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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/4781/state-science-is-bad-for-your-health/

State Science is Bad for Your Health

March 10, 2006 by

Medical studies that contradict conventional wisdom in a number of socially and politically charged areas have been making recent headlines, writes Brad Edmonds. The messages conveyed by these studies, however, have significance beyond face value: They remind us that medical research, technology in general, indeed any human endeavor, can be a wonderful avenue for human progress provided it exists within the framework of freedom as versus state control. FULL ARTICLE

{ 45 comments }

Chuck Sheppard March 10, 2006 at 8:50 am

Well the only problem with your theory about state funding being bad is that while true, research funded by commercial interests appears to be even worse. Much of the cholesterol headlines etc were generated by drug companies with billions riding on getting people to use their drug. So evidence to the lack of benefit (see the ALLHAT study) are generally ignored or critiqued by people paid by the drug companies. I don’t know the answer except it appears that much of the problem lies with funding that has an interest in the outcome. My reading of the literature is that much of the “debunking” type studies (such as the recent “fat” study) are funding by the government. The other problem is our legal system which leaps on “research” that will allow lawsuits (witness tobacco) therefore long after scientists have proven steroids bad for spinal cord injuries we still use it. TPA for strokes with almost no evidence of benefit and a killing rate of 6% and losts of $ is being touted by every political group the company can donate to.

Rob March 10, 2006 at 8:53 am

Bravo, Bravo!

This needs to be said and it was very good of you to include AIDS skeptism in the mix. This one silences more than a few otherwise stalwart critics of junk science (Milloy and Fumento come to mind). The list of HIV-AIDS critics is impressive, it includes many of the top medical and bio researchers in their fields. Before he raised his objections, the first and most persistent critic, Peter Duesberg, was regarded as the world’s leading expert on retroviruses. He became persona non grata after he spoke his mind and lost all funding (although he is now privately funded for cancer research)

Just remember any study should be completely ignored unless it backs up the findings of previous studies. Since novelety sells, most studies that make the news are indeed first timers that present new correlations. It is easy to see therefore, that most stuff reported in the press is just bunk. This is exactly why we hear of coffee killing you one year and being good for you the next.

Again Bravo!

Frank Z March 10, 2006 at 9:04 am

A good article all in all. I especially thought the following to be noteworthy:

“No, the real problem is centralized government funding of research, which always results in selective funding by people often ill-equipped to decide which studies should be funded and which shouldn’t.”

I do take exception to the paragraph on “sugar”. It seems to be the only point that seems odd to me and conclude perhaps governmental science was the source. Sugar, in my view, should be very limited in one’s diet but having said that, I would have a regular soda over a diet soda anytime.

Thanks, Mr. Edmonds.

Roger M March 10, 2006 at 9:08 am

Great article! Scientists who oppose the theory of evolution face similar problems. They get fired from universities, blackballed and refused funding. Profs don’t have to be “creationists” or followers of intelligent design; they merely have to express doubts about the validity of the theory to find themselves at the mercy of the Inquisition in science. But they are quietly winning the battle in the marketplace.

D. Saul Weiner March 10, 2006 at 9:25 am

Good article on an important and neglected topic.

The sugar example is unfortunate because there is in fact overwhelming evidence that the consumption of lots of sugar is harmful. Sure, one study may have been flawed or inadequate, but that does not vindicate sugar by any means. See this article for an overview of the scientific case against sugar:

http://www.mercola.com/2005/may/4/sugar_dangers.htm

This is not to suggest that diet drinks are necessarily preferable to sugared ones. I, for one, will drink an occasional sugared soda but avoid ones with aspartame like the plagues. See this article for information on sugar alternatives:

http://www.westonaprice.org/modernfood/sugarfree_blues.html

Frank Z March 10, 2006 at 9:29 am

Mr. Sheppard:

Research funded by commercial interests would not be without it’s problems but I do not agree that it would be worse.

The goverment stamp of approval is all that most consumers would look for in health related matters. Funding and approval by government has come to serve commercial interests over consumers interests in a lot of instances, eg, the vioxx affair.

Our “nanny state” conditioning hasn’t made us astute consumers and some deprogramming and re-education would defintely be necessary for an optimal market to develop.

In the final analysis, the question would be how many are harmed by that government stamp of approval (I believe many are) over how many would be harmed in a market of educated consumers, wary of the claims of science?

Yancey Ward March 10, 2006 at 9:47 am

As Chuck Sheppard points out, it is funding from interested sources that leads to bias and outright fraud. However, there is no fix to such a problem if one chooses to even define it as a problem. The only acceptable situation is to have multiple sources of funding.

But I would get rid of government funding altogether since the state clearly uses such funding as a method of control.

