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December 3, 2004

Your don’t-miss blog post of the afternoon. If you read political blogs at all, over the last couple of days you’ve probably read how HIV-positive foster children are being used as unwitting drug-testing subjects in New York City. This story began with a BBC documentary broadcast on Tuesday night.

Inner-city HIV clinician and blogger Rivka pulls alongside that BBC documentary, hulls it at the waterline, rakes it amidships, and leaves it dead in the water. Rivka, have I mentioned, is a hero in the cause of lucidity, knowledge, and truth. [05:48 PM]

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Comments on Your don't-miss blog post of the afternoon.:

Rivka ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2004, 06:49 PM:


Thanks, Patrick. Thanks for the kind words, and thanks for helping spread the debunking.

julia ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2004, 07:20 PM:

I linked to this too - it's important to remember, though, that the Scientologists (possibly the least credible group the majority of whose members are not named "Bush") were the ones who unearthed the information about the pharmaceutical industry hiding suicide rates among pubescent patients. They have an agenda and their motives were and are not pure, but they did dredge up some accurate information amongst the dross.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2004, 07:37 PM:

However, the value of accurate information "dredged up" by what is essentially a variety of organized crime is dubious. Facts by themselves don't indisputably proclaim their facticity. Credibility is an emergent property, not a matter of having a few "facts" mixed in with your murder and bullshit.

julia ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2004, 07:49 PM:

Well, yes, true.

I'm just saying it would be worth someone credible looking into.

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2004, 08:06 PM:

RE "Deceiving us has become an industrial process:"

I don't think deception is a strong enough a term for what is going on.

Even manufacturing consent isn't strong enough.

There is an fanaticism generation industry out there.

It personalizes and demonizes a manufactured foe ("trial lawyers," "tree huggers"). It turns an issue that effects a particular industry or class into a threat to all we hold dear. (Environmentalists hate humanity; the estate tax becomes the Death Tax.)

I was just reading through the comments to a Kevin Drum post about global warming. The usual suspects pull out and wave around various pieces of greenhouse denial F.U.D., plus one new one:

This awful greenhouse thing wouldn't have happened if you tree huggers hadn't opposed nuclear power!

The whole pretense that global warming isn't happening, or isn't a bad thing, has been dropped. The peanut brain gallery have switched from defending the fossil fuel industry to promoting the nuclear power industry.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2004, 08:24 PM:

Well, I myself have a hard time seeing a path out of the current tangle of energy-supply and climate-change problems that doesn't involve some use of nuclear power.

The problem isn't that nuclear energy is inherently eeeeeeevil; the problem is that the nuclear-energy industry did an excellent job over thirty years of convincing everybody with an IQ over 90 that every word spoken by that industry was a lie, including "a," "and," and "the."

David Bilek ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2004, 08:37 PM:

Rivka's blog entry has received a front page post on Metafilter. The thread can be found here:


They do raise some good points. For example, while Rivka does an excellent job showing that the analysis by the AIDS deniers is, well, utter crap, she doesn't actually address the allegations of neglect, child abuse, and the like except to say that "if it happened, we would have heard about it."

Given the utter imbecility of going to AIDS deniers for information of any sort, I am quite inclined to disbelieve the story. But Rivka doesn't actually address the most damning issue except to say "nah, I would have heard about it."

Like I said, I very much doubt the story. But I don't think Rivka's piece is equivalent to sinking a ship.

julia ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2004, 09:25 PM:

There is a model for making nuclear plant management a profession and a subject of college study, and treating it as something in which the engineers need to meet stringent government standards.

Unfortunately, it's french.

Rivka ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2004, 12:31 AM:

she doesn't actually address the allegations of neglect, child abuse, and the like except to say that "if it happened, we would have heard about it."

I'm sorry, David, I thought I had.

The only anecdotes in the BBC piece for which there is really enough information to figure out what happened are stories in which guardians completely stopped HIV+ children's medical treatment altogether. It appears that at least some of those guardians subsequently lost custody of their children, presumably due to charges of medical neglect.

The case of the foster mother quoted extensively in the BBC piece - the one where it says she was charged with "child abuse" - doesn't speak to the issue of parental consent rights whatsoever. If she was only a foster parent, and not an actual adoptive parent, those children were legally in the custody of the state. It was the state's responsibility to ensure that they received medical care. The foster mother stopped all of the children's medications, a decision which was never legally hers to make. It's hardly surprising that the state then decided that HIV+ children should be in the custody of someone who believed in accepted medical theories of HIV.

When children are under the legal guardianship of the state, it's the state's responsibility to make medical decisions for those children. That's what, for example, enables children whose parents have beaten them half to death to get medical treatment regardless of whether the parents would approve.

