April 2009 Archives

The EPA Finds on Endangerment...Which Means?

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To the relief of many environmentalists and scientists, last week the Obama administration's EPA found six greenhouse gases endangered public health and welfare -- as ordered by the Supreme Court. Many in business jeered and booed and issued misleading and false complaints with hyperbolic gusto. Also last week, the EPA issued a preliminary review of the energy bill released by Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Congressman Edward Markey (D-MA) and concluded that the cap and trade portion would not handicap the economy (pdf). Leaders in Congress said that cap and trade legislation might be preferable to EPA regulation. Of course sectors like the chemical industry as well as free-market think tanks and their dedicated columnists have gone apoplectic. How will Congress deal with all sides? How will the Obama administration -- led by its famous mediator -- mediate?

Industry's Place at the Table and Bush's EPA

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), found that high concentrations of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride threatened human health and welfare. Environmentalists and lots of others, basically anyone who cares a whit about life or Earth or species, not to mention human health, etc., cheered -- action, finally. But as we know, this wasn't really such a bowl-me-over stupendous accomplishment. The Bush Administration's EPA had also found that greenhouse gases endangered human health and welfare (and they weren't the first) -- and famously smothered their findings.

Let's briefly recall some highlights. Consider that Congress passed the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act in 1970 under President Nixon. Industry and those in Congress whose dispositions trend radically free-market, or whose campaigns certain industries help finance, have since fought vigorously against the legislation.

The battles go back decades, familiar faces in familiar roles. For instance in 1983, when President Ronald Reagan steadfastly tried to undermine Clean Air and Clean Water, House Representative Barbara Boxer (D-CA) noted:

''They can't get the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts amended, the way they want to. So they weaken them through regulation, and defy the intent of Congress. They are the best at figuring out ways to legally undermine the will of Congress, but this time, in the E.P.A. case, we caught them.''

Boxer was a junior member of Congress in 1983. Did she know how many rounds were left to go? Some recent history, starting 20 years after Boxer's comment:

  • 2003: The states petitioned the Bush Administration to regulate CO2 emissions from motor vehicles. The administration refused, asserting that CO2 wasn't a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. (The states sued.)

  • April, 2007: Massachusetts vs. EPA finally ended up in the Supreme Court. The court ordered the EPA to determine whether greenhouse gases endangered human health and welfare, saying the administration needed to ground its assertions in some science, as required by the Clean Air Act. Acronym Required talked about the court's findings in "Supreme Court Rejects EPA & Coal Plants' Nonsense".

    In a darker moment of EPA history, the agency defended its mulish inaction by citing in testimony an old tobacco case, Brown v. Williamson. Then, the court ruled that the FDA couldn't regulate cigarette smoke on account of "tobacco's unique political history", which, the EPA reasoned, shared that of greenhouse gas's "unique political history". In addition, the EPA argued that it couldn't be effective against such a "global problem", and that tailgate regulation was the place of the Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Any attempt at EPA regulation, the agency said, would would be "piecemeal" and cause "agency overlap". The Supreme Court categorically rejected all of these arguments. (Environmentalists -- my shorthand for anyone who cares a whit -- cheered.)

  • May 2007: Bush announced: "Today, I'm directing the EPA and the Departments of Transportation, Energy, and Agriculture to take the first steps toward regulations that would cut gasoline consumption and greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles." (Environmentalists -- and anyone who cared a whit --cheered.)

  • May 2007-November 2007: Bush's EPA hired a 70 person team to investigate endangerment, vehicle and fuel issues after the Supreme Court ruling. The EPA found that based on the "underlying science" CO2 emissions cause "consequences for public health". The resulting report included costs and benefits. At about 300 pages the EPA conducted the study in consultation with the DOT's NHTSA. The 2007 report budget --for six months of work? -- was $5.3 million. (Who knew?)

  • November 2007: EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that he would propose EPA regulation by the end of the year. (Environmentalists cheered.)

  • December 2007: EPA finding of endangerment emailed to the White House Office of Management and Budget. Johson's proposal for regulating CO2 emissions was sent to the National Highway Safety and Transportation Agency (NHTSA). The documents disappeared into the black hole of the White House. (Few knew.)

  • March 2008: EPA administrator Stephen Johnson writes to Congressman Waxman to advise him that the EPA will issue an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR), rather than a finding on endangerment. (Business cheered.)

  • July 2008: The EPA follows through on Johnson's promise and releases the ANPR. (Business complained.)

