Gun control regulations and firearms mortality – UPDATED

Gun control regulations and public health.

Firearms mortality, either murder, accidental or suicide, has always been a public health issue in the USA. There have been several good epidemiological studies that have examined whether gun control regulations and firearms mortality risk are related – and the results are surprisingly vigorous.

From recent epidemiological research, there is some convincing evidence that establishes a correlation between state-level gun control regulations and firearms mortality rates. However, the link is not as black and white as one might wish – the relationship between firearms regulations and mortality depends on the quality of the law.

The nation’s leading public health organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is essentially prevented from analyzing and publishing any epidemiological research that would help us understand what, if any, links there are between gun control and firearms mortality. The Republican dominated congress have done everything they can to prevent the CDC from using any funds to study the issue.

Furthermore, because the CDC cannot (or will not) fund research into gun control, it has lead to a chilling effect on gun control research in academia. According to the Washington Post, “young academics were warned that joining the field was a good way to kill their careers. And the odd gun study that got published went through linguistic gymnastics to hide any connection to firearms.”

But maybe because this public health menace can no longer be ignored, a smattering of well done epidemiological research is being published in very high quality medical journals. Let’s look at one.

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Science denialism politics – vaccines, GMOs, evolution, climate change

science denialism politics

On an episode of his HBO political talk show, Real Time with Bill Maher, Maher repeated his contention that the Republican Party, more generally the right wing of the American political spectrum, is the party of science denialism politics.

I am no fan of Bill Maher, because, in fact, he himself is is a science denier. Maher hits some of the top 10 list of science denialism: he’s an anti-vaccine crackpot, he’s pro-alternative medicine, he’s on the verge of AIDS denialism, and, to top it off, he hates GMO foods.

In other words, Maher, a leftist by any stretch of the meaning, embraces science denialism politics in a way that would probably inspire your local climate change or evolution denier on the right.

HBO’s other political news-ish program, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, features British comedian Oliver, who is pro-science on every issue I’ve heard, including scientific research and vaccines.

Neil deGrasse Tyson was a guest on Maher’s episode, and contradicted him regarding the claim that Republicans hold the monopoly on junk science:

Don’t be too high and mighty there, because there are certain aspects of science denials that are squarely in the liberal left.

I like to generalize about the politics of science denialism politics – I and many others have claimed that the anti-GMO crowd is nothing more than the left’s version of climate change deniers. But some people have taken umbrage with Tyson’s comments, and believe that science denialism cannot be correlated with political beliefs.

One caveat about this article – it is primarily focused on American politics. In many countries, both the left and right accept the consensus on scientific principles like evolution and vaccines. Only in America is science denialism the default position, crossing party boundaries.

Let’s take a look at left vs. right ideas about science, and how each embrace science denialism and pseudoscience. It’s quite a bit more complicated than you can imagine.

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Anti-science legislation – state level activities are troubling

anti-science legislation

We have seen a lot of anti-science activities at the Federal government level that are scary. Massive reductions in Federal budgets for the EPA and National Institutes of Health are bad enough for those of us who support science research and education. But the emboldened right wing, at the state level, are pushing all types of anti-science legislation that will have a profound effect on how we teach science to our children. We need to pay attention to this.

I thought it would be beneficial for us to take a look at the states that are pushing anti-science legislation since the November 2016 election, when a lot of state legislatures’ composition changed (or remained the same). In general, this legislation focuses on anti-evolution and anti-climate change beliefs pushed by the right wing.

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CDC director Thomas Frieden resigns – time for a Trump appointment

CDC director Thomas Frieden

CDC director Thomas Frieden has announced his resignation from his position at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The federal agency’s main goal is to protect public health and safety through the control and prevention of disease, injury, and disability across the world. And our favorite anti-science president-elect, Donald Trump, will appoint his successor.

The agency focuses its attention on infectious disease control partially through advocacy for vaccines. The staff of 15,000 scientists, researchers, physicians, and US Public Health Services commissioned officers, are dedicated to investigating infectious diseases, food borne pathogens, environmental health, occupational safety and health, health promotion, injury prevention, and public health educational activities – all are designed to help improve the health of Americans and people across the world.

