Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Organic vs. conventional produce for kids: You don't need to fear pesticides.

So let’s focus on that other major claim about organic food—that is it’s healthier, particularly for kids, because it contains fewer pesticides. First, let’s start with the fact that organic does not mean pesticide-free. As scientist and writer Christie Wilcox explains in several eye-opening blog posts over at Scientific American, organic farmers can and often do use pesticides. The difference is that conventional farmers are allowed to use synthetic pesticides, whereas organic farmers are (mostly) limited to “natural” ones, chosen primarily because they break down easily in the environment and are less likely to pollute land and water. (I say “mostly” because several synthetic chemicals are approved for use in organic farming, too.)
The assumption, of course, is that these natural pesticides are safer than the synthetic ones. Many of them are, but there are some notable exceptions. Rotenone, a pesticide allowed in organic farming, is far more toxic by weight than many synthetic pesticides. The U.S Environmental Protection Agency sets exposure limits for the amount of a chemical that individuals (including kids) can be exposed to per day without any adverse effects. For Rotenone, the EPA has determined that people should be exposed to no more than 0.004 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day. Let’s compare this toxicity to that of some commonly used synthetic pesticides, like the organophosphate pesticide Malathion. The nonprofit Pesticide Action Network calls organophosphates “some of the most common and most toxic insecticides used today.” (Sarin, the nerve gas used in two Japanese terrorist attacks in the 1990s, is a potent organophosphate.) Yet the EPA has deemed it safe, based on animal tests, for humans to be exposed to 0.02 milligrams of Malathion per kilogram of body weight per day. This is five times more than the amount deemed safe for Rotenone. In other words, by weight, the natural pesticide Rotenone is considered five times more harmful than synthetic pesticide Malathion. The EPA’s recommended exposure limit for Glyphosate, another widely used synthetic pesticide—you might know it as Roundup—is 0.1 milligrams per kilogram per day, which means it’s 25 times less toxic by weight than Rotenone. The synthetic pesticide Captan is 32.5 times less toxic than Rotenone, and another one, Pyrimethanil, is 42.5 times less toxic than Rotenone. Rotenone is also not the only natural pesticide that out-ranks synthetic pesticides in terms of toxicity. The pyrethrins, a class of pesticides derived from chrysanthemums that are approved for use in organic farming, are more toxic by weight than Roundup, Captan, and Pyrimethanil, too.

Ah, but what about all those studies that suggest that organic fruits and veggies harbor fewer pesticide residues than conventionally farmed produce does? Those studies only tested for synthetic pesticides. In the few studies that have also looked for natural pesticides—the USDA’s Pesticide Data Program tested for them on organic lettuce in 2009, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation tested a handful of organic fruits and vegetables for certain natural and synthetic pesticides in 2010, and the USDA did an analysis of organic produce in 2010—scientists have found that between 15 and 43 percent of organic produce samples harbor measurable traces of either natural or synthetic pesticides or both. As far as I can tell, however, no one has published a comparison of the overall amounts of both types of pesticides on organic versus conventional produce, so it’s hard to conclude much from these findings other than that, yes, organic produce can be pesticide-tainted, too.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Americans, Including Catholics, Say Birth Control Is Morally OK

U.S. Perceived Moral Acceptability of Behaviors and Social Policies, May 2012Perceived Moral Acceptability of 2012's Most Controversial Issues -- by Party ID

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted May 3-6, 2012, with a random sample of 1,024 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

The White House Overreaches on Campus Rape

I analyzed the CSA and its numbers nearly three years ago when the administration launched its first initiative to combat campus sexual assault in April 2011, with the "Dear Colleague" letter to college and university presidents from the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights.  The vast majority of the incidents counted as assault involved what the study termed "incapacitation" by alcohol (or, rarely, drugs).  But "incapacitation" is a misleading term, since the question used in the study also measured far lower degrees of intoxication: "Has someone had sexual contact with you when you were unable to provide consent or stop what was happening because you were passed out, drugged, drunk, incapacitated, or asleep?"  This wording does not differentiate between someone who is unconscious or barely conscious and someone who is just drunk enough to go along with something he or she wouldn't do when sober.  The questions related to sexual assault by physical force--particularly attempted sexual assault--are also worded so ambiguously that they could refer to a clumsy attempt to initiate sex, even if the "attacker" stops at once when rebuffed.

