Policy

California voters feel increasingly squeezed by their drought, according to a new USC Donrslife/Los Angeles Times poll. September 11, 2015 — As one of California’s most severe droughts on record continues to worsen, more than one in three state voters say the drought has had a major impact on them and the lives of their families, according to results from the latest USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences/Los Angeles Times Poll. Thirty-five percent of California voters said the drought has had a major impact, 50 percent said it has had a minor impact, and 14 percent said it has…
Someone just asked on Facebook if humans are naturally carnivores. My response: What is a carnivore? Taxon? A certain percentage of meat in the diet? Some, even if just a few, humans living mostly off meat? What? Then, what is “naturally”? Genetically determined and unavoidable? Required because of our gut, or some nutritional thing? What if we were like cats, genetically driven to be effective hunters but seeming in need of some training from mom. Does that make it not natural? And, finally, of course, define the verb “to be” here. Thank you. So, with that in mind, what about the sentence…
The ride-hailing mobile app Uber is desperate to prove it’s nothing more than a technology platform that connects drivers and passengers. As long as it can classify its workers as independent contractors, it can sidestep a whole host of labor and wage laws. But a court ruling issued earlier this week could open the door to change all that. On Tuesday, a federal judge in San Francisco granted class action status to a lawsuit challenging Uber’s classification of workers as independent contractors. The decision doesn’t rule on the question of whether Uber drivers should be classified as…
The Republican Party and its handlers, including the right wing talk radio jocks such as Rush Limbaugh, and the bought-and-paid-for media such as FOX news, did not create the Tea Party. Michele Bachmann and a few others did that.* But once the Tea Party got going, mainstream conservative Republicans, including and especially leaders in Congress, went right to bed with it. The Tea Party gave Republican strategists an easy way to garner votes and support. This was especially easy to do because America decided to elect an African American president. Make no mistake. The Tea Party is pro-…
The approval of new drugs and medical devices is a process fraught with scientific, political, and ethical landmines. Inherent in any such process is an unavoidable conflict between rigorous science and safety on the one side, which tend to slow the process down by requiring large randomized clinical trials that can take years, versus forces that demand faster approval. For example, patients suffering from deadly diseases demand faster approval of drugs that might give them the hope of surviving their disease, or at least of surviving considerably longer. This is a powerful force for reform,…
"The specific moral is that within the standard model the [cosmic microwave background] temperature is a key parameter in fixing the thermal and dynamical history of the Universe. The measurement of this parameter made physical cosmology much more definite, and the detection of the radiation made the Big Bang cosmology a good deal more credible." -P.J.E. Peebles The Universe is never going to run out of wonders for us to discover and explore at a deep level, from fundamental truths to how the Universe assembles all its structures. Here at Starts With A Bang, we covered just a slice of it: How…
It has begun. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has called an election for October 19, 2015, kicking off a marathon 11 week election campaign. The longest campaign since the 1870s, believe it or not. My patient readers may have noticed that over the last few years I've posted quite a bit about how science has fared under the current government. Readers will have gathered that I'm not too pleased about that state of affairs. This election signals an opportunity to (hopefully) change direction; if it's not completely possible to undo all the damage that Harper has done, we can at least…
At The Nation, leaders in the domestic workers movement write about what’s next in their efforts to improve conditions for the thousands who work in people’s homes, often with no rights or recourse. Authored by Ai-jen Poo and Andrea Cristina Mercado, both with the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the article chronicles the “legacy of exclusion” that domestic workers have experienced, such as their exemption from federal labor protections, as well as the day-to-day conditions they often face in people’s homes — conditions that can result in serious and long-term injuries. The authors write…
Last week, Oregon's Senate and House passed a bill that requires businesses with 10 or more employees to let them earn up to 40 hours of paid sick time each year. Governor Kate Brown is expected to sign the bill, which would make her state the fourth in the nation mandating paid sick days. Connecticut was the first state to pass a paid-sick-days law, in 2011, and California's legislature followed in 2014. In Massachusetts, advocates introduced a ballot proposal on earned sick time, and the state's voters approved it in the 2014 election. The original version of Oregon's bill would have…
In 2008, I was visiting the Nobel Conference held annually at Gustavus Adolphus college in Minnestoa. The conference was on Human Evolution. The college provided space in a large room for people to have their lunch, and while I was having lunch on the first day, I noticed a table off to the side staffed by a serious looking man with a clipboard. The front of his table was adorned with a large “Science Debate 08” banner. Seemed interesting. So I wandered over and had a chat. It turns out the man was Shawn Otto, one of the co-founders of Science Debate. Shawn, a Minnesota resident, is the…