  • July 2008: Jason Burnett (remember him?) resigned as the chief climate-change adviser to then EPA administrator Stephen Johnson, alleging that VP Cheney and the White House Council for Environmetal Quality redacted parts of CDC documents about greenhouse gases and human health. Burnett's move seemed overtly political, nevertheless, he helpfully detailed in a letter to Senator Boxer how findings on public health were manipulated by the White House: "CEQ requested that I work with CDC to remove from the testimony any discussion of the human health consequences of climate change". (Environmentalists gasped.)

Pressuring the EPA for the ANPR

How will the Obama administration's EPA differ from the Bush administration's? When Obama campaigned for President, he promised that industry would have a seat at the table, but not the only seat, which sounded great. But just as in the Bush administration, industry lobbyists still spend billions of dollars for their seats, while the majority of citizens, those who pollution disproportionately affects don't fund campaigns and rarely get seats. Will their Representatives really represent them despite their disproportionate campaign donations? How does it work when corporations don't play to compromise, don't accept "fair" solutions?

To get perspective on this, let's look quickly at the EPA's handling of the Supreme Court ruling last year via their Advance Notice of Public Rulemaking (ANPR). At the time of EPA Administrator StephenJohnson's decision last year to issue the ANPR we quoted from the Heritage Foundation's letter to -- as the conservative think tank put it -- "everyone that we could think of" in Congress.

The Heritage Foundation implored Senators and Representatives to pressure the EPA for an ANPR rather than find on endangerment. They said the extended public comment period would "start a record of" "cost[s] and burden[s] of carbon caps and Clean Air Act expansion". Note the Heritage Foundation didn't say "costs and benefits", but "cost[s] and burden[s]".

The Heritage Foundation also urged the EPA to issue an ANPR in a March 28, 2008 article published on its website, titled, "The EPA's Prudent Response to Massachusetts v. EPA". Heritage wrote "a wave of costly new regulations is the last thing the economy needs. An ANPR is the best option at this time."

The Response the EPA's ANPR

As the Heritage Foundation requested, the EPA issued the ANPR, so you'd think Heritage would be happy, maybe send a bouquet of flowers. Rather, they were extremely displeased, along with organizations like the US Chamber of Commerce. The Heritage Foundation issued warnings in dry, authoritative press releases filled with charts and graphs, like the October 29, 2008, "CO2-Emission Cuts: The Economic Costs of the EPA's ANPR Regulations". They warned that the ANPR would "damage the U.S. economy severely", cause a "large loss of national income" , "throw a monkey wrench into the production side of the economy", accumulate job losses that "exceed 50 percent" for some industries, in excess of "800,000 for several years".

Despite new technology investment, reported the Heritage Foundation, "more capital is destroyed than created." Heritage constructed a scary cliff-hanger of a bar graph that showed GDP sinking dramatically for nearly a quarter of a century. Yet analysis done EPA and non-partisan sources shows the opposite, that investment in green economy and reduction of destructive greenhouse gases will help the economy.

Of course you can get perspective on the Heritage Foundation's ominous forecasting by acknowledging the result of the past 8 years of deregulation -- the conservatives' ideal business model. Deregulation has not been good for labor or the economy. In 2008 job losses were 2.6 million, more than 3 times Heritage Foundation's yearly job loss scenario for the green economy. Under conservative tutelage, manufacturing has been decimated. 2009 has been even worse for jobs, the US economy has shed over 2 million jobs so far this year.

And Now, A New Round of Warnings for Endangerment

Now that the EPA has found on endangerment, as it is required to under the Clean Air Act, and as was ordered to by the Supreme Court, the right again comes out swinging, and has also found a cadre of columnist flacks willing to take up the rhetoric of deception. The thrust of these arguments is: 1) the EPA has suddenly grabbed unprecedented amounts of power, (no mention of the Supreme Court order), and 2) The EPA will ruin your life and steal your job.

Despite how misleading and misinformed, these pieces are being published by still working newspaper editors all over the US. With all the newspaper layoffs of talented journalists, somehow these hyperbolic, mendacious columnists and their (dare I say, shameless) editors seem unreasonably spared. Wrote the Augusta Chronicle: "The EPA recently announced it has authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.....You pretty much have to be a piece of antique furniture not to emit something".

