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It Was Politics That Drove ‘The Science’

It Was Politics That Drove ‘The Science’

Authored by Steve Templeton via The Brownstone Institute,

Republished from the author’s Substack

The…

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It Was Politics That Drove 'The Science'

Authored by Steve Templeton via The Brownstone Institute,

Republished from the author’s Substack

The science doesn't drive health policy. The policy drives the science...

Most academic scientists spend a lot of time writing grants that have very little chance of being funded. Because the funding environment is so competitive, many scientists feel pressure to emphasize the most positive, sensational results they can produce. Some academic scientists take this too far, by ignoring conflicting results or even fabricating data. Research fraud that goes unreported can upset decades of research, which happened recently in the field of Alzheimer’s research.

What happens if you take away scientific competition? There is indeed a way to do this, and that’s by working in a government agency. Being a government scientist is not a bad deal for a lot of people. The pay is good, the job is secure, and the expectations aren’t high. Securing funding is pretty easy and completely backwards from academia—you often get the funding first and justify it with a “grant” later.

The perceived impact of your publications doesn’t matter, any journal is sufficient. In the case of my position at CDC-NIOSH, mechanistic science wasn’t encouraged. Instead, there was a lot of emphasis on toxicology, which simply involves exposing an animal or tissue to a compound or microbe and determining if there is an adverse effect. If there was, taking further steps to determine why there was an adverse effect wasn’t necessary. It was a simple exposure, assess, report, rinse and repeat process.

I wasn’t in my government post-doc position long before I realized that government work wasn’t my calling. It’s not that it wasn’t challenging, it was just challenging in the wrong way. Government scientists often spend more of their time fighting government bureaucracy than scientific problems. In such a red tape-clogged system, self-motivated people eventually get discouraged, while unmotivated people get to coast.

There were many examples of bureaucratic dysfunction and waste. In one department, staff members came across a storage room filled with brand new boxes of obsolete computers that had never been opened. No one seemed to know how they got there. Similarly, it wasn’t a rare occurrence to encounter large stores of expensive reagents in a freezer or storage room that had expired without being opened. These examples were simply a function of shifting funding and priorities. Congress would periodically throw money at the agency so everyone could claim they were doing something about a highly visible health problem. If you didn’t spend it, it went away.

In another instance, government officials decided they needed an online travel booking program for employees similar to Orbitz for Business. The result was underwhelming–millions of dollars and years later, there were still serious problems with it that resulted in travel delays. Everyone complained about having to use it. They could’ve just used Orbitz for Business, if only it had been allowed. 

At one point, traveling to a foreign country to give a research seminar required giving notice one year in advance. This included the title of the talk. Who knows what they are going to talk about one year in advance?

One of my favorite horror stories about government bureaucracy was about a CDC employee who got fired accidentally by an unnamed bureaucrat. He didn’t even realize he had been fired until one day his paycheck wasn’t deposited and his security badge stopped working. It took months to get him rehired. The great irony of that story is that it’s nearly impossible to fire someone intentionally. I’m not sure how anyone could do it accidentally. But apparently, it happened.

At the CDC branch where I worked, we had a histology core run by a technician who didn’t like his job, and knew he couldn’t get fired. I would send tissue samples and they’d take months to get processed and stained. When I did get them back, there were some curious things about the slides I would notice. Some of the different samples would appear identical on the cut slides.

The histology tech was just cutting the same block over and over to make slides and labeling them differently. When I brought up this behavior to my boss, it didn’t surprise him. He told me that the guy was bitter and intended to metaphorically give us all a big middle finger, and there was no way we could stop him. We ended up contracting the nearby university core to do the same work. Meanwhile, worthless histology tech continued to get paid for doing even less. 

Once, a CDC pathologist tried to report him for “destruction of government property.” She was one of those self-motivated people who took her job seriously and could be relied upon by others, and at the same time was naïve enough to expect the same. What happened when she raised a stink about lazy histology tech guy? She was reprimanded and labeled a “troublemaker.” Probably because the bureaucrats recognized that her attempt at whistleblowing would just create work for them, and would not actually result in any meaningful change.

