Musings of Navigating The Finite remainder of life from Porchville, with the hope of a glimpse of The Infinite

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Basic Science is Pissing Me Off

Image Credit:
http://www.culturavietii.ro/conditii-de-utilizare/#.UbeZo0Lqqxo


This morning,  I was listening to the Diane Rehm show on NPR while in the car.  She had a panel of experts on climate change on the air.  Just as I got to my destination, the question of the rate of change of temperature increase was raised.  Immediately an argument broke out between the "climate change naysayer" and one of the "climate change alarmists" (terms I heard used on the show). Unfortunately I got to my destination and had to leave the car before the argument was resolved.  But the gist of the argument up to point that I departed was that the naysayer claimed that the rate of temperature change had not changed appreciably and one of the alarmist said that it did change appreciably.   

OK world, do you mean to tell me that how much the rate of change of world average temperatures has changed in the past x number of years can be an arguing point?  Is science that fricking arcane that something as simple as how much change has there been in the rate of change in the increase in global temperatures is up to debate?  To be honest, I am afraid to go look...it will probably result in an afternoon vastly different numbers supporting what ever conclusion that you wish to have prior to looking.  State your conclusion, then go look for the facts.  You can find a website to support any conclusion you wish.    

One would think that it should be fairly easy.  In 1910 the average world temperature was bla.  In 1920 it was bla bla.  Bla bla minus bla equals so many degrees per decade, divided by 10 equals so many degrees per year.     Of course it will be in fractions of a degree.  Do the same for 2010 minus 2000 and you have another piece of data.  Do it for all the decades in-between and you should have some idea of WTF the rate change is and if there is an increase in the rate of change of the rate of change in the last 100 years.  It would seem to me that this could be done with a table of accurate temperature statistics and a calculator.  So how under the sun can there be any room for experts to be arguing with each other on a national radio show?  Well it is obvious that I don't have the intelligence to understand why something as simple the rate of change of the rate of change of world average temperatures over a period of time could be open for argument.  So who do you want to believe?  

Figures don't lie but liars can figure.  

Another example that has been biting my ass here recently... let's presume that I am about to be the proud parent of a baby boy.  The question of circumcision comes up.  I want to do the best thing for my son.  Can I get an honest answer, should I circumcise my son?  Go to the American Academy of Pediatrics and you will find a wishy washy perhaps...something that falls along the lines of well the medical efficacy exceeds the risks so it should be available to those who wish to do it and insurance should pay for it but we do not at this time recommend it as a routine procedure.  Well if it is so damned wonderful, why shouldn't it be routine?  

So you start to look a little further and you find out about the AFRICAN STUDIES!!!!  SIXTY PERCENT REDUCTION IN HIV TRANSFER!!!!  Holy hell, sign that lad up for a snipity snip on the little pee-pee. What the hell it is just a flap of skin!  But then if you stop and ask yourself well wait what does a 60% reduction in HIV transfer mean, it gets a bit murky.  Do 200 guys go get laid without condoms on Saturday night with infected partners, 100 of them are circumcised, 100 are not.    On Sunday morning, are there going to be 140 guys infected with HIV and 60 circumcised guys that are not?   No.  It was something like 1300 guys in each group over a certain period of time.  At some point in time, 3.something% of the intact guys had HIV.  But, 0.6% less of the circumcised guys had HIV.  The study was stopped for humanitarian reasons.  You see 0.6 times 100 is 60 voila!  A 60% REDUCTION IN THE TRANSFER OF HIV.  Why was the study stopped?  Oh humanitarian reasons, but now do we know how the numbers pan out over 5 years or 10 years?  Could there be a convergence?  Could there be any chance that the study was stopped when nice set of numbers that proved the researcher’s preconceived conclusions were obtained?  

There is a lot of criticism of the African studies, and a lot of criticism of the criticism of the African studies.  So what is a parent to do?  

Well first you may ask yourself,  what are the prevailing rates of HIV transfer in Europe where circumcision is rare compared to the US where it is very common.  You will find that Europe is not dying off 60% faster than the US from a plague of AIDs.  Depending on who you want to believe you may find that the rate of transfer is less in Europe, and I am sure you can find numbers that would say that it is greater than the US.  

You may further want to ask yourself, with this 60% reduction in the transfer of HIV why is not the whole world embracing circumcision and, shit, while your at it trim of some earlobe as well just in case you get bit by a rabid bat on the ear.   

