Amartya Sen wins Nobel Prize in economics

On Oct. 14, Amartya Sen was awarded the Nobel Economics Prize for his contributions
to development economics, including his analysis of famine and poverty.

Sen, 64, has often challenged the view, held by so many population doomsayers,
that lack of food is the primary cause of famine. His 1981 book, Poverty
and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation
, took up that topic
and argued that “famines have occurred even when the supply of food was
not significantly lower than during previous years” that didn’t experience

Sen has personal experience with famine – as a boy a famine struck India
when wartime inflation pushes food prices sky high, but as in most famines only
a small percentage of the population was at risk of starvation. “There
is hardly a famine that affects more than 10 percent of a population.”
Sen said. Sen argues that famines are easy to prevent in democracies where a
free press acts as a check on out-of-control politicians, whereas authoritarian
and totalitarian regimes are breeding grounds for famine because the elites
who run such nations are rarely affected by them and have no serious opposition
press or political parties.


Research on poverty and disasters earns professor Nobel for economics. Jim
Heintz, The Associated Press, October 14, 1998.

Nobel-winning work in economics was rooted in boyhood famine, winner says.
Bruce Stanley, The Associated Press, October 15, 1998.

China’s population policies come under fire

In March 1998, Chinese president
Jiang Zemin said China would intensify its population control efforts,
saying that family planning programs should be “strictly carried

A few months later, in June, a
Chinese defector, Gao Xiao Duan, testified in the US House of Representatives
that she had personally participated in a program of state-sponsored forced
abortion. GAO testified that as a provincial birth control officer, she
ordered forced abortions, the arrests of women who tried to avoid such
abortions, and many other human rights violations.

According to GAO, regional officials
who are under intense pressure to meet birth quotas, “will resort
to anything to achieve planned birth goals set by their superiors.”

The Chinese government quickly
blasted Gao’s testimony, but did appear to concede that individual officials
might be taking coercive actions.

“China, in implementing its
family planning policy, has all along stood opposed to coercive measures
in any form,” said spokesman Zhu Banazao. “As to some individual
cases of breaches in policy in the day-to-day work in the field we will
correct such practices promptly. At the same time, we stand opposed to
some people’s attempt to use this issue to distort China’s family planning.”

Genetic researchers searching for perennial food crops

A January 1998 article in New Scientist
detailed the work several groups of researchers are doing to try to create
viable perennial food crops.

Current food crops are almost all
annuals – they grow for a single season and then die, necessitating replanting
every year. Development of a perennial crop would have several advantages,
with the main one being a minimization of soil erosion. Beyond that, however,
since perennials tend to absorb more nutrients than annuals they would
likely require less fertilizer. They also tend to be more resistant to
pests and disease, and so might require less pesticides.

Plant geneticist Wes Jackson, with
the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, is experimenting with a variety
of plants from North American prairies. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s
Southern Plains Range Research Station in Woodward, Oklahoma, is working
on breeding a variant of eastern gamagass to replace sorghum as a foraging
planet. Meanwhile, the Rodale Institute in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, is
experimenting to develop a variant of wild triga to perhaps replace wheat
as a food crop.

The major obstacle in all
of these efforts is getting the perennials to retain the features which
make them advantageous while also making them appealing to farmers. Yields
for wild triga, for example, are currently only one-fifth that of wheat.
Annual crops have gone through thousands of years of selection for properties
valued by farmers and researchers developing perennials must try to duplicate
this in the lab in a much shorter period of time.

Dredging data to "prove" white meat consumption contributes to cancer

The American Journal of Epidemiology
recently published a study that animal rights and vegan/vegetarian activists
are sure to jump on – Dr. Pramil Singh and Dr. Gary Fraser of the
Center for Health Research at Loma Linda University in California claim
their study of 34,000 Seventh Day Adventists shows that white meat consumption
increases the risk of colon cancer.

Should you give up or cut back
on white meat? Certainly not based on this study, which arrives at its
results by shameless data dredging.

What’s data dredging? Suppose
I wanted to prove that vegetarians who attend animal rights protests have
a higher rate of colon cancer than vegetarians who don’t. So I get
several thousand vegetarians to fill out questionnaires detailing how
often they attend such protests.