Once I got reprimanded by my boss for a reason that I cannot clearly recall. Much like the honorable yet naive pathologist, I was calling BS on something and thus not endearing myself to the front office. Although I can’t recall much of the dressing down I received, one thing he said stuck with me: “You can’t change the system from outside the system,.” He meant it was pointless for someone in my lowly contract position to fight anything, it would do nothing and only hurt me and annoy everyone else.

Later, I realized that something he didn’t mention was also true–it’s impossible to advance within the system by promising to change it. If you wanted to advance within the CDC or another government agency, you have to demonstrate your dedication to the status quo. That powerful incentive ensures the system is preserved, with perverse incentives fully intact.

This dynamic was painfully obvious as I watched the government pandemic response unfold. At the beginning, when uncertainty was the greatest, many leaders seemed reasonable and cautioned against panic, because they knew there was a potential for severe collateral damage. Once more particulars about the virus were known, especially the steep age-stratified risk of severe disease, competing political interests emerged, and as a result messaging and decision-making became distorted. 

In normal times, large bureaucratic health agencies driven by political interests do not directly affect the daily lives of most Americans. During a natural disaster, however, these agencies will continue to be driven by politics, not public health, because they are not capable of adapting to a crisis. That’s when the cracks begin to show, and everyone is affected.

A prime example is the CDC’s flagship journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). According to the CDC, MMWR exists “…to report events of public health interest and importance to CDC’s major constituents—state and local health departments—and as quickly as possible”, and to distribute “… objective scientific information, albeit often preliminary, to the public at large”.

The key word here is “objective”, which is apparently used unironically. Here are MMWR editors describing how they determine what content is suitable for publication:

Several other differences [between the MMWR and medical journals] exist. A major one is that, unlike medical journals (with a few exceptions, i.e., certain special supplements such as this one), the content published in MMWR constitutes the official voice of its parent, CDC. One sign of this is the absence in MMWR of any official disclaimers. Although most articles that appear in MMWR are not “peer-reviewed” in the way that submissions to medical journals are, to ensure that the content of MMWR comports with CDC policy, every submission to MMWR undergoes a rigorous multilevel clearance process before publication. This includes review by the CDC Director or designate, top scientific directors at all CDC organizational levels, and an exacting review by MMWR editors. Articles submitted to MMWR from non-CDC authors undergo the same kind of review by subject-matter experts within CDC. By the time a report appears in MMWR, it reflects, or is consistent with, CDC policy.

Did you catch all that? There is nothing “objective” about how the CDC determines what is published in their flagship journal. They choose to publish only results that support their policy, and are completely open about it.

This is backwards from how health policy should be determined.

Science should drive policy recommendations, yet at the CDC, the policy recommendations drive the science. 

Once this fact is acknowledged, much of the more controversial “studies” published in MMWR begin to make complete sense. For example, many mask studies claiming significant universal or school masking efficacy published by the CDC (some that I have previously discussed) were poorly designed and executed and easily debunked by outside observers. That’s because the “rigorous multilevel clearance process” involved no concern with the actual methodology of those studies. There was simply a set of predetermined conclusions from CDC directors in search of supporting data. Nothing objective about it.

Politically driven science at the CDC and other government health agencies was not limited to mask studies. Risks of severe or long COVID and benefits of COVID vaccines in children and healthy adults were also greatly exaggerated. Worst of all, basic tenets of immunology (e.g. infection-acquired immunity) were denied. Immunologists were expected to go along with it. Many did.

Science is a perfect process complicated by flawed human practitioners. Wherever there are people, there will be politics, and wherever there are government health agencies, their political interests will trample any conflicting science. As with any big problem, the first step is admitting there is a problem. After accepting the fact that health agencies are political organizations, the next steps should explore ways to ensure bipartisan administration and remove perverse incentives. Separating research and policy arms of each agency, term limits for administrative positions, and approval of directors by Congress might be a good start. 

Obviously, no meaningful change in government health agencies is going to happen without overcoming massive bureaucratic opposition. But a meaningful change is the only outcome we should accept, or we can expect more of the same when the next pandemic comes.