"Antique furniture" in Maine turned out to be Northeast quaint compared to other commentators who used more extreme examples, like the EPA was "putting a gun to Congresses head". In California an LA Times columnist wrote "the EPA has launched its power grab over all that burns, breathes, burps, flies, drives and passes gas." (As an aside, the LA Times had more than 1200 people in its newsroom in 2001, and now has less that 600. And this guy remained in the keeper pool? Oh, and why is the public misinformed?)

The Obama administration certainly takes a different, far more skilled public relations tack than the Bush administration, with nods to the "left" and nods to the "right". However skilled the public relations of the administration, though, what will the end result look like? The idea that market based solutions are the best is not in question in the Obama administration. Senator Boxer generally aligns herself with the president in her cap and trade propositions and many agree that that tactic will be the most amenable to busiess. Even automakers have offered guarded support for the Markey/Waxman bill. But of course cap and trade is under attack from conservatives. Will congressional "compromise" successfully curb greenhouse gas emissions when no solution will satisfy conservatives? I guess we can hope.

Zuma Dodges Corruption Charges

Guns and Money

In Johannesburg, South Africa, supporters of presidential candidate Jacob Zuma celebrated by leaning on horns, blowing whistles and waving flags, after the National Prosecution Authority (NPA) dropped 16 charges against the African National Council (ANC) front-runner. Prosecutors had accused Zuma of taking bribes via Schabir Shaik, his adviser who connived with French arms company Thales International (Thint) to win military arms deals from the state.

Deals with the French company worth several billion dollars were in the works in 1999, when investigators began to look into the details of the transactions. The arms company apparently worked through Zuma's financial adviser Shaik, and recruited Zuma to interfere with the investigation. Zuma, who served as deputy president under Thabo Mbeki, had faced corruption, fraud, racketeering and money-laundering charges.

In 2005, Schabir Shaik was found guilty of corruption and sent to prison to serve several concurrent sentences amounting to 15 years. In 2005 President Thabo Mbeki dismissed deputy president Zuma after the high court found Schaik guilty. The judge in the case noted the "generally corrupt" relationship between Zuma and Shaik. After serving 28 months of his sentence, mostly in private hospitals, Shaik was released on a controversial medical probation last month.

Upon hearing the charges were dropped against Zuma, hundreds of supporters danced and sang to Zuma's theme song, "Bring Me My Machine Gun", an apartheid era rally song.

Who Needs Lawyers?

Zuma's popularity assures broad support for his election April 22, despite his ripe court history, not only on account of the the corruption charges, but also because of a rape trial in 2006. Zuma's comments during the rape trial included the assertion that he had showered to protect himself from contracting AIDS from the woman who accused him of rape, and that he knew that the woman wanted to have sex because of the type of skirt she wore. His comments incensed those who care about public health and women's rights. As deputy president under Mbeki, Zuma served as the head of South Africa's National Aids Council and the Moral Regeneration Movement. Zuma was acquitted of the rape.

People anticipated the charges would be dropped, and now expect Zuma to win the presidential election. But the corruption case hovers in the background uncomfortably. The case dragged on for years before wiretap tapes and transcriptions emerged which seemed to show a politically motivated plot on the part of the investigators. The case against Zuma fell apart on technicality, but the prosecutor pointed out that his decision: "does not affect the substantive merits of the case against [Mr] Zuma". Some people believe the charges will taint the South African democracy, not to mention the presidency of Mr. Zuma.

Thabo Mbeki dismissed Zuma as his deputy president after Shaik was found guilty, and Zuma was never found guilty of corruption charges. Interestingly though, Thabo Mbeki habitually railed against pharmaceutical companies who offered AIDS drugs by accusing them of being "like marauders of the military industrial complex who propagate fear to increase their profits". Of course, while thousands of Mbeki's compatriots died of AIDS, Mbeki denied the viral cause of AIDS and pursued various themes to produce AIDS drugs in Africa. During this time, while Mbeki refused to treat AIDS patients, under his administration billions of dollars of South Africa's wealth was going to foreign weapons manufacturers.

Strong-Arming Countries -- Oil For Planes

In the scheme of things, the bribes that Jacob Zuma accepted were not a big as bribes can get. Starting tonight, Frontline will air a one hour special titled "Black Money", a documentary on international corruption by military corporations. "Black Money" is based on the work of Guardian journalist David Leigh, who has been reporting on BAE corruption across the globe for more than five years. Last year Leigh wrote about BAE bribes to South African, in which BAE pressured the country to buy war planes at inflated prices. Chippy Shaik, the brother of Schabir, worked in the defense department and helped secure the deals.