David K.Meller March 10, 2006 at 10:08 am

Splendidly well-taken points. One shouldn’t be surprised at the corruption of medical data by the government and its stooges in the AMA and sister associations, after all, the government LIES about everything, from the war in Iraq and the twin towers atrocity to the Origin and Nature of the War for Southern Independence(the misnamed “Civil War”,from the Big Bang to “Global Warming”, from the genetic basis of much of racial intelligence differences to Keynesian-type “underconsumption” and “hoarding” explanations for the 1930′s depression. The government shamelessly lies about Antitrust law protecting customers, they lie about the value of compulsory State indoctrination, calling it “schooling” and “education”, despite the fact that these institutions are pathological, dehumanizing, and have no other effect than turning people into mass-manipulated zombies with little or no actual capacity to learn. I won’t even talk about lies, fraud, and war except to offer the opinion that if “war is the health of the state”, surely lies and fraud are its food and drink.

The government always proceeds, when its lies are discovered, never to rectify them by telling the truth, but to cover up with more lies, and more lies after that.

Given this record, and I have left out an IMMENSE amount, it is quite reasonable that everything the government and its stooges say about medicine, health care, and possible treatment, should be taken with great skepticism, to say the least!

Person March 10, 2006 at 10:49 am

Great article. I’m tired of people who say “well, this is supposed to happen. Science is all about reversing your theory when the data support that.” That’s true, but you also should stop basing policy on such flimsy studies. Do your homework the first time around. Why is my money being spent on finding a teensy weensy correlation between coffee use and heart disease that never even bothered to come up with ways to rule out other correlations? Why do they think they can isolate something like that over such a rare condition and over 30 years?

Vince Daliessio March 10, 2006 at 1:12 pm

Chuck sez;

“Well the only problem with your theory about state funding being bad is that while true, research funded by commercial interests appears to be even worse. Much of the cholesterol headlines etc were generated by drug companies with billions riding on getting people to use their drug.”

Here we see the dictum ‘public money drives out private money’ at work.

And if the absurd rewards generated by the drug patent system, FDA, AMA, and Drug War were lessened by our abandonment, the drug manufacturers would begin to focus on drugs that help people get well, and not simply patentable compounds that achieve some government-sanctioned effect while causing bad side effects.

misc March 10, 2006 at 3:19 pm

There was a thing on TV here (Canada), they said that many people were vitamin D deficient from not getting enough sun and they were questioning the previous wisdom of telling people to stay out of the sun and wondering what the new ‘message’ should be.

Mark March 10, 2006 at 3:27 pm

Brad:

I don’t think there is much reasonable doubt about the relationship between HIV and AIDS. See the discussion here:

http://www.aidsmap.com/en/docs/57258654-2883-4B3D-93E2-1BD3A9C04C8E.asp

Mark March 10, 2006 at 3:28 pm

Brad:

I don’t think there is much reasonable doubt about the relationship between HIV and AIDS. See the discussion here:

http://www.aidsmap.com/en/docs/57258654-2883-4B3D-93E2-1BD3A9C04C8E.asp

Shirley Knott March 10, 2006 at 3:42 pm

Roger M, I call bullshit.
Name two, and give sufficient details and circumstances that independant cross-checking can be accomplished.
There is no science behind or within the ‘anti-evolution’ camp. ID is a hoax. IC is both nonsense and trivially refutable by the testimony of its perpatrator — see the transcripts for kitzmiller versus dover.
As to scientific research challenging any aspect of evolutionary theory, well how about that — it gets published, funded, and, if supported by the evidence and the means and methods of science, it thrives.

hugs,
Shirley Knott

D. Saul Weiner March 10, 2006 at 3:46 pm

Of course the granddaddy of State Science, in terms of health policy, is the ever-expanding schedule of vaccines. One is always assured that there are tremendous benefits to the program, while the risks are minimal. Yet when you dig into the reality of the situation, you find that this is generally far from true.

http://www.westonaprice.org/children/vaccinations.html

R.P. McCosker March 10, 2006 at 4:45 pm

Chuck Sheppard:

The main reasons the big pharmaceutical corporations invest so much in research, tendentious or otherwise, is the direct result of two statist policies in particular: patent law, FDA approval requirements, and medical (and dental etc.) professional association membership monopoly for the authorization to purchase a vast spectrum of medical drugs and equipment.

Repeal patent laws, abolish the FDA (and the structure of its supportive laws and regulations), end the government’s privileging of private health professional associations and of educational institution accreditation organizations, and get the government of the funding of science and health research, and the phenomena you express objection to will recede at fantastic velocity.

Separation of health and State. Separation of scholarship and State. Separation of education and State. Separation of business and State. Then watch our science and healthcare bloom.

R.P. McCosker March 10, 2006 at 4:48 pm

Correction:

In my post above, “get the government of the funding” should read “get the government out of the funding”.

A. Woolf March 10, 2006 at 9:44 pm

Similar debunking of “health truths” are coming to the fore in regards to soy products also:
http://www.mercola.com/2004/jan/21/soy.htm
http://www.westonaprice.org/mythstruths/mtsoy.html

And fluoridation of water, but I won’t open this kettle of worms here.

averros March 11, 2006 at 4:00 am

The problem with quality of privately-funded medical research is caused by the distortion of incentives caused by the patent law.

I wrote earlier that pharma companies (who have all the incentives in the world to overstate efficiency and understate dangers of their patent medicines) should not be in business of drug & medical research at all.