The state can legitimately make a decision that children who are in its legal custody, who are dying and are otherwise out of treatment options, may benefit from the opportunity to try an experimental medication. That's true whether or not, for example, the biological parent thinks that fresh air and herbs are sufficient to treat HIV.

As far as "if it happened, we would have heard about it" - I thought I'd been clear, but again, apparently I wasn't. Please paraphrase me instead as, "If it happened AND THEN CAME TO LIGHT IN THE NEWS LIKE THIS, it would be a huge story and the wrath of God would fall on all concerned." Because it would. I'm not saying that Institutional Review Boards never miss anything and that the FDA is all-seeing and all-knowing, I'm saying that they do act unfailingly when research abuses come to light.

If you're arguing otherwise, you need to explain why every other case in which the FDA has been made aware of irregularities in the protection of research subjects has led to massive regulatory wrath... except for this one. You'd need to explain why the media was all over one death at Johns Hopkins in 2001, but is suddenly indifferent when Columbia presides over massive subject maltreatment for a decade. And if you're arguing that... the burden of proof is on you.

David Bilek ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2004, 12:35 AM:

I'm not arguing anything, I have no idea. I simply wasn't convinced by your first blog post. That's not an argument, simply me saying that you hadn't quite convinced me based solely on the contents of your post.

I said twice that I considered the allegations in the BBC story to very probably be untrue. I'm not sure how that can be read as an argument that they probably are true!

Ray Radlein ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2004, 01:41 PM:
I linked to this too - it's important to remember, though, that the Scientologists (possibly the least credible group the majority of whose members are not named "Bush") were the ones who unearthed the information about the pharmaceutical industry hiding suicide rates among pubescent patients.

Of course, Scientology famously has little love for conventional psychiatric practices, so it's not surprising that they would be the ones to seek out and uncover that sort of information.

Which isn't to say that they aren't dead wrong about most things psychiatric, of course; it's just that blind squirrels are much more likely to find the occasional acorn than the occasional walrus.

chris bond ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2004, 01:47 AM:

Patrick N H wrote:
"Well, I myself have a hard time seeing a path out of the current tangle of energy-supply and climate-change problems that doesn't involve some use of nuclear power."

I disagree - but that is probably since much of my energy thoughts have been influenced by the Rocky Mountain Institute. RMI has a page on Nuclear Power which boils down to: Nuclear is too expensive; there are cheaper ways of reaching the same goals.

Other work they have done is summarize in several books:
Natural Capitalism
Small is Profitable (about the electrical system)
Winning the Oil Endgame (avail in PDF, free) (about oil independence)

RMI also helped set up the
National Energy Policy Initiative. "NEP Initiative is a non-governmental, non-partisan, foundation-funded project designed to support the development of a stakeholder-based national energy policy."

Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2004, 11:10 AM:

There are hidden costs in every power generation technology.

Take Wind Generators as an example. Ignore, for the moment, potential noise nuisance to near neighbours, and birds swatted out of the sky. They're an unreliable energy source, which means the system needs more generating plant running at reduced output to cover the gaps.

And that plant is burning fuel to spin the generators. It's pretty inefficient. And because the unreliable wind is on top of the unpredictable variations in demand, you actually increase the percentage of total capacity that needs to be running, but not generating.

So Wind Generators still use non-renewable fuel sources. So do wave generators (and they break too easily).

With the knowledge we have now, nuclear power is one of the better answers. It's not perfect, but nothing is.

Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2004, 11:16 AM:

A cautious comment: I can see why there might be some confusion about Rivka's response. It isn't written like a newspaper story.

I don't mean that it should be written for morons by idiots who don't understand what they're writing about: I've some idea of how reliable newspaper reporting can be. But there is a structure to a newspaper report which her response doesn't have.

A newspaper report has to grab the reader's attention, and get across the core of the story, in a single blow. That opening paragraph, often only one sentence, has to tell you what the story is about. Then it gets repeated, with more detail.

It is a little like this comment.

chris bond ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2004, 06:47 PM:

With apologies to Patrick and Rivka, I am going to reply to David Bell here (when was the last open thread?)

Actually, if you have a community where power generation about equals demand the cheapest way to provide power for growth is energy efficiency, not any method of power generation. The recent Economist has an article on green buildings and points out a office tower using 1/2 the electricity of a normal tower; they also point out that the payback time for the additional cost was ~2 years. (A NY project RMI was involved with was the Condé Nast building at 4 Times Square.)

(The three "sources" RMI believes are cheaper than Nuclear are: wind, gas co-/tri-generation and energy efficiency)

An example of gas tri-generation:
Caltech's Central Plant. They use gas turbines to generate electricity for the campus, they also use the waste heat to produce steam (for heating and hot water) and to produce chilled water (for air conditioning and lab use). Somewhere in there they also produce deionized water - but I forget exactly how.

