All linky, no thinky

How about some good news for a change?

Aung San Suu Kyi claimed victory Monday in Burma’s historic by-election, saying she hoped it would mark the beginning of a new era for the long-repressed country.

Suu Kyi spoke to thousands of cheering supporters who gathered outside her opposition party headquarters a day after her party declared she had won a parliamentary seat in the closely watched vote.

I think this is pretty clearly a step in the right direction.


Meanwhile, in the Anglosphere:

BPA has crossed this blog before (and also here), and while it’s known to be something you probably want to avoid — especially in the sorts of doses commonly given to lab rats — the actual level of risk of chronic BPA exposure in the Standard American Diet remains somewhat obscure.  Here’s what the FDA discovered from their own work:

The NCTR researchers have been conducting in-depth studies of BPA since September 2008, when a report by the NIEHS and NTP called for more research into the potential toxic effects of BPA on fetuses, infants and children.

NCTR’s findings include:

  • The level of BPA from food that could be passed from pregnant mothers to the fetus is so low that it could not be measured. Researchers fed pregnant rodents 100 to 1,000 times more BPA than people are exposed to through food, and could not detect the active form of BPA in the fetus eight hours after the mother’s exposure.
  • Exposure to BPA in human infants is from 84 to 92 percent less than previously estimated.

NCTR researchers report that they were able to build mathematical models of what happens to BPA once it’s in the human body. These models showed that BPA is rapidly metabolized and eliminated through feces and urine. They found that BPA is “exactly the opposite” from some other toxins, like dioxin, that can stay in the body’s tissues for months or even years.

The center’s toxicology research has not found evidence of BPA toxicity at low doses in rodent studies, including doses that are still above human exposure levels.

Bearing in mind that mathematical models of complex phenomena are often dangerously skewed — see also Black-Scholes — and that the FDA is in a perfect position to be captured by corporate interests, we should take these data with a grain or three of salt.  I certainly wouldn’t want to bet my endocrine system on a mathematical model of BPA metabolism, although the rodent studies increase confidence.  What we need here is a solid hypothesis for the mechanism of BPA metabolism and some targeted studies to back it up.

On the other hand, the typical BPA tox study — or at least its reporting — has devolved into hysterical fearmongering, and the molecule’s obesogenic effects are adequately explained by other phenomena.  And since (on the gripping hand) most research in the life sciences is utterly unreproducible, we should be somewhat skeptical of both results.

Given these levels of uncertainty, I’m cautiously happy about the FDA’s decision to do nothing for the moment.


Speaking of science, apparently some social scientist (yes, I typed that with a straight face) did a survey and found out that trust in scientists has been declining among Republicans over the past thirty-odd years.  This has naturally led to a lot of electrons being twitted about to make text appear on the Big Truck, and Andrew Sullivan has collected some responses (and a graph!):

The neat thing about these data is that they don’t quite fit the narrative — Republicans started off trusting “science” just as much as Democrats, and have since declined to levels of (mis)trust shared by moderates since the study’s time series began. Furthermore, the decline in trust has been driven by the best-educated conservatives, not the easily-stereotyped toothless hicks.  This leads Kevin Drum to write hilarious things (citing Hollywood in the same breath as academia as an “information-disseminating institution”, for example).

Having made this particular brand of sausage, I can see both sides of the story.  Research institutions are fundamentally human institutions, and are just as vulnerable to the usual human foibles and weaknesses as any other.  On the other hand, when stretched out over a sufficient number of mutually competitive participants, the scientific method makes it really hard to ignore your mistakes, which makes it a pretty great tool for explaining and predicting observable phenomena.

Seems to me that one of the root problems here is that people generally expect science to be the sort of thing that you’d find in a Saturday-morning cartoon or an episode of CSI — lab coats, whirring machinery with blinking lights, and fantastic inventions or certain results by the end of the episode.  Only people who get a few years into a STEM major are ever forced to discard that mental model.


Speaking of mental models, Frances Woolley does an outstanding job of making

More uniform consumption taxes are not only more efficient, but when properly implemented can be more progressive as well.  Click through and RTWT; you’ll be smarter when you get out the other side.

3 Responses to “All linky, no thinky”

  1. April 2, 2012 at 14:59

    It’s not actually confidence in Science, but rather in the Scientific Community; the question asked was apparently:

    “I am going to name some institutions in this country. As far as the people running these institutions are concerned, would you say you have a great deal of confidence, only some confidence, or hardly any confi dence at all in them [the Scientific Community]?”

    If you’re skeptical about AGW you pretty much definitely will distrust the Scientific Community, regardless of your opinion on “science”. Also considering that a lot of modern scientists and “scientists” are fairly strong supporters of the well-meaning tyranny that certain elements are trying to build, it makes sense that Conservatives be much more distrustful of “the Scientific Community”.

    (Also when you read the original data on the occasional highly publicized work where the reporters, and whoever wrote the abstract perform some rather creative analysis of the data to bash conservatives and/or white people that’s going to have a influence on your trust in the Scientific community)

    • April 2, 2012 at 15:12

      What, you mean this study is itself being misrepresented to score tribal points? That’s awfully meta.

      If you’re skeptical about AGW you pretty much definitely will distrust the Scientific Community, regardless of your opinion on “science”.

      If you do, you’re an idiot. (I’m using the generic “you” here.) Skepticism about AGW might reasonably lead you to mistrust climatologists and folks in related disciplines, but it shouldn’t affect your trust in pharmaceutical chemists, theoretical physicists, or differential geometers one way or the other.

      Also considering that a lot of modern scientists and “scientists” are fairly strong supporters of the well-meaning tyranny that certain elements are trying to build

      I suspect this has more to do with the beliefs of the people presenting the science than with the beliefs of the scientists themselves. As you’ve noted, the “science is liberal” meme has taken hold to a greater or lesser extent for some time, so those who stand to benefit from it have plenty of incentive to skew their presentation in favour of the meme.

  2. April 2, 2012 at 15:04

    Of course it could just be that Conservative ideology has actually been changing to become more anti-knowledge, but I’m immediately doubtful about any research (particularly social sciences) that indicates that Conservatives have negative traits, because most of the time when I look into it it turns out that the data and the conclusions don’t really match that well.

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