The parties which have the right incentives to seek efficient and safe medical treatments and drugs are health insurers (and task-specific consortiums funded by the insurers).

The structure of incentives can be fixed by abolishing FDA, PTO and by repealing all patent laws.

(The diagnosis of state-funded research is right on spot, though I’d be careful about denouncing particular results – the biomedial data is notoriously hard to interpret, and the field is rapidly changing).

D Saul Weiner March 11, 2006 at 8:11 am

Averros makes an excellent point regarding health insurers having the right incentives for evaluating treatments. I think that they could rationalize the system if given the power. Unfortunately, their hands are effectively tied under the current arrangements. It is left to medical boards to determine which treatments should be covered. And insurers are also forced to cover things they don’t want to through mandates. And then of course the “greedy insurance companies” get blamed for health care costs spiraling out of control.

I agree that the patent system distorts the practice of medicine in many ways. On the other hand, if people had to pay more of their own health care costs and allopathic medicine had to compete with alternative approaches in a truly free market, then there would be stronger pressure to keep drug prices down and to promote more cost-effective options. Again (unfortunately), with the expansion of Medicare to cover drugs we are going in the wrong direction.

Paul D March 11, 2006 at 9:19 am

“There is no science behind or within the ‘anti-evolution’ camp.”

Darwin’s Black Box by Michael Behe is a noteworthy, almost seminal rebuttal of evolution (i.e. abiogenesis and the theory of common ancestry for all life on earth). Professor Behe is not a creationist, but he demonstrates that other possibilities must be considered. Your statement of there being no science is false.

Francisco Torres March 11, 2006 at 2:30 pm

Paul,

Evolutionary theory and the origin of life are two different things – this very fact makes your assertion that Behe’s book is a rebuttal of evolution laughable, at best. Aliens could have seeded the Earth 3 billion years ago, and such seeds could have evolved by their own – one thing (the aliens) does not contradict the other (evolution). How do you reconcile the fact that Intelligent Design cannot deny the possibility of aliens seeding the earth in the same fashion, against the single idea of a god seeding the earth?

And there is no science behind ID, Paul: the idea begs the question – ID assumes design in order to conclude a designer. Saying that something “looks” designed does not mean ipso facto it WAS designed by an intelligent being. That is not science, that is simple bad logic.

Marco March 11, 2006 at 3:09 pm

I agree, especially with regards to smoking. Smokers also seem much less likely to die of another terrible condition: old age.

Paul D March 12, 2006 at 6:54 am

Francisco, you didn’t read my post. I said nothing about ID. All I said is that there’s plenty of science that casts doubt evolution. I could have been more specific and said that certain aspects of Darwinism are particularly hampered by certain research.

Therefore, Ms. Knott’s frantic exclamation that “There is no science behind or within the ‘anti-evolution’ camp” is untrue. There may be no science she is interested in evaluating.

Please don’t try goading me into some silly debate on “ID” here. There’s no need to go trumpeting your opinion on the issue in an economic forum.

Chris Marshall March 12, 2006 at 6:28 pm

“And fluoridation of water, but I won’t open this kettle of worms here.”

The fluoridation of water is nothing more than a Communist plot to sap and impurify our precious bodily fluids.

Francisco Torres March 14, 2006 at 3:47 pm

I said nothing about ID. All I said is that there’s plenty of science that casts doubt evolution.

Please do not back-pedal your way out, Paul. You mentioned the ID bible (Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box) as proof of scientific doubt regarding evolution – which means you DID say something about ID. I pointed out that ID is not science since its premise (“Gee, I guess this looks designed, Ma!”) begs the question. I also pointed out it is not even good theology.

Paul Edwards March 14, 2006 at 5:25 pm

- the ID “bible”
- Gee, I guess this looks designed, “Ma”!
- it is not even good theology.

Can those who advocate evolution ever respond to a differing view with something that doesn’t drip with, or entirely consist of, fallacious comments such as these?

I don’t think so. But it’s not simply inherent in the nature of the arguer. It’s what he finds himself defending too: something that cannot be defended if one restricts one’s self to the observable facts and the application of logic.

Peter March 14, 2006 at 5:35 pm

Paul D previously talked about “science that casts doubt on evolution”, using Stephen Jay Gould to back him up – of course, Stephen Jay Gould says things like “there is absolutely no scientific evidence disputing evolution”, and “[evolution is] one of the best documented, most compelling concepts in all of science”, etc., so I don’t understand how that helps Paul’s case.

Paul Edwards March 14, 2006 at 6:16 pm

Peter,

I think Gould had two spins: One for his colleagues, and another for the public. He wasn’t quite a man of Mises’s character.

