Puzzled about what's puzzling them? Let's recap: Governor Romney, the Republican nominee for President, is the wealthiest man to ever be nominated by a major American political party, maybe the wealthiest to head the ticket of any party, period: conservative estimates of Romney's wealth total about a quarter of a billion dollars. He's the kind of guy who, if he wanted, could easily buy a professional sports team, and while not a billionaire, could put together a billion-dollar deal if he wanted to.
Romney's best argument for pursuing the highest office in the land, frankly, is that he has been a striking success in the private sector. After all, he began young adulthood as, you know, only a millionaire, and he's easily increased his net worth by a factor of, oh, 200 or more. The feeling in some quarters is, if you want to grow the economy, now's the time to find someone with that invaluable private sector experience to run things, not another professional politician who has spent most of his time in the public trough.
It's a success story that is beyond the imaginings of most Americans. OK, well maybe not me or Han Solo: we can imagine quite a bit, but it's impressive. But here's the problem: while emulating Croesus, Governor Romney has also had quite a few public instances of playing King Midas--in reverse. For one thing, he has so far refused to release tax returns from between 2003 and 2009, and only got around to releasing last year's returns today. Along the way, it became public knowledge that before Romney became governor of Massachusetts, he divested many assets into his wife's name, including Swiss bank accounts and some kind of mysterious tax shelter thingy in the Cayman Islands. These are the kinds of moves that can effectively conceal God-knows-how-much from the IRS and the scrutiny of the general public, and also the kinds of moves that the average American could only imagine having the resources to make.
As a consequence, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has for some time been repeating an unsourced rumor to the effect that Mr. Romney hasn't paid taxes sometime in the last ten years. That claim took a mild hit yesterday in terms of its credibility, given that for 2011 at least Mr. Romney has provided a return, and a supposed audit of his returns showed that, on average, he paid significant taxes over that ten-year period. However, that claim hasn't been disproven, either. It is still quite possible that during some of the last ten years, Romney paid little or no taxes. So, while today's release provides some details, it's not a "smoking gun" to make Reid's smear campaign go away. There are also some fascinating details in the 2011 returns that show that the Romney camp has tweaked the return in order to remain consistent with prior claims made by the candidate about the size and nature of his 2011 returns. The short version is that Romney ended up paying more than he was legally required to pay, in order that his effective tax rate would hover around 14 percent (as he had previously claimed), rather than less than 10 percent, if all of his charitable giving had been deducted as the law requires.
On MSNBC, the largely partisan analysis had a field day with this, while Reid essentially doubled down on his dark hints, supposedly telling a Las Vegas Sun reporter that he still believes that the Governor is hiding something. Well, maybe, maybe not, but the fact remains that the decision to release the returns now, with the first debates less than two weeks away, is quite curious. It will be interesting to see if the President even alludes to tax returns at all, and perhaps the Romney camp simply felt that a preemptive strike would make the DNC people think twice about returning to the issue. Well....think again:
Yes, if the thought this would make "the chattering class" just "stop it", as Mrs. Romney had pleaded earlier this week, well, this is an enormous blunder on the part of the Romney camp. Most Americans had been focusing on his other miscues, and this reminds voters of a detail that makes his ill-chosen "47 percent" reference seem not just a question of indifference, but indicative of arrogant disregard for the lot of ordinary Americans who pay taxes at a rate well above what's been shown in Mr. Romney's returns released to date. Releasing these numbers gave his DNC foes more grist for the mill, and pretty much forced media outlets, even FOX, to address the question of whether he had something to hide. Heads you lose, Mr. Romney, tails they win.
Let's be clear: a lot of this criticism is just patently unfair. Governor Romney makes a lot of money, and he gives a lot of money, and that's one reason why his effective tax rate is so low. If I was in a position to give at Romney scale, I certainly would, and I would certainly take advantage of a tax code that allows me deduct charitable giving, because that would allow me to give even more to the causes that I care about. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Governor Romney paying 14 percent or 9 percent, and charitable giving is absolutely something we should encourage our more fortunate fellow citizens to do. As far as I can see, Mitt Romney is doing nothing I wouldn't do to maximize my own investment in this country and its people. Nothing.
