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How much I care about GMO food labeling:

Ichoran Re:The harm is in the use (461 comments)

The problem is that "GMO" is not a useful label. Maybe it means you have 20x more vitamin A, or maybe it means it contains BT, or maybe it means it was grown in a pool of roundup, or maybe it means that it's got back a missing bit of chromosome that got lost during selective breeding. It's about as helpful as "made with select varieties". It's _not_ like "from cows not treated with rBST", because this is a very specific chemical that has a particular effect on cows.

You could also add: "warning--this food may have been processed in a facility where some workers have AIDS." It sounds scary and doesn't help you decide anything.

"Warning: the contents have not been screened for lethal concentrations of polonium." Uh?

"Warning: the contents have not been harvested in a topsoil-neutral manner." Yeah, pretty much everything.

"Latitude 40+ product inside." Well, maybe true, but why do we care?

"Packaged in a facility that includes atheist workers." Can we trust them?

"Contains machine-processed ingredients." Oh no! You mean people didn't hull the wheat by hand?!

If GMO labels said what the modification(s) were, then it would be meaningfully more information. Pandering to panicky trends is not providing more information in a meaningful sense; it's inconveniencing everyone. If there's a market for GMO-free food, fine, there should be regulations to make sure that means what people think it means so that at least it's honest. But when you want something that is not well justified, you should be the one to go out of your way to get it/advertise it.

(Personally, I would really like to know what modifications were there, but unfortunately I think the chance of that happening is close to zero.)

about a year ago
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Dr. Robert Bakker Answers Your Questions About Science and Religion

Ichoran Single essay response to short-answer format? (388 comments)

I wouldn't grade Dr. Bakker very highly if this were an exam. He was asked questions and didn't answer any of them directly. Instead he chose to tell a story of his own preference. Sorry, but if we wanted that, why not just go read his blog or something? Telling inconclusive but interesting anecdotes is a great use for blogs.

I wish the editors would push back on guests who try to do this. I would be happier to read, "Dr. Bakker decided he didn't actually want to answer your questions and submitted a free-form essay instead; you can read it on his web site at ..." than be presented with an illusion that he actually paid attention to what we asked. If he did pay attention, he should credit those who motivated his answers.

about a year and a half ago
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Dr. Robert Bakker Answers Your Questions About Science and Religion

Ichoran Re:Well That Was a Depressing Read (388 comments)

Since "science" is "the formalization of the way we know anything at all about anything", it's not really a matter of "not fitting a system". You could try eating only rocks to "not fit the nutritional system", but you'd rather quickly end up dead. Not all systems work. Rejecting a broken system in favor of a less broken one is not symmetric with rejecting a working system in favor of a fatally flawed one.

about a year and a half ago
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Ask Dr. Robert Bakker About Dinosaurs and Merging Science and Religion

Ichoran Religion and Cognitive Science (528 comments)

Although some subset of Christians seem to be very disturbed by the implications of the fossil record (and phylogenetics from DNA sequencing, if they pay attention), there is a good case to be made that these details of the history of life on earth are not wholly incompatible with the Christian world view.

However, recent findings in cognitive science and neuroscience are perhaps more directly challenging. Whether it is religious experiences induced by magnetic fields (or certain types of supposedly spiritual experiences seeming identical to certain types of epilepsy caused by defects in neuronal biochemistry), or the inseperable nature of mind and brain (as shown by reams of brain injury data, effects of psychoactive substances, fMRI imaging, sensory deprivation experiments, and so on), or the degree to which our morality and actions are instinctive and not necessarily fully within our control, scientific research seems to be painting a very different picture of man-the-sometimes-thinking-animal than has Christianity or other traditional religions. In particular, notions of will and soul that appear central to an understanding of Christianity seem increasingly at odds with neuroscience.

What is your opinion on the compatibility of Christinaity with cognitive science? Must one or the other adapt in order for the two to exist harmoniously, and if so, what form might that take?

about a year and a half ago
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Taking Sense Away: Confessions of a Former TSA Screener

Ichoran Re:Worse than rent-a-cops (354 comments)

Well, I was sort of expecting the OP to say that he pointed out that the machine was not in fact millimeter wave and was actually x-ray backscatter (based on inspection). That he did not makes me wonder about the exact identity of the scanner.

about a year and a half ago
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Taking Sense Away: Confessions of a Former TSA Screener

Ichoran Re:Worse than rent-a-cops (354 comments)

He told you first that the machine was X-ray backscatter, and then that it was millimeter wave? Or you read the signs that it was backscatter and he said it was millimeter?

about a year and a half ago
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Congressional Committee Casts a Harsh Eye On Vaccination Science

Ichoran Re:Really, Really, I call BS on your science... (858 comments)

Agreed, except why single out vaccines? It should be every prescription or procedure. Just record everything and do data mining. You wouldn't even need a dedicated VAERS then, as all the data relevant to safety would be embedded in the standard medical records.

about a year and a half ago
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Congressional Committee Casts a Harsh Eye On Vaccination Science

Ichoran Re:Vaccines vs. natural immune assault by environm (858 comments)

Indeed. But that doesn't make the statement in that health magazine (which I believe is just reprinted from a CDC fact sheet, or pretty close) any more relevant. It shows that infants have an immune system, but that's hardly in dispute. More relevant information would include things like strength of immune response to a vaccination vs. response to a cold. Otherwise it's just a reassuring-sounding trick to fool the scientifically illiterate into doing the right thing. Personally I take a pretty dim view of people doing the right thing for the wrong reasons; although it seems efficient at the time, it produces a brittle system in that if you don't know why you're doing what you're doing, you don't know how to react when something changes or you receive new information.

about a year and a half ago
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Congressional Committee Casts a Harsh Eye On Vaccination Science

Ichoran Re:Really, Really, I call BS on your science... (858 comments)

I wouldn't exactly call VAERS reporting "a scientific process". The disclaimers on the database read like the ones on Slashdot polls.