Moreover, the government's numbers are wildly at odd with actual crime records.  Several years ago, Carnegie Mellon business professor Chad Hermann analyzed the number of sexual assault reported at Pittsburgh's three major campuses (the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon, and Duquesne) and concluded that even if 90 percent of such assaults go unreported, a woman's annual risk of sexual assault at these schools ranges from 1 in 3,700 to 1 in 650.  Spread out over four or five years of college attendance, that still adds up to somewhere between 1 in 130 and 1 in in 925.  There is little doubt that records from other campuses would yield similar results.

Already, many have expressed concern that excessive zeal in the campus "war on rape" is creating a "presumed guilty" mindset toward accused men.  One thing you will not find in either the official White House statement or the council's report is any recognition that protections for victims must be balanced with fairness to the accused, or any acknowledgment of that such concerns legitimately exist.  Instead, the focus is exclusively on "survivors."  The only mention of false accusations in the report is a passage decrying the "myth" that "many women falsely claim rape." Cited in rebuttal is a 2010 article by University of Massachusetts psychologist David Lisak and his colleagues, which analyzes several studies (and a sample of its own) and concludes that "only 2-10% of reported rapes are false." 
Of course, the upper range of that estimate is hardly a trivial rate.  But there is another issue, too. Lisak's numbers refer to cases in which a rape allegation is more or less definitively proven to be false.  Given how difficult it is to prove a negative, the existence of these confirmed false allegations suggests that a certain percentage of unresolved charges--in which there is no conclusive proof one way or the other--are likely false as well. 
The orthodox feminist position, apparently endorsed by the Obama administration, is that unless a charge of rape is clearly demonstrated to be false, it must be true.  That is the very definition of "presumed guilty."

Friday, January 24, 2014

Why is polygamy declining? -- Matt Ridley

Yet we are clearly monogamous by instinct as well as by tradition. Even in societies that allow polygamy, most people are in one-partner couples. Free-love communes always, without exception, collapse because people will insist on falling in love with particular individuals. This pairing tendency would baffle a bonobo, where sexual jealousy is apparently unknown.

Polygamy, in this reading, was mainly an aberration of the last 10,000 years caused by agriculture, which allowed the accumulation of huge surpluses, which powerful men translated into prodigious sexual rewards. Herding societies in particular became highly polygamous, causing people with names such as Attila, Ghenghis or Tamerlane to conquer other lands so as to supply women to their sex-starved followers: polygamy and violence tend to go together.

In a recent paper entitled "The puzzle of monogamous marriage", three American anthropologists argue that this trend is partly explained by competition between societies. To be economically successful, modern nations had to suppress violence within themselves.
This was incompatible with rulers grabbing all the best girls: "In suppressing intrasexual competition and reducing the size of the pool of unmarried men, normative monogamy reduces crime rates, including rape, murder, assault, robbery and fraud, as well as decreasing personal abuses . . . By shifting male efforts from seeking wives to paternal investment, normative monogamy increases savings, child investment and economic productivity."

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Neumark and Wascher on minimum wages and youth unemployment

Here is the abstract from their piece from 2003 (pdf):
We estimate the employment effects of changes in national minimum wages using a pooled cross-section time-series data set comprising 17 OECD countries for the period 1975-2000, focusing on the impact of cross-country differences in minimum wage systems and in other labor market institutions and policies that may either offset or amplify the effects of minimum wages. The average minimum wage effects we estimate using this sample are consistent with the view that minimum wages cause employment losses among youths. However, the evidence also suggests that the employment effects of minimum wages vary considerably across countries. In particular, disemployment effects of minimum wages appear to be smaller in countries that have subminimum wage provisions for youths. Regarding other labor market policies and institutions, we find that more restrictive labor standards and higher union coverage strengthen the disemployment effects of minimum wages, while employment protection laws and active labor market policies designed to bring unemployed individuals into the work force help to offset these effects. Overall, the disemployment effects of minimum wages are strongest in the countries with the least regulated labor markets.
More recently, Modeled Behavior has a relevant update on how minimum wages reduce the number of new teenage hires.  Brochu and Green you will find here, the effects on teen hiring are pretty clear.
- See more at:

Instapundit: CAMPUS SEXUAL ASSAULTS: Grossly Overstated?

