Archive for the ‘Misuse of Science’ Category

It is the same old story.  Government scientists are being fired, or coerced with threats, to either tow the party line or shut up.  Science should govern policy.  Instead, the politicians are demanding, like never before, that policy govern science.  The most egregious agencies have been the EPA and NASA but the trend is spreading and a story from about a year ago is a case in point.Image

The Department of Interior refers to itself as the nation’s landlord. It controls almost 30% of the nation’s 2.27 billion acres of land and its natural resources, and as a regulatory agency, it creates policies to govern how public land and these resources are used. Under the leadership of Secretary Ken Salazar the agency has engaged in an aggressive crusade to obstruct and undermine the use of natural resources, restrict human access to public lands, and increase its influence over private property. Decisions made by the agency are presumed to be based on sound scientific analysis, but often times policy is driving the science, rather than science driving environmental policy. This has led to harmful decisions and a violation of the public trust.

A case in point is the story of DOI science adviser and scientific integrity officer, Dr. Paul Houser, who found out that by simply doing his job can be hazardous to one’s career. Dr. Houser is an expert in hydrology who was hired by DOI’s Bureau of Reclamation to evaluate scientific data used in the department’s decision making process. He was assigned several Western State projects including a scheme to remove four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River in Northern California—the largest dam removal project in U.S. history. When a summary of science posted on the web to support DOI’s claim for removal of the dams omitted several crucial factors from expert panel reports, Dr. Houser brought his concerns to his superiors. He was repeatedly told to refrain from sharing his concerns through electronic communication, which could be subject to Freedom of Information Act discovery.

Dr. Houser learned firsthand that policy was driving the science, rather than the other way around, when he was told by his superiors at DOI, “Secretary Salazar wants to remove those dams. So your actions here aren’t helpful.”

According to the DOI the premise for Klamath River dams removal is to restore Coho salmon spawning habitat above the dams. However, official DOI documents reveal scientific concerns that dam removal may, in fact, result in species decline based on millions of tons of toxic sediment build up behind the dams that will make its way to the ocean. Water temperature increases without the dams could also negatively impact the salmon. These studies were ignored. Concerns about the human toll and impact to local Klamath Basin communities were also brushed aside. Those most interested in the well-being of the environment they live and work in, were given a backseat to special interests thousands of miles away.

The Klamath hydroelectric dams provide clean inexpensive energy to thousands of local residents who will be forced to pay much higher premiums if the dams are removed because California has strict new laws for use of renewable energy. The town of Happy Camp sits on the banks of the Klamath River and could be wiped out with seasonal flooding without the dams. Once Coho salmon are introduced into the upper Klamath, farmers and ranchers will be faced with water use restrictions and invasive government regulation of private land. The economic impact will be devastating, property values will depreciate and the agriculture community, often operating on slim profit margins, will be subjected to the fate of the once vibrant logging industry which fell victim to the spotted owl crusades.

Last year, Dr. Houser raised these concerns and was subsequently fired by the DOI. “I put my concerns forward and immediately thereafter I was pushed out of the organization,” he stated. The agency sent a clear message to the rest of their employees and scientists – Salazar’s dam busting agenda cannot be subject to any internal scientific scrutiny. Goebbels would be proud. Truth must be repressed when it contradicts the objective.

Dr. Houser did the right thing. He did his job. His integrity as a scientist was more important than a paycheck. But he remains concerned about his colleagues in DOI, “There are a lot of good scientists that work for the government but they are scared, they are scared that what happened to me might happen to them. This is an issue (about) the honesty and transparency of government and an issue for other scientists in government who want to speak out.” A few weeks ago Dr. Houser settled a wrongful discharge case with the DOI. Terms of his settlement are not public.

Now, seven more DOI scientists working on the Klamath Project have filed a complaint with PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility) claiming they have been reassigned or terminated for disagreement with the integrity of the science used to support dam removal. They have charged DOI’s Bureau of Reclamation’s management with “coercive manipulation, sublimating science to political priorities, censorship, and scientific misconduct.”