If it were scientific, the doctor would call you a week after the injection and ask how her health was and if she suffered any major or minor maladies, and the answer whatever it was would go in a database.

Or, heck, all adjacent pairs of medical interventions could go into a database, whether it had anything to do with vaccinations or not. There is much you can do with lots of data; the health care system is designed to squirrel that data away into various different filing cabinets, not look for patterns. Medicine has a long way to go yet to be a data-driven science in the way that, say, advertising is. (Kinda makes you think about our priorities as a culture, eh?)

Even with the lack-of-reporting bias, VAERS still can be used to detect particularly problematic vaccines, simply because some reports do get through, and there's no reason to expect the legitimate ones are suppressed more than the illegitimate ones. The assumption is that _none_ of it is virus-related. So, okay, sample size is smaller and statistics are noisier, but you can still detect obvious trends with careful statistics.

about a year and a half ago
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Congressional Committee Casts a Harsh Eye On Vaccination Science

Ichoran Re:Really, Really, I call BS on your science... (858 comments)

Don't forget to multiply by the risk of catching the disease when you say "high risk of death".

The calculation for at-risk populations can be very different for low-risk populations. That's why, for example, countries in temperate climates don't bother vaccinating for yellow fever unless people are going to be traveling.

about a year and a half ago
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Congressional Committee Casts a Harsh Eye On Vaccination Science

Ichoran Re:Really, Really, I call BS on your science... (858 comments)

Er, wait, so female protanomaly colorblindness isn't a result of genetics because the rate is only 0.01%?! Sadly, blanket statements are no substitute for statistics.

about a year and a half ago
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Congressional Committee Casts a Harsh Eye On Vaccination Science

Ichoran Re:One sided (858 comments)

Actually, a lot of early vaccines don't really contribute to lifelong immunity, even if the immune system is mature enough to generate some protective temporary immunity. Vaccine catch-up schedules for older children often skip one or more injections.

Also, a lot of young children don't get sick any more because of herd immunity. If you don't vaccinate them, though, you have to be extra-confident the herd that they are interacting with is adequately immune. (If you herd your babies, which we generally do, then you do need to have the baby-herd immunized to get protection.)

about a year and a half ago
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Congressional Committee Casts a Harsh Eye On Vaccination Science

Ichoran Re:Vaccines vs. natural immune assault by environm (858 comments)

Welllll, those thousands of other bacteria and viruses aren't usually injected into us in quantities high enough to often cause a low-grade fever. Let's not use bad evidence, even if the concerns are unwarranted or part of mass hysteria or whatever.

about a year and a half ago
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Congressional Committee Casts a Harsh Eye On Vaccination Science

Ichoran Re:One sided (858 comments)

It's because compliance rates are higher for younger children, all else being equal. So if you _can_ vaccinate at 6 months, the argument goes, why wait until, say, 12 years, when the chance you'll actually get it done is lower?

about a year and a half ago
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Toshiba Pursues Copyright Claim Against Laptop Manual Site

Ichoran Re:shame (268 comments)

It implies that even if they make decent machines, you don't want to buy from them because they will use their legal rights to make your life more difficult.

Thanks, but if there's a less hostile option, I'll take it.

about 2 years ago
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Patent System Not Broken, Argues IBM's Chief Patent Counsel

Ichoran Re:Well.... really? (152 comments)

Rounded corners have practical utility: you don't hurt yourself on them, and they slide into pockets and covers more easily. It is obvious and there is prior art, but it is not merely aesthetic.

about 2 years ago
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Nate Silver's Numbers Indicate Probable Obama Win, World Agrees

Ichoran Re:Does it really matter who wins? (881 comments)

You think Gore would have gone into Iraq? We've spent in the neighborhood of $3 trillion there. Thats about $10,000 per capita in the U.S.. That's rather a lot of money. Maybe you think it's money well spent, or maybe you think it's a waste, but it almost certainly would have been spent dramatically different under Gore.

You think McCain would have passed Obamacare (which might be a pretty big deal to the ~5% of the people who will be covered who weren't before, and to the people who have to pay for it)? Despite presidents failing to pass health care reform for decades (and mostly it being a Democratic initiative)?

Or, to play cynicism against cynicism--you don't think that each party wants to do something to fire up its base and stick it to the other guys so they'll win the *next* election?

There are a lot of ways that it doesn't matter. But to say it doesn't matter at all sounds like a rationalization for not paying attention or getting involved--or it deserves a really robust argument.

about 2 years ago
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Nate Silver's Numbers Indicate Probable Obama Win, World Agrees

Ichoran Re:Does it really matter who wins? (881 comments)

Yeah, it can matter, because even if 90% of what two candidates will do is identical (and you believe it's all a bad idea), the remaining 10% can have an impact. People were saying "Bush vs. Gore, does it really matter?" back in 2000. In retrospect, don't you think that certain things would have turned out rather differently--enough so to matter?

about 2 years ago
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Nate Silver's Numbers Indicate Probable Obama Win, World Agrees

Ichoran Re:Better... (881 comments)

You can't really win the "it is substantial!" argument because the information is mostly fluff--general statements of approach on how to tackle difficult problems, without actually specifying how to resolve any difficult bits.

It's much more supportable to compare Romney 2012 with Obama 2008--how much detail did Obama have?--and then play the "details are for Congress, vision is for the President" card.

about 2 years ago

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