December 10, 2007

Significance of Medical and Biological Science

In this paper I will show that (X) the value of medical and biological knowledge is based on it’s accuracy (Y) by exploring how doctors and the media portray advances in medical science (Z) in order to show that the worth of scientists lie in the truth and utility of their theories and findings. First I will describe how many studies conducted by the medical industries are performed unscientifically and inaccurately, which has lead to the public receiving poor information from media outlets and doctors. Next I will present evidence of the media withholding certain information and only broadcasting what they want too, causing lack of information and accuracy in their stories. I will then show how many studies and findings completed by doctors and scientists contradict each other, leading to an unknown truth. These points should be enough to encourage one to think about how medical and biological scientific knowledge is valuable in today’s changing society.
Accuracy of Medical Studies and Findings
Much of the information concluded from medical studies conducted by the health industry turns out to be inaccurate. The general public is then given this information and told it is reliable by doctors and the media who are trying to persuade them to take a certain medication or change their lifestyle. This false information should not be worth anything to people but it is because it is being described as the truth and accurate. Each year a hypothesis that was proven the year before is proved to be wrong. So why wasn’t such a hypothesis proved wrong in the first place so the false information would never have been shared with millions of people looking for answers? The problem is with a common testing process among scientists known as observational testing, such as the Nurses’ Health Survey, in which a scientist observes a subject to attempt to link two events together. Scientists cannot be sure that one event causes another event to occur, they can only hypothesize. This means that the scientist will look at his study results and try to find a conclusion to why he received the results he did (Taubes 4). It is said that for every right hypothesis there is a wrong hypothesis too, so there is a great chance that a scientist’s work is not correct. According to Stephen Pauker, a professor of medicine at Tufts University and a pioneer in the field of clinical decision making, studies are probabilistic statements. They do not tell us what the truth is, but they allow both physicians and patients to “estimate the truth? so they can make informed decisions (Taubes 6). Observational studies conclude that this behavior, whatever it is, prevents disease and saves lives, when all they’re really doing is comparing two different types of people who are, in effect, incomparable (Taubes 11).
The correct and accurate way to conduct a study requires a randomized-controlled trial, known as an experiment, not an observational study (Taubes 4). A randomized-controlled trial is one in which a random sample is chosen and one group is tested with the certain drug or lifestyle and the other group is tested with a placebo or a fake drug that has no effect on the subject. The sample needs to be large enough to show that there is not any coincidence among its results. If a study is conducted in this way there is far less doubt to whether a drug causes a certain result or not. We can tell this because if the placebo group has different results than the experimental group then this means that the testing factor is responsible for the differences.
Experimental studies such as these and the randomized-controlled trials needed to ascertain reliable knowledge about long-term risks and benefits of a drug, lifestyle factor, or aspect of our diet are inordinately expensive and time consuming, because they require direct control over the subjects and the expense of the study. Observational studies are relatively cheap and less time consuming because all that is done is a survey or observation of a group without any direct influence or costs (Taubes 6). Even though experimental studies are more expensive and time consuming than observational studies they should be the main source of information for medical research. A change to a system like that would lead to more accurate and reliable information for the medical industry to use when influencing the public about a drug or lifestyle change.
Media Biased Regarding Medical Science
Media outlets are the prime source of all information that the public receives regarding medical and biological scientific research and results. This means that the media is responsible for what airs and is published and what is not. This is because they cannot share all of the study results or new information, so they pick and choose what they want based on their values and what they believe in, even though the media is supposed to be fair and unbiased in what they share with the public. The media decides to leave certain essential parts of information out when they are reporting that might be necessary to fully grasp the concept. This in turn leads to the argument that the fault is with the press. The problem is not in the research but in the way it is interpreted for the public, as Jerome Kassirer and Marcia Angell, then the editors of The New England Journal of Medicine, explained in a 1994 editorial titled “What Should the Public Believe?? Each study, they explained, is just a “piece of a puzzle? and so the media has to do a better job of communicating the many limitations of any single study and the caveats involved, the foremost, of course, being that an association between two events is not the same as a cause and effect (Taube 6).
