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Science and Business: Imperfect Partners

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For those of you that read this blog (thank you!) and those who just started (thank you!), you’ll know from previous entries that I don’t question science.

Science is an ever-expanding, quantifiable universe of facts.

Motives, however, clog and obfuscate the results of scientific research.

Profit motives make the situation even more grotesque, delivering monstrous results and companies become excellent saboteurs of their own objectives.

This recent article about clinical testing proves my suspicions about the blurring of lines between pure science and the companies and institutions that oversee the results that are derived from research.

And that ultimately drives public policy.

For 20 years, the U.S. government has urged companies, universities, and other institutions that conduct clinical trials to record their results in a federal database, so doctors and patients can see whether new treatments are safe and effective. Few trial sponsors have consistently done so, even after a 2007 law made posting mandatory for many trials registered in the database. In 2017, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tried again, enacting a long-awaited “final rule” to clarify the law’s expectations and penalties for failing to disclose trial results. The rule took full effect 2 years ago, on 18 January 2018, giving trial sponsors ample time to comply. But a Science investigation shows that many still ignore the requirement, while federal officials do little or nothing to enforce the law.

Science examined more than 4700 trials whose results should have been posted on the NIH website ClinicalTrials.gov under the 2017 rule. Reporting rates by most large pharmaceutical companies and some universities have improved sharply, but performance by many other trial sponsors—including, ironically, NIH itself—was lackluster. Those sponsors, typically either the institution conducting a trial or its funder, must deposit results and other data within 1 year of completing a trial. But of 184 sponsor organizations with at least five trials due as of 25 September 2019, 30 companies, universities, or medical centers never met a single deadline. As of that date, those habitual violators had failed to report any results for 67% of their trials and averaged 268 days late for those and all trials that missed their deadlines. They included such eminent institutions as the Harvard University–affiliated Boston Children’s Hospital, the University of Minnesota, and Baylor College of Medicine—all among the top 50 recipients of NIH grants in 2019.

Let that sink in for a second. Take a minute. Hell, take an hour if you want.

2 of out 3 scientific results were NOT reported, even though required to do so.

Three years later, TrialsTracker conservatively estimates that FDA could have collected more than $6 billion in ClinicalTrials.gov penalties so far. The agency has yet to demand a single dollar. And despite more than 2600 trials for which results are overdue or were filed late, NIH has yet to withhold a single grant as a result or post a single violation notice on ClinicalTrials.gov. No “wall of shame” exists.

“Public-facing websites run by the government should be accurate. That’s not asking much,” Senator Chuck Grassley (R–IA), who advocated for the 2007 law, wrote in an email after reviewing a summary of the Science findings. “It’s a question of basic management and agency competence. The government has a duty to police its work product, especially because the public trusts .gov websites will be accurate and reliable.”

To physician Ben Goldacre, who directs the Oxford program behind TrialsTracker, “The lack of urgency is really troubling.”

When tests, data runs and analysis fail to deliver results – IN A BIG WAY – we as the public need to be very concerned about what this means, especially when the vast majority of these tests relate to products and prescriptions that are delivered every single day in our over-medicated community.

Please understand again when I say I don’t doubt the science.

I doubt the organizations that hide the truths that the science reveals simply so that they can make a buck.

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Public Policy, Local Farming and Climate Change

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This is a third ‘New Years’ series on public expenditures at regulations, especially at the local / municipal level.

For the other two, see my thoughts on:

This piece looks at the impact of municipal regulations concerning private land use with residential properties.

In short, we need to develop a national plan that encourages municipalities to enact legislation on a local level that will allow homeowners to convert their lawns to productive gardens and micro-crops.

Background

The lawn. The sprawling, radiating bright green lawn.

Image result for the perfect lawnMany people obsess about it and over the last century, it’s become a symbol of success and pride for many suburban dwellers.

They trim, cut, manicure and coddle their lawns like it’s their first-born, needy and wanting nutrition and endless attention. Weeds and pests are removed – manually, chemically, rapidly.

Entire industries – seed, sod, machines, landscaping businesses – exist because of the LAWN.

Spare me.

There are few things that are more wasteful and decadent than a well-nurtured lawn.

Thankfully, I’m not the only one that feels this way.

Sustainable Foodscaping

Like other articles (see above), change (especially with ‘traditional’ mindset) is needed as opposed to radical removal or withdrawal from a system.

I don’t want to put well-meaning landscapers out of business. I would love to see them manicure and help harvest the bounty that all of this real estate is capable of producing.

Sustainable Foodscaping is the active conversion of existing suburban lawns into productive food lands.

It makes sense. To build these houses and yards, we encouraged the willful destruction of some of the most productive soils that humanity has ever seen. We allow the outright clearcutting of forests, removal of ecosystems and habitats all so that we can play and wander in our perfectly trimmed three inch greenery.

Sustainable Foodscaping simply encourages homeowners to make better use of their property.

Foodscaping isn’t the answer to all of our problems, but it’s a way of changing our culture from one that’s all about consumption and convenience to one that’s patient and more aware of our surroundings. Foodscaping is food and gardening education from start to finish.

In order to make Sustainable Foodscaping a better reality, municipalities need to follow national directives that permit homeowners and landowners to modify the use of their property from inert, resource sucking football fields into productive and valuable food production not only for the homeowners, but also for markets, charities and regional suppliers.

Image result for sustainable foodscaping

If we don’t and the various ‘rebels’ do what they want to improve this planet, I’m sure we’ll have endless stories about cranky neighbours calling each other out and complaining to local authorities, with local authorities responding with heavy-handed penalties, fines and other embarrassing scenarios.

As mentioned, new markets should be encouraged rather than shut down and individuals should have the means and knowledge with how to save, store and preserve their output so that they can enjoy their efforts during the colder seasons of the year.

This is very possible and the impact will be profound:

  1. Reductions in the carbon footprint of consumers that produce their own food instead of seeking out the latest imported products
  2. Sharing resources and even tools that will make it easier for homeowners
  3. Creation of habitats for bees, birds, butterflies and other creatures
  4. Massive cost reduction with food budgets for individuals
  5. A shift from a meat-based protein diet to a healthier, greener plant-based diet

With all this said, we’re going to do our best this year to implement a new lawn regime that is ideal for our environment, not our neighbour’s eyes.

Resources

Sustainable “Foodscaping” in Geneva, Switzerland where communities have worked together, neighbours consult and plan what each will grow so they can share and trade food. Imagine if we all did Foodscaping?

What is Foodscaping? https://www.thedailymeal.com/foodscaping-fancy-word-gardeni…

Russian Family Gardens Produce 40% of Russian Food https://healthimpactnews.com/…/russian-family-gardens-prod…/

How to grow a 3 sisters garden (Traditional Native American approach): http://flusterbuster.com/2013/03/gardens-3-sisters.html

An In-Depth Companion Planting Guide (which seeds to plant together, also information on which plants will keep away certain animals and insects). https://www.motherearthnews.com/…/companion-planting-guide-…

Natural farming methods (a beginner’s guide): https://monterayfarm.com/…/natural-farming-methods-a-begin…/

List of companion plants: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_companion_plants

Natural farming (Japanese ecological farming approach):https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_farming

Indigenous Three Sisters “Companion” Gardening Method https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qi5IrIOAOnQ

Related: The Biggest Little Farm (2019) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=daB6ync3Ytg

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Public Transit and the Fallacy of Induced Demand

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This article is one of many that appear on the Strong Towns blog (well worth reading) and they mention the concept of ‘induced demand’ for public transit.

They use this image as a key reminder about the impact our decisions have on congestion:

Car-v-Bus-v-Pedestrians

It’s a great image.

Unfortunately, it’s horse shit.

For starters, I commonly see this GIF used to support encouraging municipalities everywhere to spend public money on bus infrastructure. I understand the basic math associated with the image showing single people in 200 cars, but let’s not overlook the fact that too frequently, large buses service too many routes for too few people, especially in smaller towns. Obviously, this experience may be different in larger cities.

I accept the premise related to induced demand, but also remind readers to reflect on the comments and economics associated with Giffen goods (ie. inelastic demand associated with goods that people have a vested interest to use, ie. cars that they own).

Demand does not simply *shift* from one mode of transportation (private car use) to another (public buses), assuming the second option (public transit) gets them from ‘A to B’ in the same amount of time.

This is because many consumers are faced basically duplicating their cost. A car is a sunk cost, representing the need to be used before consumers will consider another service. It’s easy to assume that most commuters (again, outside major urban areas that have effective public transit) will have a car. Adding bus fare to their costs may not be a feasible economic option.

Also, I’m a data nerd. In order to justify public investment in transit infrastructure, especially buses, we need to aggressively track the use of public services and record on their popularity. Test before invest. This is what private companies do when launching new products. We need to do more in the public before forcing everyone to jostle around cumbersome, unused buses.

If we show that single routes don’t get riders, we need to understand why before dumping public money into the ‘if we build it, they will come’ mindset.

Finally, I’ve mentioned this before on this blog, but the ‘big bus’ mindset may have to disappear in favour of new ideas. The weight of these vehicles are destroying road infrastructure faster than passenger cars and we need to consider at least five things as we build public transportation infrastructure:

  1. Trains first. Always. A separate infrastructure results in separate load requirements.
  2. Smaller buses, especially for connecting routes.
  3. Private-public partnerships, including creative alliances with ride-sharing programs.
  4. Better planning related to pedestrian and cyclist routes (and not making them secondary considerations to road construction). We need to separate cars/trucks from non-car commuters.
  5. Encouraging ‘work from home’ or the development of smaller, regional economic nodes that ease the burden on commuting.

