Election 2012: More Budget Gridlock

A couple items on this ballot involve taxes and debts. While I would not normally oppose Resolution 8221 to reduce the amount of debt Washington holds, it is on the ballot with Initiative 1185 which is yet another measure to require a super majority to raise state revenues. The idea of further restricting the state’s ability to raise money at the same time as we reduce its ability to hold debt strikes me as absurd.

Election 2012: Support Equality and Gay Marriage

Vote yes on R-74 to support equal rights. Referendum 74 will finally make gay marriage legal in Washington. The state legislature actually already passed (and the governor signed) a law to legalize gay marriage. However, opponents of gay marriage managed to get enough signatures to suspend the law, requiring it go to the voters. So here we are.

Randomness and Samples: Why that GM corn study isn't as scary as you think

This past week a new study came out finding a connection between glyphosate-tolerant corn and cancer (and also Roundup and cancer). You can read more about the study at the BBC or this Discover post. But here I want to expand on the main reason I was immediately skeptical: the small number of control animals compared to experimental animals. I struggled with how to express what seemed obvious to me (my statistics training is scattered) and a person I follow on twitter put up a post which mostly got there. I later made a comment on a Mother Jones story about the study in a similar fashion. I want to elaborate on that here to hopefully make it clear that (perhaps surprisingly) interesting (or scary in this case) data can actually just be random.

Pasta e Fagioli Mad Libs

As a kid, my mom used to make a very simple version of pasta e fagioli that could mostly come together with canned or dried goods: pasta, canned chick peas, tinned tomatoes, oil, garlic and onion. We also pronounced it “pasta fazool”. As an adult I dress it up and fill in the blanks with whatever I feel like. And I fancily try to pronounce the Italian. Mine is also not a “soupy” pasta e fagioli and tends more towards oily gravy. Since we made it last night with some fresh cranberry beans, I thought I’d share this very simple but awesome vegetarian dinner.

A Moral Case for Golden Rice

Golden Rice is in the news again. Sadly, it’s not in the news for saving lives or preventing blindness by decreasing vitamin A deficiency. No, Greenpeace is alleging a recent study on effectiveness was improperly done. Further, they’re trying to halt a field trial in the Philippines. But I don’t want to talk about the intransigent position of a dogmatically anti-GMO organization which leads them to malign the ethics of scientists with little evidence. I want everyone to know what Golden Rice is and why I think it is good way to improve the lives of millions of people.

Arctic Drilling? What About the Niger Delta?

I regularly get emails from environmental groups about stopping Shell from drilling in the Arctic. I know that many organizations I don’t get emails from also spend a lot of time on it (e.g. Greenpeace). Today I had enough. I honestly just don’t care that much about stopping Arctic drilling.

The Pesticide Conversation is Broken

From previous posts you might get the impression that I think concerns about the pesticide clothianidin are small and not important. But almost every single conventional corn seed in the United States gets pesticide coatings, usually including a neonicotinoid and a fungicide. It’s unlikely that every field actually needs that neonicotinoid seed coating to maintain yields. Leaving aside impacts on bees, that kind of use could drive pest resistance quickly. Unlike Bt traits in most of those same corn kernels, there’s no requirement to have refuges for pesticides. So, I do actually care about pesticide use but the conversation is so broken it’s hard to be “in the middle”. Overuse of pesticides isn’t limited to clothianidin. If we restricted clothianidin, there are other pesticides available … which would also be over-used.

Why Didn't the EPA Ban Clothianidin?

The EPA recently rejected an emergency petition to ban clothianidin due to colony collapse disorder (CCD). The tone of posts and stories about this are that it’s just amazing that the EPA wouldn’t ban clothianidin — it’s a bee-killing pesticide after all! There’s even a petition to ask the EPA to reconsider. An excerpt to give an idea of tone:

Positions, Science and Values

I’ve recently finished reading The Geek Manifesto by Mark Henderson. While there’s a lot more to it than what I’m going to talk about here, it did give me better words for describing why I find certain political positions (and ways of advocating for them) frustrating. Many people are holding a belief for values-based reasons but claim evidence (usually scientific) for why they do. This avoids discussing the real underlying issues and so nothing can be resolved.

How to Use S3 as a Private Git Repository

The files that generate the content for this website are stored in a git repository (for those that aren’t software people, “git” is a version control system that lets you keep a history of files in a logical way, including all changes over time). When I first started, I just kept it locally on my personal laptop (backed up to an external hard drive occasionally).

Fukushima Mutant Butterfly Followup

It’s been a few days since I posted about the media coverage of the study on mutation in butterflies around Fukushima. I’ve been following a few stories on it since then and I think the most important take-away from this kind of study is that science is complicated and hard to report on. I realize this is obvious and I thought it was obvious before. I also chose to primarily criticize an article that fits the Robbins’ spoof format pretty well which is perhaps unfair.