The government’s use of fictional science in the Klamath dam removal project should concern every American. Our public servants at DOI are brazenly advancing their own agendas at the expense of the truth and regardless of adverse impacts on the environment, humans, and on rural communities. Environment and human interests are not incompatible. We have to find solutions that work to the benefit of both. That requires agendas be put aside and allow complete science to determine policy.

DOI Secretary Ken Salazar is stepping down in March. His replacement needs to be someone who can be trusted to end the culture of fictional science as a means to advance environmental agendas.

Sometimes I wonder how some papers actually make it through the peer review process.  A study of Egyptian mummies and ancient skeletons has found little evidence that they suffered from cancer. The authors of the study suggest that this means cancer is a modern disease. (1)  “This might be related to the prevalence of carcinogens in modern societies,” write Rosalie David of the University of Manchester, UK and Michael Zimmermann of Villanova University, Pennsylvania. Cancers, they add, are “limited to societies that are affected by modern lifestyle issues, such as tobacco use and pollution resulting from industrialization”.  What a load of crap!

The assertions have dismayed many cancer researchers, and have led to a rash of uncritical coverage in the popular press. So what should we make of the evidence from the mummies, and do they justify laying the blame for cancer firmly on modern society?

In a review of published analyses of tens of thousands of ancient skeletons and hundreds of mummies, David and Zimmermann found only a handful of cases of cancer. One recent finding, of colorectal cancer, was identified as the first ever discovered in a mummy. They also examined ancient texts and literature from Egypt and Greece, and say that there’s little sign that cancer was a common ailment.  Upon this analysis, thay make the outlandish suggestion that cancer is largely a modern disease.

In a press release put out by the University of Manchester David is quoted as saying, “There is nothing in the natural environment that can cause cancer. So it has to be a man-made disease, down to pollution and changes to our diet and lifestyle.”  Believe me, I am nor alone in my consternation of so idiotic a statement.   There are dozens of natural causes of cancer, including ultraviolet light from the sun, natural radiation from radionuclides such as radon in rocks, cosmic rays, and infection by viruses that trigger cancer, such as the human papilloma virus, which causes cervical cancer and hepatitis viruses that can cause liver cancer. Likewise, soot and smoke from fire contain a multitude of carcinogens, as do fungal aflatoxins.  And that doesn’t even include cancers with a genetic link.

Certainly there are elements of modern life that cause cancers, but most of them are down to poor lifestyle choices that people can do something about, not, as implied, because they are drowning in a sea of carcinogens from which there is no escape.Smoking is the most significant of these, causing around a quarter of all cancers globally. Other major lifestyle factors that pose cancer risks include heavy drinking; which can lead to liver and gullet cancers; excessive sunbathing by fair-skinned individuals, which can lead to skin cancer; and obesity and lack of exercise, which can promote cancers of the gut.

The study is flawed in so many ways that it really is embarrassing.  Almost all the mummies and skeletons included in the study were of people who died before the age of 50. Ageing is one of the major causes of cancer.  The authors claim that because they found evidence for other diseases of ageing, such as arthritis and hardening of the arteries, that cancer should therefore have shown up too.  Where have these people been?  The morphological changes associated with both of the afflictions occur years and decades before symptoms or debilitation occurs.  Autopsies done on physically fit American soldiers who died in combat have found signs of hardening of the arteries in nearly all cases.  In contrast, in men today, 90 per cent of cancers occur after age 50. If you examined the bodies of 1000 modern men who died before 50, you wouldn’t find many cancers either.

Just a thought, but I wonder what these two researchers would have to say about the prevalence of tumors in fossilized dinosaur bones. (2)

Anyway, in the study, one of the main arguments for cancer being an affliction of modernization was the apparent lack of evidence for “common” bone cancers in children. But again, the figures don’t bear this out. Bone cancers in children are relatively rare, affecting about 1 in 10,000 children. Even if you have 10,000 childhood mummies, you’d be lucky to find a single case!

Because of so much backlash, particularly from cancer researchers, David has backpedalled a bit. “We’re not saying what the explanation is, we’re proposing its modern living also taking into account that people living longer might be to blame,” she says.  Cancer support groups and charity organizations are not very happy with this junk science. Their big fear is that by blaming industrialization generally for cancer, it will make people feel helpless about the situation, and divert attention from the many changes they can make to their behavior to reduce their risk, such as quitting smoking, exercising more, drinking less and eating more healthily.

