Guest Opinion by Kip Hansen – 5 August 2020
Many of the fields of Science practiced today seem to have veered off into some kind of Alternative Universe – some kind of “Science from a far and very different and strange Galaxy”, maybe the same Galaxy inhabited by the editors and journalists of The New York Times.
As Bari Weiss said of The New York Times:
“The paper of record is, more and more, the record of those living in a distant galaxy, one whose concerns are profoundly removed from the lives of most people. This is a galaxy in which, to choose just a few recent examples, the Soviet space program is lauded for its “diversity”; the doxxing of teenagers in the name of justice is condoned; and the worst caste systems in human history includes the United States alongside Nazi Germany.” [ source — my bold, kh ]
In that far distant and far different strange Galaxy, Science is performed by a process of imaginary cause. I call it Strange Galactic Science. That is to say, Science from some Strange Galaxy.
“What?” you say. It works like this:
A Strange Galactic Science Primer:
- Identify some thing (some activity, some substance, some chemical or compound) that you and yours don’t like. Identify that thing as a Bad Thing. It doesn’t matter why you don’t like it, it is enough that you don’t and it helps if some other people also don’t like it, especially your peers in your research field.
- Identify something, some outcome for someone or something, that is generally considered to be undesirable. This is the Undesirable Thing. Again, doesn’t matter what it is but it is best if almost everyone would at least consider that this something as on the negative-side-of-good somewhere.
- Now, all you have to do is measure (count) the Bad Thing in the first step, measure the Undesirable Thing in the second step and simply claim that the first causes the second! Note, it is always trivial to find some way to connect the two.
This is the basis of nearly all environmental health “epidemiology” done today. Researchers do not have to worry that they have provided no biological plausibility – not in today’s Strange Galactic Science (SGS). This works because nearly everyone agrees that the Bad Thing in step one is BAD and that the Undesirable Thing – some outcome – in step two is UNDESIRABLE and NOT GOOD. None of your peers (at least those in their right minds and aware of the threat posed by the Twitter-mob) will step in to defend the Bad Thing in step one. No one, no peer-reviewer, no journal editor, would think of demanding biological plausibility. Why? Two reasons: If one objects to SGS, one will be labeled a Bad Thing Denier (which can end an academic career) and because in Strange Galactic Science, Bad Things have magical powers and can cause almost any Undesirable outcome, even from a distance: cancer, low birth weights, premature births, birth defects, heart attacks and strokes, deadly stress, high blood pressure, low blood pressure, high blood sugar, low blood sugar . . . . oh my, the list is endless.
Not only can Bad Things cause Undesirable outcomes – but they can magically do so selectively against specific groups of humans.
Please, do not think I am jesting here, the evidence is far too extensive to deny.
The latest example is this study:
By Lara J. Cushing, Kate Vavra-Musser, Khang Chau, Meredith Franklin and Jill E.Johnston
The authors are all associated with UCLA and USC. It is notable that, as far as can be determined from the study and its methodology and supplemental information, none of the authors actually went anywhere near the study area – Texas – to perform this study.
Julia Rosen, of The New York Times, summarized their findings this way:
“Pregnant women who lived near areas where flaring is common had 50 percent greater odds of giving birth prematurely than those who did not. These births occurred before 37 weeks of gestation, when incomplete development raises a baby’s chance of numerous disorders, even death.
“It’s on par with the increased risk you see for women who smoke,” said Lara Cushing, an assistant professor of environmental health sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles, and lead author of the study. Unlike smoking, however, “it’s not really something you can do much about on an individual level,” she said.
The analysis also found that the impacts of flaring fell entirely on Hispanic mothers, raising concerns about environmental injustice at a time when questions of racial inequality have gripped the nation.”
Applying even a modicum of critical analysis to the results of this study reveals that it is indeed an example of Strange Galactic Science.
- Somehow the findings only apply to “unconventional oil and gas development” – see the study’s title. It does not apply to all the other gas and oil wells, of which there are thousands, in the study area of Texas.
- None of the researchers spent even one minute in the area of study.
- Not one woman was interviewed.
- Not one woman’s real-world exposure to air or water or soil pollution of any kind was measured in any way.
- The number of methane flares in the study area was not measured. The number of high temperature sources in the study area, assumed to be methane flares, was counted auto-magically by computer algorithm, from satellite data, but only those that occurred during the hours of darkness.
- The study offers no evidence of any kind of any measured or discovered “cause” that might be responsible for the low birthweight or pre-term births – there are only suppositions of what “might cause” or “might be associated with” pre-term births, but none of these “maybes” was found or measured in this study.
- The study finds specifically that : “Our stratified analysis suggested that Hispanic women were vulnerable to the effects of flaring on preterm birth, whereas non- Hispanic white women were not.”
- Point 7 above must be considered in the light of Earth-based science systems, as opposed to Strange Galactic Science: no evidence whatever is found in this study that there are any “effects of flaring on preterm birth”.
The Times says: “The study found that the odds of preterm birth were 30 percent higher for mothers who lived within three miles of an oil and gas well compared with those who did not, and 50 percent higher for women who were exposed to 10 or more flares over the course of their pregnancies.”
Note that there was not a single measure of actual, real-world exposure of even a single woman to flares of any kind. The authors have no idea whatever if any of the women who gave birth during the study period even saw a single flare, no less were exposed to anything about flares that could harm their health. There is no data on how many months of their pregnancy each (or any) of the women spent living in the study zone (or how many went and stayed with their mothers during the period.) There is no data about daytime flares which happen when pregnant women are more likely to be out and about.