But you know what? I'm not running for President of these United States. If I was, and I was burdened with potential voter envy due to my success, I would certainly not approach the question of my personal wealth the way that Mr. Romney has. I would release all my tax returns, and I would've liquidated my foreign investments years ago and be completely transparent about them, even those transactions that provoke envy, because first and foremost I would not want to give anyone, anywhere, anything to hang their hat on where they could claim that I was hiding something. I would do that even if my effective tax rate would approach zero, because full disclosure up front would allow me to turn a potential negative (wealth that most Americans can only dream of) to a positive. Governor Romney's greatest asset in a troubled economy is his well-established ability to make a good living by making business ventures more profitable, but he can't effectively make that point if he hides behind the skirts of the law and refuses to discuss details about how he made those ventures more profitable, and just how profitable they were.
This could've been so different. Romney is a citizen of a country where, as one wag put it, most people don't see themselves as poor, but merely as future millionaires who are likely to strike it rich, any day now. If Romney had recast his business ventures and his income in terms of that great American dream, he might not become more likeable, but he instantly becomes harder to actively dislike. The way to counter the stereotype of "to the manor born" is not to allow your foes to characterize your success as privilege, but to paint yourself as a man who has worked very hard to achieve success in business, to describe the agonizing, the soul-searching that could attend making the very hard decisions about businesses that affect people's lives. Even blue-collar workers who've lost jobs due to mergers and outsourcing could appreciate why decisions for the greater good often involve short-term sacrifice, the distinction between eggs and omelettes.
Similarly, the way to counter the stereotype of "miserly plutocrat" is to emphasize the relationship between financial success and charitable giving. Mr. Romney could've pointed to people who are far wealthier than he, people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, and praise them for their philanthropy, and to tightly wrap their ability to give to a tax code that rewards personal generosity. You would pick billionaires on the other side of the aisle to praise, and draw careful attention to specific acts of charity that they have produced, rather than appear boastful about your own giving. This would make you look generous and principled in discussing "wealth creation", and walks you nicely back toward the conservative narrative as to how wealth is created.
(Now, keep in mind I don't buy that narrative, precisely because people like Gates and Buffett are exceptional. Rich people as a group tend to invest in old businesses rather than start new businesses, and "trickle down" fiscal policies, combined with increased leveraging of the system with money by the very rich, has created an economy that is increasingly stratified and which squeezes the middle class in a way that stifles economic growth. But I'm not arguing that narrative is true, merely that it has been historically persuasive for many Americans when sold a certain way, a way that Mr. Romney ought to understand how to sell.)
Yes, these are the kinds of things you could talk about if you were completely transparent about your own finances: hard work, tough decisions, charitable giving as a form of economic investment. In the hands of a skilled politician like Bill Clinton, you might not persuade an independent voter that your prescription for the economy is entirely sound, but it would be clear that your views on how to grow the economy, views that differ from the President, proceed directly from your own experience, your own hard work, your own success, and that becomes increasingly difficult to criticize without seeming mean-spirited.
Well, at this point we should all know that this path was not the path pursued by Gov. Romney. He chose to keep his tax records secret but, as Roger Simon points out, require his running mate (Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan) to provide ten years worth of returns, just like Senator McCain required Romney to release ten years of returns back in 2008 when he was being considered a potential running mate, just like Romney's own father (former Michigan Gov. George Romney) provided decades of returns. That Romney remains patently unwilling to abide by the same standard his father advocated, and that he and other politicians require of each other, can only be described as hypocritical. Perhaps his camp thought that the news that the Governor paid millions more than he had to in 2011 would make him more sympathetic and make the whole tax return thing go away, but you can't elicit sympathy when people see you as a hypocrite. It's only full disclosure that creates the dynamic where an open discussion of your wealth and privilege can be turned into a positive.