  1. David, Rosalie and Michael Zimmerman. 2010. Cancer: an old disease, a new disease or something in between? Nature Reviews Cancer, 10: 728-733.
  2. Rothschild, D. H. et al.  2009. Epidemiologic study of tumors in dinosaurs.  Naturwissenschaften, 90 (11): 495-500.

Jim Hatem


A couple of people emailed me about what the doomsday climatologists were predicting back when they were kids: global cooling and the coming ice age.  These are a couple of Time Magazine covers from the 1970s.

Below is the link to an old Time Magazine article.  Pretty funny how they were blaming droughts in Africa to global cooling.  The prophets of doom today are blaming droughts in the very same region on global warming.

Time Magazine Article

Jim Hatem

            Face it, Americans are fat.  The U. S. government says that two out of every three adult Americans are clinically either overweight or obese.

            The statistics for children are no less frightening and point to a growing obesity epidemic.  Childhood obesity has garnered much national attention, especially within the educational system.  For decades, conventional wisdom has been: “We need to increase physical activity among our students to combat this epidemic.”  Using this paradigm as the impetus, billions and billions have been spent at the local, state and federal level on a menagerie of school programs. It was never grounded in science.  At best, it was grounded in bad science—a politician’s folly.

            I always wondered if perhaps we had it all backwards.  Perhaps children are not getting fatter because of a lack of physical activity.  Perhaps, I often asked myself and my colleagues, children are inactive because they are fat.  Well, finally, someone asked the right questions and did the science.  It seems I had it right all along.

            According to a recent report, published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood , the answer is now clear.  As it turns out, physical activity, has little or no role in the obesity epidemic among children.  This milestone, longitudinal study involving thousands of children asked: which comes first? Does the physical activity of children precede changes in fatness over time, or does fatness precede changes in physical activity?   It turns out that it is the latter.  The methodology, data collection, and analysis are flawless.   Of course, this answer flies in the face of fallacious popular knowledge. Year after year, politicians just blindly threw money at programs that were demonstrably a failure.

            Yet, children are forced to participate in physical education classes all over the country.  I have no problem with such classes, so long as they are electives and thus largely made up of children who want to participate.  School districts nationwide have even pinned physical education classes to high school graduation requirements.  Will they continue to do so?  Probably.  There is just too much inertia in the public school system to stop programs with so much history and so many vested interest groups. 

            In a better world, where educational programs are grounded in real science, children with little interest in physical education might have the option to use that hour each day on something they have an interest in and might actually enjoy.  Maybe they (or their parents ultimately), would prefer an hour each day spent in a music or art class?  Maybe an extra hour each day devoted to mental or academic enrichment activities– geared toward the interests of students– could be entertained?   Is this too utopian?  Or does it just make too much sense to be incorporated into public school curriculums?

            Now, with regard to this obesity epidemic, it has been clear for many years now that the path to obesity starts long before children even begin school.  Sometimes, the stage is even set prior to birth.  The evidence is overwhelming that the first few years of life seem to be the most important in establishing a trajectory for obesity.  Early feeding errors, including, but not limited to, premature truncation of breast feeding are the obvious problems. It could be argued that this is the price we have to pay for a society in which women sidestep their biological predispositions in order to enter the workforce.  The health costs associated with obesity could very well bankrupt us and may turn out to be the single most important issue in our future.  I am not advocating a society in which women are relegated to their biological role as child rearers. But we cannot afford to ignore our biology.  The technological revolution is what got us into this quagmire and it most certainly could help to provide a solution.  If just a tiny proportion of the wasted billions that have been funneled into misguided physical education programs were used to research the real causes of the obesity epidemic then perhaps a solution would be forthcoming.

Jim Hatem

B. S. Metcalf, J. Hosking, A. N. Jeffery, L. D. Voss, W. Henley, T. J. Wilkin. Fatness leads to inactivity, but inactivity does not lead to fatness: a longitudinal study in children (EarlyBird 45). Archives of Disease in Childhood, 2010; DOI: 10.1136/adc.2009.175927

For CDC statistics on the number of Americans who are overweight or obese see: