The Wall Street Journal's on a roll on "climategate," and we recently pointed to the disturbing parallel of the parasitic relationship of government advocates and special interest groups on the global warming and salt reduction issues. Today's WSJ carries an opinion column by Daniel Henniger, "Climategate: Science Is Dying ," making another observation relevant to the salt and health debate: the use of junk science to prop up government policy goals -- whether by the Bush or Obama Administrations -- is creating, in Henniger's words, a "credibility bubble. If it pops, centuries of what we understand to be the role of science go with with it."
Henniger points out the corrosive effect on science of the environmentalists'-touted "precautionary principle" whereby objective standards of evidence are replaced by subjective judgments -- "this slippery and variable intellectual world has crossed into the hard sciences."
Henniger quotes an Obama Administration spokesperson on the "precautionary principle:"
The Obama administration's new head of policy at EPA, Lisa Heinzerling, is an advocate of turning precaution into standard policy. In a law-review article titled "Law and Economics for a Warming World," Ms. Heinzerling wrote, "Policy formation based on prediction and calculation of expected harm is no longer relevant; the only coherent response to a situation of chaotically worsening outcomes is a precautionary policy. . . ."
If the new ethos is that "close-enough" science is now sufficient to achieve political goals, serious scientists should be under no illusion that politicians will press-gang them into service for future agendas. Everyone working in science, no matter their politics, has an stake in cleaning up the mess revealed by the East Anglia emails.
The tie to salt, we hope, is obvious. In the absence of evidence from even a single controlled trial of whether salt reduction would improve health and in the absence of any evidence that physiological salt appetite can be modified as a "behavior" by either education of policy diktat, the government errs on the side of precaution. I use "err" purposefully since the current policy is erroneous both on the science and even on the question of precaution. Low-salt diets are risky for some people and may be risky for the entire population. So even advocates of the "precautionary principle" should favor our longstanding advocacy of a controlled trial to get the evidence right. Close isn't "close enough for government work."
A commentary by Bret Stephens in today's Wall Street Journal , "Climategate: Follow the Money," raises issues, believe it or not, that pertain directly to salt. Salt? Bear with me. Stephens explains:
Climategate, as readers of these pages know, concerns some of the world's leading climate scientists working in tandem to block freedom of information requests, blackball dissenting scientists, manipulate the peer-review process, and obscure, destroy or massage inconvenient temperature data—facts that were laid bare by last week's disclosure of thousands of emails from the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit, or CRU.
We have no direct evidence that World Action on Salt and Health (WASH) and its salt reductionist members are engaged in such nefarious activities, but Stephens goes on to explain how "follow the money" makes sense when you take off the blinders that only money coming from corporate sources may be influencing a policy debate. "Money" is why we continue to see studies of salt and blood pressure when everyone accepts a relationship and why we're seeing more observational studies of the right question: salt and health outcomes. But the reluctance of the federal government to fund a controlled trial of salt and health outcomes may be linked to the tangled web of "money" as well.
Consider that thought when reading what Stephens says about the devotion of the universities and groups advocating on global warming:
(T)hey depend on an inherently corrupting premise, namely that the hypothesis on which their livelihood depends has in fact been proved. Absent that proof, everything they represent—including the thousands of jobs they provide—vanishes. This is what's known as a vested interest, and vested interests are an enemy of sound science.
Which brings us back to the climategate scientists, the keepers of the keys to the global warming cathedral. In one of the more telling disclosures from last week, a computer programmer writes of the CRU's temperature database: "I am very sorry to report that the rest of the databases seems to be in nearly as poor a state as Australia was. . . . Aarrggghhh! There truly is no end in sight. . . . We can have a proper result, but only by including a load of garbage!"
This is not the sound of settled science, but of a cracking empirical foundation. And however many billion-dollar edifices may be built on it, sooner or later it is bound to crumble.
Today, the US House of Representatives will vote on a "cap-and-trade" climate change bill embodying the mindset of Al Gore's "inconvenient truth" argument. Thus, today's Wall Street Journal editorial, a last-gasp attempt to deflect the Democrat's legislative steamroller on Capitol Hill, notes that popular skepticism on "climate change" is on the rise around the world. Notably, the argument isn't being framed that "we can't afford it" in troubled economic times; no, the argument is advanced that the science underlying the entire response is flawed: scientific doubts are growing that man-made "greenhouse gas" emissions are a threat. The WSJ attributes the rush to pass cap-and-trade and its multi-trillion-dollar cost-shifting scheme to global warming proponents' foreboding about the concept's eroding prospects.
If the science of global warming is changing, the concept has had prominent skeptics from the beginning. Doubters were overwhelmed by alarmist activists who made dire warnings a favorite media theme. Efforts to secure access to the scientific studies underlying the global warming promotion have been systematically thwarted. Proponents have labeled skeptics as "deniers," affixing them with a popular image akin to those who deny the well-documented Holocaust.