When I wrote yesterday about the cruel sham that is "right-to-try," , one criticism (among many) that I made of these misguided, profoundly patient-unfriendly laws was that I have as yet been unable to find a single example of a patient who has managed to obtain access to an experimental therapeutic through such a law, much less been helped by it. So-called "right-to-try" laws, of course, claim to provide a mechanism by which patients with terminal illnesses can obtain access to experimental therapeutics not yet approved by the FDA but still in clinical trials. They are, as I've pointed out,…
Last year, I did several posts on what I consider to be a profoundly misguided and potentially harmful type of law known as "right-to-try." Beginning about a year and a half ago, promoted by the libertarian think tank known as the Goldwater Institute, right-to-try laws began popping up in state legislatures. I wrote about how these laws are far more likely to do harm than good, and that is a position that I maintain today. The idea behind these laws is to give terminally ill patients access to experimental drugs—in some cases drugs that have only passed phase I testing—that might help them.…
More than $30 million in Arkansas, $25.8 million in Kentucky, $105.5 million in Washington and $180 million in Michigan. That’s how much money just four states during just one fiscal year saved under their newly expanded Medicaid programs. A recent report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) summarizes the benefits of Medicaid expansions on uninsurance rates, state health care spending and uncompensated care, finding that “contrary to critics’ claims that Medicaid expansion is financially unsustainable for states, there is increasing evidence that expansion has saved states…
As hard as it is to believe, I've been spending a significant part of my time countering pseudoscience for close to 17 years, so long that it seems that I've always been doing it. Of course, that's not true; I didn't actually become involved in this seemingly never-ending Sisyphean task until I was in my mid-30s, which means that the majority of my life had been spent more or less blissfully ignorant that there are people out there who passionately believe, for example, that vaccines are dangerous and cause autism and that bleach enemas can reverse that autism or that there were quacks out…
The 2015 Pulitzer Prize winner for Public Service went to South Carolina’s Post and Courier for the chillingly effective series “Till Death Do Us Part,” about the state’s inadequate response to domestic violence. Doug Pardue, Glenn Smith, Jennifer Berry Hawes, and Natalie Caula Hauff conducted an in-depth investigation and followed the stories of women killed by men in South Carolina. They concluded, “Awash in guns, saddled with ineffective laws and lacking enough shelters for the battered, South Carolina is a state where the deck is stacked against women trapped in the cycle of abuse.” In…
[Update: June 6th: Chase-Me has definitely been a very naughty boy indeed. The only question is whether he'll hang on to his sysop bit.] By popular request. And I've not seen anyone else wiki-literate discussing this, so I will (update: Wikipedia sockpuppetry is a problem, but baseless accusations are no better by a former checkuser is worth a read; it mostly supports what I've said here). the Graun says Grant Shapps accused of editing Wikipedia pages of Tory rivals. Online encyclopedia administrators block user account believed to be run by Tory party co-chairman or ‘someone else ... under…
It never ceases to amaze me how very smart people can miss some very obvious points. Now, as most of my readers know, I was at NECSS over the weekend. Because I was busy giving a talk, doing panels, and then enjoying other speakers' talks, I wasn't paying much attention to some of the issues that had consumed my blogging in the couple of weeks before NECSS. Also, as I mentioned here yesterday, science communication was a big issue as well, which is why I appreciated Julia Belluz's suggestions for how the media should cover pseudoscience and quackery. There was, however, one point where I didn…
Later today, I'll be on my way to New York City to take part in the Science-Based Medicine portion of NECSS. I'm very much looking forward to it, not the least because I haven't been to New York in five years but even more so because I look forward to meeting up with the rest of the SBM crew and those interested in science and skepticism and trying, in my small way, to impart some little bit of what I've learned over the years about quackery, pseudoscience, and how to counter them. As a result, blogging might be more sporadic than usual for a few days. I mean, I haven't even quite finished my…
In 2006, UPS driver Peggy Young became pregnant and asked for lighter-duty work that would comply with her doctor’s advice to limit lifting (to packages weighing 20 pounds or less during the first 20 weeks of her pregnancy, and 10 pounds or less during the remainder). UPS denied her request. Young was placed on leave without pay and lost her medical coverage, so she sued UPS. She didn’t win at the federal district or appeals court level, but the Supreme Court last week made a decision that gives Peggy Young a shot at winning – and might help other pregnant workers. The Court didn’t actually…
I've been writing a lot of posts on what I like to call the "antivaccine dogwhistle." In politics, a "dog whistle" refers to rhetoric that sounds to the average person to be reasonable and even admirable but, like the way that a dog whistle can't be heard by humans because the frequency of its tone is higher than the range that humans can hear, most people don't "hear" the real message. However, the intended audience does hear the real message. The way the "dog whistle" works in politics is through the use of coded language recognizable to the intended audience but to which most other people…