What he really thought is here:

From “The Structure of Evolutionary Theory” by Steven Jay Gould:

“Thus, paleontologist could be good Darwinians and still acknowledge the primary fact of their profession – but only at the price of sheepishness or embarrassment. No one can take great comfort when the primary observation of their discipline becomes an artifact of limited evidence rather than an expression of nature’s ways. Thus, once gradualism emerged as the expected pattern for documenting evolution – with an evident implication that the fossil record’s dominant signal of stasis and abrupt replacement can only be a sign of evidentiary poverty – paleontologist became cowed or puzzled, and even less likely to showcase their primary datum. (p 750)

…

“The “argument from imperfection” ( with its preposition purposefully chosen by analogy to the “argument from design”) works adequately as a device to save gradualism in the face of an empirical signal of quite stunning contrariness when read at face value.” (p 758)

…

“But how can imperfection possibly explain away stasis (the equilibrium of punctuated equilibrium)? Abrupt appearance may record an absences of information, but *stasis is data*. Eldredge and I became so frustrated by the failure of many colleagues to grasp this evident point – though a quarter century of subsequent debate has finally propelled our claim to general acceptance (while much else about punctuated equilibrium remains controversial) – that we urged the incorporation of this little phrase as a mantra or motto. Say it ten times before breakfast every day for a week, and the argument will surely seep in by osmosis: “stasis is data: stasis is data …”

…

“So if stasis could not be explained away as missing information, how could gradualism face this most prominent signal from the fossil record? The most negative of all strategies – a quite unconscious conspiracy of silence – dictated the canonical response of paleontologists to their observations of stasis.

…

“Paleontologists therefore came to view stasis as just another failure to document evolution. Stasis existed in overwhelming abundance, as every paleontologist always knew. But this primary signal of the fossil record, defined as an absence of data for evolution, only highlighted our frustration – and certainly did not represent anything worth publishing. Paleontology therefore fell into a literally absurd vicious circle. No one ventured to document or quantify – indeed, hardly anyone even bothered to mention or publish at all – the most common pattern in the fossil record: the stasis of most morphospecies throughout their geological duration.

…

“All paleontologists recognized the phenomenon, but few scientists write papers about failure to document a desired result. As a consequence, most nonpaleontologists never learned about the predominance of stasis, and simply assumed that gradualism must prevail, as illustrated by the exceedingly few cases that became textbook “classics”: the coiling of *Gryphae*, the increasing body size of horses, etc. (Interestingly, nearly all these “classics” have since been disproved, thus providing another testimony for the temporary triumph of hope and expectation over evidence – see Gould, 1972.) Thus, when punctuated equilibrium finally granted theoretical space and importance to stasis, and this fundamental phenomenon finally emerged from the closet, nonpaleontologists were often astounded and incredulous.” (p 761)

Quotes distilled and presented at http://www.blavatsky.net/darwin/stasis_in_fossil_record.htm

anarkhos March 14, 2006 at 9:00 pm

I wish people would stop saying “begs the question.” It makes no sense!

You could say “forces one to ask” or something :-\

Sione March 14, 2006 at 9:30 pm

If one restricts oneself to observable evidence from reality and rigorously applies logic to said evidence, then such notions as creationism, intelligent design, god, spirit-monsters, pixies, after-life, rising from the dead, fairies, angels, devils, satans, demons, demonic possession, transmutation (as in changing one thing into another- water into wine, one loaf of bread into hundreds etc.), the religious concept of the immortal soul, the super-natural, alternative realities, heaven, hell, original sin (a vicious and evil bit of collectivism if ever there as one) or aliens seeding the Earth etc. etc. etc. are eliminated at source.

Imagination can not substitute for knowledge or understanding of reality.

This was a very good article. I am reminded by the contributions since posted that not only does government pollute science so do religious and other belief centred organisations. The Theory of Evolution is a target for such outfits as it contradicts certain fondly held beliefs and it contradicts certain faiths. This is THE theory that exposed Christianity as based on faulty premise. That is, as false. From the time that theory was developed, from that point onward, it was clear even to the scientifically illiterate that religious adherence was pointless and foolish. The hope of the faithful remains to demolish said theory and hence allow all to be well with the faith again.

As an aside; I was very disappointed to discover religion as false. It is a great shame as I’m on the side of those who would like to live perpetually (probably because that’s what I would like to do). Also I would love to see evil punished. Imagine seeing Marx get his come-uppence or Stalin or Keynes… The list is long! Also imagine being able to have super-natural powers. Fantastic.

But let’s stick with reality. It’s all we really have.

Theories are developed to understand the nature of certain evidence of reality. They must corresponds to the evidence of reality that is available. There are still aspects of reality that are not understood. However there does not appear to be any aspects of reality that logically lead to the contention that evolution is not a process that has occurred and presently is occurring. It may or may not occur continuously. It may or may not be expressed in sudden bursts of change. There certainly is no evidence that logically leads to the notion of intelligent design or even of creationism.

Should evidence be discovered that conflicts with a particular scientific theory that means that either:-

1/. said theory is incorrect in some detail or aspect. Therefore it must be modified to take into account the new evidence, or

2/. more research is required to discover what is going on in reality so that the theory can be altered appropriately once reality is better understood, or

3/. the theory is completely incorrect and a new theory is required to understand the evidence of reality. In other words, a new theory that corresponds to evidence of reality is a necessity.