CDC officials are often the first responders to ground zero of dangerous infections. They are generally the first scientists who determine the proper course of treatment for novel diseases, while monitoring its spread across a geographic area. They are warriors in the fight against diseases across the world, including Zika virus and many others.

A significant part of the CDC’s mission involves attacking public health problems globally. In today’s interconnected world, a disease that shows it’s ugly head in an isolated village in the Amazon can be transported to a major city in another country in less than 36 hours. This take money. And this takes manpower.

Let’s take a look at the career of CDC director Thomas Frieden, and the potential consequences of a Donald Trump appointee to the position.  Continue reading “CDC director Thomas Frieden resigns – time for a Trump appointment”

Donald Trump and vaccines – he’s wrong

Donald Trump and vaccines

Donald Trump is technically the Republican candidate in the 2016 election for President of the United States. There’s a lot that he says that disgusts me personally, and the public generally. But there’s one area that may indicate the depth of his ignorance. Donald Trump and vaccines – his views are just plain wrong.

Trump isn’t alone on this matter – dangerous comments about vaccines were made by Republican presidential candidates during the campaign. Ben Carson (ironically, a neurosurgeon) and Rand Paul (we’ve laughed at his vaccine denial before) also pontificated about the dangers of vaccines.

I’ve written previously about Republican candidate’s views on vaccines, back before we actually thought that Donald Trump had a real chance to become the Republican nominee. Feels like eons ago.

As I wrote recently, there’s really only a slight, probably not statistically significant, difference between the acceptance of mandatory vaccination. So the views of Donald Trump and vaccines is way over on the side of crackpot. This is why we can’t have good things.

Let’s look at some the things that Trump has said about vaccines on Twitter, his preferred method of communicating.

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Antiscience Donald Trump elected President – man the science barricades

antiscience donald trump doesn't know science

I disappeared for a few days after the election of a man who espoused racism, xenophobia and misogyny as the reasons to vote for him. His actual policy proposals were threadbare and, if he really believed them, we are looking a historical dismantling of all that is special about the USA. It’s hard to choose what scares me most about this sexual predator’s policies, but the antiscience Donald Trump ranks pretty much at or near the top.

Generally, the Republican party is quite antiscience. Republicans deny climate change. Republicans deny evolution, while Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, is hypercritical of evolution. And of course, Republicans have shown themselves to be vaccine deniers. There’s a lot more, but many of us consider those topics to be in the top 5 list of science denial. Frankly, if someone said that Trump believed in alien visitations and Sasquatch, and he was sending tax money to investigate them thoroughly, I wouldn’t be surprised.

On a broader level, a Trump administration will probably gut science research by cutting funding to National Institutes of Health and NASA programs in basic scientific research. There are probably areas, where Trump will appoint directors who are opposed to the years of science that form a basis of policy.

Despite the press tacitly being in bed with Trump, never really investigating him, Hillary Clinton won the election based on the popular vote, with a several hundred thousand vote lead over Trump. I think most Americans wanted a President who supported science. Sadly, Trump won the election because the USA uses an antiquated and anachronistic method to actually choose the president. A method that is based on needs of 250 years ago and on the negotiations required to get slave holding states to agree to the new Union. But, I’m not a political scientist, and the arguments for and against the Electoral College system of voting would be far beyond what are topics for this website.

Let’s just look at the antiscience Donald Trump, sticking to the key issues of climate change, evolution, and vaccines.

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Deplorable Donald Trump – creating anti-vaccination Republicans

deplorable Donald Trump

Deplorable Donald Trump, for those who are living in a log cabin off the grid, is a wealthy (according to him) white guy running for President of the United States. Deplorable does not begin to define all that Trump embodies – ignorance of the constitution, sexism, racism, misogyny, white privilege, xenophobia, and institutionalized lying. And since this is a pro-science website, Trump’s anti-science beliefs fall far below the low bar I set for your average Republican.

