But I don’t know what the question is. Yesterday, I heard on WOR radio that “Elena Kagan is the second straight New York Woman to be nominated to the Supreme Court.”
So what’s the controversy?
Pollution Causes 40 Percent Of Deaths Worldwide, Study Finds
Reader James Erlandson sent in this juicy item: the World Health Organization says that “an estimated 40% of world deaths are due to environmental degradation.”
The paper says that the “the prevalence of human diseases during the past decade is rapidly increasing”, and that this increase has been caused by “the pollution of water, air, and soil.”
The study’s author, David Pimentel, also said that a lot of people in the world go hungry and that empty stomaches contributes to disease susceptibility. But malnutrition is not pollution. However, Pimentel argues, pollution causes a decrease in the food supply.
That’s surely true, but Pimentel makes a fundamental statistical mistake of attributing the observed rate of increase in diseases like diarrhea and tuberculosis to actual increasing numbers of humans infected with those diseases. Say what?
The problem is that these diseases are increasingly diagnosed, and available to be diagnosed, and are diagnosed more accurately.
For example, if you have a place, unfortunately like many in Africa, where until recently people dropped dead from who-knows-what, and then you introduce technology that shows that that “who-knows-what” was actually diarrhea, then you will see in the official statistics an enormous spike in the diarrhea rate. But the rate of actual diarrhea infections has not increased.
In short: an increase in the diagnosis rate does not directly translate into an increase in the disease.
Anyway, to get “40% of deaths from pollution” stresses the math beyond endurance. Since most of us in the States, Europe, Australia, Japan, urban China and India, and other modern nations are not dying from “environmental degradation”, and we contribute our fair share of dead bodies, to reach that “40% of all deaths” figure requires that nearly every death in non-modern nations be directly attributable to pollution. Which is silly.
Tax Noxious Textbooks
Professor Barry Popkin doesn’t like the idea that you might overindulge in foods he wouldn’t himself eat. To stop your potentially offending him by noshing a piece of pizza in his face, Popkin would tax his hated foodstuffs.
Popkin, and many other cultural elitists, care about you. They care deeply. So deeply that they have appointed themselves your medical guardians. Because why? Because, they have decided, you aren’t intelligent enough to decide for yourself what to eat!
To these ever-anxious folk, health is the most important thing there is. So I find that, once more, we have to remind ourselves, and Popkin, of the wisdom of Mark Twain:
There are people who strictly deprive themselves of each and every eatable, drinkable and smokable which has in any way acquired a shady reputation. They pay this price for health. And health is all they get for it. How strange it is. It is like paying out your whole fortune for a cow that has gone dry.
Another professor, Don Boudreaux, has a solution to limit the spread of Popkin-like earnestness. It is the most ingenious idea we’ve seen in many years:
I propose that all articles and books advocating that government intrude into people’s private choices be taxed at very high rates. Socially irresponsible producers of such “junk” scholarship churn out far too much of it. As a result, unsuspecting Americans consume harmfully large quantities of this scholarship â€“ scholarship made appealing only because its producers cram it with sweet and superficially gratifying expressions of noble goals. These empty intellectual ‘calories’ trick our brains â€“ which evolved in an environment that lacked today’s superabundant access to junk scholarship â€“ into craving larger and larger, even super-sized, portions of such junk.
San Francisco Isn’t New York
Speaking of pizza. While in SF recently, I went into a pizzeria called “Escape from New York”, which boasted that it was a genuine New York-style pizzeria. This was not so. For I said to the lady, “I’ll have a slice, please.” And she replied, “A slice of what?”