Richard Peto, professor of medical statistics and epidemiology at Oxford University, thinks that medical research provides such an important perspective on human life and death, but an incredible amount of rubbish is published. By this he means the results of observational studies that appear daily in the news media and often become the basis of public-health recommendations about what we should or should not do to promote our continued good health (Taubes 5). If all of the information of a story is not shared with the public then it can be seen as rubbish.
An example of this is described in the movie The Corporation, when the Fox Broadcasting Company refused to air a story about the negative effects of Posilac on cows and humans. Jane Akre, a reporter out of Tampa Bay, FL planned on airing the investigative report, but Monsanto, the company that produces the drug threatened to sue Fox News if the story ever aired. The Fox Broadcasting Company owned 23 separate stations at the time and they did not want to lose any advertising money if they aired the controversial, but true story, so they agreed to cooperate with the Monsanto lawyers. Today, rich and powerful men control most of our media outlets, and we all know what that has entailed in matters of truth and reality (Ruse 11). This shows that the media is mainly concerned with generating money and enough profits and then secondly they are concerned with sharing the truth. The Monsanto story was rewritten 83 times but never aired and the reporters were eventually fired for not sufficiently altering their story. In this case Fox news thought it would be in their best interest if they never informed the public of this story, even though every American who drank milk was affected by it. The media considers other things when it comes to deciding on what to report than just what the public wants to hear. This causes large amounts of people to be misinformed when it comes to making intelligent decisions regarding their health. This is just one example of how the media can be biased when deciding what to report to the public, and that instances such as this are very common.
Contradiction Among Scientists Research
Many scientists have different findings and results to similar studies conducted by others. An example of this is what makes people gay. There are two main hypotheses to how people end up gay, nature vs. nurture. Some scientists believe that gay people have a certain gene or that part of their brain is designed differently than a heterosexual person and other scientists think that ending up gay is based on the environment that a person grew up in. This leads to the question of who is right and who is wrong, whom should the public believe, and how can we decide on this? As Simon LeVay, a neuroscientist stated, “it is all kind of frustrating that it is still a bunch of hints, that nothing is really as crystal clear as one would like? (Swidey 117).
When a scientist conducts an experiment and discovers some new idea or concept somebody else is then going to attempt the same experiment and try to obtain the same results. If different results show up then the whole concept goes into question and who is telling the truth? The scientist who discovered the idea or the scientist who contradicts the new idea? The media decides this for us, by choosing what to report and what to leave out. Media outlets have the ultimate power to focus on a scientist’s work or to contradict it with another’s opposite work depending on their values. Medical research will always contradict itself when compared to other studies as long as there are differing views among the scientific community. If an experimental result discovers an idea that does not follow along with the believed concepts of another scientist, he will attempt to disprove it, in order to show the public that he is right.
In today’s media outlets, sharing the truth and accurate stories with the public is not their main concern, as they want to make money on top of everything else and then share information without hurting anyone or themselves. The problem with this is that the media is responsible for sharing medical and biological knowledge with the public in an accurate and unbiased manner without dollar signs in their eyes. Scientists need to be counted on to conduct experiments that generate reliable and scientifically stable evidence to support their hypotheses. When the media receives poor information from a scientist’s study, then they are responsible for piecing the puzzle together before they can report it. Most medical experimental results are contradicted by someone who does not agree with them and tries to prove them wrong. Today’s society is always changing and the value of medical and biological knowledge created by scientists is extremely valuable to the general public as long as their findings are reported accurately and honestly. The media outlets need to make a commitment to informing the public of an unbiased and generally truthful depiction of experimental study results and stories that affect their audience.

