Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Against mandated bicycle helmets

Here are some arguments against bicycle helmet laws.
As Mikael Colville-Andersen and Hart Noecker of Rebel Metropolis have pointed out, one is much more likely to have a head injury in a car than on a bike. The absolute number of head injuries is staggering in comparison; Stromberg shows that even looking at the number of injuries per hour of travel, which compensates for the fact that there are a lot more drivers than cyclists, the rate of head injuries is not significantly different between walking, cycling or driving.

In fact, if anyone needs a helmet, it is the pedestrian, who has even higher rates of head injuries than cyclists.

... drivers were less careful around helmeted cyclists. ...

It turns out that so many people are turned off cycling by helmets that the the lives saved through the exercise and health benefits of cycling among people is greater than the number of lives saved through helmet use.

Update: CNet reports:
Brain surgeon: There's no point wearing bicycle helmets

A British brain surgeon says cycle helmets are too flimsy and can actually create more danger by creating the illusion of greater safety. ...

As the Telegraph reports, Marsh was speaking at the Hay Literary Festival. There, he threw caution to an erudite wind by saying: "I ride a bike and I never wear a helmet. In the countries where bike helmets are compulsory there has been no reduction in bike injuries whatsoever." ...

Marsh isn't alone in suggesting bike helmets shouldn't be worn. In a 2010 Tedx Talk (video above) Mikael Colville-Andersen, cycling ambassador for Copenhagen, insisted that some research found that cycle helmets actually cause more brain damage.

Moreover, he described society's obsession with safety equipment as "almost pornographic." Why, he wondered, don't pedestrians wear helmets, as they suffer more brain damage than cyclists?

For him, riding without a helmet is also a symbol of the livable city. The problem, as he sees it, is drivers, not cyclists. What would happen, he mused, if drivers were forced to wear helmets? That would surely save lives. It would also destroy car sales.

He believes that some of the biggest proponents of cycle helmets are the car industry and the auto insurance industry, as the more laws there are insisting on cycle helmets, the fewer bikes are sold.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Fat not linked to heart disease

The WSJ reports:
"Saturated fat does not cause heart disease"—or so concluded a big study published in March in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine. How could this be? The very cornerstone of dietary advice for generations has been that the saturated fats in butter, cheese and red meat should be avoided because they clog our arteries. For many diet-conscious Americans, it is simply second nature to opt for chicken over sirloin, canola oil over butter.

The new study's conclusion shouldn't surprise anyone familiar with modern nutritional science, however. The fact is, there has never been solid evidence for the idea that these fats cause disease. We only believe this to be the case because nutrition policy has been derailed over the past half-century by a mixture of personal ambition, bad science, politics and bias.

Our distrust of saturated fat can be traced back to the 1950s, to a man named Ancel Benjamin Keys, a scientist at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Keys was formidably persuasive and, through sheer force of will, rose to the top of the nutrition world—even gracing the cover of Time magazine—for relentlessly championing the idea that saturated fats raise cholesterol and, as a result, cause heart attacks. ...

Our distrust of saturated fat can be traced back to the 1950s, to a man named Ancel Benjamin Keys, a scientist at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Keys was formidably persuasive and, through sheer force of will, rose to the top of the nutrition world—even gracing the cover of Time magazine—for relentlessly championing the idea that saturated fats raise cholesterol and, as a result, cause heart attacks. ...

One consequence is that in cutting back on fats, we are now eating a lot more carbohydrates—at least 25% more since the early 1970s. Consumption of saturated fat, meanwhile, has dropped by 11%, according to the best available government data. Translation: Instead of meat, eggs and cheese, we're eating more pasta, grains, fruit and starchy vegetables such as potatoes. ... Excessive carbohydrates lead not only to obesity but also, over time, to Type 2 diabetes and, very likely, heart disease. ...

Indeed, up until 1999, the AHA was still advising Americans to reach for "soft drinks," and in 2001, the group was still recommending snacks of "gum-drops" and "hard candies made primarily with sugar" to avoid fatty foods.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Governor does not want to anticipate

California Gov. Jerry Brown is babbling nonsense:
BROWN: Well, we're in the third year of a very dry season. We're getting ready for the worst. Now, we don't want to anticipate before we know, but we need a full compliment of firefighting capacity.
Huh? A season is less than a year. We cannot be in the third year of a season. And we certainly do want to anticipate fires before they happen.
The state's climate appears to be changing. The scientists tell us that definitely. So we've got to gear up here. And after all, in California, for 10,000 years, our population was about 300,000. Now it's 38 million. We have more structures, more activist, more sparks, more combustible activity and we've got to gear up for it and as the climate changes, this is going to be a radically different future than was our historic past.
The radical change is from immigration, not the climate.
BROWN: That's a challenge. It is true that there's virtually no Republican who accepts the science that virtually is unanimous. I mean there is no scientific question. There's just political denial for various reasons, best known to those people who are in denial.
It is funny how no one can accept a unanimous opinion. There certainly is no consensus that CO2 emissions have anything to do with the current drought.