So, do I believe Gov. Romney has something to hide, as Harry Reid wants us to infer? I don't really care at this point, and I don't think most Americans care at this point, either. The issue is not whether or not Romney has anything shameful hiding in his returns, nor is the issue the supposed attempts of the left to revive class warfare and pillory Mitt for the "crime" of financial success. The issue is that Mitt repeatedly fails to connect to regular Americans in a way that embodies his views on fiscal policy, which is supposedly his strong suit as a candidate.
You can't separate the man from the policy, because the man manifestly embodies not the 47 percent, not the 53 percent, not the 100 percent, but the ultra-rich: the one-tenth of a percent of Americans who are doing fabulously well in this stagnant economy. It's not class envy to demand that a historically wealthy candidate in a time of great income disparity show transparency and consistency in their own financial dealings in order to be regarded as credible on fiscal policy: it's common sense.
Common sense would also suggest that if, for whatever reason, you don't want to shine the light of day on your tax records, it would be unwise to remind the electorate of that less than two weeks before your first presidential debate, and just 45 days before the election. Common sense, that any reasonably competent politician who knows how to connect with voters would appreciate. The problem is that Mitt Romney is not a competent politician. There are things that he is good at, including making money and building organizations behind the scenes. He is ambitious and smart, but he utterly lacks the common touch that politicians with less money and less brains have in earnest.
That's why any mention of taxes is now "death" for the Romney campaign, and just as I am certain of death and taxes, I am now certain that the Romney campaign will continue to shoot itself in the foot all the way to November. Mitt Romney isn't just a flawed candidate: he embodies a flaw in the Republican Party, he embodies a flaw in the entire conservative wing of American politics, he IS a flaw masquerading as a candidate. The flaw: the belief that money and power and the "right" ideas should be enough to buy an election.
I passionately believe otherwise. I believe a compelling and winning candidacy must have more than dollars, more than influence and more than a list of tired talking points. They have to personally connect to the American people, and it is striking that the Romney organization not only doesn't appear to understand that, but they don't appear all that interested in trying to understand that. Indeed, the entire GOP apparatus seems to hang, increasingly, on the idea that the big money made available in the Citizens United decision will allow them to leverage the election with a billion dollars worth of late advertising.
Mitt Romney may not really buy into every part of the ideology of the "Tea Party" movement, he might be something of a RINO who is attempting to conceal his more moderate views, but in this one thing he is definitely lock-step with the rest of his party: he's got the money, and he manifestly believes that the guy who's got the money should prevail, for both pragmatic and ideological reasons. I think that's a flawed outlook, likely a fatal flaw. But let's consider the possibility that I'm wrong, and that like death and taxes, the eventual ascendancy of Mitt Romney and his money is inevitable. If so, this election becomes a test of whether monied interests can prevail over the 47 percent of Americans who, Mitt Romney implies, are not carrying their weight. If Mr. Romney and his allies are correct, America is for sale, and the people who are the "job creators" are the ones who have both the means and the compelling moral obligation to put in the highest bid, and take over.
Total: 23, 586
Posted by Scott Hatfield . . . . at 9:18 AM
So...there's usually nothing remotely amusing about the Third Reich.
However, this is a well-known Internet meme, whose purpose is most certainly not to celebrate anyone in jackboots. There are a zillion versions of this, so I beg your pardon in advance if you don't think this is funny. But, since we're now in the middle of the Seoul Pop Invasion, this gave me a chuckle:
Posted by Scott Hatfield . . . . at 5:24 PM
Dr. Vang's tenure as Board President undermined some of the good will he had built up in nine previous years of service on the Board. As the first Hmong-American to be elected to the FUSD Board, and one of the more prominent Hmong-Americans in the Valley, his Board service had met with mixed reviews on policy, but until last year no one had ever questioned his judgement or character.
