: “The rule is that Leftist seed fear against technology to reap the political power created by that fear. However, Leftist also reap power by selling the idea of sexual freedom.”

      Not only in the area of sex but of social engineering in general. For example, the same types (generally, think of PHDs in areas of education and ed. admin.) progressives provided us with “classrooms without walls” in the ’70s. The same sort of people are now encouraging lowering the drinking age to 18 years of age. Their arguments for social change might often begin with “contrary to what appears to be common sense or what one would expect….”. No doubt more current and even more detrimental examples exist.

      Perhaps someone who had their education debased for a couple of years until the “learning without walls” fad quickly failed and faded would describe the scene in action. Also, perhaps someone in the educational profession would describe the rationale provided to them at the time.

    18. Shannon Love Says:

      Tyouth,

      I would say that the “Classroom without walls” idea had less to do with freedom and more to do with moving the locus of decision in education from local school boards to an elite group of education experts. It was a weird fad that reached even my rural Texas hometown which built two schools without walls of any kind. One elementary school had a creepy panopticon feel because the offices where up on loft and all the offices had walls of windows that overlooked all the classrooms.

      I did look into the origins of the fad back in college and it appeared to have started based one or two studies conducted in small scale experimental schools in California. It took off, I think, because the idea of action without consequence or responsibility was the zeitgeist of the time. Educators embraced the seductive narcissistic idea that everyone, including children, knew what was best and that letting them run wild was the best way to bring that goodness out.

      The very idiotic nature of the idea provoked resistance in people with a more tragic view of human nature which in turn set up the classic conflict of “wise, progressive altruist” versus “ignorant regressive greedy people”. In short, it was more about political and cultural theater than education.

    19. Boonton Says:

      David

      only if you also do an honest assessment of the costs/benefits of the *existing* technologies. For example, if you are looking at nuclear power you should also consider the people killed every year in the mining & transportation of coal for conventional power plants. Most opponents of nuclear don’t do this, preferring instead to make unrealistic assumptions about solar & wind.

      I agree with you here….but is this the metric opponents really use when it comes to nuclear? It isn’t so much about how many are killed per year by nuclear but by how many will be killed if there is an accident.

      But you’re right about present day tech. We don’t know everything. Global warming indicates that even some tech that seems very old and well known (like coal) can have still have hidden costs and benefits.

      Knowledge is cumulative, though. Coal’s been studied hundreds of years. Aspirin likewise has been used for decades by hundreds of millions of people. While there may still be unknowns about these there is probably more unknowns about new tech.

      Shannon
      Guardisil is interesting because it fits the pattern that leftist are far less concerned about technology that relates to sex than they are about technology in other areas. In this case we see a reversal in which leftist disdain those who don’t embrace the vaccine and an embracing of a partial vaccine given to children.

      Interestingly this refutes your thesis and supports my human nature ones. The primary fear about Guardisil I hear is a generalized fear of vaccinations, especially new ones. The fear seems to be that a few years from now we are going to start hearing reports that the vaccine causes some type of medical problem no one ever expected. The reaction by many parents is wait a few years then do it. While some intellectuals did think Guardisil was going to cause contraversy over sex that side of the discussion has turned out to be surprisingly quiet. For every leftist you can find arguing in its favor you can find another leftist grumbling over its high cost and wondering if efforts to mandate it are really more about Merk’s bottom line than public health. Tied into this grass roots fear is another idea that there is a link between vaccination and autism that continues to stir under the radar despite very good evidence that it is baseless.

      I would argue that this is an exception that proves the rule. The rule is that Leftist seed fear against technology to reap the political power created by that fear. However, Leftist also reap power by selling the idea of sexual freedom. By reducing the consequences of sex, especially in the young, Guardisil would help the Left in this core “product” area. If Guardisil hadn’t been related to sex, you would see the usual dynamic.

