PSYETA goes a little crazy

Its Spring 1998 newsletter says
that Psychologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is “an independent
… non-profit organization comprised of psychologists working in
cooperation with other professional and animal rights organizations to change the way individuals and society as a whole treat non-human animals.”
After reading the newsletter, though, I’d say they’re a classic
case of the inmates loose in the asylum.

Consider the leadoff article in
the newsletter by Theodora Capaldo and Lorin Lindner, “PSYETA: Radicals
or Realists?” The article starts by describing child abuse and domestic
violence and tries to link those phenomenon with abuse of animals. Certainly
children who take out their anger by abusing animals need help, but PSYETA
goes much further maintaining that “membership in a nonhuman species
is no further justification for the deprivation of natural rights than
race, age, sexual preference, gender or any other categorization.”
Unfortunately, they don’t even attempt to develop or highlight any
specific “natural rights” theory.

Of course PSYETA believes this
puts “psychology in the forefront of moving society up the evolutionary
ladder of consciousness and moral development, PSYETA invites it to consider
another frontier, ‘speciesism.’”

Evolutionary ladder of consciousness
and moral development? Are people with PhDs really allowed to get their
degrees without even rudimentary training in evolutionary
biology? The idea of an “evolutionary ladder of consciousness”
is a religious belief, not a claim grounded in the reality of evolutionary
biology. This is the sort of nonsense I’d expect to read in a magazine
such as New Age or Whole Earth Review.

Capaldo and Lindner don’t
do much better in an extraordinarily lame effort to link violence against
animals with violence toward human beings when they claim “violence
toward animals is correlated with violence toward humans.” Certainly.
But you can pick any two variables you like and correlate them. This is
akin to me saying that protests by animal rights groups are correlated
with violence against human beings or that the amount of ice cream consumed
by Californians is correlated with volcanic activity in Asia. It is a
claim that is trivially true; any variable can be correlated with any
other variable.

Not so trivial is their view of
violence against animals. Lindner and Capaldo claim, “one necessary
step in doing this [understanding and preventing violence] is taking abuse
toward animals as seriously as other forms of violence.” Remember,
now, that Lindner and Capaldo earlier argued that there is no basis for
discriminating between humans and nonhumans when it comes to rights. So
should the slaughter of a cow to make hamburger be treated as seriously
as the rape and murder of a woman? Should a farmer raising chickens be considered on par with a serial killer? These would
seem to logically follow from Lindner and Capaldo’s claims.

Ultimately Lindner and Capaldo
return to their semi-religious musings about the role of psychologists:

We are convinced that the way humans treat nonhuman species causes
unnecessary suffering and violence to millions of sentient beings and
has a profound impact on our moral, ethical, psychological and spiritual
development. Psychologists, who should have a great capacity for empathy
and compassion, need to be in the forefront of efforts to eliminate
pain and suffering wherever it occurs. In this post-Cartesian-era, psychologists
/ scientists can no longer hide behind the erroneous belief that animals
do not feel or that if they do, their feelings do not matter. We cannot
continue to believe that what can be learned or gotten from animals
can be done so at their expense.

Throughout their piece the duo celebrate
their compassion, empathy and emotion, apparently unaware that they are
poor substitutes for sound reasoning and logic, both of which are noticeably
absent from their rambling.

What causes declines in fish populations?

For the most environmentalists and population advocates have a simple answer
to that question — human beings cause declines in fish population. While overfishing
and the lack of enforceable property rights over fish catches is certainly a
major cause of fluctuations in fish populations, it’s not the whole story.

In fact there is mounting evidence that even in the absence of human beings,
fish populations fluctuate wildly. Timothy Baumgartner of the Scripps Institution
of Oceanography in San Diego is studying how much of the fluctuations are due
to human beings and how much are due to natural causes by examining the historical
record of fish scales in ocean sediments.

Baumgartner, along with biomathematician Robert Francis, have already tracked
the fluctuations of some species around Southern California back 100 years and
hope to extend that even farther back as far as 1,000 years ago.

Geologist Bruce Finney is doing much the same work studying fluctuations in
salmon in Alaska. Alaskan salmon have experienced wild fluctuations from enormous
declines in the 1950s and 1960s usually blamed on overfishing to current record
levels. So far Finney’s findings suggest such fluctuations occurred long before
modern fishing fleets began catching salmon.

Source:

Follow the bouncing fishes: why fish populations fluctuate. Lee Dye, ABCNEWS.com,
May 27, 1998.

Oil Prices Continue to Plummet

So far 1998 is turning into OPEC’s worst nightmare. On June 11, crude
oil set a 10-year low when it fell to $12.75 a barrel. A week later it promptly
set a 12-year low by plummeting to an average price of $10.11 per barrel —
half of the official OPEC target of $21. Adjust that selling price for inflation
and oil is near its low for the 20th century.

This after OPEC nations pledge in March to cut production by 1.72 million
barrels. The precipitous fall induced OPEC nations to pledge once again to cut
oil production, though most analysts again doubt whether OPEC has the ability
or will to do so.

The situation is not likely to brighten for OPEC nations anytime soon. The
United Nations clearly seems on a path of removing economic sanctions from Iraq,
perhaps as early as October, which is likely to flood the world market with
even more oil. Meanwhile demand from Asia is likely to remain depressed as the
economic crisis there continues.

As one trader in a Reuters story was quoted as saying, “It doesn’t
look very good. It might go lower. There s nothing supporting the market right
now. Unless we get some bullish news, this is going to continue to drop.”

Despite the drop in oil prices, however, gasoline prices in the United States
were up slightly to $1.14 a gallon nationwide as seasonal demand exerts an effect.

