The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Bias in science?

Two stories today about science, one implicitly about how money influences reported outcomes, and another about how people don't really understand science.

First, the New York Times reported Monday on a $100m National Institutes of Health clinical trial that is getting $67m indirectly from five major alcohol producers:

[T]he mantra that moderate drinking is good for the heart has never been put to a rigorous scientific test, and new research has linked even modest alcohol consumption to increases in breast cancer and changes in the brain. That has not stopped the alcoholic beverage industry from promoting the alcohol-is-good-for-you message by supporting scientific meetings and nurturing budding researchers in the field.

Five companies that are among the world’s largest alcoholic beverage manufacturers — Anheuser-Busch InBev, Heineken, Diageo, Pernod Ricard and Carlsberg — have so far pledged $67.7 million to a foundation that raises money for the National Institutes of Health, said Margaret Murray, the director of the Global Alcohol Research Program at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, which will oversee the study.

George F. Koob, the director of the alcohol institute, said the trial will be immune from industry influence and will be an unbiased test of whether alcohol “in moderation” protects against heart disease. “This study could completely backfire on the alcoholic beverage industry, and they’re going to have to live with it,” Dr. Koob said.

“The money from the Foundation for the N.I.H. has no strings attached. Whoever donates to that fund has no leverage whatsoever — no contribution to the study, no input to the study, no say whatsoever.” But Dr. Koob, like many of the researchers and academic institutions playing pivotal roles in the trial, has had close ties to the alcoholic beverage industry.

Keep in mind, funding does not automatically create bias. But it does make people wonder about the study's legitimacy. (This is an enormous problem in elections, too.)

When people start doubting the legitimacy of a study—or an entire body of research—we can get into real trouble. In an op-ed in today's Washington Post, climate scientist Ben Santer explains how he's fighting back against ignorance:

After decades of seeking to advance scientific understanding, reality suddenly shifts, and you are back in the cold darkness of ignorance. The ignorance starts with President Trump. It starts with untruths and alternative facts. The untruth that climate change is a “hoax” engineered by the Chinese. The alternative fact that “nobody really knows” the causes of climate change. These untruths and alternative facts are repeated again and again. They serve as talking points for other members of the administration. From the Environment Protection Agency administrator, who has spent his career fighting against climate change science, we learn the alternative fact that satellite data show “leveling off of warming” over the past two decades. The energy secretary tells us the fairy tale that climate change is due to “ocean waters, and this environment in which we live.” Ignorance trickles down from the president to members of his administration, eventually filtering into the public’s consciousness.

I have to believe that even in this darkness, though, there is still a thin slit of blue sky. My optimism comes from a gut-level belief in the decency and intelligence of the people of this country. Most Americans have an investment in the future — in our children and grandchildren, and in the planet that is our only home. Most Americans care about these investments in the future; we want to protect them from harm. That is our prime directive. Most of us understand that to fulfill this directive, we can’t ignore the reality of a warming planet, rising seas, retreating snow and ice, and changes in the severity and frequency of droughts and floods. We can’t ignore the reality that human actions are part of the climate-change problem, and that human actions must be part of the solution to this problem. Ignoring reality is not a viable survival strategy.

People are attacking truth on several fronts. We've got to keep fighting.

One possible improvement in the schools

Perhaps, if more people had history classes in school in America, something this stupid would be less likely:

For 29 years, National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” has celebrated the Fourth of July with a reading of the Declaration of Independence by hosts, reporters, newscasters and commentators.

This historically uncontroversial testament to the nation’s founding document proved uncontroversial-no-more in the year 2017.

After NPR tweeted the accompanying text of the declaration line by line, Donald Trump backers (seemingly unaware of the source document) accused the media organization of playing partisan politics and attacking the president.

“So, NPR is calling for a revolution,” Twitter user @JustEsrafel wrote.

“Propaganda is that all you know?” another asked.

I...I just...

Fun holiday weekend in Chicago

The top story from this past weekend is that Governor Bruce Rauner vetoed the state budget the legislature proposed, and within an hour the Illinois Senate had voted to override. We haven't had a state budget in more than two years. The governor is an ideological Republican in a majority-Democratic state. Crain's Greg Hinz explains:

Statements from two of the main antagonists, Rauner and Senate President John Cullerton, underlined just how wide the political and philosophical gap remains.