Works Cited

Ruse, Michael. Mystery of Mysteries. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999.
Neil Swidey. “What Makes People Gay?? The Best American Science Writing. Ed.
Atul Gawande. New York: Harper Perennial, 2006. 113-128.
Taubes, Gary. “Do We Really Know What Makes Us Healthy?? New York Times 16
Sept. 2007.
The Corporation. Dir. Jennifer Abbott and Mark Achbar. Perf. Jane Akre, Ray
Anderson, and Maude Barlow. USA, 2003.

December 7, 2007

Is There Another Fuel Source?

Is There Another Fuel Source?
How would 85 cent fuel sound to you compared to the 2.88 per gallon fuel? Wouldn’t you enjoy this cheap fuel? What if I tell you this all could happen just by adding an enzyme to the corn kernel to help convert it easier over to ethanol? Well, Michael Raab, co-founder of Agrivida, is working on perfecting this enzyme so that the U.S. can produce ethanol, an alternative fuel source, more cheaply and efficiently. In this paper I will show (X) how this new technology of inserting an enzyme into corn to produce cheaper ethanol is going to benefit the U.S. (Y) by providing examples and evidence (Z) in order to show that ethanol could replace a good portion of all fuel and to lower fuel prices. I will first explain the process of inserting the enzyme into the corn kernel. Then I will describe and show the benefits of this new process. Last I will show how this new process will affect the use of crude oil and how ethanol can help replace a portion of our fuel dependence.
Getting Started:
The process of getting the enzyme in the corn is rather simple. According to my interview with Michael Raab, they use genetic engineering to design the protein sequence they are looking for and test it (Raab). Once they can verify that they have the right sequence and it works properly, they add the protein to the other genetic elements so the protein can survive in the plant. After all of that is done they insert this new gene into a plant and grow it in a test plot. They then do research to verify the gene survived in the plant and that it works properly and that it is safe to use.
Activating the Enzyme:
The main goal of this enzyme is to make the enzyme non active during the growing season. So far Michael Raab has found an enzyme that is non active during the growing season and still works the way it is suppose to. Right now according to Michael Raab the enzyme can be activated through a change in pH levels and through temperature. So when the corn is harvested in the fall ethanol plants can activate this enzyme by changing the temperature and by changing the pH levels during the fermentation process (Raab). Right now temperature and pH level changes are the only way to produce ethanol cheaply without adding more production costs. If they were to use some other stimuli it would add more cost to the production of ethanol so that is why they are using temperature and pH levels right now.
Making Competition:
Right now corn is one of the main ways to make ethanol. According to Elton Robinson, writer for Farm Press, says, “Currently, corn grain is the primary feedstock for producing ethanol in the United States? (Robinson 6). According to Elton, the main reason corn is the primarily used feedstock is because the enzyme used in the fermentation process is so cheap (Robinson 6). With this new process though, they could insert this gene into other plants to get ethanol and make it just as cheap as they could when using corn. Michael Raab said in our interview, they are working on inserting this gene into other plants such as switchgrass or poplar, but it is only in the testing stage (Raab). According to an article in “Biocycle World,? some of the other ways to produce ethanol is by using switchgrass, agricultural wastes, and biomass (Biocycle World 1). Michael Raab is optimistic and thinks that someday in the long-term these other plants will emerge as energy crops, but he says it is going to take time and the establishment of cellulosic processing facilities (Raab). By inserting this gene into other plants beside corn we can utilize the land by getting ethanol from every region and cut down on transportation costs. So this would make ethanol slightly cheaper yet.
The Problem:
Now what would happen if this enzyme were to activate early while it is growing in the fields? Well the answer is it is not good. If the enzyme were to activate early they would hamper the growth of the corn plant. This activation would cause the corn not to cross breed and fertilize, therefore, barely a crop to harvest in the fall because it will not reach full maturity. This could make farmers second guess planting corn with this enzyme. So this problem will need to be fixed before farmers will be confident enough to plant this corn. According to Michael Raab, he said, “This will be evaluated in field trials before the seed is ever sold? (Raab). So according to his quote, this will give confidence to farmers to plant corn with this enzyme in it. The next problem is we can’t produce enough ethanol to support a complete ethanol market. According to Cornell economist David Pimentel, he says the U.S. would have to devote all the farmland in the U.S. to ethanol production if they wanted to completely replace gas and that is almost impossible (J.M. 2). So according to some there is a slim chance to produce enough ethanol to make it an alternate fuel source. According to