Most analysts agree that about the only thing that could help OPEC now would
be a coordinated drastic cut in oil output. Unfortunately time is working against
the success of such a move. Since so much oil is already in the pipeline, so
to speak, even a cut of 1 million barrels per day might take several months
to register significant price increases.

Sources:

Crude oil futures drop to lowest level in nearly decade. Herbert G. McCann,
Associated Press, June 11, 1998.

OPEC faces uphill battle against worst crude oil market in years. Dirk Beveridge,
Associated Press, June 17, 1998.

Oil prices drop to lowest point since 1986. Reuters News Service, June 15,
1998.

Lundberg: gas prices up, not down. Associated Press, June 15, 1998.

Gulf oil states hesitant on more output cuts. Steven Swindells, Reuters, June
14, 1998.

Oil stagnates at $13. Reuters, June 12, 1998

Dropping crude oil prices hit 12-year lows this week. Andrew Kelly, Reuters,
June 18, 1998.

Worst of North Korean famine may be over

Although many North Koreans are reported to be surviving famine in that country
by eating bark and wild plants, officials with the World Food Program suggest
the worst of the famine may be over.

According to Abigail Spring, a WFP official, “I think it’s possible
that we’ve prevented a famine.” Spring noted that although children
she saw on a recent visit are in poor health they no longer seemed to be extraordinarily
thin.

Not to say North Korea might not slip into famine at any moment. Much will
depend on how much rain the country gets in the next few months.

Over the long term, however, the latest famine may be finally getting through
to North Korea’s dictators that their stranglehold on the nation’s
economy is counterproductive. In an agreement with the U.N. Development Program,
North Korea agreed to allow small farmers to sell their crops on the open market
in exchange for up to $300 million in foreign aid.

Other reforms include allowing agricultural cooperatives to trade among themselves.
Christian Lemaire, a UN representative in North Korea believes the concessions
are significant.

“It’s a different picture which is emerging,” Lemaire said.
“They acknowledge changes they have to make.”

And it only took them 40 years and millions of deaths to figure it out.

Sources:

North Koreans living on bark, wild plants, aid officials say. Associated Press,
June 21, 1998.

North Korea takes steps toward market economy. Robert H. Reid, Associated
Press, June 4, 1998.

Regional Food Security Seminar gets underway in Zimbabwe while WFP release emergency report on Africa

Zimbabwe hosted a two-day regional conference on food security in June sponsored
by the Dutch Institute for Advocacy on Development Policy and Christian Care
Zimbabwe to look at ways to increase food supply and security in the region.
John De Waard, a representative from the Dutch embassy, urged African nations
to learn from Europe’s agricultural policies in setting their own.

Meanwhile the World Food Projected released a report outlining current food
emergencies in Africa. Among the nations facing food problems are:

Sudan – two WFP officials were killed and four injured in an attack in Sudan.
Although air drops of food to southern Sudan began in early June, hunger is
now spreading to communities who a few months ago did not need it.

Angola – cereal production for 1998 is forecasted to increase 38 percent
from last year, but continued problems with transportation mean international
aid will need to continue at least through 1999. Daily attacks by what’s
left of UNITA continue

Uganda – increased fighting has kept aid work to a minimum.

Burundi – WFP dropped major food shipments in Karuzi and Kirundu provinces.

Sources:

National Food Security Seminar Begins. Panafrican News Agency, June 17, 1998.

WFP Emergency Report No. 24 – Africa. June 12, 1998.

Dr. Spock, AntiDairy Coalition take aim at milk

In the latest (posthumous) edition
of Benjamin Spock’s Baby and Child Care, the famous pediatrician
attacks meat and milk arguing that, “children can get plenty of protein
and iron from vegetables, beans and other plant foods that avoid the fat
and cholesterol that are in animal products.” Meanwhile a newly formed
group called the AntiDairy Coalition made its debut in June decrying “the
health and nutritional risks of consuming dairy products.”

What’s going on here? I tend
to agree with one of Spock’s friends, pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton,
who described Spock’s recommendations as “absolutely insane.”
Much the same applies to the AntiDairy Coalition.

Lets tackle Spock first. According
to Spock’s co-author, Steven J. Parker (who also believes Spock’s
dietary advice is too extreme), the famous pediatrician believed his conversion
to vegetarianism helped extend his life. But Spock didn’t become
a vegetarian until he was 87 years old. Clearly his meat and dairy eating
did not interfere with his longevity in any meaningful way.

Second, as Brazelton told the New
York Times
, “Meat is an excellent source of the iron and protein
children need, and to take away milk from children, I think that’s
really dangerous. Milk is needed for calcium and vitamin D.”

As junk science debunker Steve Milloy noted, after becoming
a vegetarian Spock lost 50 pounds (a phenomenon which most vegetarians
claim to be a beneficial result from a vegetarian diet), but for children
the most important dietary need is ensuring steady weight gain.

Besides, ever try to get a toddler
to eat kale?

As for the AntiDairy Coalition,
this group merely repeated the same old unsubstantiated conjectures about
milk that have become articles of faith among animal rights activists.

For example, take the AntiDairy
Coalition’s claims about milk’s ability to cause allergies.
According to the Coalition, since milk is full of protein and proteins
can trigger allergies, the large increase in asthma over the last 20 years
or so must be caused by protein in milk. Can someone say post hoc?

Similarly the Coalition notes that women in the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway and Sweden both a) consume
lots of milk and b) have high rates of breast cancer. Milk consumption, therefore,
must cause breast cancer. Again, this is classic post hoc reasoning that
is unsupported by any evidence. Readers should want and expect the ADC
to present serious epidemiological studies documenting these effect.

Certainly a diet excessively high
in dairy products may be harmful and some people do suffer from lactose
intolerance. In its attempts at scare mongering, however, the ADC vastly
exaggerates the problem — moderate milk and dairy consumption can be
part of a healthy lifestyle.