"The package of legislation fails to address Illinois' fiscal and economic crisis—and in fact, makes it worse in the long run," Rauner said in vetoing the main appropriations bill, a second measure dealing with revenue, and a budget-implementation bill. "It does not balance the budget. It does not make nearly sufficient spending reductions, does not pay down our debt, and holds schools hostage to force a Chicago bailout."

"This is a step in the right direction," countered Cullerton. "There is obviously more work to do. There always is. . . .(But) with today's votes, the Senate approved a balanced budget that funds our schools, supports our universities, honors our commitments to social service agencies, keeps road crews employed and even ensures Lottery winners get paid."

As those statements suggest, a big winner in the apparent budget outcome is Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Assuming a House override, he won final approval of a plan to refinance Chicago pension funds covering laborers and white collar workers; the OK to raise the city's 911 tax another $1.10 to $5 per phone line per month to pay those costs; and roughly $300 million more next year for cash-strapped Chicago Public Schools. Chicago and other municipalities also will be protected from losing any money in income tax receipts, even though the state will cut back on the share that goes to them, the Chicago Transit Authority and Metra their normal tax subsidy

A big loser, at least so far, is much of the state's business community, which didn't get the cost-cutting steps it wanted, especially a reduction in workers compensation payments. But other business groups, notably the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club, argued it was far more important to restore financial stability to reeling state government.

Well, duh. Almost everyone in the state who isn't a Republican ideologue wants this budget to pass. It's a good compromise and actually gives the Republicans a lot of what they want. But that's the thing: Republicans in general, and Bruce Rauner in specific, refuse to compromise. 

Meanwhile, in Chicago, 100 people were shot over the weekend, which had less to do with the budget but something to do with Republican religion about guns. Maybe someday we'll decide that the plain meaning of the Second Amendment really does allow states and cities to crack down on handguns and military-style rifles. Maybe.

Lunchtime link list

Among the browser windows I have open are these:

Now, back to coding. In Ruby, yet.

It's not a different strategy; it's a different outcome

Josh Marshall points to Dana Bash's remarks yesterday as an example of how many journalists miss (or misrepresent) the point in the health-care debate:

Current Republican ideology...posits that it is simply not the responsibility or place of government, certainly not the federal government, to make sure everyone has health care coverage. You can agree or disagree with that premise. But it’s not hard to understand and it is not indefensible. Very few of us think the government should step in if someone doesn’t have enough money to buy a car. We don’t think there’s a right to a home or apartment where every child has their own bedroom. On most things we accept that things are not equal, even if we believe that extremes of inequality are bad for society and even immoral.

But many of us think that healthcare is fundamentally different. It’s not just another market product that we accept people can or can’t get or can or can’t get at certain levels of quality because of wealth, chance, exertion and all the other factors that go into wealth and income. This is both a moral and ideological premise.

Pretending that both parties just have very different approaches to solving a commonly agreed upon problem is really just a lie. It’s not true. One side is looking for ways to increase the number of people who have real health insurance and thus reasonable access to health care and the other is trying to get the government out of the health care provision business with the inevitable result that the opposite will be the case.

At least the Times editorial board is calling the GOP plan a hoax.

Republicans don't like poor people

Nor, it seems, do they like the middle class. Krugman rips into their proposal for repealing the ACA:

In the past, laws that would take from the poor and working class while giving to the rich came with excuses. Tax cuts, their sponsors declared, would unleash market dynamism and make everyone more prosperous. Deregulation would increase efficiency and lower prices. It was all voodoo; the promises never came true. But at least there was some pretense of working for the common good.

Now we have none of this. This bill does nothing to reduce health care costs. It does nothing to improve the functioning of health insurance markets – in fact, it will send them into death spirals by reducing subsidies and eliminating the individual mandate. There is nothing at all in the bill that will make health care more affordable for those currently having trouble paying for it. And it will gradually squeeze Medicaid, eventually destroying any possibility of insurance for millions.

Who benefits? It’s all about the tax cuts, almost half of which will go to people with incomes over $1 million, the great bulk to people with incomes over 200K.