Michael Raab, each fall after harvest there is 250,000,000 dry tons of residue left over and they can convert that dry matter into 25 billion gallons of ethanol (Raab). According to Elton Robinson, farmers will have three tons of corn stover per acre left over after harvest, but he also says that they use only half of that stover to produce ethanol (Robinson 10). He also stated that eighty million acres of corn could produce roughly 120 million tons of stover, which can produce between 10 and 11 billion gallons of ethanol and that is not even including the corn kernel (Robinson 10). That is a lot of ethanol, but still not enough to completely replace gasoline. I know from experience of growing up on the farm that all of the stover will not be used for ethanol because farmers who have animals use it for things such as bedding for animals or like I do use them for a feed in the winter. So when they think about using all the corn stover they should subtract all the stover that farmers are going to use for themselves. Another problem that some refer to is it costs to much to convert corn to ethanol. According to Nicola Ross, she says, “. . . takes a lot of fossil fuels to produce it (Economic Cornfusion 1). Also in article by Jeff Sanford, he mentions how there are high production costs for growing corn because you have oil and gas to run machines and high amounts of natural gas are used to make fertilizer for the corn to grow (Sanford 3). So they are saying the amount of money going into the converting the corn over to ethanol costs more than the benefits, but they don’t talk about the use of the new enzyme, which would change the way they see ethanol.
Reaping the Benefits:
There is one big benefit with this process and that is cheaper fuel prices. This process even makes ethanol cheaper than it already is. Right now gas prices are around 2.88 per gallon and ethanol is 1.60 per gallon. With this new process of making ethanol we could see ethanol prices around 85 cents per gallon (Raab). Now this process alone will improve ethanol production. Michael Raab figures this process will increase yields per acre by about 50 percent while decreasing costs per gallon by about 30 percent (Raab). In an article in the magazine “Economist,? they say, “Efficient enzymes have led to more cost-effective fermentation, and genetically modified high-starch corn has better yield (and so needs less processing in the plant and fewer herbicides in the field) (Dirty as well as Dear? 1). Also according to Carol Potera in her article “The Economics of Ethanol,? she states how producing an enzyme to convert cornstarch into sugar for fermentation is 50 times faster and at lower temperatures making this more energy efficient (Potera 2). This is why we need these enzymes, they help reduce production costs and make the process more efficient, and therefore, they can sell the product cheaper. This may not seem like a lot, but in a commodity market where corn is growing fast in popularity this is a huge deal.
The Replacement:
The government wants to someday be able to replace the 58% of crude oil the U.S. imports. The truth is according to Ron Smith, writer for Farm Press, says that the U.S. will need a lot more than just corn to replace the imported crude oil (Smith 3). He says that there are only 111 ethanol plants in the U.S. with 75 under construction and eight that are being expanded (Smith 3). They also have 60 more plants in the planning stages (Smith 3). So if we are to switch over to ethanol as a primary fuel we need more and more plants yet to produce ethanol. In 2000, the U.S. produced 1.6 billion gallons of ethanol (Smith 3). That number rose to 5 billion in 2005 and they project to produce 9 billion gallons by 2008 or 2009 (Smith 3). So the number of gallons is increasing, but it is not even close to how much we need to be able to rely on it as a fuel source. According to Jim Core in his article, “New Milling Methods Improve Corn Ethanol Production? he says, “Almost 10 percent of the U.S. corn crop is used to make fuel ethanol (Core 1). So if we would increase the amount of corn we use we could produce more ethanol. Smith thinks that corn ethanol will play an energy security role, but it will be more of an additive than an extender (Smith 3).
Each year the production of ethanol increases and is becoming a helpful fuel source to lighten the load on the dependence of oil. With developing technology and plenty of research we may be able to produce a very cheap fuel source. Michael Raab’s research and experiments with inserting an enzyme into corn to help produce ethanol more cheaply is a good way to produce ethanol. The only thing we need to do next is get the right machines and plants up to do the processing and get this new fuel source going. The U.S. doesn’t have to worry about not increasing production because every year the amount produced is rising, but we will always need more. If scientists can get this gene to successfully work in other plants like switchgrass this could help reduce the dependence on oil and possibly replace crude oil someday. It will take time, but this new process has lots of potential to help the U.S. and will only continue to grow and get better. So when you hear about alternative fuel sources and the topic of ethanol just think about how this could affect your life with lower fuel costs, so more money for other things.