At first I’m sorely disappointed
by the results – vegetarians who attend animal rights protests don’t
seem to get colon cancer any more often than those who stay away from
such protests. But that’s not the result I’m looking for, so
I need to get fancy with the data. I start looking at the results from
every possible angle and find an interesting trend.

While there is no general increase
in colon cancer from attending animal rights protests, I do find an oddity
that activists who regularly read Humane Society of the United States propaganda but only occasionally attend People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals-sponsored protests have lower rates of colon cancer than those
who rarely read HSUS propaganda but regularly attend PETA protests.

And so I publish my results –
I have proven that attending PETA protests increases the risk of colon


This is the sort of methodology
Singh and Fraser use. Their study, in fact, found there was no statistically significant association between read meat consumption and
colon cancer and white meat consumption and colon cancer. But that didn’t
produce the result they wanted, so they went searching for associations
in subgroups of data and found a couple.

Specifically the subgroup in their
study who reported they ate red meat more than once a week but ate white
meat only occasionally had a 90 percent increased risk of colon cancer,
while those who consumed white meat more than once per week but only occasionally
eat read meat had a 229 percent increased risk of colon cancer.


Meat consumption and colon cancer. American Journal of Epidemiology, October 15, 1998.

Study finds chicken cauces cancer too. Reuters, October, 1998.

Justice Department issues warning

A communiqué signed only by “the
Justice Department” shows what happens when movements such as animal
rights begin providing a safe haven for people bent on violence. The release
promised retaliation against any animal rights activists who provides
information on terrorist acts committed by activists. Claiming that “our
movement is currently under threat from infiltrators, informers, and violent
animal abusers,” the communiqué warns. “Former ALF activists
have been suspected of feeding information into federal agents … this
will not be tolerated.”

Citing rumors that Josh Ellerman and Colby Ellerman supplied federal authorities with detailed information about
Animal Liberation Front activities, the communiqué warns, “they [animal rights
informants] will not rest in peace once released. We will be on the other
side of the fence waiting and we will find them wherever they hide …
The ALF have a clear policy of adherence to non-violence. We do not.”

I thought it was only hunters and
meat eaters who resorted to violence?

Enough with the Halloween mythmaking

With Halloween right around the
corner, the American |Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals|
released a rather sensible guide to keeping pets safe during the holiday,
noting that “there are plenty of stories of vicious pranksters who
have teased, injured, stolen, even killed pets on this night.”

But that sort of restrained warning
doesn’t go nearly far enough for some animal rights activists who insist
on spreading myths about large, well-organized Satanic cults bent on sacrificing
and mutilating black cats on Halloween.

A short release by |Education and Action for Animals| is typical. Without offering any evidence, EAA claimed
“the number of animals abused and sacrificed may increase by TEN
TIMES during the Halloween season.” Like other outlets, EAA warned
that black cats were in special danger because “they are highest
in demand for sacrificial purposes”; again, a claim made with no
evidence to back it up.

But that was nothing compared to
Mesia Quartano, who runs the Mining Company’s Animal Rights page.
To provide her readers with information on the horrors black cats face
from Satanic cults she provided links to ultraconservative Christian fundamentalists
who believe that a super-secret Satanic order called the Brotherhood has
infiltrated key position in government and the corporate world. This sort
of nonsense has been thoroughly debunked (see sociologist Jeffery Victors
excellent book on the topic, Satanic Panic, among others) but is
kept alive by an unlikely convergence of fringe elements in fundamentalist
Christian, radical feminist and animal rights circles.

And just in case further evidence
is needed on the credulity of people when it comes to animal deaths, a
recent news story distributed on animal rights lists provides ample evidence.
A large number of horribly mutilated animals were found in a city dumpster,
obviously put there by some sicko or perhaps a cult. Except, as
it turned out a few days later, the mutilated animals’ presence had a
rather mundane explanation. It seems the animals were, in fact, road kill
placed in the dumpster by a company contracted with by the local authorities
specifically to remove such animals.