Speaking of possible brain damage:
Bill Clinton did more today than defend his wife, Hillary Clinton, from recent accusations leveled by GOP strategist Karl Rove that she suffered brain damage after falling in December 2012.

The former president revealed that his wife’s injury “required six months of very serious work to get over,” he said during a question-and-answer session at the Peterson Foundation in Washington.

“They went to all this trouble to say she had staged what was a terrible concussion that required six months of very serious work to get over,” he said. “It’s something she never low-balled with the American people, never tried to pretend it didn’t happen.”
No, the public was never told that she required 6 months of work to recover from her brain injury.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Evolutionists denounce human evolution book

I mentioned the NY Times book on race and inheritance, so I am linking to more reviews, both good and bad.

A couple of things bug me about this field.

The leftist-atheist-evolutionists (PZ Myers, Jerry Coyne, etc.) vehemently denounce this book, say people shouldn't read it, and claim that it is full of errors and bad thinking. But they don't actually cite any errors and act as if evolution is the most important thing except that it must never be applied to human beings. (At least Coyne admits to some errors about race.)

There is overwhelming evidence that human behavior is heritable from twin studies and other social science, and we have extremely detailed info on the diversity of the human genome, but we have almost no evidence linking genomes to behaviors. In jargon, everyone says that the genotype determines the phenotype, but no one can explain how for human behavior.

People don't want to believe that there could be human evolution in the last 10k years or so, but there is more and more evidence of it all the time. Today's NY Times reports on research that American Indians have evolved:
Though her skull, found intact, is more narrow and angular than those of modern Indians, and her face smaller and her features more protruding, “we know that at least the maternal ancestry is shared,” said an author of the study, James Chatters, a forensic anthropologist with Applied Paleoscience, a company in Bothell, Wash.

The reasons for the differences in skull size and shape are still a mystery, but modern American Indians may have evolved to have broader, larger skulls because of adaptations to different food, social or environmental conditions, Dr. Chatters said.
Coyne's political ideology makes him reluctant to admit the legitimacy of scientific research:
I am not absolutely opposed to all work on genetic differences in behavior between ethnic groups, populations, and sexes. That is a kind of scientific taboo which, as Steve Pinker has noted, has been enforced by social opprobrium based on the possibility of racism or sexism.  I think the proper stand is that it’s okay to study those questions that are interesting (but make sure you ask yourself why you find them interesting), and realize that a). we don’t know the outcomes, and b). the fundamental equalities of all groups and all sexes don’t depend on the results of such analyses.

But Wade’s book oversteps the line, for his theories way outstrip his data.
There you have a couple of leftist axioms being applied. Facts should not be investigated unless done with the proper intent, and results must not be allowed to interfere with egalitarian political objectives. A more scientific view would be to get the facts first, and then decide what to make of them.

A White House report says:
Big data raises other concerns, as well. One significant finding of our review was the potential for big data analytics to lead to discriminatory outcomes and to circumvent longstanding civil rights protections in housing, employment, credit, and the consumer marketplace.
Yes, big data means discriminatory outcomes without any racial intent.

Update: The NY Times has just reviewed Wade for this Sunday's paper, and "At least the reviewer waited until the second sentence to bring up Hitler."
Conservative scholars like the political scientist Francis Fukuyama have long argued that social institutions and culture explain why Europe beat Asia to prosperity, and why parts of the Mideast and Africa continue to suffer destabilizing violence and misery.

Mr. Wade takes this already controversial argument a step further, contending that “slight evolutionary differences in social behavior” underlie social and cultural differences. A small but consistent divergence in a racial group’s tendency to trust outsiders — and therefore to accept central rather than tribal authority — could explain “much of the difference between tribal and modern societies,” he writes.

This is where Mr. Wade’s argument starts to go off the rails.
Wade's argument appears to be the logical consequence of the heritability of the behaviors. But difference could be at least partially explained by other factors, such as whether the dominant religion approves of cousin marriage.
At times, his theorizing is merely puzzling, as when he notes that the gene variant that gives East Asians dry earwax also produces less body odor, which would have been attractive “among people spending many months in confined spaces to escape the cold.” No explanation of why ancient Europeans, presumably cooped up just as much, didn’t also develop this trait. Later, he speculates that thick hair and small breasts evolved in Asian women because they may have been “much admired by Asian men.” And why, you might ask, did Asian men alone prefer these traits?
Sure enough, the reviewer does not believe in evolution. Maybe the earwax variant was a Chinese mutation, or maybe the populations developed different preferences. The "origin of speciess" is based largely on such differences developing.