Where To Be Published:
This article could be published in the Star Tribune or any agriculture magazine. The Star Tribune because it would help inform everyone on the advancing technology to make an alternative fuel source and that is a very big topic in today’s world so we cut down on foreign fuel being shipped over here to the U.S. It also could be published in any agriculture magazine because farmers are the ones who are going to have to plant this corn and they are going to want to know if it is feasible for them to plant and make a profit so they also need to know what is happening with this. They are the ones who contribute there crop to ethanol so they need to know what is happening.
Works Cited
Core, Jim. “New Milling Methods Improve Corn Ethanol Production.? Agricultural Research. Jul. 2004. Vol. 52. Issue 7, p16-17. Academic Search Premier. EBSCOhost. UMN college Lib., St. Paul, MN. 21 Nov. 2007.
“Dirty as well as dear?? Economist. 17 Jan. 2004. Vol. 370. Issue 8358, p24. Academic Search Premier. EBSCOhost. UMN college Lib., St. Paul, MN. 21 Nov. 2007.

“Increasing Ethanol with Enzymes.? Biocycle World. Jun. 2006. Vol. 47. Issue 6, p12. Academic Search Premier. EBSCOhost. UMN college Lib., St. Paul, MN. 21 Nov. 2007.
J.M. “Consider the Alternatives.? E Magazine. Jan. /Feb. 2006. Vol. 17. Issue 1, p38-9. Academic Search Premier. EBSCOhost. UMN college Lib., St. Paul, MN. 21 Nov. 2007.
Potera, Carol. “The Economics of Ethanol.? Environmental Health Perspectives. Jan. 2002. Vol. 110. Issue 1, pA18. Academic Search Premier. EBSCOhost. UMN college Lib., St. Paul, MN. 21 Nov. 2007.
Raab, Michael. Internet Interview. 18 Nov. 2007.
Robinson, Elton. “Corn Enzymes To Drive Cellulosic Ethanol.? Farm Press. 3 Oct. 2007. p6 & 10. Academic Search Premier. EBSCOhost. UMN college Lib., St. Paul, MN. 21 Nov. 2007.
Ross, Nicola. Alternatives Journal. 2007. Vol. 33. Issue 2/3, p7. Academic Search Premier. EBSCOhost. UMN college Lib., St. Paul, MN. 21 Nov. 2007. <>
Sanford, Jeff. “A Growing Concern.? Canadian Business. 9 Oct. 2006. Vol. 79. Issue 20, p90-99. Academic Search Premier. EBSCOhost. UMN college Lib., St. Paul, MN. 21 Nov. 2007.
Smith, Ron. “Corn-Based Ethanol Not Enough To Meet U.S. Renewable Energy Requirements.? Southwest Farm Press. 19 Apr. 2007. p1 & 3. Academic Search Premier. EBSCOhost. UMN college Lib., St. Paul, MN. 21 Nov. 2007.

November 19, 2007

The Worth of Science

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Nathan Otto
The Worth of Science

“The worth of science lies in the truth and utility of scientists' theories and findings.?

(X) By showing that science has an inherent quality independent of science results, (Y) I will argue that such character must be recognized as potentially valuable, in order to show that (Z) although the value of science is largely judged by its utility, there is still inherent value in the scientific process as a paradigm.

Science’s utility is a large part of what determines its value

Human beings are concerned about time. We only get so much of it before we have to leave the things we love or they leave us. This is a fundamental difference between humans and machines: the fear of loss. And logically, because of our awareness of our own finiteness and the passing of precious time, we must prioritize the things we do, and the effort we put into them.
Such is the backdrop for our inherent tendency to place some amount of value to things that are efficient or useful. We walk to school on our legs because doing so on our hands would not be as useful. We usually prefer to fund - with our limited and highly-valued money - research that seems to have potential for common or serious health problems, or research with the potential for common and serious business, entertainment, or political consequences. It is only natural that nobody has ever funded a study to determine nations’ rankings in the ability of their a random sample of their citizens to play bocce ball. Such an effort would invariably come at the expense of something that most people would consider more pressing.

Though utility is highly valued, humans have other values

It is crucial to note, however, another defining characteristic of humans: we also often place value on things that are not immediately or apparently useful.
It may be conceded that this is a largely philosophical question, and the claim that things which may not initially appear to be useful do perhaps have some non-obvious benefit that influences why we value them. One common example, is being attracted to “good-looking? people, at the expense of possibly more likely genetic proliferation with a mate who is not so good-looking. Many theories have attempted to explain this sort of supposedly irrational behavior, but the leading contenders argue that genetic “flaws? and predispositions to health and disease (our genotype) are manifested in how we look generally (our phenotype), and thus, we subconsciously select for genetically fitter mates by judging people attractive or not. Frans De Wall offers another example in his article “How Animals Do Business?; in the article, De Wall describes a monkey rejecting a food reward when it views the payment as unjust (it observed its partner receiving more food); “to reject unequal pay – which people do as well – goes against the assumptions of traditional economics…[But] in the long run it keeps one from being taken advantage of,? (De Waal 54).
So utility may lurk in some cases where it not entirely obvious, but there are still many behaviors that are not satisfactorily defined by utility. Suicide is perhaps the most obvious, but the work of Daniel Kahneman and Vernon L. Smith (Economics Nobel Prize winners 2002) has demonstrated that humans make many types of decisions in which they are not optimizing utility, or do so unpredictably and haphazardly (Kahneman 1). We might not routinely walk on our hands to school, but we might do it on a lawn for fun, at the expense of finite calories and potential of injury.
Such behavior, many romanticists argue passionately, is key to our humanness. It helps to explain the tremendous resources and energy devoted to painting, and singing, and arts of all sorts. It is revealed in our choices of architecture – and in the establishing of religions, disestablishing of religions, and sacrifice of obvious and sure-fire attainment of resources for principles.
The Thomas Popper paradigm promotes the idea of science being done by individuals free from such non-epistemic influences (Ruse p. 15). Though a dyed-in-the-wool Popperian scientist might bristle at the thought of such irrational behavior, recognizing the phenomenon is what allows science to have worth beyond its utility.
Again, the utility of aesthetics is beyond the scope of this paper. But if we concede that, at least some time, we do at least some things that may not be in our best interest, or that we take pleasure in an action regardless of its results, we see the crack we need to open the idea of science as a candidate for aesthetics.