That all ended when reporters for the Fresno Bee investigated discrepancies between his official residency (within FUSD boundaries) and other residences listed for the purpose of voting. Residency requirements are often skirted or even ignored by elected officials, but any chance that Dr. Vang could've defused the controversy came to an abrupt end when he stonewalled the media, issued misleading statements to the public to justify his residency, and publicly attempted to bully fellow Board members and citizens wishing to address the Board.
In a space of a few hours, Vang (using his power as the Board's President) precipitated a walkout by other Board members by denying them the opportunity to speak, selectively set limits on the time for public comment based upon whether the citizen was critical of his actions, and used police power to, in essence, throw out the local union representative when he attempted to exercise his usual perogative to address the Board. It was, as the local media reported, an extraordinarily blatant attempt to use power to quash legitimate public concerns, unprecedented as far as anyone could recall in the history of elected bodies in Fresno County.
Dr. Vang shortly stepped down as Board President, and has now read the tea leaves: no further good can be served the Hmong-American community or the electorate at large by remaining on the Board, because Dr. Vang's actions undermined not merely the form, but the substance of what is essential in local government: access and accountability. His self-serving statement does not admit the obvious, that he is stepping down largely due to his own missteps, abusing the public's trust and publicly abusing the power he was granted as Board President.
Why did he wait so long? Here is where Vang's legacy is unsettled, because he represented a key supporter of Dr. Hansen, who like all Superintendents of large urban school districts eventually make a lot of people unhappy. Hansen has a difficult job, and we are currently at the point in the "leadership cycle" where in attempts to generate evidence of progress on various fronts the administration increasingly is adopting "top-down" measures that, no matter what the good intentions, are likely to generate more heat than light from the workforce (teachers) that are expected to implement them, mid-stream, in addition to all the other bureaucratic layers that we are expected to "check off" in lesson planning, classroom management, grading and the like. To put it simply, the heat's on Hansen, and so pressure is being brought from downtown to the classroom in a last-ditch effort to put some lipstick on the pig.
With Vang gone, however, there is no guarantee that a new Board majority will coalesce around the Superintendent's agenda. It's more likely that the new Board member will be an independent voice, not commited either to the Supe or to the increasingly-restless trio of Board members (one from the Bullard area) who feel that they have been continuously sabotaged by the present administration. If Vang isn't replaced by someone who will at least give Dr. Hansen a chance to make his case, then he's on borrowed time. I'm not sure, myself, how I feel about that. All I know is Dr. Vang had to go in order to build a new Board majority, one that the public could be reasonably certain would allow it adequate access and accountability in public meetings. Please, no future dictators need apply.
Posted by Scott Hatfield . . . . at 4:55 PM
So, somebody forwarded me one of those articles on "science" you can find on the Internet. Over the years, I've crusaded against creationism, particularly the young-Earth variety that attempts to inject itself, with disastrous results, in the public school curriculum.
I've gained some notoriety, some respect and made a few enemies along the way. And, thanks to people like Chris Mooney, I've gained some appreciation for some of the things that make pseudoscientists tick. Given my interests, it's not surprising that most of my foes are self-styled political conservatives.
But it would be a mistake to think that in any of my tilts with the "giants" of pseudoscience proceed from any political animus. I don't ask if they are Democrats, or Republicans, or Jesuits or Rastafarians.
In fact, yawn-double-yawn, who cares? Instead, I typically ask myself questions like this: "Are they members of the scientific community? " "Are they behaving as if they were members of the scientific community?" "Do they have "evidence" that would past muster with the scientific community?" "Are their concerns either based upon, or directly address potential shortcomings in well-established models widely-accepted in the scientific community?"
If the answers to these questions are in the affirmative, even if I have doubts about their conclusions, I regard them as colleagues and engage them as such: which means, frankly, that they are treated like adults and their ideas are subjected to the brutal competition of ideas which is science. I take them seriously if they fit those criteria, even if they hold creationist views, because that's the way science should work: we shouldn't have any sacred cows, and as long as everyone agrees to play the game of science by the rules that (by definition) are essential to its success, in the long run everybody wins by taking such folk seriously.