"Black Money" focuses not so much on South Africa, but on BAE's bribes and the web of relationships between Britain, Saudia Arabia, and the US. BAE devised complex deals to secure £43bn in arms deals with Saudia Arabia. When British investigators at the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) started digging into the deals and Britain's part in them, Saudia Arabia threatened to break off collaborations with Britain against terrorism. Tony Blair's government abruptly curtailed the investigation.

"Black Money" follows the kingpin role of Saudia Prince Bandar bin Sultan, former Saudia ambassador to the US, who benefited handsomely from the bribes. At one point Bandar retorts to the interviewer who probes about the multi-billion dollar deals: "So What?". Filmakers also interviewed former US FBI director Louis Freeh, now a private lawyer and consultant to Prince Bandar also appears "Black Money". He admits that money transfers amounting to $2 billion dollars flowed from BAE in Britain to the US bank accounts of the Saudi prince, but Freeh denies that Bandar accepted bribes. While acknowledging that the complicated deals and payments were set up in part to avoid congressional scrutiny Freeh retorts that the commingling of Saudi accounts is none of the US's business. The narrative and exchanges portrayed in the show "Black Money" add up to no more than "reckless allegations", says Freeh.

Has globalization and unfettered money exchange made the the world as callous as "So What?" and as compromising as Louis Freeh? Corruption is a globalized problem, with some of the biggest victims being the poorest countries, like Bangladesh. Of course all citizens of all countries pay for privileges of the lawless few at the top. The US is perhaps not as corrupt as Saudia Arabia nor is poor as South Africa. But while Africa and Europe and the Middle East and Asia see plenty of corruption, the US has its fair share of nefarious deals and Seawolf-like contracts made in the name of business by self-interested companies, lobbyists and politicians. Even now, as the Obama administration announces the military budget and certain key legislators obstruct the administration's goals to protect their states' prized military contracts, it would be remiss not to acknowledge that the US has its own solid brand of backroom dealmaking and military procurement malfeasance -- not to mention a faltering healthcare system.

Notes When the Heat is On

Most people acknowledge global warming and understand that the research is correct and the scientists' aren't running some elaborate conspiracy. Sure there are naysayers, those pugnacious commentators and columnists we don't even bother naming anymore, who we wrote about two, and three years ago. Now that public opinion seems mostly to support the solid scientific evidence for global warming, fewer and fewer denialists seem willing to forsake their reputations or souls by refuting climate change. So don't you wonder what drives those who still insist climate change is a hoax? Do they get paid very handsomely, either by lies per column inch, by special honorariums for dishonest speakers, or perhaps by the sheer number angry blog referrals they receive in any given week. What else makes sense?

This week the Joint Institute for the Study of Atmosphere and Ocean and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory issued a report in Geophysical Research Letters, suggesting that the arctic is melting so fast that it could be gone in 30 years. Meanwhile, as the science rolls in, the politicians weigh in, and petroleum dependent companies finagle mostly secret deals to keep the profits rolling in.

  • Wagoner Walks: A year ago we wrote about the auto industry pressuring the EPA to stall and obfuscate rather than act on the Supreme Court order to regulate emissions. When we wrote The EPA: Mulish Days, Staring out to Pasture" the auto industry had just posted 18% losses. All it had to offer customers was large, gas-guzzling, air-polluting vehicles at a a time when the economy was sinking, gas was expensive, and some families already owned four new cars bought with cheap credit.

    As the poles melted, we watched industry lobbies instruct the EPA to "abstain from attempting" to regulate emissions and limit its actions to identifying "technical feasibility". One lobbying document warned that the sector's innovation to improve emissions couldn't require "extra costs", and that if "additional technology" were needed, then the EPA could "properly decide to not adopt standards under the Clean Air Act".

    As it had for 30 years, the auto industry assumed it could hold innovation, emissions control and government at bay while continuing to build vehicles that benefited not the environment, not oil independence, not customers long-term needs, not future business, and certainly not autoworkers working for an ever failing sector. Rather its strategy benefited a few well-placed individuals and executives holding the majority of "shareholder value". In the end the strategy did little but assure US auto manufacturing expiration. Long ago the auto companies had become no more than magical slot machines for select executives, who quarter by quarter, hook or by crook, extracted huge windfalls.