      Guardisil doesn’t do much in terms of the consquences of sex…it does almost nothing in fact. Cervical cancer hits a small portion of women and the HPV virus infects an insanely high portion of the population (like 50%+) and for almost everyone produces little or no problems. Unless you have some particular fear that you are at a high risk of cervical cancer it’s questionable whether the vaccine makes sense for an individual (high $$$, low risk reduction). But then what of the movement against all vaccines? It seems to exist apart from left or right (although I recall reading McCain pandered to the vaccine skeptic side but he hasn’t seem to put much thought into his position on the topic). Can’t quite chalk it up to leftist attacks on ‘big pharma’….the standard childhood vaccinations are probably as close to ‘mom and pop pharma’ as you can get in the industry.

      Waste
      There is no evidence this true. No one not associated with Leftist activist organizations sees serious flaw in anyone of dozens of different system. Even long term problems did exist, we have millions of tons of waste today that we have to deal with.

      Being that the time frames needed for safe storage are on the order of tens of thousands of years & also given that even the most stable of human structures border on ruins in less than that (Pyramids….also see “The World Without Us”) it’s highly doubtful even the best designs today can be trusted. As I pointed out, though, I don’t think that’s as big a problem since safe storage for a few hundred years is easily proven & that yields plenty of time for improvements in tech.

    20. Boonton Says:

      Tyouth,

      I missed the ‘classroom without walls’ fad but it appears that I will be around for the ‘open space’ fad that is hitting the corporate world.

      For the life of me, though, I have no idea what is the connection between that and returning the drinking age to 18? I’ve seen plenty of good arguments for it but none of them are particularly leftist or coming from educational theorists. Your statement seems to presume that the 21 age has been some type of outstanding success story.

    21. virgil xenophon Says:

      Those who argue that raising the drinking age to 21 saw a dramatic reduction in hwy deaths due to that fact alone are committing a huge felony against statistical analysis. Hwy deaths were on a long downward spiral way before the national drinking age of 21 was imposed and even before MADD (and all its associated neo-prohibitionist programs) was formed. And it doesn’t matter whether one measures it by passenger miles driven, number of drivers licenses issued, license plate registrations, or what–the downward trend is many decades old–and can be attributed to safer cars, better hwy design and lighting, and the fact that an increasing number of miles are driven on the interstate system which are the safest hwys we have.

      Another dirty little secret when considering these numbers is that the Federal Hwy Safety statistics labeled as “alcohol related” accidents/death are labeled as such even if the intoxicated person was a passenger or a pedestrian, thus artificially inflating the danger of drunk DRIVERS in the public’s mind.

      If my Mother were still alive, she could give everyone an ear-full about “open walls” schools. A second grade teacher in a small rural Illinois farming community, she was the youngest teacher in the bldg when she began in the early 50’s and the
      oldest teacher there when she retired in the late 70’s. She saw all the trends come and go. One of the things which drove her to take early retirement at age 62 was when they finally built a new school building as an open walled facility. The whole premiss of those things was that everyone would be as quiet as if in a library–fat chance. Talk about a zoo where concentration of young minds and energetic bodies was not just almost, but totally impossible!

      Both of the above “concepts” just mentioned are classic examples of the disdain which “progressives” hold for the facts and experience, indeed anything which does not fit their
      chosen paradigm. So, just like resistance to irridiated meat and DDT, or promotion of classrooms without walls or higher age limits for drinking alcohol, progressive thought about such things runs more to the political and cultural theater side of things, as Shannon love states, that to anything based on reality. (Btw, I’m 64, and can attest to running behind the DDT “fog” machines as a child in the early 50s.)

    22. Tyouth Says:

      Boonton said “Your statement seems to presume that the 21 age has been some type of outstanding success story.”

      It doesn’t seem to me to be presuming that and I don’t believe that. I believe that lowering the drinking age will increase the drinking population which will increase traffic accidents (if drunken driving incidents can reasonably be perceived as an “accident”), homicides, and lesser crimes of all sorts. (Conservatively, I’d suggest that half of police arrests in this country are alcohol related.) Alcohol induced or alcohol related destructive behavior would not only increase but increase at a rate greater than per capita since the new drinkers would be the least experienced, the least capable, the young.

      As for the idea being pushed by “educational theorists”: It is my understanding that more than a hundred university presidents thought it would help reduce binge drinking (because it would no longer be “forbidden fruit”). What hogwash.