You might also ask what does severing 15,000 nerve ending do to a penis?  Oh look at the US, no effect! Oh really?  Do we know that or do we assume that?   If you don't study a problem, you will not discover any deleterious findings.  Everything is OK.   Have we ever studied what circumcision does to marriages over the long haul?  No effect?  No pre-mature ejaculation?  No effects at an advanced age?  I have read that Viagra sales are the highest in the US and Israel.  Could that be due to the fact both countries are in the northern hemisphere?   

So why can't I find a simple answer to should I get my kid circumcised?  All this science, all these experts, and I have to rely on good old basic common sense.  

Do you play Russian roulette with two bullets in the chambers of a six gun?  That's what a 60% improvement works out to.  Yep it is better than playing Russian roulette with 6 bullets in the chambers, but not as good as playing with an empty gun or better yet a cap pistol.   Anyone who thinks they are not going to get HIV because they are circumcised is playing Russian roulette (with two bullets by the African study numbers, and all 6 by what I believe).  Play it long enough, you will blow your head off with one bullet in the chamber none the less two.  

So here is your choice parents.  You can get your son circumcised and if he does not want to get HIV, or HPV, or gonorrhea, or syphilis, or genital Herpes, or super gonorrhea, or chlamydia, or something we don't even know about yet because unprotected sex will always be a wonderful vector for disease, he will have to wear a condom 100% of the time when having sex with casual partners.  Or you can leave your son intact, and he will have to wear a condom 100% of the time when having sex with casual partners.  

Oh wait I forgot the old standby.  Penis cancer.  Circumcision reduces the chance of getting penis cancer.  One in 100,000 men get penis cancer in the US.  In Denmark, where circumcision is rare, it is 0.82 men per 100,000.  In the US, a man has a 1 in 1437 chance of getting penis cancer in his life time.  Denmark it is 1 in 1694.   An American male has a 1 in 769 chance of getting breast cancer.  To put that in context, a woman has a 1 in 8 chance of getting breast cancer in her life time.  I haven’t seen any plans for routine infant mastectomies.  Oh wait I am bringing in a straw man in the argument, we are talking circumcision here.    

Well the choice for circumcision is yours.  It should be your son’s choice and only his choice, but that is not how we play it here in the US because we have rights, and no one has the right to tell us what to do with our children.  And remember, if your son decides that he is a little pissed off at you 20 years from now because he has something less than a fully functional pecker, well just remind him that it is none of his business.  Nobody can tell you what to do with your kids.  Also remember that once the steak has been put through the meat grinder, you have ground meat...but you can never get the steak back.  Choose wisely!     

So going back to my title,  is it that I am really pissed at basic science, or am I pissed at how basic science can be manipulated by any lying bastard to prove or disprove what ever piece of bullshit chicanery that suits their needs?   Is anyone interested in the truth?  Why can’t I trust the opinion of experts? 

EDIT June 16, 2013:  It seems that I am not the only one concerned about basic science.  I found this article in today's paper:

Pittsburgh Post Gazette, June 16, 2013, Science, heal thyself: The threats from within and without        


EDIT June 17, 2013: It seems that I am not the only one concerned about the AAP's recommendations regarding circumcision:

Pediatrics, Cultural Bias in the AAP's 2012 Technical Report and Policy Statement on Male Circumcision, March 18, 2013

Note: Pediatrics is the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.



EDIT 7-26-13:  There is a very well written and poignant account of a mother's struggle with the decision for circumcising her sons at Lilly Cannon's Moralogus:


10 comments:

  1. Sextant, you are awesome....

    "Also remember that once the steak has been put through the meat grinder, you have ground meat...but you can never get the steak back."

    "Do you play Russian roulette with two bullets in the chambers of a six gun? That's what a 60% improvement works out to."

    " If you don't study a problem, you will not discover any deleterious findings."

    "...Viagra sales are the highest in the US and Israel. Could that be due to the fact both countries are in the northern hemisphere?"

    The American sense of humour I grew up with hundreds of miles downstream from you, is still alive and kickin'. Even among us gentiles...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Consa, thank you for your kind comments. It must be all the mine acid in the Allegheny River.

      Delete
  2. You were correct at the start of your diatribe......"Figures don't lie but liars can figure. "

    One can turn anything around to suit their needs, be it for profit or otherwise.

