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The Public Sphere and "Civility"

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"Civility" looks very different depending on where you stand...

From here http://crookedtimber.org/2018/05/23/neo-marxism/ I have excerpted three short paragraphs very much worth reading and thinking about:

Andrew Sullivan: "This bloggy exchange Ta-Nehisi and I had in 2009, on the very subject of identity politics and its claims.... there was a civility about it, an actual generosity of spirit, that transcended the boundaries of race and background.... The Atlantic was crammed with ideological opposites then, jostling together in the same office, and our engagement with each other and our readerships was a crackling and productive one. There was much more of that back then, before Twitter swallowed blogging, before identity politics became completely nonnegotiable, before we degenerated into these tribal swarms of snark and loathing. I think of it now as a distant island, appearing now and then, as the waves go up and down. The riptide of tribalism can capture us all in the end, until we drown in it..."

Ta Nehisi Coates: "I got incredibly used to learning from people... quite good at their craft, who I felt, and pardon my language, were fucking racist. And that was just the way the world was. I didn’t really have the luxury of having teachers who I necessarily felt, you know, saw me completely as a human being.... You can go into The Atlantic archives right now, and you can see me arguing with Andrew Sullivan about whether black people are genetically disposed to be dumber than white people. I actually had to take this seriously, you understand? I couldn’t speak in a certain way to Andrew. I couldn’t speak to Andrew on the blog the way I would speak to my wife about what Andrew said on the blog in the morning when it was just us.... I learned how to blog from Andrew. That was who I actually learned from. That was who actually helped me craft my voice. Even recognizing who he was and what he was, you know, I learned from him..."

Henry Farrell: "In juxtaposition, Sullivan’s and Coates’s pieces provide a miniature history of how a certain variety of self-congratulatory openness to inquiry is in actual fact a barbed thicket of power relations. What Sullivan depicts as a 'different time' when 'neither of us denied each other’s good faith or human worth', is, in Coates’ understanding, a time where he was required to 'take seriously' the argument that 'black people are genetically disposed to be dumber than white people' as a price of entry into the rarified heights of conversation at the Atlantic. The 'civility' and 'generosity of spirit' that supported 'human to human' conversation is juxtaposed to Coates’s 'teachers' who didn’t see him 'completely as a human being'. What was open and free spirited debate in Sullivan’s depiction, was to Coates a loaded and poisonous dialogue where he could only participate if he shut up about what he actually believed. Juxtaposing these two gives us a very different understanding of Sullivan’s claim that 'identity politics [have become] completely nonnegotiable', and we are all being pulled down by the 'riptide of tribalism'..."

Finished? Good. Perhaps I should simply say that Henry Farrell has written everything that needs to be written here.

Or perhaps I should note that, back in The Day, it was not us, their adversaries on, say, the 2001 tax cut, who were denying George W. Bush's and Andrew Sullivan's good faith in the debate. It was Andrew Sullivan himself glorying that neither George W. Bush nor he was arguing in good faith:

The fact that Bush has to obfuscate his real goals of reducing spending with the smoke screen of 'compassionate conservatism' shows how uphill the struggle is.... A certain amount of B.S. is necessary for any vaguely successful retrenchment of government power in an insatiable entitlement state.... I just hope the smoke doesn't clear before the spenders get their hands on our wallets again...

Sullivan felt himself under no obligation to be honest or civil back when he thought he was riding high. Rather the reverse. And it was not just Black people—although it was far stronger there. Those of us who thought that, like, arithmetic in the public sphere should be accurate were also not worth engaging in good faith.

Let me venture to generalize: Andrew Sullivan was always an interesting thinker, in that "civility" was something that others needed to extend to him but not that he was under any obligation to extend to anybody else. Most of all, we remember Andrew Sullivan after 911:

The middle part of the country—the great red zone that voted for Bush—is clearly ready for war. The decadent Left in its enclaves on the coasts is not dead—and may well mount what amounts to a fifth column...

and:

We might as well be aware of the enemy within the West itself-a paralyzing, pseudo-clever, morally nihilist fifth column that will surely ramp up its hatred in the days and months ahead...

It was not just Ta-Nehisi Coates but everybody who had doubts about the rush to conquer Iraq who had good reason to think they were regarded by Sullivan as something less than partners in argument and discernment.

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California Rules Coffee a Carcinogen

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California Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle ruled, in accordance with Proposition 65 law, that coffee is a carcinogen and requires a warning label in the state of California. This ruling, however, is not in accord with science and rational medicine.

What went wrong are all the things that can go wrong when trying to assess health risk.

The ruling is based on the presence of acrylamide in coffee. There is evidence that acrylamide is a potential risk factor for certain cancers. This is based mostly on animal and in vitro studies.

How scientists determine that a substance is potentially a cancer risk is a little complex, since we cannot do direct clinical studies. It is unethical to expose a subject to a potential carcinogen to see if they get cancer. So we start with studies on cells and animals.


These types of pre-clinical studies, however, can only tell us about hazard, not risk. A hazardous substance is something which can theoretically cause harm depending on exposure, while risk is actual harm caused by exposure in a certain population to a certain dose over a certain period of time.

Think of it this way – sharks are hazardous, but a shark in a tank poses very little risk. Swimming with sharks in that tank, however, poses a high risk.

So how do we determine the risk to humans of a substance which is potentially hazardous based on pre-clinical studies? For that we rely on epidemiology and observational studies. If we, for example, ask people about their coffee drinking habits, and then track them over time for the development of cancer, we can then make comparisons and see if drinking coffee correlates with increased cancer risk.