    We concluded facetiously that "if 'the health of the industry' is truly still a goal", as one briefing paper aimed to stall EPA regulation stated, than "maybe the government's kindest move would be to shoot it, or drown it in the bathtub, or whatever libertarian types do these days with ponderous, surly sectors."

    This week, Rick Wagoner, the General Motors CEO who most flagrantly flouted common sense and economic sensibilities, abruptly stepped down from GM, under pressure from Barack Obama.

    Maybe there's more to this story. What sort of deal made Wagoner step down? What about the banks? Certainly a solution where Wagoner gets his $20 million, but workers and their pensions and healthcare are left dangling is not the ideal deal. It would have been better if the manufacturers had innovated smaller more efficient cars sometime during their multi-decade slide into the abyss, or been righted years ago with a few swift legislative kicks -- before major shareholders squeezed their companies to death. But if that hadn't happened for 30 years would/will it ever happen?

  • Waxman and Markey Unveil ACES, An Energy Bill: On a positive note, Representatives Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Ed Markey (D-MA) released a 648 page draft global warming and energy bill (PDF), the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES). The legislation proposes a cap and trade system to reduce US emissions 20% below 2005 levels by 2020, a more aggressive goal than the cap and trade recently cut from Obama's 2009 budget.

    The Waxman-Markey bill would require every region of the country to produce a quarter of its electricity from renewable sources like wind, solar and geothermal by 2025, would modernize the electrical grid, and would encourage the production of more electric vehicles and energy efficient buildings. Out of the gate, the congressmen refute Republican criticism of the bill. Ed Markey's office released their own forceful rebuttal to GOP criticism and called opponents on four "distortions" being forwarded by the GOP (more details on the site):

    • "Distortion #1-Clean energy and climate legislation will cost $1,300 per family.

      FACT: The Republican "experts" who did this math should get an F for 'False.'"

    • Distortion #2: Democratic proposals would cost families up to $3,100 per year.

      FACT: More fuzzy math from Republicans, this time by distorting a study by MIT. Republican leaders like Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are attacking clean energy and climate legislation, claiming that it would "cost every American family up to $3,100 per year in higher energy prices"....The author of the MIT study [the authors reference] has said this figure is "wrong in so many ways, it's hard to begin," and today sent a sharply-worded letter to Rep. Boehner pointing out the inaccuracies in his statements about the report. The letter can be found by clicking here."

    • "Distortion #3-There are great costs to transitioning to a low-carbon economy, but no benefits.

      FACT: Oscar Wilde once said that cynics "know the cost of everything and the value of nothing." In a real cost-benefit analysis, you look at both sides of the equation. Industry-friendly analysis like that done by Charles River Associates, commissioned by the Edison Electric Institute, grossly overstate the cost of climate protection..."

    • "Distortion #4-The technology isn't ready for us to move to a clean energy economy.

      FACT: This is Republican pessimism that runs directly counter to American optimism, ingenuity and our proven ability to meet great challenges. History has demonstrated over and over again that if policy creates the right ground rules, entrepreneurs and American businesses find solutions that were previously unimaginable."

    Serving up the necessary messaging with your energy legislation. But how will the bill fare?

  • On Behalf of Wildlife and Forests: Last year we wrote in When To Chop A Tree" that the Bush administration was turning 500,000 acres of California forest into roads and thoroughfares for oil drilling. This was just the tip of the iceberg (so to speak) for the Republican administration, which had spent eight long years decimating protections not only for clean air and water, but endangered species and the environment.

    Even in the last moments of Bush's administration, we wrote in "The 43rd President's Grand Finale of Rulemaking" that Bush proposed to allow mining companies to lop of mountains to allow the refuse clog rivers and streams, and was permitting companies to pollute streams with factory farm run-off, lifting regulations on placing power plants near national parks, exempting factory farms from reporting air pollution, loosening ocean fishing management regulations, and doing nothing about oil refinery toxic emission control which Congress mandated.

    In some encouraging moves, President Obama has now stepped in on behalf of some endangered species like the flying squirrel. This week Obama signed the 2009 Omnibus Public Land Management Act which included 160 separate proposals covering public lands in nine states. The bill adds and expands wilderness areas and national forests.

  • Meanwhile, Making Mountains into Molehills: But we never forget that politics is politics and not everything turns out just as you like it. The House of Representatives failed to reverse the mountaintop removal mining bill.

  • BP's Solar Energy Burn-Out: British Petroleum (BP) -- motto: "Beyond Petroleum" -- recently cut 620 jobs from its solar business, which employed 2,200 people worldwide. Two years ago, we wrote about BP's econ-marketing push in "Green Spirit". Green spirit lives on.