A weakness in a theory, an area of contention between various people involved in researching a given area, an area of doubt or disagreement, or even the complete revocation of a theory as the result of evidence of reality, does not validate any alternative theory. The alternative theory remains mere speculation unless it is shown conclusively that said theory corresponds with all evidence available.

As an example, even were it possible to demonstrate that (say) Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity contains errors and does not correspond to reality, that of itself does not make Lewis Little’s Theory of Elementary Waves correct. The Theory of Elementary Waves would have to be demonstrated as corresponding to all available evidence of reality. That is the test to pass.

What this means is that identifying objections, areas of contention or even areas where there is a lack of knowledge, does not of itself accomplish:-

A/. the rebuttal of a theory

B/. the validation of some other (any other) theory.

If an alternative theory is then postulated it must be tested against all the evidence. In order to be accepted it must correspond to all the evidence. Otherwise it is out!

Another example, Einstein’s Theory does not allow for travel at velocities exceeding the speed of light. A particle is discovered that does travel at such super-luminal velocities. It is invalid for me to take this evidence and claim that it not only does it contradict Einstein but it also validates my contention that there are pixies who can travel at super-luminal velocities and they live at the bottom of my garden. Too bad for Sione’s Theory of Fast Pixies.

Regards to all

Sione

PS I was once very fond of the Anton Theory of the Meta-God but, alas, I was unable to prove it.

Paul Edwards March 14, 2006 at 11:15 pm

Sione,

As Gould and Eldredge have pointed out to the evolutionist inner circles, the scientific evidence (from Paleontology) simply doesn’t support Darwinism.

Punctuated equilibrium, on the other hand, is simply an atheist’s religion. There is no scientific basis to believe it; it is simply just hand-waving and is dependent on faith. Certainly the Darwinists find it on par with creationism in terms of its plausibility, its one redeeming feature being, of course, that it excludes a creator.

In any event, paleontology doesn’t support Darwinism, and it supports creationism, and punctuated equilibrium with equal force. It is certainly arguable that it is a question purely of faith, not science, which theory one prefers to believe.

Peter March 15, 2006 at 12:04 am

Anarkhos: “begs the question” doesn’t mean “forces one to ask” (in fact, that meaning is not uncommon, but it does make sense. For the “formal” meaning, that an argument assumes its own conclusions, I agree with you: it doesn’t make sense, unlike the Latin phrase, petitio principii, which it claims to translate)

Paul Edwards: Gould is not saying one thing to “insiders” and another to “outsiders”. He’s saying the same thing to both, which is that evolution is, in his words, “a fact” (“In science, `fact’ can only mean `confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.’”). The piece you quoted is in no sense denying evolution!

Sione March 15, 2006 at 7:23 am

Paul

I disagree with your conclusion.

One of my areas of interest is viruses (they can be nasty, hardy little critters and utter bastards to get rid of as well- not that they care, they don’t because they can’t). They certainly do evolve. They are powerfully good at it. I know that for a fact. And what is happening at that level is common to other living things including us. It is expressed in larger creatures because they share similar biochemistry. They are subject to the same molecular biology. The processes continue and are expressed over a longer time frame.

As far as I understand matters life is undergoing a process of evolution presently. It is an essential attribute of life to evolve. For example consider what happens as we reproduce. My children do not have the same DNA sequence as do I. Over generations there will be changes. Some may eventually be significant.

Perhaps some of the lessons from Austrian Economics form useful analogies. Equilibrium? Change?

Recently there was a breakthrough at the Royal Prince Albert Hospital in Sydney, Australia. Clever researchers were able to identify a gene that resulted in certain patients presenting with haemophilia (at one time known as the bleeding disease of European royalty- it’s a terrible affliction). An experiment was undertaken to repair this problem by inserting certain genetic material into a patient’s liver. The vector was a virus. The experiment was successful. The new gene functioned, allowing the patient to correctly manufacture the clotting factors previously lacking.

I won’t go into all the detail but here is a question. What if that patient had been infected with a similar (natural) virus which altered some other attribute? And what if this was passed on to his progeny? An evolutionary change, surely.

Not so far in the future we will be doing such works on a routine basis. That sure will speed things up.

A worrying thought. What if the state bans it? Could that be worse then making it compulsory?

The article is so right. Keep the government out of science.

Please.

Regards

Sione

Sione March 15, 2006 at 7:24 am

Paul

I disagree with your conclusion.

One of my areas of interest is viruses (they can be nasty, hardy little critters and utter bastards to get rid of as well- not that they care, they don’t because they can’t). They certainly do evolve. They are powerfully good at it. I know that for a fact. And what is happening at that level is common to other living things including us. It is expressed in larger creatures because they share similar biochemistry. They are subject to the same molecular biology. The processes continue and are expressed over a longer time frame.

As far as I understand matters life is undergoing a process of evolution presently. It is an essential attribute of life to evolve. For example consider what happens as we reproduce. My children do not have the same DNA sequence as do I. Over generations there will be changes. Some may eventually be significant.

Perhaps some of the lessons from Austrian Economics form useful analogies. Equilibrium? Change?