Whatever our personal views on the legitimacy of the science on global warming, there is an eerie parallel process running in the nutrition-and-health debate.
Prominent independent scientists note the absence of evidence for a health outcomes benefit among those consuming low-sodium diets. Questions remain unanswered about the efficacy of reducing and sustaining lower population sodium intakes and, in particular, about the untested hypothesis that substituting low-sodium foods will reduce an individual's sodium intake. Independent analysis of government-funded data is systematically foreclosed. Skeptics are lambasted personally for failing to toe the policy line in a broad pattern of intimidation. And the food industry has resorted to an acceptance of the sodium hypothesis and based its defense on the unfeasibility of some of the remedial policy responses (akin to complaints that cap-and-trade would export American jobs and crush economic vitality). Finally, alarmists press for urgent action with warnings of dire consequences.
The WSJ editorial concludes:
[Climate change opponents] in the U.S. have, in recent years, turned ever more to the cost arguments against climate legislation. That's made sense in light of the economic crisis. If Speaker Nancy Pelosi fails to push through her bill, it will be because rural and Blue Dog Democrats fret about the economic ramifications. Yet if the rest of the world is any indication, now might be the time for U.S. politicians to re-engage on the science.
Those who would stand in the path of cap-and-trade have an uphill fight against a Congressional majority with vigorous White House support. Science hasn't been able to gain traction in the public debate.
The very different scientific issues at play in the salt and health controversy are headed down this same pathway unless we can, as the WSJ says, "re-engage on the science."
One other parallel: Climate, like physiology, responds to immutable laws of nature, whether we understand those principles or not and whether our policy responses anticipate the consequences of our interventions.
So, let's work for re-engagement on the science, greater data transparency and, above all, a focus on the quality of the data upon which our momentous public policy decisions are based.
Government advisers in the UK are making menu recommendations in order to cut out what they deem to be “high carbon” foods. The Committee on Climate Change has evaluated the methane produced by burping sheep and cows and the carbon footprint of many foods and has pronounced that citizens must change their eating habits.
“Changing our lifestyles, including our diets, is going to be one of the crucial elements in cutting carbon emissions,” said David Kennedy, chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change.
The Carbon Trust, a government-funded firm, is working with food and drink companies to determine the carbon footprints of products.
I am relieved to note that chocolate has a smaller footprint than chicken. But common sense and time spent on farms leads me to question their assertion that lambs burp more than cows. Yes, believe it or not, government bureaucrats are spending money to determine whether sheep burp more than cows.
If about now you are wondering if this is satire or serious, a Saturday Night Live skit or truly a story from the Times, you may wish to read this absurdity for yourself .
It appears there is no end in sight to the quest for government control over what we eat.
You've probably read press accounts of the attack on environmentalists levied by Czech president Vaclav Klaus at his National Press Club news conference yesterday. Klaus, a renowned economist who has erected a thriving market economy on the ashes of his country's bankrupt communist system, was in town promoting his new book: Blue Planet in Green Shackles -- What is endangered: Climate or Freedom? He also renewed his challenge to former US VP Al Gore to a debate on the issues. He told the crowd:
"The largest threat to freedom, democracy, the market economy and prosperity at the beginning of the 21st century is no longer socialism. It is, instead, the ambitious, arrogant, unscrupulous ideology of environmentalism. Like their [communist] predecessors, they will be certain that they have the right to sacrifice man and his freedom to make their idea reality. In the past, it was in the name of the Marxists or of the proletariat -- this time, in the name of the planet."
Whatever your views on the arrogance or scientific credibilty of the environmental movement, it was Klaus' comments in response to media questions afterwards that caught my eye. Asked why global warming is presented to the public as the overwhelming, consensus position of scientists, Klaus responded, according to John Fund of the Wall Street Journal, explalining that
the careers and funding sources of many scientists now are dependent on 'climate alarmism' and climate alarmists have become an interest group with the power to intimidate into silence skeptical colleagues and public figures. The climate issue, he added, 'is in the hands of climatologists and other related scientists who are highly motivated to look in one direction only.'
Klaus could have been talking about the salt and health issue where anti-salt proponents have tried to convince the public that critics of their views, despite their professional prominence and unassailable credentials, should be ignored and that they, the anti-salt crowd, Not only are major voices in this group funded heavily by the government agency, but careers are enhanced by toeing the government's anti-salt line.
Perhaps Klaus should review The (Political) Science of Salt by Gary Taubes. It would be wonderful to have this courageous national leader tell truth to those in authority on salt and health.
For all those who fear the impact of salt on growing crops here is interesting news. Researchers report that growing cherry tomatoes in salty water can make them tastier and richer in antioxidants. Seawater irrigation puts an environmental stress on the the tomato plants that causes them to produce more vitamin C, vitamin E, and dihydrolipoic and chlorogenic acids.in an attempt to cope with the stressful conditions.
It also improves the flavor of the tomatoes.