The key is that while the small turbines are less efficient in making electricity, by using the waste heat (as opposed to dumping it, as is the case for most large power plants) you do better financially.

Scorpio ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2004, 07:46 PM:

A Midwest con allowed its GoH to choose a charity, and he chose the AIDS-denier organization.

Consternation! I think they cancelled the charity auction when rationalists objected vocally. In any case, a boycott was the gentlest thing that was suggested for this faux pas.

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2004, 08:05 PM:

Chris --

Even very good gas turbines are still combustion tech, and combustion tech is what we have to get rid of. (Coal first, turbines last, but the whole category needs to go.)

Nuke plants are not required to be large; there are pebble bed, gas cooled designs down in the five to eight megawatt range explicitly designed for the same kinds of efficient thermal recovery you're talking about, particularly to give hospitals independent heat and power. (There are half megawatt passive convection nuke designs, for that matter, with stirling engines sitting on the rads.)

Which is not to say that I think greater efficiency doesn't matter; it does, a great deal. But there's this huge percentage of the generating capacity that needs to be shut off, which means replaced with something, and nukes -- little, local ones, run by people who live near them -- are a good answer for that.

Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2004, 10:26 PM:

*This comment is meant for the other don't miss post of the day*
Just this morning I was talking with a friend of mine about something similar: Pro-life organizations masquerading as Women's Clinics to provide misinformation about things like abortions and birth control pill. Claiming that drinking alcohol or smoking will reduce effectiveness, and things of that sort.

I've been thinking recently on how the current power structure is really a composite beast, huge corporations on one hand, and conservative evangelicals on the other. I have mostly been thinking about how to to use this fracture to break them apart, but this shows their relationship in another light: it seems that they are teaching each other tricks.

Martin Schafer ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2004, 03:17 PM:

There are two points that are nearly always got wrong in the "what do we replace fossil fuels with" discussion.

The first is about wind. People pick numbers like 20% or 25% and claim that wind can't provide more than that portion of the grid's power becaus wind is an intermittent source. Actually, looked at on a regional level, the variation in airflow is small. There is no technical bar to wind replacing all fossil fuel generation of electricity.

The second is about nuclear. The anti-nuke argument that always gets skipped over in the limited amount of uranium in the world. Any major expansion of nuclear power requires using plutonium produced in breeder reactors and shipped around the country. The proliferation problem here should be glaringly obvious.

CHip ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2004, 03:46 PM:

Dave Bell: do you have some figures to back up your observations about wind power?

Considering the number of wind plants in service, I expect the problem you set out has been tackled; considering that power companies already have to deal with substantial swings in demand, I suspect they have ways of dealing with supply swings as well. I have read that generators running on natural gas (instead of oil or coal) are one way to handle demand spikes; hydro is another where it's available. There are also storage mechanisms; I don't know how efficient they are, but it's hard to see them losing when the wind itself is free and the technology is priced competitively.

Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2004, 03:55 PM:

There used to be a storage facility at Luddington in Michigan. During low-usage times, pumps pushed water into an elevated reservoir. During peak times, this process was reversed, and water-driven generators supplied the extra need.

This giant low-tech battery enabled the plant to run at peak capacity full time; more importantly, at the SAME level at all times.

This was 30 years ago. I'm sure more efficient things have been devised since then. But note that this is a solution that could easily be implemented on a sub-local level. All you need is pumps, generators, and a tank on a stick. Or a cliff. Or a hill.

fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2004, 04:09 PM:

Xopher, that process is still in use in more than a few places. I can think of at least one such plant in Missouri,and IIFRC, there are a couple in Georgia as well. I'm sure they aren't the only ones. It works, after all.

A good many of the windpower generators are in place in regions where wind presence, if not speed, is a fairly reliable factor--like most of the Great Plains. Back before REa, a lot of people there relied on wind mills to drive their well pumps, after all.

Another renewable source being explored is poultry-processing waste--there's a plant in Carthage, MO, producing synthetic crude oil from the remainders from a Butterball Turkey plant nearby--see http://www.changingworldtech.com and also
http://www.res-energy.com for more details.
I think there are some studies out there on combining poultry-farm waste with coal, in coal-fired generating plants--both the poultry farms and the coal-fired generators are common in southern US, so it's a natural combination. Sulfur based-emissions were reduced, and I don't recall that there was a marked loss in efficiency of generation. I'm not sure where I saw this research, right off the top of my head, though.

Vik Rubenfeld ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2004, 08:49 PM:

You might also find of interest my post on this week's stories on the treatment of HIV in Africa.

cd sees two comment spams ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2005, 09:46 AM:

And in another couple of threads, too.