On the other hand, if they aren't scientists, they don't act like scientists, if they lack evidence, if their foundational ideas are irrational, then I tend not to take them too seriously as long as they are sincerely interested in understanding the actual science they want to engage. I only get really bent out of shape when it becomes clear that they are willing to advance their cause by unethical means, or by arguments that any reasonably educated person can be expected to reject as inherently flawed.
It turns out that the political right does not have a monopoly on such pseudoscience. Again, I was recently forwarded a piece of pseudoscience, in this case just one of many highly aroused critiques of a Stanford study that's been getting some attention lately for showing (in a meta-study of many short-term studies) that there is very little evidence to support the claim that organic food is obviously healthier than "non-organic" conventional produce. Why, there's a petition at change.org to "force" Stanford to retract this study, or some such nonsense.
Excuse me while I double up, on the floor, laughing. Yes, it's Party Rock Anthem tonight. In a word: Ha. Ha Ha! Ha Ha Ha! Ha Ha-Frickin'-Ha, how incredibly stupid are you people?
As if the scientific community gives a rap about what some group of political activists think! Listen carefully, numbskulls on the left: the scientific community doesn't care what you think. It cares about evidence. In your case, if you want someone to retract an article published in a journal, you don't get that to happen by drafting a petition aimed at their employers. That's not how science is done. If the study is flawed, there will be legions of scientists waiting to point out the study's methodological missteps, conceptual lapses or unreplicable results. That's what we do in science, see? We spend a lot of time constantly challenging each other, because there's a huge incentive for us to do it: the guy or gal who makes a better argument, who points out the shortcomings in work good enough to be published, that's a member of the scientific community to reckon with. The one with the best SCIENCE-FU will triumph over your pitiful "Pseudosciency Style."
I will now apply a little, just a little, of the old SCIENCE-FU to some left-leaning wackjobbery for a change, namely those who push exaggerated claims for the benefits of "organic" food, who (oddly enough) are the same twisted panty-wearers who essentially want to censor the Stanford study out of existence since it doesn't fit their world view. What are the facts?
Well, the first fact is that the word "organic" was appropriated by these New Age-y types decades ago to mean "produce grown without pesticides" which they conclude (naturally) is better because, you know, it's just more "natural" to grow things without pesticides. That irritates people who actually have taken a few chemistry classes, because of course the word "organic" simply means a molecule based on carbon chains. Organic chemistry is the study of compounds based on carbon, whereas inorganic chemistry studies compounds primarily based on other compounds.
There is nothing inherently nice, fuzzy or user-friendly about "organic" chemistry. In fact, we tend to be very careful with the organics, simply because they can be (gasp) dangerous. You've heard of cyanide? Just a carbon triple-bonded to nitrogen, folks. Rubbing alcohol? Formaldehyde? Carbon-based. Or perhaps you've noticed that we're concerned about carbon emissions from fossil fuels? Yeah: methane, butane, octane, kerosene, xylene, trinitrotoluene (TNT)....I'm assuming that you don't pour any of these over french fries. Actually, given the stupidity of some New Age views on nutrition, maybe I shouldn't assume that, but let's be charitable. The point is, most organic compounds are actually toxic, and that includes the organic compounds in food. Our bodies actually spend a huge amount of energy building enzymes whose purpose is to remove as many of the naturally (yes, NATURALLY)-occuring toxins that are in food, yes even in the supposed "organic" foods.
So, from the word 'go' the use of the word 'organic' is at best misleading, because it is used in a sense that really is contradicted by the reality of organic chemistry. But let's give the advocates of organic food the benefit of the doubt, and not dwell too much on the fact that, where terms are concerned, they are playing Humpty Dumpty's game.
Anyway, I am not persuaded that so-called "organic" food is safer or healthier. Let's first deal with the claim that "organic" foods are more nutritious, one of the claims made in Lappe's article. Well, research on this point is as mixed as the greens that might find their way to our tables! There is a terrible hidden methodological problem with most of the studies cited by advocates of organic produce, and it's related to the fact that anything which is locally owned and grown is likely to be fresher, and thus healthier for you, whether or not it has pesticide levels which are detectable (which, by the way, is typically an amount that is vanishingly small!).