Science possesses such an aesthetic that qualifies it as not wholly judged by utility.

If we appreciate that part of human behavior is influenced by less-than-optimally efficient aesthetics, it is possible to recognize science - as a process, as a phenomenon - as having value, regardless of what problem the scientist is working on, and regardless of what the scientist has so far solved or not solved.
For example, in addition to non-epistemic influences, many scientists devote their time inefficiently studying obscure subjects whose relevance is certainly outweighed by some other matter that could be considered more pressing. Let’s consider an astrophysicist studying the beginning of time. Though such a scientist might vaguely claim it is for the purposes of some utility, it is plausible to suggest that at least some of the appeal and value is manifested in the pure aesthetics of discovery. Just the word “discovery? is an emotionally charged word; not in a political or contextual sense, but in a more timeless sense. Indeed the very notion of discovery is almost inseparable from our identities as intelligent humans. Innovations and the quest for new methods and knowledge have existed across many cultures and many of histories. David Nye notes in his book Technology Matters, it is hard for us to imagine humankind without some form of technology or innovation (Nye 3).
Science, after all, is predominately a pursuit, often positing incorrect or irrelevant explanations. As Gary Taubes points out, quite often scientific theories and conclusions are completely wrong, and must be revised and reevaluated: “There are, after all, an infinite number of wrong hypotheses for every right one, and so the odds are always against any particular hypothesis being true,? (Taubes p. 2). It is this pursuit of knowledge that is the core of sciences aesthetic value.
Science is a way of thinking about the world, and our place in it. It is difficult to overstate the importance of such a paradigm. Steve Chesley, a physicist with Jet Propulsion Library in Pasadena, California emphasized that a “scientific way of thinking?, for example, can be contrasted in many respects with a way of thinking based on haphazard superstition, organized religion, or even political democracy.
We must avoid the temptation to let our personal biases jump to “rank? such ways of thinking. Rather, for our purposes here, we must simply realize that each of these ways of thinking has value. Perhaps one has less value than another; perhaps we even consider one to have negative value. Indeed, some critics contend that the scientific way of thinking has created or exacerbated many problems vis-a-vis God and spiritualism, authority and tradition, expectation of technological problem-solving, and so on. Those on the side of science often point out the host of human suffering that science has certainly alleviated; from fighting human diseases, to heating our homes, to allowing us to see and experience places and phenomenon we never could have seen before. In both The Corporation and An Inconvenient Truth, responsible and ethical implementation of science is identified as a key component in fighting many of the environmental problems of the future, although both movies also note that it is largely because of past science and technology implementations that we face many of our current environmental problems. Again, which side outweighs the other is a different discussion. For now, it is enough to recognize that the paradigm of thinking and acting scientifically has some amount of value.
Thus, even if a particular scientist would spend an entire year working on a project that did not yield any sort of useful result or discovery, it is still valued behavior. It is through such behavior that discovery is most likely to take place. We can imagine an analogy with classical Greek athletics; the hours spent training were not considered worthless if an athlete lost a competition. Surely, it would be more valued to train and win, but there was also an aesthetic of sport and training, independent of any given event’s outcome.

An Inseparable Blend
It is hard to imagine humans without thinking of the quest for knowledge. The utility of discovery – the ability of humans to apply new types of knowledge to novel situations - is indeed one of the things that most emphatically separates us from other animals. Yet at the same time, our aesthetic nature is another one of our characteristics that identifies us as uniquely human. Science is an inseparable blend of these two phenomena; the consequences of pure scientific discovery are enormous, and hold almost unlimited potential for what humans may one day know and achieve. But also, the scientific way of thinking must be appreciated as the medium through which this discovery takes place. It is only human to appreciate the scientific struggle.

Works Cited:

An Inconvenient Truth. Dir. Davis Guggenheim. Perf. Al Gore. Paramount Classics,

Chesley, Steve. Personal Interview. 3 November 2007.