Meanwhile, Brian Beutler points out that the GOP's proposal might actually harm one of their own leadership:

The House and Senate Trumpcare bills gut protections for people with pre-existing conditions in different ways: the former by allowing insurers to price gouge sick people; the latter by allowing insurers to exclude the treatments sick people need from covered benefit schedules, creating adverse selection. Both would destabilize insurance markets for people with pre-existing conditions in at least some states. The Senate bill does not exempt members of Congress, and House Republicans have gone on record with the promise that Trumpcare will apply to them, too.

We don’t know if [Rep. Steve] Scalise’s recovery will take years, or if he will need chronic care when he gets through rehabilitation. Hopefully the answer to both questions is no. But it’s dreadfully easy to imagine that if a Republican health care bill becomes law, Scalise will ultimately be uninsurable under its terms, leaving him exposed to the long-term costs of his injuries, and to the costs of other ailments that might befall him between now and when he becomes eligible for Medicare.

It looks like the bill may pass. And that will make millions of Americans, including Rep. Scalise, much worse off, all for a few tax cuts.

 

Our civic boosters

Crain's asks, Who wants to move to Chicago?

A major Chicago company, we hear, is having a harder time persuading recruits to move here. Full employment, especially among the well-compensated professionals it's hiring, might seem to blame. But the company isn't struggling to attract talent in markets where jobless rates are even lower than metro Chicago's most recent rate of 4.3 percent. What's the problem then? It's the candidates' fear that Chicago and Illinois generally have become risky places in which to buy a home and raise a family.

When the General Assembly reconvenes June 21, it could put some of those worries to rest and pass an actual state budget for the first time in two years. That would require compromise from Gov. Bruce Rauner as well as his Democratic adversaries, House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton. For far too long, they've put their own re-elections ahead of the commonweal. Meanwhile, the state stumbles along, spending far more than it's taking in. Meanwhile, too, the unthinkable becomes less improbable: Without state support, junk-rated governments in Illinois, including the city of Chicago, Chicago Public Schools and a half-dozen state universities, could essentially go under.

Unfortunately, the Crain's editorial board offers no solutions. Nor can they. Because they're in the same uncomfortable position Kansas Republicans are in: their guy is the one holding the state hostage. 

Yes, the legislature and the governor need to compromise. But only one of them is an ideological dead-ender.

How to take back the House

Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel and Bruce Reed, who together engineered the Democratic mid-term victory in 2006, have some advice for the party in 2018:

In the last 60 years, control of the U.S. House of Representatives has changed hands just three times, always in midterm elections, with control shifting away from the president’s party. The 1994 and 2010 campaigns were dominated by attacks against the incumbent president and his party over health care; 2006 became a referendum over the ruling party’s incompetence and corruption. In percentage terms, the worst midterm defeat in the past century came in 1974, when a nation weary of obstruction of justice sent a quarter of the House Republican caucus packing.

Democrats don’t just need to choose the right battles, they also need to choose credible candidates who can win them. Candidate quality may not make the difference in a place like Montana’s at-large district, where Greg Gianforte won handily just hours after assaulting a reporter. Winning hotly contested swing seats, however, requires candidates who closely match their districts—even if they don’t perfectly align with the national party’s activist base.

Here's hoping they're right, and the national Democratic party gets its shit together.

Monday evening reading

Stuff I didn't get to because I was doing my job today:

Time for a martini, clearly.

In case you're having trouble keeping up

The Washington Post has a quick guide to who's being investigated for what:

Russian election meddling and possible collusion with the Trump campaign

This is where it all started. James B. Comey, who led the law enforcement investigation until he was fired as FBI director May 9, testified last week before the Senate Intelligence Committee that he has no doubt that Russia attempted to influence the presidential race by hacking the Democratic National Committee and launching cyberattacks on state election systems, among other tactics.

Possible attempts to obstruct justice

Comey testified last week that while he was still head of the FBI, he told Trump on three occasions that the agency was not investigating him, individually. “Officials say that changed shortly after Comey’s firing,” The Post reported Wednesday.

Possible financial crimes

We know less about this prong than the other two. The Post reported last month that “in addition to possible coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign to influence the 2016 presidential election, investigators are also looking broadly into possible financial crimes — but the people familiar with the matter, who were not authorized to speak publicly, did not specify who or what was being examined.”

Meanwhile, Attorney General Jeff Sessions personally asked congress to prosecute medical-marijuana clinics, so that we can spend millions of Federal law-enforcement dollars hurting sick people. Gotta love the Republican Party.