    23. Shannon Love Says:

      Booton,

      …but is this the metric opponents really use when it comes to nuclear?

      Yes, nuclear power is opposed by raising the specter of hypothetical deaths and usually the most extreme and least likely hypothetical deaths. At the same time, they ignore the very real harm caused by all non-nuclear technologies even when at the same time they raise the specter of catastrophic deaths due to global warming.

      While there may still be unknowns about these there is probably more unknowns about new tech.

      Absolutely true but the only means of really assessing both the benefits and risk of new technology is to actually use it. The precautionary principle is faulty in main because it assumes we can predict whether the harm of new technology outweighs the benefits. Historically, we’ve widely underestimated the benefits.

      The primary fear about Guardisil I hear is a generalized fear of vaccinations, especially new ones.

      The only interesting thing about Guardisil is that Leftist that oppose other technologies with much more certain benefits and fewer unknowns, nevertheless support Guardisil. The same is true of the effects of the pill or abortions. Levels of risk considered unacceptable for other medicines are considered acceptable for technology related to sex. Giving Guardisil a pass supports my contention that Leftist evaluate the risk of technology based on the power they gain from doing so and not the actual harm of the technology.

      (I personally think Guardisil is safe but on the other hand its using a sledgehammer to kill a mosquito. The cervical cancer we hop Guardisil will prevent kill so few people that even very side effects in 150 million females vaccinated could cause a net loss.)

      Guardisil doesn’t do much in terms of the consquences of sex…it does almost nothing in fact.

      Its effect on sexual behavior depends on the mass perception. History has shown that all harm reduction enables. People a hundred years ago simply would not have survived our levels of sexual promiscuity. We can only do so with the aid of advanced technology. Guardisil represents a small addition to that harm reduction. It may be perceived as a much larger one.

      But then what of the movement against all vaccines? It seems to exist apart from left or right …

      Some isolated religious groups have long opposed vaccination but most of the modern movement appears to spring from the Left who view vaccination as some kind of corporate conspiracy. All the recent outbreaks of formally vanquished diseases have occurred in either religious communities (Amish, Ultra Orthodox Jews) or in private left wing schools. The later have overshadowed the former quite a bit of late.

      The anti-vaccination meme is part and parcel of the “all natural” craze which in turn springs out of Leftism.

      Being that the time frames needed for safe storage are on the order of tens of thousands of years

      This is not true. After only several hundred years, most of the most dangerous isotopes such as Iodine or strontium will be completely gone. In any case, most storage plans involve turing the waste into glass or rock so that even if it sat in the middle of a rushing river, the actual leakage would produce no harm. Again, we see hypothetical fears based on only the most wildly improbable occurrences. After all, we have at least five and more likely a dozen or more large scale nuclear reactors resting unattended on the bottom of the ocean now as a result of lost submarines. Nobody has found any harm from the reactors.

      The real question is why so many people are willing to risk catastrophic global warming with hundreds of millions dead in order to avoid an accident that, even in the worse case, would kill hundreds of thousands (Chernobyl’s final death toll:56. More people were killed by stress over fear of radiation than actually died of radiation poisoning. )

      Point is: We have to choose a course of action and each course of action will kill. Logically, we should choose the course which our best information says will kill the fewest. Given the harm caused by fossil fuels, the inability of “alternative” source today to provide serious amounts of reliable energy, nuclear is the only option.

      The fact that a lot of people can’t or won’t see this tells us a lot about their models of the world.

    24. Boonton Says:

      It doesn’t seem to me to be presuming that and I don’t believe that. I believe that lowering the drinking age will increase the drinking population which will increase traffic accidents

      Possible but I do think the higher age also causes binge drinking (if you’re 19 yrs old drink the whole case of beer since you’re not allowed to be caught with any!), fosters an immature attitude towards drinking and delays the adult process of learning to moderate one’s drinking. It also makes fake ids sociall acceptable Also there is the strange fact that 18 yr olds are considered old enough to vote, old enough to committ adult crimes and old enough to serve in the armed forces but not old enough to drink.

      I think other policies can do a better job addressing drunk driving such as have a zero tolerance rate for drinking and driving under 21, having DUI convicts tote special licenses which would prohibt them getting served in bars etc.