The Corporation. Dir. Jennifer Abbott, Mark Achbar. Perf. Jane Akre, Raymon
Anderson, Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore. Big Picture Media Corporation, 2004.

De Waal, Frans B. M. “How Animals Do Business? Best American Science and Nature
Writing. Ed. Tim Folger. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. P. 46-54

Ruse, Michael. Mystery of Mysteries. Cambridge, London: Harvard University
Press, 1999

Taubes, Gary. “Do We Really Know What Makes Us Healthy??. New York Times 16
Sep 2007.

Daniel Kahneman Autobiography. 2007 The Nobel Foundation. 5 November 2007

An Inconvenient Truth

November 15, 2007

Interpreting Scientific Results: The Responsibility of the Consumer?

With the America becoming the corporate billionaires playground, it is important to ask if these profits are coming at the expense of the consumer. As corporate giants are often the funding entity of the testing of their products, both directly and indirectly by financing various institutions and political schedules, one must ask how accurate the claims made by such scientists are, and if they are reliable enough for public implementation. In this paper I will show that (X) the worth of scientists lie in the truth and utility of their theories and findings (Y) by highlighting and commenting on the film The Corporation and the articles Do We Really Know What Makes Us Healthy? and On Autism’s Cause, It’s Parents vs. Research (Z) in order to bring attention to the increasingly misleading and popular scientific testing of drugs at the expense of the consumer. In large, I will discuss (Premise 1) one case study of a prescribed drug later admitted to be harmful for human consumption, (Premise 2) the current debate on the causal relationship between a mercury containing drug and autism, and (Premise 3) what this means for the use or misuse of vaccinations today.
Female Aging Panacea: Hormone Replacement Therapy (H.R.T)
Gary Taubes, in his New York Times article Do We Really Know What Makes Us Healthy?, raises the question of the validity of prescribed regimens once proven medically safe as he examines the history of the once popularly prescribed hormone replacement therapy. He starts his story in the 1960’s, as Dr. Robert Wilson argued that menopause was not a natural cycle of an aging woman. Dr. Wilson insisted that it was a progressive illness just like kidney failure or diabetes. In light of his views on this natural cycle, estrogen began to be used in hormone replacement therapy, H.R.T, among many women. This prescribed regimen became increasingly popular with time. By the mid 1990’s, the American Heart Association among other institutions concluded the beneficial effects of H.R.T. were sufficiently established and that it could be prescribed to older women in efforts to curb the effects of aging, specifically heart disease and osteoporosis. In 2001, years after this announcement, over 15 million American Women were filing H.R.T prescriptions annually. Over 5 million of which were aged women under the regimen in sole efforts of preventing the effects of aging, hoping to live longer and healthier lives. Then, in the summer of 2002 this regimen was exposed as a hazard to one’s health, greatly contrasting with the scientific findings less than a decade earlier (Taubes, 1).
With this example of a harmful drug prescribed in the most scientifically advanced country on earth, to a demographic encompassing a large percentage of the population, we as consumers need to question the validity of such findings. In this case, institutions such as the American Heart Association, a “reliable? source of medical information, mislead millions of Americans to taking a drug found to be harmful to human health. This gross neglect on the part of the manufacturers and doctors prescribing such medications only raises further concerns in other areas of medicine and other prescription regimens.
Autism and Thimerosal
The New York Times article, On Autism’s Cause, It’s Parents vs. Research, states autism is a lifelong disorder with traits of repetitive behaviors with an overall inability to form social relationships. Although some scientists believe the disorder is largely genetic, many believe that some unknown environmental factor also contributes to its contraction (Harris, O’Connor 108). After more thorough investigation of the disease, parents are starting to draw ties to the illness with mercury poisoning. Specifically, it is believed this mercury-poisoning comes from the vaccines given in the earliest stages of infancy.
Thimerosal, a favored vaccine preservative used for decades, by weight consists of 50% ethyl mercury (Harris, O’Connor 105). It is the mercury found in this preservative that many parents are labeling the root cause of autism in children. A 1999 Food and Drug Administration study showed that all of the mercury that American Infants received under a full immunization schedule exceeds the government guideline for mercury consumption (Harris, O’Connor 107). With clear cut evidence quantifying the hazardous amount of mercury found in infant vaccines, it is no wonder 10% to 25% of all autism cases seem to happen overnight, sometime in between the child’s first and second year (Harris, O’Connor 107). One interviewed man stated, “My grandson received 9 shots in one day, 7 of which contained thimerosal, which is 50% mercury as you know, and he became autistic a short time later? (Harris, O’Connor 108). With cases like this, it is no wonder people are beginning to lose faith in medical science, and scientific testing as a whole.