I conclude with the common ‘I believe in public transit’ statement because, well, I do. Using cars twice a day to sit in parking lots the rest of the time is a complete, foolish and irresponsible waste of resources for the owners and for the public.

Also, the duplication of expense points to one simple solution:

PUBLIC TRANSIT SHOULD BE FREE.

We do this for health care and many food programs. We should do it for public transportation.

When the cost consideration is removed, especially for those who need it most, we don’t have to make assumptions about use. It will exist.

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What a Waste

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CBC’s Marketplace show investigates the ultimate destination of plastics and other ‘recyclable’ materials that we diligently bring to the curb every week.

The findings were not good.

One company – Wate Connections – just added the materials to landfill.

Waste Connections is an American company with a Canadian subsidiary based in Ontario (they say they moved their headquarters to Canada for tax reasons, but are still active across North America). Here’s more information about the company and here’s their website.

Another – GFL – burned it, apparently not caring about the implications for PCB or other chemical waste being pumped into the air.

GFL is also apparently a Canadian company that services all of North America. Its list of subsidiaries is extensive and the value of its business on an annual basis is about $5 billion.

One actually did what they said they would do. Merlin Plastics is a smaller company that’s based in BC that seems to actually be doing what they promise to do: recycle plastic.

That’s 2/3rds of the companies sub-contracted by the public NOT doing what they were tasked to do.

All three companies make green promises on their websites and in promotional videos, using buzzwords like “sustainability” and “environmental solutions.” One Waste Connections video goes as far as to say, “sustainability and becoming more green … have been hallmarks and backbones of Waste Connections from the day we formed the company.”

Marketplace put those promises to the test, acquiring about nine tonnes of film plastic, mostly shopping bags, that had already been sorted and crushed into square bales. Since the bales were already compressed and ready for processing, the trackers wouldn’t get crushed or lost in the sorting process.

Are these companies are stealing from the public under the guise of being environmentally responsible? How much money has the public funneled to these companies to simply ‘erase’ our plastic decadence?

Let’s face it: just taking the crap away isn’t going to solve our plastic problem.

We need to drastically reduce our reliance on plastic and have a plan to reuse what we make more efficiently.

Right now, here’s the situation:

According to Greenpeace, nearly half of Canada’s plastic waste exports were sent to China before the country cut its imports of scrap plastic in 2018.

Even when China was an option, the federal study of Canada’s plastic industry markets shows only nine per cent of Canadian plastics were getting recycled.

That means of the 3.3 million metric tonnes of plastic consumed by Canadians in a year, about 2.8 million metric tonnes were thrown away as garbage.

We – citizens of the planet, especially those that mass consume like there’s no tomorrow – are allowing too much plastic to enter our lives.

It seems like plastics were introduced only within the last generation, but we all know that it will take many generations to solve this problem.

This has to stop.

That means we need legislation NOW that forces companies to do the following:

  1. Minimize plastic use with packaging and other materials for consumer goods
  2. Eliminate plastic whenever possible from the supply chain
  3. Tax plastic use that is not eliminated from the supply chain
  4. Force companies to use plastics that can be EASILY recycled into new materials (ie. no PCBs or other secondary chemicals that might have to be accounted for in the recycling process).

Like the climate change ‘debate’, proponents of plastics fail to see the opportunity in all of this. Requiring a FULL recycle process for plastics and other consumer materials will create economic opportunity with respect to supplying re-used and properly recycled materials for public consumption.

In the interim, we need to pursue the companies that are defrauding taxpayers.

The end result is that we may find that the ‘Blue Bin’ program is unsustainable. The mission will be to minimize our plastic waste to such an extent that we don’t need to spend billions subsidizing companies like Waste Connections, GFL or others.

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We Don’t Deserve This Planet: Australia Edition

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Apparently, half the country up in flames isn’t enough to alter the profoundly stupid and ignorant position of the Australian government.

Apparently, there is no link between the fires raging across the continent and climate change.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his emissions reduction minister, Angus Taylor, say Australia does not need to cut carbon emissions more aggressively to limit global warming, even after a three-year drought and unprecedented bushfires.

Instead they say Australia, which contributes 1.3% of the world’s carbon emissions but is the second-largest emitter per capita behind the United States, should be rewarded for beating its emissions reduction targets for 2020.

“When it comes to reducing global emissions, Australia must and is doing its bit, but bushfires are a time when communities must unite, not divide,” Taylor said in emailed comments to Reuters on Tuesday, while he was busy at bushfire relief centers in his constituency in New South Wales state.

Stepping up efforts to cut emissions would harm the economy, the government argues, especially if it hurt Australia’s exports of coal and gas. The country last year overtook Qatar as the world’s top exporter of liquefied natural gas.

I get it … they don’t give a flying fuck about the planet or their country, but at what point does the rest of the planet have to put up with this bullshit?

Destroying the planet is no longer an option. You don’t own it, you don’t have a right to destroy it.

We don’t deserve this planet.

Sigh.

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