Tyler Durden Thu, 09/15/2022 - 17:40

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Government

Biden’s Secret Promise To OPEC Backfires: Shellenberger

Biden’s Secret Promise To OPEC Backfires: Shellenberger

Submitted by Michael Shellenberger,

In early September, United States Secretary of…

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Biden's Secret Promise To OPEC Backfires: Shellenberger

Submitted by Michael Shellenberger,

In early September, United States Secretary of Energy, Jennifer Granholm, told Reuters that President Joe Biden was considering extending the release of oil from America’s emergency stockpiles, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), through October, and thus beyond the date when the program had been set to end. But then, a few hours later, an official with the Department of Energy called Reuters and contradicted Granholm, saying that the White House was not, in fact, considering more SPR releases. Five days later, the White House said it was considering refilling the SPR, thereby proposing to do the exact opposite of what Granholm had proposed.

The hand of Russia's President Vladimir Putin (right) is now strengthened within the OPEC+ cartel controlled by Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (left), which today decided to cut production by 2 million barrels.

The confusion around the Biden administration’s petroleum policy was cleared up yesterday after a senior official revealed that the White House had made a secret offer to buy up to 200 million barrels of OPEC+ oil to replenish the SPR in exchange for OPEC+ not cutting oil production. The official said the White House wanted to reassure OPEC+ that the US “won’t leave them hanging dry.” The fact that this offer was made through the White House, not the Department of Energy, may explain why a representative of the Department called Reuters to take back the remarks of Granholm, who has shown herself to be out-of-the-loop, and at a loss for words, relating to key administration decisions relating to oil and gas production.

The revelation poses political risks for Democrats who, in the spring of 2020, killed a proposal by President Donald Trump to replenish the SPR with oil from American producers, not OPEC+ ones, and at a price of $24 a barrel, not the $80 a barrel that the Biden White House promised to OPEC+. At the time, Trump was seeking to stabilize the American oil industry after the Covid-19 pandemic massively reduced oil demand. Trump and Congressional Republicans proposed spending $3 billion to fill the SPR. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer successfully defeated the proposal, and later bragged that his party had blocked a “bailout for big oil.”

Even normally strong boosters of the Biden White House viewed the Democrats’ opposition to refilling the SPR as a major blunder. “That decision,” noted Bloomberg, “effectively cost the US billions in potential profits and meant Biden had tens of millions of fewer barrels at his disposal with which to counter price surges.” Moreover, observed Bloomberg, it will take significantly more oil today to fill the SPR than it would have two years ago. In spring 2020, the SPR contained 634 million barrels out of a capacity of 727 million. Now, the reserve is below 442 million barrels, its lowest level in 38 years.

The decision looks even worse in light of the decision by OPEC+ today to cut production, which will increase oil prices. The Biden administration in recent days has been pulling out the stops trying to persuade Saudi Arabia and other OPEC+ members, a group that includes Russia, to maintain today’s levels of oil production. Last Friday, the Biden administration sought a 45-day delay in a civil court proceeding over whether Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman should have sovereign immunity for the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, for which bin Salman has taken responsibility.

The behavior by the Biden White House displays a willingness to sacrifice America’s commitment to human rights for the president’s short-term political needs. Instead of pleading with OPEC+ to maintain or increase high levels of oil production, the Biden administration could have simply allowed for expanded domestic oil production. Instead, Biden has issued fewer leases for on-shore and off-shore oil production than any president since World War II. As such, the pleadings by Biden and administration officials have backfired. The perception of the U.S. in the minds of OPEC+ members has weakened while the influence of Russian President Vladimir Putin has strengthened.

Why is that? Why did the Biden administration decide to spend so much political capital trying, and failing, to get Saudi Arabia and other OPEC+ members to expand production when it could have simply expanded oil production domestically? What, exactly, is going on?

President Joe Biden greets the Saudi Crown Prince on July 15, 2022.