Scientists, Public Officials, and Parents
With institutions such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, the Institute of Medicine, the World Health Organization, and the American Academy of Pediatrics all dismissing the notion that mercury-containing thimerosal has a relationship with autism after five major studies, it is hard to spot a causal relationship between the two. Even public health officials have been saying for years that there is no link between thimerosal and autism ( Harris, O’Connor 105).
With drugs such as thimerosal being manufactured by corporate America, it is in the company’s best interest to safely prescribe such drugs due to the financial liability a potentially harmful drug could potentially cause. When such causal relationships between drugs and serious illnesses such as autism come up for debate, it is no wonder the manufacturer would not want to take responsibility for such a catastrophe. Taking responsibility for such causal relationships would result in the loss of millions in lawsuits and decline of growth for the company. This pattern of scientists finding results tailoring the best economic conditions for the pharmaceutical industry raises questions of how accurate the testing of such drugs were performed. It is not radical to conclude that due to extreme efforts of lobbyists may curb such results, especially given the roles corporate America has held in the past as outlined in the film The Corporation. With corporations owning whole towns, spending millions of dollars on the funding of testing agencies, patenting human genes, and spending millions more on lobbying public officials to approve their drugs, it is becoming increasingly unclear who will stand up for the public good (The Corporation).
However, some individuals are standing up for what they believe to be true science. Robert F. Kennedy wrote that most studies of this issue are flawed and public health officials are conspiring with drug officials to cover the extensive damage cause by thimerosal (Harris, O’Connor, 106). Dr. Geier has followed suit as he called the use of thimerosal in vaccines the world’s “greatest catastrophe that’s ever happened, regardless of cause?. He continued to state that relationship between the two is well established, and that public health officials are just trying to cover it up (Harris, O’Connor, 106-7).
Faith in Vaccinations, Are We Safe?
With corporations paying for the scientific results best suited to their long-term survival, individual consumer confidence is decreasing at an increasing rate. This insecurity is best viewed by noting the mysterious decrease of mercury in vaccines today. By 2001 no vaccine routinely administered to children in the United States had any more mercury than what is found in an infant’s daily supply of breast milk. Despite this decrease in thimerosal found in vaccines, government officials still say there is no link between thimerosal and autism (Harris, O’Connor, 107). This example of the current absence of thimerosal in vaccines raises further concern as why would any additive proven to be safe and previously used be taken out of vaccines? It is alarmingly obvious that some information is not being passed onto the consumer form both the pharmaceutical industry and our public officials.
With lies from every end on the front lines of the debate, it is impossible for consumers to make good decisions regarding the use of thimerosal, and exploratory science in general. This loss of trust in vaccines is causing some parents to completely avoid vaccines in general, placing their children at risk of other illnesses such as measles and polio (Harris, O’Connor 106). A Minnesota Immunization Official comments, “ It doesn’t seem to matter what the studies and data show and that’s really scary for us because if science doesn’t count, how do we make decisions and how do we communicate with parents?? (Harris, O’Connor 112).

In conclusion, science and its findings are only as good as the integrity of the scientist performing the tests. In cases such as hormone replacement therapy, which was prescribed for decades, and the use of thimerosal in vaccinations with its obvious relationship with autism, it is hard for the consumer to have faith in any scientific findings. With large corporations gaining increasing financial leverage on the consumer, it is hard to validate most scientific findings and theories. This negatively impacts us as consumers as the alterations of some data, insinuates an alteration in other data. It is thus the function of the consumer to be aware of the debates in science today, as it not only impacts them, but also those of tomorrow. By educating ourselves on the debates surrounding the issue, we in turn can made decisions in favor of the most reliable results.

Harris, Gardiner, and Anahad O’Connor. “On Autism’s Cause, It’s Parents vs. Research?
The Best American Science Writing. Ed. Atul Gawande. New York, London: Harper Perennial, 2006. 104-112.
Taubes, Gary. “Do We Really Know What Makes Us Healthy?? The New York Times.
16 Sept 2007. Date Accessed 31 Oct 2007.
The Corporation. Dir. Abbott, Jennifer, and Mark Achbar. Film. Big Picture
Media Corporation, 2004.

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