Social Democracy could Save the Planet

What are the benefits of keeping capitalism on a tight leash?  Yes, the best established company can make the most money, but when profit becomes the only merit, it tends to come at someone else’s expense.  These are called externalized costs, like pollution from industrial projects that damages ecosystems and/or requires costly public cleanup.

On The Pump Handle, Kim Krisberg has another example of an externalized cost: fast food chains billing taxpayers to take care of their employees.  Living on minimum wage, “half of the families of full-time workers participate in public assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.” Krisberg continues, “public dollars are basically subsidizing fast food profits — the 10 largest U.S. fast food companies cost taxpayers about $3.8 billion every year in public assistance for their workers.”  Most of the expenses saved by the companies end up lining the pockets of a few elite entities and stockholders.

Public welfare programs, including those that compensate for the avarice of CEO culture, obviously contribute to our national debt.  So does spending on making sure we have the power to kill everyone else on earth.  So does imprisoning people for drug offenses for which they would be better (and more cheaply) sent to rehab.  So does public education and national land administration.  So would a wall between U.S. and Mexico.

Yes, the fact that the costs of health care will soon be managed by the federal government means that our budgets and our debts will get bigger.  But this is only a short term perspective.  The long term financial incentive of national healthcare is eliminating waste and wasteful spending.  In other words, saving money.  Not just for the government but for we the taxpayers, who won’t have to pay an artificial price for every product and service received in a hospital—a price waged against the costs of emergency service, bills unpaid by the un- or under-insured, and steep discounts for insurance companies.  With a shift in medical care toward public health priorities, we will be motivated to save money rather than award more of it to our elites.

In short, we waste money when we punish what we could more cheaply reform, when we try to heal what we would be better off to prevent or reverse (e.g. heart disease), when we marshal a hypervigilant military to protect us from our enemies while allowing will-be mass murderers to buy automatic rifles as they please.  We waste money when we gamble, and we let bankers gamble with all the money we have.  In a culture that venerates wealth above all else, we look the other way as wasteful economic activity and lax regulation only serve to enrich the rich and impoverish the poor.  If any of us were truly conservative, we would want to protect or gain what we know is good: clean air and water, a healthy global ecosystem, a happy, well-nourished, stable populace.  We would want to save for the future and in doing so reduce our carbon footprint.  We would make our business less busy, and we would walk every day for hours.

Income inequality in America has skyrocketed in the last fifty years.  Our wealthiest citizens and corporations have had a profound influence on our leadership in Washington, D.C. and they have defined tax and business codes in their interest so they can make more and more money.  If someone’s business is to make art, then let them charge whatever they want.  But if their business is to ensure life and liberty for the American people, then they are known as the government, and they have a responsibility to be fiscally conservative.

Especially as global population explodes, our freedom must stop at the freedom to make needless profits by burning needless amounts of energy.  Otherwise we will cook the planet, and revolt.

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Impostor Science in Open-Access Journals

As anti-vaccinationists, global-warming denialists, and young-earth creationists know, it’s not too hard to fool the public with bogus science. But a new exercise by John Bohannon of Science suggests it’s not too hard too fool professionals either. Bohannon used a computer program to generate unique iterations of a purposely flawed paper, playing Mad Libs with the formula “Molecule X from lichen species Y inhibits the growth of cancer cell Z.” He sent his fake papers to 304 open-access journals, and it was accepted by more than half. Some of these journals are admittedly sketchy, but others are published by Elsevier, Wolters Kluwer, and Sage. Only PLOS ONE distinguished itself by identifying problems with the paper and rejecting it on the basis of its scientific quality. PZ Myers writes that one cause of this widespread negligence is the almighty dollar; since many open-access journals charge authors to have their papers published, “the journal editors profit by accepting any papers, the more the better.” But PZ asks, why didn’t Bohannon form a control group by sending his fake papers to traditional journals as well? On Stoat, William M. Connolley writes that pay-to-publish journals threaten to “pollute the science-o-sphere with trash, and/or rip of poor authors,” and if you submit your honest paper to one of these journals “you’ve shot yourself in the foot.”

Posted to the homepage on October 4, 2013.

Confidence on Warming from IPCC

The fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was released last week, saying that global warming is occurring without a doubt, and human activity is extremely likely to be the cause.  Greg Laden shares a number of graphics from the report, summarizing “It is getting hotter. It is getting wetter, or dryer, depending on where you are. And the big ice hat our planet wears is falling off.”  Peter Gleick collates a number of excerpts related to water on Significant Figures, which say that there are likely more regions getting more rain than less; the frequency of heavy precipitation events has likely increased in Europe and North America; and monsoons will likely become more intense, widespread, and long-lived.  And on Stoat, William M. Connolley writes that estimations of polar ice loss have been significantly improved by the orbiting satellites of GRACE, which yield detailed gravity maps of the Earth’s surface.

Posted to the homepage on October 1, 2013.

Making Cancer, and Making It Worse

On Pharyngula, PZ Myers says that cancer, unlike an infectious bacterium or virus, is not the product of millions of years of evolution. Instead, PZ writes, “Cancer misuses and perverts existing processes in your cells to send them out of control.” But what causes cancer? Well, it happens about 20,000 times a day in your body. Luckily, it is almost always repaired. It is the mutation of DNA during cell division. Just one base out of place, and suddenly the gene that made a protein to tightly regulate cell division is making a protein that encourages the cell to divide continually. Depending on what other mutations this cell line, by chance or carcinogen, accumulates, it can grow to destroy the body. PZ also explains the role of tumor suppressor genes, which generally stop uncontrolled cell division.  Sexual beings have two copies of every gene in their bodies, and for some cancers to be successful, both copies of a tumor suppressor gene must be knocked out.  On the other hand, new research at the Weizmann Institute suggests that for leukemia cells to proliferate, one copy of a cancer-causing gene must remain healthy even though the other must be mutated.  And on Respectful Insolence, Orac takes another look at the endless parade of cancer quackery in the media, in this case a talk-show host praising a doctor whose treatment regimen (including 150 pills per day and a coffee enema) appeared in a clinical trial to make pancreatic cancer patients die sooner.

Posted to the homepage on September 23, 2013.