      It is my understanding that more than a hundred university presidents thought it would help reduce binge drinking (because it would no longer be “forbidden fruit”). What hogwash.

      This seems like less about an education theory and more about real life observation from people who are pretty close to the action.

      Some isolated religious groups have long opposed vaccination but most of the modern movement appears to spring from the Left who view vaccination as some kind of corporate conspiracy.

      That would seem to violate your view of the left as favoring large centralized social structures. Most conspiracy theoriests I’ve meet view gov’t agencies as in the pocket of the ‘conspiracy’. The “vaccination causes autism” crowd doesn’t seem especially leftist and the few nods of approval they’ve gotten by mainstream politics seems to come from the right. And no they don’t seem to be motivated by isolated religious sects but by ancedotal examples of parents who kids developed autism after getting vaccinated. (Falsely assuming correlation equals causation….). And no it doesn’t seem to be motivated by some ‘back to nature’ meme but a pseudo-scientific hypothesis that mercury used in the vaccine is the agent causing autism. Not an absurd hypothesis. The only issue is that it has been studied and no such link has yet been found.

      The real question is why so many people are willing to risk catastrophic global warming with hundreds of millions dead in order to avoid an accident that, even in the worse case, would kill hundreds of thousands (Chernobyl’s final death toll:56. More people were killed by stress over fear of radiation than actually died of radiation poisoning. )

      Actually many on the left are coming around to nuclear power for the very reason you cited above. Although I wonder about your style of argument. Was Chernobyl’s final death toll really 56? There’s no population of cancer victims whose cases are showing up years later or are you only counting those who died immediately in the accident?

      Doing a fast persual of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl_disaster it does seem like there were a lot fewer cases of cancer than initially feared, however even so at least 4,000 cases of thyroid cancer were reported that can be attributed to the accident. Even if you only consider fatal cancers only (it isn’t like having a cancer that’s cured is a lot of fun), survival rates of thyroid cancer are about 96% or so. Even with that you getting 160 victims. And, of course, you have to consider that many potential victims were saved because a large section of the city was evaculated and residents never allowed to return.

      But Chernobyl also illustrates the quite rational fear of human nature many people have. In theory Chernobyl never should have happened, it was easily preventable except for the fact that humans were at the switch as well as the fact that humans were running a horrible economic system that rewarded neglect. One has to wonder if the success rate nuclear power has had so far is at least partially attributed to the scrutiny it is under. If that scrutiny goes away wouldn’t human nature kick in, short cuts get taken, rules get ignored and so on.

    25. Boonton Says:

      My impression of the FDA is quite limited. I know there have been fewer new drugs approved in recent years but at the same time it has been getting harder and harder for pharma companies to find worthwhile new drugs. I suspect it’s because the well has run dry and a major paradign shift is needed….but it could also just be a dry spell were all the low hanging fruit was picked early and now we just have to wait before a new host of compounds comes online.

      What is interesting, though, is there’s an alternative system where drug approvals are not needed and that is the ‘dietary supplement’ market. Because of a single Senator who swore by his vitamins, this industry is more or less able to market anything it wants too as long as it doesn’t make specific health claims….hence we have endless commercials for “immune boosters” instead of “fights the flu” and, of course, “natural male enhancement” instead of erecticle dysfunction (BTW, of all the ‘sex’ pharmaceuticals viagra is no doubt the biggest…why is this sex drug not associated with leftists spokesmen but dour conservative Bob Dole????).

      As far as I can tell, this hands off stance by the gov’t has produced massive amounts of innovation in packaging and marketing but nothing in real terms. Of all the dietary supplements available to you today, I think you can get about as much out of them as you could with what was available 15 years ago. I’m unaware of any serious breakthrough or advance from this industry despite the more or less lax regulation of it…and even if you can find some examples they would be dwarfed by the major innovations in pharma over the last 15 years. If GNC’s inventory of 2008 was swapped with its 1988 inventory I wouldn’t care much but swapping all the pharmacies’ inventory would be a major decrease in welfare.