Recently there was a breakthrough at the Royal Prince Albert Hospital in Sydney, Australia. Clever researchers were able to identify a gene that resulted in certain patients presenting with haemophilia (at one time known as the bleeding disease of European royalty- it’s a terrible affliction). An experiment was undertaken to repair this problem by inserting certain genetic material into a patient’s liver. The vector was a virus. The experiment was successful. The new gene functioned, allowing the patient to correctly manufacture the clotting factors previously lacking.

I won’t go into all the detail but here is a question. What if that patient had been infected with a similar (natural) virus which altered some other attribute? And what if this was passed on to his progeny? An evolutionary change, surely.

Not so far in the future we will be doing such works on a routine basis. That sure will speed things up.

A worrying thought. What if the state bans it? Could that be worse then making it compulsory?

The article is so right. Keep the government out of science.

Please.

Regards

Sione

averros March 15, 2006 at 7:55 am

Punctuated equilibrium, on the other hand, is simply an atheist’s religion. There is no scientific basis to believe it; it is simply just hand-waving and is dependent on faith.

Actually, not. The punctuated equilibrium is, basically, rapid changes followed by prolonged periods of relative stasis.

Considering the digital nature of information stored in DNA, this is exactly what one should expect from a conventional evolutionary algorithm. Even trivial computer simulations (“artificial life”) show that behaviour.

Purely Darwinian gradualism only works when there is an analog component in inheritance. The illusion of gradual shift in phenotype under evolutionary pressure is due to the fact that phenotypic traits are often influenced by large numbers of genes, so a change in one of them has a relatively small effect.

When a significant beneficial mutation happens, it is propagated very quickly through the entire population — the “miracle of compound interest” ensures displacement of relatively less fit in a matter of less than half-hundred generations, time too short to show in a paleontological record. (The probability of discovery of a statistically significant sample of preserved fossils of some species all belonging to such transitionary period is virtually nil).

The significant beneficial mutations are very rare (most mutations being lethal or detrimental, and thus quickly eliminated, and the “neutral” or slightly effective mutations changing the population make-up slowly).

When you actually look at how things work, the punctuated equlibrium is exactly the expected outcome of combination of the natural selection acting on digitally-encoded replicators and of the population dynamics.

So the claim that paleontological record does not support the modern evolutionary theory (which had been significantly improved since Darwin’s naive version) is simply groundless.

Intelligent Design proponents are, basically, criticising a product for bugs in its long-discontinued alpha version. Get the current one, and stop bitching about problems which were fixed many years ago.

Now, the issue of abiogenesis is separate, and may not ever be conclusively settled ever, although the results (coming from AI field) of “Hayek machine” experiments by Eric Baum suggest that the only reasonable argument against feasibility of abiogenesis (namely, the complexity cliff, or very low probability of random formation of the first living organism) is not as strong as it was assumed to be based on the naive assumption of non-modular evolution. Combining “free market” in chemically-bound energy (which happens naturally in chemistry) and standard evolutionary algorithm was conclusively shown to reduce exponential search space size to mere polynomial – which changes the probability estimate by several orders of magnitude, bringing it to within the realm of reasonably possible within the half-billion year timeframe.

Now, the feasibility of something does not mean that it did actually happen. The panspermia could possibly work, and so is visitation by some aliens or an act of God. Unless conclusive evidence is found to back particular mechanism of biogenesis we simply don’t know. (Even if someone finds a proof that some kind Intelligent Designer did exist four billion years ago, it still doesn’t mean he actually started the life on Earth – he may have been out for lunch, or something).

D. Saul Weiner March 15, 2006 at 9:35 am

For those who are interested in exploring further the questions surrounding Darwinism, I would highly recommend the Politically Incorrect Guide to Science, which also covers many other facets of science where the State has interfered.

One point worth mentioning here is that the critics of Darwin do not question that evolution takes place. They accept that incremental changes can and do take place; I believe they refer to this as micro-evolution. Their disagreement is with the more sweeping claims that all life evolved from a common ancestor, and so forth.

I think that an open-minded reader of the Guide would have to admit that the case for full-blown Darwinism is not as strong and clear-cut as establishment educators would have us believe and that it is not simply a battle between dogmatic religion and virtuous, rational science, as liberals like to frame it. I, for one, think that students would benefit greatly from learning about the objections to the theory and studying the debate, even if they came to believe that Darwin was 100% correct. This is a critical part of the scientific process; evaluating the evidence, debating what it is telling us, and determining the next steps. It is called developing critical thinking and the State is deathly afraid of citizens developing that capacity. Of course, the State should not be involved in the issue one way or the other.

Paul Edwards March 15, 2006 at 10:15 am

They tried to mutate the fly to get it to evolve into a new species and found the following, to which you allude: 1. Species have an extremely powerful tendency to remain the same species. 2. Mutations in flies have a tendency to adversely affect its ability to survive, reproduce or both, and if they do reproduce, what they always had in the end was a fly. Economic metaphors applied to biology such as the “miracle of compound interest” strike me as inappropriate, although the term “miracle” seems ironically applicable. One can conjecture about punc. eq. but in the end it is story telling. Scientific evidence for this theory is where the rubber meets the road, and so far rubber and road are not meeting.