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Tyler Durden Thu, 10/06/2022 - 22:20

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Government

What Really Divides America

What Really Divides America

Authored by Joel Kotkin via UnHerd.com,

The Midterms aren’t a battle between good and evil…

Reading the…

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What Really Divides America

Authored by Joel Kotkin via UnHerd.com,

The Midterms aren't a battle between good and evil...

Reading the mainstream media, one would be forgiven for believing that the upcoming midterms are part of a Manichaean struggle for the soul of democracy, pitting righteous progressives against the authoritarian “ultra-MAGA” hordes. The truth is nothing of the sort. Even today, the vast majority of Americans are moderate and pragmatic, with fewer than 20% combined for those identifying as either “very conservative” or “very liberal”. The apocalyptic ideological struggle envisioned by the country’s elites has little to do with how most Americans actually live and think. For most people, it is not ideology but the powerful forces of class, race, and geography that determine their political allegiances — and how they will vote come November.

Of course, it is the business of both party elites — and their media allies — to make the country seem more divided than it is. To avoid talking about the lousy economy, Democrats have sought to make the election about abortion and the alleged “threat to democracy” posed by “extremist” Republicans. But recent polls suggest that voters are still more concerned with economic issues than abortion. The warnings about extremism, meanwhile, are tough to take seriously, given that Democrats spent some $53 million to boost far-Right candidates in Republican primaries.

Republicans are contributing to the problem in their own way, too. Rather than offering any substantive governing vision of their own, they assume that voters will be repelled by unpopular progressive policies such as defunding the police, encouraging nearly unlimited illegal immigration, and promoting sexual and gender “fluidity” to schoolchildren. They ignore, of course, the fact that their own embrace of fundamentalist morality on abortion is also widely rejected by the populace. And even Right-leaning voters may doubt the sanity of some of the GOP’s eccentric candidates this November.

In short, both major parties stoke polarisation, the primary beneficiaries of which are those parties’ own political machines. But most Americans broadly want the same things: safety, economic security, a post-pandemic return to normalcy, and an end to dependence on China. Their divisions are based not so much on ideology but on the real circumstances of their everyday life.

The most critical, yet least appreciated, of these circumstances is class. America has long been celebrated as the “land of opportunity”, yet for working and middle-class people in particular, opportunity is increasingly to come by. With inflation elevated and a recession seemingly on the horizon, pocketbook issues are likely to become even more important in the coming months. According to a NBC News poll, for instance, nearly two-thirds of Americans say their pay check is falling behind the cost of living, and the Republicans hold a 19-point advantage over the Democrats on the economy.

A downturn could also benefit the Left eventually. As the American Prospect points out, proletarianised members of the middle class are increasingly shopping at the dollar stores that formerly served working and welfare populations. Labour, a critical component of the Democratic coalition, could be on the verge of a generational surge, with unionisation spreading to fast food retailers, Amazon warehouses, and Starbucks.

To take advantage of a resurgent labour movement, however, Democrats will have to move away from what Democratic strategist James Carville scathingly calls  “faculty lounge politics”: namely, their obsession with gender, race, and especially climate. For instance, by demanding “net zero” emissions on a tight deadline, without developing the natural gas and nuclear production needed to meet the country’s energy needs, progressives run the risk of inadvertently undermining the American economy. Ill-advised green policies will be particularly devastating for the once heavily Democratic workers involved in material production sectors like energy, agriculture, manufacturing, warehousing, and logistics.

To win in the coming election and beyond, Democrats need to focus instead on basic economic concerns such as higher wages, affordable housing, and improved education. They also need to address the roughly half of all small businesses reporting that inflation could force them into bankruptcy. Some progressives believe that climate change will doom the Republicans, but this is wishful thinking. According to Gallup, barely 3% of voters name environmental issues as their top concern.

Racial divides are also important — though not in the way that media hysterics about “white supremacy” would lead you to believe. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s decision to fly undocumented immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard was undoubtedly a political stunt, and one arguably in poor taste. But it succeeded in its main goal: highlighting the enormous divide between the border states affected by illegal immigration and the bastions of white progressivism who tend to favour it.