      One explanation might be there’s no real innovations left in this industry. There is, after all, only so much good you can do different mixes of zinc and vit. C. Maybe the only place to innovate is the packaging and marketing. And maybe the problem is intellectual property….even if a certain combination of zinc and C cured cancer you can’t really patent it. But I’m totally unaware of even a half-serious effort by any supplement company to even try to come up with stuff that is scientifically innovative. Nothing like the millions pharma companies spend to establish even a few months worth of extra life in a patient with fatal cancer. This low regulated market has a well earned rep for snake oil rather than innovation IMO…..

      I do agree thought that the FDA system could be improved. I would favor something along a no-fault system. Phase I-III studies establish a basic level of safety and efficiacy for a drug to be allowed on the market with Phase IV as establishing additional indications. A portion of revenue from approved drugs should be used to purchase a general policy that would reimburse those who suffer serious side effects that eluded the Phase III studies. Those suffering side effects would register with a database and only be able to be reimbursed if the data establishes a link between the drug and long term side effect. Side effects that are known and part of the warning label would not be eligeable. (Oncology drugs, for example, are approved with known side effects that would never be tolerated in a drug for a ‘lifestyle’ condition or a general public drug to, say, lower blood pressure) In essence, once a drug is on market everyone taking it is essentially part of a Phase V study. This, though, would not apply to any case where the drug company submitted false or incomplete data or buried studies in an effort to hide the side effect.

      To me this seems more fair than the current system which seems to rest on a legal fiction. You take a drug totally at your own risk…at least according to the law. In reality if there is some side effect lawyers must engage in endless litegation to prove the drug companies had kept something hidden which the system is inclined to go along with because who wants to see some poor guy who suffered get nothing in return.

    26. Shannon Love Says:

      Bootoon,

      That would seem to violate your view of the left as favoring large centralized social structures.

      Not really. Leftist usually just argue that private large centralized structures should be placed under government control. If no such private structure exist, the a government one should be created. In any case, people are quite capable of viewing the government as both devil and savior in the same breath. For example, people will tell you that the Iraq war is caused by evil corporations. They will go through other examples of how evil corporations manipulate government to line their own pockets. Then they will declare the absolute necessity of socialized medicine even though it would logically open up even vaster opportunities for the corrupt corporate influence they see in so many other areas.

      Logically, if a government cannot prevent the greedy from hijacking its foreign policy, environmental policy, consumer safety etc then it would be highly unlikely to be able to prevent the hijacking of socialized medicine as well. Yet, most leftist do not see this. Therefore, I don’t really see any contradiction in the leftist love of centralized solutions and the growing distrust that some leftist exhibit of vaccinations.

      Even with that you getting 160 victims.

      I googled the World Health Organization report on Chernobyl. They put the deaths around 50 with as many of 4,000 at risk. Even if we assume that 4,000 people will die over the next 50 years as a result of Chernobyl, we’re still talking about a death toll comparable with other industrial accidents.

      And again, we have to compare the harm of Chernobyl or any of the far less likely and far less dangerous accidents using well regulate current and future technology against the “absolute certainty” of megacides resulting from global warming. We would need hundreds of Chernobyls to even begin to balance those deaths.

      …it was easily preventable except for the fact that humans were at the switch…

      Technology does not function in a vacuum. Technology hardware needs the “software” of culture, education and law to function. 3rd world countries can’t keep the lights on not due to a lack of technical knowledge but rather due to an inability to manage the technology with the cultural, legal and political tools at their disposal. The same failure cause Chernobyl. Even in the a libertarian’s wet dream society would a private concern have built the Chernobyl plant. It took a certain buggy “software” for that to happen. Russian is rife with ecological disaster of vast scale caused by the Soviets inability to properly manage technology.

      The Left’s fear of nuclear power has more to do with their mistrust and often outright hatred of the people who individual and collectively build and maintain the technology. The safety record of nuclear power across the free-world shows this mistrust misplaced. Liberal-democracies do have the “software” to use this technology.

    27. Shannon Love Says:

      Booton,

      …it has been getting harder and harder for pharma companies to find worthwhile new drugs.