Only in Strange Galactic Science can one assign as a cause something that was not realistically quantified in its relation to the posited effect and for which there is no biological plausibility whatever.
In the discussion section of the paper, the authors do recount some of the known possible causes of pre-term birth:
- being “socioeconomically disadvantaged”
- living below the federal poverty level
- differences in pre-existing health status
- greater co-exposures to other pollutants (however, remember no pollutants are identified as resulting from flares in this study and no pollutants of any kind were measured)
- compromised ability to cope with the adverse effects of pollution due to poor nutrition or limited access to health care
- modifying effects of psychosocial stress associated with living in poverty or experiencing discrimination
- [and the odd belief that] “socially disadvantaged women”… “are more vulnerable to the impacts of ambient air pollution” [ my bold – kh]
Remember, the finding of this bit of Strange Galactic Science is that only women that identify as “Hispanic” are victims of “flaring”. And this might be one of those weird-yet-true quirks of genetics if “Hispanic” was a racial identity, if Hispanic meant being of some specific race with a shared genetic history. But Hispanic does not mean that, it means “People who identify as Spanish or Hispanic may be of any race. As one of the only two specifically designated categories of ethnicity in the United States (the other being “Not Hispanic or Latino”), Hispanics form a pan-ethnicity incorporating a diversity of inter-related cultural and linguistic heritages.” and “The United States Census Bureau uses the ethnonyms Hispanic or Latino to refer to a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race and states that Hispanics or Latinos can be of any race, any ancestry, any ethnicity.” [ Wiki ] So, in this study, “Hispanic” apparently can mean Hispanic White, Hispanic Black, Hispanic Asian/Pacific Islander (because they list “non-Hispanic” categories for these). Oddly, most American Latinos (Hispanics) are actually mixed race: “A study published in 2015 in the American Journal of Human Genetics, based on 23andMe data from 8,663 self-described Latinos, estimated that Latinos in the United States carried a mean of 65.% European ancestry, 35.0% Native American ancestry. The study found that self-described Latinos from the Southwest, especially those along the Mexican border, had the highest mean levels of Native American ancestry.” [ same Wiki ]
The nonsensical character of this Strange Galactic Science paper is epitomized in this: “Our stratified analysis suggested that Hispanic women were vulnerable to the effects of flaring on preterm birth, whereas non-Hispanic white women were not. As far as we are aware, this is the first study to document greater health impacts associated with OGD [oil and gas development] among women of color.” [quote from the study]. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Hispanic people are not necessarily “people of color” by actual skin color – or by genetics [see above] — except in the weird weird world of Identity Politics.
[Personal Note: I know that that is a dangerous thing to say. But my mother and my grandfather were both as dark-complected as most (and darker than many) of the people in those linked photos of Hispanics (above) . My grandfather, whose family was from northeast Germany, was one of those “Germans with swarthy or darker complexions were called “Black Dutch” (or Schwarze Deutsche). “ [ Wiki ] And my skin color, if I get the slightest amount of sun, turns a deep warm brown. I easily passed as Latin while serving in the Northern Caribbean. Despite these physical facts, I do not believe I qualify as a “person of color”.]
The Times reports that:
“It can be hard to tease out cause and effect in retrospective studies such as this, said Dr. Heather Burris, a neonatologist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine who was not involved in the work. But Dr. Burris said the researchers did their best to rule out factors that might make some women prone to preterm birth, like age, smoking habits, socioeconomic status and access to prenatal care.”
[On the contrary, the researchers used these factors to try to explain the odd finding that only Hispanic women were affect by flaring. This is a “kind” peer comment which appears to be from someone saavy to Strange Galactic Science and knows not to rock the boat by pointing to the lack of any biological plausibility or the lack of scientific measurements — kh]
“Scientists do not know exactly why some women give birth prematurely, Dr. Burris said. But the new study adds to growing evidence that environmental factors play an important role.”
The audacity of our journalist….the first sentence is the salient fact – we don’t know what causes some women to give birth prematurely. Readers of the Times will not know from the above whether Dr. Burris uttered the second sentence, or if this is simply the opinion of The NY Times reporter or a statement required by the Editorial Narratives of The New York Times. If the Times still had real editors, the editor would have demanded, we hope, that the journalist clarify the last paragraph so readers would know exactly what part was said by Dr. Burris.
And, in an effort to supply “balance”, the Times includes this dismissive short note:
“ The Texas Oil and Gas Association took issue with the study. “The researchers used proximity as a surrogate for exposure,” said Todd Staples, president of the association and a member of the Texas Methane and Flaring Coalition…”.
This study is based on a couple of models and a lot of statistics attempting to control for confounders – which are at least known, unlike the posited cause which is only partially known, partially quantified. Ioannidis has pointed out that such “controlling” is just not possible given that “Scientists do not know exactly why some women give birth prematurely” – thus it would be impossible to control for “other” factors that cause preterm births.
It is my hope that this kind of Strange Galactic Science is not actually practiced anywhere in the known Universe – and that such anomalies, such divergence from reality, only occur here on Earth, in our failing science journals and, of course, at The New York Times.
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I would have liked to avoid mentioning race and ethnicity but they were the very point of this misguided and ill-performed study. I am appalled that the authors, when arriving at a non-credible result, did not backtrack and find out what they had done wrong in their data collection and/or analysis.
It is the nature of our current methods of scientific endeavor that this study, now published, will become “accepted fact” – in spite of the impossibility of the major finding. “Impossible?” you ask. Whatever, if anything, that flaring might do to “cause” pre-term births does not go out into the countryside of Southeastern Texas’ oil country and attack ONLY the women who self-identify as “Hispanic”.
We live in hard times.
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