Under Biden, the Democrats have essentially embraced “open borders” — illegal crossings are at record levels, and few of the migrants who make it across the border are ever required to leave. This policy reflects a deep-seated belief among elite Democrats that a more diverse, less white population works to their political favour. Whether they are right to think so, however, is far from clear. Black people still overwhelmingly back the Democrats, but Asians (the fastest-growing minority) and Latinos (the largest) are more evenly divided, and have been drifting toward the Republicans in recent years.

Here, too, class is a key factor. Many middle and upper-class minorities are on board with the Democrats’ anti-racist agenda. But many working-class Hispanics and Asians have more basic concerns. After all,  notes former Democratic Strategist Ruy Teixiera, these are the people most affected by inflation, rising crime, poor schools, and threats to their livelihoods posed by draconian green policies.

Culture too plays a role. Immigrants, according to one recent survey, are twice as conservative in their social views than the general public and much more so than second generation populations of their own ethnicity. Like most Americans, they largely reject the identity politics central to the current Democratic belief system. Immigrants and other minorities also tend to be both more religious than whites; new sex education standards have provoked opposition from the Latino, Asian, African American and Muslim communities.

The final dividing line is geography, always a critical factor in American politics. For decades, the country seemed to become dominated by the great metropolitan areas of the coasts, with their tech and finance-led economies. But even before the pandemic, the coastal centres were losing their demographic and economic momentum and seeing their political influence fade. In 1960, for example, New York boasted more electoral votes than Texas and Florida combined. Today, both have more electoral votes than the Empire State. Last year, New York, California, and Illinois lost more people to outmigration than any other states. The greatest gains were in Florida, Texas, Arizona, and North Carolina. These states are high-growth, fertile, and lean toward the GOP.Likewise, regional trends suggest that elections will be decided in lower density areas; suburbs alone are  home to at least 40% of all House seats. Some of these voters may be refugees from blue areas who still favour the Democrats. But lower-density areas, which also tend to have the highest fertility rates, tend to be dominated by family concerns like inflation, public education and safety, issues that for now favour Republicans.

Put the battle between Good and Evil to one side. It is these three factors — class, race, geography — that will shape the outcome of the midterms, whatever the media says. The endless kabuki theatre pitting Trump and his minions against Democrats may delight and enrage America’s elites — but for the American people, it is still material concerns that matter.

Tyler Durden Thu, 10/06/2022 - 21:40

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International

Switzerland, Not USA, Is The ‘Most Innovative’ Country In The World

Switzerland, Not USA, Is The ‘Most Innovative’ Country In The World

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has released its 2022…

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Switzerland, Not USA, Is The 'Most Innovative' Country In The World

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has released its 2022 Global Innovation Index. It evaluated innovation levels across 132 economies focusing on a long list of criteria such as human capital, institutions, technology and creative output as well as market and business sophistication, among others.

The 2022 index has found that innovation is still blossoming in some sectors despite the global economic slowdown and coronavirus pandemic, especially in industries to do with public health and the environment.

As Statista's Katharina Buchholz reports, Switzerland topped the rankings with a score of 64.6 out of 100, the 12th time it has been named the world leader in innovation. The United States come second while the Sweden rounds off the top three.

You will find more infographics at Statista

One of the biggest winners of the ranking was South Korea, which climbed up from rank 10 in 2020 to rank 6 in 2022.

China is now the world's 11th most innovative nation, up from rank 14 in 2020 and 2019 and rank 17 in 2018.

China was also named the most innovative upper middle-income country ahead of Bulgaria (overall rank 35), while India (overall rank 40) came first for lower middle-income countries, followed by Vietnam (overall rank 48).

Notably, China is now on a par with the United States in terms of the number of top 100 Science & Technology clusters

Finally, WIPO notes that on the one hand, science and innovation investments continued to surge in 2021, performing strongly even at the height of a once in a century pandemic. On the other hand, even as the pandemic recedes, storm clouds remain overhead, with increasing supply-chain, energy, trade and geopolitical stresses.

Tyler Durden Thu, 10/06/2022 - 20:40

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