      Hmmmm, no. Take it from as someone educated as a biologist. Biomedical knowledge is exploding right now. Our ability to create new drugs is exploding right along with it. What is happening, however, is the focusing of treatments on increasingly specific illnesses. New cancer drugs for example, usually target one specific aspect of one specific type of tumor. This specificity means that new drugs have a much smaller market than did drugs that used a shotgun approach e.g. penicillin.

      However, our approval system makes it as expensive to get approval for a drug that treats 10,000 people as it does for a drug that treats 10,000,000. Pharmaceutical companies therefore look first for the home runs. Again we’ve created perverse incentives by viewing new technology and the people who create and sell it with mistrust and hatred.

      As far as I can tell, this hands off stance by the gov’t has produced massive amounts of innovation in packaging and marketing but nothing in real terms.

      Heh. That is because government only keeps it hands off as long as the “supplements” don’t actually do anything. In biology, there are two types of chemicals in the body. The kind that have negative side effects and the ones that don’t do anything. “Supplements’ are the latter. The manufactures take great care to insure that their products do not have enough active phytochemicals to actually produce any effect in the body. The most they will allow is enough caffeine analogs to produce the same pickup as a couple of cups of coffee. When “supplements” actual do something, such as in the case with ephedra, they have side effects and that draws the attention of regulators.

      So, we see perverse incentives again. “Supplements” will always be a scam because the moment they stop being a scam, they start hurting people and then they get regulated.

      In reality if there is some side effect lawyers must engage in endless litegation to prove the drug companies had kept something hidden which the system is inclined to go along with because who wants to see some poor guy who suffered get nothing in return.

      I don’t think drug companies have actually “hidden” anything for over 40 years. The hidden information is usually the result of a due process system in which researches list every conceivable side effect the drug might have. Then they do research to rank the probability and harm of the side effects. The FDA then decides what side effects are significant enough to warn people of and which are not. If the researches and FDA guessed wrong, then the attempt to list all the possible side effects is taken as evidence that the drug company knew of the side effects but callously hid it.

      You see the same effect in all technology related lawsuits. Again, we create a perverse incentive for manufactures to avoid looking to closely for harm in their products. If don’t look for problems, you can’t find them and if you can’t find them, you don’t have a paper trail that some lawyer will exploit in the future. In many cases, its better from liability standpoint to be able to say, “we had no idea problem X could occur” than it is to find problem X and misjudge its significance.

    28. david foster Says:

      “If that scrutiny goes away wouldn’t human nature kick in, short cuts get taken, rules get ignored and so on”…yet we do a pretty good job with airline safety, without the kind of paranoia that exists re nuclear power.

    29. Boonton Says:

      True, although the primary people likely to get killed by taking short cuts in airline safety are the people on the plane itself….a powerful incentive although not a perfect one since human error has still caused some crashes. Even then I think you can make a case that we can tolerate more plane crashes than nuclear mishaps.

    30. Boonton Says:

      Even in the a libertarian’s wet dream society would a private concern have built the Chernobyl plant. It took a certain buggy “software” for that to happen.

      Curious, do you think any nuclear plant would be built in a libertarian’s wet dream? Even today don’t nuke advocates favor having the Fed. gov’t grant liability immunity to plant owners?

      Hmmmm, no. Take it from as someone educated as a biologist. Biomedical knowledge is exploding right now. Our ability to create new drugs is exploding right along with it.

      True ability is there but that’s a long way from getting it done especially with drugs. Pipelines at many pharma companies are dry even though R&D dollars have exploded. They’d love to have the next penicillin type drug…like one to raise good cholestrol or a very broad based anti-cancer drug but it seems to be getting harder to find it….perhaps it is simply a management issue, the big labs have to downsize, rethink their structure and go back on the attack.

      However, our approval system makes it as expensive to get approval for a drug that treats 10,000 people as it does for a drug that treats 10,000,000.

      Well a few points:

      1. It’s often easier to target a a patient base of 10,000 and then try to establish additional indications beyond that.

      2. Finding a drug that treats 10M requires doging a lot more potential side effects. A drug that lowers blood pressure needs to be safe for tens of millions to take. A drug for a rare but fatal cancer can have quite a few side effects.