Most people in North America (where most of the studies are done) do not live as I happen to do, in a breadbasket of agriculture. I can buy significant amounts of just-harvested produce from a couple of different farmer's markets in my own county every week. It's fresh, like "just-picked-today" fresh. Most Americans can't do that: at best, even if they go to a farmer's market, it is produce that was picked in the last few days. Most Americans don't even do that: they consume produce which is not locally grown, and which typically is not organic produce, anyway, because most organic produce is consumed locally, anyway. In a further irony, so-called "organic produce" that is shipped far from its point of origin typically is sprayed with stuff to preserve it and to DELAY the hatching of larvae in the crops, so to call it "organic" is a bit of a stretch. In fact, the dirty little secret of organic produce is that it rots faster, because there is lots of little insect larvae and nematodes growing in the stuff. That's why the overall yield of organic produce is low compared to conventional produce.
Thus, there is no reason to believe that the nutritional content of fresh produce is lessened by the presence of pesticides. The relative drop in nutrition in "non-organic" produce is due to a higher percentage of the produce not being consumed fresh, locally, but within 1-2 weeks at some location distant from the point of origin. Studies that control for this factor find virtually no difference in nutrient levels. Studies that "cherry-pick" the time that cherries are sampled will inevitably find a difference that works in favor of locally produced, locally consumed organic produce.
As for the health risks? I can kill lab rats with the best of them for any number of substances, organic or otherwise, if I can select the dosage. Most of the studies that are cited by organic food advocates as "evidence" for the risks of long-term pesticide exposure fall prey to the classic error of conflating correlation with causation. For example, in this HuffPo piece decrying the Stanford research by Frances Moore Lappe, the author produces counter-studies that don't actually contradict the findings of the Stanford group, but which simply show a correlation between exposure to organophosphate in pregnant women and reduced IQ scores several years later in their offspring. Correlation is not causation. There are lots of things (um, choices?) that could cause pregnant women to have children with below-average IQ that could also be associated with greater exposure to certain chemicals, and even if we grant for the purpose of discussion that the studies in question have "proven" "organophosphates lowers IQ", they haven't demonstrated that pesticides are the sole, or even the major source of organophosphates. (Oh, and while I'm on the topic: guess what kind of molecule an organophosphate is? Yep, you guessed it: "organic.")
Now that doesn't mean that I am pooh-poohing the studies in question, or denying that certain pesticides (since banned) pose real dangers, or that we shouldn't study current pesticides carefully. Science proceeds by questioning things, and by continuing to question things. The Stanford findings are intriguing and merit further study, but conceding that is by no means opening the floodgates to the condemnation of a certain class of chemical. No scientist would argue that organophosphate exposure has been proven to lower IQ. The claim that a finding is "intriguing" and "merits further study" is just the kind of cautious language routinely placed in a scientific paper's "conclusion" section, the most modest and inoffensive sort of boilerplate imaginable. See, here's a lesson for the left: while many scientists (including me) are no doubt left-leaning in our politics, there is an inherent conservatism in expressing and sharing scientific findings, a deeply-engrained and strongly-reinforced tendency (especially in formal papers) to understate the scope and significance of any conclusions.
As an example: when Watson and Crick developed the model of DNA's structure, they had no doubt as to its significance. They went down to the local pub, and as legend has it, bought a round of drinks for everyone announcing they had discovered the secret of life. But, when it came time to write the paper, it was a very short paper. You can read the whole thing online here in about two minutes, and its conclusion couldn't be more understated if it was mumbled into a microphone by Calvin Coolidge: "It has not escaped our notice that the specific pairing we have postulated immediately suggests a possible copying mechanism for the genetic material."