But his anti-vaccine rants are particularly loathsome. As I’ve written before, Trump is completely wrong about vaccines by claiming that the “massive combined inoculations to small children is the cause for big increase in autism.” Wrong Donald Trump, there is no scientific evidence that vaccines are related to autism. It’s hard to choose which of his hatreds are most dangerous, but I would nominate his anti-vaccine stance, because vaccines prevent diseases which can harm children, and protecting children has got to be society’s most important goal.

A little less than 2 years ago, a Huffington Post/YouGov poll found only a modest ideological divide between Democrats and Republicans regarding the science of vaccines – in fact, the difference was 1 percentage point, or essentially, vaccine support was the same between adherents of both political parties.

Unfortunately, the basket of deplorables hang on to every word uttered by the King of Deplorables himself, so one has to wonder if that difference has grown at all over the past couple of years as a result of Trump’s ignorant statements about vaccines. Lucky for us, we’ve got some data.

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GMO labeling law – Senate thinks they’re smarter than scientists

GMO labeling law

I actually thought that the GMO denier arguments were petering out. I also actually thought I could focus on the vaccine deniers, since they’re like cockroaches, hiding in the dark. But I was wrong. The United States Senate, in a rare bipartisan action, wrote a compromise GMO labeling law.

I, and many others, consider the anti-GMO movement to be made up of “climate change deniers of the left.” They both ignore high quality science and the scientific consensus, just to invent their own conclusions. It is frustrating, especially since I expect more out of progressives.

The GMO labeling law is frustrating and confusing. We need to examine it with scientific skepticism.

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Bernie Sanders views biotechnology – aligned with Republicans

Bernie Sanders views biotechnology

I admit that I judge politicians on their science credibility. And I’m rather black and white about it – politicians don’t get to pick and choose what science they “believe” or not. How Bernie Sanders views biotechnology seems irresponsible. And that it’s aligned with Republican anti-science viewpoints is unacceptable.

I’ve written previously about Sanders’ nascent anti-science views, especially with complementary and alternative medicine, which isn’t medicine. Although I haven’t written about it specifically, Sanders is in favor of GMO labelling, which is part of the pseudoscience surrounding GMOs. Let’s be clear, the overwhelming scientific consensus about GMOs is that they are safe for human consumption and the environment. To real science, denying GMO safety (and it’s related labeling laws) is no different than denying climate change.

For me, the litmus tests for science in our politicians are evolution, climate change, GMOs, vaccines, and cloning/stem cell research. There are a few other science policy issues that are abeyond the scope of this website – fracking (limited science available at this time) and nuclear power. I haven’t the time or the desire to review the consensus on either, but for many people they are also litmus tests for science credibility of politicians – and not in the way you think it would be.

Recently, a journalist took a look at how Bernie Sanders views biotechnology – especially in comparison to Hillary Clinton. And Sanders comes up short in this key area of science. In fact, he has previously aligned himself with right wing Republicans on some scientific issues, something that should cause any pro-science progressive some pause.

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Bernie Sanders embraces alternative medicine – UPDATED

Bernie Sanders embraces alternative medicine and pseudoscience.

For regular readers of this blog, you know that I’m a progressive plus being a strong supporter of scientific evidence. I don’t spend a lot of time writing about politics, though I am a strong critic of the left when it comes to science. And it’s time call out a presidential candidate, who is not Donald Trump –  Bernie Sanders embraces alternative medicine which is not good for health care.

Senator Sanders is a self-proclaimed “socialist” or social democrat, although I doubt he would compare economically to real socialists or social democrats in Europe. His brother, a Green Party politician in the UK, probably would make a real socialist. He fits the crunchy liberalism of the state he represents, Vermont. These are generally the progressives I criticize the most – generally anti-vaccine, anti-GMO and pro-alternative medicine.

Sanders has promoted GMO labeling, a policy that will lead to increased food costs for those who least deserve to pay more for food.  For those of us who look only at science based evidence for claims, there is little difference between climate change deniers and GMO deniers.

Even though there is absolutely no evidence (unless cherry picking is your thing) that GMO foods are a health risk, individuals like Sanders push that trope to probably pander to his most liberal supporters. Or maybe Sanders embraces pseudoscience, because that’s his core belief. I’m beginning to wonder.

Continue reading “Bernie Sanders embraces alternative medicine – UPDATED”