    In other BP news, the Department of Justice, Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation brought a civil suit against the company for two 2006 spills from the Alaska pipeline. The plaintiffs request maximum civil penalties and charge that the company did not adequately prevent or clean up the spill. In a separate suit, Alaska charged the company with environmental damage and lost state revenues due to BP cost-cutting and business practices.

Healthcare Notes

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  • GE Healthcare Marketing Push

    GE and Siemens, which has also made significant investments in healthcare, are currently lobbying Congress against the Obama administration efforts to reduce medical scanning costs in Medicare. Bloomberg News reported that Medicare imaging costs more than doubled to $14.1 billion from 2000 to 2006, according to a June 13 congressional report.

    GE plans to rollout a new healthcare products marketing campaign based on its "Eco-magination" project, which GE told the Financial Times brought in $17bn in revenue last year from the sale of products ranging from jet engines to wind turbines. The new healthcare marketing initiative will "involve numerous parts of the sprawling conglomerate, ranging from its industrial divisions to the media unit, NBC Universal", according to FT. ("GE to pitch its vision on need for healthcare", Apr. 1, 2009) Watch for it on your local TV station.

  • Electronic Records

    A study in the New England Journal of Medicine recently showed that few hospitals have electronic records systems in place. Only 1.5% of hospitals who responded to the authors' survey had electronic systems in all units, while 7.6% had electronic records in some units. Another article in the same journal noted that the current records' systems are proprietary software where the lack of a single standard makes integration with other software systems infeasible.

    The Obama administration plans to infuse $19 billion into an effort to get electronic records in place, but the effort could cost up to $100 billion dollars over the next ten years. Which makes it an attractive business to enter. Wal-Mart is now joining Microsoft and Google and GE in offering digital records options. According to PC World, the retailer:

    "plans to bring its low-cost, high-volume mentality to the healthcare industry by offering a deal that includes hardware, software, installation, maintenance and training to convert a doctor's office from using paper to digital medical records."

    Walmart will coordinate the vendors to offer the $25,000 system. Doctors may get $40,000 - $65,000 federal tax write-off to install and use medical records systems.

  • Cancer Screening

    A couple of weeks ago two studies came out showing that the prostate specific antigen (PSA) blood test for prostate cancer, which allowed all men to be easily screened for the disease, may or may not be helpful. Screening may result in overdiagnosis and overtreatment in some men for whom the disease would never progress.

    In a similar situation, last week, a kerfuffle in Britain motivated British health officials to promise to rewrite patient information that gave misleading information about the benefits of mammograms. A recent study also suggested that breast cancer screening also led to over-diagnosis. Part of the problem is that doctors have limited knowledge about which cancers will progress rapidly, and which won't progress.

    Such uncertainty is common in medicine. Even if doctors can access all the technology in the world, should they run another test or save the money? How do they assess a patient's most simple claims -- "it hurts?" Is the cancer aggressive? Will the patient follow the treatment protocol?

  • "Real Age" Antics

    According to a recent New York Times story, RealAge, an on-line health survey that people voluntarily sign-up for and receive health tips from, is actually a marketing tool for pharmaceutical companies:

    "While few people would fill out a detailed questionnaire about their health and hand it over to a drug company looking for suggestions for new medications, that is essentially what RealAge is doing"

    Apparently the company would email people pharmaceutical suggestions based on symptoms they listed. I had other qualms with the service, like that it rated people's health based on questions about lifestyle choices which were backed up with incomplete or controversial evidence, like -- how many servings of soy do you eat a day? Clearly the privacy issues put a whole new spin on the company's service.

  • Antidote

    Should you need one. The New Yorker runs a Cartoon Caption contest every week, where readers (and potential subscribers) submit captions for a cartoon. The staff picks three of the best captions, then on-line readers vote on which of the three they like best. Sort of the New Yorker's "American Idol". This week's cartoon might be science related, a rare event.

    The cartoon depicts a big hefty naked man striding out of the ocean onto the beach. He appears to be saying something and he looks excited. He's following a fish, which has leapt out of the water and is airbound, glancing behind, fish-eyes wide. Here are the three caption choices:

    • "Now that I've met your family, I want you to meet mine"
    • "Your in trouble when we get to the bicycles"
    • "Hi there! Can I interest you in some promotional material about intelligent design?"

    Vote here.

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