To the issue of what we know of viruses and bacteria adapting, there is no doubt it occurs. But of the evolution we are talking about i will ask for this: tell me you know of a virus evolving into something that is NOT a virus. If you can and you are correct, i will admit i am mistaken on the spot. I don’t think you can.

To me, this is where the faith in evolution of religious proportions comes into play. We see a human, a virus, or a pelican adapt in some way, and conclude with zeal that this shows that a species can or will evolve into a new species. When this is borne out by scientific evidence i will call it scientific. Until then, it will smack of faith and hand waving. Faith is cool, but not if it is called science.

Finally, keeping the state out of science is very smart. But on this, i would say the cow is out of the barn already, and has been for many decades now. Are we certain it has not been state influence on the state funded universities that is somewhere at the root of this muddled science called evolution? I’m not.

Francisco Torres March 15, 2006 at 1:37 pm

But of the evolution we are talking about i will ask for this: tell me you know of a virus evolving into something that is NOT a virus.

Silly question – it is like asking why can’t a rock change into a station wagon in a single step. Evolution is gradual change and takes place in populations that are being shaped by natural forces, like a free market shapes products.

Paul Edwards March 15, 2006 at 2:20 pm

Yes, i know. It happens too slowly to witness it, and too fast to leave evidence in the fossil record that it happened. How incredibly inconvenient is that?!

But alas, it’s those silly little limitations in the scientific evidence that puts evolution in the embarrassing light that Gould paints it. Hey, evolution may have happened just like the punc eq. crowd say it did. But saying it happened does not constitute evidence. Good and sincere efforts at explaining why there is no evidence for it also do not constitute evidence.

I also want to point out once more, that reference to market behavior as analogous to evolution is pretty inappropriate. After all, markets are the result of acting humans. That is: markets are the results of purposive human behavior. Evolution, to my understanding, is not purported to be the result of the actions of a purposeful actor. Am I mistaken?

And finally, i have to confess, Francisco, your analogy of the rock and the station wagon was pretty illustrative. I had to agree completely.

Sione March 15, 2006 at 2:41 pm

Speaking of the rubber meeting the road, engineers do not know what is going on at a fundamental level when it does. Seems odd, doesn’t it?

For years we engineers have been designing tyres for all sorts of road and race vehicles. We have a standard model about what the tyre does with regards to the forces it generates. We can discuss the traction circle or circle of force (it’s not actually a circle, more like an ellipse). We can discuss the relationship between normal force applied to the tyre and resulting tractive forces generated while cornering, accelerating and braking. We know about the relationships between tyre compound, tread temperature, coefficient of friction and grip. We know about the effects of camber, castor, offsets and inclinations and scrub radius, toe-in and toe-out. We know about carcass stiffness, air pressure, tread width and tyre diameter. We even know about slip angles. We do not know exactly what is going on at the contact patch, nor how the tyre generates grip at the contact patch. That mechanism is not precisely understood.

How about that? We do not know what is going on down at the molecular level between the tyre and the road.

Therefore should someone comes along and say, “Gentlemen, all your theories and knowledge of tyre behaviour is wrong. It is the wee super-luminal pixies that live at the bottom of Sione’s garden that cause the grip between tyres and road,” does that mean their idea should be accepted? After all none of us has a complete explanation of the tyre’s molecular grip generating mechanism.

regards

Sione

averros March 15, 2006 at 4:45 pm

Their disagreement is with the more sweeping claims that all life evolved from a common ancestor, and so forth.

There’s a very strong evidence for that in the form of commonality of basic biochemistry and genes which encode it across all lifeforms.

In fact, it is possible to track the sequence of divergence points between species by comparing genomes of presently existing organisms – and even accurately date the points of divergence (by accumulation of single-nucleotide neutral mutations in non-coding regions), such dating being in a good agreement with paleontological record.

But of the evolution we are talking about i will ask for this: tell me you know of a virus evolving into something that is NOT a virus.

a. Viruses are not independent organisms, they do not posess the basic machinery for self-replication. They’re no more alive than would be a liver removed from a cow (but you can transplant it into another one while it is still fresh!) Thus, a virus cannot evolve into a standalone organism, although viral infections do routinely carry genetic material between organisms.

b. Your own genome contains a lot of viral genes in it (so-called human endogenous retroviruses) – about 1% of total, or about 30000 different retroviruses. Genetic evolution is not exclusively about splitting into different species; in fact a lot of it consists of different species joining together by means of symbiotic parasitism or hybridization.

In fact, the appearance of placenta in mammals is attributed to incorporation of a virus (HERV-W) into genome (the viral genes are quite distinctive), and placenta allows fetuses to grow big brains. Actually, the immunological effect of the suppression of the immune response due to expression of this HERV in placenta is more important – it allows mother’s immune system to function while preserving embrio/fetus from being destroyed by it; the virus evolved immunosuppressive capabilities when it was a separate infectuous agent causing some illness.