      3. You forgot about extended patent rights for ‘orphan drugs’.

      4. Studies and costs do scale based on patient size. A drug to target a very specific cancer might have studies with less than a hundred patients while a broad scale drug would probably require thousands.

      Thank you for your explanation about the supplement market, that made a lot of sense. Although what do you think a deregulated market would look like including patent regulations being dropped? I suspect it would always be easier to sell snake oil with enough language in the fine print to shield from fraud suits than put forth the investment to make real discoveries.

      If the researches and FDA guessed wrong, then the attempt to list all the possible side effects is taken as evidence that the drug company knew of the side effects but callously hid it.

      Sounds like a no-fault system could compensate people who are hit with major side effects, provide the incentives to get hard data about side effects public as soon as it becomes available and remove at least some of the incentive to not look for negatives.

    31. david foster Says:

      Boonton…re your comment about the primary risks in airline operations accruing to people actually on the plane–this is true for pilots but not for mechanics, air traffic controllers, airline flight dispatchers, airplane designers, or airplane manufacturing workers.

    32. Shannon Love Says:

      Booton,

      Curious, do you think any nuclear plant would be built in a libertarian’s wet dream?

      I think they would have been later coming and would have started out as small, special purpose reactors for submarines or isolated areas. Nuclear power has the distinction of being the only purely socialized technology from creation to production. Political decisions caused us to deploy scaled up submarine engines in large reactors instead of allowing the technology to start small and evolve up as did every other energy technology.

      Even today don’t nuke advocates favor having the Fed. gov’t grant liability immunity to plant owners?

      I think that only applies to the current hysterical atmosphere. I would have no problem with people who suffer real harm from the release of radiation. Given our current tort system, I don’t see that happening.

      A drug to target a very specific cancer might have studies with less than a hundred patients while a broad scale drug would probably require thousands.

      You’d think so but not really. Statistical significance is invariant to market size. If you set a certain bottom threshold for detection of side effects then your test population is mathematically fixed. Orphan drug laws don’t help much because they really only apply to drugs with well known effects but that don’t have enough consumption to justify large scale production. Orphan drug laws don’t apply to the research and testing of novel drugs.

      Sounds like a no-fault system could compensate people who are hit with major side effects…

      The trouble is that most damaging drug side effects are known only statistically. There is no way to determine if any particular individual actually suffered from the drug or just had a coincidental event. For example, Viox triggered statistically higher heart attacks but no means exist to determine whether viox triggered any particular heart attack.

    33. Boonton Says:

      I think that only applies to the current hysterical atmosphere. I would have no problem with people who suffer real harm from the release of radiation. Given our current tort system, I don’t see that happening.

      Even with a hysterical atmosphere why couldn’t a nuclear reactor company simply be required to purchase a $10B insurance bond from the private market? If the numbers are as good as you say why couldn’t private companies compete to offer a reasonable premium on such an unlikely event?

      Also in a libertarian world of small scale reactors being played with by tinkerers….how do you address the problem of terrorists & other troublemakers getting access to nuclear material?

      You’d think so but not really. Statistical significance is invariant to market size. If you set a certain bottom threshold for detection of side effects then your test population is mathematically fixed.

      I can check but I believe I’ve seen Oncology drugs with phase III studies of under 100 patients.

      For example, Viox triggered statistically higher heart attacks but no means exist to determine whether viox triggered any particular heart attack.

      Well I would imagine a third party would register claims. When a connection like the above is established the claims would pay the portion of the increase due to the drug. For example, if Viox increased the risk by 10% anyone who puts in a claim for a heart attack gets 10 cents on the dollar. Drug companies would still have an incentive not to uncover bad side effects….after all even if they weren’t liable for Viox’s heart attacks discovering the side effect is horrible for sales.

      The other incentive problem I think about sometimes is head to head studies. Only occassionally does anyone fund major studies setting different drugs in head to head competition. Only if such a study will reasult in a powerful marketing claim does it make sense for a drug company to do so. HMO’s and other insurance companies would have an incentive to find out if certain expensive drugs are really better than cheaper competition but they can’t exactly patent the results of their studies. Since doctors are the ones who prescribe drugs they can’t really use trade secrets to profit on their investment.