There are many shortcomings from this type of data, however, specifically the potential for confounding factors. Drinking more coffee may correlate with more smoking, or consumption of other hazardous products, for example. You can try to control for possible confounding factors, but not the ones you are not aware of. So this limits the utility of such data.

Even still, it is possible to build a robust base of evidence clearly showing risk. If the observational studies all triangulate to only one plausible cause, then we can be highly confident of that interpretation of the correlations. Smoking, for example, correlates with risk of lung cancer every possible way you can look at the data. This is a solid causal link.

The same solid link does not exist for acrylamide in coffee. Therefore coffee is deemed only a probable cause of cancer by the IARC, which is a notoriously cautious body that errs on the side of calling substances “probable” carcinogens. Essentially, if some hazard shows up in pre-clinical studies, but there is no clinical evidence of actual risk, they still call it “probable.”

California law then takes the IARC “probable” and turns that into “coffee causes cancer.” In each step the precautionary principle ratchets up the warning, until we go from no clinical evidence of actual risk, to a required warning label that it does cause cancer.

This approach, however, is not without its own risk, turning the precautionary principle on its head.

As I reported previously on SBM, a 2013 study found that 72% of random ingredients from a cookbook had published data showing that they increased the risk of some cancer. What is the public supposed to do with this information?

There are two real risks here, the first of which is what is called alarm fatigue. If you set your threshold for warning alarms too low, then the alarms will always be going off, and people will learn to ignore them.

Do you think many people will stop drinking coffee because of the warning? I wonder what percentage will give up their daily coffee habit based on this decision. Most people will likely (and correctly) file this away as a manifestation of the overly cautious CYA nanny state and ignore the warnings. But this makes it more likely they will ignore more meaningful warnings about actual risk that they should be listening to.

If everything causes cancer, then perhaps nothing really does, and you should ignore all such warnings. The warnings themselves become useless.

There is also the opposite risk, that some people, in the sincere desire to be healthy or out of anxiety, will try to heed all such warnings. This can lead to what some are calling “orthorexia” (not currently a recognized clinical term), in which people excessively restrict their diet in the hopes of avoiding risky food.

If 72% or so of foods or ingredients can be linked to cancer, and you try to avoid them all, then what will you eat? What are the risks of such a highly restrictive diet? I strongly suspect that if you followed all the warnings about potential risks of foods, there would be net harm from poor nutrition.

There is also an opportunity cost to spending so much time and effort carefully vetting everything you eat for any possible risk. That time could be better spend on more fruitful healthy activities.

There is also an industry of self-help advice turning these public warning into marketable fearmongering. They have essentially been “weaponized” for either marketing or to promote various ideological agendas. The anti-GMO campaign is perhaps the best example.

The state should be trying to mitigate these counterproductive forces, not aid them. If anything they should be a mediating force, putting together panels of experts to create sober and useful bottom-line advice for the public, advice that people can plausibly used, and designed to minimize unintended consequences.

California’s approach, I think, is harmful. In an endeavor to protect the health of their citizens I think they are harming health. They are also potentially undercutting faith in experts an expertise itself, which has further downstream negative consequences.

This is the precautionary principle out of all control.

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3 public comments
jhamill
60 days ago
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TL:DR - California thinks EVERYTHING is a carcinogen. And I mean EVERYTHING. If they could, there would be a label on everything that says something about this could cause cancer.
California
HarlandCorbin
60 days ago
I don't live in California. Do electricity bills come with the cancer warning?
jhamill
60 days ago
Yup.
Zaphod717
61 days ago
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"potentially undercutting faith in experts an expertise itself"? That ship has sailed, unfortunately, and in no small part due to the kinds of Dynamics described by Novella.
The Belly of the Beast
MotherHydra
62 days ago
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But, BUT! I love my daily carcinogen intake.
Space City, USA

Adding Sensation to Robotic Limbs

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Recently scientists have managed to stimulate the brain in such a way that approximated some of the sensations of a natural limb in a paralyzed subject. No, they did not regain sensation, but the research is a powerful proof of concept. It shows that it is possible to produce natural-feeling sensation through electrical stimulation of the cortex, an important step for brain-machine interface research.
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Zaphod717
97 days ago
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Just have the robot body ready when my meatbag wears out.
The Belly of the Beast

Hari Kondabolu Calls Out 'The Simpsons' for Dismissing Apu Criticism

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“‘The Simpsons’ response tonight is not a jab at me, but at what many of us consider progress.”



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Zaphod717
99 days ago
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#WhiteTearsMatter
The Belly of the Beast

Michael Hudson:  Origins of Money and Interest: Palatial Credit, Not Barter

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A deep dive into the origins of credit and money, along with the political implications of different theories.
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9 Comments and 13 Shares
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9 public comments
satadru
105 days ago
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Click through for this one...
New York, NY
Zaphod717
107 days ago
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advent ftw!
The Belly of the Beast
Covarr
107 days ago
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"How can I encourage people to visit the actual site without seeming like I'm doing it on purpose?"
Moses Lake, WA
tvaerialsmiddlesbrough
107 days ago
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saved this one
Middlesbrough
alt_text_at_your_service
107 days ago
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Right-click or long press (where supported) to save!
mkalus
107 days ago
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Brilliant, go and visit the image on the site.
iPhone: 49.287476,-123.142136
JayM
107 days ago
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Woah! Pretty cool. Go to the real site.
Atlanta, GA
DuskStar
107 days ago
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Wow this one is awesome! Not one for newsblur though.
Ann Arbor MI
alt_text_bot
107 days ago
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