    And maybe, just maybe, some of us aren't really interested in the truth, but the soothing comforting calm that comes from hearing what we want to hear. Yes?

    Oh and BTW, on another note...a recent web surf, I saw another blog or something with the same masthead picture as yours, with the ships in the storm. Must be popular.

    Busman

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Busman,

      I fear you are correct that many of us are not interested in the truth. It becomes obvious at political rallies. People will cheer for what they want to hear rather than what they know or fear to be the truth. Religion is another great swelling of optimism over common sense. I have had people tell me in sincerity and concern for my Soul, that I was going to hell because I didn't _________(fill in the blank with pretty much anything you want). Common sense would tell one that, if there is a God, wouldn't all the religions be an expression of God's truth. Is not saying one religion is right and another is wrong is like saying one language is right and another is wrong. God saves us based on geography? Ask the typical resident of Salt Lake City, London, Oslo, Rome, Jerusalem, Mecca, New Delhi, and Bangkok what the true religion is.

      Busman, an honor as always, thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      Delete
  3. "So going back to my title, is it that I am really pissed at basic science, or am I pissed at how basic science can be manipulated by any lying bastard to prove or disprove what ever piece of bullshit chicanery that suits their needs?"

    I guess I wonder whether or not you are considering statistics a basic science?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha! Ha! Excellent point! Statistics the science of telling lies and having your audience love you. What was it that Abe Lincoln said, You can fool all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of time, but baby you ain't bullshitting me.

      Olga, a delight as always, to have you pierce my bullshitting heart with your stinging albeit terse Yankee intellect! Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      Delete
  4. I think it would be better if you didn't listen to the radio and got yourself a horse and a jockey and just went into the horse racing business. Horse racing seems to mellow you out quite a bit more than the radio :)

    "Is science that fricking arcane that something as simple as how much change has there been in the rate of change in the increase in global temperatures is up to debate?" Apparently, science is.

    BTW, love Olga's comment! Genius!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Alicia, great advice. Now if you will foot me about 100 to 200 grand, I'll go buy that horse and pay you back a percentage of the winnings. Do you know any good trainers or Jockeys?

      Your right, I would much rather watch a horse race than listen to the experts on the radio. The horses have better sense and are more honest.

      Yeah Olga throws me a zinger now and again.

      Alicia, thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      Delete
  5. Hello, Sextant. The world of statistics is definitely one to avoid at all costs, unless, as you say, you want to find figures to support your own opinion. I totally share your view of religion: the only logical thing is to believe that all roads lead to Rome, should Rome exist. ...You know my views on circumcision.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Fiftyodd,

      You are still among the quick! Haven't seen anything new in your shop for almost a month, keep that up and you will be as bad as me.

      You are and Olga are absolutely right about statistics. But sometimes the blatant bullshit that is justified by statistics just gets me. If there was a political angle in the statement 1 + 1 = 2, some lying bastard would be using statistical analysis to show that it could be three or 1.9999999 which if you take the integer value of that number is 1 ergo there is a lot of room for interpretation and the average person probably has no business performing such difficult and consuming calculations because they do not understand the nuances that can change a black and white mathematical relationship into infinite shades of grey allowing any and all interpretations that may prove useful.

      There was a discussion on a recent radio show about a patent fight which has become a big cottage industry in the US. No need to actually make anything just pursue patents. Anyhow there was a document written by a plaintiff in a recent case that was being used by the defendants to prove that the plaintiff did not have exclusive rights to this patent.

      The document written by the plaintiff made a reference to "Mr. Smith's work" over a several year period.

      The plaintiff claimed that he does not understand the use of the apostrophe now or when he wrote the document, and the usage of an apostrophe to indicate a possessive case is news to him. So here is a guy that kept the official journal of this groups work. When the research was terminated, this guy collected this work, stripped the other member's names out of the research and filed for a patent. He then sells the patent for over 12 million dollars and a huge percentage of any future income...and he does not understand the concept of using an apostrophe as an indication of possession. He was at a loss to explain what the sentence meant, but he was absolutely sure it did not mean that Mr Smith had performed this work. If I were the judge in this case, that bastard would have found himself locked up for contempt of court and perjury performing daily grammar exercises and sentence diagramming. While English grammar was not this person's forte, I rather imagine that he was an accomplished statistician.

      Fiftyodd an honor as always.

      Delete