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Pandora’s Lab: Seven Stories of Science Gone Wrong, by Paul A. Offit, M.D.. National Geographic, 2017

This is the story about unintended consequences, and unleashing discoveries on the world without enough testing beforehand. The frontal lobotomy, trans fats, eugenics, the synthesis of ammonium nitrate, megavitamins, opioids, and the banning of DDT are the seven that Offit has selected as big mistakes. Some, like lobotomies and trans fats, were a horrible idea from the start. Others, like ammonium nitrate and opioids, have been used indiscriminately and created problems.

Offit gives a good history of each of these problems, from the discovery of the thing to today’s results. He gives a bibliography to back up his thesis, and the last chapter is a warning: how to learn from the past, and how to identify bad science. The book is well researched and well written, and is interesting from beginning to end.

Do I agree with everything he says? Well, no. While I agree that deaths from overdoses of opioids are a bad thing, I certainly don’t want them not used any more. Too many people with chronic pain rely on them to get up and do a day’s work; for acute pain, as in post-surgery use, there is nothing else like them. A way needs to be found to keep them from being *over* used, rather than banning them. Yes, banning DDT meant that a number of mosquito borne diseases, which had become scarce in some area, came back with a vengeance, but I don’t agree with him that no damage was ever done with DDT. We need to find a better way, such as vaccines, to deal with those diseases, not bring back a substance that is still in every single person in the world. I do love his lessons on identifying bad science; if something seems to be the answer to all kinds of questions, it’s probably bogus. Nothing cures everything. Nothing cures without the possibility of side effects. As Heinlein said, there ain’t no such thing as free lunch.



( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 6th, 2017 04:49 am (UTC)

There is no vaccine possible for malaria, as it is a parasite, and in this disease alone the banning of DDT has murdered more people than both World Wars, the Holocaust, and Stalin's purges put together, and is moving up on a figure that would allow us to throw in Mao's Cultural Revolution.

Before DDT was banned, malaria was on the verge of extinction.

There isn't a substitute that doesn't endanger the lives of the people who use it.
Feb. 6th, 2017 07:03 pm (UTC)
Not yet, there aren't, but there are malaria vaccines in the works, that kill the little parasites in your blood stream. Of course, they are exotic, DNA spliced things, and so god only knows what the effects they may have. Hopefully they'll be tested well before turning them loose. Then there is the possibility of a GMO creation that sterilizes the female mosquitoes- which of course raises the possibility that it could escape the mosquito population somehow and sterilize a whole other population that's necessary for pollinating some important crop.. nothing is without risk. There is always a piper to pay.
Feb. 6th, 2017 10:34 pm (UTC)
The original head of the EPA (thank you for that too Richard Nixon) came out with public statements about DDT's hazards based on studies that turned out to be grantsucking-- that is, fraudulent. He would not recant because it would have been undignified, and the malaria death rate is now about eight people per minute. (I am including people who die of other stuff, who would have lived if they didn't have malaria. Lots of ban apologists don't.)

The disturbing thing I have noticed about this death toll is that almost none of the victims are white.

This is also true of people in countries that are affected worst by Al Gore's ban on industrialization. Whose motivation is also based on fraudulent studies.

I do not think the agenda is what you think it is.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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