The Locker Room

November 24, 2006

Fishy argumentation — or, Daren, you ignorant slut!

Posted by Jon Sanders at 7:40 PM

NC Policy Watch, fresh from giving George Leef a truly merciless hair-mussing, now sets its sights on Daren Bakst:

This month’s award for market fundamentalist nonsense [argument ex nihilo] goes to our anti-public solutions friends [argument ex terrori] at the John Locke Foundation for their special report, “Fish Tales About Mercury: Why regulation of mercury is all cost and no benefit.” Among the zingers included therein:

* “…[R]egulation of mercury emissions is based on speculation, not any known poisoning incident” and
* “There is no scientific consensus on whether methylmercury in fish has even a minor effect on humans.”

Reality Check:

* Mercury is a potent neurotoxin (that is, it’s poisonous to nervous tissue).

Of course, Daren's report does not dispute that. What Daren's report does is show the flaws in federal and state regulators' attempts "to minimize potentially harmful mercury levels in fish consumed by humans" (this is from the third sentence in the summary and occurs throughout the report; it's very unlikely that NC Policy Watch missed it).

So that point of the "reality check" is rather beside the point, other than to give the false impression that NCPW was providing new information that Daren hadn't considered.


* The Bush Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency estimates that as many as 600,000 children may be born each year with unhealthy mercury levels.

Obviously that does not address Daren's points at all, even the two (only two?) culled out for ritual denunciation. It is no refutation at all, only poor rhetorical sleight-of-hand, to answer "regulation of mercury emissions is based on speculation" and "There is no scientific consensus on whether methylmercury in fish has even a minor effect on humans" with "as many as 600,000 children may be born each year with unhealthy mercury levels." (For fun, check the definition of speculation against the phrase "may be.")

Daren's paper, incidentally, also cites the EPA. Here's his citation:

Given the current scientific understanding of the environmental fate and transport of this element, it is not possible to quantify how much of the methylmercury in fish consumed by the U.S. population is contributed by U.S. [power plant] emissions relative to other sources of Hg [mercury] (such as natural sources and re-emissions from the global pool). As a result, the relationship between Hg [mercury] emission reductions from Utility Units [power plants] and methylmercury concentrations in fish cannot be calculated in a quantitative manner with confidence. In addition, there is uncertainty regarding over what time period these changes would occur. This is an area of ongoing study.

Really, how dare the EPA discuss the speculative and uncertain nature of the science in this issue — don't they know what the EPA speculates?

One last one:

* When a pregnant woman eats mercury-contaminated fish, her developing fetus may be exposed to unsafe levels of mercury which can cause the child to suffer permanent developmental and learning disabilities, reduced IQ, and impaired motor skills.

Again, the false implication is that Daren wasn't aware of this — but he had already addressed that point. In fact, it is at the conclusion of the section (on pages 2-3) covering major studies on methylmercury's effects on pregnant women and fetuses that his two (only two?) shocking statements are made. This "reality check" is exceedingly disingenuous. You'll note that the tack of pretending that Daren made no investigation into the matter also allows the pretender the luxury of avoiding Daren's citations. But it did require cutting a particular phrase from the beginning of the first of Daren's shocking quotations. The excised portion reads "The debate over these studies does not change the fact that…" (What? Debate? Studies?)

Here are the highlights of Daren's coverage of that point. For space concerns I'm not putting in all ten paragraphs (a .pdf version of Daren's report is available here):

Methylmercury Generally Is Not a Public Health Concern. The University of Maryland’s Center for Food, Health, and Agriculture Policy puts the entire methylmercury question into perspective: “No case of mercury poisoning from fish consumption has ever occurred in the United States.” Dr. Thomas Clarkson, who is a toxicologist at the University of Rochester School of Medicine, has indicated that the two Japanese incidents are the only fish-related mercury poisoning cases in the scientific literature.

Researchers have tried to find any possible harm caused by methylmercury in fish. In testimony provided to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Alaska state epidemiologist John Middaugh provided an overview of current research by stating, “Data linking low-level methylmercury exposure to adverse health effects are weak.”

Major studies. The fetus and very young children are believed to be the most susceptible to methylmercury in fish. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), funded two major longitudinal studies. Both studies tried to determine the impact that prenatal methylmercury exposure had on children.

Researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center conducted a study in the Seychelles Islands (Seychelles Islands study) that found that prenatal exposure to methylmercury caused no negative effects. Women in the Seychelles eat the same kind of fish, with about the same level of mercury, that are eaten by Americans. ...

Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health conducted a study in the Faroe Islands (Faroe Islands study) that found that there were subtle neuropsychological effects from prenatal methylmercury exposure. Unlike the similarity of diets found in Seychelles Islands study, the diet in the Faroe Islands is far different than the diet of Americans. ...

... In other words, the Seychelles study was not selected [by the EPA] because it did not show any problems caused by methylmercury.

The debate over these studies does not change the fact that regulation of mercury emissions is based on speculation, not on any known poisoning incident. There is no scientific consensus on whether methylmercury in fish has even a minor effect on humans. As Joel Schwartz argues in an American Enterprise Institute study:

Indeed, the very reason for the controversy over the health effects of low-level mercury exposure is that the hypothesized effects are so small and subtle as to be difficult to detect even with large samples of children and a battery of specialized neurological tests.

Apparently, the idea of honestly debating someone must drive the anti-[free-market] crowd crazy.

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Signs we're moving closer to that awful global-warming "tipping point"

Posted by Jon Sanders at 11:24 AM

More signs were seen this week, including the following news stories:

"The appearance of the arctic bird nearly 100 miles east of San Diego would be the first reported in California and would place it hundreds of miles farther south than it had ever been seen." — "Arctic gull reportedly seen in Calif.," Associated Press, Nov. 24, 2006.

"The cold weather across Central Florida brought snow flurries to portions of Marion, Seminole and Volusia counties on Tuesday." — "Cold Weather Brings Snow To Central Florida," WESH News, Nov. 21, 2006.

• "A coastal storm that brought some of the earliest snow on record to South Carolina spun rain into the state Wednesday, causing some minor flooding and slowing Thanksgiving travel. ... The trace of snow reported in Charleston was the earliest snowfall on record in the city." — "Storm lingers but causes little damage," The Sun News, Nov. 23, 2006.

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As you search this weekend ...

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 10:09 AM

... for an inventive way to prepare your leftover turkey, take time out to listen to the latest edition of Carolina Journal Radio.

John Gizzi of Human Events and David Keene of the American Conservative Union will offer election analysis. Grady Jefferys will discuss his recent book on Fighting Annexation.

Raleigh orthopedist Karl Stein will discuss concerns about the state's Certificate of Need law, and Chad Adams and Donna Martinez will dissect recent blogs from here in The Locker Room.

(If you have too much food, family, and football on your plate this weekend to listen to the show, please check out the podcast once it's available early next week.)

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'There is a cowardly imbecile at the head of the government'

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 08:50 AM

That looks like the type of comment you would find today on a left-leaning blog.

It's actually a contemporary description of the Republican president now named the most influential American in a new Atlantic Monthly list.

In the book I'm now reading, James Taranto and Leonard Leo's Presidential Leadership (Wall Street Journal Books, 2004), Lincoln ranks No. 2 (behind Washington) in a list of the best presidents compiled by historians, law professors, and political scientists. 

Here's a highlight from Jay Winik's essay on Lincoln:

One of the great questions in history is, Why didn't Lincoln give up or give in? Why, when the opportunity for ending the killing presented itself, did he not grab the easy way out, or the expedient way, as a lesser man and a lesser president might have been tempted to do (and as Lincoln himself had done in the past)? He would have been no different from a long list of kings, monarchs, emperors, and other heads of state who bowed to the irrepressible pressures for compromise, or to the forces of nationalism sweeping the globe -- and who, far from being condemned for it, were praised for their statesmanship.

Consider how tempting it might have been to any other president. At several points during the war, it looked as though the Confederacy could, or even would, win, or at least not lose, which amounted to the same thing. The worst riots in American history, the four-day New York draft riots of 1863, raged after Gettysburg, and left anywhere from 105 to 1,000 dead, with black residents lynched and hung from lampposts. And there was no respite; storms of antiwar protests sliced through the Midwest. Once Lincoln had finally appointed Ulysses S. Grant, it was unclear whether the public would persevere with him. The Democrats were demanding an immediate cessation of hostilities ("after four years of failure ... by the experiment of war"). As the appalling number of Union casualties rose in 1864 -- yes, as late as 1864 -- the North was still far from victory, and nearly 200,000 men had deserted the federal army.

We all know what happened next. Winik cites Lincoln's "dogged tenacity" as a probable explanation for his greatness.

Perhaps the headline of this post isn't the only parallel between two war-time presidents who faced overwhelming criticism. 

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