The Stanford study has a similarly modest conclusion, and certainly does not "prove" that "organic" produce might not be healthier to consume, and the authors of that study haven't, to the best of my knowledge, made such claims either: rather, it is the media in its attempt to make the claim digestible (but also, ahem, "interesting") that has cast this study as a wholesale rebuke of notions that those committed to "organic" produce hold dear. Thus, the highly emotive language used by Lappe': the Stanford scientists were 'reprehensible' to publish this 'reckless' article.
Reprehensible? Reckless? I do agree that the conclusion of the Stanford study shows no consideration for how their findings might upset the carefully-stenciled cartoon worldview of many self-styled nutritionists, but beyond that I can't help but sneer. The truth is that Lappe's judgement, and the censorious response of the "change.org" petition, is all too typical of non-scientists on the left who attempt to pontificate on science. The organic food industry in this country, all too often, is allied with pseudoscience, such as the mindless opposition to GMO's (genetically-modified organisms). Shockingly, this mirrors the pseudoscience that is usually associated with social conservatives!
That's a pretty strong claim to make about the New Age-y types, but hear me out. These folk are, as far as I can see, engaged in a project of wishful thinking based upon the naturalistic fallacy, and their opposition to scientific findings contrary to their beliefs is in part driven by self-interest. After all, "organic" food advocates have carved out a sizeable niche market to bear their "truthier" version of agriculture, a niche market largely made up of left-leaning folks which (to me, at least) bears an eerie resemblance to the niche markets created by creationists and dominionists, characters who are making all kinds of money peddling alternative views on biology and American history to churches, religious academies and home schoolers.
So, it seems clear (to me, at least) that the right does not have a monopoly on pseudoscience. For every guy who wants to teach the Earth is 10,000 years old, there's some gal who's convinced that the crystals around her neck have "vibrational energy", and in my experience the latter individual has a whole series of untestable beliefs about animals and food that are at odds with reality.
Ah, but illusion abounds. You should see the looks on my student's faces when I remind them that every food product they consume requires the sacrifice of another organism. Unrealistic attitudes about food are inculcated at a very early age in a society that packs most consumables in plastic, which most people never harvest for themselves. I have to wonder if my students think the item simply appears in the plastic! It is equally unrealistic, however, for folk like Lappe' to think that simply changing the way we think about food is going to change the hard facts about food in the 21st Century. Whether we like it or not, industrial-scale food production is essential for the short-term survival of our global population, and that means pesticides and biotechnology to maintain the high yields required. In the long term, of course, human population growth can not be sustained...indeed I am skeptical about whether it can be sustained at its present size.
Activists like Lappe' seem to think that the answer is changing our priorities and patterns of consumption, but the only way they will be able to reverse the industrialization of food production is to reverse population growth. Otherwise, demand trumps every other consideration, including possible long-term health risks. I have to laugh at the Europeans who have bought into the pseudoscience of "Frankenfoods", but at least their position has a certain consistency. They have NEGATIVE population growth, so they can afford to have a "natural" system based on local consumption with traditional methods. They don't have to sacrifice freshness and worry about pesticides, because their shrinking populations don't require increased yields. Bully for them, but the rest of the planet does, like it or not.
In the meantime, the way to proceed in science is not to condemn a published finding as "reprehensible" because it goes against your carefully-cultivated belief system, nor to attempt to suppress by censorship through petitions in the court of public opinion. Critics of the Stanford study should do the hard work of replicating the work with better controls to address their concerns about its methodological or ideological biases, but with the same rigor of analysis, such that it is publishable in the scientific literature. If they choose censorship and appeals to public opinion over the hard work of science, I don't care what their politics are. Such folk are not only playing a different game than we scientists we play, they are attempting to redefine the rules of the game in such a way that their views are immune from criticism. That's no different from the shell game pursued by creationists in the courts and in state legislatures, and it's just as contemptible to any real scientist. These people, apologists for pseudoscience, will be justifiably excluded from the scientific community.
Posted by Scott Hatfield . . . . at 9:38 PM