Update: Ron Unz reviews:
I have been very pleased to see that Wade’s book is beginning to receive the major attention it so greatly deserves. American intellectuals must begin shedding a half-century of lies and dishonesty based on the dismally unscientific dogma of Stephen Jay Gould and instead start to discover what modern evolutionary biologists and genetic researchers have all known for years or even decades.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Mammography is worthless

There has probably been more fund-raising and publicity for mammograms and breast cancer awareness as any other single medical issue. It is all a scam.

The graph clearly shows that mammography adds virtually nothing to survival.

One of the premises of Obamacare is that if the feds force insurance companies to offer free preventive care like mammograms, then they will save money in the long run. Not likely.

A recent radio program explored related issues: How Reliable Are Scientific Studies?

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Badmouthing Neanderthals is unwarranted

Neanderthals are always being unfairly maligned, according to new research:
The widely held notion that Neanderthals were dimwitted and that their inferior intelligence allowed them to be driven to extinction by the much brighter ancestors of modern humans is not supported by scientific evidence, according to researcher Paola Villa at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Neanderthals thrived in a large swath of Europe and Asia between about 350,000 and 40,000 years ago. They disappeared after our ancestors, a group referred to as “anatomically modern humans,” crossed into Europe from Africa.

In the past, some researchers have tried to explain the demise of the Neanderthals by suggesting that the newcomers were superior to Neanderthals in key ways, including their ability to hunt, communicate, innovate and adapt to different environments.

But in an extensive review of recent Neanderthal research, Villa and co-author Wil Roebroeks, an archaeologist at Leiden University in the Netherlands, make the case that the available evidence does not support the opinion that Neanderthals were less advanced than anatomically modern humans. Their paper was published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

Villa and Roebroeks scrutinized nearly a dozen common explanations for Neanderthal extinction that rely largely on the notion that the Neanderthals were inferior to anatomically modern humans. These include the hypotheses that Neanderthals did not use complex, symbolic communication; that they were less efficient hunters who had inferior weapons; and that they had a narrow diet that put them at a competitive disadvantage to anatomically modern humans, who ate a broad range of things.

The researchers found that none of the hypotheses were supported by the available research. For example, evidence from multiple archaeological sites in Europe suggests that Neanderthals hunted as a group, using the landscape to aid them.
Here is a recent NY Times book review badmouthing significance of Neanderthals:
When the Neanderthal genome is finally published, Paabo is justifiably proud. We can’t begrudge him the opportunity to regale us about the news conferences and honors. But readers may start to wonder what exactly the payoff was for those many years of struggle. Reconstructing a Neanderthal genome was a tour de force, we can all agree, but why does it matter? ...

Unfortunately, the list for now is just a catalog of names. Neither Paabo nor any other scientist can yet clearly link our mutations to our human nature.
Here is what Svante Paabo wrote in his book, Neanderthal Man:
Together with new data from the 1,000 Genomes Project, these two archaic genomes of high quality now allow us to create a near-complete catalog of sites in the genome where all people today are different from Neanderthals and Denisovans as well as from the apes. This catalog contains 31,389 single nucleotide changes and 125 insertions and deletions of a few nucleotides. Of these, 96 change amino acids in proteins, and perhaps 3,000 affect sequences that regulate how genes are turned on and off. There are surely some nucleotide differences, particularly in repetitive parts of the genome, that we have missed, but it is clear that the genetic “recipe” for making a modern human is not very long. The next big challenge is to find out what the consequences of these changes are.
Paabo wrote this NY Times reply:
The ancient genomes also revealed that Neanderthals and Denisovans mixed with the direct ancestors of present-day people after they came out of Africa. So if your roots are in Europe or Asia, between 1 and 2 percent of your DNA comes from Neanderthals, and if you are from Papua New Guinea or other parts of Oceania, an additional 4 percent of your DNA comes from Denisovans.
If Paabo's DNA analysis is correct, then Neanderthals did not just mix with the ancestors of present-day Europeans. Neanderthals are ancestors of present-day Europeans.

Yes, Europeans only got 2% of DNA from Neandethals. Paabo says that figuring out the 2% is the next big challenge. Maybe it will shed light on human nature, and maybe it won't.

Meanwhile NY Times science writer Nicholas Wade has a new book, A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History, released today. Charles Murray has an early review.
So one way or another, "A Troublesome Inheritance" will be historic. Its proper reception would mean enduring fame as the book that marked a turning point in social scientists' willingness to explore the way the world really works. But there is a depressing alternative: that social scientists will continue to predict planetary movements using Ptolemaic equations, as it were, and that their refusal to come to grips with "A Troublesome Inheritance" will be seen a century from now as proof of this era's intellectual corruption.
The analogy to Ptolemaic equations is a little misguide, and Ptolemy's method could predict those planetary movements as well as the alternatives. The intellectual corruption is in accepting ideologies that predict wrong results.

Here are more reviews.