Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Polarized Nation – Part II

Last month’s article ended with the following conjecture: “Next month’s article will examine the various presidential candidates’ (those still standing) opinions and/or beliefs on several substantive subjects. This will provide you, the reader, with the ability to judge whether your favorite candidate practices ‘policy-based evidence,’ or ‘evidence-based policy.’ Policy-based evidence making is research done to support an already been decided upon policy. Evidence-based policy is public policy informed by rigorously established objective evidence. Past performance should tell the story."

But there is another important ingredient related to these two views. What if a politician’s stance (one that is obviously predicated on ideology, religious beliefs, or politics), completely controverts universally accepted scientific, empirically developed evidence? Is it then fair or logical to question that individual’s ability or willingness to approach the decision making process without any sign of prejudice, precondition, or preconceived beliefs?

I recognize that, after reading this article some might consider it politically oriented. It is not intended to be so. Its objective is to display how the historical record of current candidates might influence their future decision making process. If past decisions are indeed a precursor to future judgments, it might be interesting to debate whether scientific, empirically founded facts, would or would not trump an ideologically (policy based evidence) based belief.

The issues covered here and in future articles are: CLIMATE CHANGE GMO’S, ABORTION LIMITS, FETAL TISSUE RESEARCH, EVOLUTION, and VACCINATIONS. The candidates covered are those still in the running as of the third week of February.

Climate Change

One of the most recent reports on climate change I could find was conducted by the Yale/Gallup/Clearvision Poll in December 2015. It stated, “Overall, a large majority of the American public were personally convinced that global warming is happening (71%). Further, 69 percent of Americans believed that global warming is caused mainly by human activities (57%), or caused equally by humans and natural changes (12%), while only 29 percent believe it is caused mostly by natural changes in the environment.”

Relating to the oncoming election, according to a poll conducted last year by The New York Times, Stanford University and the nonpartisan environmental research group Resources for the Future, “67 percent of respondents, including 48 percent of Republicans and 72 percent of independents, said they were less likely to vote for a candidate who said that human-caused climate change is a hoax.”

NASA, the National Aeronautics and space Administration concludes, “Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities. In addition, most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.”

In a September 2015 article, CBS News wrote that Republican candidates are mixed on the subject, quoting the candidates as follows: Ben Carson: Quoted as saying, “I'll tell you what I think about climate change. The temperature's either going up or down at any point in time, so it really is not a big deal.” At an event sponsored by billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch in August, Ted Cruz denied the existence of climate change.

Marco Rubio: “We are not going to destroy our economy; we are not going to make America a harder place to create jobs in order to pursue policies that will do absolutely nothing, nothing, to change our climate, to change our weather, because America is a lot of things. The greatest country in the world? Absolutely. But America is not a planet and we are not even the largest carbon producer anymore. China is.”

Just last month Republican presidential candidate John Kasich acknowledged humans’ contribution to climate change, though he stopped short of accepting that humans are the main driver of the global problem. “I do not know how much that individuals affect the climate but here’s what I do know: I know that we need to develop all of the renewables and we need to do it in an orderly way, and we need to have wind and we need to have solar.”

Donald Trump’s views on climate change broadly mirror those of his fellow Republican candidates. “I believe there’s weather,” Trump told Hugh Hewitt in September. “I believe there’s change, and I believe it goes up and it goes down, and it goes up again. And it changes depending on years and centuries, but I am not a believer, and we have much bigger problems.” Amplifying his stance Trump has stated, “ The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

The two major Democratic candidates are strong believers that climate change exists and is exacerbated by man-made activity.


A great amount of controversy has been generated recently related to the topic of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s), but too few actually understand what a GMO is. Here is one of the best explanations that I have found: “In genetic modification (or engineering) of food plants, scientists remove one or more genes from the DNA of another organism, such as a bacterium, virus, animal, or plant and ‘recombine’ them into the DNA of the plant they want to alter. By adding these new genes, genetic engineers hope the plant will express the traits associated with the genes. For example, genetic engineers have transferred genes from a bacterium known as Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt into the DNA of corn. Bt genes express a protein that kills insects, and transferring the genes allows the corn to produce its own pesticide.”

In an article last August, Scientific American published the following “Genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) have met with enormous public opposition over the past two decades. Many people believe that GMO’s are bad for their health – even poisonous – and that they damage the environment. This is in spite of overwhelming scientific evidence that proves that GMO’s are safe to eat, and that they bring environmental benefits by making agriculture more sustainable.”

Genetically modified seeds can be patented as intellectual property, which enables GMO’s to be owned, sold, controlled, and legally protected by a corporation, giving these corporations ultimate power over food. This provides businesses to profit (substantially) from the sale of those seeds.

The vast majority of the research on genetically modified (GM) crops suggests that they are safe to eat and that they have the potential to feed millions of people worldwide who currently go hungry. A careful analysis of the risks and benefits argues for expanded deployment and safety testing of GM crops. But with governments and consumers increasingly coming down against GM crops altogether, additional testing may be the compromise that enables the human race to benefit from those crops' significant advantages.

As a result of the controversy, the strong suspicions exhibited by the general public related to the safety of GMO foods is reflected by the significant popularity for identifying GMO’s with labels. Obviously, the food companies object to this procedure, so much so that Monsanto alone has spent some $60 million since 2006 lobbying for GMO’s. However, the FDA has said labeling isn't necessary because there's no evidence genetic engineering changes a food's quality, safety, “or any other attribute.” In a report late last year, the American Medical Association also said there was “no scientific justification for special labeling of genetically modified foods, as a class.”

Here is how the current candidates view GMO’s:

Hillary Clinton is a strong proponent for GMO’s and an equally strong opponent of labeling. On the other hand Bernie Sanders, in a call to action said, “Whether you like it or not, chances are Monsanto contaminated the food you ate today with chemicals and unlabeled GMO’s. Monsanto controls much of the world's food supply at the expense of food democracy worldwide.” Can’t get much stronger than that.

Senator Cruz has called concerns over adverse effects [of GMO’s] “hysteria” and believes that we should celebrate the positive impact that GMO’s have had in the U.S. and across the globe. As another speaker at the Iowa AG Summit, Cruz claimed that politicians are “blowing smoke” in Washington over GMO’s and people who want to buy organic instead of GMO’s are welcome to do so.

Sen. Marco Rubio voted against an amendment that would have allowed states to enact their own local laws regarding GMO labeling. He has dodged questions on his position.

Ben Carson: Seems to favor GMO’s in principle, but also wants people to “know what they are eating, thus favoring labeling.”

Donald Trump posted an insulting tweet about too much corn in the brains of Iowans, and then quickly removed the tweet. He has been silent about the subject since.

I could find no information on John Kasich’s opinion on this subject.

The question here is whether politicians should respect what seems to be consensus favorable scientific conclusions regarding the safety and benefits of GMO’s, or should they instead, respect the will of a vast majority of the population who consistently poll in the mid-90 percent range in favor of labeling GMO’s. Although this is a contentious subject, the conclusion here may be a tossup, or at least, as mentioned above, some sort of (using that most endangered word) compromise.

Next month’s column will examine even more controversial subjects, ones that will more easily adapt to the use of the principles of evidence based policy vs. policy based evidence, and which of the two, presidential candidates have implemented in the past.