CAMPUS SEXUAL ASSAULTS: Grossly Overstated? "At the University of Pittsburgh, there are roughly 14,800 female students. If their chances of being sexually assaulted are 1-in-4, there should be about 3,700 sexual assaults each year. In 2009, the most recent year for which full statistics are available, Pitt students reported 4. At Carnegie Mellon University, there are roughly 3,900 female students. If their chances of being sexually assaulted are 1-in-4, there should be about 975 sexual assaults each year. In 2009, CMU reported 6. (That figure was a three-year high.) At Duquesne University, there are roughly 5,700 female students. If their chances of being sexually assaulted are 1-in-4, there should be about 1,425 sexual assaults each year. In 2009, Duquesne reported 3."

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Bill Gates Explains How World Is Getting More Awesome and Less Poor - Hit & Run :

Link: (via

So begins a very lengthy debunking of what Gates sees as three myths first-world citizens tend to have about third-world countries. His letter can be read here. There's a pdf version here.
His three myths:
Poor countries are doomed to stay poor
Poverty levels are down just about everywhere, not just major Western countries. Gates goes so far as to say we need to rethink what we mean when we're talking about "developing" countries:

Foreign aid is a big waste
This may be a tougher sell for libertarians who are so attuned to recognizing the corruption of government power in nations both large and small. Gates believes that fears of corruption or waste are overstated based on anecdotes rather than data and also a result of a well-established problem of folks who believe Western governments spend more on foreign aid than they actually do.

Saving lives leads to overpopulation
I was half-tempted to declare this myth to actually be a straw man, but Gates says his foundation gets comments like this all the time. People believe that these poor countries will continue to grow at the same population rate as they do when they're no longer poor, despite all evidence that birth rates drop in wealthier countries. And as Gates points out, higher mortality rates do nothing to halt population growth anyway:

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Tip Sheet: Hydraulic Fracturing | Heartland Institute

Point 1: The Yale Graduates in Energy Study Group found the benefits of hydraulic fracturing exceed the costs by a ratio of 400–1.
Point 2: By using horizontal drilling techniques, producers are able to drill multiple wells from the same drilling pad, reducing surface disturbance while increasing access to oil and gas resources.
Point 3: Fracking fluid is composed of 99.51 percent water and sand, and .49 percent chemical additives, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Such additives prevent corrosion in the well, reduce surface tension in liquids, stabilize clay particles, adjust pH, and eliminate bacteria.
Point 4: Shale gas production consumes less water per unit of energy generated than onshore oil production, ethanol production, and washing coal after it has been mined.
Point 5: Increasing reliance on natural gas has been a key reason why U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have fallen to their lowest levels since 1994 and are not expected to reach their 2005 levels again through 2040.
Point 6: Current available science and track record suggests moratoria on hydraulic fracturing are unnecessary.
Point 7: Low energy costs due to abundant and affordable oil and natural gas are projected to add one million jobs by 2025.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Five Myths About Inequality: Newsroom: The Independent Institute

Link: (via

Myth No 1: Income for the average family has stagnated over the past 30 years.

Myth No. 2: People at the bottom of the income ladder are there through no fault of their own.

Myth No. 3: Government transfer programs, like unemployment insurance, are an effective remedy.

Myth No 4: Raising the minimum wage is an effective remedy.

Myth No. 5: Income is the best measure of wellbeing.

Factor Analysis of Population Allele Frequencies as a Simple, Novel Method of Detecting Signals of Recent Polygenic Selection: The Example of Educational Attainment and IQ | American Renaissance

Craig’s Five Ways, Part Two – EvolutionBlog

Link: (via

We found his first two arguments to be inadequate. Do his other three fare any better?

3. God provides the best explanation of objective moral values and duties.

I always find it funny when theists insist that God is the only sound basis for morality. The argument seems to be that if you believe murder, say, is wrong because you regard it as obvious that humans have certain obligations towards one another, then you are being capricious and arbitrary and have no firm basis for your moral beliefs. But if you believe murder is wrong because you hypothesize God into existence and then assert that He has commanded us not to murder, then you have a firm, solid ground for morality. That is not reasonable.

4. God provides the best explanation of the historical facts concerning Jesus' life, death, and resurrection.

Craig is just making stuff up here. I can promise you there is no consensus among serious historians that Jesus actually performed miracles or that the tomb was empty. How could there be? What we know about Jesus' ministry and burial is found, in its entirety, in the Gospel accounts in the New Testament. These accounts were written decades after the fact by propagandists who were specifically trying to win support for their religious beliefs. They were not written by eye-witnesses, and they were not written independently of one another. So there is no reason at all for believing that the tomb was empty.