Which is to say, we are able to discuss the merits of evolutionary theory precisely because of a virus which evolved into something useful.

Yes, i know. It happens too slowly to witness it, and too fast to leave evidence in the fossil record that it happened.

First of all, it does not happen so slowly that there are no witnesses. In fact, you may want to look at the history of domestication of food staple plants which differ from their wild ancestors no less than cats differ from bears (and we do have good record of that process thanks to the human prospensity for generating prodigious amounts of garbage).

It helps to remember that the entire history of H.sapiens (50k years) is a mere blink on the evolutionary time scales (billions of years). The archaeological and paleontological records grow very spotty beyond 10k years or so, because it takes truly special circumstances to get a specimen naturally preserved for such a long time.

Now, there’s an analogy: sometimes volcanoes blow up and cover entire forests in ash, thus preserving them. Forests do burn, rapidly changing form one form to a quite different one. Because forest fires take a lot less time than normal growth, and because volcano eruptions are so rare in any specific area, no reasonable person would expect a forest preserved in ash during mid-burning (and located far enough from the volcano so it couldn’t be ignited by it) to be ever found.

Strongly beneficial genome change propagation is like fire, it is really fast, compared to the thousands of years of genetic dice-throwing needed to find these rarites.

How incredibly inconvenient is that?!

How incredibly convenient is to postulate that someone is tweaking genes from time to time while leaving absolutely no hard evidence to his existence or activities, and being very careful to always base his designs on the existing ones (hey, compared to him, modern very modest gene engineering leaves footprints all over the place).

Showing remnants of a carbon-dated discarded PCR thermocycler embedded in limestone (or something like that) would be a very good place for ID theorists to start claiming any respectability.

Or at least demonstrate a bunch of novel genes popping out of nowhere in a species (as opposed to little mutation tweaks which can and do occur by pure chance, or “borrowing” genes from other species via viral infection, hybridization and such). And, no, out of all species genetically explored, there’s not a single occurence of anything like that.

It is highly improbable that there’s a wily someone who is so careful so as to make his every interdiction indistinguishable from the work of random chance. Apparently, he is so smart that his wisdom is like white noise to us.

But that is my point of view, based on my familiarity with the modern molecular biology.

My suggestion is to stop talking aabout the merits of points of view in the evolution/ID debate on the libertarian/autstrian economics forums altogether, because it does hurt the credibility of the main ideology, by making it easy to dismiss the entire libertarian movement as either religious nuts or atheist enemies – and thus to miss the main point (on which we *are* in total agreement): that people who disagree on the ID/evolution issue can live peacefully together by simply sending their kids to the schools of their choice, so they will be taught whatever parents (and not some government do-gooders) think is right.

Just refuse to take evolutionist/creationist sides when this argument is presented to the outside world.

Paul Edwards March 15, 2006 at 4:49 pm

Sione,

I wondered where you were going with that tire discussion. You’ve got a pretty impressive knowledge of tires and traction, i’d say.

I don’t see, however, how this analogy holds relevance to evolution. We can demonstrate that there is friction and gravity and magnetism and electricity etc right here and today, and say lots about these things and their observable effects, perhaps even all the while recognizing that we don’t truly understand them very well in terms of their causes. Masses attract, but why? Still there is lots we can say about gravity without conjecture.

Punc eq. on the other hand is pure conjecture. We are not only saying that we have never observed an instance of a “punctuation” in the lab or anywhere else (it happens too slowly, don’t you know), we are also saying we cannot confirm, through the fossil record, that it happened in the past (it happens too quickly, silly).

What punc eq says is this: we know things evolved: that’s a given; the evidence shows it didn’t do it Darwin style (bummer), ergo it must have happened some other “scientific” way: perhaps the punc eq. way. The evidence is this: we say it happened that way; physical evidence turns out to be quite unnecessary when you’ve got a good explanation for why there isn’t any. And that passes for science. Yikes.

D Saul Weiner March 15, 2006 at 7:06 pm

“My suggestion is to stop talking aabout the merits of points of view in the evolution/ID debate on the libertarian/autstrian economics forums altogether, because it does hurt the credibility of the main ideology, by making it easy to dismiss the entire libertarian movement as either religious nuts or atheist enemies – and thus to miss the main point (on which we *are* in total agreement): that people who disagree on the ID/evolution issue can live peacefully together by simply sending their kids to the schools of their choice, so they will be taught whatever parents (and not some government do-gooders) think is right.”

Averros, I think that you are the one who is missing the point of this whole post. The point is not to once-and-for-all decide the validity of Darwinism or ID or any other theory. The point is that when the State determines orthodoxy in scientific matters it does great harm to the cause of scientific progress, human health, and the citizen’s pocketbook. It offers little comfort that the State may get it right once in a while.

I try to make intelligent contributions to this forum, but I refuse to censor myself out of fear that readers might jump to the conclusion that I am an atheist or religious nut and that this somehow discredits Austrian economics or libertarianism. I will be true to myself and run the risk that others may not respect some (or even all) of my views.

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