5. God can be personally known and experienced.

That people sometimes have powerful psychological experiences is scarcely in doubt, but the interpretation of those experiences as communications from God certainly is.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Antibiotic surprise | Somewhat Reasonable


The thing about antibiotic resistance is that it takes resources for a bacterium to maintain it.  If you change antibiotics and attack from a different direction, not only does the bacterium have to re-tool, it's already weakened from spending the resources to build the first adaptation. Given enough time, it would lose the genes for the first adaptation to save resources, and then suddenly, the original antibiotic works again.

The trick is to have enough alternatives in stock to force bacteria to give up at least one of their adaptations.
Almost everyone these days uncritically accepts that the solution to antibiotic-resistant disease is to use fewer antibiotics. What about using more antibiotics? More varieties that is.
When doctors found penicillin was losing its efficacy as our first line of defense against bacterial infections, the medical community didn’t throw up its hands and use less. New antibiotics were developed! And thankfully so.
No… not stronger antibiotics. New varieties were developed that kept us ahead of the bacteria that ail us, humans and animals alike, to the point where doctors and veterinarians now have well in excess of 100 antibiotics to rely upon in fighting infection.
But now, thanks to overregulation resulting from tax-funded lobbying by anti-antibiotic, naturopathic, homeopathic, sustainability and organic activists, pharmaceutical companies have largely abandoned the development of new antibiotics. It simply does not pay to bring new antibiotic strains to market in the current regulatory environment. Pharmaceutical companies find it much simpler and more profitable to focus instead on treating phony ailments like attention-deficit disorder, obesity and erectile dysfunction.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Robert Asher on Stephen Meyer's "uniformitarianism" argument in Darwin's Doubt - The Panda's Thumb

Link: (via

Meyer basically claims that inferring intelligent design is an application of uniformitarianism, because in everyday human experience the only known explanation of “information” is intelligence, therefore we should infer ID when new information arises billions of years ago in the origin of life, or hundreds of millions of years ago in the Cambrian Explosion. (Meyer really believes that intelligence is necessary for any nontrivial evolutionary adaptation or complexity increase, i.e. he thinks there were millions of miraculous interventions in the history of life, but he’s a bit coy about admitting this up front.)....But, there are yet other problems with the inference, namely, how uniformitarian is Meyer, really? Robert Asher argues that Meyer is being selectively uniformitarian. Meyer basically uses the term as rhetoric, and then arbitrarily drops uniformitarianism whether it would lead to problems with his ID argument.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Politics and the minimum wage |

There's little debate among academic economists about the effect of minimum wages. University of California, Irvine economist David Neumark has examined more than 100 major academic studies on the minimum wage. He reports that 85 percent of the studies "find a negative employment effect on low-skilled workers." A 1976 American Economic Association survey found that 90 percent of its members agreed that increasing the minimum wage raises unemployment among young and unskilled workers. A 1990 survey reported in the American Economic Review (1992) found that 80 percent of economists agreed with the statement that increases in the minimum wage cause unemployment among the young and low-skilled. If you're searching for a consensus in a field of study, most of the time you can examine the field's introductory and intermediate college textbooks. Economics textbooks that mention the minimum wage say that it increases unemployment for the least skilled worker. The only significant debate about the minimum wage is the magnitude of its effect. Some studies argue that a 10 percent increase in the minimum wage will cause a 1 percent increase in unemployment, whereas others predict a higher increase.

On soaking the rich :: Jeff Jacoby

The belief that the tax code is skewed to benefit the rich is one that many Americans share. When pollsters ask whether high-income people are paying too much, too little, or their fair share in federal taxes, 60 percent or more of respondents routinely answer: too little.
But the data tell a different story.
By any reasonable standard the rich pay far more than their fair share. According to the latest (2007) IRS data, the top 1 percent of US taxpayers earn 22.8 percent of adjusted gross income but pay 40.4 percent of all federal income taxes. By contrast, the bottom 95 percent of taxpayers, who earn 62.5 percent of the income, pay just 39.4 percent of the income tax burden. That bears repeating: The income tax burden of the top 1 percent, who comprise just 1.4 million taxpayers, now exceeds that of the bottom 134 million combined.
While envy and economic resentment make a potent political brew, the hangover it leaves can be fierce. Democrats should resist the clamor to soak the rich. Better instead to remember Paul Tsongas's admonition: "No goose, no golden eggs."

Wednesday, January 01, 2014


A selection of articles on creationism

Steve Sailer: iSteve: My review of "The 10,000 Year Explosion"

I'm pleased that a new book, The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution, demonstrates that Darwin has two worthy 21st Century successors of comparable insight and ambition: co-authors Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending. (They've set up an official website for The 10,000 Year Explosion here).

On the first page of The 10,000 Year Explosion, Cochran and Harpending quote the reigning conventional wisdom about humanity:
"There's been no biological change in humans in 40,000 or 50,000 years. Everything we call culture and civilization we've built with the same body and brain."— Stephen Jay Gould
The co-authors then announce that they will undermine this standard presumption:
"We intend to make the case that human evolution has accelerated in the past 10,000 years, rather than slowing or stopping, and is now happening about 100 times faster than its long-term average over the 6 million years of our existence. The pace has been so rapid that humans have changed significantly in body and mind over recorded history. Sargon and Imhotep were different from you genetically as well as culturally."
As Greg quips, "The past may never be the same again."

The Devil's Kitchen: CRUdGate - Why this can't be swept under the carpet

In particular, a decision tree for addressing climate issues:

Firstly, we must understand how the whole thing hangs together, because the edifice of AGW is very definitely not just pure science, boffins in white coats in labs and so forth. It spans the whole gamut from real pure science, through the applied sciences and Engineering, passing through economics and finally ending up in the dark arts of Politics and Diplomacy. That's a lot to take in, so I have created a handy diagram that explains. Never let it be said that your polymathematic Pedant-General makes you do the hard work.

  • If the climate and recent changes are not unprecedented, then there's nothing to do. Let's go to the pub.

  • If it is unprecedented, then we need to know why. If we don't know if it is unprecedented or if we don't know why, we need to stop here until we can find out.
  • If it is unprecedented but it's not us, then we need to question seriously if there is anything that we can do about it and the answer to that is very very likely to be "no".
  • If it is us, we then to move into economics. Will the damage outweigh the benefit?
  • And even if the damage does outweigh the benefit, we still need to consider if the cost of stopping the climate change at source is less than the cost of adapting to the problem to minimise the damage.
  • And even if the mitigation does cost less than adaptation, we need to ask if our only option for mitigation is to subborn all our freedom to a putative benevolent world government.
Only if you can answer "yes" all the way down that chain can you get to Copenhagen. One misstep and you are looking at adaptation, either because we shouldn't do anything, or it's the best thing to do or the alternative is so appallingly ghastly, depending on which route you took to get there.

Industry, not environmentalists, killed traditional bulbs |

People often assume green regulations like this represent the triumph of environmental activists trying to save the plant. That's rarely the case, and it wasn't here. Light bulb manufacturers whole-heartedly supported the efficiency standards. General Electric, Sylvania and Philips — the three companies that dominated the bulb industry — all backed the 2007 rule, while opposing proposals to explicitly outlaw incandescent technology (thus leaving the door open for high-efficiency incandescents).

Competitive markets with low costs of entry have a characteristic that consumers love and businesses lament: very low profit margins. GE, Philips and Sylvania dominated the U.S. market in incandescents, but they couldn't convert that dominance into price hikes. Because of light bulb's low material and manufacturing costs, any big climb in prices would have invited new competitors to undercut the giants — and that new competitor would probably have won a distribution deal with Wal-Mart.
So, simply the threat of competition kept profit margins low on the traditional light bulb — that's the magic of capitalism. GE and Sylvania searched for higher profits by improving the bulb — think of the GE Soft White bulb. These companies, with their giant research budgets, made advances with halogen, LED and fluorescent technologies, and even high-efficiency incandescents. They sold these bulbs at a much higher prices — but they couldn't get many customers to buy them for those high prices. That's the hard part about capitalism — consumers, not manufacturers, get to demand what something is worth.
Capitalism ruining their party, the bulb-makers turned to government. Philips teamed up with NRDC. GE leaned on its huge lobbying army — the largest in the nation — and soon they were able to ban the low-profit-margin bulbs.